Harshness in tweeters: the price of transparency?


I can't help notice a correlation between ultimate tweeter transparency and having to put up with harshness at loud volume levels. It can be very transparent and smooth to an appreciable volume, bit exceed that and it will go harsh if you apply the materials necessary for max transparency in those drivers.

I owned titanium dome tweeters in Avalon Eclipse speakers that ultimately caused me a case of a decade-long bout with tinnitus from the titanium dome tweeters, even when using a smooth Music Reference RM-9 tube amp.

I then owned a pair of horns with lightweight metal compression driver diaphragms. Again, unbearable harshness at loud levels where the metal "breaks up".

I now own a pair of beryllium dome tweeeters in speakers that again are volume limited before that metallic glare and harshness comes in. When I had silk domes none of that happened to me, but the details and transparency are markedly down for those drivers at all volumes.

The most transparent drivers I heard were the best tweeter horns but at the cost of harshness. They exceeded electrostatics for dynamics and transparency and detail, but at that cost. Electrostatics seem to me to be the best compromise in midrange on up detail and smoothness but with a real decline in dynamics.

Maybe diamond is the answer with its extreme rigidity and hardness. But I'm not rich enough for that yet, and probably never will be.

What's the scoop on the best tweeters out there for all of what I'm asking for here, but at a reasonable price? One possibility that intrigues me is the ceramic tweeter, but again, I don't know and those are not cheap either.

I want to play horns and cymbals loud and clear, without that bite in my ear. Soft domes aren't enough for me, at least not the ones I've heard after hearing horns and beryllium.
I generally agree that one cost of high fidelity is having occasional harshness, brightness and glare due to the system revealing flaws in the recording (and in the system itself).

I've read of no one finding the perfect solution thus far.
I generally agree with your assessment... which is why for the most part prefer speakers with silk diaphragms. If there is a slight loss in detail, so be it; at least I can listen to more recordings without my ears bleeding!
Alternatively, all you're hearing is a tweeter that's harsh to begin with OR tuned too hot.
When you listen at low volume your ears' natural insensitivity to high frequencies "softens" the sound. At higher amplitude, the harshness is evident and the ears bleed, so to speak.

Diamonds are like nay other tweet -- with the added advantage of having their upper resonance very high up (~100kHz) hence not affecting the audible range.
No, harshness is due to a flaw in the system. The natural sound of musical instruments is musical, not harsh.
In decibels, what volume level are you trying to achieve? The titanium or any other tweeter material didn't cause your tinnitus, it was exposure to very loud sound.
Can't help with the best tweeters out there but I have heard the Marten Dukes which have ceramic tweeters. The highs are definitely more transparent and detailed than soft dome tweeters but we were listening at moderate volume levels so I'm not sure if the ceramic tweeter would exhibit harshness at high volumes.

Maybe your tinnitus was caused by constant exposure to loud music rather than the titanium dome tweeters since I noticed you like to listen to your music at loud volumes from what you had written above. I used to listen at high volume levels, probably in the region of 110db(normally it won't last for more than 2 hours) and have been experiencing a slight ringing in my right ear for almost 7 years. According to the ear specialist, I am not suffering from tinnitus and it's just that my ears are slightly sensitive to loud sound. I was advised against listening to music at high volume levels to avoid this "ringing" and was told that there was no treatment to this phenomenon. Since then, I have not experienced any problems with my ears when listening to music at moderate levels, and I realized I have been abusing my ears throughout these years listening at insane levels.

The moral of the story is to practice a safe listening habit with whatever tweeter you ended up with. I also agree with Tvad in that the harshness can sometimes be caused by the recording or the system itself although some really high-end systems can be free from glare and harshness in the upper registers when the speakers are played at high volume levels. Sorry, the topic of discussion has swerved off-course.
I know of no cheap tweeters that dont exibit the problems you list. But I do know of one that doesnt have any of these problems and its a fostex t500amk2. Crossovers can also be a source of harshness in trebile. I have to use very hi-quality parts and tweeters if I want no grain and harshness free trebile with lots of air and detail.
Ia gree that issues in the system are contributing. Herbies Audio makes some of the best isolation and resonance control devices for shelves and components.

