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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.

Diferent: better or worse?

My friend Seth tried out new speaker cables. They were definitely different—a fact in itself that surprised him—but were they better?

Apple just unveiled its new operating system, Big Sur. Better or worse? Well, on the one hand, they have completely hosed their mail app and its ability to work with Exchange (forcing me to abandon it after all these years). On the other hand, the integration with their apps and desktop programs is better.

Different doesn’t always equate to either better or worse.

What we can say is that different often requires us to adjust our brains, routines, and lives to accommodate. After time we discover the new is better in some ways, worse in others.

Sometimes different is immediately better or worse: fully supporting our current mojo, or so far away as to be alien. This sometimes happens when evaluating equipment—clear and unequivocally one direction or another. But more often than not different is a mixed bag of improvements that challenges our abilities to adapt and forces us to question whether or not its worth the time and energy to find out.

For me, I work hard at offering different time and space enough for proper evaluation.

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.

Before remotes

When we started PS Audio in the early 1970s there was no such thing as a remote controlled volume. No, we had to get off our lard butts and adjust the preamp’s volume knob—which led to very different stereo setups. Preamps were inevitably within arm’s reach.

Today, that might be pretty much unthinkable.

The changes needed to switch from a culture of knob twisters to remote control button-pushers were monumental. We went from motorized pots to electronic gain control over the span of decades and still, to this day, there’s no industry standard for the control of volume.

PS Audio went in the direction of variable gain amplifiers. Others use off-the-shelf attenuators based on CMOS ladder networks, while still others hang on with light-dependent photoresistors (and don’t get me started about early DACs losing resolution in exchange for remote-controlled volume levels).

What’s fascinating to me is that while once the industry standards were pretty simple, and the performance dictated by the quality of parts and implementation of either pots or stepped attenuators, the need for people to control the volume without leaving their seats has forever changed the circuitry and performance levels of what we listen to.

Sometimes technological improvements lead to welcomed cultural shifts: dial phones to cell phones, throttles to cruise controls, radios to televisions.

Other times, welcomed cultural shifts lead to questionable industry performance improvements.


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