Tag Archives: Albums

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.

Yes indeed, but not always practical.

Acoustic treatments

It is ironic that the best acoustic treatment I know of is made from ordinary stuff. Books, LP’s, Albums.

We go to great expense and long lengths to acoustically treat our rooms, yet when it comes right down to it, the best sounding rooms are typically filled with ordinary stuff. And lots of it.

How do you know when your room is acoustically correct? Just listen to your voice when inside the room. If it sounds natural you’re 90% the way there.

More than a few times I have recommended to people interested in damping or diffusing the point of first reflection to simply purchase a pair of tall bookshelves and fill them with either books or albums. My preference, by the way, is books. Books are uneven and that randomness helps diffuse sound in a very natural way.

Nothing I know of works better.

And, you don’t even have to have read the books. 🙂

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 is building speakers!!

Sentaitionalism

We love the sensational. We rubberneck at accidents. Our eyes jump at breaking news. And few things are more sensational than the imminent demise of an institution.

The pundits love to clean their crystal balls and trumpet the future. Yet, it’s rare the future just plops down on us without our notice. Take the cries of doom and gloom for the venerable Compact Disc. Despite the fact most of us have hundreds, if not thousands, of the silvered optical discs, we hear it’s time to forget we own them and certainly time to mothball our players.

Yet, for most of us, this just simply is not true. We hang on to our collections of physical mediums like CDs and albums because there isn’t yet a ubiquitous alternative we can rely upon. Yes, there are lossless streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz, but Tidal’s said to be on shaky ground and neither has my library of tracks.

Here’s where I believe the actual state of things is. The generations of music lovers born into the 1980s are either streaming lossy files or listening to vinyl. Most are in the streaming camp and don’t own much in the way of physical media. They’ve grown up with the idea of streaming and are comfortable with it. When they get to an age where sound quality matters they assume lossless streaming will be ready for them. And, they’re probably right.

For those earlier generations raised on physical media, we will continue to keep our collections at the ready. Some, like me, have transferred much of our libraries onto hard drives and that trend will continue growing as servers and rippers become easier to use. At the moment, the state of the art in servers is mostly a bewildering mess.

On another note, for those interested in the continuing development of our upcoming line of Arnie Nudell inspired loudspeakers, I am including this cool mockup of the AN-1, our top of the line replacement for the Infinity IRSV in Music Room One. This bad boy has the same six 12″ servo-controlled woofers as the IRS only these will be built in (3 per side with slots in the wood trim panels). At 7 feet tall they are almost the same height as the IRSV but far slimmer and easier to fit into a home. The driver compliment has five 10″ tall folded ribbon AMT midranges, sixteen 1″ ribbon tweeters, and two 8″ servo-controlled midbass couplers on the front. Two more AMT midranges, four tweeters, and another 8″ midbass coupler grace the rear. Internally there are over 4,000 watts of woofer and midbass amplifiers to get the lower end right. If all goes as expected the speaker will be quite efficient with (hopefully) 95dB sensitivity, meaning you can drive this beauty with just about anything from a 20-watt tube amp to a 300-watt BHK monoblock.

No pricing or availability yet, just a sneak peek. There will also be two smaller models in the line. The AN-3 will be the entry-level model and the AN-2 what most will aspire to own.

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.

As I cheerfully re-rip my 2000+ CD’s, due to some really bad Mac service, this post from Paul McGowan at PS Audio hit home with me.

I have these CD’s, which if I had sold after originally ripping them to my computer, I’d be screwed, as well as a couple thousand vinyl LP’s, many of which are very special.

They will eventually go to our kids and along with my stereo system, in which a few of the components might becoming collectible, might be a better long term investment than most of the other things I’ve invested in. Not solely because they will be worth more money as time go’s by, but rather the emotional enjoyment they will also be able to bring.

Now, from Paul.

Is it yours?

When I first started PS Audio some 40 years ago, times were tough. The company was definitely a labor of love, one we not only didn’t make any money at, but instead, invested every nickel we had (and didn’t have) just to keep the dream alive.

