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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.

PS Audio has a new power amplifier, although not on their website yet.

The progress spiral

One of our HiFi Family members mentioned to me the other day they sometimes felt as if they were on the upgrade merry-go-round. With each new piece of gear he bought from us the system got noticeably better to the point where he realized the other components were needing an upgrade as well.

I think of this not as a merry-go-round but more of a progress spiral. With each return to the start, we’re actually in a different (and better) place. Along the journey we learn and grow so that when we circle back progress has been made.

The new BHK600 amplifier is a good example. I knew it would be better than the BHK300, but this much? Within 30 minutes of the new 600 warming up and music playing I found myself in a whole new world of musical wonder. My familiar music was fresh and new. Unknown details in the music were revealed to me.

I started noticing more differences between sources.

There was a greater gap between streaming and playing on the transport.

Maybe that could be addressed with a cable swap or, more basic, should I readjust my loudspeakers again?

Each step up the progress ladder brings us back around to have a look at the assumptions and changes that got us here.

It is how we move forward.

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.

PS Audio’s Octave Records has a new release!

Brazilian beasts

I came close to visiting Brazil. With my suitcase packed and ticket in hand I approached the United Airlines counter with a great deal of excitement.

“You have your visa?”

Visa? Brazil? Who knew?

One day I am going to fix that but, in the meantime, the music of Brazil awaits.

Octave Record’s latest release is a killer. An exquisite recording in pure DSD.

Mini Brazilian Beasts

In her first album recorded in Pure DSD, Brazilian pianist Carmen Sandim is a master of storytelling through her thoughtfully-crafted piano melodies and sophisticated harmonic structures.

This is the best recording yet from Octave Records. The highs of the cymbals just shimmer through the room as if they were playing live. And her piano is in the room with you. In fact, so good is this recording that it’s the one I brought when Chris Brunhaver and I traveled the country to set up the FR30 loudspeakers. A perfect demo disc if ever there was one.

Killer recording by Colin Bricker, mixed by Kevin Lee, and mastered by Gus Skinas.

One sad note on the album. Track 4, Glen, is beautifully played by Blue Note Record’s recording star, trumpeter Ron Miles. During the recording session of Mini Brazilian Beasts, Ron was in the hospital and not doing well. He couldn’t bring himself to miss his commitment to perform on Carmen’s album and left the ICU to record Track 4. He died a few weeks later. This was Ron’s final performance.

Mini Brazilian Beasts is available right now in a limited run of an SACD, archival gold CD, or download.

This is one album you need for your collection.

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.

My T+A MP2500R digital player sounds as good as an excellent Well Tempered Labs/Dynavector rig and factoring in convenience, where I can use it to play CD’s/SACD’s, my ripped music library of over 2000 WAV ripped CD’s, plus streaming via Qobuz, as well as Internet Radio, a lot easier than switching LP’S to enjoy a lot more music and do so quickly.

However, LP’s have their niche and I totally get it.

Complexity of sound

Thinking a bit recently about needle drops and the sound of vinyl (as I mentioned in my earlier post).

It occurs to me that if one can fully capture something without loss then logically the capture method is better than what’s being captured.

It’s only been recently that digital capture has gotten good enough to grab what’s on analog without much change, yet for some time now we’ve been able to capture perfectly the sound of vinyl (Fremer’s been doing that for years).

Which says to me that pure analog as captured by a microphone is far more complex than a vinyl reproduction of it.

As I write those words it seems rather obvious to me that of course that’s the case. That vinyl, for all its wonderfulness and loyal followers who prefer it to digital, could never capture and reproduce all that comes from a microphone.

Not to diminish the magic of vinyl because that’s obvious to anyone with a great setup.

No, this rant is just an observational rambling about what’s possible in the world of perfecting audio capture.

We’re so close.

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.

I admire Paul for this post. Miles Davis said something to the effect that “not to fear mistakes – there are none”. You can certainly hear this on some of his recordings. He was unusual that way, in addition to many other ways.

Within limits, I try for perfection with regard to my stereo system, but otherwise, not as much. Still a great life, the way it is, so thankful for that and especially thankful for my family…and my stereo system.

Imperfection

It is often the imperfections and small mistakes that I love most.

Unfortunately for me, I feel rather alone.

A constant battle I wind up fighting at Octave Records is the tendency of musicians and engineers to polish out imperfections.

My love of music includes those special moments of humanness that some call mistakes while others refer to them as life: a less than perfect performance, a breath taken at the wrong time, a grunt, a laugh not on the score.

For me perfection is imperfection.

From the heart.

Flaws and all.

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.

Now, this guy Paul sure is an audiophile!!! I agree with him regarding loudspeakers and set up, however, perhaps he should maybe name his newest book ” The Loudspeaker”, instead of “The Speaker”, as maybe that could be interpreted as a book about public speaking?

Order to chaos

Over the past few months I have been hard at work writing the next book in our series, The Audiophile’s Guide.

That first book, The Stereo, was an all-encompassing work covering the complete stereo system from electronics, to cables, to speakers.

This newest book, The Speaker, is a much more detailed work specific to the challenge of setting up a pair of speakers.

I can think of nothing more important in a high-end audio system than properly setting up the speakers. Even with the greatest electronics in the world, a less-than-great setup saps the life out of the music.

One of the issues I kept running into during the research and writing phase was the amount of opinion and chaos among audiophiles as to the best way to set up speakers.

(Wait! Audiophiles, opinions, and chaos?)

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I have confirmed it’s not a train!

