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.

DetoxIT or Zinfandel

“DeoxIT or Zinfandel – the struggle is real” — Sameer Verma c. 2021

When reader Sameer sent me a note about his struggles with upgrading and tweaking vs. simply sitting and listening I laughed out loud.

Clean your connectors or sip a glass of fine wine and enjoy the music?

What happens when we think everything in the stereo system is perfect enough to relax and enjoy only to discover yet another flaw? For some, it’s easy enough to let small deficiencies go and just start their feet tapping to the music. For others, it might be impossible to relax knowing it could be better.

For me, I have to consciously recognize the faults I am listening through and determine to ignore them in order to relax. It’s sometimes hard.

The best moments are when we let it all go and just enjoy the bounty of what we have.

Tomorrow’s soon enough to tweak.

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.

Generalities

While reading through the comments section of this blog I stopped at one standout.

“I prefer the sound of loudspeakers from across the pond.”

Generalities. We tend to group our opinions into neat little boxes: British speakers are bass deficient, American loudspeakers are big and brash, silver conductors are brighter than copper, tubes are warmer than solid-state.

The good news with generalities is that it offers us a quick way to sort through the myriad of choices.

That’s also the bad news.

Whenever possible, I find it more helpful to narrow my generalizations around smaller proven segments that allow greater latitude for technological variances: people, companies, and philosophies. I can more easily trust how someone I am familiar with will respond or act and the same is true for companies and philosophies: A design from PS Audio’s Darren Myers or Chris Brunhaver will most assuredly sound great; A new product from Apple will look and feel like an Apple product; It’s unlikely a Buddhist monk will be starting a drunken brawl.

The trick with generalities is honing and polishing them such that they don’t limit but instead assure.

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.

Enhanced or held back?

If we make a change for the better to our room or stereo equipment, one that gets us closer to the music, was it achieved by a fundamental change or by the removal of existing obstacles?

When I first asked myself that question my immediate answer was semantics. What’s the difference if we achieve better by removing obstacles or improving performance?

I believe it’s more than semantics. In fact, I think it may be at the core of what we do.

Lowering distortion might be viewed as removing an obstacle while improving the slew rate probably qualifies as an enhancement. Both work to improve performance, each in a different way.

Perhaps another way to look at this would be the difference between removing obscuring veils vs. improving dynamics. Or, for a more common metaphor, the difference between cleaning a room vs. redecorating. One makes better what is while the other addresses fundamental weakness.

Lumped together they become more difficult to focus the engineer’s efforts.

Viewed as separate tasks we clear away misconceptions and arrive at a clearer path towards better performance.

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.

New PS Audio speaker coming.

Tech talk

I am most comfortable in the company of engineers.

It’s more than just camaraderie.

To non-engineering folk, our conversations might sound like a different language what with all the terminology bandied about.

But more than terminology is the implied understanding of bigger concepts. Terms like -3dB, half power, slew rate, open loop, rise times, wave shapes, carry with them major implications. If our depth of understanding of terminology’s implications is shallow, we can often find ourselves either lost or worse, drawing incorrect conclusions.

In a recent forum post, PS engineer Chris Brunhaver was generously answering some questions about our upcoming loudspeaker:

“We’re still preparing some marketing materials on the FR-30 but I can share that the low frequency cutoff is -6 db at 27 Hz. While a reflex/passive radiator enclosure, the roll-off below this is rather steep but you’ll see typically see extension from 20-25 Hz in-room. Still, as other mention, the benefit of multiple subs/ LF sources will help smooth the response wider listening area.

Please keep in mind that, if you listen to dynamic music in the bass and want a subwoofer that “keeps up” with the speaker, you’ll need something pretty potent. A pair of FR-30, with their 8 x 8″ woofers and 8 x 10″ passive radiators is capable of ~120 dB (in half space) from 25 hz and up with (when driven with 600 watts x 2) at the Klippel rated Xmax of the woofers. Of course, you won’t want to listen full range at that level, but the system is certainly capable of it in the low frequencies, so that it has very low distortion at more moderate levels and a feeling of effortless bass dynamics.”

I love that our engineering team reaches out to our HiFi Family.

Chris speaks in very dense terms even when he’s doing his best to keep it simple. Unpacking terms like “Klippel rated Xmax of the woofers” or even the innocent sounding “want a subwoofer that “keeps up” with the speaker” carry with them loads of implied understanding.

The challenge for any engineering-centric company is to figure out a way to effectively communicate complex concepts to a hungry audience and to do so without boring the crap out of people.

Chris does an amazing job and I love it when he talks like that. 🙂

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.

Having a stereo system that can play anything at any volume level, with great dynamics, I love this post from Paul!

Holding back

While over the weekend I had the pleasure of spending time in Music Room Two and the IRS auditioning some new Octave releases. The producer and audio engineer, Scott, had worked hard on one particular complex mix and it was sounding amazing.

Then it happened. Buried just beneath the other instruments rumbled in a low synth note. I cocked my head and listened again. There it was buried under the other notes.

