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 have in the past used very expensive audiophile cables from Analysis Plus, Audioquest, Cardas, Siltec and many more than I want to remember. However, right now, I don’t use a single cable over $100 in my system and it sounds great. Maybe the best stereo system I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard a bunch. So, like Paul a bit befuddled on this topic.

Directional

When it comes to directionality I find myself a bit lost.

Let’s take for example an AC power cable. Directionality is easy because each of the two connectors is different.

But a fuse?

Perhaps someone can help me understand how a fuse connecting the AC input of our equipment to the wall power can have directionality. Most aftermarket fuses have arrows indicating direction and it is said the construction is different at each end. Fair enough, but which end is the right end and right for what?

An AC power source alternates between plus and minus 50 to 60 times a second. Which direction is right?

Imagine a pendulum. Does it matter if it begins from left to right or right to left?

I have in the past bought into interconnect directionality. Here we too have an alternating current signal. But now the story goes it’s the wire’s directionality when it is being drawn out of the die that the copper was pulled through, thus realigning the crystal structure in such a way as to make it sound better or worse depending on source or receiver side. This argument still befuddles me but I have consistently heard differences in an RCA interconnect.

At least I think I have.

Without reconstruction this cannot be tested in an XLR or AC power cable (the male and female connectors define its source).

But a fuse?

Color me confused.

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.

Totally agree with this one.

Living with rectangles

Hopefully, your stereo listening room is not square. A square room with all dimensions being equal is a recipe for the worst room modes possible.

Fortunately, most of our rooms where we hope to set up a stereo system are not 8’x8’x8′. (If this happens to be your situation, consider a near-field listening setup instead).

For the most part, our rooms are rectangles where the challenges are fewer but decisions still need to be made.

One of the most common questions I get is whether to place the speakers on the long wall or the short wall. Fire into the length of the room and deal with the loudspeakers being too close to the side walls or deal with your seating position so close to the rear wall?

Of course, the easy answer is to try it both ways but that’s a royal pain in the keester.

My best advice is to almost always point the speakers so they fire down the longest dimension in the room.

It’s been my experience that it’s easier to tame the sidewall problems with diffusers and absorbers than it is to limit one’s self to dealing with the lack of space behind the listener and the speaker.

When it comes to rectangles, the benefits of space behind you and the speakers outweigh the problems of a narrow room.

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.

We know everything

Near the end of the 19th century, it was generally agreed upon that our understanding of physics had reached its limits. We knew all there was to know about how everything worked.

Until we didn’t.

One famous example of this thinking came from the physicist Max Planck who told the following story:

“When I began my physical studies [in Munich in 1874] and sought advice from my venerable teacher Philipp von Jolly, he portrayed to me physics as a highly developed, almost fully matured science. Possibly in one or another nook there would perhaps be a dust particle or a small bubble to be examined and classified, but the system as a whole stood there fairly secured, and theoretical physics approached visibly that degree of perfection which, for example, geometry has had already for centuries.

His advisor went on to tell the young Planck that it was probably not a great idea to study theoretical physics since there was not much left to do.

44 years later, Planck received the Nobel prize for turning physics on its head with his theory of Quantum Mechanics. (Quantum Mechanics describes the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles, where earlier classic physics, as taught by Planck’s teacher Philipp von Jolly, describes them only at larger macroscopic levels insufficient for moving beyond the limits of understanding)

It seems to me that human nature finds us feeling comfortable believing our current level of understanding is not only adequate but essentially perfect. It would likely be debilitating to think otherwise.

Imagine going through life questioning everything you think or do.

We know everything about everything.

Until we don’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.

FR30 crossover

Of course, we’re all interested in what makes a product tick. Inside a loudspeaker is the crossover network that divides the frequencies between the various speaker drivers: tweeters only produce their intended range, as well as midrange and woofers.

Below are photos of the crossover networks in an aspen FR30. They are split between a midrange/tweeter network and woofer network.

