Problems with my Berning ZH270

Don´t know what happen with my Berning ZH270 amp. I have Merlin VSM-M speakers and Electrocompaniet CD player. The amp is very fast and clear, but also bright, bright, bright.
I have tried Cardas Golden Reference interconnects, Nordost SPM speaker cables (and much more wires), without any improve. I have just add a LA-100 Joule preamp and things are now better, but not enough.
Tube rolling?. Another amp?. Wich amp (I would like to keep my new Joule preamp). Thank you.
George it sounds like you might have a room problem if you are getting brightness out of that amp with the Golden Reference cables and Joule LA-100. I'm sure it isn't the Electrocompaniet either. What are your room dimensions including height? Positioning of speakers etc.

The Berning is not intrinsically bright and neither are any of the components you are using with the Merlin's.
Merlins ar bright bright bright.
I'm going to guess that your tonal balance problem is a lack of bottom end, which shows up as brightness. Addressing this situation may well involve radically re-arranging your room. To test out this hypothesis without moving stuff all around, try listening up against the rear wall (the one behind your listening position), and see if the tonal balance doesn't improve when you do so.

The Nordost SPM can be a bit tipped-up in balance also; you might try Audience Au-24 instead (disclaimer - I peddle Audience).

The Merlins are superb loudspeakers and worth all the trouble they will put you through as you bring the rest of your system into focus around them.
Many have said the same Marakanetz, myself included when I first got my pair over 3 years ago. On the other hand many have ended up eating those words for lunch when they heard these speakers properly set-up. I know of several first hand. They are very intolerant of poor system matching, no forgiveness at all. As Duke notes, they can be a hassle but when things come together they are about as good as it gets in this hobby. This is the reason Bobby P. spends so much time with his customers, to help and advise them in this very critical part of owning the VSM. No one knows this more than he.

George. We need to know HOW bright it is. You must be comparing with something else (your previous amp, perhaps?). In my experience, ZH270 has much better and controlled bass than many other tube amps. In fact, I deferred sub-woofer purchase for a year. Your expression sounds like the "brightness" you suffer is not something cable swap or tube rolling can resolve. Did you buy it new? I suggest you check the ZH270 whether it is in perfect condition. Maybe you want to talk to David, who is known to be very sensitive and keen resolving these issues from his amps. Or, maybe it is just not your cup of tea.
You might try some Marigo bands and dots on your speaker cones and basket arms, especially on the woofers and midrange drivers. If you have any windows apply the Marigo dot treatment to them as well, if you don't mind their visual effect.

I have a very bright listening room, and a very sensitive system, and the Marigo resonance control products have helped me in very significant ways. Not only will they tame problems areas, they will also improve performance of your whole system.

If you choose to try these, do the woofer bands and windows first.

I share Duke's hunch on the issue of tonal balance. It is amazing how improving the performance of one element in the spectrum will improve other areas passively.
try taming your reflections. it worked for me (in spades)
George, I have (almost) the identical system to yours--EMC I CD, Merlins', and Berning 270's, although I have two running as monoblocks. I tried Quattro FIl IC's--no go, too bright, IMO. Haven't tried SPM's, although some would say there is a Nordost 'house sound'. Using HMS Gran FInale IC's, now, much better. Will (Tubegroover) would probably say my speaker cables (stage3's) are still a little too bright :)( Hey Will, check your email).
Sorry to get off topic. However, the biggest improvement came when I moved my speakers, so I would support suggestions to that effect above. Also, as Khokugo asks, what was your previous amp? And do you have any of the mods on the Berning (ERS, etc.)? The Berning's reputation is for utter neutrality, not brightness. If you are comparing it to a traditional tube amp, it won't sound like that.
Hi George,

Before spending a dime, I would definitely talk to Bobby and figure out how to best place the speakers in your room. I recently switched cables and it didn't sound quite right. I angled the speakers out a bit more (maybe an inch...certainly not more than a couple of degrees) and everything fell into place. Try setting them up according to Bobby's recommendations, or the Golden Ratio set up on Cardas' website. Experiment from there. You'll know when you get it right. And be patient...a few inches towards or away from the wall can make a rather large difference in bass and depth, and the angle does the same for cohesive treble, soundstage width, etc.

If that doesn't help, make sure the room isn't too bright (lots of wood floors, glass, bare walls, etc.). After that, I'd definitely recommend a cable other than the Nordost. They do have excessive treble IMO, which is perfect for many speakers, but not for one with the Esotar tweeter. I've tried Cardas, Luminous Renaissance, Audience AU24, and TG Audio (the last being silver), and all are great in different ways. The Luminous Renaissance is the best deal price-wise...I'd say I prefer the Audience AU24 in most ways, but they are 3X as much. The TG Audio are excellent, but silver (so maybe not the best for brightness problems). TUbes can also make a huge difference, so those are also well worth messing with if all else fails (though a little trickier buy and sell).

