Request advice-need "brighter" speakers than Totem Hawks
Hi All- Love the community here; first time poster. My gear: i have a pair of Totem Hawks, driven by Sim Audio W-5 amp and P-5 pre. I listen primarily to Redbook CDs via a Marantz SA8005. Cables are all Audience AU24SE. I listen both through a modded Eastern Electric DAC (op amp upgraded, tube removed) and direct from CDP to preamp (teensy sound difference between DAC/no DAC, if any). My medium sized room is pretty dead sonically (carpet, textile window coverings).
My Issue: The high frequencies are uncrisp, rolled off severely, muted, and just lacking generally, especially on contemporary works (jazz, rock). I don’t hear cymbals, hi-hats, or rich, crisp snare drums (yeah, I’m a drummer). Listening to my favorite disks is a deeply disappointing experience, Though classical sounds ok to fine. I am thinking that I need brighter speakers than the Hawks (though there are numerous folks who extoll Sim Audio plus Totem speakers, something is not right. I do have a bit of hi-freq. hearing loss from playing percussion for over 40 years (amateur), but I’ve heard a number of less expensive systems that sound better to me. My first thought is to go for a used pair of B&Ws (CM5s?) or Vandersteens (assuming good WAF on the latter) to swap out for the Hawks. I’m on a budget, but am not above selling some of the current gear to pay for the right equipment.
I would love love to hear some suggestions or alternate diagnoses/ideas. I am not limiting myself to speakers; I’ve tried a bunch of different cables to no good effect. Analysis Plus silver cables, for example, were a disaster with this gear, for example, FYI. Thanks in advance for any sage thoughts you choose to offer. -Bruce
Erik: Thanks for your thoughts. I particularly appreciate the brand recommendations. Any particularly great models among those you would recommend? Interested in great value for money, and am likely to seek used gear.
I'm pretty in touch with my hearing loss. It's minor to date, and I listen some to friends' systems, so I am confident the hearing loss is a minor element in my situation. I get my hearing tested every couple years and I wear hearing protection when playing.
I am am fascinated by your comment about listening as a player. I probably do that, unconsciously. I do seek to resolve the instruments I play, when listening--it's where a lot of my attention goes. -B
Also, my second system has a Creek 100a integrated amp, which has pretty darn decent tone controls--I do try to play most recordings with the bypass engaged, though. It IS handy for some recordings, though. Years ago, I entered the audiophile world via PS Audio "passive" pre-amps, so I try to minimize the gear and circuits in the signal path when feasible. The tone controls on the Creek help sometimes, and sometimes they add harshness and grain. Depends a lot on the recording, I've found.
The high frequencies are uncrisp, rolled off severely, muted, and just lacking generally, especially on contemporary works (jazz, rock). I don’t hear cymbals, hi-hats, or rich, crisp snare drums
Totem speakers should not sound like this. Did these speakers always sound this way? Also, do the highs sound better when listening close-up (near field)? It’s possible that your room is over-damped; too much absorption.
Though classical sounds ok to fine.
Classical on CD often sounds brighter to me due to violin and brass sections that have been "close" or "over-mic'd."
Lowrider: Thanks for the comments. The room is not overdamped as far as I know. No damping on front and back walls, just on one side and carpets. I bought the Hawks new, and they have always sounded as noted. Nearfield listening experience is the same. Thanks for the comment on classical. My experience is similar, as noted. B
I'm afraid I'm not a fan of any of the brands I recommended! :) I find them too bright for me, which means they may be just what you like.
If I truly wanted the very best, slightly bright speakers I'd think of Magico's, followed far behind by Wilson's.
However, my preference is for objectively neutral, so in affordable I would go for Monitor Audio. Older Monitor Audio may be more like what you are looking for as they were a bit brighter than they are now.
I was a little worried about how you were listening. ;-) I mean, make yourself happy, but recordings are meant to reproduce a different perspective than being in the middle of the stage, so it's good to keep that in mind when listening.
I’m a drummer too and there are precious few speakers that can sound realistic enough to do a totally convincing drum set (due to the large dynamic range required). Unfortunately Totem is not one of them but Totem Hawk should sound much better than you describe.
