My system's high frequencies hurt my ears

Well, to be perfectly clear it doesn't always hurt my ears but I've been getting a little fatigued at times and I'm trying to diagnose the problem. A few nights ago I was listening to a new 24/96 The Doors first album release and had to stop playback. I switched over to The Eagles Greatest Hits, 16/44, and found some happiness there but I wasn't completely satisfied. Perhaps some of this is psychological, maybe I was feeling a little extra sensitive, but I'm sure I've had some issues with high frequencies in the past.

Here's my setup:

Serving all music, ripped to WAV by Exact Audio Copy or downloaded via high rez sites, via Windows 7 computer running J River set to WASAPI output. Sending signal via USB to Audiophilleo USB/SPDIF converter to PS Audio Digital Link III DAC. From DAC using Nordost Baldur unbalanced RCA interconnects to PS Audio C-100 Control Amp. Speaker wires are Nordost Blue Heaven. Power cables are PS Audio Lab Cable from wall to PS Audio Duet Power Conditioner. From there I use another Lab Cable for the amp and a PS Jewel cable for the DAC. The wall plug is on its own circuit with nothing else connected. Speakers are my old but good Mirage 1090i's.

Aside from perhaps the age of the speakers do you guys see anything that stands out? I spoke to a technician from Mirage and he suggested I'm doing too much signal processing which could be a cause of uncomfortable high frequencies.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
As I recall, some hardness of the metal dome tweeters in your speakers was noted by reviewers. Combine Nordost cables with speakers that have a propensity towards sounding bright and you might have a recipe for your problem. It's also possible your speakers might not have good synergy with your c-100, these things take experimentation to determine sometimes.
Just switch out all that digital stuff for vinyl/analog and live happily ever after. USB playing WAV will never compare, and will always fatige over the long run, IMHO.
IMO, if your speakers have metal domes, they stand a very good chance of being the culprit. As ears age, they can become more sensitive to edgy highs; if you've had the speakers for a while, it could be you getting older, and not the kit, that explains your changed perception of the system.

I've got this issue, and a good many speakers lots of people like are ear bleeders for me. Two reasonably priced (by hobbyist standards) monitors that are not are Fritz Carbon 7 and Selah Veritas, for a bit more are the North Creeks (probably not currently available), and for a bit more than that, various of the Montana line. All are silk dome. I'd stay away from metal, which is IMO a far more likely culprit than "signal processing."

I thought the speakers could be to blame but I called Mirage and they suggested the idea of too much signal processing being the culprit. Anyone out there have a sense that too much processing makes things worse?
Total agreement with Photon46. Good Luck
Your front end looks great. You even have an amp, the C-100, with a very relaxed top end ... and you're still getting fatigued. I'd have to say in this case it's 110% the fault of your speakers.

Blaming it on too much signal processing makes me think they don't understand your computer audio setup. There's nothing at all wrong with how you're doing it.
Have you tried adjusting toe out/in so tweets are not firing directly at you?
Have you tried adjusting toe out/in and/or speaker location so tweets are not firing directly at you?
I have them setup so the tweeters do in fact point directly at the listeners ears, but for imaging this is pretty key. The mirages have to be placed with precision for the bipolar effects to work as designed, at least according to the manual.
FWIW, I think you most often have two choices when setting up bipolar, or a lot of panel speakers. You can emphasize an atmospheric (huge) soundstage or a very detailed or precise type of imaging which might loose a bit of the huge but pick up some precision and a sense of depth of image not otherwise available.

In the first it is all about how you treat the back wave - how it hits and bounces off your walls and to what degree it is attenuated.

The second is determined by how you receive the direct signal, including how it reflects off the side walls, floors and ceilings, as well as how flat the frequency response is, and whether or not it is best heard on or off axis. I've heard very few speakers, but there are some, that sound best on axis. For example, many speaker manufacturers of traditional boxes recommend that the speakers are firing straight forward.

Occasionally, and incident to the rising of a blue moon, you can effectively set up a bi-polar speaker which results in great width, height, and depth of sound stage and have great precision as well. Good luck...........

What I would do in your place to determine what is possible would be to set up your speakers optimally for the precision/tone effect by deadening the back wave and taking that out of the equation. Then you would have a tone you could live with - i.e. no high frequency caused fatigue. After that remove the deadening materials used on your speakers or walls and see how much the back wave really alters your sound stage. You might be surprised (or not). But you could then start to make incremental changes in the surfaces of the rear walls and adjacent side walls to get that huge soundstage effect you are looking for without getting the fatigue back.

In audio as with life, it is all about compromises....

