Do you think most high-end audio equipment is too bright-sounding?

Do you think most high-end audio equipment is too bright-sounding?
Brighter than the sun
4% (3 votes)
Generally too bright
20% (14 votes)
Often too bright
46% (32 votes)
Mostly just about right
21% (15 votes)
Not bright enough
4% (3 votes)
Most is downright dull
4% (3 votes)
Total votes: 70

Reader Wayne Lowry notes that most of the high-end systems he hears sound overly bright: "the louder I play them, the more they hurt my ears." Do you think most high-end audio equipment is too bright-sounding?

bill bailey's picture

Recently I heard a Marantz SA-1 and it was so much more enjoyable to listen to than its modern counterparts, due in no small part to its mellower and apparently fuller style of presentation. I work in high-end audio and I genuinely believe CD playback has moved in the wrong direction, although the Ayre MP players are very good.

Stephen Scharf's picture

Yes. In particular, a lot of moving-coil cartridges these days.

chrissy's picture

It's got nothing to do with "brightness." They just sound unnaturally "hard." This is due mostly to "high-end" speakers which use off-the-shelf, mass-produced drivers fitted in cabinets without much clever engineering, but rather aesthetic considerations.

Nandus's picture

Many recordings are also sibilant and bright. To compensate for this with our rigs may result in a rather dull experience with the best recordings.

gymrome's picture

I think it mostly depends on the recording and an audio system's ability to accurately recreate it. However, speaker and electronic design is in the hands of the designer and reflects the designers' sonic preferences. To my ear, recordings and gear tend to error on the bright side a whole lot more than on the mellow side.

ch2co's picture

As I get older, the hearing on the high-end continues to drop off, so brightness is welcome!

M.'s picture

Some manufacturers opt for a bright balance in order to enhance what people perceive as "detail" and "air," but this tendency seems to be vanishing. Today's tweeters, for example, don't sound as bright as a SEAS tweeter of the late '90s. And neither do Krell's Evolution monoblocks. It seems people are looking for a more natural balance.

Bart Heart's picture

Yes, and I don't know why.

D.A.B., Pacific Palisades, CA's picture

First of all, we need to define the components used to make up a "high-end" system. Many components have their own sonic signatures, whether dry, bright, dull, mushy, boomy, or simply unbalanced. Having said that, I do not believe that most high-end systems sound overly bright. It is important to remember that the synergy of a group of components is key to whether a sound system will sound "correct." We, as audiophiles, must always strive for that elusive, and largely ignored entity, called "neutrality" in our unending quest for the best.

Nodaker's picture

Nope, but maybe my ears are toast. Lots of loud music over the years—maybe I shouldn't be the judge, but the equipment I use does not sound bright to me. Rooms on the other hand can sound very bright. Especially if there are a lot of smooth parallel undamped surfaces. Glass is the worst; just try listening to a good system in the car.

Willie's picture

This is the reason equipment matching is so important from the sources, cables, speakers, power amp, and preamp.

Al Marcy's picture

Sorry, I only hear mine. Seems okay.

David Laloum's picture

I've heard plenty of great stuff, but also stuff which accentuates the highs resulting in painful results. I have bad memories of mid-'80's metal-dome tweeters in speakers...

ken johnson's picture

i hate tweeters that "spit" at me—what works for me is putting 1 to 3 layers of thin cotton cloth over the tweeters as needed.

Doug Mencoff's picture

I think the digital age has made many of us forget what real music sounds like, with most of the energy in the midrange and much less on the bottom and top. And many manufacturers cater to the "wow" factor. They want products that shout "Take me home" not "listen to how natural and organic I sound". Overly etched highs sound impressive at first but wear quickly, while lush, warm, natural sound takes growing into. There seem to be two camps of products and listeners, as well. One is the "Listen to me, I'm so hate hi-fi!" camp and the other is the "I'm not here, listen to the MUSIC!" faction. I'm a Gemini and so find myself in one group some days and the other group on other days, but I find that the warm, natural, organic sounding components and speakers to be the most enjoyable in the long run.

Heady's picture

It's as if most speakers can't handle high-frequency music well. The speaker's high-frequency sounds different at different levels, which makes me think there is a design flaw in there somewhere.

Thomas Baird's picture

As for live acoustic music, it is so room dependent—live amplified is always too bright for me.

Nathan's picture

I haven't noticed a problem with brightness, although I doubt my dealer would ever sell anything described as bright in the first place.

Fred's picture

Recently, I found a dirty discarded Kenwood car amp, which looked of fairly new construction. So I connected it to a 12V battery supply, and initially it sounded horrible, compared my best single-ended tube gear. That's yer typical transistor sound. Checking online available service manuals and hook-up options, Once set up and biased correctly, it rivaled my tube gear in clarity, and bettered my tube gear in dynamics and drive. The difference was that correctly biased it is one beautifully designed amp. I was, and still am in shock! What can be had for free, if one is prepared to do a little work. Good transistor designs have come a long way. The audible distinction between tubes and solid-state is still there, but tubes are not always audibly superior. Battery DC power here made a very positive contribution. No power supply plugged into a wall outlet can ever be as pure as a battery supply. Nor can it deliver a thousand amps the way a good car battery can. The Kenwood has a very good pulse-DC to DC converter. Signal/noise is better than 100dB. But, I will keep a look-out for a 12V to 30V DC battery power amp that simply operates on pure DC current, and get back to you.

Timbo in Oz's picture

Close-miked multiple-mono mix-downs. Not stereo. Reflective rooms are now all the rage.