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Tubes?

DuncanJ

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Hello All,
I've done a ton of reading on ASR but thought I'd post a question and hope for some solid advice and feedback. I wanted to try some of the latest gear but decided to keep my Focal 826W speakers. I have an older Anthem MCA20 amp and a Bel Canto 2.5 DAC/Headphone amp. I switched to a Topping D90SE and a pair of Hypex NC400 Monoblock kits. My source is a Raspberry Pi using a SPDIF Digital hat. The Topping DAC is also being used for volume control. My hearing isn't what it used to be but I find the system to be hyper detailed. It is fantastic on some tracks but somewhat harsh and grating on others. I have tried swapping in some of my older components like the Bel Canto or the Anthem but notice an improvement in the harshness but a loss of detail. I've found that I prefer the detail but not the harshness. At this point I'm thinking about adding the Schitt Audio Freya Plus to take advantage of it's tube stage to see if I can maintain the detail but lose the harshness. Any thoughts on this?
 

charleski

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Looking at the Stereophile measurements, I'd consider EQing out the peak around 9-10kHz, which is probably why you're getting some harshness. There's something going on around 5kHz as well, but this will depend on positioning. The best a tube stage will do is add some high-frequency roll-off and a bunch of distortion, far better to correct the high-frequency response with DSP.
 

Tom C

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Please know I’m not an expert. There are many more qualified than me to answer your question. But I think you’ll find the qualities you’re looking for won’t be found in a tube solution. In general, tubes solve zero home audio problems (not talking about guitar amps and other specialty applications). Tubes can be compensated for and perform quite satisfactorily for audio, but the only reason to use them is that you like how they look, or you just like the idea of them.
What you’re describing sounds to me like a gain matching problem, since some things sound OK and not others. It may be that the output of one of your devices is being run into clipping, or is overdriving the next stage in the chain. It may help to try adjusting down (decreasing) the volume on each of you components that have a volume control (including the software controls) to see if that helps.
I would expect you can get what you want out of the gear you have. New gear is fun (about the most fun you can legally have) but shouldn’t be necessary to get what you’re asking for here.
 

JeffS7444

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I find the system to be hyper detailed. It is fantastic on some tracks but somewhat harsh and grating on others. I have tried swapping in some of my older components like the Bel Canto or the Anthem but notice an improvement in the harshness but a loss of detail. I've found that I prefer the detail but not the harshness. At this point I'm thinking about adding the Schitt Audio Freya Plus to take advantage of it's tube stage to see if I can maintain the detail but lose the harshness. Any thoughts on this?
Yes, using amps and DACs as tone controls can be an expensive hit-or-miss proposition, and "detail" combined with "harshness" suggests to me that you may have some big frequency response peaks going on. Get a USB measurement microphone (a fraction of the cost of a Schitt Freya+) and become acquainted with Room EQ Wizard software (free). REW will perform frequency sweeps, then generate parametric filter data which can be used with any device offering parametric equalization.

Another older-school method is the combination of Behringer DEQ2496 + measurement mic (also relatively inexpensive) and simply run it's auto-eq feature. What's fun about this approach is that you get to hear the pink noise output change in quality as the auto-eq does it's thing, and the device makes a good all-purpose toy offering a variety of animated displays including my favorite, the real-time analyzer.

The best reason to buy tubes is simply because you want tubes and even then, don't take tube-rolling too seriously: Don't expect to hear any real difference between one good-quality tube and another.
 

Jim Matthews

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My source is a Raspberry Pi using a SPDIF Digital hat. The Topping DAC is also being used for volume control. My hearing isn't what it used to be but I find the system to be hyper detailed. It is fantastic on some tracks but somewhat harsh and grating on others.
I had a similar experience using the RME ADI-2 DAC.

Topping has multiple DAC "filter modes". I suspect default is a sharp roll off filter, which I found similarly irritating.

Topping lists mode 5 as a "Super slow roll-off".


https://shenzhenaudio.com/products/...anced-dac-bluetooth-5-0-dsd512-hi-res-decoder
 

Tom C

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Isn't it the case that peakiness in a speaker's response shouldn't be harsh unless it's accompanied by distortion? I have some peaky gear (Paradigm Persona) that everyone that hasn't heard them tells me they should sound harsh. But they don't. They just have accented highs, that are crystal clear and pleasant. Until I turn up the volume too much. Then they sound harsh. I think the quality of harsh has more to do with lack of headroom, unless the equipment is broken.
 

