Walking that fine line: What would you do ?

I recently installed an amp on loan from a friend in one of my systems. We swapped amps just to "compare notes". I had an amp that he wanted to hear and vice-versa. The fact that we are a couple of States apart makes it hard to do first hand comparisons with each other, so we have to be selective, especially with amps. Between the shipping costs and the potential damage, this is the first time that we've done this. If we were both happy with the results, we were simply going to swap amps and compensate the differences in cash.

As it turns out, i like the amp quite a bit. It seems to be a good match for the preamp and speakers that i'm using it with. There is only one "problem". Whereas the system has always sounded very musical with good accuracy ( hard to achieve ), i've now moved up a notch on the "accuracy" scale. I'm now hearing a little deeper into the discs. While most would call this a step in the right direction in terms of being "revealing", i'm beginning to think that it is "annoying" and "distracting". Don't get me wrong, the amp / system sound quite good, maybe the best it ever has. It is not "etched" or "analytical" by any means. I could use all of the superlative's to describe what i'm hearing, but i've now got one nagging problem.

I can now hear just how much the engineers are "twistin' knobs" on several recordings that previously sounded "warm and sweet" i.e. very enjoyable with no distractions. One in particular is Diana Krall's Love Scenes. On some songs, you can easily hear the faders come up as she begins to sing and drop down as she stops. This is evident as the noise floor increases and you hear more hiss. When the mics are open, you have less of a "black background" between musical notes from the instruments. On some of the other songs, they simply leave the mic open most of the time and you hear hiss throughout most of it. On a few others, the leave the mic open, then fade it in a few spots, open it back up, etc... Some of this was obvious before, but not anywhere near the extent that it is now.

While most of us would not consider this a big deal, it kind of gets annoying after a while. To me, it's kind of like looking for a smaller hidden picture within a much larger picture. Once you find it, it is all that you can concentrate on. How you could've missed it for all that time is beyond you. So it is with this system now. In other words, these "small details" now distract me from the "big performance" taking place.

Has anybody else run into a similar situation and what did you do ? I'm open to suggestions as i'm kind of twisting and turning on this one. I like the amp a lot, BUT.... Sean
Sounds like you have put together a system that could be described as "reference." It reproduces the source material. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I would say that's a good thing. That's what many spend BIG bucks trying to achieve. What gear are you using?

I used to have an expensive Boulder / Avalon system, and I experienced the same thing...and it was WONDERFUL. Then the economy crapped out, the equipment was sold, yadda yadda yadda...
Reference quality ? This is the system in my computer room !!!

Honestly though, i use this system a LOT and have spent a lot of time with various trial and error combo's. If i told you guys what i'm currently running and what i paid for it, it would blow that "high resolution takes big cash & big names" theory to shame. Between the CD source ( transport & dac ), preamp, power amp, PLC, speakers, cables, etc... i have about $2500 invested in it. It was all bought used and "well researched" before buying. In other words, i'm a cheapskate that prefers to do homework and break out the elbow grease instead of throw money at a "brand name" system. I do have a new transport and DAC that will be going into it soon, which i know are measurably more revealing AND musical than what is currently in there. This will bring the total up to about $3250 after deducting the cost of the current transport / dac.

So what did you do while you had a system of this type ? I'm liking what i hear, but almost want to go back to the slightly "masked" and "romantic" sound of NOT hearing all of the things that should NOT end up in a recording. Sean
Sean, we had a similar experience --again, with an amp (wide-bandwidth). Subtle detail become more palatable and comprehensible -- i.e. the instrument producing the sound was immediately recognisable. And yes, "knob-twisting" as you very well note, become painfully obvious! On the other hand, the tonal wealth of a violin (that survived the mastering...) emerged beautifully! Generally, MOST records sounded perceptibly DIFFERENT! So, we kept the machine and had some fun with perceptible recording or mastering tricks that were now obvious.

Very soon we got used to the "image within the image" and we no longer notice it!

What sounds worrying is the reference to "warm", "musicality" with yr amp vs. no such words with this one... unless this is fortuitous.

I would strongly urge you to try classical -- strings, piano, and voice. If "beauty" (timbres, tonal balance, harmonics, etc, enough to grasp you) is there, the amp's worth keeping IMO.

