High resolution or bright sound?

September 15, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

19 comments on “High resolution or bright sound?”

  1. Sometimes noise from source components can seem to sound resolving but in reality it’s higher frequency musical aspects which are modulated giving a false impression of resolution, cd’s can sound rough but there’s nothing wrong with 44.1 16 bit, it can sound amazing when it’s executed properly. Consumers need to steer clear of big companies selling poor quality (nice looking) crap sounding gear that’s expensive, most of the time these products are priced highly so people take them seriously.

  2. I agree with Paul. Here’s my story, and keep in mind I have old ears with average HF hearing loss. I had an Oppo CD player, Parasound integrated with B&W mid-line speakers. It was harsh and ultimately fatiguing. No joy. No fun. Another thing I finally concluded was that my ears are not the norm in another way — I pick up “disjointedness” with almost any 3-way tower speaker (I tried 3 name brands). So I tried Dual Concentric and it made ALL the difference in the world, even with the same electronics. I settled on Tannoy Cheviots and my ears are happy now. A REL T/7i also greatly improved overall dynamics and ‘size’ of the soundstage. I can stream Qobuz and it often sounds better than redbook CDs. Oh yeah, I eventually switched to PS Audio electronics and it has a well-balanced sound to my ears. I am also a believer in I2S, XLR, good power cables, and power regeneration. Everything matters. Everyone’s ears are different.

  3. I recall a review of ATC speakers that the reviewer praised except for one aspect. On great and good recordings they were superb but he downgraded them because they didn’t sound good on poor recordings. This does bring up a question when a system sounds bright. Is it the recording or the system, a question difficult to answer since you don’t know the real balance of the recording.

  4. Paul,
    Hopefully you didn’t offend the guy but your propensity for stating your opinion is one of the reasons I enjoy what you have to say. Being apologetic about it when you’re responding to someone with a legitimate question/concern plays a part too. Nice balance!

    I enjoy the videos and daily posts even if I don’t comment a lot.

    Be Well,

  5. It’s so frustrating for the unfortunate people, buying what every second dealer stocks and recommends. I nearly get upset observing this and I can’t believe how a chain of limited sounding components (especially MAC or Classe with B&W and yes also later ML imo) made it to get rave reviews and be pushed to the majority of Hi-Fi buyers. I don’t blame the unfortunate buyers, but distributors, dealers and reviewers who lost their ears or independence.

    I feel sad when reading about customers spending a lot on a mostly frustrating experience.

    A speaker change to one with e.g. a directional tweeter might change a lot already here, but a complete exchange of the chain against e.g. a subsidized PSA chain should make a lot of difference in more directions than tonality.

    I‘m really sorry that Paul is right.

    1. Jazznut – great observations! I have been one of those consumers until I stumbled upon PSA and this community. Like me, most people don’t want to buy audio gear without hearing it first. And since the decline of hi-end brick & mortar, we flock to Best Buy Magnolia. And with human nature enjoying convenience and immediate gratification, we end up with B&W, ML, or DT speakers with Yamaha, Denon AVR’s instead of 2 channel pre’s and amps. To be honest most of those buyers are probably very happy since they don’t have anything else for comparison.

      Currently, I’ve been selling off all my big box mediocrity. Soon, I’ll just have my TV for sound, lol! In the meantime, I’m learning so much from this community and look forward to my next system being an experiment in-home auditions, delayed gratification and last but not least – a celebration of the “artistic” manufacturers versus the mass marketers.

  6. I’ll declare upfront that I’m a B&W speaker owner (800 Diamonds) and Paul’s opinion of them is well-known. That’s fine. I just don’t have the same opinion. 😉

    With regard to the question, Art notes that the brightness is not apparent on all recordings. This suggests to me that he shouldn’t throw out his entire rig! Rather, he may be able to dig a bit deeper into what’s going on and work on possible areas of concern. Indeed, Paul offered to help him privately. I commend your offer Paul!

