Question LF Help with poor audio quality

ctilly

Standard Member
Hi folks,

I bought my first hifi system in Feb and have been loving it but the more closely I listen, the more noticeable the abrasive as at higher volume has become. I’m wondering what the weakest link in my audio system is and hoping some of you might be able to help me out.

My audio sources are and Apple TV and a DVD player. Both are connected to digital inputs on an Arcam SA10. The Apple TV uses HDMI to the TV, then optical to the SA10. The DVD uses coax to the SA10. The SA10 drives two Martin Logan Motion 40i speakers.

I’ve tried playing the same music thru Apple TV and the DVD player and in both cases at around 1/3 power on the SA10 the sound becomes a bit abrasive, like there is noise in the system.

Any thoughts on what the likely source(s) and how i can troubleshoot?

thanks!
ctilly
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Welcome to the Forum.

Have you considered the room in your listening problems. Post a photograph of the room with your speakers current locations.
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
Sounds like a room issue to me

First two things that come to mind are its either, the room has no soft furnishings and once the volume hit a certain level, the reflections really start to show themselves. It could also be the room is two small for the system and once you hit its threshold, it becomes noisy as described

As @gibbsy has mentioned, a photo or two plus some room measurements might help everyone steer you in the right direction :)
 
Last edited:

ctilly

Standard Member
Great suggestion, thank you! I’ve attached images showing the speakers at the far (front) wall and the couch sitting in front of them, as well as L/R shots. The room is about 13 ft back to front, but the back wall is not continuous as shown in the image. Any thoughts?
 

Attachments

gibbsy

Moderator
Thanks for putting the photographs up which are very revealing. Apart from the lovely dog the room is something of an audio nightmare and is certainly paramount in your problem table. The wooden floor and bare walls, along with a big glass area and open plan living is the reason why you are getting those results.

A little experiment if you'll indulge me. Bring a quilt down from the bedroom and spread it out on the floor in front of the speakers. It's not going to show a massive improvement but will show you how the room has a very big influence on the audio.
 

Nocturnal

Member
I use the recently acquired SA10 amplifier with an Arcam CDS27 SACD streamer with Wharfdale Denton 80th Anniversary speakers. I also have a Rega DAC and more equipment.

Your problem are the sources... HDMI to a TV then optical will sound awful. A DVD source via Toslink will never sound too good, they do on mine going to my SA10 but it is good enough for TV or DVDs or BluRays BUT you need a proper high quality source like mine connected by a true 75ohm coaxial digital interconnect if you want proper hifi preformance...

Until you get a high quality streamer you are wasting the SA10 which is fantastic. I don't know how good your speakers are.

The new Arcam streamer SACD player is the CDS50 costing £699, a computer source via TV/DVD will never come close to an audiophile streamer in sound quality.

The internal DAC inside the SA10 is decent but not in the same ballpark as the Arcam CDS27 SACD streamer nor the Rega DAC and all I use it for is TV or bluray.
 

ctilly

Standard Member
Hi @Nocturnal,

Thanks for your review and insight - much appreciated!

I am definitely concerned about the sources and cables. I think the SA10 integrated amp and speakers should be more than sufficient for my ears. I’m still learning about CDP as a source but the Apple TV as a poor audio source confounds me. I don’t understand why there would be any corruption (i.e. bit errors) in the digital information transmitted from the Apple TV and the SA10 input. If you know of any good references to help explain this phenomenon I would really appreciate your sharing.

I’m sorry to hear that you aren’t impressed by the SA10 DACs. Makes you wonder why they included them if they aren’t on par with the analog portion.

regards,
ctilly
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
To improve the sounds coming from your Apple TV, I would say that something like the Arcam airdac would be one way. The AirDac has been discontinued, however, if you do find one, I'd check with Apple before purchasing to ensure they work together as I'm not 100% sure with the latest units

So it looks like you certainly got a few things going on here. The room looking at the photo's will not help at all and what @gibbsy has suggested will tell you whether it's what is causing most of your problems. I agree with @Nocturnal about using the TV to down-sample the audio as this is just adding another chain in the degradation channel. If you are using a DVD/Blu-ray player for your CD player, Don't worry to much, I'd use the Coaxial out from it to the Arcam for Music and switch it to that channel, then for the TV, use the Optical, this way you take the TV out of the chain
 

DT79

Well-known Member
I also think it’s worth experimenting with moving the chair on the left further to the left a bit, relocating the chair on the right and moving the speakers a bit further apart (so that they are far enough apart that you form an equilateral triangle between speakers and your main listening position if you can) and try a few permutations of further from the wall, further apart and toed-in vs firing straight. All these things will change the way that sound is reflecting around the room and alter the proportion of sound arriving at your ears directly vs first having been reflected.

