This is going to sound crazy, but my VA speakers sound harsh, hard, and unpleasant -- not at all why I purchased them... Help!Long Version
I have an older pair of VA Bach speakers (non grand) that I picked up used and originally paired with an Harmon Kardon 3490 receiver. Having been through several amps since then, I can confidently describe the sound of the hk 3490 as extremely laid back, full sounding, and sweet in the treble. This combination was totally non fatiguing no matter what recordings i threw at it; however, though, never a harsh note uttered, most of the time, it didn't sound anything like real music either: there was no real clarity to speak of unless listening to a lively or bright recording, not to mention the bass was always flabby and uncontrolled. Since I thought I could get better sound for my speakers, I decided to try an integrated amp -- this is when the unpleasantness started.
First, I bought the acclaimed rega brio r and -- holy smokes -- a major upgrade in both sound quality and ear pain! Dynamic and lively, just like the reviews stated; the upper midrange right on up through the treble, not at like the reviews stated... Acoustic instruments sounded hard, harsh, artificial, electronic sounding. Now, since most everyone thinks the rega sounds like a real smoothie in the mids and highs and to my ears quite the opposite result occurred, I asked my dealer. I was told the brio r needed "breaking in". I put up with it for 250+ ear bleeding hours. Suffice to say, the little brio-r went back to the shop and I no longer believe in "break in". Later, I read on audiogon that others also found the brio-r to sound grainy and harsh in the upper midrange -- great it's not just me -- yet I also seemed to find the treble range of say 5-10k to be notably harsh as well (more on that later).
Next, I tried the Nad c326 bee, another amp that most people think a little dark in the treble. Described as just on the warm side of neutral by most, it was certainly much less fatiguing than the brio-r, but that edge or hardness in the treble was still present. I listen to lots of classical and instrumental music -- my favorite instrument is the violin -- so this amp, too, went back.
Finally, I bought a Marantz PM 8004. I find there's some warmth in the bass with this amp, while the midrange on up through the treble are clear and neutral sounding. I rather like this amp, but it sounds harsh, hard, and unnatural in the treble on strings and horns 90% of the time like all the other amps I tried. I decided to settle and just keep it.
Next I tried cable swaps, room positioning, all sorts of tweaks with no real success. Thinking I had a problem with digital sources, I tried a tube dac to smooth things over that helped helped a smidgen but came with its own set of drawbacks. Then I played some records I'd heard numerous times on the old hk 3490 without incident, they also now had this harsh, hard quality on strings and horns. It's not a digital / analog thing then. Either I don't like the sound of mid-fi SS amps or I don't like these speakers.
Here's what I do know: while specific measurements for the older Bach classic aren't online, several VA models are, and looking at measurements across the VA line, it seems like the tweeter output begins to rise around 5k until around 12k on most models. I think this is called "treble sparkle" -- it's also the likely cause of my misery. I noticed that If i use an EQ in foobar to lower the 7k-10k range a few db, I can mostly reduce the hard, artificial edge I'm hearing on horns and strings, as I reduce the output things begin to sound more pleasant, dare I say, listenable. However, there's still the problem of my records sounding harsh and the tone controls on my marantz can't fix it since the treble knob tweaks around the 15k range. Of course, frequency response doesn't tell the whole story, it could also be the tweeter or the crossover.
Now, I bet something like the primaluna prologue one with el 34 tubes would make me happy, but since the old VA Bach speakers are getting up in years, I think I'd rather put my next outlay of cash towards a new pair of speakers. As things stand, I'm thinking about buying Haydn Grands or Bach grands, but I'm a little worried I'll have the same problem with them, so I've also been considering alternatives like the Spendor s3/5r2 and the Harbeth p3esr as well. The question is whether the harshness I'm hearing is simply due to the older haydn/bach tweeter being unrefined to these ears, which an upgrade to the newer grand or grand se models might fix; or if I simply don't like the VA house sound? Since I don't have any VA dealers nearby, I could really use some input from current owners of the haydn grand or bach grand models and thanks for reading this far if you have. Short Version
I have older VA Bach, non grand speakers. I find they sound harsh, unnatural, and hard in the treble range say 7-10k frequencies with all of the SS integrated amps I've tried: rega brio-r, nad 326bee, marantz pm 8004. I know the VA house sound, according to measurements, gives a little boost to the treble starting around 5k and ending around 12k in most models. It's the 7-10k range that's frustrating me, since an EQ db decrease of 3-5db in that range mostly fixes it.
I'm in the market for new speakers now and I'm considering the haydn grand, haydn grand se, bach grand, or even something else like the spendor s3/5r2 or harbeth p3esr. Questions -- Is the tweeter on the older Haydn / Bach models simply unrefined? Would upgrading to the newer haydn grand or grand se fix it? If not, is it the VA house sound I dislike? Alternatively, maybe I simply hate the sound of solid state amps? I'd love it if owners of the newer haydn / bach grand models could chime in for me on this, before I spend anymore money. Thanks!