MattHooper

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In general, tubes solve zero home audio problems

Well...In my own experience tubes "solved" issues similar to what the OP is talking about. (Though I think other things like EQ, room treatment/speaker positioning etc can also help "solve" similar issues).

[Trigger Warning: purely subjective comments...]

I'm not a fan of aggressive sound - I have tinnitus and suffer from occasionally hyperacusis, plus I'm often coming to my 2 channel system after a long day of editing sound effects. But I enjoy a vivid sense of sound and detail in my music playback too.

I have found my tube amps do just that for me: it can sound as least as, or more vivid as when I use solid state, yet at the same time more relaxed for my ears. I can really crank it with the tube amps without my ears scrunching down. (I was never able to truly replicate exactly this sound via digital EQ when I tried).

So at least for me my tube amps "come to the rescue" to a degree.

(That's not to say just throwing any tubes at a 'problem' like that will fix it. I admit being suckered long ago in to buying a PeachTree Audio amp that had a tube in it, displayed through a little window on the amp, but it turned out to be just marketing/show as I don't think it had any impact at all in making the sound more "tube-like.")

[/Trigger Warning]
 

Tom C

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I'll try not to be triggered. But I will be subjective.
I enjoy tubes myself, but I haven't personally experienced what you describe. My favorite systems are solid state, not because of the componentry, but because of the high power output and low distortion.
 
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DuncanJ

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First, Thanks to all for the comments! Extremely helpful! I like the idea of understanding what I'm hearing before I start throwing money at it. I particularly identify with Matthooper's comments as I have tinnitus as well so I'm sure my hearing is contributing to what I'm experiencing. Just a bit of background: I added the D90SE first so that added a level of detail that I found to be exceptional. Then I added the Hypex amps and that added even more detail. Part of this journey is the desire to investigate class D amplification. I've had VTL mono blocks in the past so this is clearly uncharted territory for me.
I notice that the hyper detail is most prevalent in newer recordings but not all. Leonid and Friends "The Speck of Dust" (I strongly recommend giving this a listen) sounds truly outstanding but there is some harshness there. Sandbox "Three balloons and a Trapdoor" sounds excellent and needs nothing. These differences make me wonder about how the quality of the original recording is impacting the sound and ultimately, what I'm hearing. I don't want to go down a rabbit hole on this but I think EQing is excellent advice. I'll have to investigate how to implement DSP within Volumio.
 

DVDdoug

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hyper detailed. It is fantastic on some tracks but somewhat harsh and grating on others.
I'm not sure what you're hearing but usually "detailed" means strong high-frequencies. "Harsh" or "grating" could be distortion or it could also be exaggerated highs or mid-highs...

You shouldn't be getting ANY of those effects (at audible levels) from the ELECTRONICS unless something is clipping (distorting from a too-high signal). The digital "data" can also be clipped if you boost with EQ, or something like that. If you're not overdriving an amplifier (or something like that), usually the ONLY "audible defect" is noise (hiss or hum). Modern electronics rarely has gross frequency response variations.

Speakers (and headphones) are a bit more complicated. They ALL have different frequency response and different off-axis frequency response which affects how they sound in a room and they all sound different. Speakers also have more distortion but it's usually not a big problem unless you boost the bass with a small woofer, etc.

A tube is an "amplification device" like a transistor or MOSFET. It's characteristics make it "harder to use" than a transistor or MOSFET but that's just an engineering & cost issue. You can make a good low-noise, low-distortion amplifier with flat frequency response using tubes but it's more expensive. Tube power amplifiers require an output-transformer and again it's difficult & expensive to make a good one but it can be done.

A GOOD good amplifier (solid state or tube) shouldn't have any sound of it's own. i.e. It's supposed to be a "straight wire with gain". And if a tube amp has a "tube sound" it's going to sound different from another amp with a "tube sound". Some people like that but you have to listen and choose a particular amplifier.

Actually, guitar amplifiers aren't supposed to be "high fidelity". They are supposed to have a particular sound and they become "part of the instrument". Every guitar player has their favorite amp (and their favorite guitar). I'm pretty sure the (imperfect) transformer is a big part of the sound.
 

