Tracks That Some Hi-End Systems Can't Play?

Hi Everyone,
There’s been a total of two tracks that for me have fallen completely flat (wrong analogy - sound like a complete train wreck to be honest) when played on another person / company’s demo system. The interesting thing is that the person / company say that it’s a poor recording / flat / compressed / whatever and not their system in that room that’s the problem…
And, of course you have just listened to a great sounding track on that very same system, often jazz, female vocal.
So what gives? Timing / resonance / the type of system? I know that it is going to be a complex problem and I’ll name the tracks but I’m going to be fairly general about the type of system that it sounded really muddled on, except where I can be specific! (I know it sounds like a ‘names have been changed to protect the innocent’ but I’ll do my best).
Okay, Track 1: Ill Ray (The King) Kasabian. Listened to this in a really hi-end system after listening to a great reproduction of Sinaed O’Connor. It was really bad. Now I did buy the pre-amp, and later on, the power amps that I listened to that very same track on from taht person, where the speakers, power conditioning and cables and CD transport were different. If I was Hercule Parot - I’d say the speakers did it…
Now track 2. This I only found out today was a problem for (at least) one system. So if you are in Melbourne there is Stereonet’s hi-fi show on tomorrow. Anyway the track is Bruce Springsteins’s Letter to You. I never expected this to be a problem. But in one room, with a speaker I really wanted to find out about, that had been playing beautiful sounding tracks froma valve amp, suddenly popped in a mouthful of marbles and proceded to mangle this track. The builder of the speaker was a bit narked and blamed it on a poor ‘modern’ recording. Which I am playing and enjoying on my system right now without the cringe that it induced earlier today.
So what gives?
Love to hear your thoughts…

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Hey Dowster…

What aspect of Bruce Springsteins’s Letter to You was horrible
in it’s sound quality…I might have an idea…but before going further
please share what in the recording is the train wreck?

Thanks for sharing
Best wishes

Hi @davida,
On the system I heard it on today, I guess seperation of instruments and vocals was one aspect. It was also wierd in that it almost seemed like the timing was off somehow. It stopped being a coherent track, if that makes sense. It wasn’t subtle either. The problem was there immediately. The various threads of the track were tripping over themselves somehow.
What’s your thoughts?

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When I read your first post I listened to Bruce Springsteins’s Letter to You and found that indeed there is spitty harsh hot overdone distortion
that ruins an otherwise great track…

There is a propensity to overcook distortion at the expense of
an otherwise beautiful recording…One thing is to preserve the fuzz
box effect another is saturate the recording. By saturating the
recording then is made unlistenable.

I love gospel worship music, sadly many of their producers
have ruined what would otherwise be awesome music. So badly
damaged that render these almost unbearable…

One such album; and there are many, Brooke Ligertwood’s new
album Seven Live…beautiful music but there are sections in each
track particularly the last portions of the last track is saturated with
fuzz distortion ruining an otherwise altogether beautiful album…
Hillsong music is another example from 1998 onward their live
recordings have been so affected as well…and there are still
many others.

So in essence what has ruined Bruce Springsteins’s Letter to You
is the over saturation hot application of fuzz distortion…

Bad enough to make one think that our tweeters are damaged,
when in reality they are not…just passing on the garbage in the recording.

So in a nutshell the speaker builder you mention is correct…

However…having said this…gear with rolled off top end may
be more forgiving …here is where a preamp with tone controls
are highly useful to roll off the treble range to where the hot high end
is moderated and still have presence…

Your particular system may have a warmer less analytical quality
which is a very good thing.

All my previous thoughts are purely my own .0002 and highly biased :innocent:

Hope this helps…

Best wishes


Way too many variables involved here. I’ll just volunteer one general observation: in a demo environment I totally expect the designer/distributor/dealer of any piece of gear to blame a less than great demo on everything else. That’s how the game works. Pure marketing. Regardless of the ‘explanation’, I simply trust what my ears tell me during the demo. If I didn’t like what I heard, I formulate my own opinion and move on. In this case, a mouthful of marbles demo is what it is and I’d be heading for the next room. My view of demos, either at a B&M dealer or a show, is I either like what I hear or I don’t. If I don’t, I don’t waste further time on whatever system is giving me a migraine regardless of sticker price or reputation.


Yes, I agree with you in the sense that (as in the great Aussie say to the kids) ‘you get what you get, so don’t get upset’. I was just curious to discover other peoples experiences and what, perhaps, they put it down to.
I did just move on…

At one point we were visiting another area that had an audio store that we hadn’t been to. They were proud to show us their top of the line Krell system. SACD player, preamp, mono-blocks and speakers (I didn’t know Krell built speakers at the time.)

Things sounded OK until we put in “Itchin’ & Scratchin’” from the Vivino Brothers “Blues Band” album. There was a washboard in the instrumentation and as soon as it came in the system sounded like someone dragging a needle across an album. The salesman jumped up and ran to the preamp… He didn’t believe us that that track plays fine on all other systems we had ever tried it on. I suspect the speakers but I don’t know for sure.