I see on the Moon W-5
Amplifier that there is a phase inverted RCA input. Although a phase problem would present in other areas such as a lack of bass. I'm just checking to confirm that you're not using this input. And according to a review, Simaudio has slightly rolled-off highs and sounds very natural. It may be poor synergy between preamp/amp and speakers.
So, what is your budget for speaker recommendations? Dynaudio speakers have a very dynamic sound with extended highs. With B&W, I find that the 800 series are vastly superior to the CM speakers. However, with all B&W's you will discover a brighter speaker.
Shadorne: Thanks. Tweeters are not blown because classical recordings come through quite nicely. I may have inadvertently employed a bit of hyperbole to describe my issue, which frustrates the heck out of me. An example is I love how Dire Straits first album sounds on friends' systems, but there is little hi freq. drums (cymbals, hi-hat, snare) getting through to listen to on my gear.
Erik: Thanks for the additional insights and recommendations. Super-useful.
All: you are giving me a lot to think about. Thank you! Please continue to offer your thoughts.
Q: does anyone think the issue may be a different piece of gear than the speakers? I have a couple dicier amps I can try to test if the issue is the Sim Audio gear: Bryson 2B, and Dared 2a3c, and the (less dicey for this setup Creek 100a. I could swap one if these in for the Sim Audio gear. Thoughts? Thanks again-your reflections are most appreciated.
My suspicion is the Sim and Totem gear may play less well together than previously claimed. B
Lowrider: The phase is good. As evidence, I did not mention that the Hawks' bass response is nothing short of amazing. Tight, yet extended. Especially impressive for the drivers' diameter. Also, FYI, no issues with the mids either. In the bass and mid frequencies the Hawks outperform any speaker I have previously owned.
I DID slightly (7 pounds) mass-load the speakers with a mix of sand and multi-sized ball bearings, for safety (tipping hazard) mostly. Forgot to mention that. Totem tech support had no issue with this when I consulted them.
I heard the Hawks this last weekend in a local store driven by some moderately priced NAD gear and they sounded wonderful. I almost bought their floor model before my wife "saved" me. Swap other components before indicting the speakers. Also play with speaker positions and see if that makes a (positive) difference.
Hello bheiman - I agree with lowrider, that just does not sound like the Totem Hawks I know (or Totem sound in general). I do wonder if there could be an impedance mis-match with your amp that is affecting high frequency output. Would be interesting if you could find a review (Stereophile?) showing impedance vs frequency range - though I think this is more typically a concern with bass output. Compare that trace to power output vs impedance for the W5. I have a hard time thinking your amp can’t drive them effectively, though. Don’t people say Totem used to show with Sim Audio gear at various shows??? Any chance you could drag the Hawks to another location (or borrow another amp) to see if they still sound too rolled off to you with different electronics. Does the Creek have the grunt for the Hawks? Unclear to me whether you still have the same degree of missing treble using the Creek with them (tone controls by-passed).
Have you experimented with toe-in? OR with elevation? Get some hard wood plinths (e.g., dawns depot.com)...3-4" maybe even double up for 6" elevation and see how that affects treble.
A call to Totem might be worthwhile too.
Good luck trying to figure it out and finding what sounds good to you...new speakers or otherwise.
Buy an equalizer and turn up the treble. Or replace your amp with an integrated that has tone controls. I’ve owned Hawks and Forests and they have a very balanced top end. I’ve said many times that many people, based on their listening preferences, would be happier with sound-reinforcement speakers like JBL pro or EAW, which can provide the presence and visceral impact they are seeking. Maybe you should seek out a pair of JBL 3211s or something like that? But try an equalizer first. BTW, I am an ex-professional drummer as well, so I know what drums and cymbals should sound like.
You say you've had the problem with the speakers since new. Just how new are they? I ask this because my Clearwave Duet 6 monitors took a long time to break in and had similar sounding highs to what you describe. All is well now.
What helped to break them in was playing the Ayre Irrational but Efficacaious CD Enhancement Disc. Using glide tone sweeps, pink, white and brown noise, in mono and in and out of phase, it will quickly break in components. All components. I was surprised at how different my system sounded after playing it. Hope that helps.
