Lack in harmonic richness

I experience a lack in harmonic richness when listening to my system. Both the midrange and treble sound thin and threadbare. I think the amount of midrange of treble is ok, but there is no "body", no rich overtones and bloom. What is the best recommendation for this problem: Change speaker position? Change room acoustics? Change front end and/or amplifier? Change speakers? As far as I can recall I had this problem also with the previous speakers (Dunlavy SC V's) but with the Soundlabs it is aggravated.
System: MBL 1621 transport/Accustic Arts Tube DAC/Accuphase C-290V preamplifier/JMF power amplifiers/Soundlab A-1's.

Maybe the amp Ive heard Labs A-1 sound full. If you do change speakers go med to hi-eff in design and use a tube amp preferably a SET. A SET HI-EFF system is very full sounding, near real.
As far as I can recall I had this problem also with the previous speakers (Dunlavy SC V's) but with the Soundlabs it is aggravated.

Welcome to accuracy. Both the speakers you mention are highly respected for timbral accuracy - especially in the all important midrange. Both will have a tight lean low end (DAl's were over damped if I recall and some could even do a respectable job on a square wave - something few modern "impressive but one note bass" speakers can do!!)

If you are finding this sounds "thin and threadbare" then you clearly used to and obviously prefer a more colored presentation with some harmonic warmth. You may need a tube power amplifier on the warm side of neutral. A subwoofer may also do the trick as panels can be lacking in that bottom octave area and that can contribute to a thin sound.

Alternatively - give it some time - listen to your collection and concentrate on how different each recording sounds - the analytical precision may grow on you after a few hundred hours once you realize you can hear more detail when it is not overly warm with harmonics...I know it did for me.

These speakers were a long time favorite of Gordon Holt - so if you can be prepared to accept that your initial dislike is due to your not being accustomed to the taste of such ruthless timbral accuracy then I think this could grow on you...

Enjoy! You have awesome gear - I would not be so quick to change - or to dumb it down with warmth - just give it time.

Two usual.
BTW - in the above I assume everything is working properly. Given your extensive experience Chris - I simply assume that you would know if something was wrong and producing distortion.
There is a lot I could say on this topic, and the sadness many have spent emotionally and financially trying to decipher the all powerful and knowing "Audiophile" Code of "Accurate" listening experience, and the "Enjoyable" corrected listening experience. And unfortunately once you get into the money you have spent already on such a system being told to go backwards a few steps (and name brands for that matter) will not sit well.

My best suggestion is start by correcting any room issues possible, even if you gotta spend 1000 bucks to get a professional service to analyze your room, it sucks, but then you would have to step back and say to yourself why do I have so much money invested and I am not totally satisfied?

Or all you can do is work with the correction tools normally and boringly pointed to in this hobby..

Tubes- adding some actual "bloom, and harmonics" or as some see it "coloration" and "Distortion"

Cables- some feel is a waste of time and a joke, but mostly Cardas gets a good rep. for simple but expensive "Full and warm body" sound.

New Crossovers- with premium capacitors, which in my case has saved many systems with amazing difference in results, if you have passive crossovers... I would not doubt that even in a 20,000 dollar pair of speakers they have some caps that cost 2 dollars each.

Good Luck
I felt as you do . Then I heard tubes . Tubes are much better . I seem to like some warmth or coloration !

While I don't have any experience with SET's , I think that you could find what you are looking for with a P/P tube amp and some resolving and fairly efficient speakers .

Good luck .
First of all, let's eliminate the SoundLab A1's as the problem. The most important thing to me in a music system has been to render the space and harmonic overtones. And the SoundLab A1's like the big Maggies do this incredibly well. However, the SoundLabs are far far more resolving of low-level detail. If anything, the A1's are now bringing through even more of the sterile sound that you have described.

The big SoundLabs have a goofy impedance curve which makes them not a good match with solid state amplifiers. This has been covered here multiple times by A'gon members Atmasphere, Audiokinesis and others.

Since you describe your problem also with the Dunlavy speakers, I would tend to focus ALL your attention on the preamp. Time and time again I have found the preamp (line stage) to be the make or break link in a system when it comes to portrayal of space, decays and harmonic information. I have dismissed far too many preamps and line stages over the last 25 years because they failed this test miserably.