Good luck!
I'm in agreement with others with regard to the Nordost cables. Those I've heard sound lean. The balance can then sound bright in a system.
George, I had a similar problem to yours a bit ago. I have the Merlins, the Berning and an Audiomecca Mephisto. I have been using the Golden Refs as speaker cables ever since I got the Merlins both before and after I got the Berning. My problem was solved with a switch of ics between the cd player and preamp. I moved my purenotes from between the cd player and preamp to between the preamp and the Berning and then switch in some Luminous Synchestra refs between the cd player and pre. Voila my brightness problem was solved and my system has been incredible ever since.

I think my problem was, at least in part, the room. I have treated it to a degree but can't give it a full treatment. My ceiling is on the low side and I think I get some nasty reflections off of it. If your situation is anything like mine, and based on my experience, I seriously doubt the Berning is the culprit. Rather, I am with those who posted above, it is most likely your placement of the Merlins and/or your cables.
Hi George,
I have own an EMC1 UPsampler CDP, Berning amp and a pair of Rosinante Dulcineas ( from Ric Cummins). As I have expeerienced so far my system sounds awesome (detail, musical and little dynamic) to me by using Nordost Quattro-Fils XLR (I have tried RCA but it sounds lean and bright to me) and Jaden speaker cables from Ric Cummins. You should use a balanced interconnects from your EMC1 to Berning by using Cardas balanced adapter (best performed way of EMC1). Otherwise, did you use Telefunken ECC801s as the inputs to Berning amp? I am now using Shun Mook valve resonators to tweak and make my system sounds even better with more dynamic musical bass and high (I love it).

What kind of power conditioner and power cord are using for? I use Elrod EPS2-S for CDP and EPS-3S for Berning amp.
Let me know if you need help. Thanks.
I heard Merlins with quite great amp SIM-W5 but by all means never it tend to sound so bright with different speakers.
The crossover that mostly is at fault(driving system out of tonal balance) must probably be redesigned in these speakers otherwise using electronic one with removed built-in might solve the problem.
Second solution is to integrate your system with sub giving your speakers (that tend to be "bass-less" by its design) easier task for the proper tonal balance limiting "visible" freequencies mainly.
Hi and thanks. I am comparing with my old Gryphon Callisto integrated amplifier. It sounded softer but, incredebly, the ZH270 has better low control.
What we have here is the fable of the eight blind men describing an elephant.
What George needs, is the dreaded, (drum roll and oooooh's)Brick and Mortar store guy with a brain larger than a peanut. They are difficult to find I know, since I traveled over the country for THIEL as Director of Sales for a while, and visited more than 100 stores.
Joe, er, a George, stated that it is bright sounding. I have a friend (former) who has this exact ststem, and while it is not my taste, it is not inherently bright. The Merlins lack weight below 50hz (read impact and tonality) in the room I heard them in and with this equipment. (Note the caveats there)
Disassemble the system, clean all connections.When finished first try another speaker in the system (bookshelf if you have to) and see if the sound persists. (Bookshelf since it likely has less bass) This will let you know if the problem is coming through some elevated sound/combination/flaw. Then check as someone astutely pointed out, the law of reciprocity for bass. Bass sounds the same at adjascent relative points. The former friend of mine had a low ceiling, cramped room but benefited from a nearfield experience. This won't allow for bass development, but it sure eliminates lots of other problems. Also, try something like a power conditioner, since we have headed into summer, maybe all the noise in the line generated by the hundreds of air conditioners, are coming through.
Lastly, get another opinion of someone like your wife or significant other. George's problem sounds new, not old. Connections to the BM may have become loose, the batteries low. If this is my former friend, (when I rebuilt his crossover, I may have (since I am now disabled with back problems from surgery) not done the best of jobs on some of the soldering. I know that all the geniuses out there don't want to hear it because unprovable speculation is always more fun than facts, but great dealers are worth their weight in gold.(ie, I hate this shit, take it back)
Good Luck George, but for God's sake don't run out and buy a bunch of crap. Start back from scratch, putting the system back like it was before you began the problem, then work forward til its there.
Larry R. Staples
As a follow up. George's statement was conclusion selective. He blames the amp for the problem, and offers no explanation of any actions he may have taken to solve the problem. To reiterate, start over and keep adding pieces until the problem manifests itsself again, using replacement speakers if necessary to replicate the problem.
My earlier comments about the Brick and mortar guys was a little harsh, but unfortunately true. They have created such a false mystique around this stuff, in their pseudo intellectual approach, that everyone with an opinion is an expert since no imperical evidence to the contrary exists in some of these obtuse areas.
The fun in this business is the chase, I know because I am still chasing that Holy Grail. But so what, my liquor intake is eaten up with audio expenditures now, even with my professional accommodation pricing. But I will continue to look.
George if you want private consultation email me personally at I have solved problems like this hundreds of times, most often without additional expense. Oh, but the chase....... What did Spock say, "You will soon find that wanting is much greater than having."
Larry R. Staples
I own a Gryphon Callisto, and I can tell you that the Berning does not go nearly as deep, linearly as the Gryphon. The speakers in question, the Merlins don't even go there,(don't get me wrong I have known Bob P. since 1987 and love him. He is one of the good guys and a brilliant designer) so this description has to be an abberation. First of all, a lack of bass, can sound like more control, and this would have to be the answer. Plus, try using the Gryphon with a pair of speakers which can actually go down into the 16hz reqion, like the VSA 4 HSE III, this is the better way to judge bass control. Saying this, would be analagous to saying that a Volkswagen Beetle does not handle well at 240 mph, it doesn't happen, so there is no basis for judgement.
Hi Tubegroover. My room is 5 meters long, 4mt wide and 3mt high. I didn´t has problems with my older systems. A friend of mine is going to bring home his ZH270 to compare to mine, so I will no if there is anything wrong with mine. If I can´t resolve this problem I would go back to solid state, keeping the Joule as pre. After trying for so long is sad, I really hope my ZH270 can go well. My speakers are placed more than 1mt away from the back and side walls. I have a big carpet and I have used the alignement tool provided by Merlin. Thank you very much.
Hi George

