Broke and still not happy

I like new country and good old rock & roll. My system sounds sterile, flat sounding,not musical and harsh in the highs.I have been playing bass guitar in the same band for 35 years for a living,I think I know what music is suppose to sound like. This is my gear.
Sonic Frontiers Line 1se,Classe Cam 200s,North Star Design Dac&Transport,Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors,Rel sub.Cables are balanced Nirvana SL pre to amps,Nirvana SL to speakers and Nirvana SX from source. Vibrapods under everything but amps. Echo Busters.HELP
Sounds like a great system to me. Sorry I can't help you. I'm sure someone will.
My guess is it's probably a combination of your room, your speaker setup, and your woofer location. Need more information about that for any of us to make recommendations. Dimensions, layout of furniture and speaers and sub, # openings & sizes, what's on the walls, etc.
You've got some nice stuff there and it should be ringing your bell, better than it is.
Is this a dedicated room? Are you familiar with setting up the speakers in a "nearfield" configuration?
Do you know the simple trick for determining the best spot for the placement of the sub? (place it in the main listening position and .....)
It is very difficult to get the sound that will make you happy by just buying expensive gear and hooking it up in whatever room that you have available. Think of the advice that you would give a beginner who had bought a new expensive bass guitar and had your complaints.
My first suggestion is to find someone who has a system that you like, and try substituting one piece of your equipment at a time. Also, listen to your equipment through headphones. If it stinks on phones, it will not improve in a room hooked up to speakers. I once hated a friend's very expensive system, and using the above method found that his very well reviewed (Audio Research) line stage sounded terrible. We substituted a 79 cent Radio Shack volume control instead of the line stage, and the grundge went away. Do not be intimidated by brand names. Some very expensive designs are poor matches in the "real world" for much of the equipment out there. Even same brand equipment can be so scale (gain) mismatched that it is operating at its design limits (sounds stressed) rather than at its optimum (sounds open). A dealer should know by experience what combinations work well together. Unfortunately, few dealers have the technical background to understand WHY. A few bucks spent on a competent technician can get one off the equipment swap bandwagon, and actually solve and demystify many problems. Do not, however, be alarmed if the technician prefers a Zenith radio, after all- good taste is not his job. Good luck.
I second the idea of listing to headphones. You can really get an idea of how well your speakers are setup and how well the acoustics are by listing to headphones. Get the Stereophile test cd and pay attention to the MATT (music articulation test tone) done by Acoustic Sciences Corporation I believe and the soundstage tests. They worked well for me. It can be discouraging however.
What is it you do not like about the sound?
I am guessing that some tweaks might be in order. Some I would recommend you investigate are Marigo VTS tuning bands on your dynamic driver basket arms, Marigo room treatment dots, and especially some isolation platforms such as the Machina Dynamica Promethean. Another thought is the possibility that your room treatment products might be hindering your enjoyment rather than helping. I am not saying this is definitely the case, but I would re-assess that element in any case.
Music sounds dry and not open,also I am hearing a ringing sound out of the tweaters.When you go to a high end dealer they sit you down in the sweet spot and take great care to adjust the speakers till it sounds perfect to your ears.I want to be able to walk around the room and have it still sound good.I use to have nordost cables, they were open and lively but way to much highs.I have a friend with a Marantz M7 yhh! tone controls.It help me tailor the sound to my liking but I lost something.
I think if you experiment with interconnects and power cables you might be able to get the sound you want. The best way to do this is contact the Cable Co. and rent a bunch of cables. Cardas cables have a warm signature that might work for you. Try Cardas Neutral Reference from your preamp to poweramp. If that one isn't warm enough, try Cardas Golden Reference. Audience AU24 is also a basically neutral cable that can help with aggressive highs.

Cardas and Shunyata power cables also can warm up a system. You may lose a little in the way of high frequency dynamics but they can definitely warm up the midrange. Try the Cardas Golden Reference PCs on your power amps and a Shunyata Python Alpha on your preamp. Your DAC may benefit from a shielded PC, also.
One thing is for sure, we all have opinions. Some cables can be a bad match, but I do not think they are the problem. System synergy is very important, it is clear that you have some very good gear, but maybe they are not a good match for each other. Furthermore, from what I have READ, no experience, the speakers you have may not be the best for the music you like to listen to.

