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.

A good one today. I once owned and tried to use a DBX Dynamic Range Expander with my stereo, maybe 40 years ago, but the “breathing” artifacts were too annoying for me to listen through, so a failed attempt at what Paul is talking about here.

However, the sensitivity of loudspeakers has something to do with this, as well and one of the reasons I’ve always used loudspeakers of high sensitivity that are easy to drive.

The funny thing about dynamics

It’s somewhat of a mystery why vinyl LP’s can sound more dynamic when in fact it is more compressed.

Much has to do with the technical measurement versus the perceived measurement.

The meaning of dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and softest sounds. The bigger the gap between loud and soft determines the technical dynamic range number of a recording (but not the perceived dynamic range).

Let’s imagine for a moment two recordings of the same event. One has a dynamic range of 90dB and the other is restricted to 60dB—same live event, only the first version is untouched with full dynamic range while the second has been compressed to fit into the smaller dynamic range space.

We can all agree that from a numeric standpoint the 90dB is far more dynamic than the 60dB.

Let’s now imagine we are playing back these two recordings at the same volume: the loudest notes on both recordings will always be at the same level.

The compressed version has all the info of the entire recording and sounds just right. However, when we switch to the higher dynamic range version something happens: the quietest notes will be 30dB lower than those same notes on the compressed version and likely lost. To our ear/brain, this higher dynamic range version doesn’t sound more dynamic, in fact, it likely sounds less dynamic because much of the information we use to mentally measure dynamics are simply lost.

When we playback at the same volume the compressed recording our ear/brain registers a greater range of loudest and softest and thus we decide it is the dynamic winner.

With me so far?

Now, let’s change the game. Let’s instead adjust our listening level to the softest portions. To do this on the higher dynamic version we turn the level up so we miss nothing. (We leave the volume the same as in our first example on the lower dynamic version because we can already hear all the softest notes).

Now when the two tracks are played back the loudest portions on the higher dynamic range version is much more dynamic than the compressed one and succeeds in scaring the crap out of us.

A great example of this can be found in the San Francisco Symphony Mahler recordings with Tillson Thomas. Most of the music is at a softer level and so we crank up the BHK preamp from its normal listening number of 30 to 45. We hear everything from the pin drop to the crash of the tympanis and the furious bowing of the basses.

The dynamic range on that recording is stunning.

If you set the level correctly.

 

 

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 always agree with Paul on audio matters, but he’s a lot more of a hobbyist than I am and have to hand it to him, he’s been able to turn his passion into a wonderful business and still stay a hobbyist.

Copper

On March 7, 2016, the first issue of Copper Magazine was launched into the world with zero subscribers.

Today, 171 issues later, Copper Magazine is read by nearly 50,000 subscribers.

I am often asked why we spend the time, money, and energy to publish this ad-free bi-weekly magazine. The answer is rather simple.

Copper is our gift to our community.

In a world where it sometimes seems like everyone’s got an angle to explore or an axe to grind, Copper is a shining example of the joy of serving our community.

And we are fortunate to have at its helm editor Frank Doris. Few people I have met along my half century audio journey are as passionate and generous as Frank.

Like the Carbon Almanac project I was privileged to be a part of, Copper is without affectation.

Both exist to generously serve communities without expectations of returns.

Thanks for your support.

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.

Temperament

Seems to me the more complex the stereo system the more I tend to approach its operation as if it had a mind of its own. I often think of audio equipment as being somewhat temperamental which causes me to approach with caution.

As devices get “smarter” anthropomorphizing them seems a natural consequence. For the briefest of moments, I hesitate before turning on my stereo system to make sure I get the order of turn-on correct.

Working with Octave Record’s Pyramix workstation—the single most intricate and complex DAW made—I often approach with care, afraid to “piss it off”.

Of course, machines don’t get pissed off but they certainly can have that impact on those that interface with them. We love them when they work and get gray hairs when they don’t.

How many of us have our secret formulas of levels, interconnects, positioning, and rituals required for the playing of music? Watch a true vinylphobe’s ritual before the music starts if you’re not convinced.

There’s no question in my mind that between the Octave Studio’s mixroom and our main listening room at PS there is a noticeable personality to each that must be both observed and honored.

The temperament of each person’s high-end audio system is both real and necessary.

Some call it personality while others would not be so humanizing.

Whatever we wish to call it, our systems have a voice!

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 will be replacing their DirectStream DAC, which is a good, but no longer a great DAC, with its relacement. I’ll bet its pretty good!!

Delivering the goods

When you download onto your local hard drive an Octave Records release the copy you store is bit-for-bit identical to the one sitting on the master hard drive at Octave Records.

It doesn’t matter that data traveled through millions of switches, miles of cable, fiber, satellite, coaxial, WiFi, and so on. Once downloaded what sits on your hard drive is absolutely identical to what sits on the master hard drive.

