Effortless, grain-free sound - is it possible?

I'm starting to wonder if I'm searching for the impossible. I sold my former system (built around MG 3.6R speakers, Bryston electronics, Delphi turntable) in search of a simpler, purer, less "hi-fi" sound. I bought Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor speakers, a Cary SLI-80 Signature F1 integrated amp, Nordost "Blue heaven" cables, and I'm now searching for a new CD player (still using my Parasound CD/P 2000). I'm leaning toward the new Cary 306 SACD. I listen mostly to opera, piano music, and some jazz (with a smattering of other things).

Opera is a brutal test for equipment, as we all know. An orchestral crescendo with a soprano singing at full tilt will test any system. We've all heard our systems turn to mush at such times. Piano music, at volume, will also separate the men from the boys. My new sytem, while it has many virtues, is not cutting it in this department. It seems to fall down hard when the going gets tough. I'm trying to figure out if what I'm hearing is a function of what I've grown used to with the old system, or if it is CD player related, or if the SLI 80 is running out of gas, or if these little speakers really can't play as loudly as advertised, or what. I also think it may be that most of my listening before was on the Delphi (LPs), while now I have only CDs to listen to.

For example, the first Act of Verdi's Otello is rich with wonderful orchestration and massive coral passages. I have a mid-70s Angel recording on LP (Glossop, Freni), the sound of which I have always greatly prefered to any CD. The loud passages just seem to stay together better and the whole thing seems richer, fully, and . . . well . . more like music. The horn blasts, the concussive effect of drums, etc all seems much better. I can't test this on my current system because I'm without a turntable now. Will my problems lessen when I go back to LPs? Am I now hearing problems with the CD format, or am I just expecting something from my current gear that it just can't deliver?

Thoughts and comments would be much appreciated.


My feeling is that you're expecting a lot from a 50 watt per channel tube amp (good-sounding triode mode), when asking it to drive not-so-efficient speakers with small (under 6-inch) woofers. Unless you're playing this system in an 8 x 10 foot room your amp will be woefully clipping and your speakers just won't move enough air (no matter what) to give you the kind of sound you're describing.

So if you want bigger, more dynamic sound, why not get a more powerful amp or bigger, more efficient speakers, or both? Or maybe add a more powerful amp and a decent quality subwoofer, or two... There may be more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.

Certainly what you're looking for is possible, but not with your current amp and speakers in your particular room (which you apparently forgot to describe). I highly doubt that your problem is related to your using CD as the source.
I agree with Plato and I'm not suprised that your system can not do most of what you would like it to do...you do have a nice system though.

You need an amp with bigger b*lls.
Thank you for the comments.

Yes, I too thought that maybe I'm being unrealistic, but when I say "at volume" I'm talking about 10:00 O'Clock on the volume control. Nothing like "real world" volume. My room is 13 by 15 with rather high ceilings (10 feet). It is carpeted with lots of book shelves. Years ago, I had Spica TC 50s (also small monitors) and I don't remember this being as much of a problem. I'm running the amp in Triode mode, and it is not broken in (40 hours by now, give or take). Maybe some patience is in order.

89 Db and 4 ohms is not exactly inefficent, is it? Also, I'm not expecting ear splitting levels. Even with the volume at 10 O'Clock, the break up at complex passages is quite noticeable. I've heard from others I trust that the SFs play quite loudly (although I've not pushed them very hard).

I'm gong to get the 306 SACD anyway. I'll let you know the difference it makes. Thank you again.

89 Db and 4 ohms is not exactly inefficent, is it?

In my 103dB 8ohm world it is very inefficient. You are going to need a lot of current to get these speakers going and I doubt 80 watts from a tube amp is enough to do what you want. Your speakers are barely more efficient than the 3.6's which are notorious for demanding very powerful amps to get them going.

Come on over to the dark side. get some high efficiency speakers and an SET amp. You will never go back.
It's also possible that something is overloading or not performing correctly, especially if you're playing at relatively low levels. Substituting other gear like a CD player or amp might tell you this.

89dB/watt is not that inefficient, but for small speakers in your room, it's never going to have authority in the low registers of the piano, though it might do fine on vocals with the right amplification... Offhand, I don't know the specs on your electronics, but it's even plausible that your CD player's output could be overloading your amps input stage. Let us know how you make out.
More amp! A Channel Island D-200 should do the trick. 89 DB @4 ohm is not extactly a lite load. It's not the 89db part so much as the 4 ohm part especially with a tube amp!
FWIW, I now have the Cary 303-300 and I've adjusted the speaker placement per the Cardas web site. I also have several more hours of break in on the speakers and the integrated amp. Results: Much better. Most of the glare is gradually disappearing. Moving the speakers to exactly the spot recommended by Cardas had a marked effect. Sounding quite beautiful actually. I'm somewhat shocked by how low the SF Cremona Auditors will go without a sub. I'm going to get a sub mind you, but the speakers really are little marvels. Thanks to all for the comments. MMC