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.

The value of shows

The upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Fest opens on September 6th, just weeks away. We’ll be there showing off Stellar Phono and the production version of the new AN3 loudspeaker.

Consumer audio shows offer the curious, the prospective buyer, the aficionado, and the newbie a chance to see all the new gear, hobnob with designers and manufacturers, touch, listen and get a sense of what each company is offering.

Audio shows are fun. We focus on the two main shows, Axpona and RMAF, but that’s not to suggest there aren’t plenty of other smaller, regional shows to go to as well. I wish we had the bandwidth to do them all.

It takes a lot of money, time, and energy for PS to participate at a show, though that wasn’t always the case. When we were much smaller we could get by with one of those small bedroom displays. We’d borrow a pair of speakers and bring our entire audio system on a single bellman’s trolley. Today, it’s multiple pallets and a setup crew.

The value of shows for attendees seems obvious. Room after room of sound systems, new gear, interesting people. For us, the benefits are interacting and meeting with our extended Hi-Fi Family—a reunion.

I do hope you’ll have a chance to come visit us in Denver on the 6th.

 

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.

The balancing act

There’s been an ongoing debate between balanced and unbalanced cables in HiFi as long as I have been involved. And, that’s a long time.

I remember spirited debates with Audio Research founder Bill Johnson about it. AR equipment was a long hold out in adding balanced to their products but over time they gave in, and I believe it to be a good thing.

Balanced interconnects sound better than single-ended do. I know, that’s perhaps too strong of an opinion, but I have yet to have any prove me wrong.

There’s little dispute of the technical advantages when balanced is done right: noise and distortion rejection, 6dB more signal, separation of signal conductors from shield duties.

What many folks perhaps don’t think about when mentally dissecting a single-ended cable is that there are only two conductors inside, and one of them is the outer shield. This asymmetry of design, where the hot lead is a solid core, stranded, or other construction, and the return lead is made of aluminum foil or braided/tinned copper, is not ideal. Rather, you’d want both conductors in a properly designed audio cable to be identical while the outer shield is separate and distinct from the conductors. That construction is only available in a balanced cable.

My question is a simple one. Why do we manufacturers bother keeping the single-ended RCA connectors on our equipment at all?

The answer in PS Audio’s case is likely the same as others. Compatability.

But it’s a shame.

 

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.

Warehouse sounds

Long ago, in the prehistoric days of HiFi, there was the first HiFi mail order catalog I knew of called Warehouse Sounds. They sold all kinds of stereo gear across the nation and even had “head cleaning kits” which consisted of a roach clip and pack of rolling papers. (Hey, it was the 70s).

But that fond memory isn’t why I titled today’s post. No, I have something very different in mind. Our warehouse, and it’s 30-foot tall ceilings, have proven a Godsend for measuring polar responses of the new AN3 loudspeaker.

When designing loudspeakers it’s important to have a clear picture of how the drivers perform both on-axis and off-axis (we sit off-axis to each speaker). To measure those responses down to 200Hz, we need either a full anechoic chamber or no boundary walls within a prescribed area. That’s where our warehouse comes into play.

Take a look at the enclosed two photos. Our mechanical engineer, Chet, along with our loudspeaker engineer, Chris, have taken over the warehouse to measure a mockup of the new driver in AN3.

Also, look closely at the second photo. Note the center driver. Yes! You see the new AN3 coaxial ribbon midrange and tweeter, designed by Chris Brunhaver.

Remember in my earlier post where I talked of starting from scratch? Not only did we design all-new woofers, but the center star of the AN3 will be its coaxial ribbon midrange and tweeter.

I’ll write more of these amazing new technologically wonderful drivers but just wanted to keep you in the loop.

 

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.

The full experience

Ok, I’ll admit it. I can’t stand the smell of roses. They’re really pretty flowers, but the smell!

For all the other flowers, it’s a real treat to soak in their color, inhale their lovely scent, view them from every angle. It’s the full experience I really like, narrowing my attention to that single point of beauty.

And I am closer to that now with our stereo system. With Darren Myer’s new Stellar Phono in Music Room Two, and the properly setup Lyra cartridge tracking the grooves, I have found myself warming back up to vinyl, to the full experience I once enjoyed: fondling the album and its cover, carefully lowering the needle onto just the right spot, handling the disc with care.

Digital still holds sway over my listening habits, but the full experience of vinyl—that visceral experience—is creeping back into my soul. I find myself thinking more about it and smiling with anticipation.

There’s little in HiFi that matches the full monty of touch, feel, smell, and fondle of vinyl.

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.

The curse of new

No sooner do I get a new ache or pain than my mind gravitates to the worst possible scenario. “No doubt it’s cancer.”

When a new product has a hiccup or fails to meet expectations we often jump to a worst-case conclusion that it’s defective or broken.

We rarely allow for learning curves. New audio or video gear has to prove itself right out of the box and expectations are high.

This tendency to blame the new product can be particularly troublesome for interconnected products like network streamers. Our expectations are they just fit right in and work—a tough challenge when so many external factors have to line up.

As networks get smarter and standards more established, the chances for new interconnected gear to play nice with the others increases exponentially. Compare a network-connected device of five years ago with one just off the shelf. The former can be a struggle while the latter fits right in.

It’s no accident the curse of new has lifted on most streamers but the bad taste of “connection frustrations” still hangs on for many.

How’s your appetite for network streaming these days?

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.

Weird to wonderful

Bringing new ideas, concepts, and radical change to an established way of doing things requires great effort—moving from weird to wonderful.

