Question for classical lovers

First of all, I grew up listening to classical and jazz, vinyl for the most part, I remember it being pleasant with no fatigue. Later, with low end gear, it was impossible to listen to classical CDs because of the edgy harsh strings. Now with respectible entry level or mid-fi gear that I have tried or auditioned, some of the recordings sound great but majority still suck. I have added tube preamps like AI modulus and Van Alstine in the chain but the problem still exists. So are the majority of CDs just bad digital recordings or transfers or is most gear out there just incapable of handling complex musical passages? Also, quite a few SACDs out there make me and my dog cringe!(must be the 100Khz response or whatever) Do I sell one of my cars and buy some exotic gear or ditch it all and get a TT?
How about you or your room? There are many, many excellent classical recordings out there. Heck, that's all I really listen to and, believe me, if they were not satisfying, I would not be in this game.

Rotarius, maybe you're like me (and Neil Young), an analog guy.

The good news is , most of the great classical performances were pressed on LP and many have been redone by Classic Records and are EXCELLENT.

Just buy an inexpensive TT, arm and cartridge and see if the sound returns you to that "warm and fuzzy feeling" (as it does for me).

Buying used here at Audiogon means you can try this gig and later dispose of the pieces (if they don't make you happy) with little or no loss.

Let us know how you fare.
I was lucky enough to find a store in my area that has hundreds or even a thousand classical vinyl LPs and each is about five dollars. Its pretty hard to beat great vinyl recordings, especially for the money. I bought a stock MMF-7 and a Pro-ject phono pre-amp and th sound at least equals my beautiful Classe CDP. I say, go vinyl and have fun shopping for LPs.
I think Kal's comments might well apply...You could well need to work on your room. You might also re-examine the synergy of your components and your room.
FWIW, I do a lot of listening to digital classical on a system using a tube CDP and/or DAC, a tube pre-amp and tube amp with a moderatly priced pair of dynamic speakers which are very revealing. I have carefully set up my room and I do not share your experiences at all. I will admit that my electronics err slightly on the warm side of neutral which makes instruments with a lot of lower midrange-upper bass sound much more natural.
The majority DO suck! There is a wasteland of 10-15 years (early 80s to mid 90s) where classical CDs–except from some smaller labels like Telarc, Chandos, Chesky, Reference Recordings, and a few others who managed to produce excellent sounding productions–are painful to listen to. The large labels piled crap-on-crap as far as sonics. Some exceptions were Decca and (some) Philips.recordings. Reissues on CD of previously excellent sounding analog releases were also a disgrace. These same analog recordings are now turning up on more tolerable sounding SACDs but still can’t quite equal the sound of an LP played (even) on a reasonably priced turntable system.

With some of the newer, higher sampling digital processors and players the shrillness and metallic quality of some of these offensive recordings can be tamed but not completely cured. It is a shame so many excellent recordings by great artists were butchered by such crappy sound. The situation seems to have improved in recent years. I guess the complaints (maybe even from the artists themselves) started to pile up enough that someone took notice.

So be careful what you buy and read some of the opinions of other members here. Members, Rushton and Texasdave, have given some excellent choices in the past on these forums that have assisted me in my purchases.

Rotarius, you've posed an issue I've resolved for myself by staying firmly with LPs in my classical music collection. At the same time, I have a number of audio friends who derive great pleasure from classical music via CD, such as Audigon members Texasdave and Trcnetmsncom.

Here are a few classical CD suggestions for you to try that I know can sound good with well-tuned digital front end (there are certainly others):

Rutter, Requiem, Reference Recordings 57
Bax, Symphony No. 6 or No. 7, David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos
Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto, Wallenstein/LSO with Perlman on Chesky

None of these have the ease and naturalness of sound that I hear from a comparable LP on a decent turntable setup, but all have quite reasonable string tone. If they don't work for you, then either some work on your audio system is needed, or, like me and Albert Porter, you may just need to shift back to a turntable. ;-)

Vvrinc, glad some of the music suggestions have resonated well with you!
Rotarius-I feel your pain! I loved my vinyl, and refused to even consider buying a cassette or even a reel to reel. When CD's came along, I was taken by the great S/N ratio, dynamic range, etc, but--- something wasn't right!

