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Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Using your own products

One of the delights of Apple products is their packaging. Easy to open, clean, simple, and elegant with a promise of more joy to come with the product itself. If the packaging is a joy think how nice what’s inside must be.

What’s worth talking about is just how far removed they are from everyone else. For the vast majority of consumer products, packaging is an afterthought designed to look expensive or slick but rarely a joy to open. How many times have you had to fight to remove the little clear sticker holding the top and bottom of the package together? Or worse, find a knife or scissors to hack open a blister pack?

I often wonder how many people involved in the design of a product ever try it themselves as end users. My guess is not many. I’ll bet that as the size of a company grows the chance of a single end-user having a say over product design or packaging diminishes proportionally.

This is what makes Apple so unusual. A giant company that uses its own products.

But this isn’t a rant about Apple. No, this is about how products from smaller companies like PS Audio are, in the end, used and approved by a small handful of caring people with the power to send it back for a redo. It is about how we make products we would want to take home and use for ourselves. How we send back to engineering a design that does not better the performance in every respect from the product it is replacing or the others in the field.

Isn’t this what you expect from companies that make high-end audio? Loudspeakers that have been listened to death and labored over until every last detail is the best it can be. Amplifiers that have been measured and listened to until their performance is beyond expectations.

I have no doubt this is exactly what happens in our small community of like-minded companies. It is what you expect.

It is what you deserve.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Viewpoint

When we make recordings the engineer has to decide from what viewpoint or perspective the recording should be made from.

The best example of this is a symphonic orchestra. It’s pretty common and obvious that it is to be recorded from the perspective of the conductor. After all, it is the conductor to whom the orchestra is playing to.

When recording a piano should it be from the perspective of the pianist? It is she, after all, that makes every decision based on her perspective.

What’s a bit of a head-scratcher on this topic is trying to decide what’s expected and what sounds the best. On the one hand, because I don’t play the piano I haven’t any idea what it sounds like from the performer’s perspective. As well, I’ve never conducted an orchestra.

And while we’re asking ourselves what the right answer is (if there is one), from what distance should the recording be made? Intimate, close, and immersive? A bit distant and encompass the room?

Now with the ability at Octave Studios to capture perfectly whatever viewpoint we decide upon the question becomes ever so much more interesting.

Currently, I am leaning hard into intimate and close. Feeling like I can reach out and touch the performer.

It’s where the greatest magic awaits to be uncovered.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Nothing about high end audio, but a good one none the less.

The kindness challenge

My wife Terri has on her small kitchen table blackboard a handwritten note:

“Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Treat them with kindness and understanding.”

What amazing advice for each and every one of us.

It doesn’t mean we can’t get upset or object to the thoughts of others.

It just suggests we do so with a bit of kindness and understanding. That despite the bluster and cloaks each of us throws up as a smokescreen hiding what lies below, even a little effort at being kind has its own rewards.

And just imagine if it was you at the receiving end of the kind act or smile.

It matters.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Lots of snake oil in high end audio.

The controversy continues

When I wrote about my memories of the strain gauge cartridge it was presented as mere ramblings. Since that post, there’s been a swirl of controversy and questions. Who knew?

One question, in particular, revolved around the cartridge’s supposed disregard for the need of the RIAA curve. Several among you, including my friend Richard Murrison, questioned the pat explanation as presented on the internet by (among others) Soundsmith, the company that currently manufactures a strain gauge cartridge (which I understand sounds exceptional).

Out of the woodwork comes my friend, engineer Gary Gallo. Gary wrote the following which I share with you here:

Back in 2016 I wrote an article for Linear Audio on RIAA EQ for Displacement-Sensitive phono cartridges. What prompted this investigation was Soundsmith’s claims for their strain-gauge cartridges, and their explanation of RIAA EQ, which is simply incorrect. Peter Lederman refused to answer my questions about how his cartridges could maintain flat response in the constant-velocity portions of the RIAA curve – I made three attempts to get an answer out of him, but he cut off correspondence with me.

You’ll note that DS Audio, manufacturer of LED cartridges that are also displacement-sensitive, holds the same views as me on RIAA EQ. I quote a letter from their chief engineer in my article.

In 2018 I gave presentation for the Connecticut Audio Society on this subject, and took things a bit further than the article. Strain-gauge cartridges use piezo-resistive semiconductors, and I think a piezo-resistive semiconductor’s internal capacitance, interacting with the load, is probably why the constant-velocity portions of the curve flatten out. I repeated that presentation for the New York chapter of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections later that year. Suffice to say, ANY phono cartridge claiming to be displacement sensitive, that outputs a flat response without any RIAA equalization, isn’t truly displacement sensitive. The old Panasonic strain-gauge cartridges certainly weren’t, and I think my simulations on their EQ circuit demonstrate that. That EQ circuit, as you’ll see, compensated for several anomalies in the cartridges response.

As they say on those cable TV ads, “Wait…There’s more!”

The presentation I gave for the NY ARSC Chapter can be seen on their YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNNfMtCp3k0

Linear Audio ceased publication a few years back. All back issues are now available in electronic form, along with the printed volumes:

https://linearaudio.net/

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The strain gauge

For some strange reason, I have been thinking about the strain gauge phono cartridge. And, here’s the weird thing. I have never heard one.

What’s interesting to me about this strange beast is how different it is from your conventional phono cartridge.

I am always fascinated by truly different.

Most phono cartridges are generators. They rely upon movement to induce a variable magnetic field which in turn generates a voltage. The movement occurs in response to the needle in the record groove. Attached to the needle/cantilever arrangement is either a small coil of wire (moving coil) or a small magnet (moving magnet). As the disc spins the needle moves and we generate a tiny electrical signal which we first amplify and then pass it through an EQ network called the RIAA curve.

strain gauge does not generate a voltage. Instead, it disrupts either a small voltage or impedance which is then converted to what we need to play music.