Yet, when I playback that file in Octave’s state-of-the-art mix room it will not sound the same as when you play it back on your system.

It couldn’t.

The files are identical but the systems are not.

But now imagine how close the two could sound if your system were the same as Octave’s mixroom: FR30 loudspeakers, BHK300 monoblocks, BHK preamp, DirectStream MK1 DAC.

If we imagine this setup then the biggest factors determining sound quality are narrowed down to room, setup, cables, and how the data gets into the DAC.

In my experience, it’s that last one that really matters. Most of us can adjust to differences in the room and set up to hear what’s on the recording. Getting data into the DAC turns out to be a very big differentiator—something one of our newest products will soon solve.

The AirLens.

Like the Digital Lens, its ground-breaking predecessor, the soon-to-be-released AirLens gathers all the digital data sent to it by our computers either via Ethernet or WiFi, stores that data in a buffer, then outputs it in perfect order via a fixed low jitter clock.

This is exactly what the original Digital Lens did but the AirLens adds the finishing touch: galvanic isolation between the AirLens and the receiving DAC. This separation of grounds, power supplies, or any physical/electrical connection between the noisy incoming digital data and the sensitive DAC is the key to perfecting the magic wrought by the Digital Lens.

Once connected via the AirLens, your DAC will think it is in noise-free heaven.

We’ll have more information about this exciting new product in late October to early November.

Stay tuned.

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.

Living in a vacuum

As much as our mental faculties like to focus on one thing at a time, the reality is we do not live in a vacuum.

Everything affects everything else.

When we opt for a new phono cartridge it has a very different electrical and sonic character than its predecessor. We’ll need to readjust the cartridge loading, perhaps consider the connecting cables, and then at the loudspeaker’s output, there’s a whole new presentation of music to deal with.

Or consider what happens when we change interconnecting or power cables. The signal or AC power may travel unmolested between equipment but what of noise or other upsetting events unrelated to the signal?

Do you believe your equipment is immune to noise?

Evaluating and judging the impacts of a single piece of equipment or cable within a complex system is a crap shoot at best.

You might love what chili peppers do for your dinner but it probably doesn’t work in a cake because we don’t live in a vacuum.

Our 2-channel audio systems are exactly that: systems.

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.

Another piece of the puzzle

I often tackle the same question multiple times. With each new answer to the same question, the different angle of attack seems to illuminate the lightbulb of understanding for at least one person.

An aha! moment. For me, that’s reason enough to keep trying.

We’re all perhaps a bit weary of me beating the DSD horse. I get it. But, I am also convinced that most of my readers don’t quite understand the difference between the two main digital audio formats: PCM and PDM. And I think it’s important to shine a light on it.

One of our HiFi Family members, Tony Plachy is a retired physicist with a gift for explaining hard-to-follow concepts.

Here’s from one of his comments:

“There is something very special about DSD256. I will try to explain what it does and how it does it. First, lets call DSD256 what it is. PDM ( Pulse Density Modulation ) which is a special case of PWM ( Pulse Width Modulation). I have been to seminars and lectures where notable mastering and recording engineers have said that the remarkable thing about PDM is that when the sampling rate is high enough ( and DSD256 is certainly high enough ) and you make a digital copy of analog music and the convert the copy back to analog what you get back sounds like the original. To say it another way is DSD256 makes exact copies.

I have a DSD recorder that i use to make copies of my best vinyl. It copies at DSD128 and the plays it back at DSD64. During the recording I can toggle between the copy and the original listening to the headphone feed from the recorder. To these old ears the mastering and recording engineers are correct.

How can this be? What does this happen with PDM and why does PCM ( Pulse Code Modulation ) seem to leave a digital footprint on the results? The answer is two things, one of witch I have all ready mentioned. First, the sampling rate must be high enough ( DSD256 or at least DSD128 ). Second, with PDM the amplitude of the analog signal is NOT ( yes, is NOT ) digitized. You can see this for yourself if you go online and find an article that shows the DSD output of digitizing a sine wave. Even if you are not an EE ( Electrical Engineer ) it should be obvious that all you need to do is use an analog low pass filter to get the sine wave back. Do not ever try this if you have the PCM output from digitizing a wave, all you will hear is horrible noise.

So does PDM do this for all music? The answer is yes, it does. To understand this you need to go online again and first look up a guy named Fourier and then look up how a square wave is made from a Fourier series. If you understand this it will be obvious that PDM can make exact copies of all music.

End of lecture, do your homework, this will be on the final exam! 😉

Thanks, Tony!

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 setup dance

In my new book, The Audiophile’s Guide, The Loudspeaker I liken the challenge of system setup to that of a dance.

