Speaker Distortion or Room Interaction ?

my floor-standing speakers are quite powerful already, and sound very clean up to a certain (fairly loud but not party-loud) volume. BUT past
that, the sound starts becoming increasingly smeared and eventually becomes harsh and unlistenable, probably due to room reflections, but i have no way of measuring speaker-distortion levels like they do in stereophile. my room does
have some reverberation issues, which i've treated with echo-busters to good effect (although the room is still far from "dead"). but this is my living room also, so i really don't want to add any more room treatments. at the same time i've been seriously looking at even bigger speakers for a few years to get more resolution, sonority, and headroom in the low bass dept. in other words, i dream of listening to large-scale works of music at more realistic volume levels with a minimum of distortion. SO, the question is, if i go ahead with an upgrade, am i going to run into the same problem, or possibly even encounter worse room interactions?
or would a larger speaker sound so much better at a more controlled/lower volume level that it would be worth it for that alone? i know what some of you are thinking- build a dedicated listening room, otherwise the dream of recreating beethoven #5 will forever elude me.
I think only an in home lengthy audition can answer that, otherwise we are all just speculating.
What speakers and amp are you using?...are you sure it's the speakers distorting? How large is the room?

I got dramatic improvements in speaker performance by adding Sistrum stands. Any resonances are disipated dramatically by use of thise wonderful devices. I've used the Audiopoings Sistrum 004 and 001 to great effect. Not sure if the use of such stands would solve your issue, but I've found them to be an essential component in my setup.

I've no interest/relationship with Sistrum or vendors etc - I just love the product (for speakers anyway - I've found their use with other electronics much more subtle)
Questions you need to be asking are: How large is the listening room? What is the speaker's sensitivity rating? What is the maximum rated output of your speakers in dBs? How loud is your listening level? And how much amplifier power do you have available?

What I'm thinking is that it's very possible that your amps are simply clipping and being driven into serious distortion and this is being reproduced by the speakers (which can be harmful to both speakers and the amp). It may not be a room overload issue at all. If you don't know the answers to the above questions, then this is the most likely cause of your distortion (not enough amplifier power). Know that your volume control could be relatively low, at 11 O'clock for example, and you could still be driving some amps into distortion at that setting. Where the amps clip, relative to the position of the volume control, depends on the output level of the source feeding the amp and its own input sensitivity...
It sounds like it might be clipping, but until you give us more info it's impossible to even speculate.
What are your speakers and amplifier? From your description, this might be one of two common problems;

a speaker thermal compression issue (as coils heat up your speaker response characteristics change and may sound dull and compressed)

or a an overdriven amplifier (sounds absolutely awful).

I doubt this is a room problem.
And while we're guessing, what is your idea of an "upgrade"?
Doesn't sound like room acoustics/interactions at all. Jond said it: "clipping" IMO.
my speakers are eggleston andra-2's. my amps are levinson-33h's (the speakers have low distortion, and the amps have adequate power). the room is 14.5 X 20 ft with a cathedral ceiling. as an upgrade, i was thinking about, let's say, a wilson maxx-2 sized speaker. my point was/is, when secondary reflections degrade the focus and purity of the sound that reaches your ears, you can either cover the walls from stem to stern with absorptive material, or keep the volume level below a certain level. if a larger speaker would sound even more coherent with more low-bass at that (safe) volume,
it might be worth the expense- but i have to wonder.
i heard the wilson WAMM's a long time ago in an acoustically great room, and for the 1st (and last) time a symphony orchestra actually sounded like one- the sense of scale was enormous. i'm not expecting quite that in MY room, but for the $$$ involved with an upgrade, i'd like to get alot closer to that ideal. or do you reach the point i have where you have speakers with 20-20 freq. response and incredible musicality, and just call it a day, forgoing the ability to re-create mahler #8 or handel's messiah?
French Fries,
Your ears are much more complex instruments than Stereophile's test equipment. Take their measurements w/grain of salt. Just because an amp measures well doesn't mean that it is free of the distortions that we can hear.

