Thiel death do we part . . .

OK, stupid title, I know...but so is my question, probably. So in spite of years of owning lots of different gear - speakers (Maggies, B&W), preamps (Bottlehead,AR), amps (C&J, Bryston) and so on, I've never quite got "the magic" I often hear about. I sort of went the path of least resistance and settled on a small setup - Theil(1.6s) & Bryston(B60) with Rega front ends (analog & digital).

The other night, however, I set it up in a near field format for the first time. After playing with speaker placement a bit, everything suddenly snapped into place, and it all sounds amazing. Magic. I found myself digging into my record collection (maybe 4000 deep) for the 1st in years and now there's not enough hours in the day to listen to it all.

One thing I've noticed is that the system is just brutal with poorly recorded media. While well produced material (Patricia Barber, Cowboy Junkies, some Rickie Lee Jones, Stan Getz and so on) can be just stunning, detailed, spacious and even deep, lots of others just aren't pleasant to listen to. Things I used to enjoy can now sound lame and muffled. I understand this may be a Thiel "take no prisoners" issue. So, just as an experiment, I swapped out the Thiels for a pair of old B&W 802s that are passing thru on the way to eBay and was surprised that while good material sounds adequate, bad material doesn't sound too least not embarrassing.

So the question is, without swapping nice speakers for not as nice on a regular basis, is there something that I can do to get the set up to be more "forgiving", at times? I listen mostly to what you might call intimate music, small groups and individual singers, often in live recordings.

Listening area is 12x18 with a low ceiling (open joists) off a corridor.

So maybe alternate cables (Zu Julian now) or a subwoofer or an equalizer? Thanks for your patience.
I partner my Thiel CS3.7s with hefty SS power amps (Electrocompaniet Nemos) and temper the sound with an Audio Research Reference 5SE tube preamp. I doubt it makes bad recordings great, but the tubes make them listenable. The ARC still keeps the dynamics and speed of the Thiels that I love so for good recordings, they still shine.
I dont know Bryston because I have never heard one. I have been a Thiel owner for 16 years, 3.6 and now CS6. The only power amps I have used with them are Classe CA200 and Mcintosh 501 monos. Both high current and more on the forgiving side of neutral. Seems like I have heard Bryston is on the sharper side.

I have also always had tubes in the preamp stage. I can't say bad recordings are a problem (other than being bad) or intolerable with either speaker in my setup. Careful matching is critical with any Thiel, I have always built around them for that reason. Not saying you have made bad choices just sharing mine. Thiels have to run the show in the system, there are classic matches and risky ones!
Equalizer; it's is the only thing that can begin to fix all the different things that can happen on the all too often bad recordings, but good ones don't come cheap. Everything else is hit or miss on fixing the actual problem at hand, and might impose themselves in a manner that might be inappropriate for the specific problem at hand. Caveat; in the wrong hands equalizers can do more harm than good. You could can put it in the tape loop of your pre if you fear it might get in the way of your well recorded recordings.
I don't use one.
Thanks for the suggestions! I do have a tube pre that I can experiment with so I'll try that. Certainly a cost effective solution. I've always been hesitant to try an equalizer, seems so '80s...8:) but if I could easily by pass it on really good recordings, that would be convenient. Can anyone suggest which ones to look at?
Here is one option that I played with in the past. I am not sure if it is the
"best" EQ but it works quite well.

If my source has both optical and coax digital outputs, I would send, say the
coax direct to the DAC and the optical output to my Behringer DEQ2496.

The DEQ2496 has a built in DAC but it also has optical outputs, so I'd hook
the EQ-ed digital signal from the DEQ to another input on the same DAC.

This way you can run both EQd and un-EQd signals to the same DAC and
compare them on the fly.

The DAC then feeds the pre-amp. I eventually took the DEQ out because I
preferred what I heard on the direct non-EQd path.

Another option that I tried was to use dual analog outputs on my DAC (usually
XLR and RCA) which were simultaneously active.

The XLR went out to my preamp directly.

The RCA went to a very warm tube buffer. It was an old Yaqin tube buffer IIRC
which then fed another input on my preamp. This isn't the same type of tubes
as the ARC. It's very warm and IMHO robs the music of dynamics, but by the
same token, also takes away the harshness of badly recorded music. This was
when I was using a SS preamp. Again, I could switch between the XLR and RCA
inputs and compared the sound with and without the tube buffer.

Eventually I took the tube buffer out and got the ARC. It kept the dynamics
and detail but imparted some tube lushness into the system.
This is why I love having a sound card for a front end. I just did this same thing last night. It's all software and in the digital realm. The Software EQ won't damage the signal or sound one bit. To harsh on bad recordings? Just roll off the top ever so slightly. Perfect sound. To much boomy bass in that room, adjust the slider just a tad. Those earlier Thiels that sound amazing except for the suckout in the 8khz range? Turn up the EQ slider at 8khz. Every speakers in any room has something that needs changing. Subwoofer crossovers is also in the digital realm, so no physical crossover needed. And no preamps needed since all volume is software which opened up the music to a new level with the preamp out of the chain. Way more natural sounding.

