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Harsh high end in stereo system - replace amp or speakers?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone,

I'm just about a complete newbie with this stuff, so I appreciate your humoring me with this question...

I have a Harmon Kardon HK-3490 stereo amplifier driving a pair of Monitor Audio RX1s. Generally speaking, I think the speakers sound fantastic, but I'm having one nagging issue.

I listen to a lot of classical and jazz, and when I listen to certain examples of music (especially opera), the high-end seems a bit harsh when pushed above low volume.. this is especially pronounced during operatic arias or anything that is very "trebly". Certain arias take on a quality that is borderline unpleasant to my ear.

I have read that the MAs are very "bright" and I suspect that this could be contributing to the issue. But I also recognize that the HK-3490 might also be a poor amp for such bright, forward speakers.

Essentially my question is this: given my musical tastes, and assuming I only have the budget to replace one or the other, would I be better served in investing in a new amplifier or a new set of speakers? And either way, are there particular brands or models of speakers or amps that are better suited to classical/jazz (as opposed to rock/pop/dance/etc.)

I appreciate any insight anyone might have for me. Thanks for your help!
post #2 of 18
I don't know those particular speakers. Us the tweeter metal dome? Try a silk done tweeter or ribbon.

First just turn down the treble a bit. Look at your room, maybe room treatments.
post #3 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zachm View Post

Hi everyone,

I'm just about a complete newbie with this stuff, so I appreciate your humoring me with this question...

I have a Harmon Kardon HK-3490 stereo amplifier driving a pair of Monitor Audio RX1s. Generally speaking, I think the speakers sound fantastic, but I'm having one nagging issue.

I listen to a lot of classical and jazz, and when I listen to certain examples of music (especially opera), the high-end seems a bit harsh when pushed above low volume.. this is especially pronounced during operatic arias or anything that is very "trebly". Certain arias take on a quality that is borderline unpleasant to my ear.

I have read that the MAs are very "bright" and I suspect that this could be contributing to the issue. But I also recognize that the HK-3490 might also be a poor amp for such bright, forward speakers.

Stated a little differently, the MAs may be designed for a room that is a little more damped than yours.

Acoustic treatments - sound absorbing panels - may help.

Read more here:

http://www.acoustimac.com/acoustic-panels/dmd-acoustic-panels/?pid=2&gclid=CM7X1ZGO37cCFUyk4AodYA4AEg

http://www.realtraps.com/art_room-setup.htm
post #4 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by glangford View Post

First just turn down the treble a bit. Look at your room, maybe room treatments.

Yes, unless the speakers are lame, harshness is usually more a function of room acoustics. The same can be said for bass that is boomy, or thin, or even both at the same time.

--Ethan
post #5 of 18
I'd agree that your room characteristics/placement might be at play -- I use the RX1 with a 3390 and am pretty happy with them. While I'd describe the speakers as forward, I wouldn't exactly say that they're bright. Perhaps, though, you just prefer a different sound.
post #6 of 18
A soprano singer doing opera or classical lieder is about as hard to reproduce as anything there is (and also a piano).

I do not think your speakers are harsh or bright at all. Not true. Your problem IMO is either the amplifier or the source device your signal comes from.

The HK 3490 is about as good as it gets for $400, but the kind of amplifier sonic purity you desire costs a lot more than that based on my 40 years of experience with this.

I think your speakers will do fine with the right amplifier, and that soprano will sound a whole lot better.

As for those who say that amplifiers all sound pretty much the same, I been there and heard them and proved that it is absolutely not true to my complete satisfaction.

Those who want to think the earth is flat or that all amplifiers sound the same can form one big club and have a lovefest as far as I am concerned. They are beyond the pale in my book.

Some amplifiers that IMO will sound 300% better for that kind of listening:

-The Musical Fidelity M3i
-The Arcam A19
-The Creek Evolution Two

IMO those are the amplifiers that can be had for $1500 or less that will give you some very nice sound with your current speakers.

(One thing; you do not say what the SOURCE of your sound is. That makes all the difference in the world. If the sound is corrupted before it ever gets to the amplifier...GARBAGE IN....GARBAGE OUT. An amplifier can't fix sound that is defective before it gets to its inputs. If that is your problem, the first step may need to be an improvement in your source device rather than a new amplifier.)
Edited by commsysman - 6/12/13 at 2:25pm
post #7 of 18
Most of the advice given above is good. (The exception stands out like a sore thumb, as he usually does.) The receiver is not the problem. The problem is the interaction between your speakers and your room. So there are two obvious fixes: Do something to tame high-frequency reflections in the room. Or find speakers with a softer treble. Or both, of course.

If you want to go the speaker route, however, remember that the problem isn't the speakers. It's speakers-room. So don't buy any speakers you can't try out in your room, and return if they don't satisfy.

Oh, there's one other option: Get an equalizer, and tilt down the treble on the specific recordings that bother you.
post #8 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by commsysman View Post


As for those who say that amplifiers all sound pretty much the same, I been there and heard them and proved that it is absolutely not true to my complete satisfaction.

I once threw a baseball into the air, with my eyes closed, and hit the moon with it.
How do I know I hit the moon if my eyes were closed? I heard the crashing sound in the distance.
So I proved - to my complete satisfaction - that I hit the moon.
post #9 of 18
Zach, what is your room like? Carpeting? Any glass tables or big glass windows near you or between you and the speakers?

