Smooth treble

What is in fact a "smooth and refined treble"? Is that synonymous with treble roll off? Psycho acoustically an extreme smooth and refined treble can present itself like if there is less high frequency extension paradoxically. This is what one actually hears in the concert hall! In the concert hall one hears less "treble" than in the home (with your super high end rig). How can one get this smooth and refined high frequencies without severe treble roll off?
In my experience the older and more mature an audiophile gets, the more he/she wants a very natural sounding (overly refined) treble (not the bright, brilliant and super transparent treble many people want when they are making the transition from "mid fi" to "high end" audio) . Do you agree with this?

You can have the best of both world`s, "..natural sounding" AND "..super transparent treble", via ribbon tweeters, Magnapan, Quads, and some (expensive) high end box speakers.
Smooth treble is NOT rolled off. Smooth is a perfect term for the phenomena. Smooth means it is 'not jagged' thus it is clear, precise, and more exactly what the original sound was.
I can most easily hear it on a good soprano recording. Some sopranos have a silky sheen on top of the voice. (Sinead O'Connor is one, Emma Kirby another)
Smooth treble will reproduce this exactly. not-smooth treble will make them sound edgy, scratchy, as if they have a slight sore throat.
the bright, brilliant and super transparent treble many people want when they are making the transition from "mid fi" to "high end" audio
Agreed. However, I would replace "super transparent" with "super prominent".

Smooth does, of course, mean there is no jagged & annoying response in the region of 4-9kHz, usually mistaken for "transparency"... as in, "wow, a veil lifted and my jaw fell through the floorboards". I've heard that said of a sibilant set up. Regards
Smooth means not course or irritating during extended listens.
"How can one get this smooth and refined high frequencies without severe treble roll off? "

For me it was a progression of things , of course the recording is the number one component .

I started by ditching metal tweeters in favor of soft dome or organic tweeters . As mentioned above ribbons will fall into this catagory as well .

I then ditched my SS CDP for a tube unit .

Then I ditched my SS amplification for tubed .

And finally finding a tubed int. amp with good top end extension .

It was a process of changes that taught me things along the way . This is not the only way but it is the way that works for me . And other things were accomplished along the way that increased my listening enjoyment .

While I believe that the smooth treble aspect can be accomplished with metal tweeters and SS components , it may come at a greater cost and may or may not give you the desired overall sound that pleases you .
For me it did not .

Good luck .
It is all to do with waterfall...driver resonance is what messes up treble. Soft domes treated with damping material on the fabric work well.

It is often a fight between on one hand stunning brochure quality frequency response plots versus a not so perfect treble rolled off above 12 Khz. If you let the frequency reponse plot dominate your design choice then you inevitably end up with a metal or very stiff type tweeter and that is how you get a waterfall with resonance.

Most people know as a rule of thumb that soft dome tweeters are smoother than metal you know why.
I did similar to Saki but for the purpose of changing the sound overall based on what I had heard auditioning various reference systems. I did not find the treble per se on my particular system with SS gear problematic at all though. When it occurred it was usually on certain (soft dome tweeter by chance) speakers with certain recordings in a certain room.

I "ditched" the SS pre-amp only because a) I need a SS power amp to properly drive my speakers and b) I want as few tubes in my system as possible in order to minimize maintenance and c) tubes in power amps are probably the most finicky and expensive.

So you can achieve smooth treble with SS as well of course.

A single tube in a tubed DAC is a good place to start if your issues are mostly with digital sources. Next step would be the pre-amp and finally the power amp if you turn out to be so brave.
What one hears at a live concert is very dependent upon the concert venue and the actual seat.

Great observation about the transition from low fi to mid fi. It appears to me that a number of speaker companies "pray" on those people, knowing that they will be in awe of the "detail" that speaker reproduces. I own a small shop and have "kissed a number of those frogs". A number of them have big names.
It is sort of like learning about red wine. I was in wine country last fall sampling from a very small grower. He said that the industry has been dominated by wines that are way over the top. He referred to his wines as table wines, meaning those that you would drink with food. They would not over power the flavor of the food.

Interesting observation and one that makes sense. I have tried some wines that at first taste "soooo goood" End up buying a case and then regretting that decision.

I don't want to put you on the hot seat, but could you mention some specific brands/products that you think fall into this category?
Duelund caps in my Merlins. Prior to the Duelunds I perceived increased treble extension as brightness, after the Duelunds I hear it as simply treble extension. I would describe this brightness as a hardness in the treble, now have a silkier, more airy presentation. Furthermore, I've found cap upgrades throughout my system have imparted a much greater level of refinement to the treble (as well as the mids and bass).

