Tag Archives: Audio Equipment

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.

Almost every piece of stereo gear I’ve gotten takes some amount of break in and it’s for real.  Most of them sound good out of the box, but then change. Some happen quickly and some, like a pair of Parasound JC-1 monoblocks I had several years ago, change slowly. The Parasound’s changed until they settled in at about a months worth of use. I swear…

The break-in myth

When we take home new audio equipment it must spend time getting comfy within our system. New out-of-the-box gear can often sound tight, restricted, harsh. Over time and usage, products loosen up and become better suited to the new system. That, at least, embodies the break-in myth. fact, or fiction?

Are we the ones breaking-in or the equipment?

At face value it seems impossible an individual product can adjust its performance to have better synergy within a given system, and yet how many of us have not experienced break-in?

From an engineering perspective, we know that capacitors and dielectrics change characteristics with use. But are those changes audible? Measurable?

Too many of us have experienced the effects of break-in to ignore it or call it a myth. But, it does vary from product type to product type. For example, our newest product, the PerfectWave SACD Transport benefits little from break-in while our latest power amplifier, the M1200, demands literally weeks to sound good. These variances between products require changes to our production methods. Transports are burned in for 12 hours in an effort to weed out any potential problems while M1200s are burned in for 72 hours just so they don’t sound dreadful upon arrival.

Break-in is not a myth, but it isn’t a concrete fact for all products either.

You’ll just have to live with some variability and trust your ears.

 

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.

Recording power

The art of great recordings comes more from the engineer than their audio equipment and the same is true for just about any artist: A painter’s skill vs. her oils and brushes, a photographer’s eye vs. his camera, an author’s words vs. her keyboard.

Imagine a recording session where there’s not enough presence to the cymbals or too little intimacy between the bow and string. The recording engineer need only move or change microphones until just the right mix is heard.

Yet another reason why recording monitors are critical. Recordings are emotional affairs crafted solely by ear. No measurements need apply. It either sounds right or it doesn’t.

The power found in the recording is more than just faithfully capturing the notes and sounds without distortion.

There are magic and emotions to be captured and shared.

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.

Put lousy sounding audio equipment in a great room and it will sound lousy. Put great stereo equipment in a lousy room and it wont sound great. There needs to be a balance of both. I’m lucky that I have a great room and great audio equipment from Rogue Audio, Luxman, T+A (THeory + Application),  Well Tempered Labs and Dynavector. Things usually sound great over here!!

Setup and rooms

We all pay at least lip service to the importance of rooms and setup though I suspect in our heart of hearts we believe the components are really the key to sound quality.

It’s truly a chicken and egg sort of thing: crappy equipment in a great room isn’t going to sound amazing just like excellent equipment in a crappy room’s not going to set your hair on fire.

But like the age-old debate about whether sources are more important than loudspeakers, the truth behind setup and room importance vs. the contribution of the stereo equipment is always going to be a contentious one.

I have heard equipment I have little respect for sound more than amazing in a well set up room. In fact, if I had to summarize my years of experience, I’d have to say I’ve heard better high-end audio systems of medium quality equipment in great setups than the opposite.

I can’t tell you the number of great collections of equipment that have sounded dreadful. Yet, knowing that equipment can sound amazing leads me to conclude that in the end, all things considered, setup, and room is more important than the components playing in them.

Just sayin’.

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

Nothing’s the same

It is of endless fascination to me how unique our systems are. There’s nothing in the world like Music Room Two and nothing sounds the same either.

And what you have in your home is as unique as mine. No one has the same room, furniture, setup, altitude, humidity, flooring, audio equipment, video equipment and cabling that you do. And, it all matters to the end result.

Which is why it’s important to take advice from others with a grain of salt. I can advise you all day long to try this cable, swap out that amp for another, or reposition your system in a certain way, but that advice cannot be faithfully followed without self-evaluation.

It is up to each of us to choose what works for us. We evaluate our choices by listening to the end result.

If our systems reproduce music in ways that move us emotionally—connecting us closer to the artist—then our unique setup is working.

There are many things in this life we share, but our systems are not one of them.

They are as unique as we are.

 

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.

Nagging questions

I’m often asked the same question: If the ultimate goal is to perfectly recreate what was on the recording, then why wouldn’t we be duplicating the monitoring systems in recording studios?

It’s a great logic puzzle because it seems so obvious. If we had what the recording engineer had then we’d hear what they hear.

Like so many puzzles were stumped because the question has a not so obvious flaw. As proposed there’s only one answer. Yes. If we stood in the same room with the same audio equipment then we would hear exactly the same thing. But here’s the rub. Unless we’re thinking about duplicating in its entirety a recording studio control room, and only listen to the very same track mastered in that very room, the argument begins to fall apart.

Our stereo systems have to accommodate all sorts of recordings and do so evenly without favor to one type or another. This is one of the reasons I have my list of tracks that vary in quality and content across a broad spectrum of music.

