grainy sounding high end system

Hi, I hope this is the right forum to ask this question. I have a quite decent audio system at home, which consists of Pioneer CLD-98 laserdisc/CD-transport, Bel Canto DAC 1.1, Conrad-Johnson Premier 7b preamplifier, Mark Levinson 333 amplifier and Dunlavy SC-IV speakers. Though this is a "high-end" system on paper, it sounds not very high-end to me: the overall sound has a grainy quality, it has compressed dynamics, the low end is quite lousy and the highs are too prominent. Why is this happening to me? I have invested a lot into this hobby and is this my reward? What could be the reason for the abovementioned grainy sound? Maybe I have to get a better CD-transport, like the TEAC P-30 for example.
What cables are you using?
There are a couple of possibilities. Something may be broken. Your preamp may not be able to drive your amp. Your amp may not match up well with your speakers. Make sure all of your connections are correct.
All the pieces of the puzzle are of high pedigree so one would think the resulting sound would be fantastic, but it isn't for some reason. Room acoustics, cables, your state of mind and many other factors(some of which we can never conquer completely...our power source) all play a role of our perception of sound quality. I'm sorry your system is not providing you the pleasure you seek. I'll venture to guess that your system is deprived of the necessary power(current)to sound the way it should. The cause could be where you live, whom you share power with, the power provider, the condition/age of the service line entering your home, the circuit providing power to your outlets, your outlets, your power cord....I personally would look into this before I would depart on an expensive, possible futile equipment swapping adventure. Do experiment with different cabling within your system on an in-home trial basis. Please add more information so more knowledgable advice from others could be suggested. Does it always sound this way? Are there times when things sound better? Hope it works out for the better. Bill
Whenever I hear of a tube preamp driving a solid-state power amp AND the user voices concern, I ask if the impedances of the two are suitable. What's in OP impedance of the CJ and the input impedance of the ML? Just a thought.
I know of some others that have commented on the upper mids / lower treble sounding "ragged" on the original SC-IV's. Other than that, it sounds like speaker placement is not up to par and you might want to look into the cables that you are using. Kr4's comments about input / ouptut impedance might also be worth checking into. Sean
My experience with hi fi in general is that setup is 50% of the battle. There are a gazillion things that influence sound. In no particular order, here are some possibilities:

Poor match of Amp to Speaker - change one or the other

Poor match of speaker cable with associated gear - try new cable

Room acoustics - I have found it better to diffuse the "sides" of the listening chamber and leave the walls in front and back of the listening area flat & reflective.

Components/ Speakers not perfectly level

Components/ Speakers not held rigidly in place(wobble when touched)

Components/ Speakers on wrong support systems - try different stands, footers, cones etc etc...your dealer should know which isolation methods are good for your gear, different gear will react differently in each environment.

Electrical contacs not clean

Electronics too close to one another

Interconnect is harsh sounding

Power outlet - try plugging all your gear into one power strip from one outlet. Leave the "other" outlet unused

Too many wires (power, speaker, interconnect) crossing each other - arrange them so they have thier own path and don't "double over" on themselves. also they should be raised from the floor slightly if possible

Listener too critical (ha ha, that would be me)

Good luck and hope this helps. I was confronted with the same demon in my current listening room and I defeated it, so be optimistic... :^)
Lots of good suggestions above. (The point about preamp/amp impedance compatability has to do with a preamp having a high output impedance driving an amp having a low input impedance, causing rolled-off bass response. This could help explain prominent treble response as well as weak bass, but would not by itself have an impact on treble graininess.) I suspect situations like yours are a lot more common than many audiophiles care to admit, so bravo for facing your perdicament honestly, and don't feel alone. As has been posited, there are more possible culprits than you can shake a stick at. This just points up the fact that the most important component to achieving a good-sounding system isn't anything you can buy - it's the audiophile him- or herself. I'm sure that if you keep working at it, learning as you go like we all do, your efforts and expense will be rewarded in the end, simply because you are using your ears.
The comment made by "Zaikeman" that situations like this are more common than many audiophiles care to admit is right on. Surely an uphill battle with so details (many of which "Benthar" addressed) that need our attention/fine tuning. One another comment I'd like to make is that components need to "settle in." I've noticed recently with the new set of speakers that I've bought that everytime I move them about trying to find their best position in my living room the bass/warmth takes time to develop. This is frustrating but one must have patience. The point made about leveling speakers and making sure they don't wobble are excellent points. "Stanley" makes a small all plastic
level(around$4) that works great. I personally never realized quite how much such little things influence system performance until recently. Many lessons to be learned!
Put some rugs on the floor.
1.I've heard your front end (player/DAC) in other systems and it is very bright and sibilant. Since others may think it is ok, I can only say what I heard in a hi-rez system; could these components be variable? I would explore other players perhaps the new Ayre. 2. You have an additive effect of the player/DAC with the ML amp which can sound a bit mechanical if not driven properly. 3. Another issue is that the tubes and caps in the CJ may be on their way out. 4. I just replaced Stock Russian tubes in my amp front end with NOS Amperex and Telefunken and there really is a difference.
With all those purchases, have you made any good friends in your local stores? Is there anyone whose opinion you trust? Maybe someone else with a good ear will come over to give you some opinions and suggestions. I recently had a guy from one of the local shops come to my house. He helped fine tune my speaker placement, made suggestions on what would be the next logical upgrades and tweaks, and even opened up my preamp and helped me compile a list of capacitors to upgrade. I have spent enough time and money in his shop, and enough time cultivating our friendship, that he did this for free and did not try to sell me anything from his store.