Shadorne is not correct about the A1's needing help with a subwoofer. These speakers go way down to the low-mid 20hz range with A LOT of low frequency energy if driven by the correct amps. The A1s move a lot of air. JGH's reference speaker was the A3 - a much smaller version of the A1.

A subwoofer will do nothing to bring back the truncated decays and harmonic overtones most likely being clipped off at the line stage level.

I listen to a lot of live music and find it lacking in harmonic richness compared to many of the audio systems that I listen to. Coloration anyone?
Viridian, you must be listening to live music in some very dead venues, then...
Point taken, perhaps that it is acoustic music; I find most music that is performed with amplifiers and sound reinforcement to be shorn of harmonics. On the other hand, I have never heard instruments "bloom" in the concert hall.
On the other hand, I have never heard instruments "bloom" in the concert hall.
That's interesting as I was in Carnegie Hall in April and
even up 20 rows or so, the piano had tremendous bloom. I can only dream of having that sound in my room; but after a beer or two, it starts getting closer and closer.
The worst coloration is truncated harmonics. Ha! How is that for perspective?

Chris - I have heard a number of systems sound the way you describe: thin and unnatural. I hate that too. It could well be that you don't have enough bass. Adding a sub can do incredible things for the treble. I don't know how but it does and I have experienced it with several systems. In every case it fleshed out the mids and highs so finally vocals sounded like they came from humans instead of electronics.

Another is the source. I find many sources just don't have the right timbral balance which leads to poor sound. It could well be that is because of the recording quality but the end result is still the same. You have a fancy source but what you need is one that works with the rest of the system. If you have a McIntosh dealer near you, see if you can get an MCD301 on loan. That will tell you if it is your source or not.

Have you experimented much with speaker placement? I know those are big speakers that don't lend themselves to it but it is worth the effort - not to mention it's potentially free! Try changing the toe one way and then the other. Sometimes that is all it takes.

I grew up at 29 W. 64th Street, directly across the street from Carnegie, so I would assume that either our hearing is different, which is very possible, or that we define "bloom" differently. Probably a lot of these audiophile things come down to differences in hearing and definition.
Respectful correction, I grew up across the street from Avery Fisher Hall, an altogether drier hall than Carnegie, though good fortune allowed me to attend most of the excellent New York venues.
A parametric equalizer would either help you to analyze your "problem", or solve it. It ain't that complicated, unless you really want it to be that way.
You have among the best front end source in the world, don't even think of stepping down to the Ipod/Itransport as mention in your other thread. The other equipment you mention seems OK too.
Try this.... many have done in the Far East where I come from. ;-)

How to revive a system...

Another recent discoverer...

Don't just waste your money switching equipment every few months without even maximizing the potential of the system...
Thanks for all your responses. They are very insightful. What I exactly mean is that in comparison with the lower midrange/upper bass the midrange and upper midrange/treble are deprived from a certain richness in sound (= bloom). I hear enough bass and mid bass, it's even too much some times. But upper midrange and treble should sound rich and with plenty of "air". I'll experiment with different speaker positions first.

Dazzdax - Here's a suggestion related to the Parametric EQ. My experience suggests that the problem is not your equipment - It's very likely your room.

The fact that changing equipment doesn't change the outcome seems to support that. And my recent experience with Audissey MultiEQ has me rethinking a lot of what I thought I knew. I have yet to hear anything through my system that doesn't sound richer, fuller, more real and with better more stable imaging when put through the Audissey. Try out some room correction. You may be surprised...

The room/speaker interface is a cause of much audiophile dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, it isn't easy to cure the problem, as there are only so many things most of us can do or are prepared to do. I solved this exact dissatisfaction purely by accident. Some ten years ago, a classified ad appeared in my local newspaper for a pair of Infinity IRS Gammas at a ridiculously appealing price. I bought them because my then-current speakers irritated and fatigued me, and no amount of monkeying with positioning and electronics achieved much improvement. When I intially set up the Gammas, they were no better. But the Gammas have a user interface absent on almost all other speakers: Each of the five drivers has a level adjustment. After several hours of experimentation, I found what for me were the ideal settings for each driver's level (left and right speakers aren't identically set, by the way) and made diagrams to commemorate my preferred settings in case somebody played with them. The result for me was audio nirvana. Much of the source material I couldn't previously abide sounds compelling. The best material moves me to tears.

