Tag Archives: amplifier

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.

Straight wires

The many-decades-old term “Straight Wire” wasn’t referring to a wire without kinks. Instead, it meant that the music passed straight through the wire without affectation. The first time I heard it was from reviewer J. Peter Moncrief of I.A.R.. (though I believe he borrowed the term from designer Stuart Hegeman of Harmon Kardon).

Peter had devised a test that compared the sound of music passed through a wire to that of an amplifier with gain. The idea was a simple one. If you could gain match the amplifier to the wire and audition the differences you might be able to judge the amp’s performance. He called it his straight wire with gain test.  He wasn’t alone. Stereophile founder and reviewer J. Gordon Holt standardized a similar test he called his A/B Bypass Test.

The long and short of these tests were to make certain there was nothing added nor removed from the purity of the musical signal. This was a great idea if that’s what you were aiming for. But there were wrinkles. The first problem was the very act of gain matching equipment has an impact on sound quality. Next came the problem that units passing the straight wire test didn’t always sound as good as others that contained slight colorations. Then the kicker came when we realized wires too had a sound to them.

In the end, we have to go back to what we know the best. We need to trust our senses and memories to use as a reference. We need to attend concerts and recitals and sharpen our memory of what real music, unamplified and unaided by microphones and mixing boards, sound like.

Then, we can bypass all the wires—straight or otherwise—and simply use the two little appendages alongside our heads to determine what’s right or wrong.

Simple, no?

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.

Fighting the great unseen

40 years ago we added defenses against an unseen enemy: a scourge of fidelity, an attack on musicality. We couldn’t see this demon but we certainly knew of its impacts. It was pervasive, heard but hidden. A layer of added grit and pain to the music.

A $0.20 sword was all it took to slay the beast. Our weapon of choice was a single small capacitor placed at the input of our power amplifiers.

The enemy within had a name: ultrasonics, and we had ignored it because an evil sorceress had cast a spell upon us. She waved her calculator and said, “you cannot hear beyond 20kHz so ignore my pet! and let it run free.” And we did, but still, we could smell its scorched earth and feel the pain inflicted by this unseen devil as it defiled all in its wake.

So strong was the sorcerer’s spell—the engineer’s curse—that we searched for the cause of this added harshness in every place but where it was. And then, one day, it became known to us that its work was invisible. That while it frolicked unseen in the amplifier, everything else was straining under its weight, doing battle, trying to stay true to the music. The harshness we heard was because the amp’s temple of purity was bombarded by this ultrasonic nightmare and once we put a gate at the amp’s entrance the beast could no longer enter, and music became heaven! The sweetness returned when the battle ended.

We had broken the sorceress’ spell, ignored her words, and crafted beauty, finally free of the beast that hid inside the amp.

All for $0.20 in parts and years of pain and searching.