How to tame the midrange???

I am almost there with my system, except that the midrange sounds harsh, grainy, and exceptionally digital. Female vocals in particular. It actually sounds like clipping, but I can hear it at any volume level. However, the problem is more noticable as volume is increased. I listen to a lot of acoustic music with prominent vocals, so this is a real problem.
The room is 26 x 28 x 9. Furnishings are 6 piece HT type seating and carpet....nothing else. No treatments at all. I/C cables are Radio Shack's best. I plan to do room treatments and better cables last.
I am thinking a good DAC might smooth things out a bit. Or maybe seperate 2 channel from HT by adding a good 2 channel preamp with HT pass through. (the front speakers are already on seperate amps) Maybe a preamp with tubes. I suppose having the Denon CDP modified is an option as well. My focus is 2 channel. HT sounds good enough as is, and is a low priority. Budget is around 5000.00, but flexible.
The gear is:
Sunfire Theatre Grand II processor
Denon 3910 mods
Classe Seven Hundred Mono blocks for fronts
Adcom 300x7 for center and surrounds (all bi-amped)
B&W 800N fronts
B&W HTM-1 center
B&W CDM9-NT surrounds
Another consideration is that I listen to Comcast Music Choice digital music channels quite a bit through their Motorola box. I think that makes a stronger case for adding a good DAC. I am new at this and rely exclusively on Goner's advise. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.
I'm not being critical in any way but the B&W combination with Denon-Carver is very harsh to my ears...hopefully someone else can help without any wholesale changes....HT and good two channel are two diff animals in my opinion.
Good luck,
I'm not being critical in any way but the B&W combination with Denon-Carver is very harsh to my ears...hopefully someone else can help without any wholesale changes....HT and good two channel are two diff animals in my opinion.
Good luck,
Hi Baffled,
I am using B&W CDM1-NT's as my LR and the mids are similar to what you describe but only usually when I listen to rock or pieces that are heavy in the a lot of instruments in the same freq range. I use a DAC and have a tubed pre & amp so I'm not sure that thats the answer to your problem. What I would first suggest is the cheapest remedy...speaker placement. If you have the room experiment. Subtle changes can greatly change the sound of your speakers. Second, I suggest acoustic treatments for the listening room. A bad room can make the best equipment sound bad. BTW I do enjoy the tube gear and DAC but I'm not sure it would help you. The 3910 is a good unit, perhaps not as good as hi end CDP's, but shouldn't be causing what you describe. Hopefully others will chime in as there are those more experienced than myself. Good luck, you have nice gear and there should be a remedy.
A couple of suggestions.
1) Lose the processor for two channel music. I've never heard one that competes against a dedicated tube preamp or SS preamp. A decent tubed preamp will take you to levels of enjoyment no processor can achieve.

2)You are correct.. You need either modifications to the output stage of the Denon or you need a Dac. I would go with the Dac myself before the mods.The music from the Digital box I suspect is compressed. It will sound better with a Dac in the chain.Probably not as good as a good old fashion cd player run through a Dac though.

If you have $5000 to spend .You could easily do both tubed preamp and Dac with money to spare if you shop smart.You could then use the rest of the money at your discretion on room treatments and cables. Just swapping the preamp out will make a HUGE difference from the start.The Dac will also have a large impact..if you get a decent one..notice I didn't say expensive.;-)

Have fun
Gmood1 makes a good point by taking the processor out of the mix. Have you tried the Denon & Classe only to drive the B&W's? Again, your gear is nice so maybe a process of illimination might be the ticket. Along those lines you can also try the Denon direct. Not that the Denon is better, which it isn't, but maybe the chain is causing issues. This is a method of troubleshooting. Definately a path to take before spending hard earned cash.
Just a heads up--I tried feeding the digital signal from my Cox Comm. (Sci. Atlanta hardware) digital cable box to my Metronome 24/96 Sig. DAC. Works fine on PCM signals BUT NOT when Music Choice channels are selected. So I can only guess that the digital Music Choice signal, at least in my area, is not PCM. I welcome any input.
Baffled - how have you addressed power conditioning? I've found that a lot of harshness can be attributable to power quality sensitive power supplies and thererefore benefit dramatically from treatment. Things get smoother, less grainy/edgy and with blacker backgrounds. Be careful here as it can be a two edged sword and squash dynamics in the micro and macro realm if you pick the wrong unit. I've tried a bunch and have settled on BPT Sig 3.5 plus which to my ears is the only unit which provides the benefits without changing tonal balance and in my perception does not hinder dynamics at all. There are other great units out there that you may want to check out as well. An added benefit is that the lowered noisefloor improves dimensionality and the ability of your system to reproduce a 3D soundstage and has similar effect on your video. You may also want to consider dedicated AC lines installed by an electrician. Good Luck.
I agree with Larry's harshness comment, BUT

