Aging and Treble and Income?

I'm in my late 50s; been listening to, and playing, music for most of my life. I still occasionally haunt the salons, but these days not to buy new gear; more just curiosity about developments in our wonderful hobby. These days I just buy music; records, CDs and the odd download.
I was listening to a very expensive system recently, a combination of an excellent digital front end, feeding an exotic tube array of components, and outputting via a beautifully constructed set of English high-end speakers.
A very impressive sound to say the least. Not like real music though: very very good hi-fi, but not real.
One of the obvious oddities was the frequency response above maybe 4k. Just incorrect. Very clear, very emphasised and incisive, no doubt, but not right.
And it occured to me that this isn't unusual. And then a set of questions came to me. For the purposes of this debate I will exclude the 128k iPod generation - their tastes in listening are their own, and as much driven by budget as space constraint as anything else. I prefer to concentrate on the generation that has increased leisure and disposable income. It's a sad fact that this generation is plagued by the inevitability of progressive hearing loss, most often accompanied by diminished ability to hear higher frequencies. But it's this generation that can afford the 'best' equipment.

My question is simply this: is it not possible (or highly likely) that the higher-end industry is driven by the need to appeal to those whose hearing is degrading? In other words, is there a leaning towards the building-in of a compensatory frequency emphasis in much of what is on the shelves? My question is simplistic, and the industry may indeed be governed by the relentless pursuit of accuracy and musicality, but so much that I have hear is, I find, very difficult to listen to as it is so far from what I believe to be reality. Perhaps there has always been an emphasis in making our sytems sound "exciting" as opposed to "honest": I can understand the pleasure in this pursuit, as it's the delight in technology itself and I see nothing very wrong in that. But, all this emphasised treble....I just wonder if anyone out there in cyberspace agrees with me?
I read once that Wilson speakers have become more accurate with respect to timbre as a consequence of David Wilson expending substantial effort in visiting the worlds major orchestras.
I suspect this points to the root of the problem more than a deliberate effort to color the sound in an effort to offset hearing loss.
I'm also in my late 50s. While my hearing has not changed over the last 20 years, my reference remains live orchestral and chamber music. Most of what I hear in the salons I visit don't get the music right, and no one seems to know it but me.
I can remember one system in particular. It sounder just great with Elton John. It was a complete mess with a shostakovich quartet.
I'm 38 and been spending way too much on this stuff since about 19 or so. I agree about the tilted up treble. In the 90s I was at one of the high end chains of that time and walked by a "flagship" pair of electrostats playing thinking "wow too bright" and the salesman said "that's how real music sounds". Resently I've made some system changes because what others thought was ideal tonality to me was too bright. To each their own as each of us likes what we like and that's O.K. It seems much of the touted "best of" class is what I would consider bright, and is nothing new. IMO the brighter systems demo well as the illusion is that there's more detail but once in home becomes fatiguing.
That's a very interesting question.

Would not surprise me a bit if top ends are tipped up by design for various reasons in many cases, including to appeal to aging ears with $$$s to spend. There are ways to produce results like this in a system even if individual components are more "neutral" in nature.

At a recent audio show I attended, I noticed some very expensive and well received setups like this that had that sparkling and detailed hifi kind of sound in spades. Lots of large exotic tube amps even in some of those.

Sound is like ice cream. Not all like the same flavors. How good can vanilla ice cream get? Until it becomes something else perhaps similar but more unique or exotic? That's usually what sells to those seeking a new thrill or something unique or different, so wouldn't surprise me a bit if true for high end audio as well.
Perhaps some newer speakers are designed to sound more like what younger people are used to hearing: headphones--clear to the point of being bright, with much detail. One might say "nothing left to the imagination."
I put on 'phones yesterday (some "okay" Audio Technicas) to finish an LP side I was already listening to when some people came home prematurely. I couldn't take a steady diet of that sound. At least for the material (classical, violin concerto) it didn't make it. Way too clinical and bright. Very fatiguing IMO.
I think more than a few of us older audiophiles should address acquiring the best we can afford, properly fitted hearing aids before spending more money on "better" audio equipment.
HiFi is driven by the fact that few people listen to live acoustic music, speakers geared to reality, like say the Rega RS line, aren't big sellers.Ones voiced to reproduce amplified rock concerts, say like Paradigms ,are.
The answer to your question is yes, but has little to do with the audio high end. Aging produces hearing loss, and that means at some point, if you want to hear all the sounds of life, hearing aids. Yes, there are 'hi end' hearing aids, some costing $5K each. So, invest in the major hearing aid companies, and get ready to spend.
I've noticed a tendency towards brightness at some displays at the last audio show I went to (the Newport Audio Show). I thought it an anomaly until I read some reports and one display, in particular was rated as one of the "best in show" and it was too sterile and bright for my taste.

