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shp
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The room, the speaker, the amp or the combination?

I have a VAC 80/80 (recently upgraded and re-tubed to 100/100) (http://www.stereophile.com/tubepoweramps/698/index.html) and Focal 918's (http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/focal-profile-918-loudspeaker-1/).

A Naim CD player and Sonic Frontiers SFL-1 round out the system. I bought all of this used over the years.

I generally enjoy the system. But one thing is missing and it's really bothering me. The sonic range about where a drummer's brush on his kit would play is really recessed. Its absence is prominent on Miles Davis' Blue in Green. I didn't notice it until I was auditioning a DAC with a pair of KEF's. Subtle piano work on Tourist Point of View from Duke Ellington's Far East Suite is also more audible in my car than my house.

The TAS review of the Focal suggested a recessed sound stage - is this "suck out" part of it? Or the softening sound of tube gear and a polite Naim the problem? The Stereophile review of the 80/80 talks about a problematic output impedance -- maybe that's the cause, which might suggest caution when selecting a new speaker.

So I don't waste the local shops' time or carrying a lot of heavy gear all over LA (that VAC is not light), I'm asking the forum if you think I should focus on new speakers or a new amp. Or new cables? Also, I am in the market for a new DAC like the Benchmark, Chord, Mytek or even NAD. Would the built-in pre-amp provide some balance?

A few other tidbits:
1. I have StraighWire interconnects. My speaker cables seem heavier gauge, but they're not branded as far as I can tell. Would new cables
2. The room is relatively bright - 12-14 ft high ceiling in a split-level open plan kitchen/dining room/living room. Because of an uncooperative cat, I can only have a wood floor.

Thanks

Catch22
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Tough Call

All that you mentioned is possible in causing the problem. Which output tap are you currently using for your speaker connections?

shp
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Thanks for helping.

Thanks for helping.

I double-checked. The Focal label says 8 ohms and I'm using the 8 ohm tap. (The amp also has 4 and 2 ohm taps.)

Catch22
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Try the 4 ohm taps

You may already know this, but just in case, NEVER power on a tube amp without speakers connected. After powering down the amp and letting the caps drain for a few seconds, hook your speakers up to the 4 ohm taps and give it a listen.

Even though your speakers are rated at 8 ohms, according to Focal, they almost certainly vary with the frequency response and probably dip well below that at various frequencies.

shp
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I'll say it might be a tad

I'll say it might be a tad bit better and I'll probably keep it on the 4 ohm tap for awhile. But it's not the silver bullet from the smoking gun.

Any other suggestions?

Thanks, Catch22.

Catch22
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Speaker Measurements

I looked up some measurements for your speakers on the Sound and Vision website. Becasue of the substantial off-axis shelving down of the 3khz region, the review indicates that you want the tweeters to be on or slightly *below ear level when listening to avoid the huge suckout in the lower treble. They also prefered the grills in place, for what it's worth. If you don't need the extra power, I would even try the 2 ohm taps as the review also indicated that while not particularly difficult to drive, they do remain below 4 ohms for much of the upper bass and lower mids...where a lot of musical energy lives.

How are the speakers positioned in your room? How are they in relation to your listening position?

shp
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They are on the 14' wall of a

They are on the 14' wall of a 14'x17' room. They are 9 feet apart. 25" from the back wall and 27" from the side walls. They are 94" from the from of the listening sofa. My actual listening position might range from 1 foot closer to 2 feet back (whether I'm leaning forward typing this message or sitting back).

I recently repositioned them based on the Focal manual. They had been further into the room (maybe 36" from back wall), but I had the same problem.

They are toed in and roughly aligned with the outside of my head on either side.

If I am leaning back, my ear is probably slightly below tweeter. Sitting up/leaning forward my ear is above the tweeter.

Thank you

Catch22
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I'm not sure you can get there with the amp/speaker combo

There are some things to try to help, like speaker cables, tubes and the like, but when you consider that the amp's frequency response (as measured by TJN) and the speaker's natural dip in frequency response in the same region (as measured by Sound and Vision) and to an even startling degree if sitting below the tweeter axis, you have a combination that suffers in the same frequency range. That range is 3K and above...right where the cymbols and brush work start creating the shhh and air.