I'd seriously consider moving room treatment up in the sequence of things you are going to try. That much bare wall has to have an effect... I'd at least look at the first reflection points and other major problems first.

happy listening
"midrange sounds harsh, grainy, and exceptionally digital. Female vocals in particular. It actually sounds like clipping, but I can hear it at any volume level. However, the problem is more noticable as volume is increased"

I have a Sunfire Theatergrand did not sound like that in my system. I don't use mine in my music system but I have used it there in the past. I suspect you could have a problem driver in one of your speaker?...try switching the speakers out and putting another pair in their place.

Another thought is that you may have a cumulative effect going on...many components, many with a degree of harshness.

I don't recall any "large degree" of midrange grain or harshness going on when I had my Sunfire placed between my Krell Ksa-250 and Apogee Duetta Signatures for around 6 months...nothing like what your hearing?

#1. First thing to find out ids what your system really sounds like before you make any component changes, or even consider them. Call the Cable Company and have them send you some interconnect and then speaker cables to audition in your system. Radio Shacks cables IMHO have no place in a high resolution system. 1-800-fat-wyre When I was system building I must have auditioned a dozen or more interconnects, then digital cables, then speaker cables.
APL can re Engineer the Denon 3910 for a lot less than $5000. Tube stage, With upsampling , state of the art Dac etc.
When its done you can control the volumne thru the Denon direct to your Amps. (No Preamp needed.)

Also, APL can add digital input and analog inputs .

P.S. Trash the Radio Shack interconnects. You have good Equipment buy good cables. Somewhere between $500-$1000 (or of course more) you can find interconnects to be used from APL to Amp.

Remember, everything matters and your system is only as good as the weakest link.

1. Your room MUST be treated. You can do some research here, and on the net, for DIY room treatments and save yourself TONS of money.

2. Gmood1 is right. Get a dedicated 2 chanel preamp and you'll be amazed. BTW - I'd recommend a good tubed preamp.

I was like you, in that, I had (have) an HT set up, but was unhappy with my 2 chanel sound. What did I do? Treated my room, and ADDED a 2 chanel preamp to my system. I'm very pleased.

good luck.

what interconnects are you usesing,i just went through this,i took my whole system apart and started add the interconnects one by one till i found the one that was doing it ,changed it out and its great again so try it it dont cost nothing,,
if you are using radio shack interconnects, what are you usung for speaker cable ? is this a trick question thread ????

the sunfire is a decent preamp/processor, and the denon and classe are fine(the dac in the subfire is prety decent too)....

