How to get more air in the speakers

Hi folks,

I was fortunate enough to attend the add-live Jam sessions at the Silicon Valley Jazz festial last week. While listening to the jazz artists perform live on stage, I started to notice the different sounds each instrument makes when compared to my home system. Some are much more noticable than others. One in particular that stood out is the cymbals. During the live performances, the cymbals sounded so much better. Seemed like there's an airiness between each stroke. Why is this so hard to replicate in our home system? Does some new design which incorporates a super tweeter help bring recorded music closer to live performances.
In addition to being an audio freak I play drums, so I am particularly sensitive to how cymbals are recorded and reproduced. In exploring audio equipment in general, I find that equipment that is more "sweet" or "forgiving" frequently(but not always) covers up what many of us perceive as "air" or sense of space in the recording. Accordingly I've found that speakers with more extended treble capabilities are much better at capturing and conveying these characteristics if they're on the recording(of course this also assumes the upstream equipment is revealing enough to let this information through). There is usually a very fine line between speakers that can portray air and space and speakers that are overly bright or harsh sounding, and I haven't found many speakers that get it right(for my tastes). A partial list of speakers that can walk this line are Soliloquy, Silverline, Audio Physic, Coincident Technology, and Talon Audio(there are obviously many more, but these are the ones I've heard extensively enough to recommend).

The other factor I have found to be critical in retrieving spacial information from recordings is speaker placement. In my system I find that pulling my speakers 5 feet or so into the room allows the music and instruments to breathe and not be truncated or smeared by the back wall(this will obviously vary with different equipment and room dimensions). My feeling is that this spacial information is very delicate and can easily be destroyed if not allowed to pass directly as possible to the listener's ear. In this type of setup when the recording allows, cymbals as well as other instruments and voices appear in the room in a 3-dimensional fashion that is truly mesmerizing--like having the band in your listening room.

Although I feel these are the two most important variables to achieving what it is I believe you are searching for, audio systems are like a chain in that they are only as strong as the weakest link, so everything from source to cables will also play into the equation. I'm sure there will be other posts with a lot more helpful and interesting information and theories, but as far as speakers go, clean treble extension and speaker placement are among the most important variables to focus on to bring the performance into your room. Best of luck.

Tim, it would help to know what your using for equipment. Some audio gear will have a dark and compressed sound and some will be open and airy sounding.Its all about synergy how well each component mates with the other. Martin Logans have midrange magic so if mids you love you really should try them you dont get much more open than that. No box speaker has the openess of a Martin Logan. Cables help but they should be the last thing you exsperiment with. Good Luck
Another possible cause to the "loss of air" in the highs may be found in your digital front end. The ambience cues (or "air") can be easily lost at the digital source, and no speaker itself can help recover something that isn't there in the first place.

If your front end does not have 24bit converters, you are in need of an update. I have owned 8 different digital front ends myself, and the improvement with the 24 bit converters yielded the largest improvements when it comes to depth and ambience cues. These newer converters just sound more "real" (even when they are used in a 16bit format. I guess the engineering 8bit overkill must really help resolve those little sonic details)

Note: I am not suggesting looking at somehting like the newer Sony player, etc. I am talking about something like the MSB or Bel Canto i.e "high end" digital. (Japanese players have always seemed to really constrict "the air" in the highs. I strongly suspect that this is due to their use of very meager op/amps in their output sections)

Good luck on your quest for those realistic highs. It took me almost 12 years to get them back, after I swithced from vinyl to digital.
To add a few ideas to Soix's excellent post -

Doing the top octave (and beyond) well is often pushing the edge of the performance envelope of our systems.

If your source is digital, the DAC you're using makes a helluva difference when it comes the top octaves (and it doesn't have to be a megabuck DAC either). One place where analog really shines is in capturing that sense of air and ease.

Amplification is also important - you need an amp that doesn't clip or compress the leading edge of the transients, yet you also need an amp that decays properly and isn't "spitty". Getting the decay of notes right is more difficult than getting the initial attack right. Poor phase response in an amplifier can cause it to exaggerate the sibilants ("sss" sounds) and become fatiguing, despite having peceptually "extended top end".

