Silky and soft highs: product of coloration?


Hi folks this is a bit controversial topic. I know some amplifiers (and some very expensive ones too!) have a very silky and soft presentation of the (upper) treble. I'm wondering if this silky presentation can be considered as a hallmark of quality for amplifiers or rather a sort of coloration that makes the upper treble soft and "pretty". In my opinion I can divide amplifiers in two groups: one group (the largest) with "ordinary" treble response (not very pretty) and the other group that consists of only a handful of amplifiers (both solid state and tube) with a refined and silky treble. The contenders within this last group are alas too expensive for mere mortals. This brings me to another question: is such a refined and silky treble only to be had with megabuck amplifiers?
I consider the Anne-Sophie Mutter recording "Carmen Fantasie" as the ultimate test recording for treble sweetness. If the amplifier sounds just "ordinary" with this recording (especially where the violin plays in the upper register) then the amplifier is not "refined" enough.

Chris
dazzdax
Hi Chris, if the power is enough the Art Audio Quartet's are wonderful sounding amplifiers. Don
To be honest, I think the amplifier is the least important component in the chain. If I had to cut costs somewhere...thats where it would be.

BTW, I have that recording, and agree...a very well recorded violin.

Dave
Dave, hmm, I don't know. I know at least one person (who owns only the finest audio gear) that the poweramp has the most profound effect on final sound, even more than the speakers.

Chris
Chris

Maybe in his system. But after 35 years....my ears tell "me" different. The hobby is pretty much all opinions anyway Chris, so I won't put up to much of an argument, in favor of mine.

At least we agree on the violin recording (-:

Dave
No. In real life, female vocalists with a 'silky and soft' presentation, and violins, alone or massed have a clear, 'silky' sheen that digital has a hard time recreating. If the amp is taking a harsh signal and 'fixing it' then I guess it would be coloration. But if it is the signal it gets, and sends it out amplified... I would say it is true to the source.

So, two things here: An amp that can transfer the perfect signal would pass crap as well as perfection. Or: the amp that makes it all sound like a silk purse.
the room, the speakers, and most of all,the recording, have a bigger part to play for those silky highs than the amp. a good amp just sends the signal its given.
This is probably the toughest thing to get right in a system-- silky treble without loss of detail, and treble bite (on brass & strings) without aggressiveness. Source, preamp, amp, speakers all make or break. I think one giveaway that it's not right is if a silky, pretty treble is accompanied by weak dynamics lower in the frequency range. In my tube system at least, I've found that steps taken to improve control & dynamics usually extend and refine treble. Since the amp has the key roll in dictating system dynamics, perhaps this is where your friend is coming from with his observation about its importance.
Still think the amp is the most important component in the system. The type of speakers you own plus personal tastes will have a big influence on the type of amplification you may choose.

Any one of us could build a system around a good sounding amp via trial & error with interconnects/cabling, trying different preamps, tayloring the sound to the desired outcome. Soft highs could be a by-product of coloration which sounds desirable to some but not considered accurate.

I'm currently using a McCormack 0.5 Revision A and know by past experience with the stock amp the Revision A in itself has refined this amp by removing the grit and grain in the upper registers but still preserving its dynamics & increasing transparency, midrange is uncanny. It does need to be fed other quality components to fully realize its potential as so with other high end amps. I will have to say that this amp is very accurate and extended no way soft or colored but still sweet and detailed.

In conclusion & giving a choice I will opt for silky highs but not soft highs but maybe not prefering either.
Agree with Sogood...most people...including myself...spend way too much time fiddling with amps...but hey...its nuerotic fun!...
Phasecorrect, there you go sir, there is nothing wrong with fiddling with amps, its all a progression of a nuerotic hobby just as you mentioned. Keep listening to those tunes!
The reason why people are thinking that you shouldn't spend that much money on power amplifiers is: they have never heard how world's best power amplifiers sound! 90% of the amplifiers sound the same, that's why it will never become obvious with 90% of all audiophiles that the power amplifier is in fact a major determinant for the final sound quality. In this regards I would like to address to some of the world's best amplifiers, like FM Acoustics, Soulution, Boulder, Rey Audio, DartZeel(?), LAMM, Cello Performance, Audio Research REF600, etc.