On the down side, many systems now sound slightly bland to both wife and meself!
Greg, it still sounds quite musical but is not quite as "warm" of "full bodied". It is cleaner, quicker, better bass definition, more accurate, etc.. whereas the other amp that i was running was a little more "colourful" and "sensual" sounding on female vocals ( which i liked ).

I'm glad that we have similar points of view on gear being "different". While some stuff IS noticeably better than others, a lot of it is just being delivered from a different perspective. Your suggestion to try some various types of music is a point well taken. I've been listening to a few discs quite a bit and i probably need to widen my horizons in order to grasp the full potential / differences in these amps. Both are fast / wide bandwidth designs, as i really don't like bandwidth limited stuff for "serious listening". It's okay for relaxing, background music though i.e. the bedroom, etc... Sean
I've had the same experience. It has changed my listening practices. There are some albums I simply can not enjoy on my main system. I like the material (composition), but the engineers turned a few too many dials--added too many effects--and then when listening to it I feel like I'm listening to effects--not music. I save those recordings for other systems (or in the car). What the system does for well recorded and well engineered albums however is exceptional--and I wouldn't go back.
I had a similar experience but a different result. I have nothing against my system. What I have found is some recordings that I liked with my old "budget audiophile" system, now sound like crap on my what I'll call my "Upper Mid-Fi" system. I can hear when recordings have been processed to enhance the sound. What sounded full and rich before, now reveals that they added Echo. On other recordings the orchestra balance is off because they boosted the midrange so it sounds good in the car and on a boom box.

I advise staying away from the current crop of classical DG reissues under the "DG Originals" label. I have been slowing replacing the ones I have with earlier releases that were simply the original LP analog recording transfered to CD with no changes. They sound a lot better on my newest system. (or I try to find the LP.) Some new EMI reissues have the same problem. The ones on London Decca are great!!

Detail is good, but it sounds like you have too much of a good thing. Try playing with different cables. I hope you can regain your balance.
sean: sometimes, i think, it's better being ignorant. you hear the faders because you know what faders are and how they are used. you know that the noise floor is affected by the mic level, so you can perceive it when it changes. these effects may be "getting in your way" because you've not really experienced them before, at least in the system you've described. eventually, i think, you may be able to "enjoy" the work of recording engineers if it's well done. good recordings may be likened to well-edited movies. some such movies (e.g., "run lola run") employ obvious, in-your-face techniques in an artistically satisfying way; others (e.g., "almost famous") employ more subtle but also satisfying editing tricks. the problem with this analogy, of course, is that most recordings are engineered for playback on the radio or less-than-sota systems rather than for the world to see in 70mm. there are, tho, some classic examples of recordings done carefully on primitive equipment that are gems, especially on the most "revealing" of systems.

there is, indeed, a fine line between "musicality" and "accuracy." i remember listening to the first generation of wadia and theta dacs, when they played a monthly game of leap-frog. what impressed me, at first, about this generations of digital devices was the way they took the edge off of previously unbearably bright discs and made them tolerable. as dacs and transports improved, we learned that the earlier sota products had taken the edge off of EVERYTHING. i've just bought another in a long list of dacs i've owned. it's a boulder 1012. after months of listening to this product loaned to me off-and-on by my audio dealer and best friend, i've found that, to my ears, it combines better than anything else i've yet put into my system those ephemeral qualities of musicality and accuracy that seem so often at odds and are at the heart of your query. i applaud you for your efforts to do inexpensively what i haven't the patience or, likely, knowledge to accomplish. you have realized a conundrum some have waited many more years and spent much more money to comprehend. -cfb
This type of issue comes up every time I add a different component into my system. The root of the problem is an inability to be satisfied with whatever components are in the current system. The question that I would ask would be, "Does this change make me listen for specific noises or does it make me listen to the music as a complete entity?". If it made me listen to the music as a complete entity then I would consider it an upgrade. If it made specific sounds more apparent then I would not make the change. This new philosophy has helped me enjoy my system more than any new component has in quite a while. Good Luck.
I've been at this stage before, but never to the point of having SO much of both aspects of sound reproduction ( musicality and accuracy ) at he same time. It usually either leaned one way ( musical ) or the other ( analytical ) to some degree.

