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.

Status roles

I am aware it makes some of us a bit uncomfortable to admit we use our stereo system’s status as our calling card, but I’d like to suggest it’s fine.

There’s nothing wrong with rating yourself by the status of your audio equipment.

“I am an audiophile,” said the first, proudly.

“Yeah? What’s your system?” asked the second.

As the list of prized components gets rattled off, a judgment forms as to the seriousness and the caliber of the first. This is perfectly normal behavior and one I encourage.

Your equipment is, after all, a reflection of you.

And we should never feel bad or inadequate for being who we are.

We are the best we know how to be.

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.

Does gold matter?

Most high-end audio equipment uses a microscopically thin layer of gold plating on their connectors. We certainly do. It’s what’s expected.

And the general consensus in the audiophile community is that this layer of precious metal makes a sonic difference. I know from personal experience that the choice of precious metals like rhodium, palladium, silver, or gold, has a sonic impact on a quality constructed connector.

How much does the obvious beauty of the outer finish contribute to sound quality vs. the actual construction of the connector?

Here’s my take on it. Gold plating, in and of itself and without benefit of proper cable and connector construction, does not necessarily sound better. We can purchase gold-plated RCA cables from Amazon Basics for $6 that sound like dog-do compared to a well designed nickel plated higher end cable of proper design.

How about if we turn an old saying on its head? All that glitters is not gold might in this context make more sense if it read: All that is gold does not mean it sounds good. (ok, I am not a good adage writer :))

Perhaps the best adage of all would be Beauty is only skin deep.

It’s what’s inside that matters.

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.

While power conditioners/re-generators can be important in a stereo system, the system has to be good and the power lousy to hear a big difference.  However, protecting audio and video equipment from surges is a different story and most good ones do this. I use a Furman isolation transformer that has filtering and balanced power for the lower voltage outlets and power factor corrected high current outlets, for amplifiers. I plug my integrated amps into the high current outlets. The Furman, by its nature as an isolation transformer, is about as good at protecting from surges as anything. It can also output over 80 amps, so it has what Paul is referring to in this article.

Peak demand

In yesterday’s post, I said that today we’d discuss how to increase the size of the power supply capacitors inside connected equipment. A tall order, indeed, but I got sidetracked.

So many of you have written me asking about a certain statement made by my friend, Garth Powell at Audioquest. When asked about regeneration, Garth had correctly said that it’s great for some things but if not properly implemented, not for others.

The only mistake Garth made was including Power Plants in his list of regenerators.

The issue has to do with peak current. To lower impedance and produce regulated, perfect sine waves into a hungry power amplifier you need energy. A LOT of energy in the form of peak current. If we remember, sine waves are formed by voltage and supported by current. And it is the combination of voltage and current that makes all this work.

I like to use an automotive analogy to help explain voltage and current. Think of voltage as the spinning motor and current as the horsepower need to keep it spinning under load. As you’re driving along a flat highway at 60 mph your foot is steady on the gas. As you climb a hill the engine’s RPMs begin to fall and you slow down. You need to step harder on the gas pedal to raise back up those RPMs. You are adding energy. The combination of the spinning motor and the energy available to keep it spinning are expressed in terms of horsepower. In an amplifier, the voltage is the spinning and the current is the motive force. We express this in terms of wattage.

In a regenerator the output AC sinewave feeding your equipment is perfect. As it rises in voltage (faster spinning in our auto analogy) we need more current to keep it going. But what happens when the equipment we are attempting to power’s capacitors are empty and need refilling? (it’s as if suddenly there was a massive hill to climb). We need gobs more energy (current) applied and quickly!

This is called peak demand because it happens at the peak (or the tip) of the AC regenerator’s sinewave. And here is where Garth is correct. With few exceptions, AC regenerators fall short of having enough peak current available. When this happens we get increased distortion as the sinewave collapses.

For most regenerators, we’d be better off going straight into the wall socket.

But, not a Power Plant. Power Plants deliver significantly more peak current than what is available from the wall. We routinely deliver peaks of 70, 80, even 90 amps to the load. The wall socket’s lucky to deliver 15 to 20 (on a good day).

Where does all this extra current come from? It is stored in the many capacitors inside a Power Plant.

Lastly, this might also answer why manufacturers don’t typically build proper regeneration into their products. The number of caps, transistors and pounds of copper and iron necessary are not for the faint of heart.

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 home stretch

In yesterday’s post, we learned that our homes present an impedance of about 1Ω to our stereo equipment. This matters, as you can imagine, because when we try and drive a 4Ω speaker with a power source with that high of an impedance we get power line modulation.

Put another way, we make things worse for any audio equipment plugged into our power lines.

Adding an active power amplifier like that found in a Power Plant will improve that situation by an easy factor of 100. And, 100 times better performance is a welcome thing to most of us.

But now we have an opportunity to make things even better.

If we only use the impedance lowering amplifier for that single purpose we lose the opportunity for a couple of major improvements: voltage regulation and waveform correction.

Our incoming powerlines suffer from all sorts of maladies including fluctuating voltage, waveform distortion (called flat topping), and powerline modulation from equipment in our own home.