Chris
The amp is only one link in a system's synergy. I agree with Jaybo's points and in addition I have found that the cabling being used also has a prominent role in a system's sound quality.
As stated: The ideal amplifier will simply pass what it is fed without any change whatever, only adding gain. Those amps truly are rare, but- extemely important to those that WANT to hear exactly what is recorded. YES- everything in the reproduction chain is important. Many recordings have been poorly engineered/mastered/pressed on inferior materials. I very much prefer to hear what's on the media, than have it covered up by rose colored glasses. I always prefer the truth(whether from people or my system), even if it is uncomfortable. If the drummer uses silky Zildjian cymbals, or brassy Sabians: I want my system to be a able to resolve the difference. Happily: it's highly resolving from top to bottom. Of course: What you enjoy in your listening room is your business, and who's to say you're wrong in what you enjoy?
no component is perfect. an experienced listener will detect coloration after spending sufficient time with any stereo system.

the only question is : what flavor do you want ?

since coloration is unavoidable, it is best to accept its existence as fact and deal with it.
100% agreed Mrtennis!
Even so called best of the superamps/components are colored. It is questions of how much at which freq range and if this is accepatble to you or not.

For this reason one's best amp could the other's way at the bottom of his list.
Chris said:
"they have never heard how world's best power amplifiers sound! 90% of the amplifiers sound the same, that's why it will never become obvious with 90% of all audiophiles that the power amplifier is in fact a major determinant for the final sound quality. In this regards I would like to address to some of the world's best amplifiers, like FM Acoustics, Soulution, Boulder, Rey Audio, DartZeel(?), LAMM, Cello Performance, Audio Research REF600, etc"

Chris


Who says those are the worlds best amplifiers?...the owners (10% of audiophiles...your figure), the sellers?...the manufacturer?...GOOGLE?...do you have a link? Thank goodness we have an (ect.), which could add hundreds more to that list?

Are you aware, that a good percentage of that 10% of audiophiles (golden ears?), who can afford those components, don't even know how to set them up? It's true...check the system pic's, and the forum postings. "Audiophile" is a learning experience...you can't buy experience.

I'll stick with my experience, which tells me that there is no absolute answer. However, "all things being equal", and If I had to cut costs somewhere in the audio chain... source, preamp, amp...the amplifier is where I would do it.

Dave
'roll over saul marantz, tell frank mcintosh the news' -the dartzeel schmartzeel singers
Definately a combination of all components. While one amp does a good job with one set of speakers, it may distort with ineficient speakers and sound shrill. It really comes down to matching. Some people say Krell amps are too bright but with certain speakers they are great.

You have to remember that everything is coloured and there are many ways too roll off or extend the highs starting with the recording engineer and ending with the room.
It is very difficult to get a grainy free silk soft treble , yes Chris is right only the most expensive brands can do that.
It is not only silk soft grainy free, but also no colourisations that is even more difficult.
I will limit the choice into FM acoustics & Rey audio only, and leave all the other brands out: Cello (too much colourisation in the treble absolutely not neutral), Dartzeel is no competiion against FM acoustics, Boulder do not have that lovely FM acoustics sound. Audio research is not as musical as FM or Rey audio.
what recording with silky smooth highs turns grainy through an amplifier, except for the above mentioned. whatever you guys are smoking, i need some.
Dazzdax, I would not say so that the amplfiers has the most profound effect on the system, yes it has a very huge effect.
But I myself consider these 3 to have equal huge impact: DAC, speakers, power-amp.

all others such as pre-amp & CD transport can have a huge impact as well, but relatively a very little lesser than the three mentioned.
Jaybo, you mean the other way around? Grainy violins that turn silky smooth through amplifier? Either way, violins in real life do have a certain graininess and texture but also bloom and airiness, which are altogether difficult to reproduce.

Chris
yes thats what i meant
Just last week end we were at Catalina Island for a Spring break with my daughters and wife. On Monday Lakewood, Colorado High School band played some Jazz, Classical and wind ensemble music for nearly two hours. I ditched ( actually sent them on a boat ride) my family and sat about 10-12 ft away the whole time. First violins were literally in front of me when some score called for 5 of them, at a time, to get up and kinda boogie, classical style - aggressive style playing and sound was thinnish, airy, stringy- nothing silky about it.
But at times during slow movements certain playing technique did call for gentle strokes that did produce some silkishly thin sounds.

So I think silky sound do exist on certain play technique- May be someone who plays the instrument can chime in here.

