Glare on Choral recordings, classical vocals

Dear all,

I'm hoping for some clarity on an issue of the quality of choral vocals in digital recordings. It's either my system or the recordings. There is a glare and harshness in the crescendos, and I wonder if it's natural room clipping in the studio or cathedrals in which they are recorded (the delay in some of these spaces can lead to a natural harshness and smearing of the sound), or if I have poor setup in terms of the DAC and/ or the preamp. I use a B&K PRO-10MC and a Schiit Bifrost Multibit. This setup has resolved any issues with digital glare except in the domain of choral music. Do I have to suck it up and consider upgrading to the Gungnir or another device? Should I consider a tubed preamp, maybe the Schiit Freya?

The problem is far less noticeable on vinyl, but most of my choral collection is in the digital domain. 

I've always had problems with the Tallis Scholars recordings on the Gimell label, which are almost always recorded in cathedrals. However, I did listen once to a Tallis Scholars CD on a dealer's rig with a Conrad-Johnson tube pre and Totem Model 1 Signatures, and there seemed to be much better resolution, though this was 20 years ago and I think my younger self was just blown away by the sound in general.

I've noticed that audiophiles and reviewers seldom write about choral music. Is it because they don't like choral music, or is it because it is just really difficult to record choirs well, therefore making choral music a poor choice to show off a system?

Any choral music-loving audiophiles care to comment on their experiences and solutions? 
Many thanks,

This could be a room "mode" which is sympathetic to the frequency of the vocals. In English, this means that the sound coming out of your speakers may start to echo, or resonate, causing the blurring effect.
Try walking around your room clapping you hands and listening for echos. If found, place some damping material on one of the opposing walls to kill the echo. Keep at it until all echos are eliminated.

Another cause could be improperly designed ICs or speaker wire. Cheap speaker wire (actually, the insulation or "dielectric") will accumulate electrical charge and at some point release it back into the conductor. This will distort the signal going to your speakers and you will hear it.
Obviously this is more likely to happen in loud passages like crescendos.  
Complex music, orchestral, massed voices, etc. is difficult on many systems. That’s why VERY few show demo rooms use this type of music, instead relying on much simpler stuff. The fact that you are getting glare on some crescendos may be due to the fact that you are overdriving the amp or speakers. If the music still glares when you turn it down, it sounds to me like it’s in the recording. Try listening through headphones to see if it’s the recording.
If that doesn't work, do what 95% of all audiophiles do - just listen to stuff that sounds good.  Sad but true. Denials to follow. 
Room acoustics is not a bad place to start. Experiment with rugs, blankets and pillows, on walls and on floor between speakers.

If you find this helps, reach out to GIK acoustics for real professional help and products.


Problem with Choral , which I love and live in its US Capital , is its both often poorly recorded and shows up any fault in system .

All advice above is good, try it all. Esp. as to volume .
The problem was solved in my system by buying a good DAC, my NAD C565, which was top of line with glowing reviews, was just compressing choral.
I bought the Cambridge CXC transport(one of my best moves) and a Rein Audio X-DAC, problem solved .
Never had problems myself but are your tweeters old? Dried up Ferrofluid perhaps?

Also if your space is small and crowded especially around the listener or speakers then many early reflections can collapse the soundstage and make for a harsh sound
The ps audio Direct stream incredibly good across the board 
And even better in 3 weeks after firmware upgrade.
Glare is unlikely to be due to room modes (which would affect bass) but could easily be due to moving a dipole speaker so the tweeter back wave fires into a glass window (don’t ask me how I know that).  It is certainly not due to speaker wire insulation.

What changed to before/after the glare? Or did nothing change except you bought some new recordings?  It sounds like it is limited to a single label, but occurs on several recordings(?)  If so, that suggests the way their engineers are making a "house sound."

No matter what, I’d spend a few $$ on diffusors long before spending a lot on new equipment, tubed or not.
Well, I sing in a couple of choruses and have done so all my life.  In certain acoustics, the treble voices in our choirs can sometimes be overpowering and create the glare you're talking about in real life, even though the voices are excellent. I would not underestimate the effect that the recording acoustic would have on the sound you're describing.  Do you have any recordings on the Telarc label of the Atlanta Symphony chorus under Robert Shaw?  Do you hear that glare with that chorus?  I generally don't get much glare from those recordings on my system, but I sometimes hear what you're describing on recordings of English choirs (the Cambridge Singers, for example) in very reverberant acoustics.
I enjoy classical choral very much on my system. For whatever reason, the analogue material on Argo vinyl is beautiful, engaging, and non-fatiguing, while I never listen to digital vinyl for this material.

I can sometimes enjoy a Harmonia Mundi SACD by Anonymous 4, through a 10 KHz 6 db low pass filter.