As to your comment about relationship between volume and reflections, that doesn't jive w/all I've read about acoustics. Reflections in a given room will affect the sound the same way at 80db or 90.

I agree the amps are probably malfunctioning or not a good match with the Andras. A friend uses one of the large Classe amps w/his Andras, and doesn't have the problem you describe. Cheers,
It would stand to reason that you have very high standards given your equipment list and the complexity of the aforementioned music ... I appreciate that. Would it be possible to build yourself a custom designed listening room? I get the feeling your standards may require the freedom to eliminate unwanted resonance at the expense of esthetics. This usually results in an angry woman. $40K-$60K on your own little oasis might be a bargain in the long run. You can do it a lot cheaper if you get involved yourself or maybe just renovate a large bedroom?

It might be a pain but find a room to play with and move your gear in for a weekend to see if the problem is improved upon. I did it with a bedroom once ... I was surprised how much different my measly system sounded. Enough so I am considering a listening room instead of a garage. I live for the day I have my own soundproof space. A windowless cave for the sake of music ...

for the $$$ involved with an upgrade, i'd like to get alot closer to that ideal. or do you reach the point i have where you have speakers with 20-20 freq. response and incredible musicality, and just call it a day, forgoing the ability to re-create mahler #8 or handel's messiah
Ahhhh, Mahler 8 (Horenstein perhaps?). Forget it. UNLESS, maybe: a) you dish out giga$ for exquisitely designed and probably large, sensitive (~95db spl 1W/1m) commercial spkrs OR b)you fabricate your own (preferably fm a kit).

Otherwise, you'll not have the sense of scale, you'll hear 2-3 cellos at best, ~10 people in the chorus, about 6 violins, the right side of the orch may be off phase with the left side (i.e. the "upper bass" will lag vs the mids), add lib...

Nothing wrong with all the above; it's just difficult to reproduce a large orchestra -- let alone a huge choir added into the equation. Too much energy, too many instruments, too much dynamic content...
Just think about it: you're asking 4 medium-sized units + a tweet/side to reproduce 100-+500 musicians (Mahler 8).

Re yr original question: it reads (sounds) like you're overdriving yr spkrs. I.e. the spkrs are distorting. Just turn down the volume.
The levinson amps are very good...they are not powerhouse amps though...300 watts@4ohms. Classical music with a lot of dynamic mood swings and deep bass could cause them to clip long before the Eggleston speakers go into distortation.

You could add a sub or subs. This will make life much more easy for the Levinsons...an increase in midrange quality will also be in the results.

The Egglestons should mate very well with subs...20hz will not be a problem for the sub.

French Fries,

You have world class gear without a doubt.

And yet you want more, your goal, if I understood correctly, is large scale works at realistic volume levels with low levels of distortion, no smearing or harshness.

Mmm...I can't believe those Eggleston's cannot deliver this. Perhaps one of your drivers is damaged? Perhaps you do not feel it is "party loud" because the sound is so clean? Are the walls and floors of your room too reflective (an eq to tone down the 4 to 8 Khz range might help if you cannot allow for more room treatments)

Have you also considered that you may be playing so loud as to induce intermodulation distortion in your ears? Concerts at extreme SPL levels sound bad/distorted to the ears even when the music is clean (where you are seated has a lot to do with whether you get blasted or not).

If you are certain that none of the above is the source of your troubles at high levels...then perhaps you should consider auditioning ATC or similar speakers. ATC are known for their ability to produce huge dynamics at extremely high SPL levels (similar to live music levels and possibly closer to your described goal). The ATC SCM 150ASL can produce SPL's of 117 db continuously with headroom of another 10 db or so, and all at a THD of a fraction of one percent. This is astoundingly loud for a single cabinet freestanding.