Yes, there was lots of musical information bombarding my ears with detail aplenty, incisive highs, and sound that would cut right through butter. Yet it wasn't involving, organic, music to my ears. It engaged me at first but as I waited to talk to one of the reps, it began to fatigue me and I simply moved on.

All the best,
If one reads the AG forum regularly one can't help but notice the frequency of members seeking advice regarding how to tame an overly aggressive treble and combat listener fatigue. I'm not quite sure why this is not getting through to the people who are building the gear.
I went to a small UK show in Southern England, graced by Dan D'Agostino, no less. He gave an interesting run down on his new Momentum amps and very new Pre amp, appearing over this side of the Atlantic for the first time.

The 2 "High End" rooms, had Wilson speakers, the Sasha in one and the next one up in the other, sorry I forgot the name. The point is, I have never got Wilson speakers, at all, edgy, etched, HiFi, not music. The first room with the Sashas, first had a big Krell power amp. Just my usual, teeth being drilled experience. As I was about to run from the room, the dealer changed at an Audio Research ref 150. What a change, all the detail, soundstage depth, but creamy, full bodied, lovely sound. I finally get it Mr Wilson, thanks.

The other room had the momentum monoblocks and new Pre amp. Again a beautiful rich, detailed sound, wide, deep soundstage. If my eyes had been closed, I would have thought a top tube monoblock, like Lamm.

So what I thought of as hard, tipped up dry treble, in this case, proved to be the matching amps, not the speakers and my prejudice against Wilson, Focal and other speakers I consider "HiFi", may have been wrong all along. I still have my doubts about Focal though.
The highest note on the piano is at about 4K. If you can hear out to 10K, you're not missing much. I think many speakers are tizzed up to sell well in a store demo. People are always impressed by CD players and speakers with more "detail" and then end up trying to tame their systems.
Once again, Here is my favorite resource for understanding what I should hear when listening. I have a framed printed copy hanging in my listening room for reference when needed.

Useful in this case to identify how variations at higher frequencies would affect what you might hear. Notice that air, definition, and pierce are three things that a tipped up high end might emphasize, for better or for worse, depending how well done.

The key is in the "how well done" part I am willing to bet. Depending on how well done (including distortion levels), it might come across as either lovely or irritating, with a fine line between I would say from my experience.

Other than "air", those over 45-50 can probably still hear most of whats going on short of "air" I suppose and be drawn in or repelled accordingly and not have to worry as much at whats going on above 12-14Khz or so.

The biggest problems however are most likely in the parts indicated where our ears are most sensitive, like at ~ 10Khz or so (associated with "pierce" and "definition") which comes more into play for everyone.
This chart tells me I'm not hearing sibilance in the vocal range. I'm confused. Does TIM not cause sibilance at any frequency? I'm associating sibilance with clarity. Is that wrong?
I have recently attended a a couple of live performances ,the sound was bad,over amplified speakers.The days of live music without electronics aids seems to have disappeared from commercial live performances.At audio shows and at dealers the demos usually use what they deem to be exotic music with lots of highs and bass to try and demonstrate how spectacular the music system is,result for me anyway is ear fatigue and irritation.As for hearing aids as a geriatric I do not recommend them for audio enjoyment,the decline in hearing is related not just the ear physiology but to the inability of the brain to process the high frequency.The DAC in ones brain has deteriorated(not literally)
While tipped up treble may open a window to all that's on recording, I agree it does not sound like music.
I agree. I think the high fidelity business in general is driven by ooooh's and aaaaaah's, which usually come from detail, detail, detail. There are many manufacturers out there who are trying to emphasize a particular frequency ranges.

I always thought this was due to the fact that the audiophile who spent lots of money wanted to be able to show others what he got for his money. "Did you hear that?" "Whoa!"
Maybe you're right, maybe it is simply due to aging geezers being harder of hearing, so the industry has to turn up the 'presence' range.