I bought my first CD player in 1984. Most of the early digital recordings were really bad. About 1990, we started getting some recordings that were better. 20-25 years after the birth of digital, we are starting to get equipment and recordings that really draw me back to long listening sessions rather than running me out of the room after 15 minutes. Vinyl is fussy and high maintenance but can be really rewarding, if you pay your dues. Digital is relatively easy, and there is an abundance of recorded material out there. It’s getting a whole lot better. I recently bought an Audio Mirror D-1, and I'm quite fond of that little box. It's not quite analog, but its certainly not digital sounding as we have come to know digital. If you think about the enormous leap in quality that vinyl saw from 1955 to 1980, maybe we are on a similar timetable with digital. We are about 25 years in now. I think we are about to get digital right, at long last.

Agree with Vvrinc that the majority 80's-90's recordings sound bad, but a good CDP can improve things enormously. Just curious: What kind of CDP do you use?
Thank you all for your responses thus far. As for system synergy, let me say that I am not just talking about my current set of separates, my opinions stem from trying a lot of DACs, preamps, amps etc. and I am tired of it. Now room acoustics is the one aspect I have ignored and being recently divorced, well I don't have much by the way of plush furniture. I will work on that aspect and I am sure it will help reduce fatigue to some extent. In my collection, 1 out 6 recordings are tolerable where the massed strings are etchy but "listenable". Only a handful are silky smooth and if even 1 or 2 sound great, it stands to reason that your equipment has the potential to resolve complex music. In fact, I have been happy with how most other instruments sound as well as the imaging, sound staging, vocals etc, on various equipment. I recently had a Cal Sigma tube dac driving an AVA hybrid pre and thought the tubes rolled off the highs but the strings still felt rough just not as prominently. To eliminate the possibility that it could be my sensitive hearing, I will buy the titles mentioned above and see where I stand. If someone here has heard the new hybrid sacd LSO live release of Brahms 4/Haitink, I would like to know your opinion. I was surprised at how etchy and unnatural the strings sounded even on sacd layer. I hope I am not the only one who thinks that!
Anyway, Brownsfan, I kinda thought I'd give the non-OS DACs a try so I bought the Poth Audio equivalent to the Audio Mirror to experiment. I have maybe 20 hours on it and a ordinary coax cable so I can't critically evaluate it yet but so far it added punch, cleaner midrange but can't say that it smoothed out the highs. That maybe because of the coax cable though, I have a better one coming so hopefully I can get rid of some jitter otherwise I just want to step back for a bit, enjoy College football for a while and then focus on getting back to LPs.
Jburidan, I have tried several cdps in the past couple of months as standalones and transports. I used an older ES changer C7xxxx, brand new scd-2000es sacd player, Marantz cd5400, Marantz cc4300, cheapo Pioneer universal, cambridge 300se. I tried the Cal sigma and now the DAC-AH. From what I read here, I should have got a MH cd-25 or the Onix equivalent to try out.
Big orchestral is really hard to record. Always has been. It's also very difficult to create a good illusion of a huge ensemble in a normal size room. We tend to make more compromises in playback here than for other types of music. Of course there's a spectrum- some systems do it better than others. In terms of timbre, I've had a similar experience with the string brightness. Check out the vinyl. But whatever you do, don't only buy the audiophile recordings. The recorded classical repertoire is vast, and there is some utterly fantastic stuff out there that just isn't recorded very well. Confining yourself to Reference Recordings and Chesky seems like the wrong way to go.
"If someone here has heard the new hybrid sacd LSO live release of Brahms 4/Haitink, I would like to know your opinion. I was surprised at how etchy and unnatural the strings sounded even on sacd layer. I hope I am not the only one who thinks that!"

You have all the luck. This is one of the least successful of all the LSOLive series. If you want to hear string tone, try one of the Linn SACDs, especially the Sibelius tone poems.

