New preamp or other suggestions?

I'm really getting tired of the harsh sound of my system. At this point, I honestly would rather listen to music in my car than in my listening room. I've always chalked it up to a poor room layout (and that's not something that I can change), because this same system sounded UNBELIEVABLE in the dealer's showroom. For what it's worth, I've already treated the room with Echobusters panels, which helped quite a bit, but not enough to make the system sound really enjoyable.

Recently an audiophile friend suggested that a good tube pre might make the system more listenable. The current system is:

Source 1: CAL Icon MKII HDCD w/PowerBoss power supply
Source 2: Music Hall Fidelity CD-25 (stock)
Pre - Bryston BP-20 line stage (balanced to pwr amp)
Power - Bryston 4BST
Speakers - Thiel 3.6
Interconnect (pre to pwr, bal)-AQ Lapis or Nordost Red Dawn
Interconnect (CD to pre) - AQ Lapis, unbalanced
Spkr Cable - AQ Midnite X3

The system on the whole is currently lacking mid-bass (the terrible room strikes again) and has a harsh, in-your-face high end. Of the two sources, the CAL has a MUCH better bottom end, but is lacking detail and air at the top, and has a very "forward" presentation. The CD-25 has a much more detailed (and enjoyable) top and a wider soundstage, but light bass.

I listen mostly to pop, acoustic jazz and contemporary electric jazz.

My friend suggested picking up a used AR or CJ tube pre in place of the Bryston. Another friend suggested replacing the op-amps in the CD-25 with 627's to enhance its bottom end.

I'm a musician and not an audiophle, so I don't know if the advice I've received will fix the problem.... I'm also on a budget, but could swing $1-1.5K on a new/used pre if that would fix my problem.

Do any of you experts (and I mean that sincerely) have any ideas?
Well I'm not an expert but I do have an opinion, get rid of the audiophile speakers..sounds like they are poor match for your room. There are plenty of other speakers that may integrate more to your taste with this problem room.

I agree with Sogood51...maybe something with a soft dome tweeter.

Good Luck!
I used to have your pre/power combination. I quite liked the BP20, and didn't find it too weak a link - the bryston stuff can be a bit clinical and dry though. Following the BP-20, I moved to Sonic Frontiers Line 3 and really noticed a huge difference. I'm now using Supratek Syrah, and again, notice a big step up from the Line 3. A good tube pre may very well be your ticket. Check out the thread on "Preamp deal of the century". A Supratek Chardonnay at $2.5k will likely offer you a huge improvement. I also agree with the two folks above though - speaker change may work well too.
Ditto on the Tube preamp. It's certainly worth a shot and will tame the SS sound. Various amounts of tubeyness are available and you'll have to make up your own mind on that. Audio Research isn't tubey much at all and is my choice with my Marsh amp. If you buy used if you decide you don't like it you can get your money or close to it back and is my recommendation. If you have a dealer that will loan you pieces to try that's another good option as like I said there's many flavors. Once you try the tube preamp you'll wonder what you were waiting for.
I have experienced the same phenomenon with my Bryston BP25/14B SST combo regardless of what CDP I've used (Shanling T200, Modwright Signature 999ES, EMC 1-UP) and I'm awaiting a First Sound Presence Deluxe II to replace the BP25. I've read good things about the Belles 21A preamp...several are available now on Audiogon around $1400. Could be worth a shot.
A tube preamp may help, something along the Audible Illusions line. However, I also agree with Sogood51 & Gmood1, in that I've found Thiel speakers to be quite revealing. To some, including me, they can sound harsh or etched. Throwing tubes at them will help smooth them somewhat, but you may be better served trying other speakers. Try one with a soft dome tweeter, like a Sonus Faber, Vienna Acoustics or a Dynaudio.

