Category Archives: Blog Posts

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 enjoyed my record collection, although its now gone and my Turntable and some of my record collection is with our son, which we love.

Honestly, I know it is sacrilegious, but I don’t miss it as my digital sounds great and while I don’t look at the record information  that comes with CD’s, what is available on my iPad, which is how I run my digital source, gives plenty of great information. While I don’t use it personally, Roon is supposed to be rich in artist and album information and better than the T+A MusicNavigator that I use.

And, PS Audio is having a sale on their LP’s

The vinyl feel

Ever notice that when you pick up a vinyl record, it feels like something real? I mean, as much as I am a digital audio fan, I cannot ignore the feel of vinyl. Its heft. The depth and texture of a 180-gram beauty.

And you can see the music. See the tracks and the spaces that separate them.

One of my great joys is opening for the first time a virgin vinyl release. There’s an intoxicating smell as you pull out the sleeve and release the vinyl.

I can’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder.

And each copy seems unique: just slightly different than the others. After a few plays, it is definitely one of a kind.

And then there’s the artwork. The album cover is a canvas for some of the most iconic and beautiful artwork in the world of music, and holding a vinyl record lets you really appreciate it in a way that a tiny CD booklet can’t match.

For those of us who love music, holding a vinyl record is a powerful, emotional experience. It’s a reminder of everything great about music – the art, the passion, the soul. And it’s a reminder that sometimes, the simplest things in life can be the most meaningful.

There are only a few days left to score all the Octave vinyl you can.

Now, 1/2 off.


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.

While I’m now using almost all solid state stereo equipment, except for a Rogue RP-7, which is a hybrid tube/solid state preamplifier I keep around because of its wonderful headphone amplifier, I’ve owned a lot of tube gear and this is a great explanation of how tubes work.

These days vacuum tubes are primarily made in Russia, China, The Czech Republic and even a 300B power triode is apparently made here in the USA by a newly formulated Western Electric, an iconic brand from the past.

The war in Ukraine has made some of the more unique Russian power tubes, like the KT 120, KT 150 and KT 170’s getting scarce. Too bad as this is the single source for these high power pentode tubes.  Fortunately, the JJ company out of the Czech Republic makes excellent substitutes which aren’t quite as powerful as the Tungsol Russian tubes, but powerful enough, they sound great and are reliable..

Glowing tubes

Peering down inside of a BHK preamp the other day, I was rewarded with the warm rosy glow of its vacuum tubes.

And I was reminded how similar a vacuum tube is to a lightbulb (I know. I am weird).

Both vacuum tubes and lightbulbs have glass envelopes that keep the outside air from getting in. And both vacuum tubes and lightbulbs have filaments that produce both light and heat.

So, where do they differ and why?

A light bulb filament is made of a thin wire, typically tungsten, that is coiled or twisted to maximize its surface area. When an electric current is passed through the filament, the resistance of the wire causes it to heat up to a very high temperature, around 2500°C. At such a high temperature, the tungsten filament glows white-hot and produces visible light.

A vacuum tube filament, on the other hand, is designed to emit electrons rather than light. The material of the filament is often similar to a lightbulb—a slightly modified version based on tungsten—but instead of getting white hot and emitting a bright light, a vacuum tube’s filament is cooler, typically around 700-800°C. At this lower temperature, the filament emits a small glow of light, but, more importantly, electrons boil off of its surface in a process called thermionic emission.

With an abundance of electrons coming off of the filament (cathode), we now have the fuel we need to have our vacuum tube work its audio magic. Basically, we need a way to control how many of these generated electrons are put to work, and we need to give them a place to go.

Of the three elements that make up a vacuum tube like the venerable 12AX7—cathode, grid, anode—the grid controls how many of the electrons are being put to work, and the anode (plate) provides the means for attracting them.

Your audio signal is connected up to the grid. The louder the audio signal, the more electrons are encouraged to head to the plate (the tube’s output) and we get a bigger signal.