I'm quickly coming up on my mid 50's, and I admit that I was chasing that absolute sound for many years. Lately though, I have been seeking more musical gear and less transparency. I realize that I'm not hearing every last detail anymore, but listening is more relaxing and enjoyable.
Well, it's nice to know I'm not alone!!
Just as a reference (as my name probably hints..) I'm one of those audio-bores who found an excellent pair of Quad 57 ELS speakers, and as a result has given up any real intention of ever 'improving' his system. I'll never get over the fact that this ugly-looking speaker routinely performs the kind of magic that speaker makers still try to emulate - 65 years later!
I think Schubert is correct. Today's hifi industry is not at all geared toward classical music, as the original industry was. They assume that people are listening to mostly electronically produced music. This obviously makes a huge difference, as electronic timbres are much easier to reproduce than acoustic ones. This is not as much of an oversimplification as it seems. Part of it is also the recordings themselves and the digital processing. It just doesn't result in quite the right sound. Clean and detailed, yes. Really capturing all of the timbral nuances of acoustic instruments? Not so much.
I remember many well liked MC carts back in the 70's early 80's had a fast rising upper frequency tilt.
Those are all gone. Most MC carts now have a pretty good frequency response.
So this one point seems to toss the op's idea out.
Just one example..

Never heard that one before. But maybe if so, it was in response to many speaker/amp combos of the day tilting tne other way? Modern gear is much better overall so maybe carts are just following suit and trying to NOT sound like a lot of digital.
This is a good forum, pleased to read there are so many members like me.

I go to lots of audio shows and have for many, many years. I would say 90% of what I’ve heard is bright to the point of irritation.

Some are so bad I can hardly enter the room. I've been shopping for speakers for over a year. Noting wrong with what I have but would love something simple where I only need two amps and (maybe) no sub woofers.

Doesn’t look like it's possible, at least not for anything less than the price of a second home and some of what cost that much is not musical.
an excellent pair of Quad 57 ELS speakers
These produce outstanding sound within their response spectrum... Nothing to do with getting older:)

I've been shopping for speakers for over a year. Noting wrong with what I have but would love something simple where I only need two amps and (maybe) no sub woofers
You probably have considered Linkwitz's design? I find the sound very good; I listened to an older incarnation of his "Orion" design. OTOH it sounds much better than it looks...:)
It has taken me a long time(I'll be 70 in a few months.)to come to my senses about listening TO my ears, not just through them. An exciting, fairly loud, up front sound used to be my top priority, now it's a relaxing, more somewhat laid back sound. And, yes, I agree with others concerning the treble claims---excessive AND often unrealistic in contrast to live, unamplified sounds. If there's one regret, it's that I wish I had taken better care of my ears regarding listening habits and preferences. I'm afraid that kind of advice falls on a fair number of "deaf ears", as it used to with me.
Young people are doing the bulk of the buying. They want it loud and exciting, even grossly exaggerated, on both ends (rap is all about the low end in cars and headphones, rock needs to scream as well as thump).

Audiophiles are older and mostly (I think, and I hope) looking for authentic reproduction of sounds that actually can exist, whether acoustic or electric/electronic, in a natural state.

Anyway, I'm suggesting that any slant toward the top end may be an effort to create more "sizzle and snap" for the young, not the old.

Just a thought.

You should give a listen to something like These, just to hear something completely different at a minimum.

If the highly etched tonality that mbl or GP seem to deliver does not grab you as I seem to recall, these just might. Really good omnis, especially those that employ Walsh drivers, that match your preferences better just might be the alternate ticket you are looking for.
I'd be willing to bet that it has more to do with the fact that flash sells product and tipped up treble seems like flash at first. Once you own it, it's your problem if it becomes irritating. I'm in my mid-50s and I've come to realize over the years that good sound is MUCH more than just frequency extension. I can't fully explain it but I know what sounds good to me (and what sounds like crap). My Merlin VSMs won't pressurize a room with bass but they are exceptional where it counts. I also know I've got some hearing loss though it hasn't been measured - I especially have problems when background noise is present (nerve deafness?). When things in the house are quiet though, the music really blooms (my wife jokes about needing to run her "small appliances" every time I sit down to listen).

P.S. - I think there's a similar problem with mastering engineers on many of today's recordings - they know what sells and they produce it that way.
The situation in high end audio is similar to exotic cars. Unless your daddy was rich, for most people by the time they're able to afford one of those expensive German or Italian supercars they no longer have the youthful vigor to drive them anywhere near their limits. The modern lifestyle usually means a person's hearing is in decline by the time they reach 30, or even earlier. Driving, headphone listening, airplanes, subways, rock concerts, bars, guns, motorcycles, etc. are all high SPL activities or environments.

