Natural and Neutral could be boring ..

Hello Guys,

First .. Happy New Year to everyOne!

Building my hi-fi setup I have always searched for "Natural & Neutral" sound and so I have added every piece of my rig thinking and searching in this direction...
Yesterday night , during a listening session , I was thinking about this and theoretically I couldn't be happier about the result

Here my gears:

The loved phono section:

TW Acustic Raven One
Graham Phantom MKII / IC70
Benz LP
Whest Audio PS30 RDT SE
Mogami Neglex balanced to the preamp

The not so loved CD rom session:

Philips CDD 882 (transport)
Philips DAC 960 (converter)
Mogami Neglex balanced to the preamp

Pass Labs X1
Parasound Halo JC1's
IC cables Mogami Neglex balanced

Thiel CS 2.4
Speaker cables Cardas Golden Reference

My room is quite a large room (36 ft. x 20 ft. 10ft. high) and Thiels are pratically in open air :-)) 7,5 ft. from the wall and more from side walls.

Well , I think to have reached an hi-fi setup that sounds pratically Natural and Neutral .. maybe not the 100% but IMHO I'm not far from that.
Yesterday night I was philosophize with myself , during a relaxing listening session , about how much could be boring this Natural & Neutral research.
It's true .. by a large majority .. the Audiophiles are searching for this result .. "Natural & Neutral" .. and the end justifies the means.
But when you get this or you're almost near .. the pleasure is only perceived or obtained by the software .. aka LP's or CD-rom's .. aka Music.
And sometimes the Music could be boring ...
So which is the solution?
Sincerely I dunno .. probably it's into the Tube world that's is often on the romantic side .. even at neutral and natural cost
I have been a great Tube fan some years ago when I had Jadis JA 80 and Klimo preamp .. I sold them when I decided to try Solid State and probably that was a pity!
Now I don't want to re-change all my hi-fi setup buying all tubes .. further I should be compelled to sell my Thiels too
But I could try adding a Tube Preamp .. just to aromatize the rest .. this could be a good idea .. isn't it?

But which tube preamp?
There are lotsa tube preamps that strive for the Neutral and Natural side .. I'm thinking to ARC , CJ , BAT etc.. and I don't need one of them .. I already own a very good natural and neutral preamp!

A good choice could be a Air Tight , Shindo , Supratek , Joule Electra .. but I have to pay attention to the "electrical marriage" with my two Parasound JC1's..

What do you think about my thoughts .. and any other idea about an Aromatic Tube Preamp.. Guys?
well the truth be told. Most if not all systems no matter how much paid or little all sound way to bright and upfront. I went to the Met just last week and sat in family circle. I like it up there because I like cheap.During most of the performance I closed my eyes just to make believe I was sitting in my chair and listening to gear in my room. I can honestly say I wish my gear could sound this boring and natural as I heard. Again all systems mordern or vintage sound to bright.
If you want an old style warm tube amp, I disagree with your assessment of CJ's earlier models which are indeed "tubey". Whereas I agree with you regarding ARC and BAT they are very nuetral to my ears.
My tube amp's aroma has always been very very mild and unoticable. I don't advise using any colognes on audio it will affect the resale value and may be destructive to the equipment.
Your question is fair and I agree most people seek natural or "neutral" and many find that this does not satisfy their wants. I say who cares if it is natural or neutral if the sound is what one enjoys - that is all that matters!

We all have different tastes and ways of describing the sound we like. We may love somebody elses system/sound during an audition, but in the long term may not enjoy that same sound. Strive for what you like and be damned with what other people's opinions are - as long as you are happy.

But, to your question of changing equipment, specifically a preamp. Your comments about liking some warmth/romantics from tubes. There are many choices in tubed preamps that can do this. But for me, I like the Aesthetix Calypso (I have owned it twice, but not presently, am always considering going back to it though). This is both a very good preamp, but for somebody like you, it may be ideal in that it lends itself excellently to tube rolling.