It all starts with that rosy glow from the filament.

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.

PS Audio has 3 different boxes for its digital components. Their PerfectWave DAC,  a transport and now a Streamer.

I’ve been downsizing my audio racks and in fact, I am down to one rack for my electronics, although I have my T+A Amp 8 on its own platform. My digital components are two in number. My Melco server, which is where some 2500 CD’s are stored in WAV files and the other box, the T+A MP2500R, which does the rendering, controlling, CD/SACD playing and contains a truly great DAC.

Different strokes….


The last puzzle piece

In our little mini-series on streaming audio, we’ve covered the overview, the server, the controller, and today let’s finish up with the final puzzle piece, the renderer.

The renderer is sometimes a separate box or card (like PS Audio’s Bridge or AirLens), or part of a more complete grouping of the major components needed to stream music. Its job is to connect with the server, accept the digital bits being streamed to it, convert those bits to a form acceptable to your DAC, and pass them along.

  • Connect with the server
  • Recognize and organize incoming data
  • Convert incoming data to what a DAC wants (S/PDIF or I2S)
  • Deliver that data to the DAC

The renderer is the player*(though this can be confusing because typically, a player produces something we can hear—like the output of a CD player. Renderers are digital in and digital out.)

In some parlances, the renderer is also known as the endpoint.

From a sonic standpoint, the renderer has the most important job of all. For it is here, in the final puzzle piece, where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

If we think back to our streaming system’s architecture, we remember that the server is a big network-connected hard drive. Our controller (like Roon) talks to both the server and the renderer and connects the two together when you select a track of music.

What’s important to understand is that big hard drive in the sky is sending its digital bits over the internet through a crazy combination of switches, wires, satellites, fiber, coax, etc. There are no clocks to get messed up. It’s just millions of little packets of data swarming around like bees converging in the hive. They all know where they need to go but how they get there and in what order doesn’t matter.

Our renderer organizes the swarm of bits into a uniform, orderly stream, processes the data into a form the DAC wants, then adds that all-important clock to run everything.

That final clock is where all the magic happens. Get that jitter and noise free and we have perfection.

Skimp on this last step and….

The renderer is the single most important sonic piece of the puzzle.

Make sure it’s up to your standards.

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.

While I’m interested in Roon, I use the T+A MusicNavigator App as a digital music controller and while its presently “talking” to me in Geman, after its latest update,  it works wonderfully and more importantly, sounds great! Good thing I know a little German and what I do know in German, is enough to navigate the App.

The controller

The bit in a streaming music system we are most familiar with is the controller: the interface that allows users to browse and select music to play from a music server.

Controllers can be webpages, your phone, your computer, or even a voice-controlled version. “Alexa, play Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.”

The controller is often called the app.

Like Spotify.

The controller doesn’t play music nor does it store music. Controllers are human interfaces that tie together the two main workhorses in a streaming music system, the server and the renderer.

Probably the most popular music controller today is Spotify, but amongst us audiophiles, it is Roon.

Roon was founded in 2015 by a team of music lovers and software developers who saw a need for a music interface system that offered more than just the basics. The team included Rob Darling, Danny Dulai, Enno Vandermeer, and Brian Luczkiewicz. They had previously worked together at Sooloos, a high-end music server and management system acquired by Meridian Audio in 2008 (and then vanished forever).

Roon is all about creating an informed and engaging experience with music. The software uses metadata from multiple sources, including its own database, to provide detailed information about the music being played: artist bios, album reviews, and links to related artists and albums. If you’ve ever used Roon you’ll know it’s a fun experience.

Over the years, Roon has grown to include Roon Radio (a suggestion-based playlist), and real-time audio processing, including upsampling and room correction. For me, none of that is interesting. I just like the interface.

Roon requires a separate computer to run its complex software. That computer is connected to either your local network or the worldwide web where streaming services like Tidal, Qobus, Apple, etc. connect to to your playback device at the command of the controller.

Bottom line, the controller is a user interface like a librarian who points you in the direction of a good book. Controllers don’t play music, nor do they store music.

They help us find what we want to listen to and, in some cases like Roon, they can even help modify and prepare digital music files that are then sent to the renderer.

That’s tomorrow.

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.

A good primer for folks that are into “digital” music.

I use a Melco server which has about 2500 CD’s ripped to WAV files, which I find to be superior sounding to others, including FLAC, onto it and the internal drive has an internal  backup drive, in case the one that is used for playback, fails.

Perhaps, besides the Altec 604 based loudspeakers I had built for me, which are the stars of my stereo system (thanks to Bryan Rohr for turning me on to the 604’s and the Urei EQ’s I use with them) the second brightest star of my system is probably the T+A MP2500R. This device is a CD/SACD player, streamer and DAC in one pretty large and heavy box. T+A is not what we Americans might think as T+A stands for Theory and Application and they hail from Germany. It’s a great sounding digital source and I’ve owned a lot of different digital sources, including PS Audio digital gear they really don’t come close to this component, although I’m sure PS Audio’s new DAC sounds great too. They have a new streamer too, but mine device is three digital players in one convenient and integrated box, which is great.

3 essential elements

My friend and former TAS writer, AGB, suggested it might be time to refresh our knowledge of how streaming audio works.

There are tons of misconceptions and even a few audio myths growing around the subject, so I think he’s right.

Today we will start with a simple overview, then dig in a bit deeper in the days to follow.

Creating a seamless streaming music experience requires a well-designed system comprising three essential source components: server, controller, and renderer.

  • Server: The server is the backbone of any streaming music system. It’s responsible for storing and organizing music files, making them available for streaming on demand. It is where the music library resides. It can be a local server, such as a computer or a network-attached storage (NAS) device, or a remote server, such as a cloud-based music service like Spotify, Apple Music, Qobuz, Tidal, or Amazon.
  • Controller: The controller is the user interface for your streaming music system. It’s the device or software that you use to select and play music from your server. The controller can be a dedicated device, such as a smartphone app or a touchscreen remote. The controller communicates with the server to browse your music library and make selections. It also controls playback, allowing you to play, pause, skip, and adjust the volume. Some controllers also offer advanced features, such as creating playlists, searching for music, and accessing streaming services. The controller also manages your music collection, leveraging metadata such as album, artist, genre, and track information. Think of Roon or Audirvana. They are controllers.
  • Renderer: The renderer is the device that plays the music from your server. It can be a standalone device, such as a wireless speaker or a headphone amplifier, or integrated into another device, like a DAC. The renderer receives the audio data from the server and converts it into an appropriate audio format to convert the signal to analog. In a high-end renderer like PS Audio’s Bridge, that format is I2S.

To sum it up, the server stores and organizes your music library, the controller selects and controls playback, and the renderer prepares the digital audio files in a format acceptable to your DAC. Each component is crucial to creating a seamless, high-quality streaming music experience that brings your favorite music to life.

Tomorrow we’ll dig a little deeper.

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.

While there are a few blanket statements that ring true in life, most great stereo systems do sound better than the regular stuff most of us listen to. However, like in Paul’s example, some folks have inflated egos and don’t recognize that there are other things they haven’t heard and if they did, they night just change their minds. Like I’ve been saying for the last 30 years, we don’t know, what we don’t know and that includes high end audio.

Blanket statements

As soon as I read this note, I had to smile.

“I spend a lot of time in the studio under extremely treated conditions and listen through some of the highest-graded speakers. Once you learn how to listen through them, you can never go back to consumer-grade and so-called audiophile speakers.”

What a lovely and concise blanket statement. I particularly love the “so-called” jab.

What’s instructive about this note is its form. In the first sentence, the writer establishes his credibility. In the second, we get the conclusion that, given his experience, makes perfect sense.

Hard to argue with (which of course is the point).

How many of us believe that most people have actually heard a properly set up high-end audio system?

In the fifty years I have been immersed in what we do, it has been rare to find anyone outside our small group of kindred spirits that have actually sat down in front of what we consider a great audiophile system.

Blanket statements and sweeping proclamations are short and to the point.

And they are usually more opinion than fact.

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 our systems age?

As humans, we all know what it feels like to get older and experience wear and tear over time. We may find ourselves slowing down, experiencing aches and pains, and needing more rest than we did in our youth.

Is it any different for our stereo systems? Does metal, silicon, glass, rubber, and all that goes into building a high end audio system get worse over time?

Just like the human body, electronic devices have components that can degrade over time. Speakers are, of course, the most obvious. Surrounds, capacitors, and all those moving parts age. In fact, all mechanical mechanisms fade over time.

But electronics?

We’re all familiar with the degradation of capacitors, but consider that modern silicon-based systems grow “old” similarly to how our brains get stuck and slow.

Remember back to your shiny new computer or iPad. Blazing fast for quite some time. Then, with updates and plugins and use, we get slower processing speeds, longer load times, and increased lag when running programs or applications.

Just like humans may struggle to keep up with the demands of physical activity as they age, electronics often mimic us as they try to keep up with the demands of modern software and technology.

It might seem strange to anthropomorphize the machines and technology we interface with but, as they become more and more complex, they become more and more “human” in all matters.

Including getting older.

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 Martin Logan makes transmission line boxes and not sure that Zu or Audio Physic use transmission lines either, although PMC is famous for that.

Lots of ways to skin the bass cat. For instance, Daedalus loudspeakers uses aperiodic loading and this technique, which is basically resistive venting, works great with extended bass for a relatively compact enclosure, which maintaining very high sensitivity, which most TL’s do not have.

My own Altec 604 based speakers are vented, but only to let the driver do what its designed to do, which is breathe freely and not designed to extend bass response.

Battle of the boxes

In my post about Dr. Suess and HiFi, I mentioned the work on loudspeaker enclosures by British engineer Leslie Bucknell while at the company my father worked for, Stromberg Carlson.

Bucknell’s approach to loudspeaker design was to create a speaker enclosure that would eliminate distortions that occur because of cancellations and additions due to standing waves internal to the cabinet. By carefully controlling the way that the sound waves travel through the speaker enclosure—routing them through a complex maze of tuned baffles—he felt that his Labyrinth design was the cat’s meow.

During this same time period, another British-born engineer, Arthur Bailey, was taking a slightly different tack to speaker design called the Transmission Line.

The transmission line uses a long narrow folded duct behind the woofer. The woofer’s output travels through this unimpeded maze until it exits out of the port. This technique differs from the traditional port (basically, a tuned hole in the speaker enclosure) because it is carefully calculated to arrive in phase and add to the low frequency performance of the speaker. In addition, as sound waves travel through the transmission line, they are gradually damped and absorbed, which helps to eliminate resonances and other distortions.

Of the two approaches, it is the work of Arthur Bailey that lives on today in speaker designs like those of PMC, Martin Logan, Audio Physics, and Zu Audio, who all (best I can tell) still use the transmission line approach to making better bass.

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.

Nice room and I think awful sounding loudspeakers and I know what they are!

Short and sweet

Well, no sooner did I publish my short and sweet post, How many Wows, than I received another in my email box.

Bob Woodburger sent me the following message and picture that I could not resist sharing with you:

“Hi Paul,

I’m blown away by the MKII DAC. It’s Exceptionally real!

I hear space I never heard before.


The picture kind of says it all.

Thanks, Bob.

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’ve heard a lot of wows here!!

How many wows?

While thumbing through forum posts, I ran across this comment in the FR20s are here thread:

“I’m also driving my FR20s by M1200s. I don’t remember how many times I said “wow” while I’m listening music.”

In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?