I'm using the top creative labs card. $200 and I'd put it against anything costing 10 times that. Although yeah there is a $2000 computer around it but we all have those anyway. And it's also a crapshoot on how it's going to sound with your powersupply and motherboards and whatever else in there. But get it right and it's magic.
You just need a better CD player (and then, maybe,better amps) but the 1st issue is the way the music is being pulled from those pits. I upgraded players recently and now all my horrible 70's CD;s sound pretty amazing.
Get a pair of good headphones as a supplement. Can't go wrong with most any decent Sennheiser.
Get a pair of good headphones as a supplement. Can't go wrong with most any decent Sennheiser.

They will help you wean supplemental enjoyment from all recordings and enable you to dig into even lesser recordings in new and different ways without mucking up your reference system.
IMHO, headphones are a completely different listening experience than listening through speakers.
Unsound wrote,

"IMHO, headphones are a completely different listening experience than listening through speakers."

I agree. No crossover distortion and for most headphone amps these days SET Class A operation. Not to mention not having to futz around with room treatments.
Try acoustical room treatments at the first reflection points. It may not make bad recordings sound better, but it will make good recordings sound excellent.

If you really want a nice ambient sound, try diffusion products.
A tube or two ahead of the amp in pre amp or source can help wake up lesser recordings in many cases.
What exactly are the Rega front end components?

How close are you sitting to the loudspeakers?
Wow! Lots of great ideas and a couple breakthroughs for me. One, my CD player - a Rega Planet - has digital out which I didn't realize. The vinyl machine is a Rega Planar 3 with their 300B arm . . . it replaced a Planar 2 I found at Goodwill for $19...:8)

As I mentioned earlier, the basic system I have, I love. It's just doesn't have patience with poor recordings. I do have a tube pre so will try that (hard to switch in and out though) . . . and I'm, as they say, "all in" with the vinyl so maybe a better cartridge is an opportunity.

So to follow up on Doggiehowser's suggestion, I'd need an equalizer with a built-in DAC. A quick look around last night showed a few but, as I think Unsound suggested, they are a bit pricey for my initial experimenting.

On the other hand, doing something in the digital domain exclusively as Kacz suggests is kinda exciting. (I'm a photographer and scratch built my last couple editing workstations so I kinda know my way around the bits and pieces). I just didn't realized that I could get a signal in and out of a computer without really trashing it. But this afternoon, searching some more, I realized that that's how all those guys that produce this stuff we love (i.e. music) are working in the digital domain. Jeez, suddenly there's also the possibility of converting some of my cherished vinyl. Never occurred to me to head that way. Card recommendations?

On the headphone question (thanks Unsound, Mapman & Geoffkait), I have Sennheiser 580s but as you say, the experience is really different. However, maybe getting into the digital domain could let me play with the crossfeeding technique? Never thought of using them to take the room out the equation...thanks.

Oh yes, room treatments will have to wait, my significant other is building another room on the house (she does this sort of thing regularly) so once it's clear I still have a listening space, I my have at it.

Thanks everyone!
Some digital room correction devices also have eq.
Dancub, does your Rega 3 with 300B use a cartridge? If so, what is it?

How far are you sitting from your loudspeakers?
Onhwy61 - The Rega 3 has a Blue Point Special in it. Tried several in the same cost range and liked that one best. As far as my "new" near-field set up - the one where I suddenly "got it" - it's really close. The Thiels are about 7' apart and my head position is (currently) about 6' on the diagonal. Still tuning that since I've read I may be a bit too close . . . but you know, with the right recordings, it's really sweet. Thanks, DD
You are too close. You need to be at least 8' (preferably more, 3 meters is about ideal) from the speakers for proper driver integration.
Unsound - you know, I've heard that and I'll try that as soon as I get the system back together (building a custom "near field table" for it).

However, it was when I brought the Thiels in close that it clicked in place. I know this can be a game of inches so am looking for to tweaking it. Thanks.
I owned the 1.6s for a while and actually bought them to get that extra detail I felt was missing. The Thiels supplied the missing detail but for me it became too much. Or as you are finding, poorly recorded music was difficult to listen to.
Far too much good music is recorded poorly so I had to sell my Thiels. Not suggesting that, just relaying my experience.
It might help if you listed a few recordings that don't sound so good with the new setup.

Here's a thread about someone contemplating upgrading a Rega 3/Bluepoint combo.
Ditch the blue point special. Try a denon dl103r.

