Tinny sound accompanying cello on recordings ?

I'm somewhat baffled by an on and off tinny sound I've heard on several recordings of Dvorak's Cello Concerto. Up until a few years ago, I either didn't hear it or didn't notice it. The more revealing the sound system, the more obvious is this phenomenon. At first, I thought something was wrong with my speaker drivers, but when I listened through other transducers, I noticed the sound was still there. I proceeded to isolate the rest of my equipment, but the rather unwelcome "guest" remained. It didn't matter whether I used the same recordings with a cd player or a phono front end, things didn't vary. I listened to identical passages of the Dvorak Concerto with Fourier/Szell and Harrell/Levine. I haven't yet bothered to check other cello recordings. This tinny/sizzling sound is a shadow-like resonance hovering around the cello's notes as they are being played, asserting its presence more frequently, it seems, from the mid to upper midrange. I assume some of you classical fans have heard this. Can anyone explain exactly what's going on here ? By the way, I hear it also (though less obviously because of the much smaller sized sound system) when watching and listening to the same piece performed by Rostropovich on You Tube with my computer and its little Altec speakers. Listen in particular to the first movement from the time the cello enters, and onward.
I've since heard the same sort of respose on my portable cd player. I'm about ready to assume that what I'm hearing is part of the cello's actual sound, but there's another less than pleasant possibility here, which is that my hearing is changing (likely, since I'm 65 years old). If I had to describe this sound in another way, I would liken it to sibilance.
Dude, listen carefully to a live cello. Those strings make all kinds of vibratory resonances and some are very very subtle. The fact that your gear is picking it up is a good thing. The complexities of the sound of such an instrument are staggering. I have noticed all kinds of strange unexpected overtones on trumpets and other instruments too.
Thanks Chashmal, your comments are reassuring. It's been a long time since I've heard a solo cello in a live concert. That was when I had the great pleasure of seeing Janos Starker. We have a very fine orchestra here in Asheville, NC, and I'm aware of the one in Brevard, which isn't far away. Last week, I attended a wonderful performance of the Asheville Symphony featuring the Bruch Violin Concerto and the Brahms Fourth. I will make it a point to attend the next concert I can find with a cellist performing.
Opus, remember that those recordings have been miked from a vantage point much closer to the performer than what would be considered socially acceptable for a concert goer. At that distance the mike will pick up a wealth of very low level ringing overtones that would be lost over longer distances. It is also possible that if your system is very revealing, your ears may be producing some intermodulation. . . this may happen on chorded passages, particularly in higher position and in thumb position. If this were intermodulation, you would have the illusion of the ringing or tinny sound to originate from the middle of your head rather than from the speakers. In my experience the phenomenon is more common on the violin. . . e.g. Lara St. John playing Bach partitas and Sonatas on a Stradivari violin. Lastly, if I remember correctly, the intermodulation output frequencies are equal to the sum and the difference of the input frequencies. . . as such they are enharmonic and can sound quite eery. . . but do not fault your electronics. . . 'tis all in our heads, so to say. G.
Guidocorona makes a good point about miking, which is one thing I love about recordings: the intimacy. Impossible to get that in a large hall all the way back.

Listen to the way Jordi Savall's solo gamba is miked. Really close, and tons of exactly what you described. I think you will come to love it as part of the richness of the instrument once the weirdness plays out for you.

By the way, Starker is one of my all time favorites for Bach solo cello. Casals maybe beats him out though:).
You can tune the cello sound with the bow weight - a heavy bow will sound duller and more resonant and a lighter bow will sound thinner and more "reedy". Pretty much every instrument is tweaked - drum sets have pillows and scotch tapes over them - it is normal - for goodness sake don't sell your audio gear because something sounds too strident - it is likely to have been INTENDED to sound that way.

This is where a system equipment selection based on a nice full warm sound will make you miss half the expression in music - yes it is true - music is SUPPOSED to sound strained/strident/loud/aggresive/painfull/shocking sometimes - music expresses all emotions - not just "beauty" and "warmth". Russian composers often have their music played with a strident sound to the strings - this is intentional!

