I don't like the sound of my system. Help please.

Thanks to all in advance for all the help.

ARC SP-14, ARC 150.2, Naim CD 3.5, also a Conrad Johnson PV-10, Vandersteen 2c Sig Mk II, REL Strata III

The sound is thin and voices sound strained. No depth or warmth.

I like to spend about $1200 give or take on any new components.

Throwing more money at something you don't like is a bad idea,IMHO. Maybe you can get someone to help you with proper setup of the system and your listening space.
I would start auditioning amps.A good ss amp that will double it's power into 4ohms will wake up your system.If you go with a used unit,read many reviews first.You can always resell and move on.If you buy new,just make sure you can return it in 30 days.I'm sure you'll get many brands recommended to you in this thread to give you a starting point for research.I can't really recommend my monoblocks[Hibachi] since their creator passed away and if you ever needed service you'd be up that creek.But they are powerful,detailed,and smooth.Best of luck to you,and that's a very nice system!
What interconnects and speaker wires used?

I would be suspect of the combo of the ARC amp, Vandersteens, and room acoustics/speaker setup with SS digital source could tend towards the lean side of things but hard to say without knowing more.
agreed with the focus on speaker and IC cabling AND power cords.

the key points:

(1) review and assess ALL three cable types together. The wrong cables in your system can be fatal.

(2) one size does NOT fit all. Certain cables (speaker/ICs/power) -- individually and collectively-- work better with certain gear; and conversely do NOT work well with others. Trial and error experimentation -- after getting mfg and dealer recommendations as a first step -- is regrettabbly the path to follow. There is no magic bullet solution for this ...this is a journey and not a destination exercise.

A review of these is a first step before you start throwing more money at new gear. The improvements can be huge with the right cables. Good luck.
For starters your ARC gear should be left on all the time for best sound. It can sound hard and thin until fully warmed up which can take up to 3 days for ARC solid state and hybrid preamps.

I have found ARC and Vandersteen to be a good match. However, my experience is not with the latest Vandersteens.

You should be able to warm up the sound by adjusting the REL.

Call John at the Audio Connection.
Also make sure speakers are hooked up properly in phase, ie red/+ to red/+, black/- to black/-, etc.

Something out of phase somewhere might account for what you describe. Speaker connections are most likely and easy to check and fix.
Also can we assume the Vandersteens and source electronics are all in good working order? IS there any noticeable distortion or more just the tonality is not meeting expectations?

Hopefully they are but only you could determine that for certain. The easy way if possible is to swap out one piece at a time and see if that makes a difference. I always like to keep a spare amp and pre-amp and an extra pair of decent speakers around to use for such things. A relatively inexpensive integrated amp with pre-out and power in connections, like a NAD or such, works well for this. You might even like the resulting sound better even if everything is working fine. That would be more of a judgement call at that point. If you buy something used and do not overpay, you can always resell and change as needed without a big financial hit until things work out.
Did you EVER like the sound of your system?
What has changed, since then?

(your health, your ears, the furniture in your room,
floor and wall treatment in your room,
your listening position, the temperature/humidity of the room,
the load of lighting and other electrical devices on the same circuit,
or nearby...)

The list can go on and on, and we haven't even talked about
any equipment, yet, let alone dollars.

Could there be an analogy to an online conversation with a
relationship counselor, when they hear "I don't like X about
my partner!" What kinds of responses are you looking for,
with the limited information you are offering, and the multitude
of variables that can be addressed in any given response?
I would not be quick to pair ARC and Naim; I can understand why you would have issues. The nature of these two house sounds would not be complementary, imo.

Further, if you are using stock cabling I would assert the weakenesses of each would contribute to quite a tough sound. Using a Vandy 2CE Sig one would not typically expect a thin and strained result, but that certainly could happen with those components and lesser wiring.

My assessment is that if you wish to move quite a distance away from the current sound you will likely need to change both the ARC and the Naim. Individually in properly established systems they can perform fine, but it sounds like you do not care for the result at all, so a sea change is in order. I do not believe that futzing with lesser fixes, i.e. burn in, even cable changes will ameliorate the larger issue. Treatment of the space is also not the issue; you cannot alter a fundamentally poor combination to your ears holistically by room treatment - the character of the system will be only partially ameliorated.

