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.

Straight wires

The many-decades-old term “Straight Wire” wasn’t referring to a wire without kinks. Instead, it meant that the music passed straight through the wire without affectation. The first time I heard it was from reviewer J. Peter Moncrief of I.A.R.. (though I believe he borrowed the term from designer Stuart Hegeman of Harmon Kardon).

Peter had devised a test that compared the sound of music passed through a wire to that of an amplifier with gain. The idea was a simple one. If you could gain match the amplifier to the wire and audition the differences you might be able to judge the amp’s performance. He called it his straight wire with gain test.  He wasn’t alone. Stereophile founder and reviewer J. Gordon Holt standardized a similar test he called his A/B Bypass Test.

The long and short of these tests were to make certain there was nothing added nor removed from the purity of the musical signal. This was a great idea if that’s what you were aiming for. But there were wrinkles. The first problem was the very act of gain matching equipment has an impact on sound quality. Next came the problem that units passing the straight wire test didn’t always sound as good as others that contained slight colorations. Then the kicker came when we realized wires too had a sound to them.

In the end, we have to go back to what we know the best. We need to trust our senses and memories to use as a reference. We need to attend concerts and recitals and sharpen our memory of what real music, unamplified and unaided by microphones and mixing boards, sound like.

Then, we can bypass all the wires—straight or otherwise—and simply use the two little appendages alongside our heads to determine what’s right or wrong.

Simple, no?

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.

Back to basics

I am reminded how complex our quest for perfection can be. Even the simple act of playing a record album can seem like an impossible mountain to climb once we factor in the particulars like VTA, phono stages, capacitive loading, proper weight, cartridge types, cables etc. And digital’s even more frightening.

There’s a post worth reading on the Roon forums that delves deep into this very subject. Anders Vinberg pleads with our crowd to go easy when first advising newcomers into computer based audio. And he’s right. How tempting to add in the kitchen sink of advice and recommendations when someone asks us what they’ll need to play music stored on a hard drive. The list is endless. What they really need to know is pretty simple and is detailed in our How To that can be found here. But even this simple setup guide, I am saddened to say, can be daunting.

Truthfully, there’s not much needed to play music other than a computer, DAC, USB cable, and a program like JRiver, Roon, or iTunes. There’s no reason a newbie shouldn’t be up and running within an hour’s time, and yet somehow we manage to make it hard.

I agree with the author of the post that we should always be vigilant figuring out first the level of skill the newbie possesses before dishing out too big a plate of recommendations.

Sometimes it’s the simplest path that gets us through the door. We can always add desert later.

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