Designer, Chris Brunhaver explains:

We are using all air core coils (for the high power handling and low distortion) including a 5.5 pound 12 awg coil on in the woofer network.

Capacitors are all metallized poly film type (excepting the large electrolytic caps required for the 45 Hz conjugate notch filter we use to flatten the impedance curve at low frequency).

The resistors are a high-quality 15W wire wound type.

The crossover slopes are all forth order Linkwitz-Riley acoustic, but the resulting electrical networks vary between second and third-order to achieve this.

lf crossover
What you don’t see here are the years and years of experience and knowledge needed to put the right value parts in the right places.
Every product is an amalgam of its parts and the experience to know where and how to use them.

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.

Procrastination

Sometimes the responses I receive to my posts are so much better than the post itself I just have to share.

After reading yesterday’s post about Hofstadter’s law, reader Bret Jenkins wrote what I consider to be one of the more insightful replies I have read in a long time.

His words ring true.

As a teacher I discovered that students will take longer only because they procrastinate. A term paper doesn’t take a term to write. Most students do the majority of the hard work during the last week or even last night before the end of the term. Breaking the term paper into little chunks doesn’t work. Sure the outline is due during week 8, followed by a thesis statement on week ten, five sources by week twelve and so on, but the average student will wait until the very last day it’s due.

At HP my stepdad experienced exactly the same habit. A three-month project takes three months, but if you placed a deadline of six months on that exact same project it will take six months.

Theater production and film production are the same. Everyone is rushing during the last week and wishing they had more weeks to get it together, but without an opening date I honestly wonder if the play would ever be ready.

Prom tickets and after prom tickets also work this way. Put the tickets on sale for five days, 80% of the purchases come on the last day.

Retail sales experience upticks on the last day or two of a sale. Limited time offers work on this same psychology. We wait until the limit is almost up and then buy.

There are however, exceptions. Music concerts. No matter how long or how short dates are for buying David Lee Roth tickets, you’ll never sell them all. Elton John tickets disappear only days if not hours from first beginning minute of ticket sales.

Then there are engineers and general contractors. When they tell you it will be six months, you hear twelve and after the 12th month, you begin to realize that the number was actually closer to 18 months. Frustrated and annoyed you nonetheless accept this as reality.

Lots to think about here.

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.

Fast and slow

After 50 years of working with audio gear, it’s easy for me to forget not everyone knows the basics. I’ll do my best to help remedy that.

A few days ago we got into fuses, a subject that helped me realize not everyone knows there are two basic types. Fast and slow.

A fast fuse saves circuitry. A slow fuse saves lives.

First, let’s talk fast blo fuses. You don’t see these a lot anymore. They are typically used in the DC “rails” (the power supplies) that feed circuitry. They need to be quick because they are there to stop the voltage feeding circuitry before something bad happens to that circuitry. Their most common use is to protect power transistors in the output of a power amplifier. Where small signal circuitry like that of a preamplifier doesn’t have enough “juice” behind it to cause damage to the silicon, a power amplifier surely does. The fuse must die faster than the transistor it is protecting.

A fast blo fuse is basically a whisker-thin wire inside a glass (or ceramic) enclosure. Here’s a picture of one.

Fuses are designed into the power supplies that feed the output transistors of amplifiers. They are chosen by their rating of how much power they can pass before the little wire inside heats up and vaporizes—thus breaking the connection to the power supply.

Most amplifiers don’t have these because there are now more modern means of providing the quick shut off (other solid state devices).

A slow blo fuse has the same characteristic as the fast blo, meaning it too is chosen by the maximum amount of current (power) that is allowed to pass through it. The difference is time.

When we first plug in a product to the AC wall socket, or flick on the power switch, a surge of power flows into the unit. Perhaps you’ve noticed the room lights dimming on first turn on of a power hungry something. This inrush of current (power) needed to fill empty power supply capacitors (or start a motor or heater) is only for a brief moment. Thus, what we want is a fuse that will tolerate that momentary inrush of power until the device settles down.

That’s why it’s called a slow blo. Here’s a picture of one:

Instead of the whisker-thin wire of the fast blo, we now have what looks kind of like a spring. Pass enough current for long enough through the spring and it too heats up and vaporizes.

Slow blo fuses are found at the very input of products. Before the power supply. They exist to make sure that your product doesn’t light on fire, or that the wires in your home don’t light on fire.

Of course, modern homes are doubly protected. An electromechanical version of the venerable fuse is required for safety. It is called a circuit breaker.

Hope that 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.

The long and winding road

The road to sonic bliss has always been long and winding, but today it’s getting straighter and shorter.

Remember back in “the day” when information was scarce? Aside from a few magazines, finding out anything substantial about how a stereo system might fit into your home was more than just challenging. It was nearly impossible. A real crapshoot.

You took the word of the HiFi dealer and crossed your fingers. Most of the “research” you did was more about qualifying the dealer rather than the gear.

Today, things are easier. We have a wealth of information at the touch of a mouse.

To me, the road ahead looks much straighter and shorter. Instead of rolling the proverbial dice, today we can read the opinions of others, give a try at home, make our decisions, and sit back and enjoy.

Not only is the road less daunting, but the drive itself is much more enjoyable.

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 problem with fuses

I remember the first time I heard the improvements brought by an upgraded stereo fuse. It was a few years ago and our German distributor, Jurgen, was visiting. We were in the middle of a listening session and he asked if I might be up for an experiment. Of course! He pulled the top off the DirectStream DAC and took control of the listening session.

I was told only that we’re now listening to A and then B (and so forth). I hadn’t a clue what he was doing nor which was A or B. The difference between the two was rather remarkable. If memory serves the upgraded fuse he was pulling in and out was from Audio Tuning.

I was dumbfounded by the level of improvement from replacing that fuse. Hell, I was dumbfounded that a fuse could even make a difference, let alone that much.

That experience led us to start paying attention to the fuses our purchasing department acquired and, eventually, to spec only specific types for our products. Like we do for other passive components like resistors and capacitors.

What we ship with our audio products are excellent sounding fuses (though not expensive aftermarket types). Can one do better? I am certain there will be those that believe this to be true (and it probably is).

However, there comes a point where spending hundreds of dollars on a component whose sole purpose is to give its life might just be a questionable practice.

What happens if it does its job?

There just might be more practical means of making improvements in sound quality.

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.

Clear goals

Perhaps one of the most difficult hurdles to cross is the setting of clear goals. What is it you hope to achieve? Where is it you hope to go to? What’s it look like when you get there?

“I want a great stereo system.”

That’s a reasonable goal but perhaps a bit too broad to form a set of useful guidelines.

Maybe better to focus more on the end result.

“I want good sound with no compromise bass that shakes the rafters and flaps my pant legs.”

That’s a lot easier to achieve now that we know more specifics about the end goal. Focus your efforts on the biggest, baddest subs you can afford, and do your best to marry them with what you have for a system.

Wanting “the best” or working to achieve “the greatest” is an endless loop with no reasonable end point.

The more specific your end goal the better chance you’ll have of finding a way to get there.

It’s why visible goalposts on the playing field work.

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.

Purity vs. minimalism

I can’t think of anyone that isn’t interested in purity. Pure water, pure truth, pure sound.

While it’s comfortable to assume that fewer obstacles in the signal path (simple is better/cleaner) leads to greater purity, it turns out that bit of common wisdom is not always correct.

Take recordings for example. It’s long been assumed that minimalist miking defines the path to purity. One stereo microphone (or 3 in the famous Decca Tree arrangement) recording the group live has to be pure.

Right?

Not necessarily. If we define purity of sound by the end result, there are multiple examples of multi-miked performances that outperform minimalist recordings.

In the same way we need greater complexity to purify water—boiling, and distilling vs. a simple filter—it’s often a mistake to assume minimalism is the path to purity.