A pinch of sparkle

November 13, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

There’s an incredibly fine balancing act at play when it comes to the top end of a system. Too much and it sounds bright, too little, and the opposite.

What many of us are hoping for is to not hear the drivers at all. We don’t want to say “oh, the tweeter sounds great”. What we’re banking on is saying something more like “that cymbal has just the right amount of sheen to it.”

Perfect performance from a tweeter is rare.

For many years (and still to this day), some of the biggest loudspeaker manufacturers added a bit of tizz or sparkle to their speaker’s top end. Why? Because they stand out from a crowded field of speakers when auditioned at a dealer’s showroom. As audiophiles, we might think all dealers take the time for a single speaker demo while forgetting how the rest of the world is shown speakers: through a switch box, the salesperson can click through to quickly see which one sounds best.

Once we get home that standout pair of speakers with the added pinch of sparkle, we soon find ourselves getting fatigued by the over-emphasized top end.

When there’s time to get to know our speakers the one thing we want to focus on is not hearing the drivers.

All we’re interested in hearing is the music.

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41 comments on “A pinch of sparkle”

  1. Yes, with great speakers one just realizes instruments or voices in the room. No thought about treble or bass, not about it’s amount or quality or if something‘s missing, just that it sounds real.

    There are small speakers which achieve that and big ones that don’t. Some of the most popular speakers are leading in that they don’t achieve it. It’s independent of the speaker concept or certain fix parts used to achieve this, it’s defined by the skill and preference of the developer.

  2. What brings realism to the strike of the cymbal is not solely dependent on the upper range performance of the tweeter. The initial strike and the reverberations of much lower frequencies (like vibrato) is what brings realism. This relies on the phase and overall performance between the low frequency and high frequency driver elements.

  3. All too true Paul.
    One of the reason’s that I wanted to sell my beloved Celestion – ‘Ditton 66’ Studio Monitors after 38 years, for a new pair of loudspeakers, was because I thought that a more modern loudspeaker, with all of the advancements in driver technology, would have improved treble response to counter the declining high frequency reception of my, then, 58 year old ears.
    Unfortunately it took me a couple of months to realise that the Klipsch standmounters that sounded so clean, clear & punchy, were starting to fatigue my hearing during longer listening sessions.
    Never to old to learn something new, especially if you’ve never experienced ‘listener fatigue’ before.
    It wasn’t a total disaster; I just moved the ‘RP-160M’ standmounters on, taking only a AU$50 loss & bought floorstanders that don’t fatigue me & a lesson was learned.
    It certainly can be a fine & delicate balancing act.

    Talking about loudspeakers…still…

    Hello Everyone 😀
    For those of you who have drivers that are fastened to baffles with either captive nuts or tapered wood screws, once a year you should grab your screwdriver & just torque down the screws/nuts that have loosened from cabinet vibrations during the past twelve months, not too tight, just torque them down gently.
    And it’s probably also a good idea to turn your 8 – 15 inch drivers around by 180 degrees every year as well…think about the effects of gravity.
    Cheers!

    1. Hello there FR………Martin Logan guy here. I understand your comment about the Klipsch RP series you have. I purchased the RP-280F towers. Very nice speaker over all, tremendous low end response in my listening space. Alas, that titanium horn loaded tweeter is a bit in ones’ face LOL.

      I almost sold them, but decided to try a high quality L-PAD (wired correctly using the bi-amp input to the tweeter). I found running the level at 12 ‘o clock position turns out to very nicely take the ‘edge’ off the top end. Completely happy with them for my alt. 2ch and multi ch. setup. Many high end speakers have these controls on them for good reason, I wish Klipsch would include them in their designs as well.

      One more: Recently, the RP-600M was heavily reviewed and enjoyed by many a reviewer, so I ordered a pair. Those were nice stand mounts, but again, even with the newly designed tweeter, they are still a bit ‘bright’ for my touchy ears. I moved them to the keyboard studio as stand mount monitors where they do very nicely there. Just my thoughts and experience with the RP series (O:

      1. Hi gw,
        Thanks for your post (reply).
        All good now with my current floorstanders these day’s, but if not for the
        RP-600m’s fatiguing titanium tweeter I would’ve been very happy with
        them…oh well.
        The latest model, since 2017, is the ‘RP-160M’ which is supposed to be
        a little less fatiguing as the new tweeter design in that model is supposed
        to have a vent (air) down the middle of the pole/magnet, but a few people
        have told me, “Not much better than the 600M’s”.
        Cheers 😎

  4. That’s indeed one of the biggest problems of plasma tweeters: simply adding sparkle. A fascinating tweeter technology but never allowing a correct integration and synchronization of the moving mass of plasma with the much heavier mass of the driver’s membrane responsible for the frequencies below. Alignment of time and phase when the waves fronts are reaching the listener’s ears that is a goal rarely achieved with multi way loudspeakers.