I like this aspect of this preamp the best. I can change tubes to meet my mood like no other component. It can produce a very detailed, clean, even drier sound. It can produce a wonderful romantic glow. It can provide tight, controlled bass and also looser, boomier bass. It can offer great HF extension with plenty of sparkle. I have experienced few components that are so amenable to differing likes via the quick and easy changing of tubes that the Calypso affords its owners (its cover is even held on with velcro to allow super fast tube changes).

FYI - unless somebody has really played around with various NOS tubes in their Calypso, it is impossible for them to convey the capabilities of this preamp. Using the stock tubes or some EH new tubes is not going to cut it and those that just have this experience have no idea the capability of this preamp!

I find no real flaw with this preamp and as long as you are open to owning a few pairs of tubes, it can deliver whatever sound you are seeking for any individual listening session.

Can the ARC preamps do this? Not in my experience (I presently own one). Can the CJ preamps do this? Again, not in my experience to the same degree. Can the BAT's or Cary's do this? Again, less so (I owned both as well). I can say this, avoid the "super tube" based units (if you want the extreme flexibility of the benefits of tube rolling), they provide the least amount of adaptive changes (via tube swapping) to meet your moods and feelings of the day.

We all have our own goals with the performance we are hoping to achieve. Don't let somebody else's goals dictate your system.
Maybe, you just need better music and/or recordings?
I find during experimentation with different sounds and gear that I also am not happy for long in my main rig if things stray away from natural, neutral and dynamic.

The ARC tube pre-amp I use has been a nice fit for me in this regard.

Tubes are great for tweaking the sound in various ways but I still wonder if they are really needed when ones goal is natural and neutral?

Now that I feel I have sufficiently sampled good tube sound in my system and listening to others, including ones with tube amps, if/when the day comes when I need a new pre-amp, I think I am likely to seek a good SS one that can fit the bill. Tubes can be a real pain IMHO in terms of maintaining the sound you want once you get it as tubes age and the sound gradually mutates over time, noise issues arise, etc. Tube gear can be a nice source of income for tube and tube gear vendors however as the owners endeavor to maintain that perfect sound over time at any cost.

I have no trouble understanding why the golden age of tubes passed the way it did. They can deliver great results but more often it seems they just make things more difficult to get right. Either love 'em or leave them IMHO.

Some recordings are lackluster and need to be recognized as such. tweaking your system in hopes of making mountains out of bad recording molehills is a certain path to continual dissatisfaction and wasted expense.

BTW, modern loudness wars and remastered recordings may be technically deficient in certain ways (like overall dynamic range), but I seldom find them to be lackluster or boring to listen to. That honor usually goes to a lot of the original CD masters of older stuff. Most new recordings created in the last 20 years or so tend to be mostly acceptable to me. They generally don't sound like the better recordings from the golden age of vinyl, which are a unique breed, but get by on their own merits largely as a whole.

Some of the characteristics of a good recording that help make them not boring on a natural/nuetral system are dynamics, impact, attack, detail, lack of grain, focus, tonal balance, etc.
The recording itself sets the parameters and your system can only convey it, or distort it, as the case may be. Being that, I don't feel you have to go the tube route to get that natural and neutral sound. It can't hurt but its not necessary.
Very good SS can sound fairly neutral and uninspiring but it all depends on the recording and the quality of the playback gear.

I've had friends bring over the same old CDs, hoping to hear something different with a change in gear and every time, within seconds of play, I can hear that same old recording's limits and yet they sit and listen, waiting for that magic moment when it will finally sound decent. It never does.
I am one of the few around here that found Cardas Golden Reference cable 'boring'

just a thought...
It is time for an equalizer, the forbidden fruit of the audiophile.
I usually read the comments that precede mine in an effort to avoid repetitiveness, but not this time. I'll simply say that a somewhat darkish sound may just give you the romantic sound you're looking for. In fact, I more often than not hear that kind of sound at live concerts as opposed to the squeaky clean neutral sound that numerous lovers of reproduced music voice a preference for. Air Tight and Joule Electra (mentioned in your list above)will point you more in the romantic direction than, for example, Supratek. At least that's been my experience, since I've previously owned Joule and Supratek, auditioned Shindo Masseto in my system and have long owned Air Tight. Of course, I can't guarantee your outcome, as you'll have to work on achieving your own desired synergy.
"In fact, I more often than not hear that kind of sound at live concerts as opposed to the squeaky clean neutral sound that numerous lovers of reproduced music voice a preference for."