BTW, I agree with the first poster, you have stuff in the signal chain which could certainly help produce the problems you are complaining about. Years ago I solved a similar problem by returning to IC's and speaker cabling that did not emphasize high frequencies as yours might do.
If you have had the Mirage's for along time and this has not been bothering you, then you have to look elsewhere...
First, I have no idea how old you are, but it isn't abnormal that as we age, Our high frequency rolls off and we become more sensitive to peaks in the 3k to 8k range.
I disagree with the thought of too much in the chain, unless, ONE of those items is causing the problem. What has changed in your system. Have you always had a problem with peaks or has it come with a few changes? Time to borrow or exchange borrow with a friend and try to find out where the culprit is and it could certainly still be your speakers, IF you have recently added the complete digital front end as a source and have just never heard real detail from your speakers, so if thats the case, it could be your speakers.... Hopefully this isn't confusing....
I heard these speakers years ago, and yikes, they were very tipped up and splashy in my opinion. I'd look for smoother, more well-balanced speakers.
So did you put all this together at once, or over a period of time? If the sound hasn't always been fatiguing and you have owned the speakers since new, I would rule them out as the culprit. So you can work bacwards from here and maybe decipher at what point something was added that upset the apple cart.

Just based on the comments it really seems like this is a speaker issue. I'm planning to audition some new equipment and I was going to start with a DAC, possibly the Hegel HD20. However, it seems the right thing to do is start with some modern speakers in the $2500 range or so and basically listen. Of course I would like to spend less, the Kef q900's seem to have gotten some pretty good reviews. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
I wouldn't assume its speakers yet. I fixed a like issue with my tube gear by upgrading capacitors at critical points; teflon caps are great for natural sound.

Before changing anything, it may be easy to at least attempt a different speaker setup where tweets are not direct firing at you. Try aiming tweets just to the outside e of your ears at your main listening position as an experiment and see if that helps.
The latest Vandersteen 2Ce Signature II loudspeaker balances a sophisticated four-way driver system with their patented time and phase coherent design. The combination produces a precise and non- fatiguing sound that gives the music a wide open feel.

Upon hearing it, the concept of time and phase coherence will make perfect sense. Combining a sophisticated midrange with an extremely inert cabinet allows the tweeter to operate in harmony with the music without losing definition.

In its most recent iteration, Vandersteen has upgraded virtually every component of the speaker system making the best-selling high-end loudspeaker of all time even better.
Also a Vandersteen dealer
Best JohnnyR
Get some GIK acoustic panels and treat the 1&2nd reflection points as well as the wall behind you. They can also be used on the wall behind the speakers.

Please tell me about your room. I can near guarantee you that these 242 and 244 GIK panels will cure the problem and greatly improve your music.
All glare and harshness will be gone. Turn up the volume and the music will swell and grow in size and impact, but not in harshness.
Had the Mirage M1si from 1996/2009, tried all kinds of positioning. With bipolars the rear firing speakers will fight the room much worse than conventional designs. I only found partial contentment in my current large room with them around 3ft+ from rear wall. What works in your room may be different as bipolars can be a PITA. Looking back had I been aware of sites as this I'd of moved on years sooner.
I have tried Blue Haven and it is nice but it is quite bright and slightly etched so consider another cable. Agree with pointing speakers away from towards you. Try straight forward. Beyond that, soft dome tweeter speakers -- perhaps Dynaudio or Dali.
I don't buy the all digital front end argument. I've heard several non fatiguing all digital, computer-audio-based front ends, including my own that sound fantastic. The highs in my system I would describe as crystalline, extended, natural, sweet. Far from forward, harsh, edgy or fatiguing.

The suggestions about speaker and cable synergies and room treatment strike me as the most informed guesses.
Robpriore, I think you have a simple problem which is caused by the Nordost Blue Heaven and a hard dome speaker. At the best of times, whenever I have heard Blue Heaven it has a bright coloration that is very obvious when you listen to some of the better Nordost cables up the line. Add this propensity for brightness to a hard metallic dome based speaker and you have a recipe for what you are describing, IMHO.
Before toeing out the speakers I listened to the Doors Soul Kitchen in 24/96 and Adele's Rolling In The Deep 16/44. The highs are uncomfortable. I toed out the speakers several degrees and played the tracks again. There was an improvement. I continued to test and called up ELO's Nightrider and Poker 16/44. The imaging was smeared on these and was not right. I returned to the original speaker angles and restored the imaging but again the highs are uncomfortable.

Is this a fairly straightforward speaker issue?
Try toeing the speakers in until the axis of the speaker crosses well in front of your head. Some of the excess highs might be from the first reflections from the side walls. This will also change the back wave quite a bit and could lower high frequency energy off the back wall as the sound waves have to travel further to reach you.

FWIW, it is not a straight forward speaker issue no matter how logical that may seem due to metal tweeters reputation. I have had similar problems with silk domes etc. Spend a lot of time positioning and repositioning your speakers before you decide to replace them. That is, at least the cheapest alternative. You might also consider trying, as suggested, deadening somewhat the rear wall.