I realize that this type of service is rare, and that finding a trustworthy and truly knowledgeable salesperson is even harder, but it's worth the effort to search out these people. It's taken me a couple of years of talking with Mike to learn that he really knows his stuff, and that he's not always in "sales mode".

There are three decent high-end stores in my town, and I try to visit them often and spend enough time with the various employees to determine who is a good resource. I also try to spread my purchases around to avoid getting a reputation as a window shopper. It's been well worth the effort.

Are you using any type of AC filter? You may also benefit from upgraded power cords. Both of these items are very good at removing the problems you describe. Check the threads for suggestions, and you can generally buy these things at half list or better right here. Good luck.
I will second the opinion on your front end. Might want to look at that. Also, you might want to look at the preamp. The choice of tubes does make a difference.
Sometimes you can "Tune" some of what you are hearing out with a different cable (interconnect) Cardas comes to mind here.
I really think you have a cummulutive effect. I agree with the above post that ML amps can get a little tizzy if all is not well upline. Could try a little speaker moving and see if that helps. Just don't aim those bad boys right at you.
Maybe your dealer will let you try a few different things. Put them in your system and see if you hear a difference. Might help you isolate some of it.
Also, check the cable between your front end and the DAC.
Is all of this plugged directly into the wall or are you using a power strip of some kind?

Make sure all of your connections are good. It never hurts to double check everything. Once I had a pre-amp wired backwards (L & R) internally on one input. Plug your amp straight into the wall. Avoid using a power strip if at all possible. Make sure the speakers are placed out in the room. I am sure you have played with speaker placement already. That won't fix a grainy sound. Power conditioning can help eliminate grain and lower the noise floor on the CD, DAC and Pre-Amp. Good power cords help too. Make sure your equipment is warmed up. Some amps don't open up until they are nice and toasty. I leave everything on 24/7 except my tube pre-amp.

Now, get yourself a new set of tubes from Andy at vintage tube services ( Go with his advice, and buy the best ones possible. Grainy sound points in the direction of bad tubes. I got improved bass, top end, detail and soundstage with my new tubes.

You could try playing with cables next or look into a better transport. Cables could be the problem, but only if you are using real cheap stuff. You are wasting your time playing with cables until you get new tubes. The transport would be the most expensive change, but probably a small improvement considering the DAC you have is highly rated.

One other thought, you might look into a tube ouput stage DAC or CD player.

Good Luck,

Not knowing your cables, I will assume the cables are not the problem.

I would try to demo a different digital front end and see if that is your problem. Try to demo a nice one box CDP. If your sound is still grainy, the next likely suspect is your preamp. Make sure all of your tubes are good. Maybe even try a backup set of tubes if you have one. See if you can demo a nice preamp. If grain is still persisting with a demo preamp.... Make sure all of your speaker drivers are functioning. You could possibly have a blown or have a defective driver. You might want to check your speaker drivers first.

If none of the above solves your problem, well it is probably your cables. You need to demo different cables to see if that grain goes away.

If it's not your ICs or none of the above... you might want to goto an ear doctor and have your hearing checked.

Good Luck!

I know somebody's gonna' shoot me just for saying this. But I'll bet dollars to doughnuts(whatever that means), more than any other component or combination thereof, it's probably your amp first and foremost.

My list of potential culprits include in descending order:

1. ML amp.
2. Line conditioning and/or Dedicated lines and circuits and/or Cables.

How do, Zaikesman? Thanks for the advice and I passed on that product.