Yes, but if the system is in fact "neutral", then you should get that live-like sound if that is how the recording was made.

If not, then you are attempting to correct for something you do not like in the recording with the system, and the results may be further off as well with other recordings.

Soon you are on a merry go round that never ends.

Unless you are of teh mindset to apply equalizers or other signal processing to get the results you want with different recordings. Nothing wrong with that if you have the tenacity and desire to make it work.

But heck, most audiophiles will go on teh equipmentr merry go round to get a particular sound they want even if it is not there naturally yet turn their noses up at the thought of using even well designed tone controls.

To answer your question, I recently replaced the stock 12AX7 tubes in my ARC sp16 pre-amp with equivalent Groove Tube 12AX7s and do not notice any real difference in sound, which supports what you indicated. For me, that is what I was hoping for (keeping the original sound that I liked with a different brand of tubes) so I was happy.

In teh other hand, tube rolling with my mhdt Paradisea makes a huge difference in sound and I find that beneficial in that it allows me to optimize the sound when I use it in different system configurations.
Hi I know most of the gear you have. Nobody hears the same things, ie one mans neutral is anothers coloured.
The Pass Labs/Thiels are very neutral and clean to my ears if perhaps a little dry. However the Benz cartridges in general are very relaxed and easy to listen to. My view would be that if you are happy with your system, build on it rather than do wholsale changes, a full suite of MIT cable Magnum at least ( OMG here's another marmite vs vegemite discussion ) will enhance what you already have, particularly in timing and fleshing out body. The switchable impedance functionality will be illuminating - just try it out.
i try to aply the law of the golden mean--listening to a stereo system should be a pleasant experience. of course that is highly idiosyncratic.

i don't recall ever being bored when listening to music unless i did not like the music. it was a question of the sound. the music is more important.

music that you like that may displease you sonically, is preferred to music that you don't like that pleases you sonically.
Hello Mapman: I had to smile(not sarcastically) a bit as I read your following statement in response to mine above. You said, "Yes, but if the system in fact is 'neutral', then you should get that live-like sound if that is how the recording was made." First, I think the word neutral is one of the most abused in audio. Nearly everything has colors or colorations, and especially reproduced sound. Electronic equipment at the recording site, in the audio shops and in one's home all attest to that. (Colorations are also imparted in/by concert halls and even in the open air, where temperature, humidity and wind all register their effect.)Though colorations are encountered either in a reproduced or live manner, there is still a considerable difference in listenability when experiencing each. I don't care to go into great detail on this issue, since it's been elaborated on before in many instances. I'll just say this: At live concerts, I consistently hear dynamic peaks as well as certain sounds of individual instruments with little or no irritation, sounds that otherwise and in considerable instances do irritate when they are reproduced through high quality(and very expensive) stereo equipment. "How the recording was made", replete with electronic devices and the colorations they impart, will not produce a mirror image of the sound that was generated and heard live. Granted, some recordings and equipment will provide a better approximation than other recordings and equipment. This aside, in a number of instances, I don't exactly like or care for some of the kind[s]of sound[s]produced by the recording process. If I can find frequent but not perfect satisfaction by mixing and matching stereo equipment,even, as you say, by "...attempting to correct for something [I]do not like in the recording..." so what? As you say, "Nothing wrong...if you have the tenacity and desire to make it work." And I'm pleased to say, I have made it work. Sure, not without the kind of effort many of us have gone through. What I want most is the kind of reproduced sound that comes closer to approximating what I hear seated at a live concert. For me, that doesn't mean "clean neutrality", but some "natural" coloration. Thank goodness we're able to choose our preferred illusion of sound.
Ditto Ckoffend's recommendation of the Aesthetix Calypso. I sold mine to go with an integrated tube amp, but will likely go back to the Calypso if/when I go back to tube separates. Really a great preamp when used with the right NOS tubes (amperex white label 6922's & telefunken smooth plate 12AX7's). I also owned BAT VK30 & Joule LA-150, but preferred the Calypso by a wide margin.
I can't imagine that the your system in the room you describe sounds neutral or natural. There's no way the Thiels can produce adequate bass or lower midrange to properly pressurize that room. I suspect what you hear is way too much upper midrange/treble info.