The headphone idea is good if possible, but also if you have access to other gear, swap out pieces until you find something that may be the cause for lack of synergy.
I would suggest a tube amplifier. Consider an ARC VT100 or SF Power 2. I experience the same feeling from time to time and it almost always goes back to crappy digital recordings. It is amazing how bad most popular music is recorded. In fact, the better the equipment, the worse it will sound (to me). Only the best recordings and audiophile "weanie" recordings are listenable. Perhaps you should go back to vinyl. What you are describing sounds like source problems. Your digital gear is quite good.
I wouldn't look past the tubes in your pre. You may have some tubes that don't work well in the preamp and/or sounds like the ringing sound could be microphonics.
Get rid of the active preamp and get a passive. Experiment with cables, try some Cardas Golden Cross and Cardas Golden power cords.
Amps like Mark Levinson would make it worse..
Try out an amp like Rogue 88 or Air Tight...
I myself have walked into some shops and heard extremely expensive systems, only to feel that they were sterile and dry, lacking body warmth and maybe even a little too clean.
Xiekitchen, I don't know if you can get too clean. But you can have clean without involvement in my experience.
Dsiggia.... might be right. I have a Sonic Frontiers Line 2 preamp and I noticed that it's very picky on the tubes that you use. Try replacing the first 4 tubes with cheap match quads JAN-Philips 6922 from and a pair of 6H23n-EB for the rear.
I definitely second and third the suggestion to try different cables. I nearly took a pair of speakers back yesterday until I started changing interconnects. With the right combination, they went from sounding distant and uninvolving to being absolute keepers.

The tube amps will also warm up many systems. Most fellow lifetime musicians I know prefer them for their ability to reveal the humanity in the playing, for lack of a better term. There are no absolutes in audio, but I think the suggestion of getting a tube amp could be your ticket. It's just a matter of getting the type that is appropriate to the music you prefer--as in SET, push-pull, triode...

Have you listened without the vibrapods? With my CD player, they actually made the bottom end sound thuddy.
Don't give up. It can be very frustrating, but following up with the suggestions that people have made here will undoubtedly lead you to what you want.
Use a competent dealer. He will lead you to what works and what doesn't together. I'm lucky enough to have one but they are rare. Find someone that just sells the brands that he believes to be the best. Avoid dealers that are stuck selling specific brands.

I had AU24s on the speakers and Golden Cross interconnects,wasn"t bad ,but I think I like the Nirvana stuff better.Tried Cardas PCs, made the bass bloaty and slow so I settle for ESP Essence on amps,Nirvana analog on Pre and Top Gun Specials on the tranport & dac.I have Brimars in the Pre there suppose to be very musical.So I don"t know maybe its my source.Has anybody heard the North Star Design stuff?
Everybody's missed the point. I must be John the Baptist...preaching in the desert.
Maybe knowing how real music sounds takes something away from the recorded experience? I think this could happen if you arrived at a point of comparing them. Sound quality verses performance verses what you know and what you hear,etc. Something like this could be dismal. I honestly believe my system must suck big time compared to many I see here, and yet having listened to recorded music most of my life I have little experience to justify my sense that what I am hearing is not quite right, not real. It is a relief really. I imagine people who listen to live music or who play instruments can not bridge the gap between what sounds real and recordings they hear. Music comming out of the isolation of a studio might well seem sterile, even when it comes closest to fidelity. Maybe recordings with their limitations are the weakest link in your system.
I'm not sure what psychicanimal was getting at since I'm not psychic, but a good system will not deliver good sound if it is fighting against the room. Your room is a more important componant than any other piece.

I would suggest going to and plugging your system into their software. You may be able to get a good starting point for what to do.

I say that because there is nothing wrong with your electronics and speakers although I did notice there was no mention of the turntable you use as your primary listening source : )

BTW ditch the vibrapods, and go with cones.
Nrchy, you missed the point, too!
Maybe I"m wrong but I thought vibrapods soften the sound and cones gave you more detail and highs.Not what I"m looking for.
Forget about both for now. Get EVERYTHING out. The point is that you have not addressed the power delivery/noise control department. Audio is mainly about power, vibration control & acoustics. You need to work one at a time. Power is relatively straightforward (I'm lying) and acoustics can be dealt mas o menos. Go to and the Rives forum in the Asylum. Catch up on the acoustics subject.