I suspect a high end pair of ATC's (or Meyer's) might be an improvement for you, in the particular qualities you seek, with one caveat: your system is already very very impressive!
I'm not familiar with your speakers, but I have some power hungry Aerial 10t's. I found a very large improvement by going to multiple amps. First, 2 Classe SS amps at 300watts. Each amp was vertically wired so each served a channel. Now I'm using a pair of Rogue monoblocks on the mids and highs, and 1 Classe for the woofers. I doubt any of them ever struggle even at good volumes. But it is now quite possible to overplay my listening room. ( 21 x 15 x 8 ) Even after installing 6 floor to ceiling bass traps and various absorption panels in the first reflection points.

But since this is your living room more amps and treatments may not be possible for other obvious reasons.
thanks to all for your responses. i would like to turn the question around if i may- if YOU have a room like mine,
and you feel your system really can reproduce the sound and the scale of the new york philharmonic, what did you have to do or buy to achieve this?
as an addendum i pulled out "TRITTICO"- prof.johnson's HDCD
of the dallas wind symphony the other day. lots of bass-drum thwacks and tympani, brass, double fortissimos, etc.
hey, my speakers didn't sound half bad on THAT recording...
no distortion, no shrieking, nada. not like the Tchaikovsky Ballet Suites on DG- a 4-D recording that i played before that-
the sound got real zingy and smeary during the loud parts. in either case, i would guess that my speakers have to be working fairly hard during some of those dynamic peaks, so while i enjoy all the sound i keep the remote close by.
NOT ME, but i've heard PLENTY of horror stories about people who crank up high-end stereos LOUD, after the dealer assured them that they could do just that with their "new toy". SO, they throw a big party, and use the volume control like the accelerator pedal on a sports car. then a "fluffing" sound starts coming out of the woofers, and/or there's no sound past the midrange. i'm talking about very large, expensive loudspeakers too. (my interest is not in party music though.) please share your system/experiences.
i mean, if, with your setup you feel at times that you're in a concert hall, i'd like to know about it. thanks!

french fries, we still don't know what spl levels that you are talking about. Live Mahler symphony can reach 105db at row 5 in a good hall. is this what you are attempting to reproduce at home and is this the level at which you are hearing the distortion. Perhaps you are trying to reach levels that are actually higher than concert hall levels due to low frequency compression (the frequency response of the speakers at higher levels is not as flat as lower levels) and pushing your system into distortion (clipping) to compensate.
Bob P.
French Fries,

I am not sure if you saw my earlier post - it may have crossed with yours earlier today.

I have ATC SCM 100 active speakers and an ATC SCM 0.1/15 Sub. My room is similar to your room except for 9 foot rather than cathedral ceilings.

I can confirm absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, that this system in my room achieves SPL levels and dynamic range similar to live rock music and easily surpass SPL's in a classical concert hall (barring real cannons for 1812).

Since I received the ATC SCM 100 actives about six months ago, this is the first time in my life that I have lost the urge to continue to turn up the volume. I admit defeat...my ears simply can't stand to go as loud as this system can (even though the sound remains clean with extremely low distortion levels, well below 1 % THD, no harshness no smearing).

If this is what you truely seek...then look no further than ATC.

There are a few other speakers used by rock recording studios that you might try, such as Meyer, but I have no direct experience to guide you. One advantage of ATC is that they are also liked by some classical sound engineers too, for example Telarc and Hans Zimmer use ATC.

Sorry if this sounds like a shameless plug for ATC (a proud owner speaking)....but I believe that nobody would dare disagree with my contention that high-end ATC speakers are well known to deliver exceptionally high and clean SPL levels with heaps of headroom and dynamic range. ( and isn't this what you are seeking?)
Shadorne -- the ATC 100 are quite large, and very expensive. They are also active so there go frenchfries' Mark Levs. OTOH they're also good spkrs IMO -- better than the present ones -- but they still won't reproduce the scale of a Mahler 8.

Yes I agree 100%. My comments are limited to extremely high SPL, dynamic range and low distortion...but none of this adds up to the live experience. No two speakers could ever re-produce the real thing with a large orchestra and chorus on the scale of Mahler 8 (speakers are point sources while orchestras are distributed).