Now, if you do room treatment, cable change, adjust the sub, etc. you may - I say, may - get a nice enough change. However, I feel this is lowered expectations for you. You should use this frustration to seek a sea change in sound, not putz around with getting it "good enough." Seek a FAR higher, more pleasing result, one which will leave you shaking your head at how wonderful it is. Such changes can happen and do all the time. But it will take a changeout of components. If you want a smoother, less fatiguing result, keep the CJ and Vandies and rebuild.

You're doing well to have a forgiving speaker like the Vandy... or else it would be worse! :)
Have u treated the room with any acoustic treatment? This just might be the ticket and not the gear at all.

Down a bottle of whine, then it sounds great.
BEFORE anyone can recommend anything, they would have to know this: Are you into GEAR or MUSIC?

If into GEAR; Then change something. Anything. It does not matter, because you will eventually change it all many times over. I would start with the little jumper thingys. That one, is one of my favorites. :)

If into MUSIC: Sell all that stuff and use the money to upgrade to some well made so-called mid-fi stuff. I recommend POLK, Marantz, Blue Jeans and Harman Kardon. I can assure you, it will not sound 'thin'. Then use the moeny you have saved to buy some music and a good comfortable listening chair. There is so much music out there, you cannot hear it all in a lifetime. So stop wasting time.
If it were me, I'd sell both ARC pieces and either buy a tube integrated or different amp. The ConnieJ could stay or go, depending on whether you wanted to go with an integrated or add the amp.

Your amp is a T amp and though I haven't heard that particular model, I would suspect that component first...especially since ARC can sound a bit sterile to begin with.
I'll chime in here. I had almost the exact same problem that you describe using the Vandersteen speakers and a solid state amp and tube preamp. I changed all my source components, speaker wires, audio cables, power conditioners and the sound was still thin. I finally changed the speakers and all the thinness went away. I believe it had something to do with my room because I moved the Vandersteens upstairs to my secondary system and the thinness was gone.

My point is I spent over ten thousand dollars on different components and in the end, it turned out to be a speaker/room problem. If you can get your hands on a different pair of speakers, I would try that first because if the sound is as thin as you say, no amount of cables or equipment will make up for it.
there is one component that will solve your problem. get a conrad johnson mv 125. it will, however, cost more than $1200.
You need a Z-Systems RDP-1. Stop torturing yourself. We audiophiles are prone to that. I assure you, this will be some of the best money you spend when it comes to preserving your sanity.

But you'll also need an outboard DAC. This was Stereophile class A for a reason, and you still can't find anything else like it. It was 5k new but you can find them used around 1200 and up. 2k is not uncommon, but watch eBay for deals.

Read a few the glowing reviews:



Sell the speakers to me. That's my suggestion. How old are they? That may not help your sound, but it would help me:).
Listen to what Stereo5 is saying, he is giving you solid advice here. You can change cables and upstream components till the proverbial cows come home (and lots here do!) If your speakers/room don't sound at least decent from the get go, you will be fighting a hopeless battle. At minimum, try some other speakers on loan or a friends set if possible, and do experiment with placement within the room if at all possible, you will be surprised.
"Listen to what Stereo5 is saying, he is giving you solid advice here."

I don't recall Stereo5 mentioning Audio Research or a REL subwoofer. How can it be solid advice?

Monytx, I have never heard Audio Research sound sterile and I have owned a lot of it.
Some of the best sounds I ever had, regardless of price, was with Audio Research and Vandersteen speakers.
When was the last time the CJ was serviced? That piece alone can have endless variables that affect the sound...
Some things you might want to consider, before replacing components:

If you haven't already done so, item one on your list should certainly be verifying that the Vandys are connected in phase with each another, as Mapman suggested.

Next, is the ARC 150.2 located close to (within a few feet of) the other electronic components? If so, I would try moving it as far away as possible from them. Apparently its implementation of Class T amplification results in its being a powerful generator of RFI (radio frequency interference), which could be coupling into the other components and affecting audible frequencies via intermodulation effects, effects on jitter in the CDP, etc. From this review:
I encountered one small glitch while using the 150.2. I use rabbit ears to grab the local CBS affiliate (channel 3) off the airwaves, and the 150.2’s digital circuitry interfered with signal reception on every TV in the house. Turning the amp off solved the problem, but keeping it on all the time improves its sound. In my case, I simply didn’t watch CBS for the review period! Audio Research says that the problem may have been eliminated due to CE testing for European sales, however.
Also, try plugging its power cord into a different duplex outlet than the one powering the other components, and keep its power cord and the speaker cables away from interconnect cables and other power cords.