“Was the synth an afterthought?” I asked.

“No,” said Scott, “it’s the foundation of the track called Caves. It’s showing the depths of the cave.”

“I can barely hear it.”

“I was holding back.”

For years Scott and other engineers have more often than not been holding back deep subterranean bass notes (no, not the higher frequency ones we hear rattling the cars next to us in modern synth music).

Turns out the reason recordists and mixers held back was the limitations of most playback systems the average track will be reproduced on.

When I told him to forget all that and let it rip, to bathe us all in the glory of the lowest frequencies washing over the room, his face lit up from ear to ear.

“We’re audiophiles!” I explained. “We spend thousands to reproduce all the notes from the lowest to the highest. Do not in any way hold back!”

It’s a real eye and ear opener being in the middle of a recording studio.

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 Bark Syndrome

When working within a complex system like that of a modern two-channel stereo, one of the most difficult tasks turns out to be accurate finger pointing. Identifying a specific culprit responsible for what we hear.

I’ll share with you a good example. One of my tasks at Octave Records is to be the judge and jury of what does and does not get published. If the track isn’t something I would play at a HiFi show (if we ever have HiFi shows again), or the music isn’t of a caliber worthy of our audience, it gets rejected.

While listening to a recent work of extraordinary qualities we ran into a problem I like to refer to as the Bark Syndrome. As might be gleaned from the title, the Bark Syndrome can occur when a voice or instrument exceeds a certain level or quality that makes one’s face scrunch.

Maybe I should have named it the Wince Syndrome.

I hear this mostly on voice and I believe that is because the voice is so easy to judge. We’ve spent most of our lives hearing voices in the wild.

The most difficult challenge with the Bark Syndrome is identifying where in the chain it occurs. This requires first a reference reproduction system devoid of the problem—something few of us either have or know for certain theirs is free of it.

Tomorrow I’ll share with you the first time I became aware of the problem and how we began to address it.

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.

Swept away

I find it ironic that our goal as audiophiles is to forget the equipment and be swept away by the music.

But, of course, that’s the only goal that makes sense.

And yet, we have to think about the stereo equipment in order to get to the point where we can then forget about the equipment.

And round and round it goes.

Now, where’s my broom?

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 price of scarcity

When something desirable is scarce its value increases.

It’s the old supply and demand theory we learned about in school. If more people want something than there is an available supply, the price adjusts upward.

Think of a vinyl album where only so many copies were pressed. Or, consider that only 58 pairs of IRSV speakers were ever made.

Scarcity can even apply to simpler things. Terri and I were skinning a bushel of our homegrown tomatoes last night. We turned those beauties into a delicious tomato sauce we’re going to freeze and sparingly consume over the winter months. No one else on the planet has the same tomato sauce as do we.

Thankfully, much of what we as audiophiles value with respect to new equipment isn’t scarce. You can grab a copy of a production DAC, integrated amplifier, or preamplifier without much worry about bickering over price. That’s not quite as true with vintage equipment.

What we can say about scarcity is that for most of us, the collection of hand-picked equipment, cables, room treatment, and careful placement is unique in all the world. Your stereo system in your room sounds different than mine because of the environment and the choices made to create that system.

What kind of price would you assign to your hand-built creation?

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.

Very different vs. right or wrong

Octave Recording artist and trumpeter extraordinaire, Gabriel Mervine, notes near the end of this video that “vinyl sounds different. Very different.”

In fact, identical master recordings sound very different depending on the recorded medium.

Which one is right?

One could easily suggest that because the recording was captured on DSD that playback would be right only when reproduced using the same technology.

Yet to many, the music sounds more “real” and “right” through the lens of LP’s.

As audiophiles, we’re always in search of sonic truth.

Though truth, as I mentioned in an earlier post, isn’t always the same for everyone.

Very different can be just as right as very right.

It’s all in your perception.

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.

Truth

The author of the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous line was, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

And so it goes about the truth. We’re taught as children to always be truthful but it doesn’t take too long to figure out the truth can sometimes hurt—like a smack on the butt or a good scolding for whatever crime the truth-teller has just owned up to.

But being truthful is at the core of trust and it is trust most of us work our whole lives to earn.

That said, I think it’s important to titrate the truth to fit the situation at hand. Never lie, but sometimes it pays to soften your words. You’d hardly want to crush the spirit of a young child asking for your opinion on her latest crayon creation, and then there’s always the potential minefield for unsuspecting blockhead males not thinking through the answer to “how does this dress make me look?”

When it comes to high end audio there is as well a fine line to walk. How could I tell the whole truth of how awful something sounds when the presenter has worked their heart out crafting the masterpiece?

I make a point of doing my best to never falsifying anything. I mix this credo with a dash of softness and a sprinkle of surely there has to be something positive to say.

And then there’s the opposite situation where words aren’t adequate to express the truth and beauty of someone’s stereo system.

The truth cuts in many ways.

Never lose sight of it, but like strong medicine, be careful with its application.