BTW, this was a good refresher course for my ears to get equalized with unamplified live acoustic music.
I'm not impressed with most violin recordings...to far away sounding, or...to strident, in mass. I do have some good solo violin recordings.

I'll guess, that it must be very hard to capture that instrument correctly on a recording.

Silky is fine, when intended, "soft highs" is not (unless the intent was to place you at 50ft away).

Dave
Dave, with "soft" I don't mean low level audibility but "not scratchy or edgy". Silky is about grainless and smooth sound.
Nil, I know violins can sound aggressive in real life, but there is always this "energy" and bloom even with aggressive playing. Not thin, scratchy or threadbare "noise".

Chris
Live performances in acoustically uncontrolled settings rarely provides a good reference point for comparison to well-miked studio recordings. High School bands performing in echoing gyms & mall atriums can sound excruciating-- even close up-- apart from the bad playing... Many listening positions in even good concert halls receive lots of reflected sound.
I consider the Anne-Sophie Mutter recording "Carmen Fantasie" as the ultimate test recording for treble sweetness.

That is an excellent recording - although I am not a fan of DG.

I'm wondering if this silky presentation can be considered as a hallmark of quality for amplifiers or rather a sort of coloration that makes the upper treble soft and "pretty"

Your description makes me think of Luxman SS amps of the 80's that did this kind of thing - I have always steered clear of amps that add coloration...I had one for a while (forget which model but it was high end SS) and it became irritating as you could hear the same coloration on everything - nice for light polite piano bar trio jazz with brushes but it spoiled other genres for me...

I find Mobile Fidelity Sound labs recordings often had this kind of "polish" in the highs on their CD recordings - I found it irritating too - I am not sure how they achieved the coloration...but I stopped buying after I noticed the same issue on albums from different artists.

IMHO, rather than focus on one recording - try a variety of recordings to see if the amp is making an honest uncolored presentation....this may mean that some recordings are too edgy or strident but others will bloom...all depending on what they did in the microphones/mix/mastering process.
A great system (not only the amp) can deliver highs with delicacy and richness with well recorded performances. The system is only as good as it's weakest link, so if your sources suck then no amp or preamp can rescue the signal.

Lack of glare, congestion and harshness are hallmarks of a fine system. Put a marginal speaker cable into an otherwise excellent system and you'll hear the glare and congestion.

If you hear delicate details, like fingers on strings, vocal overtones, natural sibilants and no harshness or glare, then you've got a high performance system. If the details are absent or rolled off, then you've got a system that trying to euphonically compensate by softening the highs artificially.

Listen for details and delicacy. Can you hear a bass note's fundemental separately from it's overtones. Can you hear "air" around the bass strings and the woody sound of the bass's body. With nylon-string guitar can you hear the ends of the fingers on the strings and can you tell if the player is using a lot of nail or a little?

Dave

Dave
Dgarretson, This live performance was out in open. I agree with you generally regarding Typical High school band's playing capabilities. This High School band was somewhat special and hence invited to play at many places in So Cal, including Disneyland. Sure their playing can't be compared with Virtuoso artists. In any case, live is live. You can't beat that.
I play with professional orchestras occasionally as a sub and I'll say that MOST instruments sound edgy up close. Classical instruments are meant to be heard from the middle of the orchesta section of the auditorium, not 10-feet away. From the listeners' perspectives they'll generally sound "silky" and smooth.

OTOH, very few studio recordings sound natural. Trumpeters use the proximity effect of the mics to make their solos sound warmer, engineers add reverb and select mics with euphonic sounds for each instrument. I often record myself on trumpet to hear what's actually going on in front of the horn. Without proximity effect, reverb or EQ, it's very "raw". I love that sound, but it's not what you get in most recordings.

Dave
Nethepill, That's reassuring & refreshing. Something is certainly wrong should an audio system make euphonic the treble sound of breaking glass or fingernails on a chalk board or a five year old playing violin.