High end is who you are, not what you buy.

You may need to play with the crossover settings on your sub. I had set my crossover phase with a signal generator to give the strongest sound at crossover. I was very unhappy with the sound, although I didn't really tie it in to the lows. On a whim, I switched the sub polarity, and I was able to turn the sub up without boom, and everything sounded much more natural and alive. Best part is this one is FREE and EASY to do, and reversible!
I did not see any mention of power conditioning. Until you clean that up you cannot accurately assess the other elements of the system. The harshness you mention could very well be from dirty power - I doubt that it is coming from the excellent equipment you have. Clean it up, and then you can address system synergy, acoustics, etc. - if you even feel the need to at that point.
I had a Chang Lightspeed didn"t like it. I now have a Furutech E-TP80.
All you have is a glorified power strip. You need to read, study and decide which approach to take for your system. First is whether your system will run off a 220V dedicated line w/ step down isolation transformer(s) or 110V dedicated line(s). Next is if balanced power will be used. That's enough for now...

High end is who you are, not what you buy.

High end is who you are, not what you buy,But you keep trying to sell me something!
What's up with "High end is who you are"?
Yeah I read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" once.
BTW not all Cardas power cords are good; I bought one that was terrible with my power amp -- the hexlink I think. The Cardas Golden power cord was COMPLETELY different and should not ruin the bass as in your experience.
LOL, so far you have been told to experiment with or replace everything in your system including the room! So much for help. Not that I have your answer either.

As long as we are all giving out .02 cents, let me add another .02, making it .04 cents!

I do believe a room plays a big part, but I believe many, if not most, on here would say that they have setup many systems in many rooms and had them sound good, doing little or nothing to the room. Could changing room setup and treatment improved this, absolutely.

Also, I bet the majority of the users here do not have power conditioning.
Hey, I don't sell anything--and you're the one who's not happy. I'll put it in other words:
The professional is able to compensate the idiosyncracies of his equipment.

Thet's why I say what I say. Audio is not about buying expensive equipment. Audio is about knowing how to set up anything, anywhere and making it sound right. This skill takes time and effort to learn.

With psychic power and primal intensity,
Gellis1, what do YOU think the problem is? Many suggestions have been made and you have rejected several of them. It seems as though you are looking for a specific answer to validate your own opinion.
Marigo VTS tuning bands on your dynamic driver basket arms. That is one of the suggestions.Do you think I should try it? Or maybe put everything in a different room. Someone suggested cardas cables,Done that,Been their.Not rejecting.Don"t forget my first subject.BROKE.I was thinking it was my source and ask if anybody had heard the North Star Design DAC& TRANSPORT but nobody replied on that.I did remove the vibrapods but no change.

If I remember correctly the Marigo bands are about $70 per driver pair. If the basket arms are of smallish circumference you can treat 2 driver pairs. These can add significant "involvement" for a relatively modest investment.

There are loads of DIY projects at Tweaker's Asylum that you can try that involve component isolation and other beneficial tweaks. I sense that your dissatisfaction could be cured with attention to some of the details I have mentioned. I have personally installed the Marigo bands on two pair of loudspeakers and greatly appreciated the results both times. I doubt very much that this treatment alone with get you where you want to be, but I am pretty confident it will make a difference that you will appreciate.

If you get over to the Tweaker's Asylum, check out bdiament posts regarding decoupling components and loudspeakers with roller bearings. I think he is right on the money with his assessments. An Audio Asylum member (transmissionfluid) is currently trying to organize a group purchase of Barry Diament's DIY Hip Roller bearings. These are 7075 grade aluminum discs milled to certain specs provided by Barry. If I were you I would take advantage of the offer. I don't know how close he is to getting this going, but I hope that it happens soon.