Imagine just a few of the major shifts within our lifetimes: vacuum tubes to solid-state amplifiers, vinyl to CD, LP records to audio streaming. Each and every shift began life as the weird and only over time moved into the wonderful.

In my father’s era, change came slowly. I remember him as being amongst a handful of pioneers separating speakers drivers from console HiFi’s and building separate enclosures. This was radical stuff as nearly all music reproduction systems were confined to a single box replete with everything needed to play music. It would be another decade or so that separate box speakers crept into the collective, and multiple decades after that for the electronics to separate into what we think of today as standard fare.

As a modern collective of audio lovers, we’ve had to adjust our acceptance levels with respect to the speed of change. What might have sent my father’s head spinning seems normal to us. In fact, many are impatient for the next big breakthrough to come our way.

The pace of change is increasing. This excites me personally as I have always been impatient to experience (or cause) the next great revolution.

Where do you sit when it comes to change?

Does it feel weird or wonderful?

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.

Do opinions matter?

Opinions. We’ve all got them and most of us are eager to share.

Do opinions matter? I suppose the answer is where in the pecking order they come from. The opinion of a company’s president matters more than that of the shipping clerk.

Or does it?

Why do we value one opinion or idea over another? Perhaps the shipping clerk has an opinion that makes more sense than that of the president’s. Albert Einstein was little more than a run-of-the-mill clerk in a Swiss patent office. We all know how his opinion of how the world works was spot on compared to the physicists of the day—physicists whose opinions mattered (we like to refer to their opinions as theories, yet they are still just opinions until proven as fact).

If there were any aspect of PS Audio’s success in the high end audio marketplace I could point to, it would have to be our willingness to elicit and listen to the opinions of our customers and team members, the group I like to call our Hi-Fi Family. Some of the best ideas we have ever profited from were based on the opinions of others. From making Stellar products full size after a long tradition of half-size products (an idea put forward by Walter Liederman) to building AC regenerators instead of power conditioners (an idea first proposed by Mark Schifter and Doug Goldberg) and countless others from family members from around the world, opinions matter.

Not all opinions make sense, but we’ve always found that an openness to outside suggestions enriches our lives as much as those of our extended family members.

Thanks for being there.

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.

Functional vs. aesthetic

One of the challenges facing any audio or video designer or engineer is the quandary of form vs. function.

On the one hand, function is a requisite for any sensible design. If it isn’t easy or useful the product doesn’t have a long life in store for it. But form and aesthetics?

If a product doesn’t appeal to us we rarely give it a second thought. We’re visually attracted to equipment first, then look to make sure it fits our needs second. And that’s what all the reviews and talk concern, not how it looks but how it performs.

Of course, in the end, it’s function and performance that wins, but without the aesthetic to attract us, we rarely get past first base.

The good designs are a combination of function and aesthetic where aesthetic does not dominate function.

The very best designs are when function exceeds aesthetic promise.

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.

Building beasts

Building speakers is way different than electronics. For one thing, loudspeakers can be handcrafted and designed from scratch, where electronics require cobbling together off-the-shelf parts. No one in our industry is likely to invent new semiconductor physics and apply it to hand made transistors.

The opportunity to design and fabricate every single bit of a product and technology is really stimulating. When senior engineer Chris Brunhaver joined the PS Engineering Team his first task was to wipe the AN3 slate clean and start over. Why? Well, the simple answer is because we’re obsessed engineering nerds and he could. But I owe you a more detailed answer.

Take for example the 12″ servo woofer used in the AN3. In the prototypes we demonstrated at Axpona the maximum linear excursion of that woofer was less than what the 700 watt amplifier driving it could output. This required us to place carefully crafted dynamic limiters on the amp and its servo system so we wouldn’t exceed the woofer’s limits. Sure, it output prodigious bass, but we knew the system was capable of so much more. Scouring the multitude of catalogs from the world’s biggest driver manufacturers didn’t help. Finding that perfect combination of suspension, excursion, BL, voice coil capabilities, and so on proved fruitless.

There was no perfect woofer for our specific application, and why should there be? Driver manufacturers don’t build woofers with us in mind. They make the best general purpose drivers they know how to.

Then, Chris joined our engineering team. The first thing he did was put pen to paper and sketched out a massive new woofer that would not only handle every last watt the power amplifier could dish out but do so within a linear range. The resulting beast is breathtaking. Have a look at the frames being assembled as I write this.

Holy crap this thing is a monster! But, it’s our monster designed specifically for its intended purpose. Every bit of it—from the spider, suspension, cone material and dust cap to the way the lead wires are hand-sewn into the spider’s fabric so they don’t rattle—this beast is perfect for our application. Nothing else in the off-the-shelf-world can compete.

More to follow, but I wanted to share my excitement with you.

We’ll be demonstrating the next round of AN3 prototypes at the upcoming RMAF at the beginning of September.

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.

In search of miracles

I am constantly on the hunt for miracles. I don’t want just improvements or brighter polish when it comes to my audio system. No, in fact, it’s miracles I am after though they do seem rather far and few between.

The most recent miracle to cross my path is the new Stellar Phono preamp. After nearly 30 years of focusing on digital audio, this miracle piece of gear has transformed the way I think of vinyl. Now, I have to reevaluate every decision I have made over the past three decades.

The beauty of this particular miracle is that it is additive to the main music system. Instead of transforming the way I think of digital audio, it has added an entirely new dimension of music’s enjoyment that I had long ago abandoned as dead.

Now, that’s a miracle.