MattHooper

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First, Thanks to all for the comments! Extremely helpful! I like the idea of understanding what I'm hearing before I start throwing money at it. I particularly identify with Matthooper's comments as I have tinnitus as well so I'm sure my hearing is contributing to what I'm experiencing. Just a bit of background: I added the D90SE first so that added a level of detail that I found to be exceptional. Then I added the Hypex amps and that added even more detail. Part of this journey is the desire to investigate class D amplification. I've had VTL mono blocks in the past so this is clearly uncharted territory for me.
I notice that the hyper detail is most prevalent in newer recordings but not all. Leonid and Friends "The Speck of Dust" (I strongly recommend giving this a listen) sounds truly outstanding but there is some harshness there. Sandbox "Three balloons and a Trapdoor" sounds excellent and needs nothing. These differences make me wonder about how the quality of the original recording is impacting the sound and ultimately, what I'm hearing. I don't want to go down a rabbit hole on this but I think EQing is excellent advice. I'll have to investigate how to implement DSP within Volumio.

As much as I like my tube amps, I think EQ is definitely by far the first, best option to seek out. Playing with tube amps to solve such an issue is hit and miss, not to mention expensive! (Unless you already have a good idea of which tube amps you would like).
 

mhardy6647

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Isn't it the case that peakiness in a speaker's response shouldn't be harsh unless it's accompanied by distortion? I have some peaky gear (Paradigm Persona) that everyone that hasn't heard them tells me they should sound harsh. But they don't. They just have accented highs, that are crystal clear and pleasant. Until I turn up the volume too much. Then they sound harsh. I think the quality of harsh has more to do with lack of headroom, unless the equipment is broken.
Loudspeaker response peaks in the wrong place (or the right place, depending upon one's perspective) will be, IMO and IME, perceived as harshness. The "Heritage" Klipsch loudspeakers are notorious examples. They're very low distortion in the treble, but with some response anomalies that make them -- at least to me -- ear gougers.

... but, yeah, "tubes" per se aren't likely to help the OP with his/her/their issue. And, mind you, I am a tube kind of guy. A good vacuum tube component will render the harshness with high fidelity. A bad vacuum tube component might (!?!) smooth off rough edges -- but probably not without other, collateral damage.
 
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anmpr1

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At this point I'm thinking about adding the Schitt Audio Freya Plus to take advantage of it's tube stage to see if I can maintain the detail but lose the harshness. Any thoughts on this?
I don't know. I only know from experience. You finally get to the point that all you really want to do is listen to music. In spite of the gear.

Personal anecdote: I have a SS amp that many would consider the ultimate SOA (Benchmark AHB-2) and a tube amp (Dyna Mk IV mono pair) that many would consider quaint. Subjectively I think the Benchmark is completely transparent to the point of ridiculousness--with its companion DAC3 HGC preamp. Yet I use them with my Paul Klipsch La Scala horns (that no one here likes ;)). Ask me if I'm happy?

On another system (the Dyna amp with modified PAS preamp) everything is just fine, with my JBL L100 (the ones no one here likes :().

The point I'm trying to make is that you shouldn't look for others to tell you about what you will or will not enjoy. From your post you seem conflicted, but I'm not sure you will get answers that will resolve your indecision, here.

One thing I can tell you, information about 'harshness and detail' is not what you will find on ASR. ASR is a great place (probably the best place) to figure out who is doing audio engineering correctly. But in your living room? Figuring it out subjectively? Emotionally?

The only thing I can honestly suggest is that you get something based upon what YOU think is important. What fits in with your budget and what you will enjoy. When it comes to gear, ask for a demo. Live with whatever for a week or two. It's the only way to be sure. Then decide. Down the road, if you change your mind, which you probably will since you are obviously in a highly subjective state, then get something else. Everyone here has been through that.

Just understand: it's easy to fool yourself about audio. And you don't want to be a fool. I know from experience.

That said, tubes (or expensive blue meters) are great at night, when the lights are dim. Makes listening all the more enjoyable. In the daytime however, when the sun is out, you want someone like John Siau to tell you the truth. It's as simple as that.
 

MattHooper

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Yet I use them with my Paul Klipsch La Scala horns (that no one here likes ;)). Ask me if I'm happy?

I bet you are. I listened to the La Scala's at my friend's place who is driving them with a Bryston 4B3 and it sounds terrific: all that density and dynamic feel and very clean, no tube hiss.


One thing I can tell you, information about 'harshness and detail' is not what you will find on ASR. ASR is a great place (probably the best place) to figure out who is doing audio engineering correctly. But in your living room? Figuring it out subjectively? Emotionally?

