Orchestral brass and fanfare - analysis of system

The question is - where do the elements of great brass reproduction reside in a system? In the story below, I think performance is limited by either my amp or tweeter. What do you think?

And now my story ...
My system at present:

Electrocompaniet EMC1 CDP with MKII upgrade
Pass Labs X-1 Pre
Krell KAV250a amp
B&W Nautilus 805s
Audioquest interconnect
Discovery speaker cable.

What I hear from individual solo brass instruments:
Lyrical sound with good harmonics and good "Pratt".
Equally good with coronets, flugels, trombones, baritones;
french horns may be a little compressed - but then that is their natural sound. Works equally well on loud and soft passages.

What I hear from symphonic brass in fanfare is different:
[e.g. Copland - new world symphony ]The "Pratt" is still there, mids and lows are good, however the highs become compressed at LOUD volumes. On low volume passages the system relaxes into my comfort zone again.

My own thoughts:

1. Is this the sound of clipping?
2. Is this the metal tweeter on the 805s?
3. Is this amp unable to open up the speakers enough?
(Krell generally has plenty of headroom - even the KAVs)
4. Have I hit the wall with what my speakers can do?
I believe you are experiencing the limits of recording practices and therefore this is a software issue. Garbage in, garbage out.
I agree with Lugnut. Every recording is different, and no single recording is absolutely perfect. Never judge your system based on one recording. Try to listen to as many similar albums as possible and you will see how your system handles the brass on a variety of recordings. That's the only way to get an accurate reading of how your system handles that particular element of a recording.

Different recordings were done with different players, in different rooms, by different engineers, using different equipment and different media...mixed and mastered by different engineers using different equipment and different media...pressed in different plants by different people using different equipment. Like audiophiles...all engineers have their own ideas of what music should sound like. Their recordings will reflect their individual taste and skill (or lack thereof).
you might just be overloading your room with the high frequencies. I assume you ment Copeland's symphony #3, and i'm assuming that you are referring to Reference Recording's edition in HDCD. You might try a some different recordings to see if you have a continuing problem or if your problem is with this one cd and your cdp.
Not only, Patrick!
The symphonical brass recordings do stress a lot the speaker drivers with the widest freequency spectrum including unaudiable freequencies(that basically signify the tembre of a particular instrument or group) that are present in this case on significant levels that are probably beyond the speaker curve. To reproduce symphonical brass I believe there should be the power-hungry full-range speakers and a huge power to drive them. If these conditions are not met there will be a huge amout of destructive mutual influence between different instruments and the ONLY ONLY way to cut this problem to the roots is to go to the concert hall and listen to it live.
Thus, the only test for the speaker/amp I don't do is the symphonical brass mentioned here even despite my adoring of Symphony 5 and 9 of Beethoven. Not for my budget or even not for my twice-budget either.
In case with CD or even HDCD(forbid my analogue habbit skeptics) the highs are extreamly limited and cut and so might and probably do inflict such distortions that are unaudiable on higher volume levels but still I bet present.
I must say that the author of this forum should contact Sean(the member of the 'gon) that has a pretty vast knowlege how it's done in reality and how expencive it could be. Also talk to Rives that might define if there is some room issues in that case.
I generally agree with the comments above, but let's take the answer a step further. If the problem proves NOT to be the recording, then I'd say the speaker is the culprit. I doubt very much that either the preamp or the power amp is the cause of the problem.

Bear in mind that massed brass generates a lot of acoustic energy in the upper mid-range, not just the high frequencies. So, you have be experiencing a limitation caused by the B&W 805's. I have sold B&W speakers professionally, and their lower-priced models can be a little edgy in the frequency range you are describing. Try borrowing a set of speakers that are known to have smooth upper-mid and high frequencies and see how the system sounds.

The last item you may want to explore are your interconnects. You don't state which model of AQ interconnects you are using, but if they are among the lower priced models that AQ makes, you might want to try a different brand, such as Kimber's Hero, or Alhpa-Core Goertz TQ2. I have found these two interconnects to do a very nice job in my own system with the upper frequencies.
As those above indicate, it could be a number of things. There's a lot of symphonic music that is quite dynamic even awesome.