As in my earlier post about devilish details, the setup dance can either be feared or embraced.

Fearing the dance inevitably leads to shortcuts: desperate attempts not to get sucked into the vortex of one-change-leads-to-another.

In the end, it’s better to embrace the dance as something to look forward to.

This is your chance to really make better that which you have invested so much time, love, and resources.

The end results of dancing with your 2-channel partner can be breathtaking.

If you have a chance to pick up a copy of the book, the associated SACD/download will be available at the end of September, beginning of October (and you will need both).

I’ll keep you in the loop.

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.

Thought I would take a minute to write about Paul McGowan, who owns and operates PS Audio, as well as writing a blog, that I copy, with his permission, almost every day and have for the past severral years.

Besides writing his blog every day, PS Audio also publishes a monthly magazine, only available digitally, that talks about all sorts of things related to audio. It’s called Copper magazine and is accessible here, through their website, www.psaudio.com/copper-magazine.com/

PS Audio is making very good sounding and well built electronics at several different price points, from entry level, to expensive, although in todays high end stereo market, their high end products are damn reasonable and could almost be considered bargains. Their product line  includes Power Protection and AC regeneration products, DAC’s, preamplifiers and power amplifiers. Lately and after several delays spanning several years, now loudspeaker systems.

Besides all this,  PS Audio also has a recording division, called Octave Records, where they make excellent sounding DSD digital releases. While some of the music isn’t that interesting to me, they sound great and I support them because when it comes to an audio hobbyist, Paul is the poster boy for our hobby.

A Monday treat

I had previously written about the great pipe organ project we were involved in for Octave Records.

I still tingle with goosebumps every time I hear the playback of that amazing DSD recording session at Temple Emanuel in downtown Denver.

I thought it might be fun to share with you this Sunday morning a sneak peek at the setup process for the recording and then an actual performance from that recording.

Go here on YouTube and enjoy trumpeter Gabriel Mervine’s father, Ken Mervine (a master of the instrument), at the keyboard of one of the great instruments of all time.

Just watching his feet dance on the pedals is reason enough to watch.

Have fun this Sunday morning.

(This release on Octave Records will be part of a new series we’re preparing: The Art of HiFi. The first release of the new series will be all about ‘dat 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.

Apparently PS Audio’s newest DAC is perfect. Imagine that, as perfect doesn not exist.

So, yes computers for music are noisy and one way to get around a noisy computer is to use an audio only server, specifically made with an eye towards noise. That’s what I do with a Melco server and a T+A MP2500R DAC/SCAD player/Streamer, with galvanic isolation.

Works great and the streamer inside the T+A is wonderful sounding and as good as the WAV files I have ripped onto the Melco!

Know your enemy

I get a lot of flack for my dislike of USB as a medium between the computer and DAC.

Truth is, it’s not USB I don’t like. It’s what USB connects with that bothers me.

Noisy computers.

Here’s the deal. We all know computers are vile, noisy affairs that hopefully are as far away from our pristine high-end audio systems as possible.

When we want to extract music from these noise-ridden contraptions what’s the best arm’s-length, noise-free way to do it?

Ethernet—an isolated one-way communication medium.

What’s the worst way to connect?

USB—a two-way connected open-gate flood of data and noise.

Our goal should be to get the data out of our computers with as little noise and connection as possible, which is why Ethernet (or long-ago fiber optics before Toshiba’s TOSLINK format screwed up our chances for high sample rates) or WiFi are the best choices.

I get it. It’s a heck of a lot easier just to fire up a USB cable and be done with it. Ethernet and WiFi are pains in the keester.

But better.

One possible solution is to use a USB reclocker device like the Matrix.

It helps, but it isn’t perfect.

Perfect is a new DirectStream MK2 DAC with 100% galvanic isolation.

With an MK2 in the system, you can use USB and stop worrying about 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.

Practical matters

A few years ago when we were researching the PS Audio PowerBase product I spent a few weeks digging into the sonic impacts of vibration control.

What I discovered is how much of a difference a solid rack or other means of damping and controlling vibrations in our electronics makes. It’s a big deal.

It’s also a potential rabbit hole.

The more I listened and experimented the more important it seemed to me to place footers and Sorbothane dampers under each and every piece of equipment until it looked like some sort of nightmare.

Why stop there?

How do you decide to stop if everything you do matters?

Where I wound up was a compromise. I bought an excellent and sturdy shelf for the equipment, closed my eyes, turned off the OCD voices, and called it good.

Good enough.

There’s a point in every stereo system and in everyone’s lives where practical matters supersede the temptation to go further and further.

I don’t compromise on equipment and cable upgrades but I do draw the line on just about everything else from room treatments, seating, vibration control, and even lighting enhancements.

Yes, it all matters.

But then the practical side of life gets in the way.