Help troubleshooting McCormack separates?

I've been trying to lick a persistent electrical-souding buzz that comes and goes in my rig, and recently downloaded Ethan Winer's test tones from the RealTraps website to see how much of the problem was real, and how much of it was psychosis.

When playing the 300Hz sine wave I was able to hear a not unpleasant "tubular bells" sort of note, accented by a much drier, less pleasant overtone about a half-step below the main note in pitch -- rather like the sound that animation studios use to simulate a housefly. If I raised the volume, both the tubular-bell note and the overtone would decrease in pitch, and if I lowered the volume they would both increase in pitch (I know that sounds crazy, but I replicated the effect several times).

Also, the overtone briefly got louder if I adjusted the volume in either direction, then returned to its previous volume, relative to the main tone. The effect occurred equally when using my Arcam CD-player or my Oppo DVD player, to play the tone.

My question for the group: is this enough evidence for me to conclude that I'm facing a service issue with the McCormack stuff, or could all of these results be the combined effect of how the test-cd was burned, room interactions, dirty power (specifically, un-grounded outlets), normal performance of the test tones, and unadulterated psychosis, and/or stupidity on the part of the operator?

Showing 4 responses by dog_or_man

Well I've got a problem than I'm relatively confident can't be explained by speakers or room-response, most notably because it's intermittent.

I've had this persistent difficulty in the behavior of my gear for some time, now, and it's bad enough that non-audiophiles can hear it. I haven't been using the test-tones for long enough to say any of the following things about them, specifically, but with regular source material the problem has been...

a) unpleasant enough that my girlfriend can tell the difference
b) sometimes absent after powering-down and re-connecting everything
c) global to different source components
d) global to a different house, a friend's speakers and wall outlet
e) neither more or less likely during the day or night
f) not invokable by any known means if not already present by itself

At someone else's suggestion I just tried to run the test tone with two different pairs of speakers, and couldn't get any of the pathologies described in my OP to happen, with the original pair on which I'd been hearing all the problems yesterday.

A member of another forum also thinks that electronic explanations are unlikely, so I certainly don't mean to come across as having rejected that advice -- I just don't know how to reconcile what's been happening with any other "class" of possible explanations.
Okay, I'll take that as a green light to leave a long post about all of this. :-)

I just won't do it right now because I'm going to bed. Audphile1, check back in about a day or so?
Okay. Sorry this is so long.

The problem I'm having is a very dry, reedy, over-emphasized upper midrange, on particular pieces it's discer0nible as trace amounts of electrical-sounding interference -- not unlike the audio equivalent of those little traces of snow you'd see on the TV when dad was in the next room running the electric carving knife.

When it happens, I can *sometimes* fix it by powering-down and disconnecting everything and the powering up again.

As a late-breaking update, when my problem is occurring, I can feel what I had always thought was a faint vibration on the front aprons of both the amp and preamp. Recently I discovered that when the problem isn't occurring, I couldn't feel the "vibration."

I hadn't thought much about this aspect, one way or the other, until last night -- when I realized that I could still feel it after powering everything down. I'm thinking this suggests that it's not a vibration at all, but a very, very faint electrical discharge, leaving the front apron of the two pieces and traveling down my hand into ground.

In answer to your other questions, there is a big-*ss plasma TV in the rig, but it isn't connected to any subscription service of any kind, cable or satellite; it's just for movies. The rest of the rig consists of:

An Arcam FMJ-CD23 cd-player
An Oppo DV-980H, discrete analog six-channel DVD player
A McCormack MAP-1 multichannel preamp
A McCormack DNA-HT5 multichannel amp
A Hsu Research VTF-1 powered subwoofer

Power cables are by Element Cable (CD player and Preamp), and Harmonic Technologies (Amplifier).

Interconnects are by Blue Jeans Cable (between preamp and amp) and Element Cable (between CD-player and preamp).

Speaker cables are cross-connected twisted pair, by Element Cable.

Speakers used have included Linn Ninkas, Audio Physic Spark IIII's, Totem Mite-T's, and Linn Katans.

RF treatments include self-adhesive copper sheathing inside the CD-player, an Eancom plug-in filter, power wraps on the power cable for the CD-player and sometimes on the interconnects between the CD-player and the preamp, snap-on ferrites the stock power cords for the DVD player and the subwoofer, and short plugs on the unused input sockets of the McCormack.

The power in the house pre-dates the three-pin technology and, despite the fact that the outlets have a third pin, that third pin isn't actually connected to anything.

I'd thought that a dedicated and properly-grounded AC line would fix everything, but I recently took the whole rig to a friend's relatively new house on the quiet side of town, far from most common sources of RF, and everything sounded just as terrible as it so often does -- and in the same ways -- as in my house with my antiquated wiring.

I might also point out that I've had problems that aren't exactly the same but aren't completely different, with earlier solutions for amplification, too. Three years ago when my Parasound separates started acting fritzy, they exhibited the same pattern of acting up intermittently, and I could sometimes -- but not always -- make them behave normally. In that case, one channel would get cloudy with background hiss, then cut out altogether, and if I walked behind the rig and wiggled the interconnects, the sound would come booming back in and stay that way for a day or two afterward.

Then I got a Naim Nait5i which would overmodulate the low midrange intermittently, and whose input selector would freeze whenever I detected the midrange problem.

Then I got an Arcam integrated that couldn't make decent sound under any circumstances in my own house, but sounded fine at my friend's place.

And now this.

On several occasions I've had various pieces of gear serviced, and always they come back un-modified because, "we couldn't make anything go wrong, here."

Really, if all of this doesn't add up to one, obvious solution pretty quick, I'm gonna fire-sale all of this crap and replace it with two Aiwa bookshelf systems with external inputs for the signals coming from the Oppo, and just be done with it all forever. This stuff was *horrifically* expensive, was supposed to make me happy, and now I'm completely unable to listen to it, and the laughing-stock of my friends to boot.
Thanks, everybody. Sorry I lost my center there for a moment.

There's no discernible pattern between daytime and evening, and there's no performance problem with the TV.

The friend doesn't have a power regenerator so that's an idea.

The electrician and I are playing phone-tag (mostly he's "it" but that's another story), but as I was saying in a different forum, the grounded, dedicated AC line seems a good idea whether it solves any of this or not.