I did have this system to a point where every recording that i put on it sounded VERY good and extremely "pacey". You could not help but want to at least tap your fingers and toes or more literally shake, dance and shout when listening. I could go from swooning over Diana Krall to stomping with Monster Magnet with ease. The system literally seemed to have "life" in it. Like the "tinkering idiot" that i am though, i kept substituting / trying out things with the hopes of making it "even better". I monkeyed with it so much that i forgot what components / cables i had where. As such, i'll probably never be able to get back to that specific combo.

That system probably did not have the resolution that it does now, but it was SO musical that i wouldn't have cared. Personally, i would rather be swept away by the music and sacrifice some of the very tiny details than vice-versa. If i can get this system back to where it was or somewhere very close, i HAVE learned my lesson. LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE and KEEP A LOG BOOK !!!!! Until then, i'm going to keep trying. I've got more discs to listen to before i pass final judgment on this amp. Sean

PS... Sugarbrie, i agree about the reverb / hollowed out effect. I've noticed it before on some specific components with some being more pronounced than others. I always backed away from combo's that made this aspect of the recording so prominent. How many otherwise excellent performances were ruined by inept production and engineering ?!?!?!

Abstract: I hear ya. That is one reason why i have several very different systems set up within the house. Not always convenient to have to run between them to listen to different discs, but at least i have that option.

If the Power amp that you sent out, made you FEEL like the music was moving you, and the musicality rate was at a higher, more soul satisfying level, IT is the amp to use.
To hell with added detail and accuracy. It is really that simple. When its right, your body tells you, so you'll want to keep listening forever.
I dont know about the current crop of DG Originals, but the first 20 or so released, surpassed my DG LP copies and my identical first issue CD copies.....and by a huge margin......Frank
I noticed that Diana Krall's mike is mixed extremely hot to the point of distortion. I only have "When I Look In Your Eyes" by her and there are a couple of songs that the process you describe is very noticable. In the following link there was some discussion of this

As for me, I've learned to live with it. Blame it on the engineers. But when they get it right, these minor glitches seem worthwhile
The goal of hi-end audio is to recreate live music at home. Can you hear all these craps in real life? I don't think so. The word "reference" is misuse. There is only one reference, it is the original live music.
The "reference" that you refer is what I describe as an "autopsy".
It is nice to look at a pretty woman at a distance, but when you go closer and do an autopsy on her. Very ugly and horrible!
The amp that i lent out ( Sunfire rated at 300 @ 8 / 600 @ 4 ) was not what i ultimately favored in this system. That honor goes to any of the Forte' 3's or Forte' 6's that i own ( i have 2 of each ). All of the Forte's are relatively rich Class A/B amps and run quite hot. These two models, one earlier (3) and one later (6) are rated at 200 @ 8 / 350 @ 4 wpc. Since the speakers are appr 2 ohms at low frequencies and never go above 4 ohms, i need all of the "oomph" i can get. The trouble is doing that while retaining good sonics and keeping the price reasonable.

I have used the "baby" Sunfire in this system with good results though. While it did quite well overall, it is not as "sweet" or "airy" as the Forte's. It was pretty similar to the amp i have on loan, which happens to be a slightly modified Robertson 6010 ( 200 @ 8 / 400 @ 4 ). Looking at the internals of the Robertson, there are definitely things that i can do to improve its' performance right off the bat. I'm not doing anything to it though until i figure out if i want it for sure or not.

As it stands right now, the Robertson is somewhat of a blend in performance between the Sunfire and Forte' amps. The Robertson is a little more solid sounding than the Sunfire while having a glimpse of "sweetness" and "air" that the Forte's offer. Both the Sunfire and Robertson are better performers in terms of raw "oomph" and bass impact / definition as compared to the Forte' amps. Since i like the Forte' and Sunfire for various reasons, you could see why i would have a good amount of enthusiasm towards finding a reasonable blend of the two in the Robertson.

I had been running a set of Kinergetics KBA-202A Platinum Monoblocks ( 250 @ 8 / 500 @ 4 / 800 @ 2) into these speakers, but i've got them torn apart in terms of doing some very time consuming modifications to them. While they were pretty decent performers before, i hope that they will really shine when i'm done with them. I see no reason that they won't, as i've simply shortened the signal path, re-routed / seperated audio & power supply wires, improved the ground plane of the circiut board, added bypass caps to the power supply filters, etc... Since they already had Cardas wiring throughout the entire audio path, i did not change that.