Turn your amp off and walk over to one of your speakers. Unplug the speaker cable from the binding post. Put them back on, but swap positions. Then do some listening. Your system will either sound a lot better or a lot worse.
Make sure you reverse the speaker cables on just 1 speaker, not both. And just swap the end by the speaker. Leave the other end of the cable by the amp alone. Also, you can't hurt any of your gear by doing this. There is 0 risk.
Thanks again to All who have participated--a few reflections on the latest input: kalali: no one is more surprised than me at the letdown in the highs. Thanks.
Chayro: Lacking an equalizer (good idea though) I will swap in my amp (see above) with tone controls. The Creek lets one take the treble pretty far.
mb1audio: 99% confident the speakers are in-phase, but I will try your suggestion anyway. Will report back.
nonoise: I had not considered that the Hawks are not burned in enough. I have run them for (estimate here) about 90-100 hours so far. They were brans- new in the box when I got them.
dougsat: I keep wishing it was the cables--the anticables are pretty affordable (an understatement). I may try them.
Every/Anyone: Could the Marantz SA8005 be sending out a messed up signal, and hence be the issue? I have tried it (as noted) with and without DAC, with little audible difference. My prior experience with Marantz CDPs is pretty positive--very neutral sound (not over-warm, highs not rolled off). Thanks. -B
The loudspeakers have less than 100 hours on them.
Thanks for finally providing that little piece of info. Keep playing them until around 500 hours before making any equipment changes. Play with loudspeaker and listener height plus toe-in until you think they sound the best they can.
"Bright" brings to mind Klipsch. Klipsch lovers will call them "dynamic" which is ok. I've owned numerous pair over the years and liked them all to some extent. It may not be the speakers themselves as others have suggested. Placement, soon treatment etc. all play into the equation....
onhwy61: Wow. 500 hours? I could do that--the cost is reasonable at least :-). I was being a teensy bit conservative when I said 90-100 hours, previously. It is quite possible I have 100-150 hours on the speakers. I tracked time in use at the start, but failed to keep it up.
beernut (and onhwy61): placement is something I have messed with quite a bit. It makes no major difference with this issue. Also, as noted, near-field listening does not sound any different than standard couch listening. I would add the Hawks are designed as somewhat "positioning indifferent," for the listener and speaker placement. They make a big thing of this in their marketing materials, and I find it to be quite true. The quality of sound changes very little with these speakers as I move them and myself around.
All: I recognize the burn-in issue is likely legitimate (though I have read of folks who loved their Hawks' sound out of the box). Ideally, I should stop posting, burn the speakers in for another 350-400 hours or so, then post results. I'll make that part of the process, but I will also try some of the other "low-hanging fruit" ideas that you have suggested.
I just switched polarities on one speaker (mb1audio). When switched, the sound in the mids became super-forward (soundstage) and loud, while the low bass became muddy. Upper-bass became more forward in the soundstage, too. I did not notice much difference in the highs, if any. Possibly some of the mid-highs came out more volume-wise. Most of the highs still felt buried. The top end of the highs remained muted, for example. I switched back and forth several times to confirm my impressions. I conclude I had the speakers in phase alignment on my original setup. Whew.
I will next reset the gear to take out all power conditioning and surge protection, per suggestion--this one is not immediately intuitive to me, but it's relatively easy to try. Stay tuned. -B
This sounds pretty familiar to me. For reference, I heard my entire system at my dealer and with the tone controls on the integrated out of the system, or 0, it sounded very good, very good indeed, with very nice extended top end (and solid bass as well). In fact, I wish it sounded as good here at home as it did at the dealer.
I think the main difference is that the dealers room is not over damped and I actually heard my system in two of his rooms; one was purpose built with wall damping and commercial carpet while the other was a smooth flooring with a rug or two and drop ceiling like in an office. My room has thicker carpeting, a big sofa, and some wall hangings. It also has a vaulted ceiling that goes from 11' on the left wall down to 9' on the right wall. Without the Treble control near the end of its' positive range, the sound is just unacceptable; all the top end is very rolled off; the room just seems to suck out the treble. The bass response is pretty good and no tone control necessary. Anyway, thankfully, the Mc has tone controls and it has rescued me for nearly a decade. The sound is more than acceptable, but I'm not sure if it is the carpet/furniture/wall hangings or the uneven ceiling that are sucking out the Treble. But I do plan to check into it further when I remodel that space in the next year or two.