Interestingly enough, strain gauges don’t work into phono preamplifiers. Instead, they require a special analog input that is more closely related to a standard analog aux in. This is because strain gauge cartridges don’t need the EQ correction normally applied through the RIAA curve.

I see that Soundsmith is offering their version of a strain gauge cartridge and input box for $10K.

Why are we going down this road in today’s post?

Beats me.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Conventions

Ever wonder why salad forks are smaller than dinner forks? Is it easier to pierce a shard of lettuce with a smaller instrument?

I suspect it is merely convention. Sometime in the past when we were worried about being fancy there likely had to be a way to distinguish between the proper etiquette of which utensil to use, which side of the plate the napkin went on, and so forth.

Downton Abbey style.

When it comes to audio we too have our conventions. The hot seat listening position. Long interconnects and short loudspeaker cables. Long speaker cables and short audio interconnects. Wash the vinyl before playing. Warm the equipment before listening. Turn the lights down low.

The list is likely exhaustive.

Some conventions are born from experience while others are simply “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

The thing about conventions is to always question them.

Are they helping or hindering?

Sometimes we realize our conventions are holding us back. That’s the time to reevaluate and readjust.

Else we get stuck in a rut.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Endless variations

It is fascinating to me the myriad of seemingly endless variations designers apply to sound reproduction equipment.

Take the rarely seen today bipole loudspeaker. The last mass-produced version I remember was by the Canadian company, Mirage.

Let’s start with a smidge of reference. Most loudspeakers are monopoles: sound comes out of one plane of the speaker box. A smaller number are dipoles: sound comes out of two planes (front and rear) and the rear plane is out of phase with the front. A bipole is like a dipole in that it too has front and rear radiating planes, but instead of being out of phase the front and rear are in phase.

Perhaps the easiest way to picture a bipole is the idea of a pulsating cylinder, though not in the same way you might think of an MBL (which literally is a pulsating sphere). In the bipole, the same woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers that you find in the front of the speaker are duplicated on the rear of the speaker—all wired in phase.

The acoustic pattern that is created is somewhat of a figure 8.

The bipole had some advantages, like fewer sidewall issues than monopoles, but for the most part I never really found the configuration very attractive—and it had a number of the problems we associate with dipoles and open baffle speakers—sans the bass cancellation problems.

If you’re curious about the Mirage speakers, there’s a well written review by Tom Norton in this issue of Stereophile.

What’s interesting to me about this design is that it’s but one more attempt by clever people to build a speaker that differentiated itself from the pack. One more twist to an ever-evolving evolution in the art of making high end audio products.

The variations at times seem endless.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The MOFI dilemma

For those of you that are into controversies here’s a juicy one for you. The fine folks at MoFi, the wonderful company that makes remastered audiophile vinyl of classic music, like that of Santana and others, seem embroiled in a bit of controversy. (Wait! Audiophiles and controversy?)

I would normally not even think of getting anywhere near this hornet’s nest but it’s been on the PS Audio forums and a number of you have asked me to offer an opinion on the matter.

Briefly, a YouTube video on the “in” Groove channel interviews the engineers at MoFi. In that interview they let folks know that in the process of copying the original master analog tape they use DSD as the recording and capture medium.

I guess the controversy on our forums surrounding all this concerns the use of DSD/digital in what most people thought was always an all analog chain.

I am not going to comment at all on what people thought or why, but I will chime in and offer my opinion on this practice of theirs using DSD256 to capture the original analog master.

Bravo! Well done and if it were me I’d do exactly the same thing. DSD256 is the perfect capture medium to accurately and without affectation save these classic analog recordings.

Though, to some it’s heresy.

Certainly, the ideal situation would be for the MoFi engineers to have days of access to those masters and cut the vinyl stampers directly from the analog master. That’d be nice but apparently not practical. In many cases they have but a few hours of access to those masters and they must make a copy.

And, that’s really it. The last thing you’d want to do is lose a generation by copying the analog master to yet another analog tape. That to me is criminal IF you have access to DSD256 recording technology.

Hats off to the folks at MoFi for being brave enough to do it right.

As to all the fur and feathers flying over this “reveal”, I leave that to others.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

It’s obvious

It’s funny how obvious something is once you figure it out.

Networking issues are like that for me. A blur of numbers and meaningless data points confuse and bewilder me until I can make a connection. And then, it’s obvious!

Or, how for years you can work on subwoofer setup and come up with all sorts of tricks and methodology to get it properly placed so it works within a room. And then, you hear a direct field subwoofer setup that obviates the room problems. You slap yourself on the forehead and say “Dang! That’s so obvious!”

It isn’t always obvious how something becomes clear until you discover the answer to the riddle.

Then, it’s obvious!

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Going over your head

It makes me feel sad when I read that something in our technologically complex world of high-end audio has gone over someone’s head. That they cannot grasp the concept as presented to them.

It makes me sad because it means we’ve failed to communicate. It makes me sad because we all know that feeling of being overwhelmed—of being lost (like trying to understand cryptocurrency).

As people. As an industry. It’s on us to do what we can to keep the technobabble at a minimum and focus instead on clarity of definitions and terms we use.

Lord knows I have been guilty of using over-technical terms to try and foster understanding. I hope to not travel again down that same road.

As part of the HiFi Family, let’s do what we can—each and every one of us—to communicate in a way that promotes understanding.

In the words of my favorite philosopher, Foghorn Leghorn, “You’re built too low. Fast ones go over your head.”

Let’s not let anything go over anyone’s head.

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