Regarding the preamps, given that both of them are probably more than 20 years old it certainly seems possible that their condition is a factor, as Elevick suggested. And even if they and their tubes are in top condition, IME changing from one brand of small signal tubes to another (whether the tubes are vintage or currently manufactured) can sometimes mean the difference between disappointingly thin sound, and rich pleasing sound.

-- Al
" Apparently its implementation of Class T amplification results in its being a powerful generator of RFI (radio frequency interference)"

Excellent point!

RFI noise from an older switching amp is quite possible. Physically and electronically isolating it as best as possible can only help.
"Sell the speakers to me. That's my suggestion. How old are they? That may not help your sound, but it would help me:)."

Then you would just be going from one mediocre speaker to a slightly better sounding mediocre speaker. Set your sights higher......

I would let go of the Vandersteens. I'm not impressed with those. Rolled off highs, and a emphasized lower midrange/upper bass. This is my opinion, of course.
IMO the ARC 150.2 is the problem. ARC digital (switching) amps all suck, and sound like you describe! They do not have a good following.

ARC is best known for FET/tube, and pure tube preamps and power amps. Everything else they make can not compete with alternative brands and should be avoided!

Everything else you own is very good for the money, and I have heard them all over the years.
I heard a current generation ARC switching amp recently at Lyric in NYC. Brief audition but sounded promising.
What do you not like about the Vandersteens? What would you get for the same price? You'll be glad to know that I know longer have my 1c's. They are sold and I am currently speakerless and on the hunt.
Thank you all for the excellent replies. I replaced the Vands with an old pair of Vandy1c's and the sound improved. Highs not crisp or thin, midrange solid but not the depth I' m looking for.

The room is 20 feet square with a vaulted ceiling 15 feet high. The electronics are housed in wood cabinets along one wall. The speakers must sit in front of the cabinets. A wall at right angles to the cabinets is all glass windows and opposing this wall is a large opening to the dining room.

My ARC experiences have not been good with several tube amps but I do like their sound . This is why I bought the 150.2 and it has been reliable.

Ii want a rich , clear , sound in a large room with poor speaker placement and no room treatment. Also I hate playing with different cables.

Thank you.
The less expensive vandersteens are pleasant to listen to, but not very resolving and rolled off on top. That's ok if it's the sound that you like.

Here are a few that are on Agon right now under 1500.00

Devore Gibbon 8
Northcreek Rhythm Signatures
Totem Hawk
GMA Callisto
Revel F32

I would take any of these over any Vandersteen up to and including the 3A.

Perhaps your speaker/listening position could be tweaked some to improve your frequency respponse as well as eliminating harshness etc.

I think you are pushing the edge of what is possible out of SS components in a tough room, but if the speakers are out about 5' from the walls behind them, and the listening chair and the speakers form an equalateral triangle (or close to) and the speakers are toed in so the axis crosses well in front of you when you are in the sweet spot you will have, at least, minimized first reflections off that glass wall.

You might also pick up a sound pressure meter (Radio Shack will do) and a test disc (Stereophile) you can measure the frequency response and, especially, get placement of chair and speakers so there is some warmth in the bass frequencies (up to 200hz).

This is a tough challenge in a square room which will have large nulls and nodes especially in the bass. You could be sitting in a null that contributes much to 'warmth' or moving your speakers about a bit might also do the same, but having a SPL meter and disc makes the job much more simple (and its cheap!).
the combination of "rich" and "clear" are hard to attain, as rich is a coloration--subtractive in the treble, combined with
a peak in the bass or lower midrange.
Mrtennis you are correct. Unfortunate for me I once heard a very good system at a showroom that sounded rich, clear and three dimensional. I have never been able to recreate that sound in my home.

BTW: I just listed the Vandersteen speakers for sale.

Any more suggestions for speakers in a tough room.

Thank you all again.