smoothing those sibilants...

I appreciate the feedback on the interconnect post I made a few days ago, and here is my next question: If I am attempting to smooth out the sound of a "low-end-of-the-high-end" system, reducing grain while retaining detail (and looking for a warmer more "classic tube sound"), where is my energy/$$$ best spent? Would it be the digital source itself, the interconnects, the input tubes, the speaker cables, or the speakers? Or something else? (System info can be seen under the post entitled "need interconnect advice", and there are some new interconnects on the way.)
A sibilant problem is often a problem with the speaker. You want warm, laidback without losing detail? I suggest you listen to a pair of Vandersteen 2ce Signature speakers. I really am not familiar with the Mordant Short speakers you use but there is no sibilant attenuation with Vandy's. They sound like what you may be looking for. And they work very well with a wide assortment of electronics. Good luck.
My Denon AVR-5700 had the same problem, I changed speakers, tried various interconnects, changed power cords, and my best results at taming those "SSSSSS'S" were the Harmonic Technology Truthlink interconnects. When I can afford it I will upgrade the Denon to Theta gear.
Can't argue with the Vandersteen or HT recommendation. Came very close to buying Vandies and currently own HT ICs. Several recent changes have helped in taming an annoying sibilant trait in my system, so maybe this will help or spur some useful discussion. -BDR cones under the transport for vibration isolation. Another set is on order for further experimentation (preamp, DAC, amp?) BTW, this had a side benefit of improving bass definition. -Proper tension on the interconnects' locking RCAs. Too loose and "S" is more "Sh"; too tight and the dynamics suffer. It's a bit of a tight rope. -Cleaned all the connections which took out a bit of grunge, figuratively and literally. Half the cables were bought used, so should have done this before. Especially with the silver, non-locking RCA connectors on the digital cable. Live and learn. -Found a connector on the DAC was loose. Snugged it up which helped. -The room has a noticeable slap echo. Sitting extremely close (beyond nearfield) shows that much of the remaining sibilance is interaction with the room. Will add drapes this weekend and sound panels/flags next month. Hopefully these will finish taming the problem and bring the sound to the desired quality. The nagging question, though, is whether it's ever really *exactly* right? Probably not for long if at all...
I had grungie-problems that turned out to be AC power related. I tried a lot of the things you've tried; finally figured out it wasn't the signal cables or the hardware. Look closer at your AC power line feed. You likely need some decent line-filtering & probably some upgrade AC cords too. Chang Lightspeed's line filtering products were my affordable solution to the grunge. Then I experimented with AC cords, & eventually installed a dedicated AC line for even further improvements. Don't mess around with your speakers until the input signal is clean first. They're probably fine as-is.
Your problem is why Cardas sells so much interconnect and cable despite the "flavor of the month" hype. Check out Cross or Golden Cross. In your system, interconnect will give best BANG/$$$.
I think that Cardas would be a very good choice when comparing cables if you try the H.T. Truthlinks. They deliver the emotion as well as the H.T. cables.
I agree with the idea of going first to check your AC power.Change the outlets first. then check your phase orientation on your AC cables. Then upgrade the power cables.If this does not solve the problem, then go for other interconnects, speaker cables, etc.
I do indeed appreciate the feedback, thanks. Right now I'm only using a Panamax "light commercial duty" power strip/surge protector, but a good friend has a Monster 1000 (allegedly a quality piece) that I will be able to pick up soon. Unfortunately, the cord on the Antique Sound amp that I have is captive, so I don't have much wiggle room there. Do you suggest a better quality wall receptacle, I have read conflicting reports on the effectiveness of this. One last question, is there a reasonably priced cleaner that I could use on the connections throughout the system that someone can recommend? Thanks again for the input, and I will DEFINITELY be trying some different interconnects along with power upgrades... You know, the system sounds really pretty good, if I could just "naturalize" the vocals (female especially).