Kr4, glad you confirmed the poor quality of the LSO release. It's such a hit or miss thing for me becasue all my purchases are done online. I live in Oklahoma, not exactly the classical Mecca of America, I am surrounded by country music, aaarrrgggghhhh! Anyway, I just discovered the Linn website thanks to you.
Lousyreeds1, I have to agree with you there, too much music to ignore that's why I might have to have vinyl in my set-up and pay closer attention to the reviews on this website.
Rotarius, Here's a project for you if you really want help and honest commentary from a lot of folks here who are seriously qualified to help........

List all of your present equipment including speakers. Describe in detail how you have your equipment and listening position set up, down to the inches. Describe your room HxWXL. Describe openings. Describe wall's and decorations. When discussing tube equipment ID the tubes being used (can make a big difference).

And, think again about your memories. They may not be based on anything much more that events in which you really wern't paying much attention to the quality of the sound - more likely you were just enjoying the music.

Lastly, without knocking LP's whatsoever, there is a lot of dreck on vinyl as well as CD's. And matching analog components, setting them up and maintaining them, can be in the long run a lot more challenging than setting up a decent CD based system. Vinyl may well be better on some recordings and in some systems, but it ain't the quick and easy cure some would think and make you believe.

FWIW, you can get high quality CD sound with modest equipment if you pay attention to the set up of your room and speakers. If you don't do this first even the best equipment can sound like crap and likely will. Think high frequency distortion caused by improperly damped 1st reflection points, mid/high frequency glare or emphasis caused by listening to the speakers not properly positioned toe in wise. The list goes on.

But in the end how you proceed is your choice. I appoligize if this sounded negative or like a lecture. It wasn't so intended.
Lousyreeds, I noticed you said you live in Oklahoma. So do I, in the Oklahoma City Area. If you live around here, you are welcome to drop by and see how things sound in a different system. My system is biased towards the LP though. I have a few classical on vinyl and maybe you can compare to a CD. Good luck on solving the edgy strings.
Rotarius, Here's a quick response. If your tweeters are metal domes, and your amp is solid state, to my ears that is a surefire recipe for premature onset of listening fatigue. I just don't like metal dome tweeters (even expensive ones), and now that I've "got religion" I'm a believer in tube amps and preamps and wouldn't go back to solid state. I'm a longtime classical CD guy, although my friends Rushton and Albertporter are longtime vinyl guys; we don't need to relive the endless digital vs. analog argument here. But for what it's worth, and not knowing any more than I do about your setup, I'd suggest that something other than metal dome tweeters and solid state amplification would be a step in the right direction, and I second the suggestion that addressing room acoustics with a view to softening and damping them is a good idea: a hard, bright, reflective room is bad news, obviously, and tends to reinforce what people don't like about digital sound. Soft, heavy, overstuffed furniture, heavy carpets, heavy drapes, bookshelves loaded with books--all these help, and in addition of course there are those audiophile acoustic room-treatment products. Good luck and let us know how you fare.
When you clap your hands in your room does it give off a harsh glaring high pitched echo? just checking.

I agree as good as SACD is - there is something about the high frequency of it that can be harsh even on a good recording. I also heard my dealer talking about something about SACD high frequency and why it is sometimes hard to listen to, but I don't remember the details as to why.

Classical has some of the better recording out there. Try finding rock music that isn't bright.
Ok, it would have been nice for you guys to know what specific gear I was talking about but there have been too many changes in the last 6 months. I first wanted an all inclusive HT/2channel set-up then split it up, got other stuff which I mentioned previously, list below of what i have at the moment.

scd2000es, Dac-AH, Van alstine fet/valve, Rotel 980bx, Infinity Kappa 400 (selling next week, side firing woofer not working for my room), H/K avr330, Pioneer 653,Infinity alpha 50 + center channel + bookshelves.

Room is 25' x 15' x 8'. Speakers along short side, 6 feet apart, 2 degree toe-in or so, couch in front of speakers 8 feet away, loveseat to the right, bare wall to the left with a rug on tweeter level, carpeted floor with no echo perceived. rear bookshelves behind couch. Bare walls behind couch also (bachelor pad, what can I say?)

