I'm depressed, my system hurts my ears.Please help

I've been enjoying my stereo for quite some time now, but my latest component addition is hurting my ears. My system is as follows:

Music Hall CD25 CD player
McIntosh MC2105 amp (30 year old amp)
Joseph Audio RM22si signatures
Signal Cable Analog 2 interconnects
Kimber 4TC biwired speaker cable
Denon AVR1700 HT receiver as preamp

With the Denon the system sounded pretty good, but it was the obvious weak link, and was actually performing its own unnecessary A to D to A conversion). I swapped the Denon for a Creek OBH12 passive. I added the Creek because in my careful, volume leveled comparisons of the Denon compared to no pre at all, no pre was much cleaner and more natural (I an use no pre because amp has volume knobs).

So I put in the Creek passive to keep that clarity along with switching and an easy volume control, but now I can't sit in the sweet spot of my speakers and listen, because my ears start to hurt at volume levels that used to be just fine. Is this clipping due to an impedance matching problem? Is this just me receiving the full spectrum of the sound and my ears can't handle it? I remember having a similar problem with a very nice car stereo I installed, it sounded very good but always hurt my ears compared to my worse sounding older car stereo.

I almost wish I had never started down the audiophile path, this is depressing. It's tough to do swapping style comparisons because once my ears start hurting, any music will make them hurt until they have a chance to recover. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.
Well I wish I could be there to assist you!
You seem to like the softer sound of music. Try other preamps and maybe consider MIT cables eventhought the Kimber is super but MIT might soften it up a little for your taste.
Try some tube preamps which might mate you Mac a little better, used ARC are often a good choice and they are fairly priced in the used market! An older single bit dac might help as well if you want to keep the cost down. Like the Micormega DAC or the alchemy Dac 1.0 (single bit)!
If carefully shopped, you might do the trick and keeping the cost down. I am not sure if this is what you were looking for but I hope I helped. Good luck!
My 1st question would be. Does the system seem unusally bright or glaring in the high notes? Have you tried different cables? Are you sure that one of the components has a performance problem?
I can't help you with the technical aspects of your system, but I am wondering if you have much glass in your listening room. I have had problems with upgrades increasing resolution, but adding fatigue. Applying Marigo dots to the windows in my listening room has cured this problem each time. I am going through this process again now.
If you have a good relationship with a dealer or fellow musicophile/audiophile see if you can borrow some amp/preamp combo (preferrablyfrom the same manufacturer to eliminate the chances of a mismatch) to audition for an evening. If everything sounds better you can figure you have an electronics problem. I have reservations about the Creek/Mac combo. Nothing real, just a hunch. The equipment is there to help make the MUSIC more enjoyable so don't give up too quickly!
Try a Musical Fidelity X10D between the preamp and amp, it will require another set of interconnects. In addition to curing any impedance mismatches it will add the golden sound of tubes. Used cost around $100.00, too cheap not to try.
The creek is the problem and the solution. My buddy did a very similar thing and switched to the creek passive and seperate amp from an integrated amp. The extra resolution made his system sound bright and very hard on the ears. It is not the creeks fault but the cables that sounded fine in the old set up were now way to bright sounding. You need only try switching the interconnects to get the sound you want back and better then ever.
Why not go back to no pre-amp? If this was pleasing before, it seems to be the cheapest solution. If you want to begin spending money to upgrade, then thyou have alot to work on. I know your McIntosh amp quite well as a buddy of mine had the same one. I would start with that, cables next and finish with the cd player. By the time you got to this point the Creek will sound fine.
I do not hear you wanting to go this route, so again I would go back to no pre-amp and enjoy the music.
Maybe lower the volume a bit help? Let you mind comes to the music, instead of the sound jumps at you. Good listening...
iF you want to keep the creek,you will need some cable
that are not bright, the 4tc is on the bright side,
maybe cardas cables will help tame that problem, MIT
it might work but the resolution might disappear.You
know all audiophile are looking for the improvement.
My principles now if it works, dont touch it. My experience
in audio is that, you replace one cable, or equipment,
sometimes we got lucky, if not we will stop listening to
our system. But it takes money,time, skills,experience
to be able able to get knock out system.
kimber is too fast for fast josephs.
the suggestion for MIT is right on.
you might also try AQ Midnight.
wire creek to mac with MIT-s as well.

your amp/passive pre- combination is near-perfect with high input sencitivity, low feedback and high input impedance of your poweramp.
also you might not have enough power to swing RM22 and I would suggest to get another same Mac(plenty on ebay to fight for) to use them as monos.
I had issues with a bright system in the past and banged my head on what it was.......turns out my kimber 8tc and 4tc biwire was the culprit. Went to synergistic research alph x series biwire and WOW! It is amazing. And they only cost about $160 used!
I had similar problems in my system using Kimber (PBJ & Hero) and MIT (T2) IC's.