I am afraid that Thiels (in your room) are at fault here. Despite my admiration for 3.6, or any Thiel model, room interaction is crucial here. Quick fix to ad a "buffer" in some form of euphonic "magic tube" is wrong way about it. That kind of approach amounts to stuffing your ears with cotton to make your system listenable. Go back to your dealer, with dimensions of your room and drawn position of your speakers and system. He will probably help you to come to some long term solution.
I had a 4B-St and I also found the amp to be harshed. I now have all Audio Research equipment. The amplifier is the VT 100 MK II and the pre-amp is the Reference 1. I would try a different amp and see what that can do.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Bryston preamp. It is not the source of any harshness you hear. Probably the speakers and room.
Have you explored whether the problem could be with the quality of your AC? I would highly suggest you put a PS Audio P300 or other PS model to power only your front end components (sources and pre). This completely regenerates the AC wave form from DC and removes all noise and hash. I have a Krell/Thiel set up and a P300 really helped sweeten everything. Plus the added 3D is a bonus. No harshness whatsoever now.
I agree w/sogood, gmood, and kkursula. The Thiels may not be a good fit for your room and system. Go back to your dealer and descibe the problem with him/her and see what is suggested. It would be very easy for your dealer to lend you another set of speakers and/or electronics and/or cabling, etc., and let you experiment. This, it would seem to me, would be a service your dealer would gladly provide.
Another Agon'er that is using Thiel's recently contacted me. He was experiencing the same problems that you are i.e. lack of warmth & body and a bright and hard high end. He was using some very expensive speaker cables of good reputation that are noted for being "somewhat warm" sounding. He replaced them with Goertz MI-2's and can't believe how much better his system sounds. He told me that his system has never sounded so natural or liquid. The fact that the same length of Goertz cost him less than 1/5 the cost of his "hose sized, hi-tech" speaker cables really pissed him off to say the least. Sean

PS... I could be wrong about this, but i think that Thiel voices their speakers / uses Goertz as a reference within their systems. If you do go this route, PLEASE use Zobel networks whether you think you need them or not.
Stevecham: That's a good point. I had forgotten that the person that contacted me had also taken steps to improve their AC just previous to installing the Goertz. Judging by the comments, i think that they were more impressed with the Goertz than the dedicated AC system. I'm sure that they both helped, but maybe not in equal measure. Sean
Having recently returned to our hobby after a 20-year hiatus, I've taken to reading Stereophile, TAS, etc. One thing that has amazed (and dismayed) me is the quality control problem in the (high end) industry. How many times have we read reviews that went: "It stunk until I sent it back... got a new unit... wow, what a difference..."? Or similarly-minded manufacturer responses to less-than-doting reviews (" soon as we got the unit back to the factory we examined it and found a bad {part-of-the-day}...")?

Is it possible that you could have a bad component? When you said that "this same system sounded UNBELIEVABLE in the dealer's showroom," do you mean that THEIR demo units sounded great, or did you actually shlep your own equipment to the store for a listen? If the former, and if you trust the dealer's integrity and skills, then you might want to have one of their staff come to your home for a critical demo.

Good luck

That's a great point, and having an electronics background, it was the first thing that I considered.

I actually did both of your suggestions - I had the salesguy come to the house, and his reaction was "Wow! That sounds awful!...there's definitely some weird bass anomaly going on here." (At least he was honest about it.)

We then lugged the whole system back to his store and set it up in his much larger and more symmetrical listening room, and it sounded fine. So I think we could safely eliminate hardware failure from the list of causes.

I don't think any individual component in my system is at fault here; I'm pretty convinced that the hardware system (in total)is just a bad match for my particular room. With that as a given, the question becomes one of practicality - how do I achieve a more listenable system in my environment at minimum additional cost?

For the folks who suggested replacing the speakers, my only comment is that I picked the Thiels because they were the only speakers that I heard in my price range that reproduced music the way I heard it live. I listened to Vandersteens, Maggies, Paradigms and a couple of others, but in my opinion, none of them came close to being able to reproduce the nuances of a guitar tone to the degree that the Thiels did.

If I can retain my system's ability to resolve that level of detail, but push it "back" in the presentation and balance it with a stronger midbass, I'd have it made.

Thanks again to all who responded!!
I tend to agree with some others that it is a speaker issue ...(especially after reading some new research from Europe on metal versus soft dome tweaters and brain waves)....but we could use some additional information. The last thing you want to do is go into replacement frenzy.

What are your room dimensions and how is the room laid out? Room interaction is critical. So, please include ceiling height and type of walls and how you have the room furnished.

In the meantime, either swap out components one at a time or try your components in a friend's system (one at a time) to see if there is a component problem. Do not try and carry speakers around for this exercise. Do the same with your ICs.