As for ss amplification, I really do like this Rotel amp, great value for money, has been the permanent fixture in all this, anyone else suggest I use a tube amp to radically change sound? The tweeters are the ceramic/metal types, don't sound like all metal domes at all, seems quite refined and a relaxed presentation. The Alphas which are a step below, similar drivers not as good a cabinet but warmer and I want to keep them. Other speakers tried in the room and returned or sold prior to this: Wharfedale diamond 8.4, PSB Image 4T.

Robm321, I think sacd has a problem in the highs too, not perceived in rock or jazz though, hesitated to say it for the fear of offending the audiophile gurus:) and who knows I could have faulty hearing anyway.

I am starting to enjoy this DAC-AH but still too early to call. My RCA jacks on the preamp have always been suspect for me, unsure if the center pins were making good contact. I used split center pin locking RCAs today and there was a very very noticeable improvement after cable change over, cleaner sound with more body, still waiting for the coax also.

I really appreciate the input from each and every one of you.
Rotarius, thanks for the summary of your equipment and room. I am a serious tube-aholic, but I'm not going to suggest you need to switch to a tube amp. While I'm not familiar with your particular Rotel amp, the Rotel gear I've heard has always sounded competent to me, not plagued by serious issues in the top end, and with adequately designed power supplies to meet most reasonable demands.

Instead, what I would encourage you to check first are your connections given your experience with the center pin locking RCAs. If you haven't done so, give all your connections a thorough cleaning (isoprophyl alcohol with cotton swabs is very effective, and a cleaner like "Kontak" is even more effective) and then apply a good contact enhancer (such as Caig's Pro Gold, or even better would be Walker Audio's SST or Extreme SST) as you re-connect everything. I'm consistently amazed at how much of a difference clean, tight contacts make in system performance, particularly with the high frequencies.

And then, it just may be that you need to join many of us by switching to a tube amp (and adding a turntable!) to reclaim what you once so enjoyed about classical music and the beauty and delicacy of great string tone. Good luck!
Rotarius, I keep thinking about this post and some of the insightful responses. I've got a few additional thoughts. First of all, let me say that I've gone to quite a few live performances over the last 20 years. I've heard some live performances that sound like bad recordings, so not all string playing is inherently sweet and smooth. Having said that, a year ago, I would have agreed that most CD's are poorly recorded, especially with regard to the strident strings you are hearing. Now, like Newbee, I don't agree at all. In fact, I find that really bad classical recordings are the exception. I also have found that having a few good sounding CD's doesn't mean your system is OK. In fact, during the slow upgrade process I've done over the last 9 months, I've had some treasured recordings go from lovely, to not so good, and then back to wonderful. What I have noticed is that each change I made has produced a noticeable improvement and reduced listening fatigue. I suspect that a few of the changes revealed other flaws in the system, which then required remediation. It’s a slow process, since with new cables,IC's, and electronics you need to wait out the burn in before you know what you have. No single change would have been sufficient to produce the desired result, and I'm not done yet. A year ago, it was pretty typical to limit listening to 20-30 minutes, which is clearly not acceptable. Now I can spend 3-4 hours listening and regret having to stop. It's taken some patience and time, but the result has been well worth the effort. In chronological order, I replaced my power amp (Adcom to McCormack), treated the room (Auralex), bought a decent power cord (PS Audio Statement) for the amp, bought new cables and IC's (Signal Silver) and added the AM DAC. All in all, this added up to a paltry $1500 net investment. By far, the biggest bang for the buck was $90 for room treatments. Next was the DAC, but everything I did was necessary. The Signal Silvers cables and IC's really reduced the grain and helped smooth out the strings, while adding weight to the low end. The McCormack is 4 times the amp the adcom was ($250 net!), but I didn't fully appreciate what the McCormack could do until the other changes were in place. Synergy is important, and it all has to work together.
Try the Telarc recording of the Brahms 4 by Macerras and the SCO. If the prominent viola playing in the 2nd movement is not the sweetest thing you ever heard, I promise you its not the recording. (The whole 4 symphony set is worth having, not perfect recordings, but still very good and worthwhile) Also, try the Barshai Shostakovich cycle on Brilliant. This is a recent purchase for me and I'm still working my way through it, but I'm impressed with what I've heard so far.
The bottom line is this. My guess is you need to do some experimenting with the room and equipment. You probably have multiple problems that are reinforcing each other. I'd suggest you work until you identify what's offending, and then see if you still want to go the TT route.
Brownsfan, my big mistake in the past has been the lack of patience. I am starting from scratch with room acoustics first. Can you tell me what you did for $90? Since it is also my living room, I am not sure how I can stick a bunch of foam on the walls and it still be aesthetically appealing when I have a lady over:)
Anyway, the plan is to tweak the room, better vibration isolation and cables and re-evaluate everything before making any audio gear purchases.
First of all, I'm using Magnepan 1.6QR's in my living room which is 16' x 20' x 8', carpeted, and has a fairly plush sofa and love seat. The speakers are located 4' out from the short wall and 34" from the side walls. I'm not at all sure the placement is optimized yet. I listen from the loveseat which is flush against the short wall opposite the Maggies. Anyone with suggestions?
I got two 2' x 4' Auralex studiofoam pyramid panels ($48 for the two), and glued those to a 2' x 8' Styrofoam insulation panel I bought at Lowe's. The Auralex glue cost $20 and the insulation panel was $10. I cut the panel in half to give me two 1 x 8 panels, and wedged them diagonally into the corners behind the Maggies floor to ceiling. I also bought some 1' x 1'auralex studiofoam wedges, sliced them into individual wedges, and attached those to the exposed ends to cover the blue insulation panel edges that are exposed. That was about $12 for those pieces. The nice thing about this arrangement is that they are just wedged into the corners, so they can be pulled out of place at a moments notice and stored in the basement or garage until the event is over. My wife hasn't complained so far. By the way, patience works well with finding a 2nd wife also! I've left the back walls untreated so far. Before installing those panels I was having some sort of horrendous reinforcement of certain notes from female alto, soprano, and French horns. I'm not sure if it was the fundamental or upper harmonics that was causing the problem, but it would run you out of the room with your ears bleeding. The panels really pretty well solved that problem. I’m thinking about making similar panels for the 1st reflection points on the side walls. These foam panels glued to the Styrofoam are rigid enough to stand unsupported, so you can put a 2x8' panel together and move it around the room until you find the best locations. The nice thing about this is that you don't have to wait out a burn in period. You might want to check out the website. One of their dealers gave me a nice Auralex catalog. If you can find one of those, I'm sure you will get some other good ideas. You can also send them a schematic of your room and they will do an analysis for you. I'll try to e-mail you some pictures that may make the description a little clearer. I hope this works as well for you as it did for me.