As Psychicanimal and others have mentioned, power treatment is another area that can help lead you to bliss. The only power treatment I am using personally is ACME silver plated/cryo treated outlets and this has lowered my systems noise floor significantly. I am currently researching how to more fully exploit power delivery options.

I also agree with Psychicanimal, sonic bliss involves a lot more than money alone can buy. That said money well spent on accessories can go a long way towards contentment too. With your budget you can afford to go slow. ;-) And even with a large budget, patience is the wise path to take.

If you are willing to make the investment someday, Machina Dynamica isolation platforms will most assuredly have a huge impact on improving the enjoyment of your current system.

I have never heard your digital equipment. If you make a specific request with North Star DAC/Transport in the title you presumably will find people who have. It is a good idea to poll these people as to what isolation, power, and cabling solutions have worked for them.
Psychic, you animal you !
You're so psychotically correct !

I cannot speak to the power conditioners that you have because I have not personally tried them. However, based upon what I read I was not overly impressed with them. What I can atest to is what I have experienced in my own system. After researching power conditioners for myself, I concluded that the Richard Gray units were the ones I wanted to try. That being the case, I purchased a single "used" RGPC 400 MKII from Audiocon and put it in my system - just to try it out. It removed a large amount of the grundge and increased the dynamics of the sound significantly. It turned a system that was sterile to me into one that was extremely enjoyable to listen to. As a result of that experience, I rewired my system power for 240VAC, and added a 240VAC to 120VAC transformer and an RGPC 1200 Custom. The results have been wonderful!

This is the route I chose for my system, and If given a choice I would do it again because I think it is fundamentally sound. If I feel the need for more conditioning in the future I will probably add a PS-300 for the front end components.

Just my opinion - good luck :o)

Well, when I ask for help I didn"t expect all this. Scott,you suggested the Richard Gray well I had one of them to,and I tried the Chang so I don"t know maybe I don"t like line conditioners maybe thats why I like the Furutech and then again maybe I should try some other line conditioner.That could be part of my problem.How about speakers,are mine to nice for the type of music I listen to?
Gellis1, you asked up a little ways about putting everything in a different room. If that's not too hard to do, give it a try. Will give you some insight into the role your current room is playing in your unhappiness.
I have to reiterate here. Stereophile Test CD track 19. Put your ear right in front of the speaker and then slowly back away. It may not solve your particular problem, but it will give you an idea of good...or bad your speaker placement is.

Cables, power conditioners and other tweaks are important but I think people get a little obsessed with little stuff like that. I'm not an expert but I'd be willing to bet somewhere somehow it's an acoustics issue.
Get rid of the tube preamp and DAC. Use the the funds
to get a TacT RCS 2.2X. Run the transport directly into
the RCS. Put the sub in a corner of your room and let the TacT system measure and balance out the system. If you play in a band, you know that the sound person has to use EQ controls to adjust for room conditions. Time to bring
the same concept home.
I think the TACT is a pink noise generater if so,we"ve tried other brands in the band and I had one in my vehicle. Always went back to manually adjusting the EQ.I"m still thinking about the Maranzt M-7.
Play some jazz, if you think this sounds better, consider the speakers.
"I think the TACT is a pink noise generater."

Gellis1- the TacT is not a pink noise generator. It uses pulses at three different frequncies to measure in room frequency response and time delays between the speakers.

It uses this measurement to calculate an inverse correction curve for the system based on a target curve and subwoofer crossover points/slopes you select. All this is done in digital. You can program 9 difference correction curves to suit your musical tastes.

You can also manually adjust with it's digital 12-band parametric equalizer or a programable 3-band tone control to touch up problem recordings on the fly.
My $.02?

Get rid of the Vibrapods and Classe amps. Try a good tube amp or tube monos. Vibrapods squash PRaT, at least in my system.
I should change my subject to,Broke and confused.Some people out their tell me I have really nice gear and it should be ringing my bell, others tell me to sell it.Well anyway I"m not going to quit.I took out the vibrapods and things got more harsh,remember that was one of my problems I"m going to try my old sovteks and see if maybe I have a bad tube.How about suggestions on tube monos.Brand & watts. I play bass in my band, I don"t want to give up the speed & tightness you get with solid state,but I also like the warmth of tubes.I thought maybe with a tube pre & solid state amps you could achieve that,but maybe not.My bass head is a hibrid and works well.
I can understand that. I've never owned tube equipment myself but have heard of people bi-amping speakers using solid state for the low end and tubes for the highs.
I would prefer a solidstate preamp with tube amp, rather than the other way around. That is, assuming ones speakers are "tube friendly." But that's just me.

