Have you tried adjusting the gain on your preamp? There are 3 different settings per input.
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Are you running balance from your Bryston to the ARC? If you are, try a single ended cable to see if that helps. You mentioned running a couple CDP’s directly to the ARC so this probably isn’t the issue as I’m guessing they don’t have balanced outputs. If you are using balance on the Bryston try single ended.
Also if you’re running balance to your Pass, try single ended as well.
I had a ARC LS25 MKII at home for a short time on my Pass X250 and had no issues whatsoever and the older X250 has a higher gain output than the .5 series I believe. Have you had your tubes checked lately?
According to the schematic the LOW/MED/HIGH gain setting is applied between the selection relays and the volume control chips. If it's still too loud on LOW that's a weird combination of levels.
Is the BAL/SE switch in the right position? It's for setting input configuration, not output.
Good luck. With a 2 volt source MED or LOW usually work fine.
the Bryston is connected with balanced cables and, as you mentioned the CD players, when connected directly, were single ended cables.
I’ll try your suggestions about trying single ended cables on both the Bryston and the amplifier.
I should have thought to mention I got the same distortion through the headphone amplifier. Supports the theory the issue is the preamp, and/or it’s relationship to the digital sources.
The tubes are fairly new but I do wonder if they might be the problem.
thanks for your advice!
The Acurus has 2V output gain, so it shouldn't be overdriving the preamp.
Do CDs sound at all harsh, or is the problem only at high volume? If so, there could be a ground loop between CDP and preamp traveling thru the unbalanced interconnect. Try using a cheater-plug on the CD, then crank up the volume.