Seriously, this is one exciting project for me to work on. We’ve just finished an extraordinary group of recordings in the new Octave Studio that will accompany the book in a step-by-step fashion and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Fingers crossed for a July 2022 launch.

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 art of impurity

In a recent comment in response to my video about vinyl LP’s, viewer Richard Haggerty wrote:

“Vinyl is a physical medium, having a stylus riding on the surface causing friction. No matter how minimal, it remains no matter what measures you take to eliminate it. It’s the laws of physics. This contributes to the feeling of warmth. It’s like poetry read by a crackling fireplace. Next is resonance. Again, you can’t completely eliminate that either. The vibrating cantilever effects all solid matter making contact in the chain. All this is not a negative. The physical properties are candy to the auditory nerves. It’s the art of impurity.”

Not only was this a well written, thoughtful comment, but it also sparked something in me.

Is there perhaps a measure of truth to what he writes?

Is it possible that some of what we hear with vinyl is caused by the friction of the needle rubbing the walls of vinyl—friction that adds a kind of audible bias like a warm blanket following perfectly the music.

The art of impurity.

What a fascinating concept.

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 problem with feedback

PS engineer Darren Myers and I were enjoying lunch together at a new Thai food restaurant. The food was lousy but the conversation was stimulating when the subject turned to feedback.

Darren knows my distaste for too much feedback in a piece of stereo electronics and he wanted to wrangle me in a different direction.

What he pointed out to me made perfect sense. That when feedback is used to correct a problem, it doesn’t sound good and the more you rely upon it the worse it sounds. That much we could certainly agree on. This is the reason so many off-the-shelf op-amps sound dreadful. Their open loop (without feedback) bandwidth rolls off within the low audio band. They need feedback to even work.

Compare that with the opposite: a properly designed audio circuit whose open-loop bandwidth extends well beyond 50kHz and whose distortion products are below 0.1%. Used on its own that’d be a nice sounding circuit. Add feedback and wowsers!

The point is that when we use feedback to fix something that is broken—as opposed to fixing the problem itself—sound quality always suffers.

Used as a Band Aid we’re all the worse for it in the circuit.

Used as an enhancement the purity of music is honored and we all benefit.

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.

Great one from Paul.

Engine timing!! I set the timing on my car too, but like Paul, 40 years ago. Now, other than doing routine maintenance on our cars, I’d have no idea how to fix anything under their hoods.

Crossing the chasm

My father’s father, Claude, would probably find our modern technological wonders magic. Or unbelievable.

Imagine getting in a time machine and over coffee explaining to him that we can talk with anyone anywhere in the world. That within a matter of hours we can be transported in luxury anywhere in the world. That the entire knowledge base of humanity is available at the touch of a button. And let’s not forget our ability to watch any movie or listen to any music by just asking a robot.

He would likely just smile and think me a nutjob.

But, here’s the thing. I could probably manage to help him understand many of the basics including a turntable-based stereo  system. It’s not that far-fetched to show the principles behind the technology. A string and two cans would be a great help.

Now imagine explaining how digital audio works. Try to make sense of an optical disc and a pulsating laser to a person who just saw their first automobile.

Between the electro-mechanical era where inventors like Edison and Tesla could convert physical objects like horns, wires, wax, and needles into miracles, and the age of digital electronics spans a chasm so deep and wide as to be either magic or witchcraft.

In fact, do you think you could explain to someone with zero knowledge of electronics or science how music is stored and retrieved from an optical disc or a solid-state memory?

I would wager to say that when we crossed the deep divide between the electro-mechanical age and were thrust headfirst into manipulating electrons that we lost our grip on the ability to manipulate our own world. It wasn’t that many years ago I could set the timing on my car. Now my car has no timing to set.

It feels a bit humbling to have crossed the greatest chasm of humankind.

I am happy to be here. What a ride!

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 impermanence of trends

Trends are nearly impossible to see in the moment.

When I was growing up men all wore hats and women were daring if they wore pants. That’s just the way it was.

Normal.

Only, normal is a trend: a temporary condition that feels relevant at the time but in hindsight is only a passing phase.

Trends are rather pervasive in high-end audio. First it was owning a console with everything built-in. Then we moved to separates. Turntables were all we knew until the CD came along. No one considered a subwoofer until it’s not cool to be without.

I think it’s healthy to separate trends from qualities that deserve permanence.

A love of music is timeless.

A desire to strive for better feels eternal.

It’s not a trend to fall in love with a great performance in your home.

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.

Maybe, some time ago, I would have cared what others thought about my system, but after hearing a lot of other stereo systems, including some big dollar ones,  those days are long gone. As long as I’ve lived in Asheville, I’ve only heard one single criticism of the sound of my stereo and my opinion of this is its born more more out personal feelings, than sound quality.  As long as I want to listen, which I do every day, I’m happy!

Listening to critics

We’re all a bit worried about being criticized.

What if those we respect don’t agree with us or have differing opinions?

What would happen if you played for someone your favorite track on your perfect setup and they were unimpressed? Or worse, pointed out problems?

We all love it when our friends and family swoon over what’s important to us.

And we all know and tell ourselves that at the end of the day it is us that we’re working to please. That the opinions of others don’t really have an impact on our decisions.

But we know that’s not true. Not really.

It’s kind of lonely being the only person that agrees with you.

Perhaps another way to think about the critics is to flip the whole idea on its head. That it is indeed we that we’re working to please first and, if we’re happy with the results, maybe our critics are focused on something different than we are. For example, I might be focused on the ecstasy of the high frequencies while another hones in on a small problem in the bass. They aren’t focused on what you are.

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