It’s a great question, but the answer reveals more than one might expect.

We are not trying to duplicate anything other than the sound of music.

 

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 taste scale

You’ve been to the supermarket and stared at row upon row of packaged foods. Each announces how good it is and how much you’re going to enjoy it. Kind of like audio equipment, right? No manufacturer makes what they consider to be bad sounding stereo goods just as no food manufacturer makes products they think taste bad.

And yet, there are so many times I’ve bought into the marketing on the front of the package only to find out it was not for me.

The problem is we cannot tell by ingredients alone what something’s going to taste like. If I am in the cookie section and focus only on organic this, and natural that, it doesn’t tell me squat about how it’s actually going to taste.

What would happen if we agreed on a taste scale? You know, a 1-10 great taste scale as determined by an official set of certified tasters? Kind of like reviewers in the audio market.

I would then be able to quickly scan down the plethora of cookies and suss out the few 10s and take them home. Done! No more bad choices.

Only, what do you want to bet my tastes aren’t always going to line up with theirs? That despite the list of ingredients, despite the taste testers, the end product may not match my tastes.

I think this is a good example of a couple of things. First, it helps us understand why audio measurements only tell us a tiny bit of a bigger story. Second, it helps us understand why our experiences often do not match those of others. Our systems, our homes, our personal biases do not always line up with others.

There’s only one way to make a choice. Do what you can to narrow the field by manufacturer, reputation, and review. Then you gotta take it home and give it a taste, or a listen.

The only valid taste or listening scale is your 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.

Evaluating audio equipment by ear can sometimes be challenging, while other times it’s as obvious as the nose on your face. It’s a lot easier to evaluate a video system, as our eyes are our dominant trait.

I’m always happiest when I know what an amplifier has to say for itself within the first 30 seconds of listening: yikes! this needs work; wow! this deserves more listening. Clear, clean, simple.

The tough part of evaluation comes when it’s not a clear matter of better or worse, but rather different and deciding which you prefer.

The upcoming M1200 monoblock amplifiers are like the latter. As soon as you put them in the system a smile pops on your face and your toe starts tapping. They are instantly great and you know it from the first few notes of music. Nothing is missing.

But are they better than the BHKs?

The quick answer is no. There’s a musicality and a sweetness to the BHKs that just can’t be touched, but without careful AB comparison, that’s not obvious.

To call one the “winner” and the other the “loser” has vast implications that hide the truth.

If we’re forced to think in terms of winners and losers, perhaps it’s best to imagine a close race rather than a football game.

Coming in second place by mere tenths of a second hardly qualifies one as a loser.

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.

Audible cues

Over years of evaluating differences in audio equipment, one accumulates an audible library of sonic cues from which to judge differences. Cues such as harmonic overtones, extended decay, room modes in the recording, placement, soundstage dimensions. The list is actually quite long.

For those of us with big libraries in our heads, it may not be easy to remember how overwhelming it can be for newcomers evaluating differences in audio or video equipment. I can certainly recall hearing so many differences that singling out one from the many felt impossible—like picking a single face out of a crowd of thousands.

When asked for advice on how to get comfortable with the evaluation process, my go-to answer is to keep it simple and easily identifiable, like a singer and acoustic guitar, two easily recognizable instruments.

Often, the mistake newcomers make is to jump feet first into the big and complex pieces of music, hoping the expected improvements will wash over them like a tsunami. This often leads to disappointment.

Better to keep it simple.

 

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.

Illusion of touch

I love turning the lights down low in Music Room 2. All of them. Sitting in the dark. Only the glow of the audio equipment casts its light into the room.

The music comes out of the blackness and it’s so real I can almost touch it. Palpable. So intense that it feels like others are in the room.

Isn’t this what we’re all hoping for? That feeling of being there, of having something special in our homes—the sense we have moved from a 2-dimensional facsimile to a three dimensional wonderland unfolding in our listening room.

I don’t know of anything else in my life that can contribute such a reality shift. Not my home theater, certainly. Perhaps a great novel transporting me somewhere else. But novels take work.

We’re building the means by which our HiFi Family can share in the magic of music at the press of a button.

Now that’s something real and rare.

Treasure 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.

Outer vs. inner

How important is the outer casework of your audio equipment? For me, it matters a great deal.

I want the outside to reflect what’s inside.

And yet I can just as easily turn those feelings off and enjoy the performance of a new design that’s built on top of a piece of plywood.

I suppose it comes down to expectations. If I am presented with a prototype I turn off the side of me that wants to equate inner and outer qualities.

Once I am in the mode of evaluating a complete package, my feelings toward the product are a reflection of both its inner working and outer expression of quality.

I know it’s in fashion to say “it’s all about the inner beauty” but truth be told, that’s just not true for me.

I gotta have it all.