Is it just possible that the cd that you audition systems with is just flawed by tecnical standards?
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I have literally felt your pain. Another audiogon member described this experience as akin to having ice picks stuck through one's ear drums. In my opinion, it is likely that this is due to multiple factors resulting in an inappropriate reinforcement of certain frequencies. It is likely that the recordings themselves are at least part of the problem.
In my own system, I experienced a similar phenomenon most prominent with certain female vocals, but on occasion I would get the same thing from French horns. Further, it seemed that Chandos recordings were especially prone to this sort of thing. I successfully tamed this using a combination of room treatments and purchase of an Audio Mirror D-1 DAC. No more bleeding ears!
You could have 2 different issues going on .The recording itself and or the loudspeakers.The best top end reproduction I ever encountered by a wide margin is the B&W 800 Series with the new Diamond Tweeter.This speaker will not impead any of the top end response at all.
But then again based on my experience most recording engineers
don't allow enough headroom for the dynamic range of a Soprano
to be voiced.
I have made several live recordings of our local community orchestra over the years and have excellent results from Soprano recordings and duets.You must be extremely important to allow for the dynamic envelope to expand naturally without the use of any compression at all.
When this is done properly you will witness with your ears
and unbelievable live sound of the voice true to the original event.
The engineer needs to be extremely familiar with the piece
and have a copy of the musical score with him to anticipate when a fff will occur from the voice,But that is called gain ride and even that needs to be done very carefully as well.
I hope this answers your question.
With no intention of causing too much of a stir, this may also be hard clipping, which is how digital recordings handle distortion overloads as opposed to soft clipping which is a little more natural and ear-friendly which is found in anolog playbacks of hot signals.
Then again, it may well be that even in the concert hall itself, that a given Soprano, on any given night, might just enter dramtic piercing levels which no sliders on the sound board are going to stop. When you're hot, you're hot.
The problem Is not caused by the cd or any cd for that matter, the fault lies with a systems inability to play music. Avoid any lo-fi system (masquerading as hi-fi) that makes vocals sibilant or harsh. A good set-up will make you forget instantly the equipment a cd is being played on, thereby allowing you to be engrossed totally in the music you are hearing.