Questions About Upgrading A Stereo System

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by George P, Apr 11, 2019.

  1. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    I have been slowly upgrading my system and as it has become more revealing, some questions have come to mind that I am hoping you guys can answer.

    I know that each time I upgrade a component in the system it becomes more revealing. And I also know that that means that recordings that previously sounded very good now sound great and recordings that sounded poor now sound poorer.

    What I'm trying to understand is does that mean that there becomes a point in upgrading where one should stop? In other words, if I am having trouble listening to CDs that I used to enjoy before because the system is now revealing many of their flaws, is that a signal that it's time to stop upgrading or even downgrade?

    I'm also curious if people become more able to become more tolerant of poor recordings over time after upgrading a system and there's just a period of adjustment. Or if upgrading means that the poor recordings now have to be adjusted using tone controls?
     
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  2. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands
    In the end, hearing the truth is preferable IMO. And the good news is, a great revealing system will not only reveal a recording's flaws, but also the musical merits of same recording.
     
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  3. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Thanks. As for tolerating the bad stuff, do you find that your ears develop a tolerance for it or do you find yourself using tone controls/EQ to adjust the sound?
     
  4. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands
    No tone controls needed for me. I think the trick is to make sure while upgrading that you don't end up with combinations of gear that make the end result too analytical sounding, as in thin or even shrill. Have you ever heard a full Audio Note system for instance? I did, and it sounded great but by no means thin or shrill, so you get to hear lots of detail but the music still comes through if a recording is a little distorted or something. A great system lets you hear that there is a problem without whacking you over the head with it.
     
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  5. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Thanks, G B. How does one avoid getting a sound that is too shrill/analytical? And do you mean this sound across the board or just some recordings?
     
  6. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands
    In practice, our audio hobby is all about mixing and matching components, which means a lot of reading, guesswork and listening. Trial and error, if you will. You will have to trust your ears. What you mention is key in this process: is a certain anomaly that you hear recording specific, or is it a system characteristic? If it's just in a specific recording, no problem, then the system is doing well. If it's a sonic stamp you hear on every recording, your assembled system is in trouble.

    All in all, a system approach would have been better than all this freeform component matching (component guessing), but that's not how the audio industry has evolved historically.
     
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  7. Doctor Fine

    Doctor Fine Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lewes, DE
    The way to avoid building a system that is so "accurate" that it picks out all the flaws is---don't build one like that.
    Seems obvious but you see there are:
    Speakers so shrill that they scream out treble imperfections.
    Amplifiers so devoid of real life-like tones that they make less than perfect recordings completely unlistenable.
    Interconnect with so much capacitance they suck all the "fun" out of the signal and leave you hating your hifi.
    And on and on.

    It takes years of weeding out what has "life" and good honest performance from those products that offer promises of superiority but in the end color your sound in an unpleasant way.
    You can sell the public anything with enough propaganda pushing it.
    But a product that people have come to trust is why some are called "classics."
    I suggest you take a classic approach.
    I believe it is the easiest way to enjoy the highest performance without being put off by distracting artifacts produced by over exuberant engineering run amok.
    Class "A" circuitry generally has high performance and lacks artifacts.
    You find class "A" circuits in a LOT of trusted classic preamps and amps as a rule.
    British monitors are professional grade and mostly known for not being annoying.
    You may find a few reviewers of British monitor speakers carping over how "that sound" while totally even and balanced is not really pushing the envelope in the world of "high tech."
    So what?
    MY advice is to start focusing on those products that offer low listener fatigue and good sound in the same package.
    Don't let "high tech" lead you around by the nose.
    Go for well made long wearing products that make you want to listen hour after hour.
    And don't forget that 75% of your sound can be ruined by poor speaker placement.
    Getting your speakers into the perfect room loading spot is anything but "high tech."
    More like "hard work."
    Anyway your dream system is waiting for you over the next rainbow.
    I already have TWO such systems, One desktop control room type and one really large far field big room type.
    I have moved the speakers a quarter inch at a time looking for improvement over a period of 20 years.
    The first five years with my big system I listened each morning over coffee when my ears were sharp until I learned what made them better and what made them sound worse.
    I have moved three times into different rooms but now that I truly know the wonderful sound they make it is a lot easier finding it in a strange new environment.
    After a while when things are completely sorted you can enjoy so many kinds of audio without annoying artifacts pretty much everything you play is fun to hear.
    I did heard an obviously low quality recording of early 60s Bahamian "Goombay" dance combos yelling into cheap microphones last night and it was the first truly awful recording I have heard in several years or longer.
    But 99% of the time it is a joy just to turn on ANYTHING and let it roll.
    My two cents.
     
