Harshness in Midrange??? Any Help

I currently have the following system in place and was wondering if anyone had any suggestions to get rid of a slight "harsh" sound in the midrange (particularly female voices). It could be only certain recordings, but was hoping some of you had some experience with some of these pieces and could shed some light on their respective sonic characteristics. Thanks in advance.

Mark Levinson 332 amp
Audio Research LS16 Mk 2 preamp
Sony SCD1 SACD player
B&W 802D speakers
Kimber "Hero" XLR connections
Kimber 8TC speaker wire
my votes for the speaker wire. or perhaps the scd1, but methinks the speaker wire.
i lived with kimber cable for a while. i was using the single ended version of the hero and the 8tc. i found them a bit heavy in the treble.

while i haven't heard the levenson amp in my stereo system, i have listened to them many times in other systems. certainly, i would not consider them "kind to the ear".

thus, if i were you i would listen to other cable and another amp.
One or more dedicated AC lines should help. I have used the Kimber silver (8tc?) speaker cables and found the sound harsh. I greatly prefer Ensemble cables, also at some point in every great "digital" system, the DAC becomes the weakest link.
Before I start pointing fingers at the IC's, I'd like to ask if you're using silver outlets and/or silver PC's? Additionally, is your room treated or is it more on the hard side?

You can also simply adjust the toe-in to get a near field presentation, which will help determine if it's a room or gear issue.
My first guess would be the Kimber cables
What is your room acoustics like?

What listening level are you using?

Is it only certain recordings?

I very much doubt there is anything wrong with your system. Alan Parsons uses your speakers (Pink Floyd fame). The rest of you gear is pretty much accurate at audio reproduction. If it sounds harsh then it probably is - it may just be the source!

What were you using before as system/speakers - what is your reference to say some recordings are harsh (The majority of speakers are voiced to be recessed in the upper mid range to avoid this issue...it is called the "BBC dip" - it may be why you think it sounds harsh compared to other consumer hi-fi you have heard)?

You can remove harshness with a PEQ by applying a slight dip at 4Khz.
How old are the tubes in the ARC?
Room treatment thats the ticket. Your gear is fine and I would think before you put the blame there try working with the room. I would say once you have treated the room properly or at least got it under control,then and only then would gear change be in order.
Possibly the LS16 which had a glaring upper mid and rolled off bass in my system(and every system I heard it in) coupled with B&W speakers which can be a little strident. Room treatment could help somewhat.
Normally i would address the room first and foremost..But IMHO its the ARC Ls-16 and low cost Kimber's not doing you any favors. This is a very neutral, but near sterile sounding pre amp. Your 802D's are very good paired with the right amp..Not bright at all, as the previous 802N could tend to be... and the Levinson is rather laid back/dark sounding..Id change out the pre amp to something more tube (lush) and the cables as well. Treat the room for sure regardless..
Being that your pre-amp is an LS16MK2 (6H30 Tube version) and not a MK1(6DJ8) version, that could be your problem. I would remove that from the system and try another pre-amp as a first step. The Kimber Hero and 8TC tend to sound brash in the mids, so here is another weak link. And the Kevlar midrange driver in the 802D's tend to have a very noticeable midrange coloration. Not familiar with the sound of your Levinson amp. Finally, I'm quite certain the Sony SCD-1 uses electrolytic capacitors in the output stage that I have found to sound harsh in similiar Japanese cd players. Sorry for the negative comments but we all are only trying to help you out.

Good Luck
Taking the room out of the context, I think the Kimber 8TC's are probably fine. I would guess the Hero interconnects may be the culprit.

Sorry to hijack this thread a bit.

Reb1208, may I know what is the difference between the LS16mk1 and mk2? Are you implying that the mk1 is warmer sounding than the mk2?
I doubt seriously that any cable will have enough effect on the sound to make it harsh or not, unless of course it is defective.
I agree with the initial response from Driver. Play around with your toe-in and positioning of speakers in relation to your listening positioning. Seeming small changes in toe-in/distance can make a surprising difference.
Thanks to all who have offered responses on this thread. I have acquired some great knowledge that I will use going forward. Keep it coming and thanks again.

Room acoustics, and system setup. Have you measured the frequency response of your room? If not, that's a good first step. If you can see on a chart that you have a 10db peak at 1khz(room acoustics could easily create this), it's going to make it a lot easier to diagnose and fix the problem.
In looking at the Stereophile measurements of the 802D, I see a couple of characteristics that could possibly contribute to "harshness" on female vocals.


As you can see, there is a local peak at 4 kHz. Too much energy at 4 kHz sounds harsh and edgy, and 4 kHz is right in the region where the ear is most sensitive. Here is a family of equal-loudness curves - where each curve dips the lowest is where our hearing is the most sensitive:


It gets worse. The crossover point is at 4 kHz, and in this region we transition from the 6" stiff-cone midrange (which will be beaming) to the 1" tweeter will have a very wide radiation pattern and so will be putting out a lot of excess energy into the reverberant field. Since the ear derives timbre from not only the first-arrival sound but also the reverberant energy, the 4 kHz range will be even further emphasized relative to the rest of the spectrum the farther back you listen and/or more reverberant your room.

