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.

While power conditioners/re-generators can be important in a stereo system, the system has to be good and the power lousy to hear a big difference.  However, protecting audio and video equipment from surges is a different story and most good ones do this. I use a Furman isolation transformer that has filtering and balanced power for the lower voltage outlets and power factor corrected high current outlets, for amplifiers. I plug my integrated amps into the high current outlets. The Furman, by its nature as an isolation transformer, is about as good at protecting from surges as anything. It can also output over 80 amps, so it has what Paul is referring to in this article.

Peak demand

In yesterday’s post, I said that today we’d discuss how to increase the size of the power supply capacitors inside connected equipment. A tall order, indeed, but I got sidetracked.

So many of you have written me asking about a certain statement made by my friend, Garth Powell at Audioquest. When asked about regeneration, Garth had correctly said that it’s great for some things but if not properly implemented, not for others.

The only mistake Garth made was including Power Plants in his list of regenerators.

The issue has to do with peak current. To lower impedance and produce regulated, perfect sine waves into a hungry power amplifier you need energy. A LOT of energy in the form of peak current. If we remember, sine waves are formed by voltage and supported by current. And it is the combination of voltage and current that makes all this work.

I like to use an automotive analogy to help explain voltage and current. Think of voltage as the spinning motor and current as the horsepower need to keep it spinning under load. As you’re driving along a flat highway at 60 mph your foot is steady on the gas. As you climb a hill the engine’s RPMs begin to fall and you slow down. You need to step harder on the gas pedal to raise back up those RPMs. You are adding energy. The combination of the spinning motor and the energy available to keep it spinning are expressed in terms of horsepower. In an amplifier, the voltage is the spinning and the current is the motive force. We express this in terms of wattage.

In a regenerator the output AC sinewave feeding your equipment is perfect. As it rises in voltage (faster spinning in our auto analogy) we need more current to keep it going. But what happens when the equipment we are attempting to power’s capacitors are empty and need refilling? (it’s as if suddenly there was a massive hill to climb). We need gobs more energy (current) applied and quickly!

This is called peak demand because it happens at the peak (or the tip) of the AC regenerator’s sinewave. And here is where Garth is correct. With few exceptions, AC regenerators fall short of having enough peak current available. When this happens we get increased distortion as the sinewave collapses.

For most regenerators, we’d be better off going straight into the wall socket.

But, not a Power Plant. Power Plants deliver significantly more peak current than what is available from the wall. We routinely deliver peaks of 70, 80, even 90 amps to the load. The wall socket’s lucky to deliver 15 to 20 (on a good day).

Where does all this extra current come from? It is stored in the many capacitors inside a Power Plant.

Lastly, this might also answer why manufacturers don’t typically build proper regeneration into their products. The number of caps, transistors and pounds of copper and iron necessary are not for the faint of heart.

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 home stretch

In yesterday’s post, we learned that our homes present an impedance of about 1Ω to our stereo equipment. This matters, as you can imagine, because when we try and drive a 4Ω speaker with a power source with that high of an impedance we get power line modulation.

Put another way, we make things worse for any audio equipment plugged into our power lines.

Adding an active power amplifier like that found in a Power Plant will improve that situation by an easy factor of 100. And, 100 times better performance is a welcome thing to most of us.

But now we have an opportunity to make things even better.

If we only use the impedance lowering amplifier for that single purpose we lose the opportunity for a couple of major improvements: voltage regulation and waveform correction.

Our incoming powerlines suffer from all sorts of maladies including fluctuating voltage, waveform distortion (called flat topping), and powerline modulation from equipment in our own home.

Simply lowering the impedance in the line doesn’t solve any of these problems.

That’s where we take the next step in the magic of a Power Plant, we feed the input of our impedance lowering amplifier with a perfect sine wave (instead of the raw incoming power).

Now, we have lowered impedance by a factor of 100 and fixed the waveform and restored the missing energy from a flat-topped sine wave.

Life is good, but we still haven’t tackled the last wish on our list, increasing the size of the power supply capacitors inside our equipment.

How to make the caps in your equipment’s power supply bigger is 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.

The free lunch counter

In yesterday’s post, we learned that to effectively lower impedance we need to add energy.

That’s what a power amplifier does and what a passive power conditioner cannot do.

In fact, a passive power conditioner (one without an active power amplifier inside) makes things worse. It raises impedance.

Wrong direction.

To get the most out of our stereo systems we need to figure out a way to stop restricting the power they need by actively lowering impedance.

Good things come at a price.