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  8. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    I agree that hearing the truth is preferable. I wouldn't want my system to make all recordings sound the same.

    Poor recordings don't bother me that much though. I can generally listen through to the music. But there are recordings that are so bad that you can't do much to help them. The worst of the loudness wars for instance, where everything just sounds like it's at one level (loud), and certain frequencies get drowned out. How can a system fix that? And would you want it to? Because if it makes that sound good then what's it doing to good recordings?

    I don't think it's a sign to stop upgrading, but you need a system that is balanced and natural sounding. 98% of all albums should then sound at least good enough to listen to. Maybe 2%, well, like I said those can't be helped. Even then I'd still probably turn down the volume and keep listening. And if I like the music enough, I'll go the music section of this forum and figure out if there is a better version out there somewhere.
     
  9. Ezd

    Ezd Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    I don't think you stop upgrading, I think you find recordings from that artist that were better mastered. I listen to cd's and lp's and have quite a few instances where I have the same recording in both formats. I usually just play the one I prefer... The music forum here is a good source for info about this, just search for the artist of your choice.
     
  10. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Of course, but I am talking about situations where the mastering might be the only one available. And I am also talking about masterings that previously sounded mediocre that now sound fatiguing/harsh at louder levels.

    With my new jumpers, my system has never been more revealing. As I have read before, this comes at a cost.
     
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  11. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Absolutely.

    To be clear, I am not talking about loudness war stuff, I am talking about bright masterings, original CDs that previously sounded OK or mediocre that now sound harsh in the treble and midrange. And I don't listen terribly loud either, usually from 70dB to 78dB peak levels.

    This is where I am trying to get to. I'd love if 98% of my CDs sounded good or better. And I have spent a lot of money on audiophile masterings, forum preferred masterings, etc, to get the best sounding (to me) CDs.
     
  12. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    All good stuff.

    A few points:

    1. My amp is class AB. So I think I am fine there.
    2. I've spent a lot of time on speaker placement, consulting with Barry Diament and the speaker manufacturer for help.
     
  13. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    OK, but what if I hear this characteristic in more than one recording, say a number of the early CDs, but the audiophile ones sound great? This suggests the problem is in the mastering, but for many of these albums, there is no other mastering.

    Actually, how about this idea - would you say that if you are someone who listens to music of varying recording/mastering quality, then the more you upgrade your system, the more likely you are to use tone controls?

    I think part of the problem here is that I have felt compelled to use my tone controls more often since upgrading my jumpers and then concluding that this is an indicator that something is wrong, when in reality it is not a bad thing. Previously, less treble/mid info getting through, so less harshness and less or no inclination to use my tone controls.

    For what it's worth, my system is composed of only three companies, Yamaha (Amp and CD player), B&W (speakers) and Nordost (cables.)
     
  14. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    Some CDs from the early days of the CD sound like that. I think the way that I have combated this is to have a speaker with an excellent tweeter (very resolving and clear, but not fatiguing) and superb bass performance. This gives the highs a tiny bit of roundness (not flat and grainy sounding), while filling in the bass as much as possible. I didn't do this specifically to combat bright sounding discs, it's just the way my system has evolved.

    I will say that maybe the B&W speakers you have, combined with Nordost cables, may not give you this balance. I owned the B&W 705 at one point and found it a fun speaker to listen to. Very quick, exciting, and snappy sound. But it lacked bass. Not sure how the 704 is - being a floorstander it should definitely have more bass. But to the extent that the 700 line is a little bass shy, maybe that is part of the issue. Coupled with a metal tweeter and Nordost cables (which are regarded as on the bright side) and this just may be the direction your system leans.

