Critique my system...

Wasn't sure what section to post this in. I'm fairly new to critical listening and I've recently put together a system I really like. But my gut tells me it's just a little on the bright side. So, here's what I've got....what would you guys try next to warm it up a bit?

McIntosh MC60 mono-blocks recently rebuilt.
Audio Research LS3 solid state preamp.
NAD C546BEE CD player
Nola Boxers with about 100 hours on them.
Interconnects are just some older Monster stuff
Cables to amps are older Phoenix Gold
Speaker wire is new Monster XP

Thanks...I'd appreciate the advice.
Get rid of the Monster stuff. If you don't want to spend a lot on cables get some of the Clear Day cables. Also a tube preamp would warm up your system
since you asked---i'd probably experiment with a different cdp (or add a dac); not that price is any precise indicator of sound quality, but it looks like your amp/pre are in a different weight class than the cdp. a tube cdp like jolida, vincent, etc. might sound warmer (or at least tubier).
It'd be very helpful to see how your room is set up. The same components in different rooms can sound anywhere from dreadful to spectacular.
If you are presently using the amplifier's 8 ohm tap, corresponding to the rated nominal impedance of the speaker, try the 4 ohm tap.

I have no particular familiarity with the Boxer, and I couldn't readily find any info on how its impedance varies as a function of frequency. But many small two-way speakers have a considerably lower impedance in the bass region than at higher frequencies, the expectation being that the interaction of that kind of impedance characteristic with the near zero output impedance of most solid state amplifiers will result, for a given signal level, in increased power delivery at low frequencies, relative to power delivery at high frequencies. Thereby compensating to some extent for the limited bass capability that a small two-way will tend to have.

That increase in low frequency power delivery will not occur to the same degree with a tube amplifier, due to its relatively high output impedance. But the output impedance of the 4 ohm tap will be significantly less than for the 8 ohm tap.

If that doesn't help sufficiently, room acoustics, speaker placement, and the direction in which the speakers are aimed would probably be what I would focus on next. For one thing, if they are presently aimed at the listening position try aiming them straight ahead.

-- Al
If what Al said doesn't resolve it, experiment with speaker placement and toe-in/out so that less sound reaches your ears directly from the tweeters and see if that helps.

Grills on or off the Boxers? That may make a difference if off currently.

Or try placing a piece of light felt or similar acoustically translucent material over the tweeters just for fun and see what that does. If it helps, leave it there. Tweak the amount of material used to obstruct the tweeter until you get the desired results with grilles on for best WAF.

All easy low/no cost things to try before changing anything. You'll probably learn more about how the gear performs along the way as well which can only help prior to making a change if it comes to that.

Brightness aside, how does the bass sound? Moving speakers around to different locations should have an effect there as well which might help with tonality overall. Those Nola's are rear ported, right? That would suggest they may do best overall including with the bass a couple feet or more out and away from front wall. Some distance from side walls as well to help avoid early reflections that smear the sound that might be heard otherwise is probably desirable as well.

Trying different ICs, not necessarily real expensive ones, might be the next thing I would fiddle with. A used pair of MIT Terminator 3 or 4 ICs for well under $100 might have a softening effect on the tonality overall.

Oh, and of course, whenever tubes are involved, make sure they are strong and functioning up to spec or else all bets are off.
It looks like a good system. I agree re the Monster ICs etc. get something else. The CDP could be "better" but with your amps and speakers you shouldn't lack warmth, there is no desperate need for more tubes. I think you can go overboard with warmth, so some balance isn't bad. Again for a first serious system you did a good job, I wish I had done as well.
I would first look at room acoustics and speaker placement

If its a hard and cold room, throwing money at the equipment wnd isn't going to get you to your goal
The most important cables are the power cords.
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The CDP isn't in the same league as your pre and amps, but it's OK for now. You really need some good interconnects; changing them will make your system open up and affect the timbre (you may need to try a couple different brands).
I agree with the poster who said don't mess with the cables unless they have an electrical problem. They will make the least amount of difference, in comparison to everything else you could change. If it were me, I would switch the preamp for a tubed one. Al's suggestion is also an excellent one.
A tube DAC maybe?
You shouldn't have any brightness problems with your amp and preamp. Although I wouldn't use the Monster cables, I don't recall where anyone's complained of brightness when using them, rather the opposite: overly warm and or/closed in.

The CDP you have is not in the same league as your rest of your system but again, it's not known to be on the bright side and their line of components are midrange centric anyway (which is not to say they limit the upper and lower frequencies).