Interestingly, I've since had the system checked with a spectrum analyzer, and the frequency response is close to flat. In fact, I was unable to adjust the driver level settings to get a flatter response, only to shift the frequencies where the small deviations occur, with less-pleasing (to my ear) sonic results.

The settings I prefer are far from the centerline for most of the drivers, some well to the negative side and some well to the positive, others just off center. Small changes produce big (usually unpleasant) results.

Assuming that the centerline represents flat output in an anechoic chamber as measured by Infinity for manufacturing purposes, the adjustments I've made compensate for the impact of my room and its furnishings on the speakers' frequency response. My experience suggests that the room in which accurate speakers are placed can at best be neutral but more likely denegrate performance. Infinity's solution was to create an intuitive way of letting the listener compensate. If drivers cannot be adjusted, as is most commonly the case for most speakers, then the room has to be modified, a far more complicated procedure, or equalization needs to be applied, a procedure that has its own weaknesses from my experience, in that a noticeable veiling of detail results.
Chris - what you seem to be describing is not a problem "thin or threadbare" but a lack of "air" or an overly "dry" sound. Remember your upper midrange is probably second to none - it probably decays near instantly anbeing very "panel fast" with none of the nasty resonances that are commonly found in other heavier cone speakers.

See this for a good definition of speaker qualitative terms.

Half the problem in audio is getting on the same page with descriptive terms.

If you are not getting enough "air" or "ambience" then you probably have a room and placement problem.

Panels tend to beam (although A-1s are curved and will be less "beamy"). Your previous speaker also tended towards a narrower dispersion. Both could be reasonably be expected to give you a tendency towards less "air" and a "drier" sound.

As some have suggested an EQ boost in upper mid treble or an amp with a high output impedance (tube) will bloom more in the upper midrange/treble (anywhere that impedance rises most).

Alternatively, try getting the speakers to reflect a bit more off the side walls in order to enhance the reverberant (ambient) sound.

Good luck!
Shadorne, "Remember your upper midrange is probably second to none - it probably decays near instantly anbeing very "panel fast" with none of the nasty resonances that are commonly found in other heavier cone speakers." Actually, Fast Fourier Transfmorm analysis shows that this is not the case at all. The element of a large electrostatic does not move pistonically in and out the way that early theory modeled it. Actually the element shivvers in response to the attractive force of the electrostatic field. That field not being perfectly distributed over the large expanse of the driven panel. Electrostats are constantly vibrating chaotically, though it may be that this is at a low enough level not to be of as great a consequence as resonances within dynamic drivers.

Thanks - I was not aware of that - I thought panels often had some of the cleanest waterfall plots period. I'll dig into it further and see what I can find on it. I am not a panel fanatic as I find they lack dynamic range and bass extension but I have deep respect for the quality with which they often produce midrange. I appreciate your correction/comment.
Shadorne, have a look here:

I've experiemced the same results with some systems and it can be caused by several things acoustics, speaker placement (null points), component(s) impedance mismatch, cable mismatch/not compensating for impedance differences, power cord design, speaker sensitivity and amp/speaker interface or the dreaded "Neutralitis" that is designed into some components and speakers. Live music is incredibly dynamic and full with lots of overtones and bloom...if ya aint hearing it, then your deaf or in a crappy venue. It is an art form with no gaurantee of synergy. One of the reasons I love MIT cables is because they eliminate the cable component/spkr interface mismatch less thing to worry about!
I certainly agree that audiophiles define alot of their terms differently, especially "bloom." "Neutrality" and "pace" also immediately come to mind. Viridian, you are certainly correct when stating that when electronic instruments (and sometimes even acoustic ones) are amplified, they are shorn of harmonics. Also, the volume in many clubs (or symphonic pops concerts, for that matter) is very often turned up far too high, much as it is in most movie theaters nowadays. Once the volume goes past a certain point, it simply becomes noise, and the intelligibility of the music is lost. I think a big part of why most popular music recordings sound so bad today is that far too many "sound engineers" have lost the art. They have become accustomed to this grossly overamplified sound, especially the younger ones, and many of them have never really heard what live, unamplified music can sound like in a good venue, and wouldn't believe that such a thing could even be possible. Unfortunatley, this contributes to the acceptance of MP3 sound among the youth, who also don't know any better. OK, I'm getting way off topic again, sorry.
Chris, all I want to share is that you and I have the same digital front end and my system has beautiful/natural timbres and harmonics so I know its not your front end. My hunch either your preamp or amps and I have never heard either pieces, so its just hunch.
All good feedback! As a contrarian, and tube guy, I will take a different path. What 12ax7 tubes do you use in your DAC? Perhaps tube rolling to a very harmonically rich tube like the RCA 5751 would provide you with the ambiance that you seek?