get some decenet interconnects, speaker cable, and poweer cords if your serious...
Adding a dedicated tube stereo pre-amp will help a lot. There are excellent tube pre-amps with processor put-through, so you can still run your theater but for 2 channel stereo you will hav e a dedicated pre. Secondly, B&W speakers require bi-wire run of speaker cables. I don't know what speaker cable are you using, but a single run speaker cable would cause some modramge harshness with B&Ws. I would suggest looking into shotgun bi-wire speaker cables such as Acoustic Zen Satori. Also, B&Ws are very sensitive to source components. Garbage in - garbage out. Getting a good dac would help a lot as well, because your DVD player is not a proper source to these speakers. God luck.
Thank you for all of the advice. I have been away and unable to respond.
GMood1....thanks for your comments. You confirmed my suspicions that a DAC, tubed preamp, and seperate two channel is the way to go. Others had the same advice. I just needed to hear it from others with more experience before I start shopping.
Dave......I am happy to know the Sunfire sounded good in your system. It is the one piece of gear I was most suspicious of. I think you and Larry hit it right on the head with the "cumulative" theory.
rrsclyde.....Thanks for the heads up on Music Choice. I will be dissappointed if I cannot run that through a DAC. Gotta check on that one.
Owl....I have dedicated lines and a new electrical service right down to a new transformer at the pole. I will try conditioning if all else fails.
Mikesinger......nope, not a trick question thread. The Radio Shack cables were left over from some car audio projects. I do not want to buy I/C cables until all of the final components are in place. The speaker cables are MIT-2. They came as a package with some speakers I bought. I know they are not the best. I will replace them with something more suitable when I do the cable thing. I am not so sure I could hear the difference cables would make when the existing components seem to be so poorly matched. I am using balanced cables to the amps. These were made by Blue Jean Cables. I assume they are good enough. Please correct me if I am wrong.
So, it seems that this is a good time to take the gear to the next level and hope to solve the original problem along the way. Here's the plan:
1) Buy a good DAC. I do not see the sense in doing mods on the Denon DVD player to try to make it sound like something it's not (a good CD player). I can add a DAC now and a better transport later (if needed). I like the flexibility aspect.
2) Buy a good two channel tube preamp and seperate the two channel from HT. This is a change that everyone seems to agree on. I think the tubes would tone this system down a bit and get closer to the warm sound that I probably prefer anyway.
3) Better I/C and speaker cables. A no brainer really, but I am saving this for last. Until I have all of the final pieces in place I will not know what kind or length cables I will need. I have probably logged 1000 miles in the past month just moving stuff around.
4) I am really saving room treatments for dead last. The use for this room is evolving over time. It was supposed to be dedicated HT, but I am over that. I will be adding furnishings that will soften the room a bit. Once that is all done I will see where treatments are needed.
I know this all sounds "matter of fact" but I am really just thinking out loud. It seems that if the "cumulative effect" is what is causing the harshness, then the answer lies in wholesale changes as Larry suggests. I am trying to make these changes while following a systematic upgrade path and then follow through on the basics. Anyone who has read this far must certainly have an opinion. I would appreciate your feedback before I start shopping. Thanks again.
Looks like you've nailed it down baffled.You sure have a sea of choices out there and you don't seemed baffled too me. If you have a way to listen to different tube preamps, this could give you an idea. There's still no better way than hearing them in your own system however.

If you still want transparency without making things overly warm or cloudy. I would look at some single ended, OTL, pure Class A and no negative feedback preamp designs.It's so much easier to hear what each tube is contributing to the sound.When there's no negative feedback used.

Technology has progressed to a point now.Where you can find a terrific Dac without breaking the bank. I suggest trying some of the Dacs out there with a return policy. I would start below $1000 retail and maybe move up from there if needed. You may find your satisfied without spending more.

Cables..well that's something you have to decide what's best for you. I don't believe in spending tons of money on cables myself.As long as it doesn't degrade the signal with poor connections , corrosion or broken center conductors... I'm a happy camper. I for one think your headed in the right direction changing the components first. Even with Radio shack interconnects your going to hear a major difference in the component swaps. I'm willing to bet I could secretly swap out the cables in some of the fellow agoner's systems with Rat Shack cables and they wouldn't be the wiser.LOL Try not to get caught up in this cable stuff and listen for the differences yourself.

Now let the fun begin! :-)
Gmood1....thanks for the final push in the right direction. I have at least two good high end stores nearby, so auditioning gear should not be a problem. I hear ya on the cables thing.......can't wait to do some comparisons with some borrowed cables. Thanks to all who responded.
Gmood is in my experience wrong and will only make your system brighter, and its a waste to have two preamps in any system. B&W makes for one of the finest multichannel systems on the market and using only two channels when listening to music is a waste of your investment.

The Carver prepro is pretty mediocre and primitive and the Denon 3910 could be out of spec (its seems a good deal I come across on their digital output frequencies are) which will make it harsh as a transport, you should never use the analog outs of any DVD player BTW. You can have your Denon checked for its digital output frequency (it would be a warranty repair) and sell the Carver and atleast get an Arcam....but only one brand of prepro will truely fix your problem based on the info you have given.

