Could be a weak tube on one channel in the preamp.
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I have this problem too and concluded that in my case it is a room/speaker placement problem. My "center image" is usually 3-5 dB to the left of center (but it varies with music). I can center it by moving my listening position, but don't like this solution in my room, so I only use pre-amps with balance control.
Some good pre-amps with balance control are Sonic Frontiers Line series, ARC LS-25, and Levinson SS pre-amps. I use the SF Line 2SE, and there are several good but inexpensive pre-amps with balance control, ie Adcom. Cheers. Craig
The problem occurs with all of my speakers(BG Radia, Green Mountian, EFE Tech, Michaura) amps(Jolida, ASL, Vecteur, Sansui) and sources(CD, digital music, tuner). It's got me baffled. I do notice that when I move my head laterally to the left about six inchs the image stabilizes in the center. When I look at the left soundstage the image moves even further to the left than when I look straight ahead. It occures on both the long and short wall. My room is 15x30x8 and symetrical. I'm begining to think it is my hearing. Even thought the doctor said my ears are clear I bought some Murine ear cleaner anyway.
Socrates you are on the mark. I moved the right speaker about 9 inches forward and the center image locked in. It must be the ear. Maybe the ear drops with perform magic but it looks like I'm stuck with a bad ear at 38.(<:
Now is when I wish I had an amp with a balance control. It kinda bothers me that one speaker is ahead of the other, you know.(<:
Thanks to all for your advise.
Hello Pete-I agree with Socrates' solution. I have always found this to work the best. My room is not exactly symetrical and by moving my right speaker an inch and a half forward the phasing locks in. However, I do not find that using a balance control has the same effect on the soundstaging. Yes, the volume on each channel can be set identical, but the timing of one channel in relationship to the other is not in sync and all those little cues that define a clear and realistic soundstage are missing.
Your ear being the problem sounds a bit off. I suggest you put the speaker back where it was and get someone else in the room. Your mind can play crazy tricks on you, so I suggest you don't tell the person it's comming from the left. Just tell them its off center and see if they recongnize its the left on their own. If you tell them its on the left they will here it on the left because they are looking for it.
I went through the same crazy problem. It can be madning. I found out that it was all in my head. I went as far as going to Audio dealers, pretending to audition equipment just to see where their center image was on recordings that I supplied. Everywhere I went the image was on the left. I'm not an expert, but maybe its all of us. I was watching a program on T.V that explained how the human brain works and found it interesting to know that when someone walks into a retail store they immediately turn their attention to the right upon entrance(think about it, its true). Maybe the same thing goes for when listening to music that is esentially centered, but yet our brain pays more attention to what is hppening on the left side of the stage.
This happened quite a few years back. After I stopped worring about it the image seem to lock in center. For me it was only vocals that were to the left. Still to this day after the years have passed since (I obviously upgraded virtually everything as we audiophiles tend to due every year, changing entire systems at least 2-3 times and moving homes once) if I concentrate and analyze where the vocals are they turn from lock center to slightly left. Sounds like the singer is in the middle of my left speaker and componant rack. I drove a friend of mine crazy because he thought everything was center on his system until I told him it wasn't, he then let his imagination get the better of him.
The mind is a very powerful tool, too powerful for us to comprehend.
Power Cords, I think can make a difference. Although, when someone spends a large amount of money on power cords or interconnects thay also very badly, even depserately WANT to hear a difference.
As far as taking measurements, I went crazy measuring everything to a tenth of an inch, I also changed rooms.
I even went to Radio Shack and bought a little divice to measure the electrical current out of each channel of the power amp.
I too have been plagued with this problem from time to time. It has almost always been solved by speaker placement, toe in and/or distance from the listening position. It is amazing how seemingly insignificant changes in these two factors can cause dramatic shifts in the image. If your system is set up properly and everything is working properly, you should be able to look at the spot where the vocals are coming from, and that spot should be centered. I find it hard to believe that you can trick yourself into thinking it is coming from some place it is not, especially when you are concentrating on it.