Good is a great set up, so I have to believe a few minor tweaks like cables or tubes would provide the fine tuning.

Disclaimer: I sell tubes on Audiogon - take my comments for what they may be worth.

Quad 57 - it seems there is a counter example to every example - this Waterfall plot is about as good as they get - ever.
The idea of inserting any kind of EQ will only destroy more of the harmonic information. Such a device resolves issues with tonal coherency ..... it has NOTHING to do with retrieving the dimensionality aspects, decays and bloom in the music.

I tried this game with the Rives device. Oh yes, it resolved bass peaks but it clipped dynamics and removed details in the music that I had worked so hard to bring through. Two well-respected A'gon members both told me not to do this but the curiosity got the best of me. It might be fine in some cases, but if you are after the 3D and bloom like VERY FEW systems out there can pull off, any kind of EQ is NOT going to work. And it will cost you serious money in an additional IC and PC with such a device before you can appreciate the value of the EQ in bringing on tonal coherency. But ultimately, you need to resolve this with room treatments, speaker placements and not get caught up in the "synergy" game where you add one tonally imbalanced cable to match that of another with opposite flaws.

Chris, if you have much bass energy from the A1s, pull them out into the room another meter or so. This reduced bass peaks significantly for me. I keep the A1s near the side walls and this works mighty fine. Speaker rotation does not make much difference as the image is very good all across the listening position.

Once you get the bass more in control (coherent with the mids/trebles), do me a favor and borrow a tube line stage from a dealer. This will be a major mind-opening experience. Try any of the mid-top-tier Aesthetix, VAC, BAT, Lamm, CJ and you will hear it. Once you find one that really impresses you, you can roll tubes (as Paul wrote above) to bring on yet another level of performance over the typical stock EH and Sovtek tubes.

One other thing: Time and time again as I have played with ICs in the system, the MOST critical cable link is from line stage to amp when it comes to getting that harmonic information through. I don't care what people say about putting the "best" IC at the front of the chain. Put everything you have in an IC in that link and let me know what you hear. The Purist Dominus, Stealth Indra, Jade Hybrid are all ICs that will make a MAJOR difference here with your quest for harmonic detail.

Chris, you have some top-notch products here. Don't mess things up with band-aid solutions.

Chris, I have read several of your posts.

Do you have any acoustic treatment in your room?

I think you should go and audition as many different speakers as you can until you find the speakers you like. I think finding the right speakers will be the key for you and probably the only solution. You may want to consider something that is warm, involving and something you can enjoy for long listening sessions.

BTW, JMF amplifiers? What are those?

In my mind, the place to start is the speakers. Find the speakers you like first, then get decent amplification, then work your way to cables.

I have heard an Aerial Acoustics Model 20T yesterday, and I think this speaker would definitely be something you should check out. If I remember correctly from your previous posts, you listen to a lot of classical music, so I would suggest to check out these Aerial 20T. Very musical. Rich sound, makes you want to listen more and more, non-stop. If your room size(they have a very hefty bass and big sound) and budget allows, this would be the awesome speakers to have. Also, I don't think they are as finiky with placement as the panels or electrostatics.

I think the speakers is what will fix it for you.
You had this problem with Dunlavy. I can see that happenning. I have heard SC-IV several times and they sounded way too small for a speaker of that size and they sounded thin. I didn't like them in several totally different rooms and systems. SC-V may be better than SC-IV, but I would expect them to have same sonic signature. And if you feel the problem is aggravated with the Soundlabs, then most likely panel or electrostatics are not for you.

Check out some of the good dynamic speakers.
Aerial 20T, Dynaudio, Wilson, Sonus Faber, B&W 800 Series with Diamond tweeter.

I think you will find the sound you are looking for only by choosing the right speakers.
Audphile1: thx for recommendations. I'll check the room acoustics first. JMF Audio amplifiers: