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 traveler

We can download a digital music file from anywhere in the world and it will sound the same regardless of where it came from or how it got to us.

Yet, once it safely arrives, delivering it even a few feet through different cables sounds different.

How could that be?

Is it possible that there’s more going on than meets the eye? (or the ear?)

Imagine for a moment a faraway view of transportation. You pick the medium: car, train, or plane. Passengers line up at the input of the transportation system and arrive at their destination at its output.

Just like our digital signal.

If we look closely we might discover that not every traveler’s trip was the same. Some went first class where it’s quiet while others flew coach.

The point of this highly stretched analogy is simple. It is true that digital audio can be sent around the world without changing one bit. But get it close to our systems and other factors enter the picture. Factors such as radiated noise, power supply and ground changes specific to the local system.

Travelers all wind up where they were intended to go but not all have the same experience.

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 asymmetrical room

Customers often send me drawings of their stereo rooms. One of their biggest worries seems to be when the room is not symmetrical. And their greatest angst seems to occur if one side of the room opens wide into another part of the home.

Because one side of the room opens into another, the question becomes how in the heck to get good imaging if one channel has a sidewall while the other does not?

I am here to tell you you’re probably luckier than most.

Through setup we can always work around the sidewall problem using absorbers or diffusers or simply positioning. What we cannot easily fix is the bass problem. Enclosed rooms generally have lousy low frequency support. Between the standing waves that bunch up at the boundaries and the lack of room for long wavelengths to do their thing, bass suffers.

Those lucky enough to have a room where one wall opens into the rest of the house generally have plenty of area for bass to prosper.

Solving the sidewall asymmetry is easy compared to the bass problem.

If I have a choice, I’ll go for the open room every time.

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.

Impedance differences

If you double the input impedance of your power amplifier from, say, 30kΩ to 60kΩ you’re not going to hear a difference.

Yet, double the input impedance of your phono amplifier and you’ll hear a change.

What’s different between the two?

In the first case of the preamp feeding the amplifier, we won’t hear any difference because nothing in this chain affects frequency. The amp’s input impedance must be high enough to not load down the preamp, but aside from that, not much else matters.

That’s not true when it comes to a device such as a phono cartridge. Here the small coil generating the voltage feeding the phono preamplifier is part of what we refer to as a tank circuit—a tuned inductive network where the frequency response is a function of impedance and capacitance.

Think of it like a filter where the resulting output is dependent on the values of the elements that make up the network: coil, cap, resistor.

It is natural to assume that if the impedance setting of one element within our system matters, then it stands to reason all must.

Hopefully, it helps to have a short little explanation like this to set the record straight.

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.

Will have too try this.

Size matters

One of the easiest ways to achieve proper volume levels for a given track of music is to measure the size of the center image.

I am not suggesting some sort of magical measuring apparatus. No, it’s simpler than that.

All one needs to do is turn the level up or down until the center image is of a lifelike size.

A voice sounds like it’s coming from a person.

Too loud and the voice is too big. Too soft and the opposite.

It’s a simple formula but one that seems to escape so many.

When it comes to a great stereo system, size matters when it comes to level.

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.

Have to hand it to Paul. He builds very good, if not the best, stereo equipment, at all different price points, including now, loudspeakers, but is also pushing the state of the art in recording music. He should be in the Hi-Fi Hall of Fame.

A new channel

Octave Records is growing. From the new studio we’re building, to the creation of new recording technologies that have never been used before, we’re forging ahead to help shape the future of the recording arts.

Because we’ve committed to DSD as our recording medium, we have a number of technological challenges to meet. Among them is the ability to mix DSD which is currently not possible. But, we’re working on that (stay tuned for more info on this subject).

Our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, and our amazing hardware guru, Darren Myers, have teamed up to design a state-of-the-art 8-channel A/D converter, the likes of which the world hasn’t yet seen. The A/D converter is the heart of a modern recording studio. The pro versions available today—the few that handle DSD—are just not up to the sonic standards we would expect. So, we built our own. It’s now in the testing stage and I’ll report on its completion when we’re ready.

We also have launched a new YouTube channel specific to Octave Records.

On the channel, we’ll be posting videos of the studio build-out, live recordings, mix sessions, interviews with musicians and engineers, music videos, film showcasing the new equipment designs, and launching some Master Classes on mixing and recording for those wishing to get into the weeds with us on how all this works.

If you subscribe to the new channel, you’ll get an update each time we launch a new video.

Have fun and see you 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.

Why stereo?

In an age where multi-channel receivers and equipment can be easily had, why do we stay with only two speakers?

Some of us have been around long enough to remember the days of Quadraphonic sound.

As its name implies, Quadraphonic sound utilized 4-channels of audio typically encoded on LP vinyl in a matrix system based on the work of musician and mathematician, Peter Scheiber. His basic formula utilized 90° phase-shift circuitry to enable enhanced 4-2-4 matrix systems to be developed, of which the two main leaders were Columbia’s SQ and Sansui’s QS Systems. (Scheiber eventually sued the Dolby Corporation for theft of his intellectual property).

The three most popular quadraphonic LP formats in the 1970s were SQ (Stereo Quadraphonic), QS (Regular Matrix) and CD-4 (Compatible Discrete 4) / Quadradisc.

These 4-channel systems enjoyed a brief flash of acceptance and then died out, never to be heard from again until the advent of home theater.

Seems people weren’t all that interested in populating their living room with more than two speakers for the playing of music.

Though some of the most involving and emotionally satisfying musical presentations I have ever heard were multi-channel in nature, I still am in love with two-channel audio.

It might have been nice at one point in the development of home audio systems to have had buy-in from the world that rooms should be filled with speakers and recordings should all have many tracks.