After much investigating on this site, I purchased used Harmoninc Technology TruthLink IC's here at Audiogon.

And I am very happy with the results.
Thanks for all the suggestions. One thing I should reiterate is that the sound is not necessarily bad, but that it literally hurts my ears. Like it is too loud (resonating) at certain frequencies, probably midrange. Midrange resonations I believe are super unpleasant because human ears use these frequencies to speak to each other, so they're the most sensitive.

It's so hard to believe that this is because my system is now so transparent that I can't handle it, and that cables alone could fix the problem. I'm willing to try, just don't know an easy way to try out lots of cables. I may also experiment with the room treatments suggested.

Thanks for your suggestions,
Really sounds like additive room reflections in the upper midrange. Very carefully check out first reflection absorption (pillows, carpeting, stuffed furniture). Use a good test disc with 1/3 octave warbles and notice the change in loudness as you move your head back and forth and forward/backward. You'll be surprised at how much the upper mid (500-1200 Hz) stuff will change. Find the sweet spot that doesn't hurt and isn't too far off the vertical axis of your drivers. Hope this helps.
matt, your creek could well be just allowing you to hear your CD player for the first time. CD players are notorious for producing unpleasant upper midrange glare etc. Thats one reason why so many folks prefer tubes in their players or preamps. I am also suspect of the Kimber cable, i've always found Kimber to be on the bright side. But before you start spending a lot of bucks i would try playing with the toe in of your speakers. Many speakers sound too bright if pointed straight at you. If they are pointed straight ahead you could have excessive wall reflections. Using your head a a 0 degree starting point i would rotate them up to 25 degrees in both directions. I ended up with mine crossed in front of the listening position when i did this.
I wrestled with a similar problem when I owned Avalon speakers. I felt exactly the same despair about the whole audiophile thing--why did I do this? I thought something was wrong with my hearing, had hearing tests, read a lot of stuff on the Internet, etc. For whatever reason, that problem seems to have largely disappeared, though so have the Avalons.

There are certain frequencies that seem to overload my ears with many systems and even with live music. Vibes, for example, and classical soprano vocals. (I think it all dates back to the drum solo during a free Poco concert in Washington D.C. in 1970, but that's another story.) In any event, my advice is to be patient, remove the pre-amp for a while to get relief, then put it back in a few weeks from now and see if your ears still hurt. Experiment gradually, don't panic, and don't be discouraged.
There is another cheap solution to acquire Musical Fidelity X10 tube buffer for your CD-player. Despite adding extra pair of interconnects this unit realy brings lifeless digital components with CDs together to the life.

I believe in your situation you simply experience "digital sickness syndrom" that I used to have not a long while ago thus transfered my collection almost entirely to vinyl. As to this X10 unit it realy brings digital playback to life since I heard in ensemble with vintage NAD CD-player.

It is well known that re-locking errors, lack of resolution brings very unpleasant audiable waveforms onto the wide-band amplification components that can affect upper mid-range, high freequencies and even but not to the significant level bass. Your new passive Creek tend to reveal everything good and bad so the solution is to improve the source at first.

Also you can try to get high quality DAC such as Bel Canto DAC1 that can also someway cure DSS.

As to my digital setup I have a very good transport with relatively mediocre DAC. It doesn't produce any fatigue freequencies to me but I admit sounds cold. For now I only care about analogue and digital setup will probably be for the separate system(bedroom).
My guess is Subaruguru is on the right track. I hope this condition is system dependant?
It sounds like flutter echo to me. All sounds good, other than a shoutiness (ie. it sounds like mid-range performers and instruments are shouting at you). If you can put the system in another room for a day?

Otherwise, set the system up for nearfield listening for a day. That is, with speakers well away from all walls and you sitting very close. Then see if your ears still hurt.