A lot of interconnects and speaker cables are hyper-detailed. The lack of warmth magnifies the high freq issues. I very much like PS Audio Transcendent Silver interconncts (havn't tird their silver speaker cables) and Clear Day solid core silver shotgun speaker cables (he advertises here)

Having owned my fair share of monkey coffin speakers over the years, several years ago I made the switch to Magnepan 3.5Rs. The ribbon tweeters are amazing, but will reveal issues mentioned above.
when you get to a certain level of quality in your system, many new factors come into play. what didn't sound harsh and smeary at one time may ultimately display those characteristics. from years of constant trials and upgrades, i have learned a few things.
you may want to try power conditioning, especially on your digital front end and on your pre-amp. different interconnects and speaker cables affect harshness. as mentioned earlier, upgrading crossover components also have an affect. you may want to start there with bypass caps on the tweeter. see northcreek's website for more info, it's not very expensive to do.
i have found that removing static from cd's and lp's makes a huge improvement. i found the furutech d-stat to be far superior to the zerostat, it's also 6 times the price.
good luck with your endeavours
This is quite normal. You are hearing either tweeter compression or tweeter ringing or IMD distortion from the amp driving your speakers or compressed pop music. It is all too common - things sound great at modest levels (as almost all consumer designs do and then fall apart at high levels). Compressed pop music is all too common - so you need to eliminate a large percentage of popular music if you expect to be able to crank it without any harshness at all -see this.

Bear in mind, most consumer designs are not particularly intended to play dynamically and loud - they are mostly designed to sound best at modest levels while looking really great (costly cabinetry and finishes) - consider a pro speaker for you next upgrade -ugly but may get you what you desire.

Light weight materials will ring like a bell (for example metal or ceramic) - the ringing has nothing to do with the music so it is rather intrusive and gives you an etched sound. It can be misinterpreted as detail at low levels much in the way a hypercompressed modern pop CD sounds good at low levels and harsh when you crank it. Like a bell - ringing is worse when you drive the tweeter harder - at high levels it is constantly ringing. The diamond tweeter is perhaps the only exception - it has a resonance well outside the audible band. If you select a pro speaker then chances are much higher that they have chosen a tweeter that performs better at higher levels.

As you crank it your speaker amplifier is being asked to send AMPS of current to the woofers - at the same time it is sending milli-amps (thousandths of an amp) signals to the tweeter. Hardly surprising that this results in loads of audible IMD distortion coming out the tweeter. The amp is trying to feed 'niagara falls' for the kick drum and at the same time provide syringe-like accurate volumes to the tiny tweeter. Active amplification of each speaker driver with a separate amplifier will solve this issue. Funnily enough, most pro speakers are actively amplified...
When you get into this territory, every element can potentially add harshness. The highest potential offender is your CDP, then your amp, then your speaker cables, ICs and PCs. Of course, as mentioned earlier, some CDs are horrible, no matter how excellent your system.

Often overlooked is speaker placement. Intermodulation Distorion between the speakers adds a harshness and "shouty" nature to female vocals and horns. (I play trumpet, so I'm particularly sensitive to this). Sumiko's Master Set speaker placement method is the only thing I've discovered that addresses this. (Look for my review in the review section. Guidocorona also mentions it). In most systems, this is so effective it's like doubling your investment in equipment.

EQ will not fix this, it can only cover it up. Most EQ processors add their own IMD and negative elements. The very best processors can have a place in systems with room nodes that can't be cured with placement or traps and other acoustic devices; however, this is an expensive route that will not get you all the way to where you seem to be headed.

Some people move to tubes to take some edge off. I think this is a false god, that gives into the issue, but doesn't correct it. Anyway, the very best reference-level tube systems will reveal every flaw also.

It's amazing to me how many of the most expensive systems showcased here on Audiogon and over on the Asylum are completely devoid of RF-filtration and room treatment. I've seen systems that would cost six figures (even without figuring in the cost of swapping things out over and over along the way), set up in a room with no acoustic treatment and with a CD player parked directly underneath a preamp.