But I agree with gibbsy’s initial diagnosis that the issue is most likely too many hard surfaces/too few soft furnishings.

As for the sources, you might be able to do better, but I doubt very much they are causing a problem of this magnitude.
 

Nocturnal

Member
Hi @ctilly

Yes it is quite normal if you are beginning audiophilia to think that 1s and 0s are just that and should be the same from any source, however it is far from the truth. I first tried this 20 years ago playing CDs in a bluray player through my first DAC (a high end one too being from AudioNote) then using a Marantz CD63 Ken Ishiwata CD player as a digital source and the difference was night and day. There is info out there as to why but it does get technical, I always preferred a true 75ohm coaxial digital cable to any optical Toslink cable but these are fine for TV etc.

There is a reason why expensive digital sources exist, the reference is your ears and I guarantee you if you buy the likes of an Arcam streamer you will be jumping for joy and hearing what the SA10 is supposed to do and what the music should sound like. As I don't know your speakers I am hoping they are not bright as bright speakers are not a good match for an Arcam SA10, it is much more forward and brighter than the Arcam A18 I previously had although a great amplifier too.

Whilst the suggestion of adding an Arcam AirDac will improve things, the likes of their digital SACD streamers also have an excellent digital transport source having separate high quality power supplies for the different parts of the device, one for transport, one for the DAC and one for the digital circuitry etc. Yes technical stuff but this is one of the reasons why the internal DAC in the SA10 will not match my CDS27 or the Rega DAC which has a separate DAC chip for the left and right channels etc. Like I said the SA10 DAC is good but I never expected it to match what I already had and it is great for TV etc. But it may well be good enough for you, it is just that I already own the CDS27 and Rega DAC.

I recently seen an Arcam CDS27 sold on Ebay for less than £300, I haven't heard the newer CDS50 but I wouldn't part with my CDS27 and I doubt the newer one betters it except for it having digital inputs so you can use it as a DAC.

I was listening to normal CDs today in my CDS27 and it is a superb transport so it is a superb disc player also, quite possibly sounding better than the same ripped CDs being played through the LAN, Wifi or attached hard disk... Like I said the digital transport (what reads the bits and the circuitry feeding the DAC) really matters.

I don't even have my CDS27 on a network, I prefer minimalism and have a portable 2.5" hard drive feeding it whilst just using the remote and the large display. SACDs sound exquisite on it naturally and ripped SACD DSF files on the hard drive don't sound much different (if any)... Wow you should hear the audiophile 192-24 John Coltrane and Miles Davis etc.

Now playing good vinyl recordings through the SA10 from my customised Thorens is truly a great listening experience, the phono stage on board is good as it was on the Arcam A18. The bass drive, punch and extension is amazing. This is what the SA10 is capable of doing with great sources! :clap:
 

Nocturnal

Member
Also @ctilly, I have a smaller but similar room with only a sofa as the only soft furnishing with the speakers right up back against the wall. Moving the speakers away will only have an effect on the bass frequencies, midrange and treble will not change to any nth degree. Looking at your photos I see no real problem and moving stuff around isn't going to solve any abrasive sounds.

Also the SA10 DAC does not sound as you describe (, it is actually duller, has less spatiality, less bass extension, smaller soundstage etc. etc. than the CDS27. A more musical source with higher resolution I recommend for sound quality but it won't solve a problem if your speakers or match with the SA10 is causing the problem as you describe.

Sometimes certain speakers and amplifiers just don't sing together quite well, speakers demanding especially high current with low impedances at high volumes can out-stress an amplifier BUT for the record the SA10 has plenty of power for my 6ohm Dentons and go very loud at around 40 on the volume dial. What volume level are you talking about, what number? Going to 50+ is ear bleeding and unusable IMHO. Maybe the SA10 or your speakers don't like to be played at really loud volumes?
 

Nocturnal

Member
@ctilly

I looked up the impressive Martin Logan loudspeakers you have, to think you are sending a source from a TV to these???

And you could do with a much beefier amplifier than the 50W SA10 to drive these floorstanders with dual 6.5" woofers, although they have a very high 92db sensitivity level this kind of loudspeaker in general asks for much more current (much like driving 2x sets of speakers at the same time), typically using an additional power amp or even 'monobloc' power amps meaning a single pre-amp and a power amp per speaker.

The SA10 could be much overly strained trying to drive these at loud levels hence the abrasive (distortion) sound where it is clearly running out of steam. For an integrated amplifier you'd maybe need the Arcam SA30 for these boys, around 120W with a streamer and DAC built-in. Not cheap at £1999 but it comes with Dirac support which adjusts the amplifier to your specific room settings with the supplied microphone.