If this seems to cure the problem then flutter echo is probably the cause. This occurs when you have two relectivs room surfaces in parallel. The simplest cure can be moving from firing the system down the long side of the room, to firing it across the room at you. Otherwise the issues are as discussed above concerning dampening reflections and careful speaker placement and listening position.
No I would DEFINITELY agree 100% with Maraken and newbee that this is symptom of digitis -- the source is your CD player or more precise it is "jitter", the technical term -- well there's a very simple test, just, listen to some other source such as your tuner or turn-table etc. If you don't get sick listening to those, then it is the CD player (just a "bright" sound does not make one sick). The cure? Well you can "cover it up" as many posts here suggest, with different cables or speakers or amps, tube or other. But that REALLY doesn't make it go away completely. The only true cure, to keep a fairly hi-res system, is a digital upgrade. (Or just throw away all your possessions digital, the end, fini -- a perfectly acceptable solution too!). But if you REALLY want good CD sound you just have to work at it. There ARE good, and non-irritating-sounding players out there and you may have to auditon some at your local dealer. I personally use a good transport and an MSB Link Dac with an anti-jitter device too and now I must say (finally) I have decent digital sound. But it does take time and patience. That digital sickness is quite disturbing to those with sensitive ears, and can have an actual depressing effect on some individuals -- myself not excluded. So, best of luck.
I have had the same thing happen to me at live concerts. Much more often at amplified ones than unamplified ones. There are moments when silence is golden. Especially if you expect the musical ones to be golden. The point I'm trying to make is give your ears a break.
I have the placette passive (pure vishay S102K resistors) and have the same problem to some extent. I fixed it by adding an SCE harmonic recovery system HRS. It really adds to the sound. I still thought the sound was electronic so I upgraded the power supply caps and rectifier diodes, added 3m vibration sheets all over, and upgraded the signal path resistors to Vishay S102Ks. The result...outstanding. Totally natural sound with great dynamics. One other thing that helps is to swab eco antistatic goop on the components from time to time. It takes the edge off of the sound and allows you to hear much more into the soundstage.
Zug: interesting. A check with headphones would quickly establish the problem as either room-related or digititis.
Do it, Matt.

I think the walker noise killer will help your
system without losing the transparency.Try it
works with my 2 system.
Matt. Creek is a good pre-amp. After you changed to Creek, the sound comes off easier and stronger from the drivers. You should toe-in your speakers little more toward you. Or, the listening distance should be further away from speakers.

Still you will have little problem with room reflections because there are more musical information flying everywhere. That is what a higher-end do. You have to control those musical information.

You have few ways to control that problem.
1st, you can put "Imager."(http://www.audio-ideas.com/tweaks.html)------
2nd, you can put long and thick sponge all around the tweeter.(NHT speakers has that on one side of tweeter.)
3rd, You can put "Mi-Horn."(http://mihorn.com/index2.htm)4th, you can put alot of damping materials on walls and ceiling. ------

For 1st and 2nd option, You can control only high freq. For 3rd option, Mi-Horn is 20 times more effective than others. And you can control every freq. For 4th option, it will work, but they are ugly and very expensive.

Another recommendation, Kimber 4TC is not a good cable for your system. I think Cardas or Audiotruth will be better for you.

Happy listening!
Well, thanks for all the different suggestions. I ended up replacing both the McIntosh amp and the Creek passive with a Plinius 8200 mkII integrated. System now sounds wonderful, and Plinius JUST went in, so it will no doubt get better as this component warms up.

Before adding the Plinius, I experimented with running through my Denon (crappy) preamp. Although it muddled the sound, it got rid of the ear hurting problem. Therefore, in my system, I believe the Creek was the culprit for the ear hurting problem. It is possible my ears hurt because there was too much accurate musical information coming out of them. I sort of doubt it, however, and know for sure that if that is what accurate music sounds like, I want no part of it.
I believe that Plinius 8200 is the best integrated for the money.
The input impedance of your Macintosh was, perhaps, not a good match for the output impedance of the Creek. This meant you needed a cable of exceptional quality, and specific application, about in the $130-250 range. Also, remember, Creeks don't like to drive loads below eight ohms--at any volume level. The other thing I recommend is a $75 voltage stabilizer to maintain constant AC voltage to your gear.
Matt8268, Isotel sells a voltage stabilizer like Nietzschelover recommends.