The good news is that there are some inexpensive things you can try. A set of "power wraps" on the power cords and interconnects for the CD-player and preamp would be a good start. If you hear an improvement you can move on to other forms of shielding. Also, if you don't already have room treatments, try listening with small throw pillows taped in the front corners of the ceiling. You won't like the midrange, but if the high-end sounds more like what you're looking for, you can proceed to purpose-built tricorner traps by a number of vendors such as ASC and RealTraps.

Good luck.
I want to play horns and cymbals loud and clear, without that bite in my ear.

Of course, another possibility is simply that your expectations are unrealistic.

Are you familiar with real acoustic drum sets, real trumpet and trombone? Frankly, on a good recording if these lack "bite" then the system is just sugar coating the sound...
I have not been a fan of speakers built in a box for many of years.
However my bias towards speakers in a box has changed over these last few years.
Recently I heard a pair of speakers with diamond tweeters at high volume levels at times with not a hint of hardness at all.

They were the B&W 800D. What made up part of the rest of the system was a EMM Labs digital player and the speakers were driven with the ASR Emitter Exclusive 1.

Sheffield Labs absolutely superb recording of Harry James and his big Band was the first disk I picked for listening.
We ended up playing this disk twice that afternoon, because I'm a big fan of Harry.

The volume level was just right for me and I still shake my head when thinking about that afternoon.
We went through various types of music from Pink Floyd to Irish Celtic.
Volume levels varied from softly played to near eye denting levels, not to my liking, too loud.

I'm still going through a learning curve with speakers in a box and I guess I could state that with other components that make up a system.
Based on your requirements, Gallo Ref 3s might be worth an audition.

Shardorne, I agree that drums, trumpet and trombone have bite, but they're not harsh, as too many systems make them. Most well recorded trumpet is brilliant with lots of high overtones. When trombones play loud, particularly in symphonic works, they put a brr or growl in the sound with an incredible display of harmonics. Snare drums should be crisp in symphonic work, but you should be able to tell that the snares are loose or tight in pop work (on Nora Jone's stuff, for instance, the snares are usually loose).

Greatly complicating this is the huge dynamic range of these instruments often leads to compression on pop and jazz recordings. It really frustrates me when the engineer opts to let the tenor sax sound bigger than the trumpet because he can't handle the dynamic range. Trombone seldom comes off well in jazz recordings because the proximity effect of trombones and mics is about as bad as it gets. (An exception is some salsa, where they record the trumpets and 'bones from a respectful distance and let them blow their brains out). Of course, most compression adds to perceived harshness on playback.

Some examples of great brass and percussion recordings are any of the Harry James D2D recordings by Sheffield in the 1970s. If you want just one, try "King James Version". A more recent recording that shows all the overtones, brilliance and brrr of brass is "Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani" by Anthony Newman and The Graham Ashton Ensemble on the Sonoma label (see my review in the Review section of A'gon). Reference Recordings has a multitude of great wind band recordings of the Dallas Wind Symphony that really show brass in an accurate light. (All these make my dacshund howl, just like when she hears me play my trumpet. If your system doesn't make the dog howl on these recordings, somethings missing).

Many audiophiles have not heard brass and percussion live. If not, put it on your agenda. It's an ear opener.


I could not agree more - you gave some great suggestions on music. I have the Harry James Sheffield Labs on XRCD - awesome!

In return may I suggest ToP "Soul Vaccination" LIve - What is Hip....awesome drums and persussion!

Another greatt is Chuck Magione Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

And some real fun is "Cissy Strut" cover by the "Dirty Dozen Brass Band"
Dave, Oh and lest I forget - Robbie WIlliams "Swing while your winning"" - great sound! Another one for the "demo" collection - if you love a realistic brass sound with a bit of "bite". Or Sante Fe and the Fat City Horns or Strokeland Superband or Phat Phunction
maybe you should take a vaction from cones. try a different design and perhaps use a tube amp. dipole treble vs cone treble has been discusssed many times before.

i am not a fan of cones but those i can live with are silk dome or the "old" copper dome celestion tweeter.
Great suggestions. I've got the ToP on D2D Sheffeild Lab. "What Is Hip" and "Squibcakes" are a couple of my all-time favs. There's an effect on "Squibcakes" where some sound flies around the room and goes behind my head, in two-channel.

With ToP, newbies need to be careful and get HRCDs or D2D versions. I've got a greatest hits CD that truly sucks, due to poor production.