If you are listening to decent recording labels such as Telarc, Reference Recordings, etc., then I would absatively posilutely disagree with those above who say it's probably the recordings.

By all means start by looking at your most inexpensive components first.

But in my experience and readings, I believe the culprit most likely is in the amplifier and it's designer. There are those who believe that all amps simply amplify the signal with a certain current and power rating being the only difference.

In my experience and reading, this is the furthest from the truth and can be the most corruptedly designed component in a given system. Some to many amps introduce potentially serious flaws at reproducing higher and/or lower frequencies, where higher volumes and/or complex music can lead to compression and/or congestion. Not to mention amps that roll off the highs or soften them or roll off the bottom end, etc.. Most of these ill-affects are coming from a design flaw or weakness within the amp.

I'm not a Krell fan anyway, so if it were me, I'd look first at the amp. But that would also be perhaps the most expensive remedy.

I forgot to mention that I also have a REL stadium III sub-woofer in the system. This is an important omission since it makes a REAL BIG difference in my system's overall sound on orchestral and brass music. Sub-woofer frequencies are an intrinsic part of the spectral presentation of trumpets (e.g.), as surprising as this was for me to realize.
Subwoofer is not enough. There probably has to be super-tweeter as well.
stenho, what i was referring to in my post regarding the CD i thought judit might be using was that this disc is HDCD encoded and i don't believe the CDP being used has HDCD playback. It's not supposed to make a difference, BUT the other day i placed a new dual layer SACD disc on one of my CDP's (not SACD) and it sounded poorly, however on another non SACD player it sounded quite nice. There is nothing wrong with the Copeland RR disc - i have it and love it. Great Brass! perhaps this is not the cd that is being used - in any event multiple CD's should be used for testing.

Judit, you are absolutely correct on the value of good bass to the spectral presentation (of most any instrument) however i'm not sure how that would affect the congestion that you hear at high levels in the upper frequence range which would be produced by the mid range/tweeter elements. are you suggesting that you could have an overload of the whole system at high levels, or that the sub cross over (i'm not familar with the REL) could be causing some problems. If so, you might try taking it out to see if you still hear the same congestion.
Judit, I'm a tad confused & much intrigued. Let's assume for a moment that the recording is not at fault (i.e. it suffers from the usual d*nm compression!). If I'm not mistaken, the fact is that you detect a compression in the fundamental upper-mids that you happened to notice with passages of brass.

Then, if "mids and lows are good, however the highs become compressed at LOUD volumes. On low volume (...) the system relaxes into my comfort zone...", the prime suspect seems to be, electronics. I just can't tell if it's the pre, the amp or a combination of the above. I'm really tempted to join Stehno's suggestion -- but that me, not Judit (although I, too, judge by classical). Let's go further.

Brass is impolite in that its harmonics can go over 50kHz it seems, & well into subwoofer areas. So, as you note, the sub has helped a lot & a super-tweet (as per Mara, above) may help some more...

This said, the above still don't address the compression issue IMO, because this comes from the main speaker, not the peripherals.
Speaker: if they're incapable to take the drive from the amp, you'd be hearing driver distortion/blowing it -- which you aren't & it isn't. Remember, we're not discussing whether it sounds "correct" - just the compression.
Likewise with the cables: if they don't like the loads on either side, you'd be complaining about more than the specified instruments and, again, the issue is not how "nice" it sounds: just the compression. The wire would make a mess of it -- but wouldn't compress (unless badly connected -- and you'd hear that across most of the the spectrum).

So, there MUST be something off with the "engine" driving the speakers; if it were the pre, I think you'd be complaining about the lower register too. That leaves us with impedance & power capability in the amp-speaker combo. If the impedance were, say, to drop inconveniently at the fundamental of the brass, & the amp were tired, it would (& will) compress. OTO, I haven't lived with a KAV250 nor with 805's (but have w/801's), and don't know WHY it would find it appropriate to compress...