Those who chase only "beautiful sound" - you know the female vocalist or the "Cowboy Junkies" type stuff are missing the other side of music ....loud bombastic and aggressive shock and awe music...there are all kinds and a properly selected system will play it all...
On the same cello, there are infinite combinations of materials and playing techniques that will modulate the sound to bewildering variants. . . string brand and model, bridge design and material, tailpiece design and material, end pin material, bow design and construction (you can spend $20K on bow alone)(, bow hair, rosin; position and angle of attack of bow on strings, bowing speed, wrist pressure/elasticity if any, hand grip infinite variants on left hand techniques. Some combination yield a rich sound, other emphasize harmonics, other just lose the fundamental, other modulate the amplitude (vibrato), others are plain horrific.
Guidocorona and Chashmal: Yes, you make a good point, which is absolutely correct. Before going to bed last night, I figuratively hit myself on the head when I realized (and I certainly had known this before, but for the time being had lost sight of it) that in the recording process, soloists are frequently miked very closely, therefore all kinds of details are "thrown out" at the listener. Some of the more obvious examples that come to mind are a number of the Heifetz recordings, and the Linda Ronstadt album, What's New...Also, the sounds I alluded to are clearly coming from the speakers and not the middle of my head. By the way, Chashmal, I have long intended to pick up a copy of Starker's Bach Cello Suites, but have not done so. I need to take of that in short order...Shadorne: Thanks too for your helpful comments, especially the one about cello tuning with the bow weight. I also listened last night to a portion of the Dvorak Concerto with YoYo Ma performing. He must have had the bow more heavily weighted, because I heard virtually none of that "reedier" sound you referred to. In fact, I found his richer tonal rendition more appealing than Fournier's and Harrell's. Thanks once more to you good fellows, and I have no intention of interfering with the kind of sound I presently have..Jeff
Great responses by all above, and a useful reminder from Shadorne on the wrongheaded desire for system "warmth", etc. People hear system problems and try to smother them with warm sonic blankies, instead of identifying and removing the problem. I'm sure many of us have heard $100K+ systems built in exactly this way. I have, and they may sound "nice" but they invariably smother all life out of the music.

On topic, I once had a visitor who complained that massed violins in our system didn't sound "massed", and that he heard a thin "distortion" on top of every note.

We had to point out to him that a live violin section (or chorus) heard up close doesn't sound "massed". It sounds like individual violinists (or singers). The "distortions" he heard were attacks of bow on string, the grip and release of rosin and the astonishingly complex harmonics produced by different parts of the instrument. We asked, and he'd never heard any bowed string instrument up close.

In concert, these things become less audible if you're more than a few rows back or in an acoustically dull hall. OTOH, if you hung your left ear 12-15 feet directly above the first violins and your right ear the same distance above whatever was on the other side of the podium, and if you had no audience noises, no traffic noises, etc., you'd hear rosin, hair on strings and a 100 other things you can't normally hear. Of course your ears might look funny, suspended up there.

Try Heifetz's concerto recordings. He forced RCA to mike him very tight because he wanted everyone to hear his fiddle as normally only he could. Not a normal concert perspective for anyone, but certainly realistic from his.
Chasmal wrote, a couple posts above: "I think you will come to love it as part of the richness of the instrument once the weirdness plays out for you."


We've consciously trained ourselves to be aware of that sensation of weirdness and of how it plays out, particularly when auditioning new tweaks and components. Has the sound of a familiar recording become less familiar, strange, even uncomfortable? If so, its time to kick in our brains and figure out why.

Much more often than not, it means the new tweak or component is in fact an upgrade, that it's extracting more information from the recording and getting it through the system and into the room. Assuming no obvious flaws, the weirder and stranger things seem at first, the more likely it is we're hearing a major upgrade.

Our ears and brains adjust after a short while and the increased complexity becomes the new normal. From that point, taking the new tweak or component away leaves us feeling bereft. Example: I wouldn't stop demagging my LP's or shorten my cleaning regimen because they both provide exactly that sense of weirdness-from-increased-information.

(A note regarding your LP cleaning issues: the ultimate test of an effective cleaning regimen is not how quiet the surfaces are. I could make even my best records quieter by smearing Gruv Glide or some other crap on them. They'd be quieter but I'd hear less music. The true test of a clean LP is how much low level detail and microdynamic subtlety you can hear. When we compared different waters for final rinses, this was the only difference. No water made the record any quieter than any other water, but one was better at revealing very fine levels of detail and dynamic shadings.)

Apologies to Opus88 for the threadjack. Inspired by weirdness!

I never heard of adding weights on bows per se. Is this a known technique? As far as I know adding weight will unbalance the device and alter its elastic properties. rather, bows may be manufactured to different weights. . . for example, bows made from dense ironwood or snakewood may be heavier than pernambuco bows.
And of course, the instrument itself has enormous influence over the sound. . . heard once a live Amati cello from very up close (8 feet away). The instrument had been created for the private orchestra of French king Henry IV. Definitely powerful and full of upper harmonics, but also wild and. . . reedy. The opposite sound was a Testori: warm and gushy. . . and incredibly boring. The instrument's inherent characteristics will come through in any good recording. G.
I never heard of adding weights on bows per se. Is this a known technique?

No it is not normally done that way - usually the bow is balanced so you select the bow based on its feel and weight to help produce the desired sound.

Sorry if my narrow example missed the mark - there are a lot of other ways to control the sound of a cello - I did not intend to give an exhaustive list.
Ah OK, I thought for a minute that after coaching my daughter on her cello for 12 years I had warped my memory. . . which I probably have (grins!)
In regard to all this it is interesting to see how the historical shift from viol/gamba to cello/violin changes those idiosyncratic string resonances. It gives a totally different set of variables and 'extra' sounds.

