Help with fatiguing sound in my PC system

I replaced my Halo Pre and Denon changer with a PS Audio DL III. I run lossless music into it from iTunes on a PC (Windows 7 64bit, core i7, 16MB RAM), I use a Pangea USB cable into a MF V-link, then go into the DAC with a Wireworld ultraviolet coax. The increased detail, clarity, resolution and extension are remarkable, but so is the amount of listening fatigue. The highs are too much, but the music sounds muffled if I add the pre-amp back. My system is profiled in the link below. I have some ideas, let the voting begin:
1 - buy an offramp or a pacecar (can't afford it!)
2 - use better USB/coax/interconnects/speaker cable
3 - apply acoustic treatments to the room
4 - use a software player (Jplay) that sits on top of iTunes
5 - buy speakers with different tweeters (Quad 22L2/Focal 826v, this is happening, but not any time soon)
6 - get a better amp (McCormack/Odyssey, distant future)
7 - tweak Windows 7/iTunes settings (WASAPI exclusive mode?!?)
8 - adjust speaker position/toe in (already did this and it helped a little)
I am thinking about trying #3/#7 next. Ideas? Thnx in advance.
I went from Monitor Audio (Silver 8's if I remember correctly) to Quad 22l2's. The quad soft dome tweeters helped some, but the the speakesr still had a mid band dip that excentuated the highs so I sold them too. Speakers matter as much as anything but there's a number of ways to tackle a resolving/fatiguing setup (ways that usually cost $).

I just swapped out a new battery for my old macbook, even that switch has caused a high frequency push that is unbearable for now (hopefully the battery breaks in....things sound better with the crapped out battery in the macbook, whether it's plugged in or not).
I use a Mac Mini for my computer audio so not sure how well this applies. I am however, using the PS Audio DLIII which I don't find fatiguing in my setup. Not going to offer advice but will tell you what I did to get sound that rivals my cdp.
First off I rip files to AIFF using XLD for bit perfect copies. I tried Apple lossless as well as AIFF with itunes with error correction but none of these were quite good enough. When I used my pc I ripped AIFF with EAC (exact audio copy) to get bit perfect rips. It takes a bit longer to rip but it's worth it IMO.
Next, I decided on the optical out after comparing it to the USB. I don't believe USB is ready if you want the best sound. Even with the optical out I wasn't satisfied until I inserted a Monarchy Audio DIP and then fed the PS Audio via the coax input. I may remove the DIP and compare now that I have everything else sorted out.
That's where I'm at. Perfect rips, no USB out and the DIP. I feel no need to change anything at this point. The only problem for me is 90% of my files were ripped before I started using XLD. My task is to get another external hard drive and rerip everything with XLD. Hope this helps a little.
Fatigueing sound is generally due to high jitter at the wrong frequencies. This will not get fixed without fixing the source or interface with the Master Clock in it.

Most people feel that they can use a $200 interface with a $2K DAC. The opposite is more optimum. Use a $2K interface with a $200 DAC. This interface is more important than the DAC.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I auditioned Jplay a couple of days ago and it helped. Less ringing. But the volume control is in 6dB steps to keep the signal bit-perfect, it's not a slider.
I only know of two manufacturer's of re-clockers, Monarchy Audio's DIP products and Empirical's units. Is there a re-clocker out there that I am missing? I know USB-S/PDIF converters re-clock the signal, and there are probably better ones than the MF V-link I bought. Audiophelio, Halide, Stello. Not sure one of these will make as significant a difference as a new clock.
Does anyone out there use a PC setup with Focal 826v or 836v? I'm interested in how you set up your source.
Is your system too bright? Or is it etchy, grainy? Or both?

You're referencing speakers with metallic tweeters, a solid state DAC that is known to be bright (similiar to the Benchmark DAC1), and you're driving your amp directly with one of those types of DACs? If so, that is a scenario for a heachace, jitter nor not. And fixing the jitter WILL NOT cure brightness or a forward system/setup.
"Is there a re-clocker out there that I am missing?"

Depends on what you want to reclock. Here is one that is more for Sonos and AppleTV etc..:

"there are probably better ones than the MF V-link I bought. Audiophelio, Halide, Stello. Not sure one of these will make as significant a difference as a new clock."

They will and there are better ones if you want to do USB. This makes the difference between harsh digital and analog SQ.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
You're referencing speakers with metallic tweeters, a solid state DAC that is known to be bright (similiar to the Benchmark DAC1), and you're driving your amp directly with one of those types of DACs?