But, I put forth OUR answer to your question: can you borrow an amplification power-house, ANY, and try it out? Brass is difficult but, if it's anything BUT the amp you'll know just by trying another one.
THEN we can put forth intelligent propositions.

A long way of returning to Sten's idea -- sorry. Clink!

I'm sorry I gave such a brief reply to your post. The other members have addressed your concern more fully than I have. My statement was made from listener experience since I have yet to hear a full orchestra classical recording that is reproduced to my satisfaction. My system is modest by comparrison to many here and simply may be incapable of ever satisfying that type of demanding music. I do have non-classical music that encorporates full orchestra and uses lots of brass. On a few of these recordings the effect is staggering it's so real. I have found in very general terms that a great recording is similar to spending several thousand dollars on equipment upgrades. Average pop recordings are more listenable than average classical recordings so I may have made an incorrect analogy but my experience supports my earlier post. It's my humble belief that great classical recordings are the most difficult to make of all music. The same holds true on the hardware end. Any system that can pull off classical reproduction that is satisfying is approaching the pinnacle of our hobby.
Lugnut, allow me to second your proposition.
I like Stenho's comments. Look to the amp. The impedence curve of many speakers have funky phase angles and dips in the lower midrange and so on. I've replaced several amps that otherwise sounded fine but were unmasked by symphonic brass. It was the amp and not other components that was the culprit. Of course, the speaker designer could have redesigned the crossover to make it an easier load but this was not in the cards...
I hear some very strong arguments here suggesting a link of this problem to amplifier performance. I do not know what the performance curves of the Krell look like, so I am not sure what happens at the high end. It is the weak link in my system, without doubt-it is a hometheater product.

Krell is supposed to be a good match for B&W, but perhaps the unit I own is a notch too low in the performance chain. I own a pair of Vandersteen model 3s upstairs that I will swap in, for diagnostic purposes. I am thinking I would like to try an amp like the Pass X-350, a class A design like the Krell [if I have my facts straight], but in another league entirely.

By the way, I appreciate the thought that went into many of these responses.
Judit, it's right-on Vandys3a with Pass X-350 will certainly handle this situation much better. Vandys3a have one of the best top-end extention among the speakers of its class and higher.
Judit, put a Rowland Model 10 on your list of amps to try out. I am a brass freak, having played trombone for many years, and this is an amp that gets brass reproduction right. For me, the acid test is jazz big-band at high volume. The Model 10 still sounds clean at high volumes where a lot of other SS amps don't.

Also, you may want to look into speakers with soft-dome tweeters. Metal domes have resonances that seem to be excited by brass instruments more than other types which makes them sound harsh.

As someone else mentioned, the room is probably also being overloaded. So, to get the sound you want, you may need to address several things. Each contributes to the whole.
A final note (short this time). You may want to try a Symphonic Line Kraft 250 classA. It's one of the best machines I've heard for driving speakers full range (Nautilus). In your case the sub will make things even easier...
The limit on most systems *is* the tweeter. In general the speakers are guilty of *most* of the non-linear distortion - which increases with level no matter what. After that the worst offender is the amp. Most amps have problems in the power supplies where the rail voltages downward modulate on creshendi, and this causes a sort of distortion. Usually it is heard as a reduction in definition and space. Most noticeable on BIG choral pieces (try Dorian...) adding big brass instruments makes most amp/speakers go all to hell.

You can check this to some extent by dropping the levels about 10dB on playback and letting your hearing threshold recover adequately (read: wear earplugs for an hour) before listening.

All this *assumes* that the basic sound of the rest of the signal chain is not "challenged" and sounds pristine (big assumption).

This also assumes that your room *is* as previously mentioned not being overpowered and does not have a nasty problem with HF standing waves...

That relates to your playback level too. MOST home speakers will NOT go much louder than about 100 - 109dB range. EVEN at those levels there is significant added IM and THD. So,
you need to keep in mind that your peaks could exceed the output capabilities of both your amps and your speakers, depending upon what the average level you chose to listen at is. Which is one reason that some of the larger speakers, line source speakers and horn speakers offer some advantages in this department. (it's all yin/yang no matter what..)