This thread got me thinking about (HP's?) recent Part 1 review of the Scaena line-array speakers in TAS. Now I've heard these speakers under show conditions together with the Memory Player. Among their very impressive qualities is a silky, mellifluous, utterly grainless treble, set against a jet-black background, apparently achieved without sacrificing detail and attack. Yet the treble of this speaker seemed to take the brunt of HP's skepticism as being "possibly" unrealistic (his reservations about fully committing himself on this point perhaps intended as a cliff-hanger to be resolved in P2.) I'm still wondering myself whether treble like this, while appealing, is entirely realistic. But my general sense is that more typically, very expensive end-high systems err further on the side of stridency and aggression. When modifying equipment I've found that bleeding-edge improvements to power circuits in both SS and tube devices almost always results in a smoother treble, shedding grain that I wasn't aware of until it was gone. Not really a matter of flavors & tastes, and as Chris says, very expensive to achieve commercially.

Once more, although instruments can sound bright and harsh at close range, they have in real life "body" and "bloom", that is what you can only hear when music is reproduced using the best (and unfortunately also most expensive) electronics.

Chris
03-30-08: Dazzdax said:
"Jaybo, you mean the other way around? Grainy violins that turn silky smooth through amplifier? Either way, violins in real life do have a certain graininess and texture but also bloom and airiness, which are altogether difficult to reproduce."

If recorded at close range, violins SHOULD sound grainy. A crummy, inaccurate amp might make them sound "silky" but a truly great amp will make them sound like violins at close range.

Really great amps, like Jeff Rowland Design Group's, don't alter the sound to soften it. Softening is NOT a characteristic of a fine amp.

The recording engineer will more often than not soften the string sound by setting the mics far enough away so that they sound silky. The character of violin sound tends to soften as you move away.

Dave
The ability of a system to reproduce the scrape of multiple bows on strings is something that is not in the purview of an amplifier that always sounds 'silky'. Such an amplifier is glossing over detail.
Atmasphere, in your opinion as a manufacturer, just how rare & expensive are those amps that have realistic treble extension & detail, but don't add artifacts of grain and edge? Is the "club" of amps that have such a favorable characteristic really as small & exclusive a group as Chris suggests?
Violins can sound "silky" and smooth, or edgy and sharp, or plucked...it's all in the intent of the player.

None of that sounds bad, when played back on a good system.

Unintended artifacts are caused by many other things...bad recordings, poor acoustics, playback source component, and speakers systems are at the top of the list, as....the most likely cause.

Violins are "not" hard for an amplifier to reproduce...it doesn't take a mega priced amp....even an Onkyo can do it, and with out the unintended artifacts of shrillness.

The biggest difference, between an outstanding amplifier, and a good amplifier is "tone". The best amplifiers get it nearly perfect, and that makes them a pleasure to use, because they are so much more musical sounding...the rest just do the best they can.

Dave

Dgarretson, for the most part I agree with Dave although I do not agree that an Onkyo is in the same league with anything we are talking about here. But I do not think that cost has much to do with how well an amp can reproduce things properly. Proper reproduction has more to do with intent.
Hi Atmasphere, you said:

"I do not agree that an Onkyo is in the same league with anything we are talking about here"

Very true....The Onkyo (or other budget priced amps) are not in the same class, as the others mentioned. That wasn't my intent to say they were...although it may have read that way?

Dave

Hi Dave, it was this comment:

Violins are "not" hard for an amplifier to reproduce...it doesn't take a mega priced amp....even an Onkyo can do it, and with out the unintended artifacts of shrillness.

that I was commenting on. IMO Onkyos and similar **cannot** reproduce the sound of violins in that they are unable to express the nuance that we have been discussing. IME I find such amplifiers to be shrill as well.
Atmasphere

Well...I have two Onkyo M-504 amps that drive my hometheater speakers and subs.

A while back, when one of my tube amps went down, and needed to go in for repair I was forced to pull the Onkyo amps from the hometheater system to drive my Apogee panel speakers for around a month...and they did a very good job.

Violins sounded fine...with not even a hint of shrill, on good violin recordings.

That said....they didn't sound as good as my tube amps. (but then...no SS amps I've used, have sounded as good as my tube amps)....Krell, Pass, BAT

Which kind of makes my point: I don't consider an amp to be as important as a preamp, or source component. As I said above...if forced to give up, a little.... in the larger picture...the amp would be my choice.

Dave
The power amplifier is the last "active" component that the signal passes thru. The logic is easy to follow..........
Reb, so you are suggesting the power amplifier is the least important component within an audio system? It might be the least important, but it's signature with regard to the final sound is not to be underestimated! If you are saying the power amplifier doesn't have a big influence on the final sound, then you have never auditioned the best (of the megabuck) power amps.

