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.

Walking backwards

The many forms of protection like limiters, fuses, clamps, compressors, and crowbars all have something in common. They don’t make things better. They make sure things don’t get worse.

Very different than a technology that moves the progress bar forward.

Which is why it can be confusing when we read about the amazing improvements wrought by protection devices like a multi-hundred dollar beeswax and honeyed fuse. Confusing because we’re tempted to believe the object is moving the progress bar forward when in reality, it’s just doing less damage.

Semantics?

Perhaps. This line of reasoning is a slippery slope. The difference between sonic improvements achieved through removing obstacles is dangerously close to what we think of as pure forward motion. String together enough removed obstacles and at the end of the chain something new emerges.

The difference I suspect has to do with time. The larger the gap between discovery, solution, innovation, and progress the more it feels like forward motion than tweaks to the stereo system.

Big leaps in progress seem obvious: vacuum tubes vs. transistors, gyrators vs. RCLs, mono vs. stereo, etc. These seem less like examples of removing barriers than pushing forward the envelope of technology.

So where does one draw the line between forward progress and removing layers of cruft?

Hard to say.

It is clear to me protective devices like fuses don’t move us forward any more than the pandemic’s emblematic icon, facial masks do. They protect but don’t improve.

Yet, it’s equally clear to me that we move forward faster when we don’t walk backwards.

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.

Subwoofers are very important, even in the best two channel stereo systems. I have two subs in my system and what they do for midrange clarity and imaging is almost hard to believe.

Subwoofer LFE

If you’re running a home theater receiver or surround sound processor it’s often tricky to get the subwoofer settings correct.

Theater processors are almost always different in the way they handle bass frequencies than analog preamplifiers who, unlike SSPs, almost never have separate subwoofer outputs.

Confusion arises between the two because (typical to) an SSP is a built-in subwoofer crossover. What often happens is users mistakenly plug the crossed over SSP output into the subs crossover-controlled input—and now we have two crossovers where we wanted only one.

Which is why so many subs have what called an LFE input (Low Frequency Effects). Basically, the LFE is a direct shot into the subwoofer’s amplifier without going through its crossover. Thus, the crossover in the receiver or SSP controls how high the bass goes and to what degree its roll off should be tailored to.

Subs can seem rather complicated at times. Hope this helps.

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.

Cross breeding

Purity is appreciated when it comes to purpose, water, and immorality. It’s not so great when it comes to a power amplifier’s architecture, where hybrids rule.

For many years, amplifier manufacturers were determined to keep their designs pure: 100% solid-state, all vacuum tubes, nothing but FETs, class D from input to output. Over time we’ve come to grips with why this commitment to design purity is not such a great idea.

Power amplifiers are misnamed and therein lies the problem.

On the surface, they seem simple enough: little signal in, big and powerful signal out.

What’s missing is the recognition that inside a power amplifier we have two completely distinct systems each with very different amplification duties: voltage and power.

The input voltage gain stage takes a small voltage and amplifies it into a big voltage. From beginning to end there is only voltage and no power. If you were to take the output of a power amplifier’s first stage and attempt to drive a loudspeaker you’d be met with silence.

To produce watts we need the second system, the actual power amplifier (where it got its name).

The fact that each of these two stereo systems has such very different functions should be clue enough to understand why a purebred power amplifier’s a bad idea.

The smart designer recognizes the difference between the two systems and applies the best technologies for the job: vacuum tubes and FETs are much better at delivering voltage while bipolars, power MOSFETS, and Class D stages are best at delivering power.

Purity benefits us most when we apply it to where it matters.

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.

What is standard?

In Australia, the moon is upside down. At least to my eyes.

In the United States, the moon is upside down. At least to an Australian’s eyes.

Our view of things becomes our standard.

If I immerse myself to the point of accepting as normal, surround sound, then stereo feels pale and lacking. The same is true for monophonic vs. stereo, headphones vs. loudspeakers, live vs. recorded.

Our standards are neither fixed nor fact. They vary from situation to situation.

And our standards change over time and circumstance.

So when you’re setting your standards it’s helpful to remember just how fragile they are.

I cannot tell you how many times that which was once thought to be set in stone has changed.

Standards are a movable myth.