I find the same, generally speaking. For me this is a great web site for some education and especially a far lower b.s. threshold about audio.
Hugely refreshing.

At the same time, I find the general direction of commentary often thin on some things I really care about in audio.
(E.g. the subjective impression aspect: the general disparagement...often justified...of subjective reviews also means that many ASRs seem allergic to describing sound in much depth, lest they risk sounding like they are going down the path to spouting "B.S. Poetry Instead Of Facts" that is often attacked here).


The only thing I can honestly suggest is that you get something based upon what YOU think is important. What fits in with your budget and what you will enjoy.

I agree, but would like to add an important caveat.

There is a sense of course in which our choices are always going to be based on our own experience and taste and goals, which is legitimate.

There is another version of this that is part of the pure subjectivist b.s., the version that goes "ONLY your experience matters with any audio product! If you haven't had direct personal experience with a product, then you don't have a leg to stand in giving your opinion."

This is obvious religious-level thinking. Of course someone can have an opinion on a piece of gear he hasn't used, and can have a more justified opinion than the person with "personal experience." For instance, take Person A who thinks he is hearing better sound or seeing better picture on his TV between an expensive HDMI cable and a cheaper one, when both are functioning and properly spec'd cables.

Person B has a fundemantal understanding of how HDMI cables work, and can know (for all intents and purposes) that Person A is imagining these differences. That's just not how HDMI cables work. Person B doesn't need Person A's experience with that particular expensive HDMI cable to have the more valid opinion.

That said, tubes (or expensive blue meters) are great at night, when the lights are dim. Makes listening all the more enjoyable. In the daytime however, when the sun is out, you want someone like John Siau to tell you the truth. It's as simple as that.

But what if You Can't Handle The Truth! ;-)

You wrote earlier:
Subjectively I think the Benchmark is completely transparent to the point of ridiculousness--with its companion DAC3 HGC preamp.

Yes, on that subject, and anecdotally speaking: I have the Benchmark DAC1 and Benchmark DAC 2L. At times I've run the DAC directly in to power amps, bypassing my tube preamp, and again just recently I switched out my CJ tube preamp to use the DAC 2L as my preamp.
The DAC 2L isn't as a preamp isn't quite as heroically engineered as the Benchmark preamp you use, but Benchmark as a matter of course does damned accurate/transparent gear.

And it sure sounds transparent has heck!

With apologies, I'd like to riff a bit on this subject from my perspective.

The term "transparent" is often seen as a dirty word around here, meaningless to some. So to give it some context, I think it's easy to understand "Transparent" as a technical term, insofar as it signifies "accurate" in the sense of "imposing no deviations/distortions of it's own on the signal." (Which in the case of digital can be a technically perfect copy, or in analog equipment, distortion kept to an inaudible level).

Subjectively I accept the terms as many audiophiles tend to accept it. Essentially it's like experiencing "technical transparency" in subjective terms: an obvious example would be an average or low quality vinyl version of a track vs the full res digital version, where you can hear the the noise floor, and the scrim of vinyl distortion on the music, drop away when moving from vinyl to digital. The digital not only IS transparent in a technical sense, it "sounds" more transparent in the subjective sense of sounding like you are hearing a cleaner, more pure version of the sonic signal. Where a scrim of noise has been removed, details about the track become less obscured.

That's GENERALLY what audiophiles usually mean with the word "Transparent."

Audiophiles, especially in the purely subjective camp, may use the term when describing purely imaginary impressions - e.g. how their uber expensive AC cable made for more "transparent" sound. But the fact the term can be misused by those experiencing bias effects doesn't mean it is therefore a term of pure fantasy and can't be fruitfully applied to describing certain sonic effects, IMO. Someone may imagine their standard AC cable makes their system sound "brighter" than their new AC cable, but that doesn't mean "brighter" isn't also a useful short hand description for real sonic characteristics in a system.