So the speakers are placed 1 meter from the back and side walls on the 4 m wall? Where is your listening position relative to the speakers? As Duke notes, if you position the chair against or close to the back wall, see if the bass comes back. It does seem you are getting too much high frequency energy relative to the bass which would make things sound bright. But this usually can be fixed . The Merlins can astound you with their bass but it takes trial and error and minute changes in position to zero in on it.

Do you have any treatments at the reflection points on the side walls or absorption devices behind the speakers or in the corners? I was having a similar problem with my Merlin/Berning set-up, different pre and source but really improved the bass dramatically with the addition of some home brewed bass traps placed in the corners and behind and between the speakers. Another trick might be to run the speakers on the diagonal if you have the space.

Of course the tonal balance of the amp may not be something you are used to relative to the Gryphon. I would try moving things around and experimenting and definitely consider room treatments. A while back there was another Berning owner with similar problems you are describing that gave up way too soon, it is not the amp. Don't give into that temptation just yet. The Berning can sound lean if you aren't getting the bass you expect and should receive from this combo. And forget about tube rolling and tweeks for now and keep your focus on speaker placement, listening position and treatment. Check out this site for info on these devices, inexpensive but extremely effective.

There is also some very detailed information about bass traps and diy treatments at this link:

Good luck and please keep up posted. Please don't give up though, the Berning is really stellar with the VSM when all is right, ask Bobby P., he'll give you the low down.
Hi George,

Once again...take your room dimensions, plug them into one of the speaker set-up ratios (Bobby's or Cardas') and see where the speakers AND you should be your particular room. The above post is right in asking where you are positioned relative to the speakers. Any of those variables can change the sound drastically...making any speaker/amp combo too boomy, thin, bright...whatever. Mess with that and try the free fixes first. If you have no placement flxibility for the speakers (or yourself) then you may have chosen the wrong combo for your particular room (although the Merlins are usually ideal for smaller rooms with nearfield listening).
Hi George
I have almost your exact system. The ZH270, the VSMM's and the EC dac. I don't have a brightness problem at all. I have not used any of your IC's but I don't think that should be a problem. Before you do anything, call Bobby at Merlin and I'm sure he will help. He really is one of the good guys in this industry. good luck
84audio, are you Larry's former friend? Just curious.
George, I have read that some knockoff Bernings are floating around. You might contact Dave Berning with your serial number. Also, Allan Bhagan might be a good resource for you. I can count the number of great dealers on 1 hand, and Allan is among the best. He knows more about the Berning than anyone. You can reach him at He sold me the ERS upgrade for the Berning which is an unbeleivable improvement. and wellfed, yes I am Larr'ys friend.
Hi. I don´t live in USA, but I bought my Berning from Allan, brand new. Yesterday I change my NOS Telefunken and it seems that the sound go better. I change the tubes inmediately after receiving the amp, I have not listen to music more than few hour with the original tubes. My fault.
Thank you very much for the help I have received from everyone.

