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.

Silly Putty

It’s tempting to believe that “reality” is fixed. That what happens to us is just the way it is.

I have a very different view. To me, reality is a story we tell ourselves. A story that helps explain the world around us. Change the story and reality changes with it.

Reality is kind of like Silly Putty. You shape it the way you want. Then, slowly but surely, it deforms over time until you put more energy into reshaping it again.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s imagine your reality is such that no matter what you do or try your stereo system just isn’t as resolving or as musical as you want it to be. I would suggest you can reshape that reality in any number of different ways: new audio equipment, new media, change of venue.

We know resolving musical systems exist.

What’s to stop you from having the same?

One view says we can’t because of a long list of hurdles. The other view recognizes hurdles can be crossed if we are willing to put out the effort.

What’s holding you back?

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.

Maybe Paul’s hearing has changed a wee bit?

Just a little louder please

For many years I marked the volume setting for each track in my reference library. On playback, it was easy to set the proper level by adjusting it up or down to compensate for the number of listeners in the room.

Then something changed. I am not sure exactly what but I suspect it was an incremental combination of things: a new software upgrade for DirectStream coupled with new cables.  Whatever the cause, over time I started noticing a desire to turn up the sound a few notches above where my reference marks were.

Have you experienced the same sort of thing? You have a stereo system that’s perhaps on the edge of a slight brittleness or brightness. You’re hesitant to turn up the music too loud. Then something changes that removes the touch of glare and voila! Time to crank it up just a bit.

Some tracks of music and some types of audio equipment encourage playback at louder levels while other combinations are not quite so welcoming.

When I look at my reference library I can see the trend towards playback of the tracks that encourage me to turn it up just a little louder.

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.