Hi folks, thx for your response. I started this thread before I decided to get my preamp tubes replaced. Tube aging might be the culprit of the problem. The system sounds not only grainy and dynamically compressed but there is also a higher than normal noise level.
I think my audio system should sound OK (at least on paper) and without the abovementioned artifacts. But despite all the efforts I've made the last few years I haven't even managed to get a musical sounding "baseline" system. And this is quite frustrating.
Getting a musical sounding baseline is much more difficult with digital and SS gear.

The pioneer transport (I once owned it), is vibration prone, even when you are spinning only the little platter in the middle.

Are you confident in the quality of your DAC? I am not personally familiar with it, however, getting musical with digital for me meant moving up to 16 and ultimately to 24 bit DACs.

Beyond lousy digital playback, I generally associate compression with amplifier limitations. I have heard some pretty sterile sounding, fatiguing and expensive amplifiers in my day.

If you bought your speakers from a dealer, have you considered asking him to let you swap your electronics into his system?
I found the treble and upper midrange on my SC-IIIs somewhat hashy, dry and grainy before installing 3 Audiopoints on each of the plinths. The Audiopoints made the sound much more cohesive from top to bottom, and greatly enhanced focus and clarity.

I don't bi-wire my SC-IIIs, so in an effort to eliminate the need for an external jumper I pulled the rear crossover cover to hook up all the low and high +/- leads to one set of binding posts. I discovered that 1) the nuts that secure the hookup tabs to the binding posts were only hand tightened, and 2) I found in one crossover that a lead from a capacitor had a broken solder joint. After fixing the solder joint, and tightly securing the low and high +/- tabs to one set of binding posts there was a nice improvement in resolution and coherency. The short version is you might want to check the internal connections on your SC-IVs to make sure everthing is tight and there are no loose or broken connections.
Hi folks, something quite shocking has happened! As you know my preamplifier (the former designer's reference Conrad-Johnson Premier 7b) went to the dealer for tube replacement, so I got the idea to use my NAD C350 integrated amplifier as preamplifier. This $400 NAD unit did a tremendous job: I hear now a totally different and better sound.
My God, how is this possible! The graininess has been almost eliminated and there is much less accent on the treble together with a more prominent midrange and lower midrange. So the sound is gaining coherence, while losing some tubey airiness, but what the heck... Can you imagine, a simple NAD unit vs. a reference grade preamplifier which costs 15 times the NAD. There must be some explanation. Maybe the Conrad-Johnson unit is sounding less than pristine due to aging (tubes, capacitors), or maybe there is some incompatibility with the Mark Levinson 333, I don't know. I'm considering another preamplifier now, a solid state one, like for example the Jeff Rowland Synergy II. If there is anyone from Conrad-Johnson in this forum, please let him/her give a response to this issue. Shocking stuff...
Preamps can make all the difference in the world.
Good preamps are hard to find.

I bet though, after you get your preamp retubed, it will sound better than your NAD.

FWIW, several years ago when I substituted a C-J PV-8 for an 80's-vintage NAD component preamp, the sound improved in all ways. But I would expect there are likely many newer choices today which could handily exceed the Premier 7's fidelity in absolute terms, including the latest C-J's. You might want to click on my threads and read the one about preamp bypass comparision testing for a slightly different perspective on evaluating preamp performance.
I think CJ is having quality control *issues*. I just heard of a CJ preamp being serviced at the factory and then blowing up a couple of Aragon 200W monoblocks...
Dunlavy went out of business in November, 2000. That's not a good sign. The Pioneer CD player sounds like your weakest link. If you compare yours to a Mark Levinson CD player, the graininess of the Pioneer CD player will be obvious
Redwoodgarden, I think you meant 2002, not 2000. Agreed that this could not be a "good sign" for Dunlavy fans or audiophiles in general, but the fact doesn't carry any implications with it about the sound of past Dunlavy products like Dazzdax's speakers.

Psychicanimal, C-J's service and quality control have been exemplary in my experience. The incident you relate could be due to a number of possible circumstances, maybe connected to the service visit, maybe not, but I wouldn't assume that C-J won't take the responsibility if they are to blame. Either way, I don't see how: A) One anecdotal episode (and not one with a final resolution as far as you tell it) could let you know that a company is having "issues"; B) This story of yours has any bearing on Dazzdax's situation or the sound of C-J pre's in general. What could your motive be in throwing out such an accusation?