Not done yet. Most speakers have the tweeter mounted on a baffle, which effectively limits the tweeter's radiation pattern to the front hemisphere (think of the baffle as a 180 degree horn in that frequency region). The B&W tweeter is mounted without a baffle, so its radiation pattern is close to omnidirectional at 4 kHz. The result is, relatively speaking, even more surplus reverberant energy in this region in comparison to the rest of the spectrum.

They probably image great, though.


Thanks - I really learned a lot from your comments above - much appreciated.

I always wondered how those B&W three ways could get away with a 6 inch midrange crossed over so high ( I thought that phase plug looked too small to be effective) and your analysis suggests they don't completely get away with it ===>it involves some compromises. However, not having a nasty crossover right slap bang in the midrange is a HUGE plus - so these 802D's rightly deserve the great respect they have garnered - to me it is a matter of opinion as to which is the lesser of two evils (split the mid in two pieces or lose some upper mid energy).

The top mounted tweeter effect is so clearly visible on the dispersion plot at 4 to 5 Khz at extreme wide angles that it had light bulbs going off in my head when you so kindly explained it. I agree the contrast at 4 Khz between mid and this particular tweeter is a bit severe.

It might be interesting to combine your analysis on this thread with comments from Jkalman on his experience with the 802D (on another thread where he felt the mid range lacked clarity/intelligibility in a well treated room by Rives - Jkalman uses Wilson's now - but I would be interested in Jkalman's opinion as to whether the acoustic treatment cured the harshness but at the expense of suppressing the mids too much?)

Your comments show the value of interpreting measurements and the importance of smooth and even dispersion in the off axis response. Since our ears hear a combined sound from on axis and off axis room energy your analysis suggests it is equally important how a speaker behaves off axis as on axis.

Nevertheless, 802D is a classic great speaker; one of the very best - if it is good enough for Alan Parsons it clearly kicks butt. To be fair, I can easily find other examples of high-end speakers with large 5 or 6 inch midrange drivers that are often far worse then this (where the upper mid range off axis response does not merely roll off but falls off a cliff.) I can post these if anyone is interested but I prefer not too in case this data upsets the owners.

I suspect a PEQ -3 db to -6 db notch filter with Q =4.32 or 1/3 octave centered at 4.5KHZ might cure Taylor's harshness problems altogether ....would you agree?
If the problem is as you gentlemen stated, are the people at B&W so stupid that they would allow such a flaw to exist in their design? Or did they design this speaker with the "flaw" in mind? Or did they "discover" this flaw afterwards (which is quite stupid) but accepted it because it would be too expensive to correct it?


Good question. I would have to say it is deliberate.

The boost between 4 and 5 Khz will add the "slap" on a kick drum. It will make the speaker sound more dertailed and speed up the bass.

You may have noticed B&W place the tweeter on top on many of their designs....I think ithis is obviously deliberate and as Duke points out the tweeter will radiate rearwards in its very lowest frequency range without a baffle...adding some atmospheric or ambient qualities to the sound.

In essence it will certainly differentiate B&W from others and that is often what it is about in speaker design.

I must emphasize this is not BAD ...it is a design choice....I am sure that most proud B&W owners choose these speakers for these special qualities. I hope you noted that I said this is a great speaker and long used by Alan Parsons - it kicks butt!!
i would have to agree about room acoustics, especially noting the equipment that you own. i have had similar problems in the past, and resolved most of them with setup,and acoustical changes.the fact that some recordings have more of this trouble than others, indicates that your setup is quite revealing. i will be interested in the steps you take to resolve this issue. good luck, greg

Different designers have different ideas about what matters and what doesn't. That's one of the things that makes speaker design so fascinating. It's not rocket science - there is no neat book of equations that tells you exactly what performance you must generate to lift the satellite to its orbit. Two speaker designers may not even agree on what the goal is, much less how best to reach it.

Unfortunately for the sake of enlightening discussion, B&W's designers have better things to do with their time than post on Audiogon. I, on the other hand, do not.


edit - Shadorne, yes I think a bit of equalization on the tweeter's side of the crossover to smooth out the power response would help.
I just reduced a harshness in vocals on my very cheap speakers (which otherwise sound great but shall remain nameless, for now) by pacing a square of open cell foam in front of the driver. Experiment with placement on the midrange or tweeter. Hey, it's free and it made a difference that was worthwhile. The speakers are now very listenable.

They are Radio Shack Minimus 11. HA!
It's not the cables, it's the placement of the speakers within the room. Get that right before messing around with cables and components. See:
Unplug all RCA and power cables for 30 mins. This helps clean and degauss. Run your cables through a cable cooker for 1 week. Yes one week. Only after that my silver KCAG's mellowed. Also have you tried listening late at night. If the midrange harshness goes away then its an AC problem.
What AC mains cable are you using on the ML amp?