In my experience, there are two factors that contribute to a natural sounding top-end in a speaker. The first and most important is the lightness of the diaphragm, as this contributes to its ability to trace every nuance, and respond without rounding off the transients or blurring the decay. Electrostats excel here - the Quads, Acoustats, Martin Logans, InnerSounds, and Sound Labs are all capable of superb top-end resolution (the Sound Labs use the lightest diaphragm I know of). Speakers that use ribbon tweeters also do quite well, but generally have a bit less resolution because the conductor/diaphragm is heavier than the mylar diaphragm of an electrostat. Red Rose, Newform Research, and Magnepan come to mind. Note that proper matching of speaker with amp is essential for each of these designs.

Now the second, and sometimes hidden, factor in a good top end is uniform dispersion. If a speaker beams in the top octave, then the direct sound will have a brighter tonal balance than the reverberant field, and the ear/brain has to work harder to integrate the two. This can cause listening fatigue over time. The Audio Physic speakers use a tweeter that has very good dispersion. Other speakers mentioned here that have exceptionally uniform dispersion include the Sound Labs, Maggies, and Newforms - the Sound Labs by virtue of their large, curved diaphragm which radiates over a constant 90-degree arc front and back, and the two ribbon speakers by virtue of their exceptionally narrow diaphragms.
The posts above are wonderful and I don't have much to add. But, depending on your set-up, I've found that solid cones (e.g., brass)under your speakers can make a substantial difference in how the treble comes across. The increased speaker stabilization makes everything clearer. I have the Sierra Denalis, MIT Oracle and Thiel CS-6 set-up. When I added heavy threaded speaker cones and discs beneath the Thiel's, it sounded like a new set of speakers. It's a low cost way of heading in the right direction -- by itself, I don't think it will get you there but I will not remove mine now that I've heard the difference. Happy listening!
It's amazing to read such wonderful educated post filled with knowledgable information from fellow audiogoners. This is exactly why I was so disappointed when Audiogon briefly shut down the forum. I felt as thought my hifi college was closed for good. Back to the thread, I used to play drum in high school as well. As the previous posts put it, it's difficult achieve natural highs without confusing the sound as being harsh or bright. The "SSSSSS" sound can be quite fatiguing. I will try some of your suggestions with speaker placements and I'll keep you posted with the results. Please note that I am some what satisfy with my current system; Dyn 3.3, Classe CA-400 (w/ Whale Elite PWR CRD), Sonic Frontier Line 2, SF SFCD-1 (w/ Symposium blocks), HT Pro Silkway II XLR's, and Transparent Ultra XL speaker cables. However after listening to a live performance, I was a bit dispointed at how my system attempts to replicate such a listening experience. Can you ever replicate live performances or we will eventually get closer, but never achieve that orgasmic listening experience?
While reading this I'm sitting listening to Philly Joe Jones on a Hank Mobley Blue Note 24bit CD. Using an Air Tight 300B amp, passive pre-amp, Perp Tech digital stuff (both pcs), and Proac 2.5s. As a former drummer, I'm happy with the cymbal sound, in fact, very happy. I seem to be getting a great balance btw the metallic brassy cymbal sound and the body of a wood stick (being held by a fleshy human hand) on that cymbal. Having a stereo system is a very different thing than going to listen to live musicians. It's a different "organic" experience and is not meant to replicate, clone, or take the place of live music. I was recently at the Grand Hotel on Macinaw Island, and in the lobby two young women (not over 18-20 yrs old) played Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, etc. transcripted for violin and piano. My wife and I sat intranced for almost an hour even though we had someplace else to be. Two beautiful, talented, and passionate women playing beautiful, passionate music 20 ft in front of us! I don't expect this in my home, I'd be a fool to! Be happy with the miracle of what your system can do everyday and get on with life. Hey, got to go! Hank Mobley's tenor sax is calling for my full attention!
It is my opinion that the sound, image, and sonics you are seeking is dependant upon your entire system. There are many variables that affect the quality of your sound, such as power cords, interconnects, front end component, pre amp and power amp. In addition, the room size and speaker placement certainly influences sound, either positively or negatively. In regards to speakers, I have heard the Audio Physics Tempo III in several systems, including mine, and have compared them with the Totem Hawk speakers. The Totem Hawk speakers have more finess, resolution, and transparency (imaged better and was more musical). The Totem Hawks retail for approximately $2,300 and can be played at low levels with resounding resolution. But again, the speakers are only one piece of the puzzle.