I believe speaker designers have known for decades that a little bump in the 4-8kHz range translates into added detail. Also most speakers in a home environment suffer from the floor bounce induce lower midrange/upper bass suckout. Couple that with an uptilt in the lower treble and the speaker's in room balance will be noticeably light. On top of all this is the problem of wide dispersion tweeters giving speakers a flat in room power response which, IMO, is wrong, particularly for acoustic oriented music.

Here's a link to an essay by Robert Greene where he spells out the problems of tonal balance inherent in modern recordings due to instrument design and recording techniques.
I am just shocked, yes really shocked that speakers are all not designed to have flat response across the full band. Julian Hirsch, Stereo Review fame, will never permit such a thing.
Onhwy61 - Thanks for the reference to the Robert Greene essay; this is a compelling analysis, and answers many questions I have had.
The Greene article is very good!

It always helps to consider aspects of audio "perspective", ie what is heard differently at different locations relative to the source, both in a recording, to the extent possible based on any recording notes and what you hear relative to listening live at various locations in various kinds of venue, and also in your listening room based on the geometry of your listening location relative to speakers in the room and room acoustics, including effects of various speaker locations.

Of course studio recordings in particular are often a black box in regards to information provided about how recorded, you can only listen and make educated guesses perhaps.

It can take a while to get a handle on it all, but lots of fun for a serious listener along the way and worth the effort!
Sorry, didn't mean to highjack the thread. It's just that as Mapman confirmed and David12 referenced, distortion can skew an otherwise well laid out/engineered listening space whether it's deliberate or not. I really don't think a quality speaker is ever going to be the culprit since they always have a descending response. No matter how good the amp or source, there's always going to be a degree of sibilance which seems to me to be where the the answer lies. Vocal clarity is the toughest to achieve and the effort to do so may be an incidental consequence to the overall response of an amp. On the other hand, there's a marked difference between vinyl/analogue and digital sources. The latter seeming to be tipped up but imo only those that are vinyl conversions. However, I may very well be one of those old farts they're compensating for.
Sibilance is a naturally occurring thing and common in many good recordings of various instruments, including human voice. Digital recordings may emphasize it unpleasantly, but the format is not the source. Its usually in the recording just waiting to happen.

Now unwanted sibilance can be produced artificially during playback in some cases. The most common is playing vinyl with a dirty or worn stylus. The dirt deposits and/or stylus wear and/or wear in the groves from prior playing results in sibilance, often heard when a singer pronounces the letter "s" that is a clear form of distortion. I am very sensitive to that and have fought many battles with my vinyl over the years to avoid it.
Sure, but I'm referring to that being produced by the amp. Or should I say, emphasized by it?
Well, maybe surprised. I've never seen a response curve rise at the top end. But there's a point to be made of what spl a speaker actually begins to flatten out it's response to published spec.
I think the way to judge a speaker, any speaker, is to listen to classical live in a great venue (without amplification of course) and see how close you get.

It's amazing how beautiful the top end of the spectrum is with live. Perhaps this changes with how far back you are but even a few rows deep in the audience the presentation is completely out of your face.

(I could go crazy here with the idea of "imaging," what image?)

Many modern recording place the microphones on stage and sometimes on top of the instrument. Add the EQ of the engineer and top heavy design of some speakers and it's no wonder the presentation in one's living room sounds artificial and bright.

Oddly enough the old 1960s RCA and Decca got it right. I won't claim I get real life sound in my living room with these warhorse LPs but they are far more accurate and closer to my experience at the symphony.

Now if only New Orleans and other Jazz cities would return to all acoustic live shows rather than "rock and roll" level amplified stage shows.
Caveat to my last post; when a speaker begins to warp it!
Albert - I hear what you're saying about hall perspective, but sometimes the 10th-row sound doesn't translate that well to recordings. I think when you have a live band to look at, it compensates for the lack of detail, but audio alone appears to require a closer perspective to sound satisfying. At least to me. But I definitely agree with you that there is too much close miking and over-emphasis by engineers. If you don't have it, check out the old Umbrella Direct to Disk of the Toronto Chamber Orchestra. I'm normally not a fan of D2D, but I think they got this one right.
Would be interesting to do an RTA on what people think is "tipped up". Surprised myself when I did. Turned out that what I thought was relatively flat was down more than a few dB by 10K.
A bright treble in most cases is really just distorted treble. If the system is capable of playing the treble clean then you can have a lively top end without fatigue.
" But I definitely agree with you that there is too much close miking and over-emphasis by engineers."