One question - what kind of rack/isolation support do you have your components resting on?
Hello gain, George.
Well, glad you got ZH from Allan because I had heard that outdated worn down ZH270s are floating in the used market.
I never mean to imply that the stock unit is inferior in any way, but cryoed output tubes will give you one notch up. ERS kit, in my case, would give another TWO notches up. And, yes, good feet (Stillpoints, specifically) would give further notch. Since I don't have your speaker and source, I don't have any more meaningful suggestion except for adding subwoofer. Hope you will find ZH an exceptional piece of equipment. Welcome to the club.
When dealing with such very transparent designs, every little change seems monumental.
Case in point, there are some Berning owners who at first, complain that the unit was warm.
OTL's, especially the Berning is about truth, clarity and correct tonality, tubes are what you hear, not an output transformer, therefore tubes can make the biggest difference, CD player, IC's and power cords can also be detrimental to the sound.
Objects that are magnetic, that are nearby can also have negative effects on the sound of the amp.
Even the room becomes more critical, as more HF energy is entering into it.

Speakers can sometimes also be a culprit, many speakers are not truly liner, but in the case of the Merlin's, I assure you, this is not the so.

It takes patience and some getting use to the truth and as one interested Berning customer reminded me of a movie with Jack Nicklison, truth....., you can't handle the truth :)
Truth comes with a price, you need to have nothing in your system causing trouble, the amp will not correct for that, it will not mask it or change it.

The Berning is certainly not an amp for everyone and neither are Merlin's speakers for everyone but those of you who have this combination and have worked out the rest of the system, you an I know that there is nothing else out there to compare
I have a Lovan Classic rack "upgraded" with a silestone shelf.

The reason I asked about your rack and isolation tweaks was because I have found that small changes can have a large effect on tone (I have Merlin speakers with Joule gear).

Is it possible the Silestone quartz shelf is causing some ringing that is translating to brightness? One relatively cheap experiment is to buy an Ikea lack table (if you live near one) and put the tabletop without legs under the components, one by one, to see what happens.

Good luck, Bill
And one last thing George, if Allan hasn't talked you into the ERS as Khogugo notes, the cryoed 6jn6 outputs will move you up a notch but the ERS will just knock you out. It is the single largest improvement I have heard with this amp including various NOS input tubes, dampers, still points etc. The ERS really lowers an already low noise floor to allow you to hear further into the music. It sounds like you have your hands full for now but definitely consider this in the future, you won't regret it.
Thank you. Have you tried the 12AT7 Brimar black plates or the 12AT7/CV4024 Mullard CRYO ??. Would I have a warmer sound from them?. This is my first tube amp and I just learning. Thanks again.
Please contact Andy at Vintage tube services, the RCA's seem to be the best bang for the buck.
Andy is the only other person besides David Berning and myself that have the perimeters of the amp and what the tubes require to be, Make sure you tell Andy it's for a ZH-270.
Hi Allan. How can I contact Andy?. Thank you.
George, my observations match those of Allan. If you follow his advice, and still have a problem with the high frequencies, I would again direct you to the Marigo dots, especially on windows.

You are in for a treat with Andy Bouwman's matched tubes. I recently put a pair of Andy's Sylvania 6SN7 tubes in the input section of my OTL amps and the high frequency performance was just outstanding. I have a complete set of Andy's Sylvania 6SN7's in my preamp and they were a great upgrade as well. His tubes are expensive, but well worth the cost IME.

If you end up trying the Marigo dots, I would enjoy hearing about your results. BTW, do you have windows in your listening room?
George, Andy's phone number is 616-454-3467, you may also want to try the ERS kit, it's substantial, as I am sure all the other Berning owners will tell you, it's more than any tube change.
Hi Allan and thank you. For wellfed, I have 2 windows covered by courtins, thanks.
it's gotta be your cdp.
don't let antone tell you that the solution lies in changing your tubes. i have the same rig except i have a capitole mkI cdp. no brightness at all - just great music!!
Can Allan describe the ERS kit oor the zh-270 as to what it entails and how much it costs? Thanks, Mike Cassidy
any of u guys in NY?? i have the merlins w/ Cary 805c. I would like to see if the berning sounds better. i live in queens...thanks
There are a couple of Berning owners in NYC but non at this thread.

The ERS kit is a electromagnatic radio frequency suppresser, takes about 10 minutes to install, they are covers, price is $200.00+ $6.00 ship.