    I don’t have the same line-up of gear as Art and so can’t comment on the contribution each piece of gear makes to the brightness he experiences. I have a PS DirectStream DAC going into Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks which drive the 800Ds. But being a long-time 800D owner, I can offer one piece of advice that, for my system, mellowed out the brightness without losing resolution.

    To me, the 800 series seem to have a very strong on-axis response. For my ears, zero toe-in greatly improved matters. That, in conjunction with Paul’s room set-up advice, gave me an unfatiguing, precise and resolving experience listening from the ‘sweet spot’ for most material in my ~1200 album library. My system is set up in my main living area and an added bonus to the zero toe-in appears to be generally good listening from anywhere in the area, including from the kitchen section whilst preparing meals. Inferior recordings still sound inferior but most sound very sweet indeed!

  7. My experience with B&W speakers are an incredibly uncolored cabinet in many of their models. They go out of their way to eliminate the cabinet from the sound. That leaves the drivers and crossovers which are also incredibly transparent and detailed. I think the problem is the high end is flat in a dead room in some of their speakers. When you combine that with a ruthlessly reveling and unforgiving speaker system you better make sure you tame the room and that your associated equipment is up to the task and that includes clean connections. Make sure the speaker wire and interconnect terminations are clean. The same with your preamp and all of it’s internal pots and controls. Poor recordings will also be shown for what they are.

    1. Good morning Joe!
      For what it’s Werth, I agree with you, 100%!
      I listened to that yesterday.
      And this morning, I shared the video with my wife.
      She agrees with me about the whole thing.
      Paul just looked at Art’s system, and used his words, to pick it apart.
      You have to look at more then just the system, you have to look at both the recordings, and the room.
      Sure most modern recordings are both bright and boomy at the same time.
      If your room doesn’t have any real kind of deflection, even the best speakers in the world, are gonna sound bright in that room by default.
      But also, looking at the fact that, I was once an Inergee owner, I will get right to the point.
      But before I do that, I will tell you first, what I’m about to say, does not apply to BMW speakers.
      I’ve heard BMW speakers on both tube and transistor/digital systems before.
      If I had a choice on which system I’d rather listen to BMW speakers on, I’d pick any tube system over both transistor and digital system, anytime!
      BMW speakers don’t sound bright on tubes.
      If you have a speaker that has a titanium dome tweeter in it, it will sound bright by default in the first place.
      It doesn’t matter the capacitor typology in the crossover network, there is really no technical way of getting rid of the brightness in that tweeter.
      But in the case of my Inergee speakers, it didn’t matter if I drove them with either tubes, or transistors, they still sounded bright to me.
      Even with dull sounding old cassette tapes, those speakers still sounded overly too bright to me.
      No kind of equalization would fix the brightness problem for me either.
      But those are just one brand of speakers.
      I’ve never encountered a BMW speaker pare, that ever had titanium dome tweeters in them, but I do know this about them.
      If you have those kind of speakers, look at the recordings first.
      If the speakers sounds right with some recordings, it’s probley because the recordings were made by masters that knew how to mike and level everything the correct way.
      But on the other hand, if some of the recordings sounds a little too bright, don’t put all the blame on the speakers.
      They’re only reproducing what’s already there.
      For the most part, the amp is helping the speaker reproduce what’s in the recordings.
      But if you still think your speakers are a little too bright sounding, trade up the transistor amp, for a tube amp.
      If you don’t wish to go that rout, get a good tube preamp.
      Tubes will roll off some of that brightness.

      1. Yep that sounds about right John. Of course there are some models and lines of B&W speakers and years that are better than others just as any speaker but they do consistently have that B&W sound and it’s not always bright in every model. The B&W speakers that are not bright still are very detailed and transparent. They don’t attempt to create fake detail and transparency by being bright. I think the room and equipment they use when they are designing their speakers do not display any brightness. It’s just when you take them home you are no longer in their room or using their equipment and they are generally unforgiving so careful matching of associated equipment and taming the room is extraordinarily important. My NHT 2.9 have a beautifully musical and detailed midrange and highs and there is no sense of brightness. NHT is known for colorless sound but still highly musical, detailed and transparent for the money with a good sound stage. I’m not sure how their speakers are now after Ken Kantor left.