  5. One thing we know (as of today) is the PSA line of speakers won’t have sparkle added for a dealer showroom.

    It took six months + of demo’s before I purchased my speakers. I heard them at close to a dozen dealers – in good set-ups and not so good set-ups. On top shelf electronics and on mid shelf electronics. In almost all cases I preferred the sound over what they were compared with in the same price range. I knew they weren’t the best in the deep end. But the upper bass mids and highs were top shelf to my ears. If I had to choose speakers today, I’m still not sure how I would go about it. ✌️

      1. That becomes the stumbling block Longplayer. I would use reviews to narrow down a short list so to speak, but after that I want to hear and preferably ‘side by side’ before the ‘home audition’. I’m not in the market now, but have a nagging feeling I may be in the not so distant future. So coming up with a workable plan is going to be the 1st hurdle.

        1. Take a look at my comment at (or near) the bottom of today’s comments, Mike.
          Also, I’ve just had the fun of visiting the Capital Audio Fest, though I’ve been to many other shows in the past, and that’s a great way to get an overview of what’s going on in this hobby, particularly after a two year hiatus. I was on the brink of shopping for new speakers, too, but came across another product that has given me second thoughts. Great speakers can be really expensive; accessories and tweaks–not so much. Have fun, whatever route you take, Mike.

  6. Good tip Fat Rat, but be careful.
    All it takes is one slip of the screwdriver and your speaker is ruined 🙁
    About today’s topic : for me the tonal balance (tonality) of highs, mids and lows is one of the 2 most important features of a speaker.
    One of the reasons I never liked AMT tweeters. In an ideal (audio-) world they can sound very good, but most music is not recorded/mastered in an ideal world, alas.
    AMT tweeters then can sound very piercing.
    However, one man’s “piercing” is another man’s “transparent”. In other words : YMMV

    1. jb4,
      Yes, you are correct, I should’ve added…
      Don’t undertake this screw/nut tightening adjustment procedure whilst you are
      under the influence of alcohol..or whatever…this means you, ‘Royal Ascot Mike’ 😎

      1. Ahhhhh fatarseraticus yes i admit to being ratarsedpissedicus last night; daughters 50th at the Shard in good old London Town…2 reasons 1….to much Chateau Nerf du Pape and 2…..the size of the bloody bill! …….

        now speaking of speakers and staying on-topic I wonder if those Fat Rat 30’s are capable of reproducing the fine sound of leather on willow?…..now where did I put that screw driver!

  7. Infinity EMIT tweeters helped Arnie Nudell and his associates create a reputation for a speaker brand that dominated home stereo in the later 1970s and 1980s. Then the EMIT-R found its way migrating to Genesis Tech. Must have been doing something right. I’ve spent most of my life, my entire audiophile life appreciating EMIT tweeters. I just wish I still had the hearing range I had as a kid when I discovered them in 1980. Paul has a bunch of them doing their magnificent thing in the IRSV. (We miss you, Arnie.)

  8. One of the benefits of owning 6 foot tall Magnaplaner speakers is that the ribbon tweeter’s frequency range extends from 2K – 40K and present seamless high notes so that Cymbals recorded properly sound really exciting. I hear all sorts of frequency vibrations where I like to use descriptive terms like sheen, shimmer, sparkle and air. Attack and decay sound incredibly palpable. And, if the listener feels that they need a bit of softening, Magnapan supplies wirewound resistors to insert in-line quite easily.

    Another instrument that spans a somewhat broader frequency range that I love listening to especially when evaluating the upper mids to the extreme highs are the steel pans. I have a whole variety of recordings by the man I consider the finest player of the pans named Andy Narell. Andy’s playing skills on his specially crafted and tuned pans is beyond belief. Many of his releases will get your toes tapping and your spiritual energy soaring. His music is a variety of everything from Caribbean to Jazz to Celtic to the most soulful solo playing imaginable.

    Triangles are also wonderful instruments to evaluate this part of the audio frequency spectrum.

    There are too many talented drummers for me to call out which makes listening a matter of the recording quality and ultimately the sound of the instrument and not of the reproduction system.

    1. [ribbon tweeter’s frequency range extends from 2K – 40K and present seamless high notes]…

      Very True! With less than a centigram (.0075 gram) of diaphragm mass and no moving parts, the pure aluminum ribbon of the custom made RAAL true ribbon tweeter in my monitors produce Superb cymbal, triangle, string, keyboard and wind instrument timbres and overtones, giving tremendous air and realism to their musical textures. No sparkle here, just natural, crystal clear, non-fatiguing Music!