(BTW, there's also a lot of disparagement about the audiophile term Black Background, as if it's meaningless. It isn't meaningless per se, even though it can be misapplied. An example like the vinyl vs digital signal above could also describe what a "blacker background" sounds like.
On the vinyl if there is a level of surface noise, the musical details "sit" above that surface noise, and subtle details like subtle reverb trails disappear in to that surface noise. Subjectively it can sound like musical details, sax, voice, trumpet, are hovering in a very slight sonic lightened mist. Take away that surface noise, go to the digital version, and that slight surface noise "mist" disappears and the subjective effect is a "blacker background" behind the instruments from which they appear, and the tiniest details may seem to "trail a bit further" in to that black background. The thing is, this effect is not apprehendable just in a vinyl vs digital comparison, it can be apprehended between amps - if say a tube amp is producing enough distortion - and between different speakers/sound systems in different rooms (e.g. the sonic characteristics of a speaker interacting in a certain room may result in that slight sense of "hash" to the sound where another smoother sounding system will sound more "transparent" and with a "blacker background." I can easily render just these changes through pure acoustics in my own room - the more lively close room reflections I allow, the more apparent "fuzz/hash" to the sound, though brighter and livelier, the more I cut down on close reflections, the smoother and "darker" the background in which the instruments sit seems to become subjectively)

Anyway...back to Benchmark.

Every time I bypass my tube pre-amp and run the DAC in to an amplifier, or replaced my preamp with the Benchmark pre-amp, I immediately get that impression of "greater transparency" in the subjective sense described above. It is really cool. And I love it for a while.

But after a while I get a little frustrated because I perceive greater "transparency" in another sense: that the instruments and voices, though now cleaner and clearer, seem more "transparent" in the sense of being "see-through." It's like I can see right through them as objects as it were, they become more hologram like than solid and dense. When I put the tube preamp back in I take a slight step back in terms of purity/transparency, but the sonic images seem more "there," dense, textured, solid, more believably real. So I always go back to using the tube preamp...as I just did last night. In fact, I was a bit shocked at the level of difference - the way Joni Mitchell sounded like a super clean, clear recording via the Benchmark preamp, but moving to the tube preamp just sounded more "there in the room, popping out of the recording, like a real voice occupying dense space in the room between the speakers.

The thing is I can easily imagine someone else preferring the "more technically transparent sound" of the Benchmark gear even in my system.
But these tiny things really matter to me, they are what I personally listen for, and so what may seem a minor thing to someone else is subjectively a big deal to me.
 
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charleski

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These differences make me wonder about how the quality of the original recording is impacting the sound and ultimately, what I'm hearing.
I can definitely notice differences in general tonal balance between different recordings. Some engineers mix in too much high-frequency material and it's annoying. I've experienced this at a live concerts as well where amplification was being used and I remember one in particular where the treble was screeching. There's a case to be made for having broad treble-shelving filters to use on a case-by-case basis apart from the fundamental room/speaker/headphone EQ.
 
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DuncanJ

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Ok, so after reading through all the excellent comments and thoughts I decided to take a step back and evaluate my set-up with a more critical eye. I like the advice of EQing my system but, based on the reading I've done, that is going to be a challenge as I have to do it within the environment of Volumio. I'm going to dig into that over the next few days. In the short term I decided to try something really simple and that was to start playing with my speaker placement. I'm somewhat constrained by my room but I started by toeing my Focal's out very slightly. They were aimed directly at my seating position so they are now a few degrees out from that. I'm going to listen to them for a while like this but my first impression is positive from a standpoint of a reduction of harshness in the high frequencies and an improvement in the imaging. Any thoughts on acoustic wall treatments?
In the general vein of speakers and in particular, horn speakers, I've read about Klipsch products with great interest but have not listened to a high-end pair in someone's home. The Cornwalls or La Scala's come to mind. I heard a pair of Heresy IV's in an audio store that sounded "bright" to me and I was put off by that delivery. This could just be the setting which wasn't great. It seems to me that they are designed to be paired with low power amps (Tube or SS) as their sensitivity numbers are rather astonishing! I do like the idea of high efficiency as this reduces power requirements (at least for my room). I think I fell into the trap of more is better from the standpoint of amplification but since I'm playing with class D amps that is a non issue.
 

charleski

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I like the advice of EQing my system but, based on the reading I've done, that is going to be a challenge as I have to do it within the environment of Volumio.
I don’t use Volumio, but it looks like there are some decent choices available:
 
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DuncanJ

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I don’t use Volumio, but it looks like there are some decent choices available:
That is awesome! Thank you!
 

Jim Matthews

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Any thoughts on acoustic wall treatments?
Before springing for bulky (read : expensive to return) wall treatment, I would tape a piece of heavy felt or soft foam (available from Dr. Scholl's at your Pharmacy) to the outside of your tweeter front plate.

Much of what we hear as "hash" from flush mounted tweeters is edge diffraction.
 
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