Really? I don't find the PS Audio dac bright sounding at all and have never heard it described that way. In fact all the accounts I have read are opposite. Have you any experience with the DLIII?
I definitely want to do USB, But the synchro mesh looks interesting, will it work with a mf v-lnk, does it accept 24/96?
Realremo - The Synchro-Mesh is not the right solution if you want to stay with USB. It is a resampler.

The right solution is to upgrade your USB converter. The Master Clock is in there, so it is the right upgrade. Bit perfect too.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I bought the DL III because of the sonic character described in pretty much all of the reviews - warm, big soundstage, with a very good handle on low end frequencies. The improvement in SQ after running the signal from my Denon changer into the DAC was noticeable, there was no listener fatigue. But leaving the changer and the pre amp completely out of the signal chain blew that improvement out of the water, yet produced listener fatigue. The pre must have been rolling off the highs somehow. Looks like my search is not over! I might sell the Halo to fund a USB converter upgrade...
Although I have read reviews of the DLIII, I can't recall any mentioning the USB input. My listening experiments revealed much better results with either the coax or toslink input vs the USB. Can't say it was fatiguing as I didn't listen long for fatigue to set in. Now that I have it all sorted out, I like the dac very much.
I found the USB from laptop directly to the DL III to be disappointing. Adding the Vlink improved it quite a bit. I'm ordering some room treatments and I am playing around with Foobar/Jriver/Jplay. I'll get it there, eventually.
Have you tried any different ICs just to see what effect they might have? Not familiar with your but ICs are one way to solve this kind of thing sometimes. IF you think your ICs might be on teh bright side and a contributor, try a pair of inexpensive used networked ICs like MIT terminator. These are the ones I know of specifically that lean more towards a fuller low end in their spectral balance.
Thanks Mapman, I will try that if the acoustic deadening I plan to do in the room doesn't help. I have always wanted to dampen my listening room, There are way too many hard surfaces.
Also considering a purchase of Jplay, the SQ improvement cannot be ignored. I don't know if I can go back to iTunes, even using WASAPI, iTunes cannot compete with the improvement Jplay makes.
Update: purchased Jplay and placed the pre back into e system, the signal from iTunes with Jplay is strong enough to retain a lot more detail compared to just running iTunes thru the pre. Using Jplay directly into the dac and amp is still too bright. Wouldn't be doing Pc audio without Jplay, it's a great piece of code...more later...
While the digital audio chain can certainly contribute fatigue, what I've personally found is that unbearable listening fatigue is more likely to come from the speakers, the amplifier, and the room.

If you are not planning to replace speakers and amplifiers for some time, then short term fix may be the room.

Does your room exhibit much in the way of slap echo?
Yes it does, and acoustic foam is next on my list. I have carpet on the floor, but the walls and ceiling are gypsum wall board (sheet rock). The room is 12x12x8. I'm planning on putting up about 100 sq ft of acoustic dampening. I have also researched the audiophellio, read some reviews, and tonight I'm more in the "save for new speakers" camp. Still researching the stello. Tomorrow night or Sunday I'll have another idea, but the acoustical treatments will happen regardless.
Whatever I do, nothing can help my 1980 "Boy" CD, I'll have to buy the 2008 remaster.
Realremo - be careful not to overdo the absorptive materials. If you already have carpeting, then you are already close. Too much will kill the liveness.

Just deal with the side-wall echoes by using a small mirror to determine the best points of attachment. If you see the tweeter in the mirror from the listening position, that is where you put them. Never put absorbing material behind the speakers. Use scattering devices instead.

And BTW, this will not fix the harshness. This is due to jitter mostly IME.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I am running a Asus notebook running Windows 7 64bit and J Rivers 17. The usb output from the notebook goes to a Musical Fidelity V-Link via a Wireworld Starlight usb cable and a Wireworld Starlight coax cable from the V-Link to a Wyred Dac 1. The sound is extremely detailed, NON FATIGUEING, and musical. All my hi-rez files sound incredible. All my files are ripped into flac and output the player in waspapi mode.