          1. I think Ken is retired. Says nothing about his current employment.

            Kenneth L. Kantor is an audio designer and businessman who helped shape the modern loudspeaker industry through a series of innovative products and technologies. Wikipedia
            Born: September 7, 1956 (age 65 years)
            Organization founded: NHT Loudspeakers

            1. Good afternoon Joe!
              Thank you for correcting me on that.
              I think I got him confused with Mike Sanders the tube amp designer and CEO of Quick Silver Audio.
              But just so you’ll know, what you said about the NHT speakers, is correct.
              But however, they were mint to be used in recording studios, as monitors.
              I think this is the reason why a good deal of audiophiles didn’t like them, when they first came out.
              They done very well in both the mid range, and high end.
              But they didn’t reproduce a lot of bass.
              Kin wanted the sound to be forth coming without any coloration of the sound.
              If any of this makes any sense to you.
              PS. Perhaps I’ll coam the internet for a pare of NHT speakers.

              1. People seek out the older NHT models made in the USA in the early to mid 1990’s but I have no information on the same models that reverted over to China for assembly. I assume NHT made sure they were made to the same standards in China but I think some still prefer the pride of made in the USA ownership. The speakers are marked on the shipping boxes and the back of the speaker cabinets what country they were made in. Their early 1990’s minimonitors were made in both the USA and China, not sure about the floor standers.

              2. Of course this is an older model speaker and I’m sure they have been surpassed by many of today’s modern speakers. They were great for their time. I would probably choose these still over today’s NHT speakers since Ken is no longer with the company. But I have not heard today’s NHT speakers and don’t know how they sound. I’m just speculating.

                NHT 3.3 Audiophile Loudspeakers The 3.3 was the company’s Flagship Speaker the Bass is deep and Tight, and extends to 23 Hz and has usable bass response to below 20 Hz! The NHT 3.3 Loudspeaker is able to be both Bi-wired, and Bi-Amped including

                The 3.3 is a dream speaker it has all usual qualities that people look for in a an Audiophile Speaker, but Ken Kantor’s design is very Unique in several ways,

                — The NHT 3.3 doesn’t have to be pulled out from the wall to have great imaging like most speakers made today do, in fact it was designed to perform at it’s best up against the wall or at most only a few inches from it.

                — It also can actually be positioned in the corners if that is what works best for your room , or is your significant other’s preference,

                — The 3.3 speaker was conceived with an understanding that one of live music’s qualities is that it moves you, makes you tap your feet, and sometimes makes you want to dance and that is how the NHT 3.3 makes you feel to – It has what some people refer to as Pace Rhythm and Timing!

                — To sound real a speaker has to be able to reproduce the full range of music’s frequencies, not only nuanced accurate highs – but the Bass too and unlike many speakers today the NHT has real Bass Authority, the Bass is deep and Tight, and extends to 23 Hz and has usable bass response to below 20 Hz!

                — Ken also understood that people sometimes desire to replicate the live musical event they have heard, maybe a band in a club, or a concert they attended. Music is dynamic and can be loud too, so he designed the 3.3 to be able to reproduce those same kind of dynamics, and if you want to turn it up for a song or two… to feel that rush that live music can give – the NHT 3.3 not only can do that , but can play at concert levels all day long if it needs to and never break a sweat.

                — The NHT 3.3 Loudspeaker is able to be both Bi-wired, and Bi-Amped

                — If you are not familiar, NHT made a huge splash when they came out with the angled front baffle allowing placement in the corners. These speakers do it all……image, soundstage, bottom slam, superb midrange. Known for being balanced/neutral they mate well with all types of upstream equipment. They are capable of ridiculous SPL’s without a sweat. And No need for subwoofer with these speakers ,

                – “The sealed-box NHTs have a usable response to below 20Hz, and possess the deepest, tightest bass of any speaker I’ve ever heard”.