Some might take this data as evidence against the 'defect in an individual system' hypothesis.
More thoughts on causes of glare: Could be due to an imperfect crossover configuration. I remember reading a review of a speaker (can't remember which one) where the author stated the crossover points were at 200 hz and 2000 hz. He stated these were close to ideal as they did not affect the vocal range. An improperly designed crossover (crossover point within the vocal range) can have different drivers producing the same frequency causing IM distortion. Check your speaker's specs.

Another consideration is the composition itself. Composers like to "reinforce" the vocals with instruments of similar timbre (e.g. violins).
This could give the impression of glare when it might just be poor composition or the inability of the speaker to precisely delineate the two sources.
"I've noticed that audiophiles and reviewers seldom write about choral music. Is it because they don't like choral music, or is it because it is just really difficult to record choirs well, therefore making choral music a poor choice to show off a system?"

I've noticed that too Paul and I personally believe that it is often for the reason you note above and others in their responses. I too love choral music and have focused my attention, along with large scale orchestral music around my system in making this type of music as natural and realistic as possible.Agree with Rcprince's observation about vocals, particularly lyric soprano voice can often come through with glare and IMO is about the hardest instrument to sound completely natural through an audio system. I too notice that vinyl recordings seem a bit more forgiving than do digital. I think your remedy could be some or many of the excellent recommendations given above along with seeking out quality recordings. I find close miked recordings of vocals seem more problematic.  Getting it right with this type of music has been in my experience "a long road" but your 20 year old impressions concerning a Conrad Johnson preamp certainly is a good choice for this type of music IME. 

Agree with Rcprince on the Telarc/Shaw recordings, less notable glare and more of a mid-hall presentation which is ok by me if the recording is rendered more listenable. It seems the biggest problem is the transducers themselves, microphones and speakers at least that is my suspicion.  On a final note most of the audiophiles I know don't particularly care for choral music with a few exceptions. I would think that anyone that would commit to purchasing a very expensive pair of loudspeakers would be really committed to attempt recreating large scale music and voice as realistically as possible or what's the point, listening to Rebecca Pidgeon singing "Spanish Harlem" as realistically as possible?
Much of Choral Music is religious music of a high level by some of the greatest  composers who ever lived . The amount  of Americans who appreciate music at that level is small .
Here in Minnesota there is a great audience for choral music because it is heavily Lutheran and Lutheran churches here have good choirs and folks
grow up listening to it . Luther said"A prayer sung is a prayer said twice" and Lutherans believe that .
I talked to the director of one of the Great English Boy Choirs from Oxford 
who said they always look forward to singing in St. Paul because it is the only stop on their tours where the audience has a true passion for the music .

Wait, what speakers do you have?  There are plenty of speakers that just sound great with small ensembles but sound horrible with large scale works at any volume.  Time to upgrade speakers?
That's true rotarius , but today mostly single-driver ones .
Nearly any speaker from a grand on up is up to the job, 9 times out of ten 
its something else in the system .
Afterthought, if you are really a choral geek MN Public Radio has a feature 
I doubt is found anywhere else in world ,

A VERY high quality 24/7 Choral streaming station .  
Thank you all for these responses. For those who are curious, you can view pics and a description by clicking on my username. My room is small for my speakers, but I have done numerous room treatments. My amp is at least 200W into 8 ohms, and 400 into 4, so there is no power problem. I have Vandersteen 2CE signatures, which are good-quality speakers. 

I guess a more focused question is, have digitally oriented choral music fans noticed a difference in moving to a DAC in a better price/ quality range? Do tube preamps make a difference in softening or further resolving choral vocals? 

It sounds like, for some of you, that these changes make a difference. 

Schubert, thank you for the music link. I grew up in Manitoba, and sang in choirs full of Mennonites, so I know what those Germanic and Scandinavian prairie communities can do for a choral music scene! 

Enjoy the music,


True North Brave and Free !
Just hope I live long enough to see a Canuck team hoist the Stanley.
Canada is totally off the American radar, I think they don’t want us dummies doing any "compare and contrast".

And yes, believers singing get a turbo boost from the creator .
Paul, I had the the 2CE sigs once upon a time and large scale classical just sounded horrible no matter what amp they were hooked too.  I recall pairing them with a Bryston 4BST and a Belles 150a, pretty good amps imo.  That midrange driver got congested and harsh.  Replaced them with ET LFT8B and they did a lot better in that regard.
Should I consider maybe the Schiit Freya?
Yes definitely, as you have the choice of passive, tube or solid state to pick from.

And you can send it back if it doesn’t do the job.

Cheers George
Run a good 2L digital recording thru itThe Himmelrand is excellent
i have Vandersteen 7 which I consider brutally revealing to source
but I also record a bit of voice direct to digital and on high speed analog tape - fewer things are more difficult to get right IMO
i would start with source material of excellent provenance and work to end of chain
changing speakers first is IMO inane...
Also if your speakers and system are doing analog well without glare... that tells ya something...