Cable Company has an audio grade Hubble wall outlet that I got for only $15; that helped. An improvement yes, but the Wattgate 381 is even better albiet *much more expensive @$250 list - the sale price was $189 when I got mine. Also get a sheet of crocus cloth at the hardware store (this is only very mildly abrasive) to brightly burnish the AC plug prongs of all your cords. Cut off a small 2" square piece; the whole sheet will then last you a lifetime. Don't burnish your good interconnects or silver/gold speaker cable spades though. Clean all AC & audio connections with fresh short pieces of pipe cleaner dipped in a recommended NON-residue solvent, such as Kontact, Audioquest Ultraconnect, etc. Refer to contact cleaning instructions on, or etc. for specific guidelines. There are several good cleaning solvent alternatives available (check on Audio all are pretty good. Other guys like Progold, but I stay away from the oily residue types myself. Do try to first audition a power conditioner, or filtering AC strip, before you buy one. These can be system-dependent & you don't necessarily have to spend a lot. Many options are available in that area. have fun!
If you would like to save the trip to the hardware store pick a piece of smooth cotton cloth add a little tooth paste and polish your AC plugs shiny don't leave solid residue by cleaning thoroughly with a damp piece cloth and use at least electronic contact cleaner swabed with a lint free cloth. Cones under your source components *i.e. CD player* if you look for the right spot might provide in certain cases better treble definition depending on the unit but worth a try
The first changes have been made, and I think I'm on to something. A friend has lent me a pair of Cardas cables, which has made a none-too-subtle difference. At first I thought that the system sounded "darker", but some careful listening is revealing details that were obscured before, just WAY less "sizzle". Right on! The other change made this morning is to remove the little mesh things that live over the tweeters, and reinstalling the grille covers on the speakers. Now why this shoud make such a difference, I don't know, but these two "tweaks" are exactly the type of changes that I'm looking for. Soon I'll have the opportunity to try some cables from Nordost and also Alpha-Core (or is it Goertz, I get confused), and will be trying improved vibration/isolation techniques as well. Better power, too. Anyone in doubt of whether or not cable can make a difference is sure welcome to come over and listen! Thanks again for the posts...
Aldenruss, I am not familiar with the Antique Sound amp. Does it use tubes or is it totally solid state? I ask the question because there are lots of tube changes possible.
For "albertporter", the Antique Sound is all tube, 2x15 (pentode) or 2x5 (triode) using KT88's for the power tubes, and 12ax7's for the input/driver tubes. The power tubes have been upgraded to Svetlana KT88's (thank you to Stewart at Sanctuary of Sound), the input/drivers to JJ Yugo's. You know, when I put up the second post, I thought for sure that people would say that I needed to change some tubes around to get the results that I was looking for. Interestingly, it was speakers, interconnects and power considerations that were mentioned, and if today's experiments were any indication they were right on. That being said, I have read that changing the input tubes of a tube amp will have more effect on the sound than changing the power tubes. Comments and advice are WELCOME!
Aldenruss: Good to see things are improving in your system. You mentioned that your amp has no detachable power cord. In my case, I have changed the plugs in all my power cords for better quality ones. Generally stock power cords don-t have the best plugs so it might be an improvement to consider, you can go to the Watta gate type or at least Hubbell's (I'm using 5266C plugs) go for a hospital grade wall plate (Hubbell has worked fine for me) and if your house wiring has been around for some time change the breakers in the panel that feed your system. If you don't feel comfortable doing this (safety first) you can those changes be made .Regards
Aldenruss, the 12AX7 tubes will be a big change in sound in your system, depending on which ones you are running. The JJ Yugo's are better than some, but certainly not up to the NOS classic tubes like Telefunken, Mullard and Amperex. The Telefunken is what I would try with the Svetlana KT88 output tubes. I would love to hear your response after plugging in a set and listening to your favorite music again.
Again ladies and gentlemen, the cheapest and best sibilance busters I ever heard were Mobile Spec Performance cheap as hell RCA cables. At fifteen bucks a pair you should really give them a try. Talk to Sean on this sight to get set up with a pair or two. Made my Perreaux sound much more euphonic. Remarkable but true one of the best kept secrets I've run into yet.
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Interesting commentary Elizabeth: not extreme IMO. Couldn't agree more regarding how a nice system can sound so god-awfully horrible with an economy digital front end. Loved your cracks about earplugs & the cassette-deck filter. How about some pillows over your tweeters? Isn't running the signal thru some budget IC's just another form of filtering? I subscribe to the G.I.G.O. theory myself. Want a nice hi-res. CD player that's also really smooth? An EAD Ultradisk 2000 made it happen at my house. A 20 bit HDCD GEM; & avail. used (you can't buy a new one anymore) around $1K+. Meridian 508.24, Electrocompaniet EMC-1, YBA Integre are other contenders.