Obviously changing the electronics is not a solution. You could stick a hundred tubes into the system and it still won't sound natural. You need speakers that would work well in that specific room. I'm thinking something that can move a lot of air. You should consider the big VMPS towers, the large Legacy models, the Zu models with multiple bass drivers or the big PBN models.

I've expressed some strong opinions and there's always the possibility that I could be totally wrong, but I suggest you try the following experiment. It will cost you nothing but time and effort. Move your speakers so that they are within 1 to 2 feet of a rear wall in order to get some room reinforcement in the bass. Move your listening position such that it replicates your normal listening distance. Don't make any snap judgments. Give yourself some time to acclimate to the sound. You may have to play with the exact distance between the wall and the speaker to smooth out the bass. After you have a handle with the sound of this setup change your listening position to the wall opposite the speaker and have your head positioned within a foot or two of the wall. See how it sounds. In the end you may prefer your original setup, but the experiment will give you a glimpse of how your room will sound with the speakers coupled to the room rather than divorce from, which is your current setup.
I'm in full agreement with Onhwy61, natural and neutral should be anything but boring - adding coloration only helps if the setup is inadequate. If everything is setup right then all you need to do is crank it a little for some exhilaration. Percussion re-produced realistically is energetic & dynamic & very loud.
Definitely optimize the speaker placement in the room for bass response if not the case already.

Placement near rear wall should boost low end but may not be the only way to get a natural and neutral sound.

It is generally tougher to get it though with smaller speakers/drivers in a larger room especially if placed away from wall.

Some designs including omnis and planars may function optimally for bass as well as typical imaging and soundstage as much as a third or so into the room, but generally not too far from sidewalls.

It all really depends. You have to experiment to know for sure.

Definitely get the speaker placement optimized if not already before changing anything though...
Agree with Opus88. In real life, neutral and natural are two different things. Neutral is a audiophile concept, Natural is well, natural as in non amplified live sound.

Ideally Neutral is supposed to emulate natural but *it almost never does* in real life. Enter additive or subtractive coloration via (fill in a blank). One obvious no cost one is what Onhwy61 suggests
Nilthepill, my complements to you for saying it in a much more succinct manner than I did.
No in my opinion its just the opposite , if components are not "reasonably"neutral and constantly influence the sound on whatever recording you play than songs will not vary so much in performance they will sound more the same .
A neutral set will allow performers to show of what they have and will present each recording more as a complete different event .
A speaker with a 7 db drop at a 1000 hz will in the long run sound very boring.
Also its important that your set up has enough power /current delivery for the speakers to make it dynamic /meaning not boring , the krells in my case might be a bit oversized but what the hell, this is just my opinion.
Neutral and natural does not equate to boring and uneventful . quite the opposite . If a system is not neutral it will obscure detail . Thin and flat is another thing .
boring is in the psyche of the individual.

you choose to be bored. you can try to discover the positives in any experience,
or you can focus on the negatives. both are within the purview of the listener.
This is an interesting discussion. It seems like there are two camps: the folks who believe that greater neutrality enhances “naturalness,” and those who believe that greater neutrality diminishes “naturalness.”

I take it that “neutrality” means something like “the degree of absence of audible colorations.” I take it that “naturalness” means something like “what the real event sounded like.” In other words, a system that is “natural” is one that reproduces, in the listening space, what things sounded like in the recording space. It seems to me that this meaning of “naturalness” is more or less what audiophiles mean by “transparency.” With that in mind, the difference of opinion on this thread can be understood as different answers to the following question:

Does greater neutrality result in greater transparency (i.e. "naturalness")?

I am one of the people who thinks that the answer to this question is Yes, but I recognize that there are good arguments on the other side. Many of those arguments were discussed at length in this thread.

…if the system is in fact "neutral", then you should get that live-like sound if that is how the recording was made.

If not, then you are attempting to correct for something you do not like in the recording with the system, and the results may be further off as well with other recordings.