@davida - thanks for giving a detailed explanation of what you experienced on listening to that track. In general, out of all the variables we can control, we can’t influence the production of the sound at the source. And,perhaps the emotion of the track, indeed the whole album, in the case of ‘Letter to You’ means we might want to listen despite the production.
I was really interested to read your thougths on systems. When I was choosing my current pre-amp I was influenced by a youtube video and serendipity - I was able to buy both a PS Audio BHK Signature and a McIntosh C70 pre amp. The source being a HiFi Rose RS150B DAC and at the time into Cyrus mono X300s and PMC Fact.3 speakers. I liked the BHK signature, and although I did have a problem with one of the valves later, it seemed to me to be more ‘real’ at presenting information than the C70, but in terms of detail from the recording the C70, to me, beat it. So more detail, but a warmer sound. I have kept the BHK - it’s now my second system - with those components listed but fed from a Hugo2 and 2go as their digital source.
Now my main system has MC611 power amps feeding a pair of PMC MB2se. For the source I have a PS Audio Perfectwave SACD transport (PST) via Van Den Hull AES digital to the RS150B. I prefer the non upsampled sound (vocals seem more natural, forward and spacious at original 44.1kHz) and use the Linear Phase fast rolloff filter.
Given where each of us are with our rooms and systems, I wonder then do we gravitate to the tracks and albums that sound the best on the systems we have. Unconscious bias? Life is too short to try and fix what we can’t?

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Hey Dowster…

Years ago when the gritty hashy over hot fuzz and cymbals
started appearing more and more on music I love…
I resorted to going to a tubed cd payer the AH!! 4000 plus
a McIntosh Mx110z all tubed tuner preamp…both of these aimed
at mitigating the harsh tizzy badly produced albums.

The Mx110’s tone controls could roll off quite a bit of the problem.

Fast forward to present time…my current system is highly revealing,
and deliciously so…except for…the issues we have been discussing.

I have 2 preamps, an Emotiva XSP1 Gen 2 fully balanced with
defeatable tone controls ± 3db treble ans bass…these help but
the treble does not roll back sufficiently…

My other preamp is a Wyred4Sound STP SE Stage 2 very revealing
tell it like it is…

You have an excellent preamp in the C70…for quite some time
Have been bandying the notion of acquiring a C49…which does
have defeatable tone controls…

My Oppo 205 has wide variety of dac filters to choose from for
playbck…these help, just not to the degree I need.

So just trying to enjoy these regardless for the time being…

Best wishes

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@tedsmith, thanks for that observation! It seems like these effects (or the responses) are extremely non-linear. And it’s not the track on its own per se, although the track triggers the response in the system.
In a highstakes environment with pride, cost, reputation, all exposed to everyone’s ears, then objectivity is going to be a little lacking.

Layla by Derek and the Dominos (Clapton). I’ve tried every commercially available version up to SACD, and it’s always a cloudy, murky mess. The rest of the album is fine or better, but the signature track is irredeemable.


i’ve lived for years with bit rolled off treble in my system. It was not like there would not be treble, it was there, super clean, but subjectively bit less volume than what would be natural , mostly missing the “air”.

After I recetly changed few things to treat the slight rolloff, I have now problem with quite some recordings - I can often hear unnatural artifacts on very high frequencies (say over 15kHz). This is never problem with audiophile recordings, but rather with generic albums of various genres.
In one track I am now hearing something like defocused treble - where I could hear something like ghost/echo of high frequencies (really annoying) - however before with “rolled off” system i never noticed anything wrong with this track.
So I support the idea that it really can be just transparent systems resolving things which were not paid attention to in studio

my 2c :slight_smile:

Our systems, rooms, and recordings are not perfect. And sometimes when the combination of those imperfections all align, they send us running from the room.


In my experience, y’all are describing nearly every track on every Springsteen record I have ever listened to on my system since it became, what I consider to be, a resolving system.

That’s the way “The Boss” likes to record his music. It’s engineered that way on purpose. I have no idea why.

All I know is Springsteen recordings seem to be optimized for AM/FM radios in automobiles. Roll down the windows, crank it up and sing along. Otherwise, the only way I can enjoy most Springsteen recordings is at moderate to low volume on my “Big Rig”.

To be clear, their are exceptional tracks, but in general…



I have seen numerous threads in various forums agreeing with you.

Although he has some real gems, the thought of buying a Springsteen record has never crossed my mind–until now. No, wait. No, it’s gone. :grinning:


I’ll send ya mine. Listened to once, and, well as they say


Ted Sir…

Would you be able to design and add into the MKII dac
algorithms or profiles that could erradicate or greatly mitigate
these very u dersireable characteristics? These could be
selectable by the user to obtain the desire results.

Thanks Ted
Best wishes

You can’t undo compression or other such destructive mastering manipulations. Tone controls like one might find on a preamp, etc. are about the best you can do. Apodizing filters can fix some aliasing left on the top by less-than-ideal digital filters upstream.

Still, less distortion in your system (DAC included) can make it easier to hear muffled lyrics, etc. so some things that used to sound overdriven, etc. can sound pretty good.


Whatever else, this is the perfect example of why an EQ (parametric, graphic, even Bass/Treble, whatever your favourite flavour) is a useful thing to have around.
I’ve commented elsewhere the new Schitt Loki Max (or whatever it is called) looks to be ideal for this circumstance, but there are many others available, including with digital I/O.
Easily bypassed except when needed, some with preset recall, what’s not to like?
OK, maybe in the highest of high end minimum signal path type of setup this would be anathema, but otherwise why not?
Especially for the streamers amongst us who use software with EQ built in, though I still recommend a hardware EQ just for the sheer joy of knob twiddling!
There are many many tutorials online (mostly aimed at the home studio world but still highly applicable to this situation).

Go on, give it a go, after all, the purist approach (whilst laudable) has got us to a position where a few albums are “unlistenable” for whatever reason in the source material and that seems a shame…