If we want to lower impedance we either move our home next to the power generating facility or add an amplifier to actively lower impedance.

Here’s why.

The average home wiring chain presents an impedance of between 1Ω and 0.5Ω depending on the wire gauge within the home and the distance from the utility pole.

14 gauge wire, which is the standard our homes are wired with, has a resistance of about 2.5Ω per 1,000 feet. The thicker wire feeding our homes has about 10X less resistance. So, we’re going to assume a combination that gets us to an average of about 1Ω.

1Ω is a lot of resistance for our power to have to struggle its way through. As our main power amplifier tries to drive those 4Ω (or lower) speakers, it’s struggling to suck needed power through a restrictive 1Ω pipe.

What happens if we add an impedance lowering amplifier between the high impedance power line and our musical power amp?

Voila! Now, instead of 1Ω of restricted access to power, our musical amp can enjoy 100, or even 1,000 times lower impedance feeding it.

Our story continues 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.

Shortening wire length

In yesterday’s post, we posed the question of what might happen if we were to lower or even eliminate the impedance inherent in the AC power wires feeding our home.

The answer is simple. Dramatically better sound.

Something we all want!

But, how best to eliminate or significantly lower the impedance of hundreds (often thousands) of feet of connecting power cables shared by our neighbors?

Traditionally, lowering impedance inherent in wire can be handled in two ways: shortening its length and/or increasing its thickness.

Increasing wire thickness from the standard of 14 gauge copper, which is about 0.06″ thick, to something ridiculously heavier like 0 gauge wire, which is nearly ten times the thickness (times 3 conductors), would help but wouldn’t solve it. Only thickening and shortening the wire to mere feet would get the total impedance where we would want it, to perhaps 0.01Ω or lower.

The problems with taking these steps would be one of practicality (or the lack thereof). Let’s start with thickening the wire. 3-conductor 0 gauge wire is about 1.5″ thick and weighs in at about 1.5 lbs per foot. That’s going to be a bear to install in the walls (never mind the impracticality of typing that wire into an AC receptacle). But, let’s say we managed all that copper. We still need to shorten it to mere feet. To do that we’d have to move our home next to a noisy, stinky, coal-fired power generating station.

We might get some spousal pushback.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. A power amplifier.

Let’s back up a moment.

If you want to power a pair of loudspeakers you won’t get very far connecting the output of your preamplifier to them. Preamps can’t drive speakers because their output impedance is too high.

To lower a preamplifiers output impedance you need to add energy, something a power amplifier is very good at.

Power amplifiers have high input impedance and low output impedance.

Does this sound like something that might interest us in our quest to reduce the impedance of the power line from high to low?

Methinks, maybe.

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.

For phono stages and preamps, external power supplies are almost always best. I recently replaced a high quality wall wart power supply for my Dynavector P75 Mk4 phono stage, with a large, well regulated external supply, which sends DC to the phono stage electronics themselves and was able to squeeze even a little more quietness from my Well Tempered Labs turntable rig.

External cures

From as early as 1980 it had been clear to us that the bigger the power transformer the better the sound—a fact that at first didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Why would a preamplifier that consumed no more than a few watts benefit from a power transformer capable of 100 times that?

Impedance.

Turns out that because bigger power transformers have thicker wire they have lower impedance, thus less modulation.

An easy way of visualizing the difference between high and low impedance transformers would be something akin to spongy vs. brick wall. A spongy power transformer is malleable by the load—or in our case, modulated by the music. A bigger transformer is less affected and thus is impervious to being pushed around by the amplifier’s circuit.

Once we recognized the importance of the power transformer we began implementing bigger and bigger ones until they no longer fit into the chassis, prompting us to begin offering external add-on transformers. Here’s one of the first we ever produced:

While we as the designers and manufacturers of our products could choose any size transformer we wished, that certainly wasn’t the case for others who had already made their choices and now their products were out in the marketplace.

This brings us back to the problem I was facing in the late 1990s when I hoped to come up with a way of improving power supply performance of products not our own.

Would it be possible to externally increase the size of an internal power transformer? And if we could, how about those power supply capacitors inside? Any chance of adding more capacitors without opening the case?

Seemed at the time like more of a fairy tale than possible, but…

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.

Miracle cures

While standing in the supermarket checkout line I couldn’t help but notice the splashy magazine headline.

“Lose 13″ off your waist in 1 week”.

The only way in 1 week to lose 13 inches off your waist is through surgery, something the magazine editors were not promoting.