Chris
Oh my!, no I'm saying just the opposite. Power amp is as important as the preamp and source. Any weak link in the chain becomes a bottle neck for the signal. If you have killer upstream components, how are you going to hear what they can do thru a mediorce power amp?
I'm with Reb, the weakest link in the chain defines the whole chain.

Also, some speakers are VERY amplifier dependent. The bass on some speakers (like DALI and Vienna Acoustic) can sound totally unacceptable with an amp that can't control the woofers, but with a good match they're magic sounding.

Also, just because an amp is very high quality doesn't mean it'll work equally well with all speakers. There needs to be a synergistic match all the way up and down the line, but particularly between the speakers and amp.

Dave
Reb1208, and Dcstep

Do you guys have $25,000-$50,000 amplifiers?...(" best of the megabuck power amps").....if not, and it looks like, you do not?

You are degrading your violins....yes?... And you have just found your "weakest link".

The logic is easy to follow..........(-:

Dave
04-05-08: Sogood51 said:
"Reb1208, and Dcstep

Do you guys have $25,000-$50,000 amplifiers?...(" best of the megabuck power amps").....if not, and it looks like, you do not?"

Huh, why would you think that? I've got a $7000 amp that I bought used for considerably less. I'll probably buy the Jeff Rowland intergrated when it comes out, or either a Capri per with 501 mono-blocks.

I can't understand why someone would pay that kind of money for an amp. My violins and trumpets are all sounding mighty fine as is?

BTW, I played trumpet in an orchestra this week (three performances) including a wonderful viola concerto. The soloist was a dynamite young student artist. Alas, I was sitting twenty-feet in back of her, but, once again, my understanding of how strings really sound was reinforced and confirmed.

Dave
"You are degrading your violins....yes?... And you have just found your "weakest link"."

I found out long ago that the weakest link in my system was Me. That is no longer the case thanks to fearless experimentation and developing advanced DIY skills.
One thing that is tricky about these audio boards and about high end audio is the matter of degree of experience.

For example, the 'man on the street' often has **no idea** what is possible with high end audio. It is one of the things that, if the industry could educate the public, would be an area of industry growth. IOW more people would buy if they knew what is possible.

Similarly, this problem also exists within the community itself. Here on the boards we all use the same language to describe sound and our experience of it, but the degree of experience varies dramatically!

For example, how much would you spend if you could experience a whole new level of transparency and involvement with the music?

Would you go out and buy the amplifier that made that happen for you? How would you be able to tell that its that amp that did it? Especially, how can you tell when there are so many choices, most of which are hard to get to audition?

Herein lies our conversation- some on this list have heard some of the finest amps out there: CAT, Berning, Einstein, (if I may be so bold) Atma-Sphere, DeHavalind, etc., and might have even heard them on a set of speakers with a preamp and recording that actually does them justice!

Sadly, most have not (oh BTW my little list above is leaving off a lot, its just to make a point) and never will. It makes it very tricky to create a conversation like this one and have it make a lot of sense. Even if you have the 'best' amp out there, there is no point if your preamp is not up to snuff!

IME it is very useful to bring a musician into your listening room and have them play. If you can, record them playing. **Then** compare that to what your stereo sounds like! Then it is possible to create an idea of how your system really performs...
04-07-08: Atmasphere said:
"IME it is very useful to bring a musician into your listening room and have them play. If you can, record them playing. **Then** compare that to what your stereo sounds like! Then it is possible to create an idea of how your system really performs..."

I agree in general, BUT this must be done very carefully. First, you must realize that the recording chain is every bit as sensitive as the playback chain. Also realize that almost all mics add coloration.

Ok, so you've got the most incredible recording chain possible and a virtuoso comes to your house and stands between your speakers and plays as you record, but don't amplify. When you play back the image can't possibly match the point-source of the actual instrument. So, it's best to play the feed through the speakers so that you'll hear the same perspective on playback, unfortunately that adds the coloration of the playback system to what you hear.

IME it's best to let the musician play without going through the speakers and then focus almost entirely on timbre on playback. This is still tough because of mic proximity effects and the coloration of the recording chain, particularly the mics. Placement of the mics is tough also.

So, this is MUCH easier said than done.

Hearing live acoustic instruments often, from a variety of perspectives is as good or better, IMHO. The real vs. Memorex thing can be pulled off, but it's not casually done.

Dave