                Corey Greenberg – Audio Equipment Reviewer

                NHT Audio, Ken Kantor, 3.3 Designer –

                “The 3.3 represents the ultimate expression of NHT’s design philosophy, embodying ideas and innovations which carry listeners far down the path toward the goal of perfection in the reproduction of sound.Everything we know about loudspeaker design has gone into the 3.3 – all our technology, our experience, and our listening abilities. The 3.3’s four drivers have all been custom-designed and manufactured to the highest quality standards, and the components for each handmade pair of loudspeakers are matched individually and as a system to within .3dB, ensuring unparalleled sonic consistency with our laboratory standard. The tonality designed in the lab is the same tonality you get in your home.”

                Corey Greenberg – Audio Equipment Reviewer ,
                Review Stereophile Magazine ,

                – ” What I want, above all else, is accuracy. Not “accuracy” as in “it makes my recordings sound like a real concert,” but rather the paradigm of perfect fidelity to the input signal fed the speaker’s input terminals with regards to frequency response, time-domain response, distortion, and predicted soundfield based upon the recording technique employed in the making of the recording. Both as a professional audio reviewer in need of a reference listening tool and as a music lover who desires something which will pass on recorded music as faithfully as possible to the recording – and the NHTs present recordings in a much more accurate manner.
                – When I insert a piece of gear into my rig and the overall sound is far less “samey” on a wide variety of recordings, I know that I’m hearing a more neutral component than what I was using before it —and that’s what I hear with the 3.3s.

                – The 3.3 achieves a higher ratio of direct to reflected sound with two design features: the front panels are angled-in 21 degrees toward the listener to reduce the intensity of sidewall reflections that screw up imaging, soundstaging, and overall resolution; and there’s a strip of thick open-cell foam mounted to the cabinet face just to the outside edge of the midrange and tweeter drivers, to further reduce their radiation off-axis toward the sidewalls.

                – Unlike most high-end speakers, which give the impression of detail by tipping-up the treble range, the 3.3 achieves its high resolution of detail by minimizing the kinds of room/speaker interactions that normally obscure low-level detail.

                – With the 3.3, I hear a whole world of detail and spatial information in familiar recordings which I had never been even vaguely aware of with other high-end speakers.
                – Ah lahks mah rock’n’roll: Finally, the area which means the most to me personally: If you’ve been following my reviews these past few years, you know that Ah lahks rock’n’roll. And you also know that Ah lahks mah rock’n’roll loud, which is how rock’n’roll sounds when you hear it live.
                – Now that I have the 3.3s, I have a pair of speakers in my listening room which can play louder than I can stand, while remaining clean, clear, and as uncongested as if they were whispering along at 80 dB. Yes, you read that right—driven by the 200W Aragon 4004 Mk.II muscle amp, the 3.3s are capable of playing louder in my 1800 cubic feet listening room than I can stand for very long before I finally cede that I’d like to hear the word “Grandpa” someday and turn the volume down to a comfortable 110dB or so.

                – I just had never heard this kind of ability to play insanely loud while staying clean, clear, and unruffled in a high-end loudspeaker that can fit inside a Real World room. But the big NHT does it, and does it all day long without blowing drivers, your amp, or even its momentary cool. If you don’t often listen to rock music, or any other kind of music at high levels, this aspect of the 3.3’s performance will be meaningless to you. But if your listening diet is anything like mine, these speakers will be like manna from heaven to you. They rock! ”
                – “To sum up what began as a short Follow-Up but got longer as I kept coming up with things I really dig about this speaker, the NHT 3.3 is the one for me. It does everything I want a He-Man reference loudspeaker to do, and, a year later, I find myself without a single area of performance I’ve heard bettered by any other speaker”.

                — – The NHT 3.3 is a speaker that many Audio Equipment reviewers praised, and the speaker that Stereophile’s Corey Greenberg chose as his personal speaker for his home.

                1. Good morning Joe!
                  Thank you for all the information you gave me on the NHT speakers.
                  I never heard the 3.3 speakers.
                  The ones I had for a good while, were the 1.1 mottles.
                  They were given to me by an old lady that loved me, as if I were her grand son.
                  But when she gave them to me in August of 1989, she told me that she had them sense 1975 or so.
                  But however, that’s it in a nut shell.

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