      I played all of the wind instruments, strings, percussion and keyboard during my 15 years of formal musical study and am intimately sensitive to the quality and realism of live acoustical sounds. The RAAL tweeter, in combination with a custom Seas 6” long-throw low mass treated Curv cone Excel woofer, provides a strikingly coherent, seamless top to bottom soundstage presentation that opens up the recorded venue and allows me to step inside…it is as close to being their Live as I’ve ever experienced in my 60 years with the musical art form!

      Ted

      1. That’s the kind of response that I like to hear. I had no idea you had this kind of musical background Ted.

        I’ve never played an instrument nor do I know how to read music but that doesn’t prevent me from being passionate about both live and recorded music and being in tune with what sounds pleasing to my ears.

        I’ve been fortunate that throughout my life I have met a few of the greats in music, some of them were my retail customers and others I chased around until I got a chance to corner them and start a short conversation .

        Jazz musicians are really cool. Some of them don’t care about recorded music and others like Keith Jarrett are major audiophiles.

        Thanks for your response.
        Neil

            1. SG,

              Sorry for the late response…thought you were asking Neil!

              Who have I worked with (assume you’re asking of my music career, if not, here it is anyway)…Let’s see,

              From age 8-18, I study classical piano with my grandmother, a master grand pianist who studied and received a degree in classical music from the Conservatory of Lavnir in Paris, 1912. In my senior year, I auditioned as a guest student pianist to perform with the N.O. Philharmonic at the annual local concert, but was not chosen (FWIW, neither were 7 other local student musicians)!

              After graduation, I then entered our local University for a music degree in Instrumental Music Education. It was during those 5 years that I studied all the instrumental disciplines (wind instruments, strings, keyboard, percussion and vocals). Performance of these disciplines were mandatory, typically with seasonal concert groups (community orchestra, choruses, jazz groups, local bands, small ensembles). Of course, there was the required weekly music department performances put on by the enrolled music students at the large auditorium and open to the student body! After 10 long semesters, received my BA in Instrumental Music Ed! I went on to teach Instrumental Music for the next 10 years, but eventually had to switch careers to afford our Family of Six! To date…No Regrets, just many Blessings!!

              Other than attending many various “Acoustical Concerts” these past 50+ years, IMHO my above Formal Music Education, along with my excellent hearing at age 68, has prepared me well to appreciate the virtues of attaining Live sound reproduction goals in my home’s dedicated music room!!

              Ted

        1. [Dammit..that was meant for Theo. Sorry.]
          [Curious who you’ve worked with. We may have acquaintances in common.]

          SG,

          Has my long-winded answer (13th-7:31pm) addressed your question correctly?
          If not, sorry…managing “brain fog” from the recent booster shot!?!

          Ted

    2. I will agree w you on the 6’ Maggie ribbon. I too own bigguns and it never fails to disappoint. It feels like baby bear….juuuust right.

      I did own a pair of infinity Q5s in the 80s. I thought the tweeter was a bit noisy on it. Bass was freaking outstanding though!

      1. Prior to my purchase of the Magnaplaners I owned Infinity RS1-B’s

        My two Woffer Towers could you knock me back 5 foot when they were cranked up. It was like getting punched in the Gut.

  9. Paul, not only speaker output, but source input is sometimes selected for that sparkle.

    Back in the days when turntables were a more common source, most of the moving magnet cartridges rolled off sharply before reaching 20K Hz. When moving coil cartridges became more popular most of them exhibited a peak as they neared 20K. I suspected the added “detail” many users found with MC cartridges was a result of that upper frequency boost.

    But for some that resulted in excessive brightness and even edginess. For them, MM or MI remained a better choice.

    1. Based on my limited experience with both Benz-Micro and Ortofon ( all MC for both ) based on my ears ( which are old ) and measurements the high frequency uplift has been tamed.

    1. Even beyond the specific drivers of a given speaker, aftermarket mods to the speaker itself such as the Bybee iQSE and their mods to the signal chain, Synergistic Research HFTs, all sorts of footers and platforms can all improve the sound. Beyond that, the selection of power cords to your components can have a huge impact on the presentation of the tweeters. We all know “everything matters” and in my case I’m still discovering how good my speakers really are by experimenting with everything else in the system.

      1. Thanks Longplayer. I’ve played a lot with isolation tweaks & room tweaks, and always am amazed as to how much they have improved things. The next big step for me is a serious step up in interconnects and speaker wire. (not over the top expensive, but at a point where the price equals what I payed for the mono blocks, and I had a chance to try interconnects for a very short term). So I agree there’s many paths and roads ahead. At some point if I want a real sonic change then the speakers become the most obvious choice.

  10. At the Grand Opening of a garden Centre I was impressed at the sound of the Public Address system in the next room playing string quartets.
    “Pretty good but missing a bit on the top compared with my system”.
    I went to the next room — a live quartet.

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