Robbie Williams is a new one for me, the hunt begins...

Yes, Gallo Ref. 3s do what you want - crystal clear with no hardness. One of the best tweeters ever made...

As previously stated, titanium did not cause your tinnitus; prolonged exposure to LOUD music, noises, or illness caused your condition. An interesting 1970's study that few know about correlate loud noise combined with STRESS as the major factors in hearing problems.

As others have stated, think of your room as an integral part of your sound system. Once the dB's start reaching insane levels, room treatments & tweaks are mandatory!!!

I paid close attention to the "tweak factor". Even so, I believe that most rooms have a maximum dB level, were the sound starts to "fall apart". For my set-up, that was about 108-110 dB peaks at my listening chair.
Thanks for the list of suggestions. It's no wonder I left the noise of Audioasylum for this sane place.

Now to offer some of my responses, be it dead wrong or on the money or somewhere in between.

First, more background. Let's just say I'm constrained to minimonitors at this point. Room is 12' x 20' x 8' with hobby room and entertainment room combined, splitting this 20' length into two areas.

I have 3 amplifiers I can use right now. An inexpensive 100W/ch Denon receiver, a homebrew 10W/ch 300B SET amp, and a new Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 30W/ch class T amp. Quite a spread there.

The digital source is rarely used, but is quite void of digital artifacts and is a recent model: Ayre CX-7e.

The "linestage preamp" is an Autotransformer Volume Control. That one sounds as smooth as silk domes.

The main source is phono, which includes a Teres 255 TT with a Verus rim drive motor system. The arm is a very smooth and not state-of-the-art VPI JMW-10. The cartridge is a silky smooth Koetsu Urushi. It feeds a step-up transformer into a very good homebrew tube phono stage. That feeds the AVC linestage.

The speakers are now Focal Micro Utopia Be's and a subwoofer.

It doesn't matter what amp I use, there is always that threshold where the distortion bites my ear, except in the case of the low power SET operating out of overload where it can't be too loud to make it happen. If I do overload, it happens again in the tweeter quite easily.

I only want to reach about 103 dB at 1m from the speakers, or the full range of the 30W/ch amp. I do know the difference in the sound between clipping and tweeter ringing, or break-up.

I also found that the amp with the highest current delivery capability makes the biting ringing sound at its worst. That means the SLA battery operated Red Wine amp is the worst at being capable of ringing these tweeters. They have also been found to be usually unacceptable to most horn speaker users where the looser coupling of the SET amp makes it actually sound its best, and for both situations it seems to me.

It seems if an amp can stop the cone on a dime, the cone will want to overshoot and ring more often with these amps than the wimpy SET amps. And metal cones ring more harshly than soft cones.

I have found that an engineered network can loosen the coupling between amp and speaker and make this effect less of a problem. But it does not eliminate it.

I found it interesting to read here that stress plus SPLs equal tinnitus. I also found you can make yourself stressed internally by listening to harsh distortion and learning to ignore it, or just lose feeling of it. I know the tweeters were causing me hyperacusis back then when I could hear the tweeters produce all the irritation of the hyperacusis effect and then later the tinnitus as well. For about eight years I lived with both of these symptoms and was cured by listening 16 hours/day to white noise at the proper level for a couple of years. The ENT doctor covered by my insurance was wrong when he said there was nothing that could be done, and the audiologist specializing in "TRT" that insurance wouldn't cover could and did cure me over time.

I feel as if I'm a specialist in hearing harshness in sound, mainly highs, where it still can re-ignite my hyperacusis if too loud and distorted. Just loud isn't sufficient for me to become pained with hyperacusis again. But loud and distorted in a "harsh way" as opposed to a "soft way" will bring back those hyperacusis symptoms that lowers my threshold of pain. It can only take 90 dB of harsh sound to make it hurt, and it can take more than 110 dB if it's not harsh. This is the case for me that is.

I don't know anything about Gallo Ref 3's, but I doubt that they're minimonitors. Maybe a smaller Gallo. But what do they feature that's good? I'm curious to know more.