Elizabeth you are so bang on.people dont realize how critical the source should spend the same $ on the source as they spend on a speakers.I sold my Anthem CD-1 and used the Money to buy a Turntable,I love my analog front end.I replaced the cd player with a mid fi Nak unit.My wife who listens to CD is not as keen to listing to the cd player as she used to be.I get tired in a matter of minutes.I will be getting a hi end player soon.Smooth the sibilants with a good digital front end.
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It's possible that the sibilance you're hearing is an accurate portrayal of what's on your CDs. Sibilance can result from bad miking, poor microphone choice, the vocalist and/or over processing of the music signal. Most of the above post only address the upper midrange hardness that may be part of your system and they will do nothing to eliminate the sibilance if it's in the source material. If you're truly serious, you need a de-esser (a frequency dependent compressor). Consider the TC Electronics Finalizer line or Drawmer Masterflow Processor. Both are pro audio signal processers that will eliminate sibilance. Most likely you don't need to get this serious, but if you do, these are the components you should look at.
Removing sibilance, what a great objective ! Unfortunately in my experience it takes zillions of dollars to do so without sacrificing detail or tonal balance or something. Room interactions are many times responsible, I wonder if the room correction systems can help.
Pinning or better yet holding your ears back and in reduces sibilance. No joke, try it. Hwy61 is also right on IMO. Having attempted a career as a professional musician I have heard a lot of SSSSS words in live performances that were due to both the artists lack of control and mike etiquette as well as the equipment. To reduce all of the SSSSS sounds would be to not have an acurate portrayal of the source material, again IMO. If the ear trick works it would stand to reason that Joe's recommendation of room treatment would have a "major" impact on sibilance as well (it sure does on everything else). I only wish I were willing to work more with our listening room, though my wife did just give me a nice shroud to hang over a rather large painting that hangs behind the speakers, which makes a big improvement in the mid and HF's. I guess that I am fortunate in that I have never had a problem with this (I also feel that sibilance on occassion is normal) in any of my vinyl based systems and do not experience a problem with it in my current digital system (I also use silver IC's most of the time). Anyway Elizabeth, I am happy that you were able to control it by upgrading your gear, plus you really seem to like the new player. I will be adding a new DAC to my old CAL player shortly, who knows maybe I will get me some of that sibilance along with some added detail.
I agree that many recordings seem to have it, at least as I can tell from listening via headphones. Recordings are many times responsible for the worst evils. I have mistakenly attributted poor sound to other parts of the chain when the problem was the recording --even on recordings that make the Records to Die For in Stereophile !
Having had the chance to audition some different interconnects here in my own casa, I wanted to post an update, and also respond to a couple of other posts. First, I got to try (and am using for reasons financial) some low-end Cardas, which although seemed to have "darkened" the overall sound, did indeed reduce sibilants without sacrificing detail. I also tried a pair of Nordost Blue Heavens, which were good but a bit "zingy" for my taste. Then, the Epiphany! I had the pleasure to listen to a pair of Silver Audio 6.0's, and that did the trick for sure. Wow, smooth, detailed, warm, just the things I was looking for. A pair of these will definitely be the next system upgrade. Now, about some of these posts, I understand that the source that I'm using is not the be-all end-all for "smooth" digital sound, but it is FAR from junk. I have heard some high-dollar digital gear (admittedly not in my own home) that not only didn't sound better, it sounded worse. And at the risk of going off-topic, I at this time cannot see spending huge dollars on a digital source as standards get settled on. The new Sony ES DVD/SACD player looks promising, but what's this, Sony themselves hinting that multi-channel SACD will be at CES next month? There's also a hint on the Perpetual Technologies site that says they may have a Universal player at CES, that's SACD, DVD-A, CD, etc., for about $1500. Also, I completely agree that sibilants change from disc to disc, and unfortunately some otherwise great recordings (one in particular is Alanis Morisette's Former Supposed Infatuation Junkie) are marred by excessive sibilants. Sometimes, it seems, this is just going to be part of the game.