First thing I would do is ditch iTunes and try the J Rivers 17 Media Player. You can use it free for 30 days and then decide if you like it. It blows away iTunes by a wide margin.
Here's a summary of my experience:

- A system with a murky source may not exhibit fatigue, but once you give it a very revealing, resolving signal, it may become quite fatiguing.
- Improving the quality of the source, like what the Off Ramp 5 is able to do, makes a difference. But to me, it makes things sound better rather thank make things bearable. As always, your mileage may vary.
- It's not just speakers, it's also the amplifier and how the speakers and the amplifiers work together.
- Synergy is important. And certain components will bring a certain character to your system. For example, a Leben sounds warm, lush and beautiful. Never heard anyone describe a Leben or a Shindo as fatiguing.
- If you're going to buy a USB SPDIF converter, the Off Ramp is markedly better than the Audiophilleo.
- The hobby gets more expensive when you want ultra resolving, natural, musical, non-fatiguing, full of body, and transparent all rolled into one.
stereo 5, agree that iTunes is terrible by itself. This is why I purchased Jplay, tried it with both Jriver and Foobar, and could not hear a difference compared to iTunes with Jplay, so I stuck with iTunes as my software of choice. I have been managing an iTunes library since the iPod 5th gen came out, so I'm used to and like the interface. Jplay gives bit perfect output using kernel streaming and loads the tracks into RAM, the HD is never touched for playback, and it sounds really good.
First reflection points and maybe a bit of dampening overhead would be the only places I'd put absorption. Thanks for the mirror trick, Steve. I have a window on one side with a double cell fabric blind, might add drapes there.
And yeah, the off ramp is better than the audiophilleo, I'm sure, But it's also got a much higher entry level price point ($1200?).. I don't want to totally out pace the rest of my system, once the interface is upgraded, I'll have some more work to do to bring the rest of the system up. I never really thought i would take the Pc audio plunge, but the convenience and fun of the iPad interface made it irresistible, and there really hasn't been that much tinkering.
I'll be honest. There is no single magic bullet in my experience for listening fatigue. I have found all of these to matter for digital music

1. use PC source with asynch USB (check, you are doing that)
2. use a quality DAC (check, you are doing that)
3. use quality interconnects (check you are doing that)
4. use a quality PC media player (no, you are not doing that... consider JRiver or Foobar2000. At lower processor speeds Foobar is better but with the latest generation of CPU's JRiver is as good or better and much more user friendly. Itunes is pleasant but shallow in musical detail)

At this point your PC audio out shouldn't be the source of fatigue. Look to the rest of the system. Consider a Rogue Cronus or a Prima Luna integrated tube amp as a safe choice to bypass solid state issues that commonly cause listening fatigue. Leave speakers for last.. buying better speakers at this point will likely expose more to hate.
Davide256 - I use the Jplay plugin with iTunes. This plugin loads the tracks into RAM, then plays them back from memory without ever hitting the HD. It uses kernel streaming or WASAPI, and has several other adjustments for memory management, also features a bit-perfect volume control in 6dB increments. Sound improvement over stock iTunes is astounding. I tried this plugin with Foobar and JRiver trial software and could not hear a significant difference, so I stuck with itunes as the interface. That might change later, Jplay and iTunes don't play so nice together.
The immediate, in-reach upgrade is a converter that has dual clocks, so I am not synthesizing a 48kHz stream from 44.1kHz data. If that does not improve things, you're right, I have to consider going to a high-quality integrated, upgrading speakers, etc.
since both of us use Dlink III's let me share that I didn't find that DLink direct to amp worked well, partially for the fatigue symptoms you describe but also for lack of richness in the midrange. I don't think the Dlink III is an optimal impedance match for an amplifier. I prefer the sound of the Dlink through both the CJ pre and the pre section of the Prologue to the Dlink III feed direct to the Prologue Home Theater inputs for direct to amp. The CJ being an older unit did require some capacitor replacments to be as fast as the newer Prima Luna.
agree, Davide256, I have placed my Halo pre back into the signal chain after purchasing the Jplay plugin. I did mess around with the volme control in the plugin, but 6dB steps don't do it for me. I am running the signal into the direct inputs on the Halo, this bypasses the tone control circuitry and goes straight to the volume pot. Still have to try it through the tone controls, see what that does. I'm having a ball though, headaches or not!
Also having the PS Audio DL III -- I would have to disagree with it as a cause for the fatiguing sound. I run from a SONOS digital coax out to the DLIII, to an AYRE integrated amplifier (vial XLR balanced ICs) to a pair of PSB Sync 1 speakers. The sound is warmer and gentler then my Ayre CDP in most cases. From the SONOS I am playing both my own Apple lossless files, and online music sources (XM, Pandora, etc...) I would just definately say that from SONOS to the DLIII with digital coax is a warm stronger source then my CDP.
Yes that is why I bought the DL III, for the warmth. I think I'm doing everything correctly, the synergy of my components is off, it'll take time to determine who the culprit is, might be a combination of things. it's frustrating.
sbleam, I wasn't saying that the dlink III is fatiguing when used as intended... just that it was fatiguing when fed direct to amp, no pre in between. As described you are using a pre amp section for the Dlink III analog output. And yup, listening fatigue is frustrating. I'd say about 75% of my music collection is now edge/fatigue free when played, and 24 bit music seems to make a big difference vs 16 bit. The remaining 25% of 44.1khz/16 bit music has me constantly tinkering with better caps, interconnects and considering a better DAC purchase next year.