One or two observations. The Focal Micro Utopia Be are 89dB with a 3 ohm minimum impedance (8 ohm nominal). As such, they require an amplifier that doubles output into 4 ohms, which neither your Redwine 30.2 or SET amp do, the result being frequency imbalance that emphasizes the mids and top end and under emphasizes the bass.

The Stereophile review states the speaker "can be unforgiving of bright material". Frankly, I believe your problem starts here, and your amplifier mismatch exacerbates the problem.

You might look at a Pass Labs XA-30.5 amplifier. Phenomenal Class A solid state amp that doubles power into 4 ohms. The rest of your equipment is up to the task, it seems to me.

Otherwise, other speakers may be in order...but if you intend to keep the amps, then the speakers ideally need to be more sensitive (95dB+), and they need to have a flat impedance curve that doesn't dip below 8 ohms (maybe 6 ohms at the outside). Coincident, Devore, Audiokinesis, Merlin are a few alternatives.
Well, that added information is useful for sure. You're more sensitive than most of us AND you have speakers known to be "unforgiving".

I'm really worried that you're talking about listening levels of 95dB and reaching your limit at 110dB. If that's at the listening position, then those are extremely high levels. I probably average from the mid to high 80dB range at my listening seat, with peaks in the 90dB range and only touching over 100dB on peaks of very dynamic music. With your listening room, those should be practical levels. You seem to have a SPL meter. If you don't, then I think that you should buy one and use it at your listening position.

Before you spend money on amp and speaker changes, consider getting someone to do a Sumiko Speaker Set in your room. It'll remove an incredible amount of grain and harshness.

One last note, do you have much ambient noise in your listening room? For serious listening I typically turn off the AC, make sure the dishwasher and washing machine isn't running. Keeping ambient noise low allows lowering listening position SPLs. In Colorado it's much easier to turn off the AC than when I lived in Texas, but it's something to seriously consider.

One of the best tweets in the bussiness are on the Sequerra Met7 MK VII monitors. Pair them up with a good sub and they will rock. Also I noticed that you want stand mounted as apposed to floor standers, why? A small speaker will breakup sooner than a large one given the same quality. I have never listened to the equipment you own but maybe the synergy between them tilts the tone upward, just a thought.
As I was reading Tvad's response before getting to the end, I was thinking Pass XA-30.5; I think his reasoning with regards to the amp/speaker matchup makes a lot of sense regarding the pushed quality of the higher frequencies, a loss of balance can do that, and made worse at high levels.
The Stereophile review states the speaker "can be unforgiving of bright material". Frankly, I believe your problem starts here,

At the SPL levels the poster mentions a speaker this size is laughable. Thermal compression and Xmax limitations will make for a terrible sound - completely wrong speaker for the requirements. Not to mention all the problems I listed above with a rigid metal tweeter....

Soundstage stop their second set of measurements at 95 db SPL at 2 meters for a very good reason - if they went up to 103 db spl the results would be so sobering that many audiophiles would complain to their manufacturers and dealers...
I think that you must be clipping all three of the amps you mention.
There is simply no way that with their output and your speakers' sensitivity and your listening levels, that you are not!?
I'm surprised that the tweeters have not 'blown' yet as most do not appreciate loud 'hash'.
Kurt, it sounds to me like you are running into more than one issue. I could be wrong, but at home I can run the system up to 110 db without any added harshness. In fact the system comes off sounding the same at that volume as it does at 85db- there are no loudness cues.

My speakers are 97 db, very easy to drive, and have hard metal diaphragms. I've put a lot of effort into creating 'stillness' in the front end so that it is unperturbed by high volume levels: the preamp and turntable both reside on anti-vibration platforms, which in turn are decoupled from a custom-built Sound Anchors stand, which rests upon Aurios Pro bearings. The amps sit on Silent Running Audio stands.

In addition, the equipment I'm running is designed with intention to not create loudness cues and artifacts. The amps you are using are built with other goals. IMO if you want a relaxed sound at high volumes, you will have to work with equipment that is designed for that purpose...
More information you may need to formulate an opinion:

All Focal Utopia Be speakers operate the same tweeter at a crossover frequency of 2500 Hz and 24 dB/octave, from Micro to Grande. All Focal Utopia speakers have a minimum impedance around 3-4 ohms, with the exception of the Micro which is published at 5 ohms (maybe it really is lower). 6 ohms is nominal min impedance for a nominal 8 ohm speaker, so 5 ohms is actually close if it is actually the case. I did not see Stereophile's complete review and measurements.

