Am I missing the obvious or something, anybody?
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There are many variables in play - room acoustics, cabling, power conditioning, component isolation, etc. My first attempts at taming the brightness of female voices was working on the CD player - ERS paper on the inside and swapping out the stock cord to a VH Flavor 4. Noticeable difference immediately. But, eventually, you'll need to address all the others too.
Something that can happen with two way loudspeakers is this:
The radiation pattern of the woofer is quite narrow in the crossover region, while the radiation pattern of the tweeter is very wide. In fact, for equal on-axis sound pressure levels, the tweeter can be putting out as much as 18 dB more energy into the reverberant field. Now the more reflective the room and/or the farther back the listening position, the more the spectral balance of the reverberant sound will influence the perceived tonal balance. And this extra lower treble energy is right smack in the region that would make female vocals tend to sound harsh.
Just to test this theory out, you might try nearfield listening; that is, listening at a distance of 5 feet or less from the drivers. If the tonal balance is better at such close range, that indicates the first-arrival (on-axis) sound has a much smoother tonal balance than the reverberant (off-axis) sound.
It's also possible that the pillows you have stacked against the wall make any lower treble emphasis stand out even a little more, if the pillows are primarily absorptive at higher frequencies. I know nothing about the absorptive properties of pillows so this is sheer speculation on my part.
If an off-axis energy excess in the lower treble region is the root problem, in my opinion the solution is loudspeakers that have a more uniform radiation pattern. It is very hard to target a specific frequency region with absorptive room treatment; absorption tends to work better at high frequencies than at lower ones, so it's very hard to absorb lower treble energy without over-absorbing the upper treble energy.
You may also want to check the room for slap-echo if you haven't already, as that can be a source of "zing". Clap your hands and see if it "zings". If you have slap-echo, it will be worst in the region where the radiation pattern is widest - that is, in that lower treble region. In this case diffusion or (if necessary) absorption on one of the two offending bare wall surfaces should take care of it. Keep adjusting the area treated, and/or increasing the area treated, until the zing is gone.
Of course it's possible that your zing may have another cause, but these are two possible acoustic causes.
Best of luck to you!
I've heard this before in three different systems.In all cases it was the speakers all along.It reminds me of the dreaded shout that certain wide range single drivers have.It seemed as though there was a rising impedance at the same time as a rising frequency . I didn't understand this until I heard what a BSC(baffe step correction circuit) does for a driver.Which smooths out the impedance as the frequency rises. All the zing was gone after this.
thankyou all very much for your input, to tell you the truth it never occured to me that it could be the meadowlarks as they are very broken in. I will try another source as the birdland is not the warmest of dacs. Audiokinesis, thanks for the insiteful response, I will try your suggestions...can you tell me who makes good REASONABLE absorbtion panels and what did you mean by diffusion on a wall? Thanks again, Sean.
I am sure you can find good sounding interconnects for under or near $150... I think I saw some of the Audience AU24 for around $200 for a 1m pair of interconnects.
I have auditioned this cable and it was very supprised at how well it performed against cables that were well over the $1,000 price point...