If your cables are long enough, you might want to try putting the speakers about 6 foot out from the wall and 4 foot from the side walls (I know, this is waaaaaaaay out in the room) just to create a really large stage and spread of the instruments to see if a more defined image of the cymbol work can compensate any for the recessed nature of the frequencies. At that point, you might better know which component you want to keep in the system...either the amp or the speakers.

And, if the speakers have adjustable spikes, I'd sure as hell make sure the front spikes were slightly lower than the back spikes.

shp
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Catch22

Catch22

Thank you so much. I suspect the Focal's are the bigger culprit even if the VAC is not without quirks.

From what you've read of the VAC, what speaker would you recommend? Of the bigger brands dealers near me have Sonus Faber, Tannoy, PSB, Vandersteen, KEF, Joseph, Monitor Audio and Harbeth.

And if I wanted to keep the Focal's for a different room (they will overwhelm the office, but....) do you think something like a basic NAD or MF would mix well?

Catch22
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That's such a difficult call to make as speakers are so personal

However, ideally, you would want a speaker that has a natural frequency response that compensates for the non-linear frequency response of the amp. Where the amp dips, the speaker rises in relation to the frequency. But, that's just ONE aspect of speaker performance and it still needs to sound right to you in other areas of performance.

Besides the technical compatibility between the two, you need compatibility with your own preferences. Often times you find that by making a change that does correct for some annoying aspect of playback, you create another annoying characteristic in some other area that didn't exist before. You fix one thing and that creates an entirely different annoyance somewhere else. That usually leads to the revolving gear change door that can drive you nuts...unless you enjoy swapping out stuff just to satisfy your hobbyist side.

I think it might be worthwhile to look through some reviews of the speakers you mentioned and make note of the frequency response characteristics that exhibit a rise in the 3-5K region. That's not that uncommon in a loudspeaker and might be worth an audition with your amp. PSB often has this characteristic, fwiw.

The two names that immediately spring to my mind that I would want to give a try are Dynaudio because of their impedence correcting cross-overs and ProAc for their notoriously easy to drive speakers that are often used with tube amps.

There really isn't a substitution for having the speakers you are considering in your own home and in their designated placement within the room (if that is a fixed proposition to begin with) and powered by the exact same electronics under the same circumstances. If you change more than one thing at a time you can create more problems trying to identify if a change has been for the good or the bad.

If you see some speakers that are in your budget and are being given serious consideration, keep the thread alive and I'll try to find some meaningful measurements that could be helpful in determining if they are more or less likely to work well...if you would like.

I would be mighty tempted to borrow a decent solid state amp to partner with those speakers for a good listen before giving them the boot. But, I'd be just as protective of the tube amp and want to hear different speakers with it as well. I love tubes and keep ONE solid state amp around for that reason and that reason only. Sometimes you need one just to evaluate and keep things in perspective or for burning in new stuff that would waste tube life.

michael green
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Holy Smokies!

I might have missed something, but I didn't see any mention of roomtuning. If your looking to solve a room/speaker/amp problem your not going to do it by only looking at the speaker and amp. The room is what you are hearing. I don't want to talk out of turn so here is my site http://tuneland.techno-zone.net/ . We tune in systems and from what I'm reading you haven't addressed the biggest contributor to the sound waves and pressure your listening to. I certainly wouldn't be shopping for other products until the room and mechanics get looked at. You might be just fine with your components, then again by hearing what your room can do you might find that the front end is not mated well with the amp section or a number of other things that a pro can help you with, but I would absolutely not get into the throwing good money after bad trap that so many get in. I would spend time learning what the sound is doing and how. You would be shocked even if you got the most basic of treatments in there, like the TunePak for example.