The Red Wine amp is quite capable of driving 4 ohm speakers and has more current on hand for more punch with higher damping factor than about any other amp out there. It may not hold up continuously, but surely it will do so for a long note. Listening is convincing enough.

I was able to clip my amps very audibly in the midbass where most clipping happens in full range speakers and not hear it in the tweeters.

I changed the frequency of operation from "full range" to the Focal "satellites" to a 6 dB/octave rolloff starting at 70 Hz and sent 70 Hz on down to the sub. This increased dynamic range for the satellites.

Does it get to 103 dB at 1m? No, but in an ideal world it could. 30 linear watts should get me 14.77 dB above 1 watt. And 89 dB/1W/1m should get to 103.77 dB/30W/1m if uncompressed. Add a nominal 5 dB compression and there's the peak before clipping: 98.77 dB output 1m back from each speaker. What's that at the listening chair? Too much to calculate, it would need a special quasi-anechoic measurement. With that type, it should be circa 95 dB at 2m back peak output, both speakers driven. It should then be playing at a max approx 85 dB median volume level.

All that is still loud enough for me. At 10W/ch it drops to a median 80 dB max plus the lesser compression and at 100W/ch it raises to a median 90 dB max minus more compression. I know it's not the 100W/ch amp that was clipping, although not paying attention might make me believe I was doing it all the time at 30W/ch. If it clips at 30W/ch why is all the clipping happening at 6-8 KHz in some resonance fashion and nothing in the bass? It's a harsh ringing tone of dome break-up sound, not hard clipping hash or soft clipping hash.

Dropping the low frequency -3 dB cutoff to "full range", 50 Hz, compresses the woofer more, but is less at 70 Hz.

In the Diva Utopia, the midrange is exactly the same driver as the bass driver in the Micro Utopia. And when applied there, that midrange is operated 100 Hz - 2500 Hz where I operate it at 70 Hz - 2500 Hz. It would appear to me that I should have very close dynamic performance as the Diva. Is that bigger sounding? I don't know.

There's one thing I believe in most from all the info put forth and from my experiments. There are brightness difficulties associated with this tweeter at higher than average volumes that is occurring through resonance problems just like beryllium horn drivers also have. And it's not at ridiculous levels, just the higher volume end of listening. Listen to horns do that horrible harsh ringing at a live event PA address system some day and it's not killing the tweeters there either. It's driver modal breakup and resonance. And it hurts my ears every time. So I avoid those situations.

I would not try another amp change. I already did that once. I would either learn to listen always at moderate levels even if the dynamics of the recording want to go high, or look for another pair of speakers once again. And that is going to be challenging.

Perhaps DeVore, since those are favored by the owner of Red Wine Audio for his amps.

Thanks for everything. I hope this discussion is useful. I think it was for me. I don't feel my theory was destroyed, so I can act more confidently in my next decision, whenever I can afford that.

From Stereophile:
The Focal-JMlab Diva Utopia Be's ported enclosure was tuned to approximately 27Hz, with minimum impedance of 3.38 ohms at 100Hz. I would judge this speaker to be of average difficulty to drive for any amplifier comfortable with a 4 ohm load, and I would rate its nominal impedance at 4 ohms. The speaker's sensitivity measured approximately 87dB/2.83V/m.
Maybe this isn't your speaker?

The Redwine may be able to drive 4 ohms, many amps are, but that does not mean it doubles power into 4 ohms compared to its power into 8 ohms, and since Redwine does not publish the 4 ohm spec for the 30.2 there's no way to verify it. I recall Vinnie stating on another website that it did not. The Street dot com says this in their review:
The amp is capable of delivering 30 watts per channel into any speaker load from 4 to 16 ohms.
That's essentially what tube amps do...deliver the same power into various impedance loads, and it's why many tube amps don't sound right on speakers with wide impedance swings. 30 watts into 4 ohms produces fewer decibels than 30 watts into 8 ohms, thus perceived pronounced upper frequencies.