Update: with the power conditioner and surge suppresser removed...no difference. Maybe a tiny bit cleaner and tighter overall sound, maybe not. Definitely no breakthrough in the highs. I will put back in the power conditioner, but not the suppressor--it's a cheap Monster one, in any case (I'll use a short thick gauge power strip into one of the conditioner sockets to handle all the power plugs that won't fit directly into the conditioner. We have pretty clean power where I live, so I did not expect a result on this test.
pokey77: Those are interesting reflections on the room, thanks. When I auditioned Hawks at the dealer, they too sounded incredible. I thought "I'm buying that sound." More detail on Room characteristics: I have a flat 9' ceiling, painted wood, and the back wall is not treated, nor is the left wall. The right wall has window treatments (textile) which are absorbent, and the floor is low-pile carpet. No treatments on front wall either. I know what you mean about cranking the treble on anintegrated--it can have a big effect. It just seems so "un-audiophile" to have to crank treble nearly all the way up. One thing I can easily do to liven the room is to pull back the window treatments. I'll report on that soon. It's an easy trial.
ghosthouse: I had several speaker sets. They all sounded brighter, but lacked the Hawk sophistication in mids and bass. Here is a list: Celestion SL-6 (sweet, balanced), Linn Index (yech), Spectrum 208a (probably should have kept those--boring form factor, solid sound).
Next up (maybe in a day or so): swapping in the Creek 100a (with tone controls).
Please continue to offer reflections and suggestions. Thank you.
Thanks for checking your power conditioning setup. My thought was that it may be current-limiting, have bad wiring, or might be affecting the impedance or voltage level from your mains.
I'll add that 150 hours break-in on speakers is low. I'll also add that the Audience AU24SE IC's offer a laid-back and organic presentation with no hint of brightness, (fantastic cables, BTW). In the review of the Sim W-5 amp that I read, the author felt the highs were slightly rolled-off (in a good way), so I don't expect your system to ever sound bright. With that said, give the drivers more break-in time.
Let's see what happens when you change to a different amp. You could also try substituting the IC's. Try using RCA cables and see how it affects the sound.
Quick "shot in the dark" question on a vintage speaker: does anyone have any thoughts on Dali Royal Towers for meeting my needs? I've always been drawn to their geometry. They rarely come up for sale in the US. Thanks.
Hi Bruce. I've found w/speaker burn-in that the mids and lows develop more fullness/bloom. Haven't really noticed treble becoming more pronounced but certainly more refined and smoother. (You have to be patient and also not move cables around as they need to settle in if you know what I mean.) I've had much more issues w/brighter highs w/new equipment. I've always achieved better sound when I used bare wire connections on my amp/int. amps/receivers and speakers. Plug power equipment directly into electrical outlets. Been using Furutech entry level gold plated IEC's/AC plugs w/great improvement in sound quality. Made my own IC's using Neotech wire. (Used inexpensive RCA's.) What an improvement! I'm sorry you're having this grief. I can not tell you how pleased I'm w/my Dynaudio bookshelf speakers. They sound glorious but they needed LOTS of break-in. I have to say I have achieved a synergy w/my systems which is what you need to find. Be patient and the little things really do add up but my gut is telling me you may need to find new speakers. Bill.
you have assembled a very fine system. The Sim Audio gear and Audience cabling are perfect, sonic matches for each other- no issue there.
The best Totem speaker built was "The One". You could seek that model out or you can try my reference- Thiel loudspeakers. Specifically, the CS 2.4, CS 2.7 or CS 3.7 (if you have a large to very large listening room).
These speakers will give you, like me, the natural timbre of percussion. This line will not roll-off, sound muted nor lack energy. Keep me posted as you audition speakers.
" I switched back and forth several times to confirm my impressions. I conclude I had the speakers in phase alignment on my original setup. Whew.