It's fun to talk amps and speakers but shouldn't you be finding out what your hearing and why before visiting the car lot.

michael green
MGA/RoomTune

shp
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Hi Michael

Hi Michael

I know room tuning can be an issue. It got pushed to the back burner here because component testing showed dips in the response curve of the Focal and the VAC amp at exactly the frequency range I was complaining about. The problem has persisted through 2 different apartments with totally different acoustic properties (carpeted vs. wood to start).

So my current problem is not the room.

That said, my room is on the brighter side.
1. It's all wood and I can't have a rug.
2. I have no minimal stuff on the wall.
3. It's an open plan, split level space. The 14' x 17' living room has 12-14' ceilings, the other rooms have about 8 foot ceilings. Total floor space is probably 35' x 17'.

What would you suggest?

michael green
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RoomTuning

Hi shp

This is easily the best starting point.

http://tuneland.techno-zone.net/t25-roomtune-squares

or

http://tuneland.techno-zone.net/t57-roomtune-acoustical-treatment

You might also want to sign up on http://tuneland.techno-zone.net/ start a thread and we can run through the whole setup till we find what needs to be done. Always easier to do some of the basic stuff rather than get in the cycle of buying that sometimes goes on forever. This will also give us a chance to listen together and explore you listening flavors and how to make them perfect for you.

michael green
MGA/RoomTune

teegood64
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Another set of speakers..

My two cents would be to add another set of speakers, preferably a brand that is known for representing the higher range of frequency you seem to be missing. I have a large room and use two sets of speakers - not of the same brand but ones that "compliment one another". The bookshelf speakers you hang on the walls should be more "laid back" - not forward - and are there to fill in the sound (frequency range as well as room acoustics) where your "front" pair - usually towers are set up towards your listening area. Timbre issues are non-existent, but I suppose it could be if you do not selectively match. I use Martin-Logan towers and NHT Classic Two's as the "back" speakers. I also have an NHT woofer to round out the sound.
Thanks,
Trevor

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Speakers and Amplifier

I can recommend a set of speakers and an amplifier that are both excellent and will also work together beautifully.

They are the Vandersteen 2Ce Signature speakers and the Musical Fidelity M3i amplifier.

I would be very surprised if you were not delighted with this combination.

The Vandersteen 2 series has been for sale for over 40 years and is the best-selling hi-end speaker in history (see article in Stereophile for documentation). There are a lot of satisfied customers out there; you seldom see used ones for sale. What does that tell you? People keep them.

I used the M3i with a pair of Vandersteen 3A speakers for a long time, and that was excellent. I now have the Vandersteen Treo speakers with an Audio Research LS26 preamp and Musical Fidelity M6PRX amplifier; sound for the angels.

shp
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Commsysman

Commsysman

I know from your other posts that you're a huge fan of that combination. If I were starting from scratch, I'd definitely be giving the MF a listen.

But I'm hoping to only have to replace one of the products and have budget left for a DAC (Benchmark 2 or similar).

In another post you mentioned Optimal Enchantment, so I'm assuming we're both in LA. I'm hoping to get in there one day to hear the Vandersteen's, which I haven't heard since probably 1998. I've tried to stop in a few times to find they aren't always open during their stated hours. Probably need to make an appointment.

I'd also like to hear the Revels, Proacs and maybe Harbeth. But compared to NY, the LA market has much narrower equipment choices. Proac's distributor suggested I contact a dealer in Indiana...it's crazy that that might be the closer one.

commsysman
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OPTIMAL ENCHANTMENT

Randy is normally there from 11 to 6 Tuesday thru Saturday, but occasionally goes out for custom installations.

Call 310-393-4434 and leave a message any time and he will get back to you.

The parking on the street is a mess, by the way; the public library one block east is the place to park.

His showroom is not visible from the street, by the way; it is on the second floor above Radio Shack.

shp
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Vandersteen

Gave the 2's a listen yesterday. Nice but not overall better than my Focals which have tighter bass. Will have to visit again to hear the 3's or Treo's.

(We got sidetracked comparing LP and digital.).

Also mentioned you referred us but I only knew you by your forum handle

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