Clean AC is also critical to attaining refined treble.

And I agree that as I've gotten older, anomolies in highs bother me more. I hear pressure and discomfort in my ear with any discontinuities in highs.
I like the wine analogy. It is very hard to find good new world wines that do not taste like grape juice - most are just way over the top in flavoring (like some speakers). You are absolutely right about wine being intended to be a balanced drink go with food and not to be assault on your senses by itself. A fine wine is very drinkable and will enhance a meal enormously. I find myself generally going back to tried and true French wines (even though they are generally over priced). I never drink wine except with a meal. I never listen to speakers except to hear music.
the context for "smooth" is touch. such a term does not apply to sound. it is a word along with others that has been applied to a phenomenon to which it is totally inappropriate.

the closest analogy to smooth, as in continuous texture, e.g., glass or wood, is focus.

thus, a somewhat unfocused presentation would be perceived as smooth. it is not necessarily a matter of frequency response. obviously, grain or noise is antithetical to smoothness.

ananalytical presentation would also not be perceived as smooth.

The word "smooth" can be appropriately applied to all the senses and a variety of perceptions as well. There are 15 adjectives for "smooth" listed in my dictionary and a number could apply here. One specifically fits this discussion: "not harsh to the ear, as sound."

So it is a proper descriptive word for highs with a quality that is non-grating and appealing. I also found "free from harshness, sharpness, or bite" to be a good fit.

How about we discuss the meaning of "is" instead?
chris; are you running your soundlab or a different speaker now?
if still the soundlab are you happy with the high frequency presentation of them?
just wondering
In my book 'smooth' is two things- a lack of high frequency emphasis (however we are not talking about anything being rolled off), and a lack of odd-ordered harmonics, which is the source of 'jagged' sound that others here have referred to.

Odd-ordered harmonic content is often described as 'hard', 'brittle', 'harsh', 'clinical', sometimes 'overly detailed' (which is impossible if there is no brightness) and now 'jagged'.

You can have smooth and a lack of detail, but in my book when a change in the system causes smoothness and **increased** detail, then you are on to something. The smoother, the more detailed without losing speed, the closer you will be to the recording itself.
Rleff, yes I still have the Soundlabs. I know this is the amplifier section, but which speaker has smoother highs: Soundlab A-1 or Apogee fullrange ribbon? Why I'm asking this question? If one of the two speakers has more silkier and "smoother" highs then it is superior to the other or this treble presentation should be an inherent flaw in the design (so it is "inferior" to the other). I don't understand frankly why the ribbon should sound different than the electrostatic speaker and vice versa.

Ralph has a good point. Non musical added harmonics would not be smooth (Amp xover distortion - clipping etc.) Jitter would also not be smooth. The musically unrelated stuff (just like non musical driver resonance) is generally harsh or "etched" sounding. A hypercompressed recording will sound rough too.
Dazzdax, to answer your question about the differences between the Sound Lab and the Apogee, IMO/IME the Sound Lab is likely the better performer of the two, given that you have the ideal amplifier to driver either one, which could be two very different amplifiers!

The reason I say this is that the Sound Lab has a powered system for moving the diaphragm and the Apogee relies on a permanent magnet. All magnets in all speakers have a certain amount of sag when the amplifier puts power to the diaphragm to make it move (BTW this is why Alnico magnets are preferred in cone systems as they sag the least and consequently sound better). IOW the powered electrostatic field of the ESL will not sag while the permanent magnet system will. The cone speaker equivalent of this is the field coil; so far I've not heard of a field coil-powered magnetic planar, and that would be an interesting speaker project...

The powered system offers greater impact and greater detail, often with associated smoother sound, IME.

Otherwise I would expect very similar performance overall, if it is possible to rule out the amplifier in the equation, which I am not sure is possible.
Hi Ralph, my experience is a bit different than yours. More often I hear "softer" (smoother, less grainy) treble presentation with (fullrange) ribbon speakers. For example years ago I heard the Dali Megalines (ribbon tweeter + midrange with cones for the bass) and it was as if there was no treble, at least not the treble we are accustomed of at home. The sound wasn't dull either but quite natural to me. The problem is at home we hear another sort of treble/high frequency reproduction than in the live situation --> live music sounds much more "smooth" and airy in the high frequency department.

"live music sounds much more "smooth" and airy in the high frequency department."

Depends on where you are sitting relative to the source.

Sit next to a drum set and give the crash symbol a good whack. Chances are it is not so light and airy.
Mapman, yes it is very direct with high energy content (not very good for da ears), nevertheless it sounds very rich with rich overtones and also... airy. You can also hear there is some warmth (paradoxically) in this loud, aggressive and metallic sound of the cymbals.