The easiest way to check if its right is to listen to music that you know has a strong center vocal image. If the speakers are out of phase with each other, the center vocal image will be coming from one of the side walls instead.
More break in won't fix the problem. If anything, it will make things worse.
Been following this thread in sympathy both as an audiophile and as a fellow drummer. I know exactly what you're talking about when it comes to reproducing cymbals, and I feel your pain.
Given the relatively extreme nature of the issue and the equipment involved I'd tend to think there's a problem somewhere. My first instincts are to check the speakers and source. I know you said music sounds ok with classical, but have you actually put your ear to the tweeters to make sure they're both working and sound ok? With the Marantz, have you checked all the settings (i.e. Volume set to "fixed," etc.)?
Assuming all this checks out, I'd stop screwing around and immediately do these two things. First, I'd call totem and get their thoughts. Second, if this doesn't help I'd find another pair of speakers at your dealer (preferably Hawks) that sound good there and borrow them to see how they sound at home (or, as a poor second option I'd bring mine there). If they sound good in your room there's very likely a problem with your speakers.
If those speakers also sound compromised versus what you heard at the dealer then we're back to the drawing board, but at least you've ruled out the speakers as the problem, which is no small thing. Best of luck and hope this helps.
B - My point asking about previously owned speakers was to consider whether that earlier pair might have acclimated your ear to greater brightness than the Hawks are designed to deliver.
At the same time, I tend to agree with bond manp. Reticent/laid-back/"muffled" treble ain’t what I think of for the Hawks - auditioned; or Forests - currently owned. If you go to new speakers, how do you know you won’t experience the same issue with them?
Is there any way to drag your Hawks back to the store you bought them at and listen to them in the place (and with the same gear) where they sounded so good? That would eliminate (or not) some sort of damage being the cause. Bring your source and anything else you can carry and it should help clarify whether it's electronics or room acoustics that are involved. Your room description does not say "over-damped" to me.
I am very interested in reading how this works out for you and I certainly hope it does.
"....The high frequencies are uncrisp, rolled off severely, muted, and just lacking generally, especially on contemporary works (jazz, rock). I don’t hear cymbals, hi-hats, or rich, crisp snare drums (yeah, I’m a drummer). Listening to my favorite disks is a deeply disappointing experience, Though classical sounds ok to fine...."
hmmmm.... something is very wrong here IMO.
i owned both the ARROS and FORESTS (original before they dropped the Dynaudio drivers and swapped in Chi-fi ) simultaneously in a prior system , and a rolled off or muted top-end firceither was never ever in the cards.
in fairness optimum performance in the FORESTS required bi-amping with an addition of a separate 100wpc hi-current power amp to the integrated amp, and swapping in Totem's own silver plated OCC speaker cables to match what's inside. I found them to be fussy with ICs and speaker cables but not so bad as you described the output.
Room/Space Treatment Gurus (you know who you are): I opened up the window coverings on 100% of right wall: ~125 Sq ft. of glass is now reflecting into the room, rather than the textile window coverings that were closed over the wall. The good news: I could hear more highs. The bad news: the difference was quite small--I was reather pleased I could detect it.
Power Conditioner (and anti-so) folks: I have now got the power amp directly in the wall, and the other gear in the power conditioner. There is no longer surge supression on a separate (Monster) power strip. Just one thick gauge power strip running off one socket of the conditioner. The other three conditioner plugs have CDP and Pre Amp and DAC in them. It's a cleaner hookup, and the difference from taking out everything (and running off the wall directly) has persisted, I think.
Near Field People (you are wise, soix et al): I followed the advice of several of you (finally). I stuck my ears at the center of the bass element and then the tweeter on the Hawks, while listening at very moderate, then slightly louder levels to Sultans of swing. Range 1-2" from the plane of the speaker housing (or tweeter dome). I think this is a serious finding: Left tweeter almost nothing coming out, with nothing in the upper-highs, and maybe nothing in the mid-highs. a little low-highs. No distortion at all (I think this is important--I listened very closely). Right Channel: Interesting--I heard the lo-highs, mid-highs, and hi-highs--all of them, but overall the signal was very very attenuated from what I might expect. It was not the case that "if I had both speakers firing like the right one it would be great. The right tweeter was, on an absolute level, was attenuated.