Al is usually right in his diagnosis (if he had a 1-800 number and told people their futures he'd be a wealthy man by now) :-) so try his suggestions along with experimenting with speaker placement and maybe some room treatment.

All the best,
Treat the room first....this will give you the biggest bang for the buck. Work on removing the standing waves from the room corners and first reflection points. Only after this is done will you know how your system actually sounds.
Thanks guys. Yeah, the room isn't is carpeted though. Oh and the speakers are on Skylan stands mass loaded with floor dry. I've tried moving the speakers and doesn't seem to change much.

Sometimes I think I'm confusing brightness for a lack of bass...the system is very clear and detailed.

Interesting comments on the CD has a Wolfson DAC which I understand is a decent one.

The other issue may be just crappy recordings. I have a few discs that sound fantastic but I'm still curious if it could sound better....really just new to this.

I would say it is the AR preamp, just on face value of your list. It could be the room, so don't rule that out.

But I owned the LS3 in the mid 90s. At first listen, it's detail is captivating. But for the long haul, it is indeed on the bright side.

"Sometimes I think I'm confusing brightness for a lack of bass"

I believe you have answered your own question. You have a nice setup. Enjoy it and maybe sometime in the future you can upgrade to Nola's with more bass.
All recordings sound different. Most CDs produced since mid 90's will tend to sound louder and brighter than most prior. WHat works well for older CDs might not for newer ones, making them sound bright and fatiguing in comparison.

Not possible to get all CDs to sound similarly good unfortunately. Recording quality and nature varies greatly regardless of format. Being abl to hear differences is a good thing.

Still, you want to be able to listen and enjoy most if not all recordings. Taming brightness/fatigue in general with most of the offending recordings is possible, but not with all.

So very important to assess what recordings sound good and which do not.

I have my system tuned so that 90% + of all my CDs are listenable and not fatiguing/bright. If you can get things tuned so that only a very small % sound fatiguing or bright, you are in pretty good shape. There are always some small % of recordings that will not sound good no matter what.
As I reread your post I agree that the first step is to try some absorption room treatments. Acoustic wall panels, even furniture and rug placement can make a difference.
As far as your preamp, I doubt that an ARC would add brightness to your system.
If speakers cannot be well away from walls, then absorption panels or equivalent may help by reducing early reflections that help to smear sound, starting with primary reflection point from speaker to listening position for the speaker or speakers closest to the wall. High frequencies are most affected by absorbing panels so result should be less brightness in general, the question will be how much less which depends on many factors relating to speaker directionality and room acoustics.

Definitely worth getting a handle on how much of issue might be bass related. Panels won't do anything much to help with bass if that is what is lacking as opposed to too much treble.

Any tone controls on that gear? If so, use them. That's what they are for. :^)
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"You shouldn't have any brightness problems with your amp and preamp."
Er, yes, he should. The LS3 IS a bright preamp. No doubt about it.

Good stuff guys. Mapman, I like your comment about CD recordings...I think that may be some of it. Some good, new recordings sound very good if not perfect to me.

The lack of bass is probably not the speakers, I probably just don't have them in a great position to optimize bass...they supposedly go down to 44hz. Sheesh, I don't know...:/

I've been thinking about inviting a local audiophile over to have a listen...someone with a lot of experience. Anyone ever done this?

BTW, because the cables and interconnects are just used stuff my dad had, I'll probably try new stuff next. The local hi-end shop said for reasonable money, Kimber or Transparent is what they'd sell me. I'm thinking a couple hundred for interconnects and maybe $300 for speaker cables...any more and I'd feel dumb, considering the gear.

You just might need more time for the speakers to break in a 100 hours is not a lot. I would upgrade the monster cables and perhaps a subwoofer could solve your bass issues. Good Luck
I would not drop more than $100 max on any wire used just for the purpose of taming brightness. You'll probably find better deals on wires to experiment with on ebay than here.
Go "borrow" a few DACS and use that instead of the internal DAC in the NAD unit and hear the difference. Same for other components and cables. Try them out in your system before you purchase. But, since you asked, my order would be:

1. Audition various external DACs.
2. Cables. They do make a significant difference in the impedence and sound.

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Get Dh labs Silversonic interconnects (BL-1) and speaker cables (T-14). Relatively inexpensive and wonderful on tube gear. Try that first before shelling out any additional dough....
Another thought- play around with speaker toe in. If you have the speakers angled in towards you, try them pointing more straight down the room.
Thanks guys...great stuff to try.