Having setup about 20? B&W surround systems with Meridian, the grain in the midrange comes from the tweeked up treble for the hard of hearing. To their credit B&W has made this peak in treble very deliberate and very fixable. Meridian processors(any), their treble tilt control (-4 to -6)perfectly reverse the treble grit and grain caused by the jumped up sales floor treble and I have to say this combination is superb. You will have a new speaker, it makes that much difference.

The hardest part about owning the Meridian is people here who haven't heard it won't think its better than their two channel system. I will tell you Gmoods advice will only change your grit into glare. Because its a speaker amplitude problem, not a an electronics issue like you might think. Your cables are not adding grit either.

"I listen to Comcast Music Choice digital music channels quite a bit through their Motorola box. I think that makes a stronger case for adding a good DAC. I am new at this and rely exclusively on Goner's advise. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated."

I know this maybe obvious but your prepro should be a great DAC?, that is one of its 5 jobs! No? Upgrade your prepro and upgrade, DAC, Pre and overall sound at one time.

the path less traveled......
"the grain in the midrange comes from the tweeked up treble for the hard of hearing"

HeHe, thats nice of them to build speakers for the hard of hearing....wondering why they don't use this in their ad copy.

Baffled: You have so many things to try along the way. And I suspect you will discover huge refinements as you seek to determine the original problem with the midrange anomolies. Rather than guess with so many changes, what I would suggest you do is try to find someone in your area, maybe an A'gon member, with lots of experience in speaker placement, differences between cables, line stages and DACs. Someone who also understands the benefits of power conditioners, room treatments and isolation would be an even greater asset.

I have befriended a couple local A'gon members and they have thrown so many ideas and suggestions my way that have lead to major improvements in my system. And they were right on from the start so I did not have to try things over and over to get them right. Such relationships become great friendships and both sides learn much from such an exchange. It's a great feeling to help out another audiophile.

A good relationship with a dealer too is a good idea but they will most likely steer you to the products they carry.

So indicate where you live and maybe someone here will offer to come over and give you some tips and who knows where that might lead.

John ,

No where in my post did I mention Baffled using two preamps.I said to swap out the processor for a real preamp.
Yes Meridian processors are great..for movies that is. For music these units suck! His focus is two channel not multi channel music. Maybe you should reread the entire thread before singling out a poster.

How will changing to a good tube preamp and going to a good Dac with a better power supply than the dvd player make the speakers sound bright? Guy you have no idea what your talking about. Maybe some of the B&W stuff is tipped up in the treble..will not argue that. I listened to an older pair of 800 series a few months back at a friends home. These speakers didn't have the tipped up tweeter as you describe.

I've owned a Meridian Stack and it will not give the performance in two channel as a dedicated preamp...sorry no dice!
It's apparent you've only listened to multi channel and HT.LOL

IME most of the harshness and grain comes from crappy opamps and noisy/ bad power supplies in the equipment upstream with poor filtering. Bad connections can cause this also. Hardly ever is it the speaker that causes grain. Especially a speaker of this caliber.
Jafox......that's a great idea. I am in Silver Spring, Maryland. Just outside of DC. If anyone wants to help me spend some hard earned cash, c'mon over! If you have been into this hobby for more than a year, your knowledge is no doubt superior to mine. My e mail is

Gmood1.... As I was reading the response from Velocitydls I knew his advice went against the grain of everything I have learned here over the past year. As much as I appreciate that he took the time to try to help, I think he is either a very proud Meridian owner ( nothing wrong with that), or a Meridian seller(Hmmmm), or just not that well informed. Either way, I am sticking to plan A as outlined above.
I have settled on the Audio Mirror DAC and hope to place the order today. After reading about it here and elsewhere I have learned that it tones down and smooths out the treble without sounding too tube like. Also does bass well. There were enough descriptions of the sound that I felt ok with buying it before I hear it. Also, the descriptions were the same in every review I read.
The preamp will be a different story. I plan to listen to a few preamps in my system before I buy. Aesthetix Calypso is on my short list. Is there another preamp I should be considering? Hopefully for less than the 4500.00 Calypso? Balanced outputs and a remote are the only absolute requirements I am aware of at this time.
I am almost there with my system, except that the midrange sounds harsh, grainy, and exceptionally digital. Female vocals in particular. It actually sounds like clipping, but I can hear it at any volume level. However, the problem is more noticable as volume is increased. I listen to a lot of acoustic music with prominent vocals, so this is a real problem.