There are also a lot of 50+ year old audio engineers who have hearing loss in the upper frequencies. I've been in studios with engineers that have spent years working with rock bands and they are doing a final mix w/o being able to hear the full audio spectrum.
It's equal to driving blind. (note that I said in the Rock music world).
Thanks for the link Chayro.

03-12-13: Sarcher30
A bright treble in most cases is really just distorted treble. If the system is capable of playing the treble clean then you can have a lively top end without fatigue.

Absolutely true.
Sarcher has a good point and I would agree.

Both my Triangle and Dynaudio monitors are very revealing up top and can go from lovely top end with the right setup to meh easily with the wrong setup around them. It need not cost a fortune, just be done well. I've seen something as simple as rolling a tube in a DAC or the right IC make all the difference.

My larger more full range OHMs are tougher to make sound irritating on the top end, but have outstanding bandwidth and dynamic headroom and pretty much any change of even often debatable significance can be heard with those, more so than the others.
It really is about distortion. And that coming from the amp imo. Lively or not, it sounds good when it's clean. It's interesting how topics come full circle to affirm conclusions arrived at on other threads. However, mine are still debatable.
Lowrider57 - If you've spend a lot of time in the studios then you know that the engineer is usually under pressure by the artist, the producer and the producer's girlfriend to make various alterations to the mix that aren't always positive. Plus, back in the day, the Auratone monitors were often used that had a reduced treble output, usually resulting in tipped up product.
Chayro....that is so true.(and hearing the girlfriend saying "I dont like it"). I'm glad u mentioned mixing thru the Auratone's; I had forgotten about that.

Also, when I used to listen to music with my engineer friend on his high-end system, he no longer could hear high occupational hazard.
manufacturers are sensitive to criticism by reviewers, so they design equipment, with the goal of minimizing "coloration".

many current production components lack warmth and seem to be a bit peaky in the treble.

i have had arguments with designers at shows, regarding this issue, years ago. however, i realize it is a useless discussion.

however giving the consumer as much "resolution" as possible at a price point, seems to be the conventional wisdom.
I wonder how much of the perceived tipped up treble in modern gear is due to digital sources and the way they sound on most commodity digital players, especially via earphones, compared to analog in the past?

Are good modern earphones tipped up? I am not so sure they are. Most modern digital does not sound like analog or even digital from 20-30 years ago. Either medium is capable of being better these days. I'm not so sure there is anything quantitative that can be cited to support the argument that modern gear is tipped up in the treble. Look at the detailed published specifications and response curves readily available on headphone sites for most modern popular earphones/plugs. Most of the good ones show as flat in response as most anything I have ever seen on paper.

Then there is the assertion that use of negative feedback in amplification devices can produce harmonic artifacts that might be perceived as louder or brighter than otherwise. I do not doubt this is the norm with much mass produced SS gear, and probably even some "high end" stuff, but not all. I would say that I think it was way more predominant as a problem of significance for most back in the early days of SS receivers and amps from Japan, 30-40 years ago or so.
At the end of the day all a speaker can do is let you know how your amp sounds.
Albertporter is uber-correct on imaging, greatest halls in world are clear and do not image.Why folks freak out over "imaging" is unclear.
It seems, the goal of "live" reproduced music in our rooms really "is" a flavor and hall perspective preference, so where does it end?

A friend and I (mid 50's) both prefer a slightly more immediate, livelier presentation, not because we have bad hearing, it's because we don't like falling asleep!
"greatest halls in world are clear and do not image.Why folks freak out over "imaging" is unclear."

Live venues do " image" depending on size,acoustics and where you sit, though granted hearing location of individual instruments is not a big consideration in most cases.

More importantly regarding recordings and playback in our homes/rooms, is the imaging as experienced at a live event is seldom found captured accurately on recordings, though some recordings particularly on certain labels that focus on this like Mapleshade, Dorian, and MErcury Living PResence largely, for example, do attempt this and do a pretty good job.

Recordings are mostly mixed and mastered in studios which is not the same as a live perspective in most cases.

Spatial cues exist in all recordings, live or studio, to various degrees.

Spatial cues in recordings lost during playback might rightly be considered a form of distortion, since you do not hear everything that is in the recording if the spatial cues are not delivered to the ears correctly as part of imaging and soundstage. Its a big factor in suspending disbelief that what you hear is real and not just a recording/reproduction. At least, that is how I look at it.