With all of that in mind, any amp that i use in this system will HOPEFULLY be temporary until the mono-blocks are done. Then again, if i can get one of these amps dialed into this system well enough... : ) Sean
It sounds like you took a step towards analytical because that's what you describe yourself doing. I got back to musical by changing speakers (smoother) and preamp (purer). Enjoy the ride!
Well Thanks to all the big hitters in this thread I have now gone back and listened a bit more closely to the Alison Kraus CD in question as well as some other music.....Now all I hear is the music fading in and out! I can't hear the music anymore. It's "well there it goes again, so that is what Sean was talking about" Or there's sugarbrie's echo"
I have to learn to stay away from threads like this so I could remain blissfully ignorant of everything except the music. The only problem is I think it is too late!
PS excellent thread nonetheless
I would submit that almost any system that is relatively revealing will present you with the same. I have several Krall CD's and I find them to be mastered the same way. I am not a recording engineer, so I will use the term "Faders" that you used earlier. I can easily hear the noise floor (in the form of hiss) go up and down on many different CD's when someone starts or stops singing. I think your gear is probably fine, simply more revealing of the content on the disc. I personally would not go backwards, to remedy this, I would purchase (albeit expensive) audiophile level discs (i.e. Groove Note Gold) where the same material is available. I have Jacintha Autumn Leaves Gold and I have found to a lesser extent the same issue. I will say that since I gave up my SACD player in lieu of my DIO, I have found that Hybrid (Redbook/SACD) sound better than there Redbook only counterparts. I am sure it is because the original master was encoded using DSD and then converted to 16/44.1. This seems to sound better than strait redbook. Anyway, just some additional thought on the subject matter.

I suspect the fader effect referred to above is the engineer "gain riding" the vocal track. The engineer has worked with the singer to increase or lower the signal gain (volume) in anticipation of what the singer will do. The purpose for using this technique is to maintain a relatively constant vocal level. An alternative technique would have been to use a compressor/limiter to automatically control the signal level. Either technique can work, but most engineers would consider the manual gain riding a more "purist" method.

Recording engineers are for the most part magicians. In popular music they are trying to create the illusion of a real performance. Engineers take individual performances recorded at different times and frequently in different studios and electronically manipulate them so that it is plausible for someone listening to believe a real-time performance actually occurred. When performed by a skillful engineer, the electronic trickery is close to invisible. In less skillful hands its kinda' like seeing the mic boom in a movie. BTW, you don't need a high resolution system to hear these "flaws". If you know what to listen for you can hear them on any $1,000 system.
Good Luck Sean. I'll just sympathize with your situation, I recently bought Vandersteen 5 speakers, and my whole system took a tilt toward the "very revealing" (I wouldn't call it analytical though), and at first I was disappointed, but now I'm finding that on good quality recordings, I like the V5s better than my previous 3As, but on less well recorded stuff, the 3As were definitely warmer, richer and more forgiving.

I finally just relaxed and am working my way through my CD collection and finding new "gems" all the time, but also finding CDs that are no longer musical compared to the 3As. I've decided that this is the price to be paid for a definitely higher resolution system.

On Diana Krall's latest CD, I can definitely hear the tape hiss you mention, but am willing to live with it for the higher quality music during the "body" of the songs. Like me, you just have to decide what sonic characteristics are most important to you. Me? I'm keeping the V5s :>).

I've enjoyed reading the high quality responses regarding Sean's problem in this thread-- thanks everyone. Again, good luck and Cheers. Craig.
After doing some thinking, i have noticed the "recording artifacts" that i mentioned many times before. As it turns out, the factor that brought this back to my attention is that my girlfriend has been home from work. Since i typically listen to this specific system late at night when she's trying to sleep, i have to keep the volume down to a lower level. Since she's been staying up later, i've been playing the music louder. With more volume, I can now hear things that would otherwise be drowned out by ambient noise in the room at lower listening levels, etc... So, in effect, all of the "hoopla" that this thread raised was primarily for naught. None the less, i think that we have covered some ground in terms of various things to look for in recordings AND may better understand where some are coming from in terms of system resolution. Sean
sean: so, is the lesson here: less gain, no pain? -cfb