The problem with highend audio is there are so many routes to take. Yep some are going to say you have good equipment and others are telling you to sell it all, including the room and house. How many of us have identical components? Hardly any. That should tell you something.

Sounds like you may need help with power, resonance control, and acoustics? well maybe not all three. But the happiness seems to lie in the details. I think he's psychic! Do you have a local mapleshade or walker audio dealer? they are usually pretty good with helping you with cost effective and sonic effective tweaks. Just a thought. No affiliation with mapleshade or lloyd walker.
ANALOG, ANALOG, ANALOG !!! Where is your turntable ? A good analog rig will enhance any system. You have some excellent equiptment which deserves a good source component. If funds are a problem, get a VPI scout or Nottingham rig. Make sure that it is on a very sturdy level and HEAVY base. Since you are a musician, I'll bet you have some 2&4 track open reel tapes. Get a reel to reel on Ebay, some factory pre-recorded Reel to reels and be prepaired to be amazed.
Most high end gear IMO isn't great for rock since it tends to emphasize the midrange, and other subtleties that are not mastered well into rock recordings.

If I had it to do over again, and maybe listened a little less to classical and jazz, I'd go with top end P/A speakers and professional amplifiers. Every commercial joint I've been in where I thought "Wow the sound is great in here." I noticed used commercial gear.

If you're into rock, pop, country, etc., I think that's the best bang for the buck, and will get you closer to what you're used to hearing when you gig.
After looking at your system I am surprised as many that it does not sound great. However, if you do not have a good synergy between components, even the most expensive of systems can sound like crap. If you are truly not happy, I would suggest you sell the system here on Audiogon and start from scratch.

Also, simplify things. Eliminate as much cabling as you can. For example, go with a high quality one box CD player like a GAMUT, an Electrocompaniet, or a CARY. Digital Cables can be the devil in my opinion. I was never happy when I had my Theta combo as I was always found good in bad in switching the digital cable. I got to the point where I three sitting around for different types of music. A one box source eliminates this link.

Also, maybe consider a larger pair of Speakers opposed to Monitors and a SUB. I personally love your speakers as I own the Concertos but my room is small. It sounds like the sound you are looking for might be better suited with a larger cabinet.

Also, stick to one cable product. Do not mix and match. If you like the Nirvana use their interconnects, speakerwire, and Power Cords as they are made to work together. I used to mix and match and have stellar results using all Audience Au24 and their matching Powerchords.

I hate to say this to but ditch the Vibrapods. They are are anything but an improvement IMO. They do more bad than good (At least they did in my system). I agree completely with your comments. I cannot stand using pointed hard brass or metal isolation devices either as I mainly listen to CDs and SACDs. Too much detail can take the emotion out of the music IMO.

I have recently purchased some Tone Wood Vibration Devices made from Brazilian Rosewood that would floor you on your system from a company called Monument Reference. You might want to check something like that out for your digital source. They add a sense of "space" with digital sources that is hard to describe.

Also, take out your echo busters and listen without them. Then add them in. Make sure they are an actual improvement. Not all things work well in real world applications. I do not think this is your problem but you want to eliminate every possible suspect.

Then take a look at your power set up. I know I will probably take a lot of crap for saying this but ditch any and all power conditioners. I have tried a lot of different combos and the best results I have had has been with using aftermarket power cords plugged straight into the WALL. There is a real nice guy named Albert Porter here on Audiogon that sells Cryo'd outlets for a reasonable price. Upgrading your wall outlets is a great cheap tweak.

Anyway, there is my two cents for free. I really wish you luck because I have been there.

My system now is not the most expensive but probably one of the most musical I have ever owned. It is also one of the most simple systems I have owned. I always grin when I go to my local high end shop and listen to a 30 or 40K system that is set up and I can usually find fault with it. It is all about synergy and the music.