Of course the way HDtracks is going, by next year I might be able to retire all my 16 bit music with 24 bit replacements (grin) and bypass a new DAC.
My ears won't stop ringing. I might have tinnitis. If so, I'm selling all my gear. The sound fatigue might have nothing to do with the jitter, the speakers or the amp, it might have everything to do with how loud I've listened to my music for the past 3 years.
The increased detail, clarity, resolution and extension are remarkable, but so is the amount of listening fatigue.

1. The "audiophile virtues" listed before the "but" are often, IME, associated with the fatigue problem stated after. Hard to maximize detail and clarity and ease of listening, since detail and clarity are often associated with edgy highs, esp. at your price point.

2. Do your speakers have metal drivers?; if so, this a possible cause of fatigue.

3. When you move to replace your speakers (a priority, IM0, if the answer to 2 is yes), look at Fritzspeakers, Fritz does nice silk dome designs at a good price, which are easy on the ears.

4. From the pictures, it looks like you have a "hard" room. Softening things up with plants, wall hangings and furniture could help.

5. I'm not sure if it will help with the edge, but adding an augment like jPlay or Pure Music to iTunes will likely make a noticible improvement, for short $. I use PM, and have heard good things about jplay.

6. If you have tinnitus (not unlikely) do not sell your rig. There is not a good treatment, but having music on makes the symptoms less bothersome, since it masks the ringing. Get an spl meter, and keep it below 85.

Just my 3c. Good luck, and keep us posted.

A good tube amplifier can have wonderful detail and extension but also may be warm, beautiful and non-fatiguing.
since last post I have acquired a JK MkIII sync USB to SPDIF converter to replace the Vlink. Beyond the order of magnitude improvement in fidelity, its made it enjoyable to listen to PC audio fed direct from DAC to amp and helped me diagnose some "edginess" issues on certain CD's as preamp exaggerated. Looks like the Dlink III will be next leaving my system since its 2006 design has become the limiting factor for musical detail. No question that the JK MkIII gets you far more musical enjoyment with the Dlink III than the 96khz Vlink and the combination eliminates the musical fatigue I encountered with the Vlink
Thanks, Davide, I plan to upgrade my converter as well. I upgraded my speakers and the brightness was alleviated somewhat. Pics will follow soon in my system profile. Work is killing me right now, can't get to that yet.
The choice of DACs kind of changes a bit when you already have a really good USB converter, eh? I imagine I will be in your boat (swapping DACs) in about a year or so.
There are so many variables. Impossible to say exactly what your problem is. However, in my experience, I've found the connection between the computer and the dac is a big deal. A poor connection equals jitter. Jitter equals fatiguing sound. I use a high quality USB cable and an audiophilleo. If I had more money I'd by a better reclocker. What that is I don't know. The wireworld is not a high quality USB. I use the top of the line ridge street audio USB. I'm sure there are others that are equal or even better, but that's what I use. In order of importance I'd say: 1. USB cable, 2. Reclocker/master clock. You need both to solve jitter. That's what I think.
My USB cable is a Pangea, but still, point taken. It will be a long time before I spend $600-$700 on a cable.
Realremo, I found that both USB and coax cable mattered but didn't spend a lot to get satisfaction. For USB I tried Audioquest Forrest, Pangea silver over copper and ended up with far better results from Pangea 24 gauge Pure silver.. better high frequency detail and imaging. Like wise Parts Connexion sells DIY Furutech components for FX-Alpha-Ag silver coax cable which I found bettered anything else for under $200, just some wire stripping and solder skill required for the termination of choice.