I have the RX6's, and I find them a bit forward in the upper-mids/low treble, and a touch bright, but not in an offensive way. Their predecessor, the RS6, could get really harsh in the low treble when pushed to loud levels. This, to me, is the biggest improvement of the RX series over the RS series - they can be pushed a bit louder without the low treble getting harsh. But they still do have a breaking point (so to speak) if you're really pushing them. If you're not really cranking them, I'd say it's a speaker-room acoustics issue, as the others have said.
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by beaveav View Post

I once threw a baseball into the air, with my eyes closed, and hit the moon with it.
How do I know I hit the moon if my eyes were closed? I heard the crashing sound in the distance.
So I proved - to my complete satisfaction - that I hit the moon.
Perfect parody of the one who stands out like a sore thumb. smile.gif
post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 
I want to thank everyone for these replies and sharing your knowledge and experience. I apologize that I have not commented on the room. The room is an 11 x 14 shoebox - essentially a basic rectangle that is very common in NYC apartments. I have the two speakers situated in the center of the 14 ' side, on stands, six feet apart, toed in slightly, about two feet from the walls. I listen from a couch directly across from the speakers. The floors are hardwood but I have a very large rug in front of the speakers. There are indeed a large set of windows adjacent to the speakers.

Others have suggested to me that what I am hearing is the woofers breaking up in the upper midrange, which sounds plausible. The 6" aluminum woofers crossover to the tweeter at 3000 Hz.

I am going to experiment with different placements in the room to see if I can't mitigate this problem. Unfortunately, given that this is not a dedicated listening room I am not sure there is much I can do (or that my wife will allow) in terms of room treatments.
post #12 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zachm View Post


Others have suggested to me that what I am hearing is the woofers breaking up in the upper midrange, which sounds plausible. The 6" aluminum woofers crossover to the tweeter at 3000 Hz.

I am going to experiment with different placements in the room to see if I can't mitigate this problem. Unfortunately, given that this is not a dedicated listening room I am not sure there is much I can do (or that my wife will allow) in terms of room treatments.

You might want to lower that crossover before you do anything tongue.gif
post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by commsysman View Post

As for those who say that amplifiers all sound pretty much the same, I been there and heard them and proved that it is absolutely not true to my complete satisfaction.

It's difficult to say what you did or didn't hear, but I suspect you didn't use anything close to controlled conditions.

But here's something I do know: Perception bias (however innocently arrived at) is a documented fact, and anyone doing legitimate research goes to great lengths to control for it (such as double-blind methodologies, control groups, placebos ... even misinformation as to what is actually being studied). Perception bias is a big deal. In the case of modern amplifiers -- where we know that variations in frequency response, distortion and noise are extremely slight and beneath the thresholds of audibility -- statements to the effect of "I heard it (as did the wife, the neighbors and the dog)" in the context of sighted listening are essentially useless and should be dismissed out of hand.

You can hammer those kinds of statements all you want, but they do not hold up, not to anyone with a basic level of methodological training (which, however grudgingly, I happen to have, as do others here).

EDIT: One more thing. It's perfectly OK for people to believe whatever they want, but to come here and spread audio mythology to complete strangers trying to make real purchasing decisions is just ... I dunno ... misguided. More like unethical. So, if this guy isn't overdriving his existing amp, there's zero objective evidence that he'd realize any benefit by switching to something else. On the other hand, equalization settings? Maybe. Room treatments? Probably. Speakers? Possibly. But the amp? Extremely unlikely.
Edited by Brownstone322 - 6/13/13 at 3:11pm
post #14 of 18
Move the speakers into a near field setup and listen again. If you are still hearing this shrillness than you may need to look at other equipment. But likely your room is to blame and hearing the system in the nearfield, which pretty much takes the room out of the equation-will confirm this.
post #15 of 18
There is an easy way to determine if the woofer, tweeter, or room is the source of that unpleasant sound.

Your speaker has two pairs of speaker terminals. If they are bridged (as in the photo), one set of speaker wires will operate the speaker. If you remove the bridges, one set runs the woofer through its crossover filter, and the other set runs the tweeter through its filter. Check the manual to be sure about what each terminal pair does.

As you play the appropriate passage on your CD, it should be easy to determine what makes the noise by ruling out what doesn't make the noise.

post #16 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zachm View Post

I have the two speakers situated in the center of the 14 ' side, on stands, six feet apart, toed in slightly, about two feet from the walls. I listen from a couch directly across from the speakers.

That implies you have a reflective wall directly behind your head. This further confirms that your room is an important part of the problem. As an experiment, hang a thick bath towel on the wall behind you. Fold it over at least once, if not twice, to be thicker than usual. Use two towels if needed to cover enough surface area. If that helps at all, then a proper acoustic panel there will help much more.

Also, it's better to set up so the speakers fire the longer way down the room. That improves the bass response, and also puts the reflecting rear wall that much farther away. These two short articles apply:

How to set up a room
Early Reflections

--Ethan
post #17 of 18
I think you need a nice piece of tapestry art behind you. Persian carpets can look nice on a wall. Of course a sound-absorptive panel would be even more effective.

Might try moving the speakers a bit, possibly a foot or 2 further apart.

I'm going to agree that speaker-room interaction is most likely what is going on here.
post #18 of 18
I agree with the advice to look at your room and to go after first reflection points on your side walls and floor and also any rear reflections behind your seating position.

I would also look into taming any diffraction coming off of your speakers front baffle by adding some felt tweeter surrounds. They can really improve your speakers performance and tame the perceived brightness caused by diffraction.
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