You are about to make a significant transition, so take your time and let your ears be the final decision maker.
My cd based system has gone through alot of changes/upgrades lately however one of the more significant "improvements" was to install a power conditioner (ie: PS Audio PP) to feed a/c to the cdp and the rest of the equipment. It has remove the harhness and sibiliance that cd playback is so notoriously known for. One of reasons why you might enjoy your car stereo more than your home system is the car stereo is powered by batteries and is less "polluted" than your mains in your home. Good luck.
Lose the Thiels! No matter how much I like thiels, they can very easily sound harsh. Also, some "softer" sounding amps (tube/class A) would mellow them a bit but Thiels are so hard to drive that most tube amps can't handle them.

I have learned that most speakers in Thiels price range are softer sounding/less harsh. Try B&W, Vienna Acoustics, Vandersteen, Martin Logan......
I have to agree with the above comments, you will most likely need to replace the Thiels. I have had numerous pairs of Thiels (1.5, 2.2, 2.3s) with basically the same results, they can sound very harsh. But if you love them you might want to give this a try. First replace your SS preamp with a tube preamp. This change helped quite a bit. Then get MIT cables, I think I used the MH-750. The combination of the tube preamp and the MITs got my 2.3 to sound pretty good. But ultamately for type of music I listen to (Jazz) I moved on to Virgos should sounds much better.
Okay, I'll take a stab here. I agree with most of what was said but you might consider as a cheap fix, new interconnects and/or speaker cable. I'm not sure Nordost or the silver Lapis is a good match with revealing speakers and your amp/preamp combo. I think Sean is on the right track with cables and just to add to his suggestions, you might pick up some Cardas Cross or especially Golden Cross and see if it doesn't make a difference. Buy here on A'gon and at the least you could resell them and get your money back. You didn't give your room dimensions but it sounds like the room may not be big enough for the bass output of the Thiels. Good Luck! Mike.
Two suggestions.

Thiel tend to be bright and from my point of view they fail to involve the listener. For the oposite scenario I suggest Sonus Faber italian speakers: Cremona (3-way) or Guarneri (2-way). Then a Supratek preamp. So life-like and natural.
How good is the current in your house? Next thing I would do is try very different cables.Thiels and Brystons both have a tendency to sound bright, and you got both of them. Your source components are weak too.I assume that you are not ready for a complete overhaul of the system.But if you do, I would get rid of everything you have, everything and assemble a totally new set-up.
You might try replacing the active preamp with a passive from Placette or Bent. It will clean-up your system. I've owned Thiels and they are demanding speaker. They need to be well fed to sound their best.

If you like your speakers, then keep them and ignore those telling you to get rid of them. Based on your experiment, it seems clear it's the speaker/room interaction. New speakers would probably only create new problems. Does your dealer (a helpful-seeming fellow) carry any acoustical or room treatments? If so, ask if he'll work with you. If your dealer carries quality treatments and knows what he's doing, you should be able to solve your problem for well under your budget (think of it as upgrading your room, which after is in an integral part of your system).
I just want to thank all of you for taking the time to post your suggestions....At the very least, you've laid out an incremental path to help me get the most out of my system given the constraints of my room and budget.

I'll post my changes and their effects on the overall sound of the system as I make them.....

Thanks again,
i have had the same probalem in different degrees over the years, thousands spent and the result is bleeding ears. because the poster has stated that his system sounded good at his dealer's, it has to be a room problem, and possibly ac. he states he wants to keep the thiels. my gut level feeling is that a cable switch may be helpful. even though many like the aq wire, i have found it sometimes harsh-sounding; it all depends on the system. i have spent a lot of time auditioning cables. but rather than giving specific recommendations, i suggest contacting the cable co ( and getting some cable to audition. you can keep the thiels, but tame them a bit.
Try some Cardas Golden Reference or Golden Cross ICs and speaker cables. They will tame the highs and flesh out the midbass. Purist Audio Venustas and AZ Matrix II would also be candidates. Stay away from silver! If changing cables doesn't accomplish what you want, I'm afraid either the amp and/or speakers will have to go. I'd try replacing the amp first if you have to. A used Rowland might do the trick.