    I wouldn't necessary rush to make changes but if you can ever try another speaker in your room with no commitment to buy then you'd get a sense for whether that might help. It's not always that as we move up to better gear it gets more transparent and revealing of bad sources, it's also the gear itself and the balance/sound signature that it has.

    The other question is, do you have a bright room with lots of reflective surfaces? My room is carpeted with a few pieces of furniture, and the ceiling is also not a smooth flat surface. This all serves to help with reflections.
     
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  15. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands
    Just a thought, but perhaps it could help to just let go of that simple judgement 'good' or 'bad'. There are so many aspects to music reproduction, I could easily name ten to fifteen different parameters on which I can score a given system's performance. To simplify that into saying that any cd has to sound 'good' or not, seems too black & white at this point.

    As an example, a certain piece of music, played on cd in my system, may sound amazing in terms of high end extension, dynamic resolution, and spatial cues, but is sounding a bit unnatural and slightly distorted in parts of the midrange. Some of that may be inherent in the recording, some may be due to my system's imperfections. So what can I do, but enjoy the positives and try to accept the negatives?

    And the negatives are usually not solved by using tone controls.
     
  16. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Sorry if I haven't been clear on this, but my issue isn't with good or bad, or being too critical of a recording. My issue is that a number of recordings that were previously fine to listen to now are fatiguing to listen to. They are harsh on my ears and make me not want to listen to that CD at all.
     
  17. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands
    Well, if it concerns too many problematic cds where you are very fond of the music, I would try to audition other speakers or electronics to find out if that could make them more enjoyable without losing the positive attributes of your current system on great recordings.

    An alternative approach could be to build a complete 2nd system that is more forgiving for cds with harshness issues. In your profile I see that you have an interest in historic classical recordings; could be interesting to build a 1940s or 50s style tube based system to hear those recordings in a more historically correct system. Could be a lot of fun!

    Both are better options IMO than heavy use of tone controls.
     
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  18. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    On recordings/masterings that have a lot of bass, I get plenty of bass. It's just that, as you know, many of those old CDs don't have a lot of bass. And on top of that, they are often bright.

    Previously, I used the stock jumpers connected the HF posts and I didn't have the harsh problem then (and was using my Nordost speaker cable), but I also didn't have the detail I have now, particularly on darker masterings. When I tried some 14 AWG stranded wire it seemed to maybe be a happy medium. That would be what I would try next.

    Yeah, I am certain it isn't the speaker. I think it's a matter of finding the right jumper.

    Wall to wall carpet, cloth couch, popcorn ceiling.
     
