Trying to put the genie back in the bottle

So if the days of the analog preamp are numbered because the number of analog sources for it to control are diminishing and if digital preamplifiers really haven’t appeared on the scene in any numbers and have a long way to go before they are accepted as musically satisfying enough, what’s a music lover to do for control?

For many of us nothing: what we have is just fine, thank you. But, if you’re anything like me, it’s unsettling to know that inserting an extra piece of gear in the signal path is giving me less than what’s there. It’s kind of like being comfortable with your daily drive through the backroads of the city to get to work – it’s been your route for many years – and then to discover the city just completed a straight-shot thoroughfare that cuts the drive time in half. The first time you take the shorter path it’s clearly faster, better and makes more sense – but the old drive was prettier, had more charm, wasn’t all that bad and in fact you miss it.

Problem is, every time you’re driving on the old road you are now painfully aware you are taking extra unnecessary steps and those steps are now cutting into your day – and your formerly pleasant drive will simply never be the same. It’ll never be the same because now you have tasted something better.

In our sound room we have a PerfectWave DAC/Bridge setup feeding our power amplifier directly through a long set of XLR cables. All the sources are plugged into the PWD. But we also have one of our analog preamps in the sound room as well. Why is it there? For testing.

Let’s say we want to compare our PWD to another manufacturer’s DAC and their DAC doesn’t have the ability to act as a preamp – or we want to narrow down the comparison to just the DACS themselves. In that case we have to plug both DACS into the analog preamp and then move the long XLR cables feeding the power amp to the output of the preamp. This process always depresses me – I put it off forever – sometimes never doing it. Why? Because the first thing I have to do is adjust to the sound of the system all over again. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as clean, open and spacious with the preamp in the path. I simply don’t feel like I am doing justice to the music anymore and then how do you make a decision with impure audio? It’s kind of like choosing between two really bad politicians running for the same race. It just sucks.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Lets Start with some observations

Let’s start with some observations

I am going to start a series on how to setup your system and how to tweak and maximize it as best you can for any given room and setup. I think it’s important we lay a few ground rules down first so our expectations will be in line with our results.

First, let me state the obvious: there are any number of opinions on the subject of stereo setup and what’s being presented here is simply another view – one that has been built up over many years of setting systems up. Secondly, I am not the best setup man in the world – others are much better than I. For example, Dave Wilson and Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio are two of the very best setup men on the planet – I can get close but I do not possess their skills and experience. Harry Pearson and Arnie Nudell are the best I know of from that generation – and I am sure there are many more. I’ll do my best to share with you what I know.

I am going to assume that your room is whatever it is and that’s what we have to work with. I am also going to start at the beginning – meaning we’re going to wipe away everything you’ve done and start over – if you would rather keep what you have and simply pickup a few suggestions and setup tricks – then read along and ignore the first parts of this series. I always seem to have better results when I just wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

What you’ll need. If you’re serious about setting up your system and following along you’ll need, at a minimum, a setup disc that properly identifies left and right channels, makes sure mono is correct and phase is correct. I use the Stereophile test disc which you can find any number of places. Here’s a link to the version I use from Music Direct. I always start with the disc because you can waste a lot of time if the channels are swapped or they are out of phase – as lame as that sounds I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten it wrong and I have spent time figuring out why.

Tomorrow we get started and give some overall views on the room.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.