I ran a blue point for years, it is likely a big limiting factor as you describe.
Hummm, another set of thought provoking suggestions. Just got the set up back together so will try out tweaking the speaker locations first and report back.

I would look at a new cartridge (Onhwy61 & Mapman thx) but the issue I'm chasing now lives in CDs as well as vinyl - but I do know my vinyl chain is weak (great link Onhwy61).

I'll pull together a list of "sounds great" & "sounds crappy" to try to make my point. That will take a few days . . . but a terrific idea.
Mapman is right about the Blue Point being coarse and not as musical as it could be. Try a new Ortofon Red or Blue at least. Other modern carts are good, such as those from Denon, Dynavector, and Goldring, but these Ortofons and the latest cartridges from SoundSmith are really musical designs, with lively dynamics, great separation, proper tone balance, and are happy in most tonearms.

Too bad Thiel's new designer is blowing off the concept of 'time-coherence' as a design goal.

BLue point cart is one of the few pieces I have owned over the years that in retrospect I would label as clearly "midfi", ie limited potential to help deliver top notch sound.

I owned BLue Point and not the "special" which is reputed to be better, but I would still be leery.

Plus with old phono gear, it can be hard to discern that everything is working optimally as it should and needs to (for good results) still over time. BEtter to start with a new cart that is more certain to be operating properly and be sure.

Denon 103R is a slam dunk to end the cart search for most as long as phono pre-amp is up to the low output and tonearm is medium to high mass.
I often use poor recordings to let me know if I am on the wrong track. Sure- excellent recordings should sound amazing. Its the poor ones that tell me whether the system is editorializing or not.

I regard a lot of the editorial as possibly being artifact in the playback chain that is exacerbated by artifact in the recording. If I can get the system to be OK with bad recordings it will sound even better with the good recordings.

The trick is to get the equipment to unperturbed by the signal. To this end I work with tubes as I have not had good success with transistors.

FWIW I'm not a fan of the Rega arms I have seen. The ones I have seen did not have provisions for allowing the cartridge to be setup correctly. If the cartridge can't be set up right, don't expect the LPs to play without issues! VTA is one issue, the other is proper overhang. If you can get these two variables right, you are a long way towards getting the cartridge to track. Another really important variable in the setup is the effective mass of the arm/cartridge combination. If not right (must interact with the cartridge compliance such that the resulting resonant frequency falls between 7 and 12 Hz...) the cartridge can easily mistrack. If you hear any mistracking the setup has a serious problem!

Some speakers have significant lobes in the tweeter response. This means how toed-in (or lack of toe-in) can really change the experience.

There are tons of variables! Don't give- make it fun rather than work :)
"If I can get the system to be OK with bad recordings it will sound even better with the good recordings."

I found this to be an interesting finding. I kind of always assumed that if you make something sound OK with bad recordings it would gloss over some of the things that make good recordings truly special. Maybe that's not the case. Very good food for thought, and I'd be very interested for why this may be so.
Like I put in my post- many bad recordings have artifacts in them (distortion, excess high frequencies) that seem to exacerbate the problems in poor playback equipment.

As many people that work in the recording industry know, if you have really good microphones you can get away with murder downstream and it will often still sound good- if you start with lousy mics the best recording gear in the world will do you no good.

This is also true in playback, for example you don't need a really expensive cartridge to make an analog system sound really excellent. What you *need* is a tone arm/cartridge combination that allows the cartridge to not mistrack even on the most intense and complex material. If the cartridge has any tracking problems, not much you can do about it downstream. So a system where the cartridge has tracking problems will editorialize, especially on poor recordings.

This is also true if the speaker and amplifier combination adds up to something bright due to equipment mismatch.
Good gear brings out the best in everything, even lesser recordings. No doubt about that!

These days, I find most every recording to sound different and something good to like in 98% of the CDs or records I listen to, and I'm loving almost every minute of it. Way more so than in any years past. I feel like the time and money I have invested in good sound in recent years has payed off in spades and am very thankful for that!

Those are reasonable expectations I think.

Expecting all recordings to sound equally good or the same is unrealistic and the sure path to audiophile hell.

The few % I listen to that have little to no technical sonic merit will at least be high in terms of artistic merit to help compensate.

I have thousands of vinyl, tape and CD recordings collected over the years. I can only think of two or three that pain me enough to even make me think about not listening.
So the responses here have far exceeded my expectations and I want to thank everyone for the insights. My own journey is now going to split into a couple paths.

First, based on the responses, I think there's an opportunity to mitigate the impact of what I think are poor recordings (& my crappy room) while still being able to enjoy the clarity and wonder I get from it on great recordings. The first step there - again from your advice - is exploring some sort of easy on / easy off equalizing (& room compensation) and do that in the digital realm.