You have Voltage Paradigm speakers, and two Power Paradigm amplifiers. A mismatch. Ralph Karsten has a white paper on this topic here.

This is a moot point since you state you will not change amps.

So, perhaps a change to Power Paradigm speakers (like Devore, Coincident, Merlin, Audiokinesis...) will help get you closer to where you want to be.

Anyway, good luck.

If you want to play horns and cymbals loud and clear, you need to follow Dcstep's example.

First, learn how to play trumpet.

Second, wait 40+ years to get a system that sounds good.

Next, get some small rear ported floor standing speakers with a laid-back tonal balance and woofers that are connected with inverted polarity, see:


Position these speakers very close to the wall behind them,
place a gigantic armoire in the center of the speakers,
and put a small reflective table directly in front of the left speaker. See:


Finally, claim you've reduced Intermodulation Distorion using the "Sumiko's Master Set," without ever taking any measurements to confirm your claims.

Did I miss anything Dave?
I noticed the speaker specs I copied into my post above were incorrect. These are yours, yes?

Micro Utopia Be 2-driver, 2-way, ported-box speaker
Drivers: 1" pure-beryllium inverted-dome tweeter, 6.5" W-cone woofer
Frequency response: 50Hz–40kHz, +/-3dB
Sensitivity: 89dB/2.83V/m
Impedance: 8ohm nominal, 5ohm minimum
Crossover frequency: 2.5kHz, 24dB/octave
Maximum power handling: 100W (musical program)
Dimensions: 16.7" x 9.8" x 15" (HxWxD)
Weight: 38.5 lbs
Price: $6000/pair

5 ohms minimum impedance, as you said.

The Stereophile measurement specs I listed were for the Diva Utopia Be, which is a different model from yours.

Just wanted to correct the error.
Seems to me like Kurt is a candidate for some Selah line arrays with lots of ribbon tweeters. No affiliation. In fact, I've never even heard them but I know they'll handle SPL's and dynamics beyond his imagination. If you want concert bass with that, ask about the Incredarrays or custom built.
It's a harsh ringing tone of dome break-up sound, not hard clipping hash or soft clipping hash.

Like I said light rigid materials all tend to ring like a bell.
Kana813, you got a few things wrong; since I retired the CJ amp there's no longer need to invert the polarity at my speakers (proper polarity confirmed with a test LP and CD, since it can vary with equipment). Oh, you've got to learn to play guitar and don't just "play" the trumpet put perform with several symphonies, wind ensembles and a funk/rock/soul band.

I thought Kana813 and I were having an offline discussion, but if he's going to follow me around, I'll share his method. First you pull your main speakers way out into the where nothing below the mids can get out. Next, realizing that you're massively short of bass, buy a couple of huge MoFo subwoofers and push them right into the corners. Next, throw up some bass traps in hopes of controlling the huge nodes created by your super expensive, bi-amped system. Finally, just when all seems hopeless, add in a mega-bucks processor to attenuate the bass peaks by sucking off power and adding digital hash, extra ICs and all the attendant compromises into the system. Cap it all off by messuring EQ at the seating position and declare rig "perfect" because the EQ is now flat. Ignore IMD because you don't know how to measure it and if anything is hard to measure, then it must not be important. ;-)

Did I get it right?

Obviously, YMMV and different strokes for different folks applies.

Age cures all harshness.
I would either learn to listen always at moderate levels even if the dynamics of the recording want to go high, or look for another pair of speakers once again. And that is going to be challenging.


Challenging in consumer audio yes - because such high SPL is not normally required. Costly speaker drivers must compete with nice finish and elegant woodworking - factors that are much more likely to be appreciated by an aesthetic conscious consumer. You are simply discovering the physical limitations of most low cost consumer speaker driver designs: drivers that were never intended to produce extremely high SPL's cleanly and without harsh distortion. If you continue down the path of eeking out high SPL's from designs that were never intended to play so loud then you will likely end up being the unhappy owner of a blown speaker.