One of my regrets was selling my album collection. Over my many years as a DJ I had amassed a pretty amazing record collection. Thousands of first pressings, hard to find albums from all over the world. One by one to pay the bills, I sat at the swap meet each Sunday selling enough of them for one to two dollars apiece to buy groceries for the week. The good news is that money carried us through some tough times. The bad news is obvious.

These sales took place in the 1970s, a time when there was no Napster, no worries by labels of copying and owner’s rights to purchased music. That’s not so true today.

Selling your own copies of that same music comes with some risk if you were not the original owner. In my case, many of the albums I sold were promo copies and gifts from musicians. Technically, I broke the law selling them. The same would be true today if it was a CD, not originally purchased by me.

This whole copyright thing makes my head hurt and to be honest, I treat it as I do the warnings on bedding I purchase not to remove the safety label.

Of course copying and selling is wrong, and wrong on any number of grounds. But what you do with your media collection, regardless of how it was obtained, is your business.

That’s not legal advice. It’s just my opinion.

 

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

The new record store

The record store around the corner used to be our mainstay for music. It was the place you went after hearing something on the radio. Or perhaps you just wanted a new music fix, and thumbed through albums to pick one. How many times were we in the record store and the proprietor had new music blasting through a vintage pair of speakers high on a shelf? And we bought that music.

Images of vinyl shoppers with headphones swaying to unheard music and reading album covers, are fond memories of a bygone era.
Today’s record store lives in the cloud and streams to our equipment over unseen wires.

But I miss the old record stores. No, not the Tower Records and corporate vinyl supermarkets. I miss the neighborhood outlets that curated with personal passion. And I miss the camaraderie that came with the stores. There’s a certain appeal to sharing media with others, like watching movies in a theater.

Streaming services may be the new record stores, but we should be thinking about how to bring back the shared experience in this digital age. I am not advocating a return to vinyl and their shops, but a new paradigm of sharing with like minded people around the world.

Community always trumps life in a vacuum.

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.

Computer music: the library

I recently spent time with my friend Michael Fremer (the Stereophile reviewer). Mike’s the king of vinyl. His entire basement listening room is filled with albums; thousands and thousands of albums, lining walls, shelves, pressing up against the listening chair, overflowing like a weed that’s taken over.

There’s little room for more in Mike’s home, yet more come and he struggles with where to put them. And he seems to remember what he has and where he stores them. He’s amazing.
I, on the other hand, have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, let alone what the contents of my music library is and where it is stored. But I have a secret weapon. My entire library is available to me at the touch of a finger on my iPad. Thousands of tracks are there. Tracks I hadn’t thought of in a long time, and I am reminded on a regular basis what this or that album is or when I got it, and I play it by pushing a button.

The advent of digital audio has brought progress in service of the music. Greater dynamic range, lowered noise, and better sound when the system owner has focused their attentions on optimizing playback for that media.

And here’s a side note before I continue. Mike loves to demonstrate the superior sound of vinyl to all that will listen. And what’s fascinating to me is he’s right. At Fremer’s home vinyl rules. In every case, when we compare digital audio to vinyl audio, vinyl wins hands down. If you visit Music Room One, I can demonstrate the exact opposite. So which is right? I think the answer lies in system optimization. I have made every decision in my system in service of optimizing one media, digital. Mike Fremer has done the opposite. And while each of us pays lip service to having maximized media performance of the ‘other format’, the truth is neither of us has really done so.

If we accept the idea of digital audio as our primary source of music, we can enjoy one major aspect of it without regrets for sound quality; library management. Regardless of how you interface with your computer: server, phone, website, or tablet, digital files have the distinct advantage of easy organization that allows normal human beings the pleasure of scrolling through their libraries without leaving their armchairs. While vinyl aficionados are jumping up to stalk their rows of plastic and search their libraries between cuts, those of us with well organized digital libraries have the clear upper upper hand when it comes to selection.

iTunes, the world’s most popular music management program, is the point we will be starting with to understand how we take advantage of all the cool features inherent in a digital audio library.

Today’s takeaway: iTunes, JRiver, Windows media, Sonos, etc., are music management products – spreadsheets with pretty interfaces, used to catalog and organize your music collection.

