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.

Purpose built

Why do we build some things while not others? A sleek red car with a big and powerful engine’s probably not what you’d design for mom to take to the market just as a lumbering minivan might not win the Daytona 500.

We design with purpose to satisfy a need or a desire. The strength of any product depends on how close to filling those needs or desires we get.

Take the PS Audio P20 Power Plant as an example. It was purpose-built to fit a very narrow need: clean, tightly regulated, AC power for high-end audio systems. It’s big. It’s expensive. It’s likely not something you’d ever find in an industrial equipment catalog. Yet, it is so purpose-built that it prompted Tone Audio publisher Jeff Dorgay to comment: “I’m gonna violate the prime directive and tell you to get one. You won’t be able to un-hear it, and you won’t be able to live without it.”

The first step in the design process has to be intent. Who’s the product intended for and what does it hope to accomplish. Take our new Sprout Speaker we’re developing as another example. It’s a 2-way under $1,000 pair of speakers in a small enclosure designed to fill an entire room with uncompromised sound. That’s a pretty tall order for a pair of 18″ tall boxes that are generally targeted for small rooms, desktops, and bookshelves.

Traditional manufacturers of 2-way “bookshelf” speakers aim for a broad general purpose audience and find themselves swimming in a sea of competition.

The more narrow the targeted use the better chance designers have for success. The downside to this approach, of course, is missing the mark.

There’s much more power in a single bullet only if it hits its mark.

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.

Component pedigree

Brand and pedigree set expectations. A Mundorf or REL capacitor has more good feelings associated with them than an XYZ capacitor. Yet, that XYZ capacitor might just blow the socks off either brand.

The trick, then, is to avoid the manufacturer’s easy way out: choosing a recognizable brand to delight the eye of the customer without benefit of auditioning the results. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve peered into a high-end audio product and grimaced at the sight of row upon row of the same red Wima caps, or black Mundorfs lined up like orderly soldiers. In almost every case these were chosen because some marketing-oriented designer added them as proof of pedigree, not as a performance-oriented design choice.

When we design product we start with brand name components we know and trust because of our past work. But there the path comes to a quick end. Not all parts sound best in a particular area. The Mundorf might outperform the Wima as a coupling cap but then the opposite could be true as power supply bypasses.

You know where this is going. Audio designers have to listen to their components and make choices based not on eye candy for the customer but performance first.

A pedigree isn’t enough to salvage an ugly dog.