I'm using the SA10 to drive small bookshelf speakers, I didn't realise before what Martin Logan 40i loudspeakers were! Ask or look around on the net as to what size of amplification owners of your speakers are using and you will find out in general what it should be, I guarantee you it won't be a 50W integrated!
 

ctilly

Standard Member
Hi guys,

Thanks for all the great input. I ran a few experiments based on your suggestions and for sure, some of the distortion is coming from the hard flat surfaces. The most noticeable was using a comforter as a temporary blanket. Blanketing the floor between the couch and the speakers took out some of the high frequency ringing, e.g. 10 seconds into Sultans of Swing. It also seemed to settle the bass and make the overall sounds feel more connected whereas before the was a certain hollowness between the instruments. @DT79, hot tip, I’ll keep playing with the location and angle to find the best sound. Thanks! @Nocturnal, for this testing I had the SA10 at 35.

Once I overcame that piece of the distortion I cranked the SA10 to 50! At that volume it became very apparent that there is white noise in the background. Do I need a power conditioner to overcome this?

FYI, I changed up my audio source to an iPhone into the analog AUX input. It didn’t seem to make a difference. I’m very curious to see what something like a CDS50 would sound like..

regards,
ctilly
 

Douggie

Active Member
Hi guys,

Thanks for all the great input. I ran a few experiments based on your suggestions and for sure, some of the distortion is coming from the hard flat surfaces. The most noticeable was using a comforter as a temporary blanket. Blanketing the floor between the couch and the speakers took out some of the high frequency ringing, e.g. 10 seconds into Sultans of Swing. It also seemed to settle the bass and make the overall sounds feel more connected whereas before the was a certain hollowness between the instruments. @DT79, hot tip, I’ll keep playing with the location and angle to find the best sound. Thanks! @Nocturnal, for this testing I had the SA10 at 35.

Once I overcame that piece of the distortion I cranked the SA10 to 50! At that volume it became very apparent that there is white noise in the background. Do I need a power conditioner to overcome this?

FYI, I changed up my audio source to an iPhone into the analog AUX input. It didn’t seem to make a difference. I’m very curious to see what something like a CDS50 would sound like..

regards,
ctilly
Try to see if there is white noise if you crank it up to 50 without playing anything.
 

ctilly

Standard Member
@Douggie, no, there is not. It seems tied to the music itself. For example, when playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond (pt. 1) it’s perfectly silent for the first few seconds. As the signal comes in at 0:03 or so, so does the noise.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Poor sources can often highlight frequencies within a room. The source can be from the recording itself or the equipment being used. I can't try Shine On for you as I only have the SACD copy of WYWH which is outstanding.

A quality streamer may help as long as you have the best downloads and the Arcam is a capable disc spinner as well. DACs and processing makes a big difference to the quality of the audio. Big difference between players. I don't stream, far too old to change now and just rely on my Denon DCD 2500 for my music.
 

DT79

Well-known Member
@Douggie, no, there is not. It seems tied to the music itself. For example, when playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond (pt. 1) it’s perfectly silent for the first few seconds. As the signal comes in at 0:03 or so, so does the noise.
Exactly what format/version of Shine On is it you’re listening to, I’ll give it a try.
 

DT79

Well-known Member
OK, I think I have that one, let me check and give it a spin.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Hi @DT79, I have the Capital Records 1992 Digital Remaster on CD (CDP 724382975021).
Just out of interest I've tried the stereo layer on my Analogue Productions SACD. Silent with just the build up as normal on the disc. Checked it headphones. Wait for @DT79 to check his redbook.
 

DT79

Well-known Member
Just out of interest I've tried the stereo layer on my Analogue Productions SACD. Silent with just the build up as normal on the disc. Checked it headphones. Wait for @DT79 to check his redbook.
@ctilly I do have the same version. I checked it and there is nothing I would describe as white noise cutting in noticeably at 3s. There is a little hiss which rises steadily with the content as it fades in, but which is inaudible again once you get to about 9 or 10 seconds and the content is loud enough to drown it out, but it’s only audible with the sound turned right up and standing <1m from the speakers. All in all nothing untoward for a recording from 1975.
 

ctilly

Standard Member
I tried the “audio black” test on my headphones as well. I’m using the build ups in Shine On Pt. 1 and Dire Straits: Down to the Waterline. I was wrong - Shine On does have noise in the first few seconds of silence but it’s amplified along with the music signal starting around 0:03.

I’m testing using a pair of Shure 425 in-ear headphones. As sources I’ve tried (1) iPhone/iTunes (AAC?) and (2) CD via DVDP to SA10 - notably using standard coax and not 75ohm digital coax : /

in both cases the noise is present. A bit hard to say if it’s identical. I’m guessing in both cases suffering from poor source quality and on DVDP maybe further suffering from the coax.

looking forward to hearing if you get same noise in your listed to the same CD.

regards,
ctilly
 

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