Secondly, it's obvious that everyone thinks my analog setup is prehistoric - a lot like their owner. So I plan, after step one, to work through that chain starting with the cartridge,tone arm & their precise setup. Makes sense, I have over 4,000 records to enjoy. I did, as was suggested, relocate the speakers and it does sound richer and more "complete"...thanks for the observations...will continue tuning that - cheap and fun.

On a final (?) note, Onhwy61 asked me what recordings didn't work for me. Made me stop and think. So last night I did a little experiment (CDs only cause they were quick and convenient), rather than digging out just ones that sounded bad (definition being thin or lifeless or less than "there", whatever), I tried to pair them with similar recordings that did work for me. Sorry about how old these are . . . but then so am I.

It was a great exercise and among the things I learned was something several of you suggested, as my system gets dialed in (speaker placement in this case), some of the "bad" recordings got better but some also got worse. Sorry that I don't have the vocabularly to describe the sound any better. In any case, for those of you into self abuse, a few are below...oh yes, for argument's sake, the best recording I own is at the end . . . in my opinion, 'course.

Cheers, Dancub

Solo Guitar
Bad - Sharon Isbin's "Nightshade Rounds" (thin/flat)
Good - Leo Kottke's "Mudlark" (full/rich)

Yes, I know, he's a big 12 string guy, so I compared his 6 string work. On the other hand, she's a terrific player and is using an '88 Humphrey Millennium - pretty good tool.

(Old) Rock
Bad - The Rolling Stones "Hot Rocks"
Bad - Los Lobos "How Will The Wolf Survive?"
Good - Los Lobos "Colossal Head"

OK, there's no excuse for a "Digitally Remastered From Original Master Recordings" thingee by the richest group of old rockers on the planet to sound like it was recorded in a toilet with a Walkman. Interesting - Los Lobos, who one would think has pretty much total control over their stuff, would allow some of their best music to be published poorly.

Bad - Nigel Kennedy "Vivaldi, the 4 Seasons" (EMI)
Good - Alondra De La Parra - "My Mexican Soul"

So I love Vivaldi but this one sounds like someone forgot to flush. Nigel ought to call Alondra and find out who recorded her's terrific.

So the best recording I own?

Siris Svale Band's "Blackbird". CD or vinyl - both terrific. Great music and wonderful recording. I first heard it in Joseph Audio's demo room at a Stereophile show. He won the "Best Demo" sound or something like that that year and I suspect "Blackbird" was his secret weapon.

So why don't one of you guys start a "best record" thread? Or is there one? If there is, shoot me a link. Thanks.
RS hot Rocks is a compilation. Each track recorded much

LIsten to see if you can get the jist of each track
individually first. Or just select tracks as test cases.
Play with speaker placement to get imaging and soundstage
right. Some tracks may be mono? Use those to work on a
solid central image and then see what happens with all the
rest. Tonality/clarity/detail/dynamics will vary a lot
track to track.

I'll try to revisit HR sometime soon and get reaquainted
with a few tracks in more detail.

"Emotional Rescue" is a good RS album for sound
quality. GIve "Let ME Go" and
"She's SO cold" a listen. Those should knock your
socks off AND get your toes a tappin! "Indian Girl" is also
a very nicely recorded track.
Mapman - well heck, that's good idea. May have to wait until my significant other is out of town 'cause I think they need to be played loud.
Rolling Stones prided themselves in making recordings of poor quality, more "raw".
Seems like the early Stones LPs are quite nice if you can find originals. Not much for stereo mix though.
"Rolling Stones prided themselves in making recordings of poor quality, more "raw". "

"raw" characterizes a lot (not all) of the Stones heyday recordings, especially those most leaning towards the blues, and rightfully so! "raw" does not mean bad! TEchnically inferior to many for sure, but if it sounds good and "raw" when it should in an enjoyable way then you are hitting the mark there at least at a minimum.
If they played "raw" and recorded it well, it would have been reproduced "raw".
Many if not most were recorded exceptionally well.
People simply don't break in Thiels fully before they judge them and then sell them. And they end up missing the true performance capabilities of them.

Jim era speakers need at least a year of frequent playing before they hit their stride and settle in. I have been through this experiece with both CS6s and 2.4s and the break in cycle is a confirmed reality.
When you are "raw" you are "raw", good
sound or otherwise.

In their prime, the Rolling Stones were as raw as a bunch of
newly rich British white guys could get.
Just listened to one of the CDs in the Stones album we were discussing -not loud, wife still in town - and, yep, there's a real sense of "there" there. Thin sounding still to my ears but lots of stuff going on inside what was there. Might be the better set up of the speakers but it was enjoyable. Definitely uncooked and raw . . . just the way they liked it I guess.
Stevecham - that was my experience, too, and I bought used ones. Actually, now that you mention it, the guy I bought from might have sold them for that reason.