I simply find it hard to believe that such good equipment gives you a "grainy sound" like "clipping". What you describe is so very much like distortion...and for significant distortion in such good equipment, well, my only guess would be that something may be damaged.

Some people describe over-driven tweeters as sounding as if there was "sand in the tweeters", provided of course, they have not completely blown. Of course, damaged equipment can output all kinds of distortion, depending on the exact nature of the problem; and if the tweerers were damaged then it might not affect your highs but produce a lower frequency distorted ouput which mildy affects what you hear in the critical mid range (where hearing is most perceptive).

Why do I suspect tweeters most?.....because you report something that is annoying and distorting but clearly not significant enough for you to immediately identify the problem. In my experience the tweeter generally does the least work and it can therefore be the hardest to detect when it has a slight problem....certain harmonics may excite the failure mode/distortion more than others...for your situation, it sounds like female vocals brings out your problem.
thick condensed fiberglass or room treament. If you don't want to absorb the highs then putting a facing on it that is reflective.
Someone else with your problem posted at the audioasylum forum...not exactly your speakers but maybe worth reading?

Shadorne.....I did describe what I am hearing accurately, but I should have also said to what degree I am hearing it. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being sweet laid back treble and 10 being harsh screeching, this problem is a 2 or 3. Not a blown driver or anything close. The problem does increase as the volume goes up. Would this indicate that it is the room? I do not know if room problems increase with the volume. The problem can be heard from normal conversation volume on up. I am super sensitive to this since I am having the same problem with an expensive car audio system I recently completed. I hear it in the car all day and then in the house. AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!
Robm321......I hear ya. I am getting to the treatments. It is interesting to note that I do not have a hint of glare or harsh grainy sound in my bedroom system. Adcom front end with B&W 805N and Velodyne DD12 sub. For critical listening, this system kicks my big rig's butt. I believe the "soft" room is the key to the sweet sound I get from this system. The heavy drapes and tapestries were there before the system.....the placement happened to be just right.
I own N803 and found the room acoustics to play a big role in the way these speakers sound. I use Echobusters corners and 8th nerve seems. Drapes behind the speakers and a rug on the floor. Seems that all these things do the job well. Also, and may be I am wrong, but I observed that if the amplifier can not drive the speakers properly then as the volume inscreases harshness will increase as well. But with B&Ws room treatment is a must! Also, bi-wire speaker cables help as well. B&W speakers when bi-wired just sound more balanced. Just my opinion.

I own TAG McLaren FYI but you can do it GMood's way and since I live near Silver Spring MD, I have no problem coming with a Meridian processor and show you what I'm talking about once you have your My-T "2 channel rig" going.

I'll bring some tissues too.

PS:"or just not that well informed." think you know enough to judge who knows what? :) email me anytime.

Ok I guess I may have been attributing a past problem that I had with your issues. Sorry if this was not really much help. Certainly if your car stereo has the same issue then it may be more to do with the way you perceive the music...again I reiterate that your speakers and gear are my next suggestion would be an equalizer ....6db down at 4K is well known to reduce what is pecieved as harshness in the mid range.
An equalizer? That's a drastic solution. I would only consider this if you're willing to kiss off resolution and collapse the soundstage. There is so much to address in this system: cables, room acoustics and speaker placement that could very well resolve or significantly reduce any number of problems identified here.

I think it is great that there is someone near you. I would certainly take the offer from velocitydls and hear his Meridian in your system. But I am with GMood1 on this one. For multi-channel digital sources, movies, etc, the Meridian could very well be a huge step up from your processor. But when you insert a tube stage in the loop in place of the Meridian, be prepared to pass the tissue box over to velocitydls. Any number of models in the $2000-3000 range on the used market like the ARC LS5, LS25, BAT 31SE, BAT 5, Aesthetix Calypso, etc., will bring on a level of musicality to the 2-channel presentation that no ss multi-channel processor can even begin to approach. Try and borrow some cables from your dealer to use for these tests too. The line stage to amp link is critical.