FWIW, going back to your speaker wiring and I/C's. Nordost gets a lot of sales based on how it presents the high frequencies. Great clarity, at least so it seems. For a while. But what I think occurs is that the highs are not in balance with the mids and lows making the sound appear bright. I worshipped mine for about 3 months. Try a cheap experiment - get some Canare 4S11 Star Quad speaker cable and some Blue Jeans I/C's and use them as a benchmark for other brands - they are really inexpensive and good. They have a large following for just that reason. If after repositioning your speakers and treating the walls behind your speakers and using this wire you still have high frequency problems then perhaps it is time to move on. Unfortunately, as you may find out as many others have, this may not be a solution to your problem and that is why I emphasize further exploration with what you have.
Some feel Nordost speaker cables have a tipped-up frequency balance so you might want to try other cables. Acoustic Zen cables are one brand I have had good luck with but there are others with a less tipped-up high frequency balance.
Is this a fairly straightforward speaker issue?

To repeat myself, yes, IMHO.

That said, Map and Newbee are wise to suggest some placement tinkering, which can have impact more dramatic than big investments in gear. It doesn't cost much to spend a couple of sessions messing around (perhaps with the aid of Smith's Get Better Sound).

If this fails (as I predict it will), I'd then look to change speakers. Of the speakers I commend above, both the Fritz Carbon 7 and the Selah Veritas hit your pricepoint. Both Fritz and Rick Craig are helpful guys to talk to. Hitting a show like RMAF would also be an excellent idea.

So I toed in the speakers a few degrees and now have the tweeters crossing about two feet in front of my nose. I played the same tracks and sure enough the difference is substantial. I have better bass response, the soundstage and imaging are intact, and the highs are far more comfortable. For the final test I served up Dire Straights Money For Nothing in 24/192 and took the volume way up so i could feel the drums in the beginning sequence. When Mark Knopfler rips into his guitar it's just as I wanted to hear it.

Does it make sense for me to increase the toe in angle any more? At some point the soundstage will collapse, at least that's my understanding. I think it's prudent for me to demo different speakers to compare. I have to say though that were it not for forum members I would have dropped a few thousand without a real sense of what was wrong with my setup. Thank you for that.
Without knowing specifically what your set up looks like it is hard to tell when you will have maxed out the toe in but, assuming that you are listening in a traditional triangle set up, or something close to that, take a piece of paper and draw your triangle. Then draw a perpendicular line from the front of the speaker. Then measure the degree of the angle from the front of the speaker to the center of your listening chair. Then draw a line half way between the chair and the perpendicular line. Then measure the distance in degrees from to the 'middle line' to the perpendicular line. You should get something like 22.5 degrees. But, whatever. Now with the axis of your speaker pointed at your head (in the listening chair :-), you can toe your speaker(s) inward up to the degree you measured (i.e. 22.5?). Once you have done this listen for a while and start moving the speakers axis back toward your head, a couple of degrees at a time. For the fun of it I bet you end up with toe in about 15 degrees from your head.

Sorry for the length of this post. I'm sure there was a much easier way of saying this.
That's great news, Robpriore. Dramatic evidence for the importance of placement.

I humbly eat crow, courtesy of Mapman and Newbee.
Likely speaker and/or room. I'd replace those cables with regular Blue Jeans cable too.
I'm having a bit of trouble with this. I have an isosceles triangle with two angles being 64.6 degrees and the angle of my listening chair being 50.8 degrees. The triangle sides are 120 by 120 by 103 inches. When I draw the perpendicular line from the right speaker I get another isosceles triangle. I'm missing a line somewhere.
OK my assumption that your listening position was further from the speakers than the speakers are from each other makes my suggestion a bit obtuse. Lets see if this will work, rotate your speaker(s) until the axis is approximately 18 to 20 degrees past your head position. Listen for a while to the new sound (I would do it for some days - just getting used to hearing it). Then then start rotating the speakers back towards your head until the sound improves or deteriorates. When it deteriorates stop and go back the other way by say 50%. And so forth. You should find a sweet spot some where in the range.

Also, since the rear of your speaker is now likely pointed at the side wall/corner behind the speaker, you could temporarily hang a heavy blanket on the wall to see if deadening some the speaker's back tweeter will be beneficial to you. Or if that is not possible, you might try hanging a blanket or two on the wall behind the speakers helps at all. This is all trial and error stuff but if you find a real improvement you can always find domestic materials from bookcases with books, drapes, plants etc which will serve nearly as well as high end and ugly acoustic materials.