Here is a simple way to tell. When I think my image is centered, I turn my head to look left of center and the image comes from the right of where I am looking. Then when I turn my head to look right of center, the image comes from the left of where I am looking. In other words, even when I turn my head, it is still coming from the center. If the image moves left when I look left or to the right when I look right, then the image is indeed off center in that direction.
To see if it is something wrong with the system, move the left speaker to the right and vice versa but leave everything hooked up the way it is. Hopefully your speaker cables are long enough. That way everything that was feeding the right side is now on the left, and vice versa. If the image is still off center in the same direction, then you have a problem with one of the following:
a. toe in
b. distance from the speaker to the sweet spot
c. some sort of interaction with a room irregularity
d. a hearing problem
Have you checked to see what happens in "mono" especially if your pre-amp has a selector switch specifically for mono? You should then have a dead centered image. How did you set the toe-in for your speakers, by eye? Try checking the toe-in with a laser pen or tool to get it exact. Maybe your eyes are lying. Best of luck.
You also want to make sure the recording you are using for reference actually has the vocals center stage. Many recordings, especially operas for instance, will place the vocalists all over the soundstage, for example, from standing just a foot inside or outside the speakers, to a few feet off center and dead center, actually anywhere inbetween the speakers and even outside the speakers, of course if your gear (and room) is up to that task.
From my experience, which goes pretty much along what is in the 12 page speaker setup manual that comes with Von Schweikerts (and similar SHOULD come with all big buck speakers, but many don't have more then a page of help):
-Toe in should be used more to lock in the 3D image, to obtain the most depth of the soundstage, the most body to sounds. The best way to do this is with pink noise, getting a phantom ball with 3 dimensions floating center stage much lounder then the faint fuzz from the speakers directly. Also worth note is that both speakers do NOT need the same to in angle, one can even be much further toe'd in then the other in order to create the best 3D image.
-The speaker distance relative to the rear wall (front/back) I would use for the 2D lateral imaging, locking in the center image, and the distance from the rear wall will affect 3D images, making the sound flatter if the speakers are too close, also greatly affect bass performance, of course.
-The speaker distance apart and from the side walls will greatly affect vertical imaging (rubber-band effect). Going too far apart and the stage will squish down, so keep moving out until the stage squeezes down, and don't hesitate to go a good 10ft apart or more with most speakers, even 15ft is not unheard of with great speakers The imaging as such across a huge stage is extreamely impressive! Personally, I can't stand to listen to speakers that are not at least 8-10ft apart, the overlap and lack of image specificity just annoys the heck out of me (yet, for whatever reason, 99% of dealers will set speakers 5-6' apart, where they sound like crap, and its hard to assess the virtues and vices of the gear...!).
This is just general info and there's much more to it, especially regarding room interactions (which make up for at least 50% of the sound!). There are plenty of books on the subject and many websites with info you can easily find, very good reading.
That's another problem I was thinking of but forgot to mention: Many speakers have a "head-in-a-vice" sweet spot, move your head an inch or more one way or the other and the magic is gone, the soundstage collapses. Such is the problem with the majority of time-phase aligned speakers, the sweet spot is the only sweet spot, sit anywhere else in the room and the sound is just mediocer at best, any other person listening is not getting 1/4 of the magic, although there are a few speakers that can offer a sweet spot as big as a sofa and the music will still be stunning even in a different room entirely....btw, did I mention how much I like Von Schweikerts? :o)
I noticed a similar problem with image when I first started getting into high end audio 20 years ago. I tried many things until I noticed the problem occured on all systems, including those in dealer showrooms. I tried moving the speaker to compensate for the offset image, but something about that approach does not seem right.
To make a long story short, I finally concluded that I have a slight hearing loss in my right ear. I can adjust the balance control to about 2 o'clock and the image centers fine. I did a fair amount of hunting in my younger days, and suspect this may have contributed to the loss in my right ear.
I am convinced that others people have a similar problem and do not know it. A high end system is so resolving that small losses are noticeable. Whenever someone comes to hear my system, I frequently start by playing something with a good center image (female vocal) and ask them to point to the singer. It does not happen often, but I have had people point to one side or the other. So I adjust the balance for them so they can hear what a true image sounds like.