There have been lots of replies that have been informative and insightful. Please consider all the input available to you in your 'quest'.

Now, this is what I have to offer.

Yes, you should always make sure you configuration is correct. I recently learned the importance of this step. Having moved to my first apartment (yay---freedom, freedom, freedom), I found my stereo to have too much soundstage and the vinyl reproduction to have too lean bass (coming from a VPI hw19 mk iv with a RB-250/Denon 301 combo...something was definately wrong). After checking polarity on my speakers and placing them closer to corners, the sound (to me) was correct and better than ever before. Lesson: you should never skip the slightest step in setting-up your system.

In addition, you should also do some 'burn-in' of any new cables. Try also a setup disc (like the Ayre) to make sure your configuration is correct.

Now, I'm not saying that CD is that great with string music. I'm a vinyl lover with a large CD collection as well. A inexpensive TT with a good Phono-pre and a better amp/speaker combo can blow out a mid-range cd player without difficulty.

My honest opinion is that you should give a good listen to a properly setup vinyl reproduction system. You will have another perspective on how music should sound and what you can do.

Get a MMF series, Thorens, or Rega P2/Goldring 1. Match a Bellari or Nad Phono Preamp and either a Goldring 1006, Grado Blue, or Shure. Download Audiophilia's Cartridge Setup, Enjoy The Music's Free Protractor, and purchase a bubble leveler and you should be good to go.

Thoughts, anyone?

Brownsfan has some good advice. That was the problem that I had. I went through some equipment changes and still had a certain frequency (high freq.) that would drive an ice pick through my ear so to speak. Room treatment is pretty difficult, but you can cover the Auralex or whatever you get with a fabric matching the wall (or getting close) you might have a better shot with the WAF.