This is a slow process but can really be worthwhile.
Quit worrying about degrees and types of angles!!!! Find a position that you like and leave them there. You'll drive yourself crazy playing the numbers game. Just my opinion.
Some acoustic panels look fine to good even to our spouses. I will say it one more time. This is your issue. GIK makes all sort of colors and art panels and they will tame your highs and greatly improve your sound.

Speaker placement and room treatment are a must. I just need to know more about your room and set up. If this is simply not possible, then please let me know. I am most sensitive to highs and cannot stand even a hint of etched or glaring highs. I have always owned very "tame" speakers like the Silverline Bolero and Dali Grand speakers, but it wasn't until I treated my room with GIK panels that I learned what a properly treated room can do.

I have tried making my own panels and buying other brands, they never did what the GIK's do. Go to the site and look at the 242 and 244 panels. Look at the colors and note the reasonable prices. I purchased all mine used here on the Gon for about $30 - $45 a panel.

They will transform your music and absolutely put the highs, mids and lows into proper balance and focus. All smearing will be gone, Alison Krauss's voice finally lost its hard edge on her live album with all the life still there!

I used to read about folks going on and on about "the room" and based on some past experiences I would yawn and move on. Well the GIK stuff smacked me awake and has gained my full attention. Don't dismiss this if you want a wonderful solution that will work with your current and future gear.
I'm not exactly sure what the problem is, but it might be ultrasonic noise making the high frequencies sound bad. This is a more common problem than realized, especially with electronics that have wide bandwidth. I don't know if this will be a fix, but it could save you a ton of grief, if it works. What I'm suggesting is a zobel network at your speaker input to possibly tame the ultrasonic noise. There's no guarantee, but I think it's worth a try.

If your speakers are 4 ohm (?), get a 10 watt 6 ohm resistor and twist the end to a 0.3 uF speaker capacitor. Put one end in the + speaker terminal and the other in the - terminal. These parts are relatively inexpensive at Madisound or Parts Express. I'm not familiar with your speakers, but the Mirage I've heard weren't harsh and one could listen on-axis. If it works, you could replace the resistors with non-inductive types - still cheap compared with alternatives, and if it works, any speaker hooked up to this system will benefit.
They are 6 ohm. What size resistor and capacitor for 6 ohm?
If the speakers are rated at 6 ohms, it's a little tricky figuring out the individual driver impedance. The tweeter could be either 6 or 8 ohms. Maybe Mirage could supply this information. I suggest trying an 10 ohm resistor in case the tweeter is 8 ohms. If you find out the tweeter is 6 ohms, you could switch to an 8 ohm resistor. It will work in either case, if this is in fact the problem. A 0.47uF cap should do do the job in either case.

The way this works is by putting a load in parallel with your speaker. The resistor limits the rising (w/frequency) impedance of your speaker. The cap determines the frequencies that are affected. So you want a cap that will cut in beyond 20K - the smaller the value of the cap, the higher the frequency. The resistor value should be greater than the impedance of the drivers. If this works you can tweak the values of the components. Generally speaking, 2 ohms greater than a drivers impedance is a good place to start. With the cap value - a lower value will keep it further from the audible band, but could be less effective. This worked for me with one of my transistor amps that has response beyond 100K. It was unlistenable with a certain transistor preamp until I tried a zobel. With a 6 ohm tweeter I'm using a 0.33uF cap and a 8 ohm resistor.
So i take the two resistors, twist together, and then connect one side to the + terminal and the other to the - terminal. If i did that with a wire it would short out right? The resistors won't cause a short?
Twist together 1 resistor and 1 capacitor and connect them as you described. This is similar to part of a crossover that goes to ground, only external. It won't short out your speakers, but there's no guarantee it will be a cure. If it's a harsh sounding tweeter... The last Mirage speakers I heard were M1, years ago. They had a soft dome, I believe, and it wasn't harsh. There's a driver manufacturer, Scan Speak I think, that sells speaker wire with zobels built in - just for this problem. I can't think of a way that you could damage anything connected as described. Make sure you have at least a 5 watt or 10 watt resistor. Poly speaker caps are normally rated at least 200V. Caps - Parts Express # 027-206. Resistor # 005-(value). That's about $10 in parts + shipping.
Are you still suffering earbleeditis after your placement sessions, Robpriore? Maybe we spoke to soon, and it's times to cut and run.

The tweeters are vapor deposited titanium dome, so i'm thinking they're soft as well. For the cost of the resistors i have nothing to lose and might be able to toe out the speakers to widen the sound stage.

Thanks to an Audiogon thread I had the pleasure to be introduced to the Metrum Octave DAC. I have less than 24 hours of break in but let me say the harshness i was experiencing is gone. I've fully toed out the speakers, my original placement, and played my test files. It's astounding, this machine is truly different than what I'm used to. I'll add more as i continue the break in process - two weeks of 24/7 playback with daily genre and bit/sampling rate changes.
This means you need a serious upgrade dude.