Please comment. Thanks.
I'm thinking, after the amp swap-in, I'll contact the dealer about Hawk service possibilities. I may also try sticking some other, much lesser speakers into the system to test: Axiom M3 v3. I will have a lot more data than.
ghosthouse and others who think it's the speakers: I think we are homing in. Thanks. It could still be the Sim Audio Moon P-5/W-5. Hope not. The speaker swap-in I mentioned above should help.
There is a pair of VMPS RM30 speakers with Auricaps in the back pages of Audio Circle VMPS. I've had a pair and currently own an awesome pair of RM40s. These are floorstanding speakers with a slim profile. You can adjust he speakers to fit most any sound you desire. The speakers set to a fairly normal level would be described as dynamic, high definition, transparent, with a great soundstage in which you can easily locate where the musician is playing. You get a lot of speaker for the money. The pair I mentioned are over $5000 new and the seller is asking $1600. If you live somewhat near southern California, you should contact him. For his asking price, you can't get better sound for the money.
I think this is a serious finding: Left tweeter almost nothing coming out, with nothing in the upper-highs, and maybe nothing in the mid-highs. a little low-highs. No distortion at all (I think this is important--I listened very closely). Right Channel: Interesting--I heard the lo-highs, mid-highs, and hi-highs--all of them, but overall the signal was very very attenuated from what I might expect. It was not the case that "if I had both speakers firing like the right one it would be great. The right tweeter was, on an absolute level, was attenuated.
How are your cables hooked up to the speakers; is it a single-run of cable from amp to the binding posts? Are the upper and lower binding posts connected together with the stock jumpers? It seems like your crossover is not functioning.
Are you using the upper or lower set of speaker terminals?
Don't use music to test whether your individual drivers are working properly, instead use commonly available test tones such as pink noise or low to high frequency sweeps. It will allow you to more accurately pinpoint your results.
" I think this is a serious finding: Left tweeter almost nothing coming out, with nothing in the upper-highs, and maybe nothing in the mid-highs. a little low-highs. No distortion at all (I think this is important--I listened very closely). Right Channel: Interesting--I heard the lo-highs, mid-highs, and hi-highs--all of them, but overall the signal was very very attenuated from what I might expect. It was not the case that "if I had both speakers firing like the right one it would be great. The right tweeter was, on an absolute level, was attenuated. "
You need to verify its really the speakers. Swap the speakers position (Put the left speaker on the right channel and the right speaker on the left). Listen to the same music as before. If the speaker that used to be on the left still has the same problem, its a speaker issue. If not, the problem lies elsewhere.
Good suggestions folks! Thanks you. In particular I will try the following: 1. Speaker-channel swapping (great idea).
2. Non-music source signal--I was having frustratingly large hassles telling what was going on.
3. Binding posts: I will try the upper pair and variations.Good concept. My jumpers may be an issue, but I have been playing with those, and nothing seemed to change when I swapped in jumpers of digfferent types.
4. Also: I ordered anti-cables Level 3 speaker cables as well as their Level 3 Jumpers. (Paul gave me a fine discount--what a cool guy). I think this will be a more "refining" move than something that solves my issue, but it's relatively inexpensive to try this approach.
lowrider--you are a smart person. I have been looking for the brass jumpers from the factory. Also--on the binding posts, I was using lower, but I'm now in the upper (yes the highs improved a tiny bit--most discernible to date, but still on the small-difference side) difference so far. I will also try diagonal configs (read this has an effect here on a thread somewhere). I will continue to seek the factory jumpers. Frustrating.
I am "totally up for" getting some test tones/pink noise sounds. I am thinking of downloading WAVs if possible. Can anyone point me to a free source. I'll burn it onto an audio CD, I guess, Or download and I can run it through my DAC using my Mac Air USB (that's my lo-quality listening component for mp3s etc.)
As always, please reflect--I appreciate the tone and usefulness of this thread. Thanks again. PS-We made into "Top New Discussions" this week. Cool. You folks are great.