"You can also hear there is some warmth (paradoxically) in this loud, aggressive and metallic sound of the cymbals."
Exactly. That is because in 'typical hifi' systems the aggressive treble (opposite of smooth and refined treble you talk about) extends and tinges further down to upper mids/lower treble that tends to sound thinner, unnatural, but detailed and present that many prefer, lacking warmth, completely not like real instruments.

I am not sure if I am making any sense or not;-)
Dazzdax and Nilthepil: No need for further elucidation.I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. That miserable element of treble reproduction you so accurately describe has been the most irritating aspect of sound reproduction I have ever encountered or known. The amount of money, time and frustration spent trying to eliminate or reduce its unwanted presence has been nearly criminal. And equally insane has been the large number of components, many of them ridiculously expensive, that have flooded the audio market and which almost routinely offer the very sort of treble emphasis/innacuracy that you so correctly and necessarily call attention to. Hopefully, some day in the not too distant future the hi fi treble issue, for the most part, can be put to rest so the listening experience can be less tense and frustrating and more genuinely satisfying and enjoyable.
Though I'm very pleased with my existing components, here is something I failed to mention, but should have. If you have tried a number of component changes but are still somewhat dissatisfied, you might want to re-examine your room's acoustics. I was able to get some assistance from a friend who brought in a spectrum analyzer, which revealed some sound related issues associated with the location of my seating and speaker positions. Making corrections with these as well as dealing with some wall and door reflections in areas of the room I was not previously aware of made a very significant overall change with regard to treble presentation. What I'm hearing now is smoother and more like the kind of sound I enjoy in a nice concert hall.
Opus88, its all about the rules of human hearing. Most people think about 20hz to 20KHz as the most important, but the most important is the ability to tell how loud a sound is. We use odd-ordered harmonic content to do that.

When electronics do not take this into account, they sound harsh...
Ralph;is the ability to pass odd-ordered harmonics handled better by tubes over solid state or is it just design?
When the House of High Fidelity was in St.Paul this was one topic that was heavily talked about.
Ralph, please elucidate: odd order harmonics? I thought these were the harmonics that should be avoided as the plague?

Hi Chris, yes, that's right. FWIW tubes in general make less odd-ordered harmonics so its a lot easier to build a smooth sounding system by using them.

Tubes are so linear that it is possible to build circuits that use zero amounts of loop negative feedback. Although feedback reduces distortion, it will actually increase the odd orders that our ears use as loudness cues. This gives the equipment that uses negative feedback a sheen or harshness that it would not have otherwise, although with most transistor designs, not using feedback is not an option.

Rleff, does that answer your question?
thanks ralph
I agree with Ralph that odd-ordered harmonics, distortion in general, should be as low as possible. In the case of multidriver loudspeakers, many (most?) tweeters produce a much higher percentage of both even and odd-ordered distortion at the lower end of their operating bandwidth. But if loudspeaker design was as simple as crossing a given tweeter higher along its operating bandwidth range to decrease distortion products without incurring other "penalties", even a muttonhead like me might get into the loudspeaker business!
In my experience the older and more mature an audiophile gets, the more he/she wants a very natural sounding (overly refined) treble (not the bright, brilliant and super transparent treble many people want when they are making the transition from "mid fi" to "high end" audio) . Do you agree with this?


Yes, I agree 100% Chris. I feel that many younger, experimenting audiophiles choose the 'sizzle' over the 'steak'. Nothing wrong with that, been there, done that. I went through all of the "thunder bass, OMG, wow, did you hear that detail in the high's?" phase myself. Actually, I would go back there again if it would make me younger again....LOL!!

As I have grown older, now over 30 years into this hobby/dementia, I have gravitated to more natural sounding music and gear. More classical and acoustical jazz now as opposed to the rock n' roll of my youth. More tubes and vinyl these days, and speakers with 'natural' treble and bass as opposed to the honky-tonk master-blaster stuff of my youth...... as I grow older.
I wouldn't classify it as 'overly refined' treble though. Looking back, I would say that the younger gear is 'hyper-detailed' in comparison.

I have three sons, ages 24-17, and I do still reminiscence when I see/ hear them driving off with the bass a' thumping in their cars. Takes me back to my Lynard Skynard, Allman Brothers, Led Zepplin, and 'The Boss' days.......

Sure, I still 'let my hair down' now and again.....but it is not the same as the old days. As I sit and listen to some well played Mozart SACD on my 'natural' sounding rig....growing up (old?) ain't so bad either.