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.

Uber clean

It’s been suggested live music is never sterile. But I would argue that’s somewhat dependent on the room it is played in. I recently had occasion to hear a trumpet played outdoors, pointing away from me. It couldn’t have been more sterile sounding; devoid of any richness, or harmonic overtones familiar to those that enjoy trumpets.

But I will agree that in ordinary indoor circumstances live music is richly textured, and that is its normal state. And when we attend a hi fi show, or visit a dealer’s showroom and, sometimes, hear music sounding sterile, devoid of the life and textural richness, we can take comfort in the knowledge we’re not getting all that’s there. And I think that piece of information is valuable – because many times we want to believe sterile is antiseptically clean, lacking something that should not be there, when the opposite is apparently true.

I recently tried two sets of headphones. On one, music sounded alright, a little ‘overly cleansed’. When looking at the marketing materials provided, the designer implied this was his goal – cleanliness over anything else – and specs showed extremely low distortion. The sound was neither engaging, nor irritating; perhaps the best description would be blah – but clean.

In contrast, the next set was the complete opposite. Music was rich, with warm overtones, the room resonances audible.

Everything just seemed right and I found myself tapping toes, smiling and enjoying every minute. The distortion specs were about the same as the uber-clean model.

I am not sure there’s a correlation to be made, just some observations to share.

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.

Sterile sound

Sterile means devoid of anything extra, free of unwanted life. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Distortion is extra–and we want less. Jitter is extra–and lower is better. Noise is extra–and none is best. And it’s good when bandages, scalpels, and mouthwash are stripped of extras. But when it comes to music, sterile should be avoided like the plague. We want our music infected with as much life as possible.

To those of us in high-end audio, sterile means stripped of the life that was supposed to be there vs. stripped of life that’s not.

And, what does this all mean? How do components strip the life from music? And what is that life being stripped?

Perhaps over the next few days we’ll take a look at some examples and see what we come up with.