Simply lowering the impedance in the line doesn’t solve any of these problems.

That’s where we take the next step in the magic of a Power Plant, we feed the input of our impedance lowering amplifier with a perfect sine wave (instead of the raw incoming power).

Now, we have lowered impedance by a factor of 100 and fixed the waveform and restored the missing energy from a flat-topped sine wave.

Life is good, but we still haven’t tackled the last wish on our list, increasing the size of the power supply capacitors inside our equipment.

How to make the caps in your equipment’s power supply bigger is tomorrow.

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.

Armchair quarterbacks

The classic armchair quarterback can be a valued member of any team. Their dispassionate views often add value to those actually making the plays.

But making the plays, designing the audio equipment, making the tough decisions of how to get from point A to point B is a very different challenge than what a critic faces.

What designers, engineers, and craftspeople bring to the table is hands-on experience—the hard-won skills to successfully bring a new product or service from an idea to a finished piece.

When I share my knowledge and experience of designing and building products with the HiFi Family it comes from a desire to help others see what I see without their having to spend 50 years accumulating it.

I truly love the role reviewers, critics, and armchair quarterbacks play. They are not mired in the detritus of sorting through the years of successes and failures.

I do wonder sometimes if they’ve forgotten the differences between passing judgment and actually envisioning, designing, building, and producing that which they judge.

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.

Defining personalities

We all like to imagine our products are completely neutral, transparent, and without sonic colorations.

Yet, we know that’s simply not true.

Like it or not (and I tend to like it) the designer’s essence, soul, tastes, and biases towards music are a part of the final product. Their tastes influence musical performance in the same way a recording or mix engineer’s decisions determine what’s going to get your stereo, foot tapping.

People, recordings, audio equipment, and even room furnishings imprint their personalities on the music we choose to listen to.

The challenge then is to make sure you like the personalities of what you choose to surround yourself with.

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’ve got a few of these VPI bricks and have for over 20 years. I use them on my Furman Power Conditioner, which has a giant isolation transformer and does buzz a little and it seems to help with that. I’ve never compared them with, and then without. Too much trouble and if they do no harm, I’ll keep using them.

The VPI Brick

Years ago, when Harry Weisfeld was running VPI and probably before son Matt was yet born, there was the Magic Brick.

The Magic Brick isn’t all that complicated. Essentially a transformer without windings. Underneath the wood exterior are steel laminations like those in a transformer. The idea is to redirect and focus magnetic fields in an amplifier or preamplifier away from sensitive internal components.

The Brick was the first tweak I refused to even consider auditioning. At the time, its innards were a mystery, its name used the word “magic”, and it was offered without any explanation as to its workings other than, “I don’t know what it does, but dang! it works!”

A mystery cube. That was enough to make me not want to try it.

What were my fears? Aside from feeling like I was perhaps being made a fool, I was more worried about it actually working. Magic bricks placed atop high-end audio equipment that somehow improved sonics was a frightening prospect.

Unanswered mysteries.

I did finally give in because of Harry Weisfeld—the guy is so genuine how could I not?

Fortunately, it worked and my reward was finally learning its structure and why it worked.

Seems making sense goes a long way towards acceptance.

 

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.

Reviewing the critics

A stereo reviewer is an audiophile with knowledge, experience, and the chops to write about it.

They are essential community assets.

Theirs is a tough job. Imagine the challenge of reviewing loudspeakers. It’s hard enough for any of us to get a new pair of speakers and set them up properly. It must be a magnitude more difficult to do this for a review. Get the setup wrong and readers get an unfair evaluation of the speaker.

And then there’s the challenge of passion. A dispassionate clinical review—one that’s not clouded by personal bias—is what most of us think we’re after. To quote Sgt. Friday, “give us just the facts”.

But honestly, how many of us don’t thrill to a reviewer’s passion? It’s actually what I look for. Their level of excitement tells me more about a product’s virtues than any technical description or dispassionate analysis.

I care about how the stereo equipment made them feel.

Because how the audio equipment makes us feel is what it’s all about anyway.

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.

Guide books

In all my years of designing, building, and playing around with stereo systems, when it comes to performance the two constants have always been audio equipment choices and setup.

And setup trumps equipment choices. The best equipment poorly setup sounds worse than the best setup of poor equipment.

We have reviews and in-home trials to help us find the best equipment, yet the art of setup requires hands-on experience, knowledge, and skill—a problem in our age of virtual connectivity and pandemic lock-downs.

My modus operandi has always been that of a fixit person. See a problem, find a fix. The first CD players sounded dreadful. We figured out the culprit was its internal D to A converter. We invented a better version and launched the world’s first consumer audio digital to analog converter.

Where once an abundance of experienced setup experts eager to apply their skills and knowledge in customer’s homes haunted local stereo dealers, today we live in very different times.

Which is why I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide and spearheaded the creation of its companion music resource, The Audiophile Reference Music Tracks.

The idea of designing a setup system based on a written guide and a recorded reference disc has long been in my toolbox. It’s taken me 45 years to launch it.

Setting up a stereo system takes skill.

Skill can be learned.

Grab a copy of both The Audiophile’s Guide and its companion Reference Music Tracks today.

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.