I am a music lover who has appreciated good quality two-channel audio for over 30 years. While not a technical expert, I have some familiarity with the concepts and equipment involved. I listen to a broad range of classical music (90%) and various other stuff like jazz (10%).

I recently revised my system by replacing vintage SAE amplicication with new ARC gear, as detailed below. This has provided wonderful results overall, with clear detailed and musical sound on a broad range of the music I listen to. I am generally very pleased with these results.

However, one thing that is a bit of an annoyance is that on vocals (mostly female) I now hear a definite and pronounced sibilance that seems to be over-emphasized. This does not appear to be related to any overall edginess or harshness in the system, as other music sounds quite natural and smooth, including higher frequency stuff like violins and piccolos.

In reviewing some previous threads on this subject, I did not get a very clear picture of this issue: in particular, it seemed that a number of observers were suggesting that this type of sibilance is caused by problems in the recording process and might even be expected as natural with improved playback system quality.

This explanation seems strange to me, as I am experiencing this phenomenon with a considerable variety of source material, including many recordings where there would not be close-miking of singers.

I would very much appreciate any advice or observations that might help me better understand this problem of sibilance, and possible approaches for improving the situation.


ARC CD-1 player
ARC LS 25 Mk. II preamp
ARC 150.2 amp
KEF 105.2 speakers
Cardas cross ICs (xlr)
heavy-gauge stranded copper speaker cables
Powerpack II conditioner
Room: 14'w/20'l/10'h wood panneled with carpeting

There's been a few threads on this subject. Some have claimed to completely eliminate any negative trace of sibilance simply by purchasing a more appropriate source(cdp).

For several reasons I find that difficult to believe. My experience with negative sibilance completely vanished upon my inserting the Foundation Research LC-1 and LC-2 passive in-line conditioners on each component. (These conditioners also do much more than just eliminate the negative sibilance.)

Others may find that hard to believe.

But I am convinced that, assuming the equipment is of adequate quality, negative sibilance has everything to do with the poor quality AC coming into everybody's home.

Also, keep in mind that there is nothing that you can do about negative sibilance in the recording or microphone itself.

In addition, you do not specify which kind of cabling you are using. There are plenty of cables and ic's that produce a grain or hash that cetainly can emphasize any negative sibilance you may already be experiencing.

Odd post,not the sibilance part...but the problem you are talking about does not fit your new system. I have owned SAE gear in the 70's (very SS sounding) and hard to beleave is not worlds below your new gear?

My guess is that these are old recordings we are talking about? Play with speaker placement a bit and add some room treatments. Also play with speaker toe-in and out.

Check your 'heavy-gauge stranded copper speaker cables'. Try something not so heavy and not so stranded. A couple runs per side of 20ish gauge insulated solid core hookup wire will knock your socks off. A practically free experiment. Or buy something a notch more expensive than what you've got, and stay away from stranded.

I wouldn't normally guess Cardas ICs would be a problem, but you might have a bad match with the ARC gear. Put some art on your walls to break up the reflections. Play around with it, but stop suspecting the hardware. It's fine.
Having recently purhased a used tube preamp I've been swapping out tubes to find the right combination for my tastes. One particular tube set caused this phenomenon in my left channel. I don't know if the tube was weak or just flawed but it was real.
Because I've only experienced the annoying variety during speaker auditions, I associate sibilance with speaker choice. So maybe your SAE were masking a KEF artifact that the ARC reveals? Try substituting another set of speakers.
How about room treatment. I'm messing around with room treatment myself. And I get the sssss as a peircing sound on some placements of my absorber/defussors, while other placements eliminate it altogher. Just a thought.
You need to look into your AC system, your cabling and room acoustics / treatments. I also agree with Dave aka Sogood51. That is, my past experiences with SAE gear was anything but musical". I would categorize most of that gear as being "sterile" and / or much higher in potential for a sibilance based problem. Sean
Thanks to everyone for the useful responses. I will see what I can do.

Sogood 51: Yes, the new system is generally providing far superior sound to the old SAE. As for the recordings in quesiton, some of them are remastered mid-60s to late-70s performacnces, though there are also a number made in the last 15-20 years.
i believe tubes near the end of their life may be suspect to sibiliance, too. try tube rolling.

i hear sibilance on a pair of magnepans mg-iiia with my dad's mid fi gear, so i put some resistors in the tweeter (which magnepan has a provision for in the back terminals). however, this was not a problem with my own gear. though, he does not use tubes, so i attribute this to his all digital mid fi gear and not to the speakers. have you resolved this yet?
The sibilance region is 3-6khz. Try different positioning of your speakers and/or listening position. Room treatment can help most any system without it. Go learn about room acoustics at realtraps and rives audio.
Without changing speakers or their placement, I have lost any concern about sibilance problems. I guess I would say that ac filtering, a quality frontend, and a good stylus cleaner have done the job.
Have you tried cleaning the cable contacts & than applying them with Walker SST or similar (Mapleshade SilClear)? This has worked very well in my system which has a tendency to sound bright on some recordings before.
If your overall playback experience is OK, then it is the mic technique used by some vocalist you enjoy. Most vocalist I work with have some adjustments to make as I do not let them "eat" the mike "as seen on TV!!!". I use a double layered 5" round pop filter on everyone. This keeps them back from the capsule to eliminate this problem. I also do not use EQ or reverb as I do not fix what is not broken. Some vocalist will drive the reverb units into overload, also causing this problem. A great singer recorded naturally is marvelous.

I love Josh Groban, but his DVD has numerous vocal pops and "s" sounds which should never happen at his level of engineering assistance and gear expense. The problem is in a live recording you only get one chance. It also helps if you explain to the vocalist why you are asking them to do these is to make them sound the best they can sound. It is not to be mean. Once they listen to what I do they understand.

We are to embark upon a great project of recording a weekly Southern Gospel Radio Show which will air nationally, but we will also make CD recordings of each show avaialble for purchase in 16 bit wav cd redbook format.

For radio MP3 quality would most likely be good enough, but I just can't go there engineering wise. All those years to get better than "cassette quality", only to take a step backwards?

If I ever get funding I will buy Tascam's tape based DSD recorder. I would love to offer this program in 2-channel DSD if we could afford it. I just saw a $120 DVD/SACD/CD player from Sony. It may not be John Atkinson's component of the year, but certainly affordable by just about anyone. The future awaits.

Jim Tavegia