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.

All in one

As the team has been working on getting Stellar products up on the website (hopefully sometime next week) a thought occurred to me I hadn’t yet expressed.

Stellar’s Gain Cell DAC, the wonderful new piece designed by both Bob Stadtherr and myself, is really two products in one box. A cutting edge Sabre based DAC and an analog preamplifier. Bob designed the DAC and controls, I designed the Gain Cell which is the heart of the analog preamp.

Together these form the basis of the Stellar control center which we call the Gain Cell DAC. What I had neglected to write about was the design imperative we started with—build a single device that bettered the performance of either standalone component.

Readers of this blog will know that a few years back I relented my stance on DACs directly feeding power amplifiers. Once it had been demonstrated to me that an analog preamplifier inserted between the DAC and power amp improved sonics—a lot—I became a convert. With caveats. The main one being the quality of the analog preamp. Only a very small handful of analog preamps made the DAC sound more magical. Others of lesser quality clouded the DAC’s beauty.

The fact we were able to design and package two components together whose synergy bettered their standalone performance is a testament to a lot of hard work. That we pulled this off at anything less than a few thousand dollars is a miracle.

Fortunately for me, most of that work fell on Bob’s shoulders. Not my own, lazy bones.

Thanks, Bob.

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.

Paul had posted a picture recently of a PS Audio CD spinner that they had taken in on trade for their new version, called the Perfect Wave Memory Player.

The previous owner of this unit had taken all these steps to try and reduce the amount of EMI, otherwise known as electro-magnetic interference, inside the unit by wrapping everything, including all the internal wiring, in some sort of EMI blocking  tape.

It looked funny to me and not something I would do. Why? Because a competent electronics designer takes these things into account when they design and voice a piece of audio gear.

Did what this guy did, do any good? Who knows, although I’m pretty sure the owner thought so.

Here’s Paul.
Invisible gremlins

If you’re making a horror film the best gremlins are visible. Even the most terrifying invisible threats eventually make themselves known so viewers get their money’s worth. But “seeing” audio problems isn’t all that easy for designers.

In a practical sense we can see neither the good nor the bad that impacts audio. Music is invisible.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to suggest there are the generally accepted causes that we metaphorically “see”, and the less accepted we do not. We can’t see germs with our eyes, but their impacts are felt none the less.

One gremlin is EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference). We take great pains to guard against this invisible enemy. Shielded wires, balanced cables, Mu metal, all exist to combat EMI’s evil. It’s easy to recognize when a hum or buzz has been eliminated by better shielding.

Far less noticeable is EMI’s impact on digital audio, a subject our wizard, Ted Smith, has been schooling our team on.

It turns out that many of the improvements in sound quality attributed to lower jitter tweaks find their roots in EMI reduction.

Our research and learning curves march forward. As we learn more specifics I’ll keep you posted.