  19. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    Location:
    Austin
    It's kind of hard to do this in the abstract for several reasons- we're not 'there' to hear what you are hearing and your ears, taste and affinity for a certain kind of sound are probably different than mine, or others. Resolution or hearing more information is, to me, only one facet- an important one- to making a reproducing system sound more lifelike. I'm very much about tone and harmonics. Over the years, i've gotten less hung up on soundstage and imaging- I almost take that as a given on a decent system.
    The less good recordings will remain less good. But, sometimes, a recording I cast aside 20 or 30 years ago today sounds much better to my ears on my main system (my second system is vintage and sounds very much like it did in the early 70s when I first assembled it). And there have certainly been instances where recordings that sounded good on a system I had 40 years ago- a very high quality system for its time- show their failings now, over a system that can do more things better.
    The minefield of system upgrading is made all the more impossible by the countless variables in equipment combinations, room set up and source material. I need to hear something in my system, over a range of material, for more than a couple hours. Sure, I can pretty quickly discern a change, but whether that is a beneficial change on balance requires me to take time. One quick example- a decoupler under a phono stage power supply- which significantly increased clarity, also brought with it a stridency that was intolerable on high frequencies and high energy passages. I could not live with that despite the 'improvement' in yielded in some respects. It's a balancing act, I think, tuned to your very personal 'take' on what sounds real to you.
    I don't subscribe to the 'golden ears' school. I think anybody can hear this stuff with exposure. I use my wife as a BS detector. She could care less about the 'tech' part of it (other than tolerating my interest) but she can readily hear changes.
    I'm on the fence about the "this upgrade dramatically improved the quality of the system" kind of approach that is often used to sell new things. Once a system reaches a certain level of quality, i think you do hear the changes, but a dramatic change by virtue of one piece of equipment makes me wonder what else is going on-- is the 'new' device colored in some way?
    Having said that, small changes can yield big differences. I've been fooling around with different phono cartridges and those seem to make large differences- but again, it's synergy in part-- arm matching, loading, set up, lots of variables and it ultimately ties back to how the system is voiced and what you are aiming for.
    I don't know that there is any magic 'path'-- I think a lot of us (at least me) have gone down the road, tried different things over the years and settled into something that yields a "good to you" sonic outcome that is within budget and your willingness to fiddle. I've certainly known people who churn through equipment in the quest for some elusive best. Sometimes, I think part of that is simply the fun of trying different gear, but often, there's no end and little satisfaction.
    One thing I've observed having heard a lot of very good systems over the years- they all sound different. With different strengths and weaknesses.
    How you get to where you want to be is a very individual path in my estimation. Starting with the basics and not worrying about costly tweaks. (I do hear difference in cables but don't think that should be a priority in sorting out a system).
    Chances are, everybody has something they like and are willing to advocate for it--and it isn't just because they are dealers or people who make money doing it. For many years, I listened to electrostatics because of the midrange. That taught me a lot about midrange listening, but it eventually became a stepping stone to other things.
    I have no clear message here other than get as much exposure as you can and if possible in your own system. The longer I've been doing this, the less certain I am of predicting outcomes based on a list of gear, other than some obvious incompatibilities, e.g. an amp insufficient to drive a particular pair of speakers. The rest- the specs, the reviews, are all data points. Anecdotal reports from other user/owners are also important, but are listener and system dependent.
    One last thought: I made a comment on another board about rolling some tubes and said that one would not know the difference in sound between X tube and Y tube without hearing Y tube. The X tube sounded fine until you heard the Y tube. But even that is circuit dependent. In some cases the Y tube just doesn't seem to make as much difference in some pieces of gear.
     
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  20. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Thanks, but I am going to experiment more with jumpers, as the system didn't previously have the problem it has now.

    Perhaps one day if I move into a house. As it stands now, I am in a studio apartment.
     
  21. G B Kuipers

    G B Kuipers Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands
    George, can you give us a sample of maybe five cds where you hear this harshness problem? Interested to know if I recognize it or perhaps can identify it in my own systems.
     
  22. Ezd

    Ezd Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    I also follow this path... She has a good ear for music, does not recognize the names of audio equipment manufacturers, has no interest in digital vs analog or tube vs solid state, it just boils down to what sounds good.
     
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  23. blair207

    blair207 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Fife, Scotland
    Give me the titles of some CDs you think sound fine and some you think are bad and Ill see if I have them. I have what i believe to be a slightly better system than yours but a year ago I had what i think was fairly equal. I have never found upgrades to make records unlistenable. System matching is important. Your speakers do get mixed reviews but never having heard a pair I have no idea if they colour the sound harshly. I tried out about six pairs of speakers last year in my own home. They all coloured the sound but none made it sound really bad. IMHO your system is not at the level where the amount of detail being revealed is making recordings sound terrible but then I don’t know what music you’re listening to.
     
  24. George P

    George P Warm Sound Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Scorpions - Love At First Sting - AF
    Whitney Houston - Whitney
    The Four Tops - 19 GH - Compact Command Performances
    The Smiths - Meat Is Murder

    By the way, I swapped out the Nordost jumpers for two inch pieces of 14 AWG stranded wire. The harshness was immediately gone. CDs I had just listened to now had a nice tonal balance, leaning more towards the bass than the treble. Guess that Nordost jumper is a bad match for my system.
     
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  25. blair207

    blair207 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Fife, Scotland
    That’s good. Your system seems balanced to me. Just shows how connections can effect things.
     

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