All depends on your perspective.

Jafox states
An equalizer? That's a drastic solution. I would only consider this if you're willing to kiss off resolution and collapse the soundstage.

Actually an EQ might be the cheapest and most flexible solution. Used very moderately, I have not found that an EQ destroys sound stage or resolution...although, from a purist perspective, it is preferable if you can do with out it I do currently.

The albums/CD/SACD's we purchase are all manufactured sounds anyway; transduced by a microphone, played back on a another type transducer, and adjusted to the sound engineer's tastes on that playback system. The sound has therefore been modified through all kinds of filtering, starting with the venue to the microphone to evenutally the mastering studio... so an EQ or filter, from a non purist perspective, can be simply one more personal tweak or a necessary room adjustment rather than a total corruption to the sound.
Shadorne states:

"Actually an EQ might be the cheapest and most flexible solution."

Who knows, speaker placement might do the trick and this is free.....and no corruption of the signal. I would not be so quick to throw in a bandaid into the electronic chain until I ran out of other options. And I would attend to acoustic treatments long before this.

If you have found that a cheapo EQ has not destroyed soundstage or resolution, that's fine. But I had an older Soundcraftsman 10-band graphic EQ and an SAE 4-band parametric EQ that were fine with the Marantz receiver from 1977, but pretty much destroyed all the musicality of the AGI 511 preamp that followed it. I can only imagine what a disaster these may have been with the musicality brought on by the ARC SP-10 that followed the AGI a few years later.

When you drop in a bunch of cheap ICs and transistors to build up all these active filters, and driven by poorly designed power supplies, you can not expect an "improvement" in much other than altered frequency response. Unfortunately other sonic attributes are severely affected. Perhaps the Cello equalizer would be worthy here, but I suspect this is overkill to what Baffled needs to resolve at the moment.

There is always an obsession with frequency response when people describe what they hear but obviously there's a lot more to it. And for me anyway, retaining the spatial and ambience qualities in the music is a key factor.

And yes, all the transformations you describe are valid. But these are done on million-dollar recording consoles....not with $200 equalizers. And even with all these signal modifications, I can very clearly hear the dimensionality portrayed by musicians on the stage. I might as well throw in the towel and change to a Bose wave radio if I want to correct frequency anomalies by introducing a cheap equalizer.

Jafox....Thanks for your suggestions concerning which preamps to check out. I am currently trying my local dealers to see what is available to audition in my system.
velocityvls.... No, I do not know enough to judge who knows what. Just look at my user name! However, at some point I have to look for agreement amoung those who know vastly more than I do. Your opinion represents " the path less traveled" as you stated. That does not mean you are wrong, just that your opinion is not shared by the majority. I am looking for continuity. No disrespect intended. I planned to seperate HT, add a DAC, and add a tube pre before I even started this thread. Since the majority of Goners agree with this approach it is the path I have chosen. If I do not get the results I anticipate, I will accept your gracious offer to listen to your Meridian. I do not think swapping one component will solve the midrange problem all by itself......regardless which component it is. There seems to be a conglomerate of problems. I am surprised the system sounds as good as it does. If I add a DAC, add a tube pre, swap cables, add room treatments, experiment with speaker placement, and then do not achieve the sound I am looking for, then you can bring on the tissues.
Hi Baffled, I only mentioned those tube line stages as I am familiar with their performance. Another tube line stage that is getting a lot of praise is the Modwright SWL9.0 which sells new in the $2k range. Check out this A'gon Modwright thread.

There are many other musical including products from CAT and CJ. You just need to try a few and find one that really gets you into the music. But I gotta believe you can do very well in the $2k range which leaves you a lot left over to work on room acoustics and audition some cables.

For some "light" reading on acoustic treatment, check out ASC, EchoBusters and Rives

So much to learn....just takes a lot of time. Finding a local audiophile friend makes all the difference.