Most all of us are in one way or another searching for a miracle. Perhaps it’s the external power supply that will change everything, or that one cable that will forever bring life to the system.

Certainly, there can be miracle products and it’s good to keep a watchful eye open.

In my experience, it’s more likely that a miraculous sounding stereo system is the result of hard work and good decisions.

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.

Amateur Audiophiles

One of the reasons I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide was to help fix the biggest problem in high-end audio systems. The one most of us take for granted, yet never master.

Setup.

Sure, we all know the basics: approximately where to place the loudspeakers, how to connect the kit, how to tame a lousy room.

But basics are not mastery in the same way learning how to boil water doesn’t make you a culinary expert.

With over 10,000 copies in circulation, I am happy to report that more systems sound better than ever before.

But, the Guide doesn’t work for everyone because not everyone gets the same benefits from simply reading a book.

That’s where someone like David Snyder can help. David, who refers to himself as an amateur audiophile (aren’t most of us?), has taken apart every aspect of The Audiophile’s Guide and methodically laid it out in much easier to understand language than I was able to.

He’s published this work in a 5-part series called Unlocking Great Sound and to be honest, he’s done a far better job than I.

If you’re interested, you can go here and begin with part 1.

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.

Systems

Each of us produces a liter of mucus per day. Snot, actually, and we use it to keep our esophageal system working smoothly. And here’s the thing, despite the fact that’s a lot of snot, unless there’s a problem we never notice it.

And that’s the way most systems work, seamlessly and in the background until something goes wrong or we yearn to make something better.

It’s the fringes we notice, not the main system.

It is good and proper we focus our time and energy getting our core audio systems functioning properly, but it’s almost never what we think about.

I have for many years been a proponent of stepping back from the pieces in my system I interact with like the transport, preamplifier, or streaming interface, and pay homage to my silent partners that make it all happen: the AC power, amplifier, audio cables, and rack system.

Central systems are easy to ignore until something goes wrong or we wake up to the fact we can make improvements that matter.

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.

Armchair quarterbacks

The classic armchair quarterback can be a valued member of any team. Their dispassionate views often add value to those actually making the plays.

But making the plays, designing the audio equipment, making the tough decisions of how to get from point A to point B is a very different challenge than what a critic faces.

What designers, engineers, and craftspeople bring to the table is hands-on experience—the hard-won skills to successfully bring a new product or service from an idea to a finished piece.

When I share my knowledge and experience of designing and building products with the HiFi Family it comes from a desire to help others see what I see without their having to spend 50 years accumulating it.

I truly love the role reviewers, critics, and armchair quarterbacks play. They are not mired in the detritus of sorting through the years of successes and failures.

I do wonder sometimes if they’ve forgotten the differences between passing judgment and actually envisioning, designing, building, and producing that which they judge.

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.

Hope for the future

There are many reasons why we launched Octave Records, but chief among them was to add to the small supply of high-resolution recordings as well as to help set standards of what we as the high-end audio community demand in the way of well-recorded material. To that end, I think we’re on the right track.

Part of the reason we felt compelled to add our voice into what seems like an empty wilderness is the deplorable state of most modern recordings. Seems the state of the art has been sliding backwards for years.

I was heartened to learn that a committee formed by the Grammys has been pushing to set some standards for high-resolution recordings. Though they are not taking a stance on either heavy-handed compression or the loudness wars, they are at least addressing the issue of resolution and…get this…pushing hard against not only MP3, but raising the sample rate above CD quality!

Imagine!

“THE REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 44.1/16, 48/24, 96/24, 192/24 AND BEYOND
Is there truly a noticeable difference between MP3s and 192/24 files? Absolutely, but everyone owes it to themselves to listen and compare. In most cases the differences between CD-quality and 192/24 are at least noticeable, and frequently, they are stark. Skillfully mixed and mastered music with a wide dynamic range benefits dramatically from a hi-res workflow. For recordings
such as symphonic film scores, classical music, or other recordings that feature acoustic instruments, hi-res audio is a perfect fit—the increased audio quality can be appreciated by virtually anyone who hears it. In the experience of this committee and the audio professionals we interviewed (including numerous rock, pop, and urban producers and engineers whose work is aggressive and powerful), recording, mixing, and mastering at resolutions 96/24 or better results in a final product that is both sonically superior and faithful to the sound of the final mastered mix.”

You can download the paper here.

I realize this is a task akin to steering the Titanic away from danger, but we gotta start somewhere and I am heartened to read that recording engineers are being told resolutions higher than 44.1kHz are audible and preferred.

Maybe there’s hope for the future.