When speakers sound too bright, it may cause listener fatigue and ruin your listening experience. It could be worse for some who need to keep lower down the volume, just to be able to sit through the whole music listening session. What’s the point of having a decent sound system when you can’t even enjoy using them. Is this torment entirely the speakers’ fault?
It could be the speakers’ fault but there are a lot more factors at play than you can imagine. So before you decide to spend money and change to a pair of less bright-sounding speakers, you should also learn what are the other causes before making that decision.
What are bright sounding speakers?
By referring to a pair of speakers being bright, this means that the high frequencies being produced by the speakers are over-emphasized or simply too loud when compared to other frequency ranges such as mid and low range. Having the high frequencies accentuated can cause listening fatigue and ruin the party. For my case, when I was auditioning a pair of speakers using ribbon tweeters, my ears were in pain just after 3 songs (roughly about 15 mins of listening). This is the reason why I stay away from ribbon tweeters at that time but to be fair, it could be the overall speaker design and not just the tweeters.
From my own experience and others, when a speaker sounds bright, it could be too much for one individual and means absolutely nothing to another. So if you are sharing your sound system with others, everybody should go down for the auditioning, especially when auditioning for the speakers. As different individuals have their own thresholds.
What causes the speakers to sound too bright
In this section, I will list out the usual causes that make your speakers sound bright thus ruining your favorite songs and listening experience.
There are speakers which are designed and purposely built to be bright, as they want it to produce more clarity. For instance, studio monitors usually sound brighter than high fidelity speakers. I have the opportunity to listen to a pair of Yamaha HS10 at my friend’s place which is a nearfield studio monitor that provides the most honest, highly accurate, and precise sound reproduction of a song possible. His room wasn’t treated and the settings of the studio monitors are neutral, with no gains or boosts. You can immediately detect the clarity and all the details of the song, you are not missing a thing with this pair of monitors. But after about 30-45 minutes of listening, I start to feel ear fatigue, and another few more minutes, it was unbearable for me.
There are HiFi speakers which are considered bright as well, here are some of the brands mentioned by others: Monitor Audio, Klipsch, Mission, etc. This doesn’t apply to all their models though. I didn’t have the chance to listen to all of them too. I do have some experience with Klipsch at another friend’s place, it was too bright for me but it could also be the pairing of his then amplifier that causes it.
Some users will use speaker grills and even tissue papers to try taming the tweeters. There are even cases where they use additional or thicker materials such as toilet paper over the tweeter. I am not sure if this really works, but it will look so ugly with toilet papers hanging around the speakers.
You should always do some research first, and shortlist a few brands. Better yet, audition these speakers at your local HiFi store and see if is too bright or warm for you. You must take these into account, the room and the audio components (CD Player, Amplifier/Preamps/Integrated, Speaker Wires) they are using to playback the source will most likely be different than what you have at home. This is why auditioning the speakers at home will be the safest bet and for good reasons too. These reasons will be further elaborated on as you continue reading.
Like bright sounding speakers, there are also bright sounding amplifiers. Why would they make amplifiers sound bright, you might ask? Maybe the engineers feel that it will sound better or it could be because it was built for their own range of speakers or simply they just want their system to sound more transparent and clinical. If you know the reason, it may immediately inform you whether this amp is suitable for your need. Some of the brands that come to mind for this topic will be Yamaha, Sony, Onkyo, Krell, etc. Just to clarify, this doesn’t apply to all their models, you can treat it as heads up.
If your amp is sounding too bright for your own taste, you can try turning up the mids and bass or adjust the EQ settings (if possible). You can also try changing the speaker cables to QED XT-300 as copper wires tend to be less hard and sharp when compared to silver. Furthermore, it has won awards in the past due to its excellent bass and overall balanced sound. It is not that expensive too. Changing speaker cables may be one of the last things you can do to improve the situation, I would suggest looking at the next cause as it is one of the main reasons that your audio system sounds too bright.
This is one of the main causes that will make even neutral speakers sound bright. Your room may contain a lot of glass such as mirrors, windows, glass panels, etc., tiled floors, large screen television, and other reflective surfaces. Poor speaker placements such as placing them near to the wall or inside a cabinet. All these will cause high frequencies to continuously bounce off them thus reinforcing it till the point the speakers sound too bright. This is very common as most of us can’t afford a dedicated room fully treated acoustically, just for us to listen to music, which I really hope one day I could have, one can only keep dreaming I guess.
You can try toning down your room to be less lively by carpeting your floor, integrating curtains to your windows, placing rugs on the wall. Ok placing rugs on the wall could be a little too much, you can try placing acoustic panels instead, it could be quite expensive but looks more professionally done. If you are using bookshelf speakers, use the manufacturer’s proprietary speaker stands instead of placing them on a table, as the surface of the table will reflect the sound.
Give your speakers more space to breathe, usually, the manufacturer will have the recommended distance between the walls and the speaker you are using. Follow them as much as possible, this will greatly improve the speakers’ sonic performance.
You’ll be surprised by how many and how much a reflective surface can affect the sound. For instance, my computer chair has a high backrest, so whenever I put my head too close to the backrest, the soundstage immediately shrunk.
Poorly Mixed CDs
Nowadays is really difficult to find ‘good’ CDs, that’s why I am sticking to digital format more often even though it’s not always lossless audio but it is truly more convenient and cheaper. Another reason is that many CDs suffer from ‘brightness’ due to loss of resolution when recorded from the original analog source. Or due to poor mixing with too much EQ. Heck, some CDs I’ve bought even sound compressed, was I frustrated and disappointed.
Try testing with various CDs and see if all of them sound too bright for you. Depending on the results, it could determine whether the excessive brightness is due to CD quality or your audio components.
This is why I always emphasize auditioning the speakers and other audio components at your own home. When auditioning at home is not possible, you can try testing them at your friends’ place who owns the speakers/amps that you want to buy. If that’s still not possible, you must at least visit your HiFi dealer’s shop and audition them there. Never buy them out of pure assumption on how they may sound, if you buy them blindly (for this case deafly), there’s a high chance you may regret your purchase.
Take some time to audition as many brands as possible, it can be tedious but is worth it, as you wouldn’t know the speaker brand which you really want is the one that you never research before. Hey, it happened to me, and till now no regrets.