Whatever else they do/provide, is secondary to this one task.

She turns into a tree?

Now that we have a rough understanding of the differences between classic digital audio (PCM) and the format Sony popularized in their SACD version of digital audio (DSD), it probably makes sense to explain why any of this even matters.

We  recognize that at the end of the day, all most of us want is to be able to sit and enjoy music on our stereo systems.  How that music is captured, stored and played back is of interest only when you’re digging deep to figure out what SHOULD work best for you and how to set an acceptable level of performance.  If you’re digging a track of music do you really care how it was recorded?

In my case, for example, the vast majority of my listening is on good old PCM CD’s, a few albums and the occasional high resolution digital.  Many of my favorite recordings and music are chosen not for their format – but how they sound and how they make me feel.  Much of that has to do with the music itself.  Occasionally I’ll find a recording of music that’s extremely well done but I simply don’t engage with the music.  In other cases I appreciate the music but the recording is so bad it just doesn’t work for me.  Do you feel the same?

My friend Jim McCullough of Cello recommended a track off of the Harmonia Mundi recording (Peter McGrath engineer) of Apollo and Dafne that I enjoy (track 8), but I listen to track 9 because it’s one of the loveliest pieces of music I know of, plus it is a tough one to playback properly.  Written by Handel, it features soprano Judith Nelson singing in harmony with the oboe.  The majesty of the piece depends entirely on the interplay between the two “instruments” working together.  When everything’s right, it’s easy to imagine how the composer must have wanted the performance to sound.  When not right, the singer and the instrument are disjointed and separate from each other.  One is magic, the other just good.

This is a standard PCM CD at 44.1kHz, 16 bit and it’s amazing.  Could it be better in DSD?  Better in a higher resolution?  Indeed, but I don’t want that to ever get in my way.

So, why does it matter to us the format, the technology, or any of that when a good old CD sounds just fine?

We care because the quest for better is built into most of us; certainly me.  I am not willing to give up something as lovely as the track I just described for technology, but if I can have better I will always go for it to the best of my ability.

That’s why it’s important to understand the boundary conditions we set for acceptability of what we care about – whether music, performance or both.


Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Trade offs

Trade offs

I miss the routine of choosing an album, removing it from its sleeve, washing the record, cleaning the needle, placing the tone arm just so and hearing the first contact in the groove and the subsequent ticks and pops just before the glorious music plays from the speakers- this is something I almost never do anymore since I went digital.

I also miss picking up an encyclopedia and browsing through it to see what might catch my attention, or the dictionary to see what new word might jump out at me – this is something I almost never do anymore since the advent of Google.

We give and we get.

I wouldn’t trade what I have for what I had, but it’s good to remember nothing’s perfectly clean and life is a good set of trade-offs.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Death of the Album?

Dave Paananen, our director of engineering, asked “Isn’t it obvious the need for an album or CD is rapidly becoming unnecessary?”

At first I dismissed the thought, so ingrained is the notion of an artist creating a package around a body of work, but then I realized he is right.  The medium itself has always dictated the package musicians use to wrap around their work.

There’s the famous story of Sony founder Akio Morita’s dictate to set the length of the CD to 74 minutes in order to play the entire Beethoven 9th, which probably isn’t true but a great story anyway, to 45 rpm 2-sided discs for hit releases, the LP or Long Playing record, the 78 rpm, etc.  All content packaged as an album, or set of tracks, has been dictated by the capabilities of the medium.

The concept of the album came about because of the restrictions of the physical medium it was stored on.

Another good example is multi-disc sets of CD’s or vinyl.  From the perspective of a connected library, it makes little sense to separately display all 14 discs with identical cover art of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, instead I simply compile them all together in one “album” with many tracks.

Now that we’re entering the age of the physical medium having essentially no limits, why should an artist feel restricted to produce a musical package of a specific number of tracks and time?

I think Dave’s correct in his observation: we are witnessing the death of the album/CD as a package.

More freedom for musicians, more music freedom for us.

From Paul’s Posts….Paul McGowan from PS Audio.