I listen to Classical exclusively and am familiar with the problem that the OP describes.  Fwiw I have found that as I upgraded my DAC the problem resolved.  I went from an Oppo 105 to the Mytek Manhatten (Oppo is the transport) and now the congestion and glare are things of the past
There are many posts that say Vandy 2ce are not good on classical .
Never heard them myself .
Schubert, I"ve read many of the same comments but in my experience, 10 years, not the case, quite to the contrary. It all depends on all the factors that are always in play in many of these threads regarding audio, room, matching components and last but certainly not least personal preference. I personally had excellent results with the pair of 2cs I owned with regard to classical music but that started 30 years ago. I still consider them one of the true superb values in audio, a classic product, certainly not all things to all folks but a product that, for the price, offer a great deal of musical satisfaction across all genres. The proof is in their longevity and the numbers sold, certainly worthy of consideration for those looking for full range at a reasonable price.
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I would recommend that you audition a Lampizator DAC, but whatever you choose, listen to it in your system in your own home.

Only then will you know how it sounds.
If you want the bible on choral get,
"Choral Masterworks",
 A listener's Guide .
Michael Steinberg
Oxford Univ. Press 2005 

Human voice and violin. The two most difficult things to reproduce. 

I think the problem is a combination of your dac and room acoustics. Do you have a chance to try headphones?

The Swedish Proprius label has some of the most glorius choral recordings (soundwise). Can you try to listen to those?
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Everything counts!!!!  I enjoy the Talis Scholars recordings on the Gimel label in my modest system.  After adding a power filter, I noticed what sounded like clipping on louder passages of Talis Scholars recordings.  Long story, but it turned out to be the power filter.  Once I plugged the amp back into a wall outlet, the problem completely went away.  Cables matter, power matters, amps matter, DACs matter... see the theme here?  

Try swapping out one element of the signal chain at a time.  FWIW, I owned Vandy 1Cs for about 9 years.  Never got them to sound smooth in the upper-mids/lower treble.  I moved on to different speakers 8 years ago and have never looked back.  So, if you try swapping all the electronics and wires, and you still have the problem, think about your speakers.  Could it be the recordings?  Possibly, but if that were the case, some would sound better than others.  In my system, all but the very worst recordings are quite listenable, if less than ideal.  A decent system (even on a budget) that is carefully assembled with good synergy should make most recordings at least enjoyable.  That's my opinion, anyway.  And you know what they say about opinions!  ;-)  
A lot of good suggestions.  Do the cheap stuff first like using headphones.  Is there still a problem.  Can you try some other speakers even some monitor types to see if the distortion is still present.  Not all choral music would have this issue.  I am very sensitive to violin glare and harshness in digital.  I would bet it's a speaker or source issue.   

How nice to read this thread. I haven’t noticed this until a few days ago and finally found this topic here.

While listening some choral classical music FLAC files using a cheap earbud style (but with the head band) Sony headphones I started to hear some strange noises during certain passages of the music, especially when the music was very busy, combining choirs and instruments. I would say that the sound was "pixelated" for a lack of a better description. Initially I thought perhaps the file had some encoding problem or the headphones were faulty.

I tried the same files on a Oppo BD-105 with a pair of Samson headphones and, the strange distortion was there, albeit much less noticeable. If I turned the volume higher I could notice it more. Next I tried one of the original CD where the FLAC file was extracted from and there were no differences, so the FLAC file was not the problem.

I normally don’t listen classical music with headphones so perhaps that is the reason I didn’t notice this issue before. If I played the music from the Oppo through my amp to my speakers it was more difficult to hear it, but with the right volume and being very close to them I could hear it.

After these initial tests I suppose the problem is related to the DACs at work here. At this time I am not willing to spend large sum of money on a new DAC, so any suggestion of a budget one, but which is capable to overcome this problem, is very welcome.

As a side note, I connected a pair of Jabra USB headphones that I use for work and these sounded much more muffled than the others, but they also didn’t revealed the "pixelated" sound.


My experience mirrors that of @mahler123 - improving my DAC reduced the congestion at higher levels on choral material.

Harshness as you describe is most likely due to jitter. Better clocking of all devices, be they ethernet switches, your cd player, server or Dac is the remedy of choice. if digitsl is properly sorted, mistracking on vinyl is more probable than harshness on digital

Well antigrunge, having never heard harshless digital, I would have said the opposite. But your ears are your ears.

I had this when listening to sopranos in loud passages with speakers that had metal  dome tweeters. It was solved with new speakers with soft dome tweeers.


may I suggest you continue working on your digital set up? Harshness can be defeated by using good cables, using switches and reclocking your ethernet and USB connections.

Paul, I couldn't help noticing those speakers are on tile floors.  I had an issue on orchestral music which just didn't sound right.  Turned out, I added symposium svelt shelves under my speakers but I didn't take the feet of the speakers off, so that vibration really effected my sound.  I took the feet off and no problem.  My suggestion is to put something between the tile and the speaker feet.