My advice is to look for far-field speaker designs used by professionals for monitoring in studios rather than consumer designs. Studios deal with real live music every day (before it is compressed for distribution to consumers for home/car/personal audio systems) - they also have similar accuracy requirements shared by audiophiles (unlike most nightclubs, stadium and DJ/PA speaker customers who will forgo quality for the sake of loudness).
I'm just afraid that Kurt has already damaged his hearing; therefore, I think that he should focus on improving his ambient noise level such that he can enjoyable listen at lower volumes. Yes, he needs speakers and amps that won't distort at 100dB, but he needs to be listening at an average level below 90dB and maybe more like 85dB.

With proper placement and a really transparent, non-distorting system, I think that he can get there.

I'm one for letting each person decide for himself how loudly he wants to listen.

Personally, I find it hard to enjoy some music at 85dB, whereas other music is fine at that level.

AC/DC at 85dB just doesn't cut it.
Huh, what'd you say???

What you say is true that my hearing is already damaged. The kind of damage that makes me look for that optimum clean loudness level. I have some tinnitus still in me although much better than before and is ignorable in high ambient noise. But I can't hear all that well in low ambient noise and low speaker volume conditions due to that incessant noise in my head. So I need to crank it up appropriately.

Then soon comes the other half of the problem. It distorts by playing too loud and then it starts to irritate me via hyperacusis symptoms, a lowering of my discomfort level to not as loud sound. When I had AER front loaded horns I was in a good place. Not irritating to me at loud volumes and could play well over my tinnitus level clearly. Then I went to compression horn drivers for clarity. They were clearer although not capable of high SPL's without that 6 KHz ringing hardness. The paper cone was a soft distortion and the compression horns were a hard distortion.

I probably ought to think about reverting back to those AER Oris horns again, but I hate to go backward. It will lose a lot but gain in comfort and listenable dynamic range.

Kurt said:

"I probably ought to think about reverting back to those AER Oris horns again, but I hate to go backward. It will lose a lot but gain in comfort and listenable dynamic range."

Kurt, my friend, I have empathy, but I've never experienced you problems myself, so I can't answer from experience; however, I can't help but think that gaining in comfort and listenable dynamic range would be paramount in a situation like yours. I wouldn't think of that as a step "backwards", but rather a confirmation that your experiment with the new speakers failed. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh? There's no sin in a failed experiment unless you refuse to acknowledge the failure and learn from the experience.

Good luck finding a solution.


If you've got the space, check out a line source speaker.

Kurt, have you ever tried a pro audio speaker, especially an active design? I think Shadorne is on the right track with his reasoning and recommendation.

Have you ever lived with a Seas Revelator or Dynaudio Esotar2 tweeter? If so, what did you think of them?
Try a professional studio speaker, e.g., Tannoy 215 DMT II, for transparency without harshness. Way better than speakers that cost 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5-times as much.
Up above, the Revelator is a ScanSpeak product. The good Seas tweeter is the Excel. I think.
I tend to think you have to think about the speaker as a whole not just the tweeter.

Of the many speakers I have, I consider Dunlavy's the most transparent all around. I would say that there are speakers like certain martin logans which are more transparent in the top end, but not in the mids where, a lot of the music is. Depending on the crossover, a good deal of cymbal sound is in your midrange not just in the high end.

My mastering engineer that i trust the most once called duntechs and dunlavy's "as flat as you can get while still being listenable". Which means, with microphones speakers and everything else, if you had a completely flat freq response, you might not find it that pleasing.

There is a lot of stuff to read up on about why specs are usually nonsense and how measuring things is a really good thing but not everything.

Some speakers really pick stuff apart. that can be really addicting, because when you go to another kind of speaker you miss the detail. However, if you like a lot of kinds of music, a very detailed speaker for some people, makes, say, led zep, unlistenable.

I go all directions. I have dunlavys for referencing stuff i really need to pick apart, B&W's for stuff in the middle and quads for that lush midrange thing like string quartets. All my speakers sound good to me, but they have different strengths.

While the natural sound of musical instruments may not be harsh (though standing next to some violinists or trumpet players might convince you otherwise) the sound of recordings is very different from life. Many recordings are hyped and all are voiced around the speakers they were being monitored and mixed on. There's no standard. That's just life.

I wish it were easiler to say "yes you must have this and sacrifice this" but there are so many aspects to the synchonicity of the audio chain it becomes, like everything discussed here, a matter of personal preference.
Great post, Mothra. Thanks.