Opinions on why this system is uninvolving

I have just upgraded my system in a number of ways from Snell Type A/IIs to Revel Studios; from Audible Illusions Modulus 2 to Hovland HP-1; and from the earliest EADs to Metronome Technology DAC and transport. I find the system uninvolving much of the time. I also find it lacking in dimensionality, find it sometimes hard sounding and I notice image wander. Here's the whole system:

Revel Studios
Hovland HP-1
MFA 200C mono amps
Metronome DAC and Transport
Shunyata Hydra on amps
Power Wedge I on other components
Various high end cords incl. Top Gun, Shunyata Mamba and EMI whales
Tara Prime (or perhaps 1800) speaker cables (bi-wiring)
Audioquest Ruby interconnects between amps and pre amp (about 30-foot run)
Hovland interconnct between DAC and preamp
Siecor optical AT&T between DAC and transport

Any thoughts on how to arrest these problems would be greatly appreciated. I was thinking about trying solid state amps like the Pass 250 or 350, the McCormack DNA line, Proceed or Rowland, but I'm not really sure that will make a sginficiant difference. I know it could change the sound signficantly, but not necessrily for the better (which I realize is completely subjective anyway).

Thanks for writing back with so much additional information.

I'm not familiar with your amps, but I am somewhat familiar with the KT-90. That's a helluva tube. Incredibly powerful and dynamic, almost impossible to kill, but a bit on the bright side (that's where rolling the front end tubes comes in). Your amps are rated at 200 watts, and I bet that's conservative. Those tubes could easily crank out well over 300 watts.

I still think you're primarily looking at a speaker problem. But before you go speaker shopping, if feasible try moving the speakers about six feet out into the room. Turn up the rear tweeter a bit. Put a couple of your tube traps (or some other treatment - I use fake ficus trees for diffusion) at the first sidewall reflection points. I suspect you may have too many tube traps around the speakers - see if you can get away with fewer, or move the ones you have farther away.

In the meantime, if you still want to play along, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your personal speaker preferences. The speakers you've chosen and the dissatisfactions you've expressed give me some idea of your personal priorities - I think you want a smooth, forgiving tonal balance; excellent inner detail and articulation; good dynamic contrast (though that's not the top priority); natural timbre and rich textures; fairly deep bass extension (subterranian not necessary); excellent soundstaging characteristics (especially in depth); and last but not least long-term fatigue-free listening. Correct me where I'm wrong, and add anything else you see fit. And if you'd like to play along, I could use a little more information:

Would you prefer very good soundstaging for a single listener, or good soundstaging over a wide listening area?

Would you prefer more of a front-of-the-hall presentation, or a more middle-of-the-hall presentation?

Could you rank by relative importance: Good sound at low volume; good sound at medium volume; and good sound at high volume. What's the loudest (at the listening position) that you normally listen?

How much flexibility do you have in speaker placement?

And finally, are there any other traits you especially want - or do NOT want - in a speaker?

If you want to explore this line of thinking, I'll try to come up with a few potentially useful suggestions. Don't worry - I'm more than willing to suggest something I don't sell if I think that would better meet your needs.

Best wishes,

Assuming break in, a couple of thoughts:

1. Get some sound treatment to deal with First reflections to avoid any brightness caused by the windows.

2. Most important, IMHO:
The Revel, Hovland, and Metronome are all VERY revealing pieces of equipment. Anyone of them (less with Metro) would potentially make you feel the system was "univolved" or "thin" at times since there is no coloration and they reveal so much of what is up stream.

To shoot at cabling only is like throwing a rock into Lake Michigan and hoping to change the water level. It needs to be done but not until you deal with the synergy of the R/H/M. Something or two, needs to go. The tube amp is not enough to counter the effects of these 3 peices.

Also, the Revel's alway get such mixed reviews... I wonder. My guess is that they are just a VERY difficult speaker to match. So when you match wrong, you get the bad reviews and when you match right, you get the great reviews.

I would start with changing the speaker. No speaker, IMO, is worth the hassle of trying to find the perfect synergy. I want a system that comes together eaiser than that.

Frankly, I think the Hovland is close to the same as the Revel is in being hard to match. When you get very transparent revealing stuff like this it presents a unique issue in dealing with making the sound "live or warm".

3. The other issue is how long you lived with your last speaker. This makes it hard to accept a new sound as being complete. I won't say more but it is going to, probably, haunt you to some extent no matter what you do.

4. Did you audition this stuff at all? Individually or as a system? These are pretty popular names/models right often people buy the name without thought to the synergy aspect of putting something together. When buying at this level you should have a very clear, and very personal experience, with what the sound characteristics of each piece of equipment you are investing in. If you don't have a dealer where you can hear these things you are at a serious disavantage. Best case of all is to hear the system you want, at home or at store, to fully understand the dynamics.

5. Related to all these things, especially #4, is synergy and picking equipment that works together...regardless of name, price, or style. It is hard to do this but worth the effort. I have been forunate enough to have a good friend who owns a shop who has the magic touch when it comes to this synergy issue. This balancing everything and bringing in cables at the end to touch things up a bit here and there. Don't depend on the cables to transform the system. It will play a part, a very important part, but it is the icing on the cake so to speak.

Hope this helps, have fun.

PS If it was me, I would sell all the stuff and start over.
In my experience, the word "involving" is typically attributable to the speaker/room placement. Because of the other soundstage type problems you mentioned, I think this is the place to start.

My room is much smaller, but I've had movements as small as a couple inches affect what I characterize as "involving". You may want to start by trying a closer listening position and/or different toe-in.

The other culprit could be the pre-amp/amp impedance matching thing mentioned previously. Call the manufacturers of your equipment and tell them the problem and associated equipment. They will know infinitely more than probably anyone on this board about how your equipment may be interacting. Good luck.
Dear Audiokinesis: Thanks for the input and yeah I want to "play along". First, you pretty much nailed my listening biases. The only thing not mentioned in your analysis is what I would call differentiation of instrumental timbres, which perhaps you simply stated in another way. I listen to all kinds of music at genrally medium volume for serious listening. I do crank it up on rock now and then, when I'm doing something else, and this system does play loud. But, you wouldn't want to listen carefully for too long under such circumstances because I think it gets hard after awhile. I prefer wider dispersion and front of the hall presentation although this particular aspect is not that important. In other words, I could live with middle of the hall.

I have some flexibility in speaker placement, but doubt that I can move them more than a couple of more feet into the room. There is furniture in there.

In terms of rolling the front end tubes, I'm not sure what you mean. All of the KT90s are fairly new. The OA2s are not new, but the other two (whose umbers I can't remember are also not too old).
jeez tuna, you give this great synopsis and then your PS, How disheartening.

It seems to me that Duke has nailed things down quite well. You are going from a warm system to ultra high resolution that presents greater challenges in matching ancillaries. The speakers are probably so different from what you are coming from that in addition to the transparent components in front, are presenting a sound you are having problems with. The quality or lack of the recordings can also play a big part in overall enjoyment long term. High resolution is no free ride, there is a price to pay the piper. I DO understand your dilemna. I have been there. As tuna notes synergy is key and you haven't found it and most likely won't with your current lineup, cables notwithstanding. I think if you are not too attached to the speakers, it is the first component to consider replacing if not outright ditch. I would look for something with a warmer balance maybe between the Revel and Snell. Since you lived with the Snell so long they must have been doing something right.

I don't feel you will be happy long term with the Revel in the mix. View this for what it's worth, one man's .02.