That’s not what happened and I for one am pleased with what we have.

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.

Almost hard to believe, but I remember these well.

Too good to be true

In 1946, in an effort to sell more cigarettes, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company created a Medical Relations Division and advertised it in medical journals. This division produced the following ad with the slogan: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” They’d solicited this “finding” by giving doctors a free carton of Camel cigarettes, and then asking what brand they smoked.

By the mid-1950s, when tobacco companies had to confront good evidence that their products caused lung cancer, they decided to instead promote the idea that there’s no proof of a cause between smoking and lung cancer. To reassure a frightened public they formed The Tobacco Industry Research Committee to investigate. In charge of this committee, “will be a scientist of unimpeachable integrity and national repute. In addition, there will be an Advisory Board of scientists disinterested in the cigarette industry. A group of distinguished men from medicine, science, and education will be invited to serve on this Board.” (You can read the original document here).

In hindsight, this all seems pretty transparent. A classic coverup to keep an industry alive, despite the facts.

What’s fascinating to me about this history is the knowledge that little has changed today. When we read stereo equipment reviews that feel a bit self-serving, or when we’re told something that defies common sense actually works like magic, it probably behooves us to take a step back and check our sources of information.

I recently received an advertisement for a new brush on fluid that works like magic to “lower distortion, remove brightness, and eliminate sonic grunge.”

When something is too good to be true it probably isn’t.

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.

Les Paul was quite a guy!!

Les Paul

Modern music and the art of recording have much to thank the musician, Les Paul for.

Lester William Polsfuss was born in 1915 and lived to the ripe old age of 94. He was known around the world as a self-taught American jazz, country, and blues guitarist, songwriter, luthier, and inventor.

It is the inventor in Les Paul that brings me to today’s post.

After inventing the solid-body electric guitar (his prototype, called the Log, served as inspiration for the Gibson Les Paul) he went on to invent many innovations still in use today, including overdubbing (also known as sound on sound), delay effects such as tape delay, phasing, and multitrack recording.

It is to this last invention that I wanted to bring particular attention to.

At the beginning of audio recording, there was of course mono. Just about every tape machine I used (like the old Ampex 301) was a full-track mono recorder. Then, in the early 1960s came stereo two-track audio recorders. These (and a handful of 3-track machines like those used on the old mercury’s and RCAs) became the standard for recording—not for a different listening experience like going from mono to stereo, but to enable musicians to go from live studio recordings to the era of produced multitrack recording. Now, for the first time, recordings could be built in layers that could later be mixed into finished works.

And who was at the forefront of the multitrack recorder?

You guessed it, Les Paul.

In the mid-1950s, when the Ampex corporation devised the concept of 8-track recording, using its “Sel-Sync” (Selective Synchronous) recording system, it sold its very first machine to Les Paul for a princely sum of $10,000 – roughly three times the US average yearly income in 1957, and equivalent to $92,145 in 2020.

Wow. What a musician. What an innovator.

In addition to all his achievements, Les Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the only person in history to be included in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

People like Les Paul come into our world only on occasion, and I love to celebrate their achievements.

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.

I don’t think I made this up but I may have and have been telling my AV customers this for years. Video never looks real, but sound? Yes, if the stereo system is good enough, like I’ve got here.

Seeing vs. hearing
When it comes to capturing and reproducing dynamic range, audio has visual beat by a wide margin.

The human ear is capable of about 140dB of dynamic range—the same as a 32-bit digital audio capture. That modern recording and playback technology is capable of matching that of the human ear is remarkable. It wasn’t that long ago that tape and vinyl’s limitations of approximately half that range were as good as it got.

Photography, on the other hand, hasn’t kept up as well. The human eye is capable of discerning about 24 stops of dynamic range (a stop is a doubling of light). The best films could capture about 12 stops while modern digital cameras can approach 15 stops—both a far cry from the eye’s capabilities.

And, dynamic range is not all we hear nor see. There are resolution and timing differences too and again, our audio systems are pretty well matched to our native hearing abilities while cameras fall far short. Some of the best cameras today can achieve a resolution equivalent to about 50 megapixels while our eyes can resolve nearly ten times that.

The point of all this is in admiration of how close we’ve come to matching at least one set of senses.

I’ve never been fooled into believing an image is real, but I cannot say the same thing when it comes to sound.

 

 

 

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.

Critical thinking

You can find information and knowledge on just about any subject in the world. Just Google it. Have a math problem? There are online calculators at the click of a mouse. Need a chemical formula? No problem. Design a room for best stereo sound quality? It’s a few clicks of the mouse away.

With a bit of time and persistence, the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips.

What the immense resources of our connected world bring to the party is only going to become more easily accessed over time. What’s not available online, however, is the ability to think.

Critical thinking skills seem to be rather scarce these days. And, that’s a shame because even with all the resources on the planet if one doesn’t know how to use reason and logic to solve a problem, we’ll never get to where we want to go.

Take for example the skill required to source and set up a high end audio system. Because each environment is so different it becomes necessary to not only have the knowledge needed to cobble the right separates and interconnects together, but the ability to think about how to best optimize the system within the room.

Understanding the why of how things work is the first step to thinking through a problem.

Or, take as another example an engineer. When we hire engineers and programmers we evaluate them more on their ability to think as opposed to the knowledge in their heads. Knowledge can be added or easily Googled. Thinking is a learned skill that some have invested in while most have not.

I won’t get into a rant about the state of our school systems with respect to the teaching (or lack thereof) of critical thinking skills. I get that the education machine struggles with just teaching the basics of maths, language, and history.

If you have a choice, go for the assets that have developed thinking rather than simply spewing information.

Information is easy. Solving problems is where the fun is.