Mental strings versus gut strings are TOTALLY different, as the string players above can attest to. It is always great to sit down and compare are 17th century consort of viols to a modern chamber ensemble playing the same piece. Easy to find with Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, or even Couperin.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Harrell preform the Dvorak live. I sat fairly close to Harrell, probably about 35 ft. My guess is that what you are describing is probably a recording accurately capturing his sound. I would describe it as cello with a bit of bite. I liked the performance very much. I've also heard Truls Mork, Alban Gerhard, and Janos Starker live, and I recall all of them having a somewhat more mellow sound than Harrell. The advice that was given earlier to listen to a live cello is excellent advice. I would add to that to listen to a number of different performers. It is surprising how different one instrument sounds from another.
Dougdeacon...No need to apologize about the "threadjack". Your comments/observations are never less than interesting and insightful. Frequently funny too, and that is certainly welcome. I also just wanted to mention something in response to your remarks about the effects of cleaning lps. I recently compared three copies of the same recording. Notwithstanding wear (though with all three wear was relatively light) and the matter of earlier vs. later stampers, I decided to clean one with a 75/25 mix of very pure, triple de-ionized water/99.9% pure isoprophyl, and another with a highly regarded (at least, here on Audiogon)record cleaning rinse. The third copy was simply left alone, never having been cleaned by me (only the Audioquest record dust brush) since I had purchased it. After listening intently to all three several times, this is what I heard: The sound of the one cleaned with alcohol/water presented considerable detail, top to bottom, but overall seemed just a very slight touch bleached in contrast to the copy cleaned with the commercial solution. In turn, this latter copy seemed to compromise slightly the top end detail of the alcohol/water disc, while giving more presence to the midrange to lower midrange. To my ears, the record left alone seem to have displayed the best balance in sound of both of the aforementioned discs. This was not the first time I have experimented like this, with the results being the same. Unless a record really needs a cleansing, my preference dictates laissez-faire. Does anyone else care to comment on whether they've tried a similar test, and what they found/preferred ? Now I seem to be "threadjacking" myself.
Mental strings versus gut strings are TOTALLY different, as the string players above can attest to. It is always great to sit down and compare are 17th century consort of viols to a modern chamber ensemble playing the same piece

For those interested there is Chris Hogwood's stuff "Academy of ancient music" done on period instruments or reconstructed instruments like what they would have used...I have a fair number of his recordings and like them.

Hogwood's AAM recordings are our daily fare. Superb stuff, played by the most amazing musicians anywhere. When we want to test a system we always bring an original/authentic instrument LP along. It's very easy for a system to make them sound horrible and unmusical. It took us four years to get ours even close to right.


I dearly wish I could duplicate your results and practice, but our cleaning experiences differ. Your system's not listed so it's difficult to evaluate your results or what they might mean. Also, you didn't mention how or if you vacuumed the fluids off. If that vital step isn't performed properly the whole concept of wet cleaning falls apart, and can easily do as much harm as good.

The only consistent result we've achieved by playing uncleaned LP's is to ruin them, so I'm not eager to repeat the experiment. Unfortunately for my time and budget, our present cleaning regimen (which would drive most people nuts) invariably improves low level detail and subtle dynamics.

Assuming you're vacumming effectively, a final rinse (or two) with some very pure water (better than just 3x deionized) is essential to our cleaning regimen and sonic results. Try repeating your experiment with some MoFi water, if you care to spend the time and money of course.
Hogwood and Savall are staples over here as well!
Doug...The commercial rinse I used in the cleaning of one of the records was the latest [Mo]bile [Fi]delity. With the other disc, I mixed the 99.9% pure isopropyl with water that goes through a multi-step process which, FWIW, claims to achieve "about the theoretical maximum for ultra-pure water". Also, I did and do vacuum with the VPI record cleaning machine. As indicated, I've experimented several times with this ritual. Here are/have been my components: VPI HW-19 MK 3 and Teres 265 turntables, SME IV.Vi tonearm, Zyx Airy 3 and Dynavector XV-1S cartridges, EAR 88PB phono preamp, Air Tight ATM-3 monoblock amps, Dunlavy SC-4 speakers and Ridge Steet Poiema 3, Poiema 3 Signature and JPS Superconductor 3 cables and power cords--all in all, a pretty revealing system. I doubt I'm as thorough as you are in your cleaning process, "...which would drive most people nuts...", but I feel I do a decent job. Anyhow, all things considered, of course, we are dealing in part with the subjective element in evaluating outcomes and the usual YMMV,etc.
Though I did not realize it fully at the time I posted this thread, an emerging problem with tinnitus was the source of the problem. I've been able to adapt pretty well and still enjoy the music, even the cellos. I sincerely hope others with this issue have been managing well too.
I'm sorry you're having to suffer that. Is it the case that certain frequencies or sonic mixtures, like a cello, provoke or exacerbate the problem?
Thank you very much for your concern, Doug. It's mostly a sensitivity to certain freqencies in the treble range in just a few instances involving, for example, the pitch of trumpets,piccolos,higher strings and higher pitched voices. Fortunately,I'm doing quite well and am able to enjoy music with what I consider to be very little difficulty. Kind regards and best wishes for your own continuing musical enjoyment.