Soon you are on a merry go round that never ends.

I agree with Mapman here. IME, a system that is relatively free of audible colorations is often the one that is more likely to create, in the listening space, what things sounded like in the recording space. In other words, I believe that the more neutral a system sounds (all other things being equal), the more transparent (i.e. "natural") it will sound on the widest range of recordings.

And I agree with Mapman that the use of “complementary" colorations to achieve a desired sound makes the system "recording-specific," since colorations that enhance one type of recording often detract from other types of recordings. Finally, I agree with Mapman that the use of complementary colorations increases the risk of getting on the equipment merry-go-round. To use another metaphor, the use of complementary colorations makes the system a house of cards, in that, when you change any element of the system, you can easily disrupt the delicate balance of colorations, making the system less resilient to component changes. IMO.

I can't imagine that the your system in the room you describe sounds neutral or natural. There's no way the Thiels can produce adequate bass or lower midrange to properly pressurize that room. I suspect what you hear is way too much upper midrange/treble info.

I agree with Onhwy61 here. I doubt the OP’s system is particularly neutral, as a consequence of likelihood that his speakers, in their current position, are creating a presentation that is tonally unbalanced. If this is true, then that audible coloration (i.e. deviation from neutrality) could easily be the reason why the system does not sound transparent, i.e. "natural."

Natural and neutral to me means faithfulness to the music played. If you can recreated great music, it is never boring.
Sorry if I was responsible for any misunderstanding. I was trying to say that I like some of the natural colorations(e.g., warmth or soft sounding contours of some instruments) that I hear at live concerts. I also don't care for a number of the artificial colorations, especially lean, bleached, annoyingly bright and extremely tight that are fairly often presented by reproduced music through various types of electronic equipment and cables that claim accuracy under the guise of neutrality. If these components were as neutral as claimed, they wouldn't be imposing so many artificial colorations. Besides, don't a fairly good number of audiophiles seek out and use equipment to either add some warmth to their system's sound or lean out "excessive" warmth? Again, colorations are virtually inescapable. We move closer to or further away from neutrality in sound, especially reproduced, but it's pretty tough to achieve absolute neutrality---if that's what one wants. I still maintain neutrality is often an abused and misused term in audio. Taste of nearly any sort is replete with flavor.
I believe as you do, Opus88, that most of what is sold in audio messes with the real music not enhance it.

I am almost a lone preacher on the necessity of the simplest path for the music signal. Anything thrown in the way attempting to improve the signal, merely lessens it's content.

However, I shun adding warmth or leanness. For best results, let the music be.
I am mostly with Opus88 on this one. Also with NilthePill's comment: "Ideally Neutral is supposed to emulate natural but *it almost never does* in real life.'" This has definitely been my experience - just about every system I have ever heard that was described foremost as "neutral" sounded terrible - far too bright, and nothing like real, live, unamplified, acoustic music.
Ok, almost any CD containing Julie London will give the listener a wide range of breathy voice blessed by the gods. How about more in this vane.
Though perhaps interesting, all of this might just be a tempest in a teapot. It seems that either despite colorations or because of them, what really matters most is do we enjoy the kind[s]of sounds we hear or not? Of course, within this context, the manner in which the performances are given, the individual's or group's capabilities/talents and the nature of the piece of music itself are equally or more or less important. Some fellow Audiogoners say if one enjoys 75% of the sound heard through their system, they've got it made. How does that prospect or reality sound???
The only CDs that I don't care for are ones that are poorly produced. All genres of music work fine. If you get the sound right, warmth comes naturally for singers, cellos, and sax's. The violins will sound lean or warm depending on the note.
Curio on my system the Cardas Golden Reference deadened the music. Perhaps that is your problem.
I don;t want "Natural & Neutral"
I want "Life-Like" exactly as Schipo wrote. I also close my eyes during the concerts and imagine that it is "my friend's stereo" and I "want" it.

Big question is when do you know its "life-like" outside of concert hall and in your listening room? My answer is extremely simple. I am professional pianist and when I play (excellent) piano recording AND I have chills down my spine then I know - it is "life-like"
Natural, neutral, and life-like are all the same thing in my book.