Find someone in your area tht will let you borrow equipment to swap in, one piece at a time (including cables), until you can determine where the "harsh" sound is originating
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Don't get fixated on the "metal domes sound harsh" school of thought. I think that the amplification you mention could be the source of the perceived harshness. The room would be my first choice as the culprit though, but since you said you tried three rooms,I am suggesting the amplification. Could it be all three rooms were bad? Quite possibly. BTW bass now generally sounds tighter on newer designed speakers. Maybe you just have gotten used to more bloat and the tighter more punchy bass does not soften the overall sound to your liking. Just a thought.
It is hard to know how to comment on the harsh sound based on the small amount of info given. It is my contention that the biggest problem in most systems is the room. Pbb might be right (there's a first time for everything!) because nothing stands out in your system as being a real piece of @#$%.
Improvements could be made everywhere, but for the cost of one moderately priced piece of gear you could get the room fixed. Then everything you buy down the road will sound that much better.
When you stand in your room and talk, how does it sound? Is there a lot of echo present, or does your voice sound dull and muted? What ever characteristics or colorations you notice in your voice are the same things that are happening to the music.
If any of these issues are noticeable, address them and your system will sound better too.
The Paradigm 100v2's never sounded harsh to me and I've heard them with several different amps. Mine are hooked up to a Sunfire, which tends to be a bit warm, but I've also heard them with Brystons, which tend to sound a bit cold. Jdombrow, Pbb and Nrchy made fine recommendations and suggestions. Has anything other than the Polks changed in the last five years? Same room? Same furniture, carpets, etc? Same other equipment (even if the latter is the case, synergy is everything)?
Cford what types of music do you listen to and who are the record labels ? I see plenty of folks blame their equipment for just bad recordings.Unfortuntely some recordings are just not made well.It maybe time to bring out the tone controls.The more revealing your system becomes the more you will notice it.You could do like some and buy a tuby preamp and smooth things over. A preamp with good tone controls would probably do the trick.This way you could adjust it to your liking.
Also whats the toe in on your speakers? You may want to toe them out a bit.I see people say the room is important..which is true. But what about the recordings.The recordings are also important. Some of them you just have to take them how they are or toss them ! LOL
Maybe one of these days all record labels will be on track like Chesky,Blue Note,Telarc,Rounder and Verve.
Until then I will continue to be very selective of the recordings I buy.I listen to mass market in the car!
I've got the Stratos dual mono amp, and it is definitely not harsh. It can't be the culprit. I play it with Harbeth Compact 7's and a NEW 12AX7 preamp, and the whole system is very warm. The amp has a very low input impedence (10k) - so if you decide to try a tube preamp, bet one with a low output impedence (<1k). Sounds like playing with some blankets on your walls is in order in your room. Good luck.
Here is a little more info:
I did not say that the Polk were very good, just that they were not harsh. The problem is not in the low freq but in the highs, vocals with words starting in "t" or "s", cymbals and the like but bells are very good and clear. The 3 rooms are very different, one 14 x 24 with carpet, one very small with carpet and the last 18 x 24 with 10 feet ceiling and hard wood floors so I don't believe they all could be causing harsh highs. I hear the harshness with all sources so I doubt its the CDs. The JM Labs speakers, with their acclaimed inverted dome tweeter, are harsher than the Paradigm were. I tried them with both the Arcam and Classe preamp and it made no difference. I live in a small time area where there aren't any high end stores and I don't know of anyone else that has equipment I could try.
Also, get yourself one of those test CDs---the one that runs the full gambit of tests and includes some examples of excellant recordings. You might notice something as it will usually send the same signal first to your left speaker, than to your right.
Some stores such as Wharehouse has them. Also, you can do a search for 'Test and CD and Stereo' in your search engine.
Beware: read the fine print as some of these test CDs should never be played at full volumn, especially at the high-end signals.
maybe your new speakers are just picking up high end noise your old ones didn't get. I have a pair of HT pro silway II cables that used to really open up the highs and tighten up the bass when linked between my cdp and pre-amp. The problem was a nasty harsh glare. The cure, found by accident of cours, switching my combo cone and rubber footers from the preamp (were they were supposedly protecting the tubes in the pre from harmfull vibrations) to the CDP where they actually did a world of good. No glare, all the benifits of the silways and some additional tighting up of the imaging from the cones them selves. trying some isolation may be a cheap and simple fix.