Tag Archives: audio system

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.

Stand out products

When a piece of stereo gear sonically singles itself out in an audio system it is typically not a good thing. What we hope for is a synergistic pairing of components that benefit the whole.

Sure, it’s not only alright but actually welcomed when we can add a product that elevates the whole. But then elevating the whole is the point, right?

I remember years ago when I experimented with a Teac Dolby noise reduction system designed to “eliminate hiss, pops, and unwanted artifacts of sound.”

Unfortunately, it was a stand out product that eliminated more than simply unwanted noise.

I love visually attractive stand out products.

I am not so sure about those that sonically stand out from the rest of the system.

For me, the beauty of music is found in the perfection of the whole.

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

Over-etched sound

Back in the days when movie moguls like Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn ruled Hollywood, cinematographers used soft lenses to enhance the beauty of their starlets.

The softening of the face was thought to add to the star’s beauty because we could not see skin imperfections like pores, wrinkles, and blemishes.

Today, we use razor-sharp lenses and apply makeup to remove the anomalies.

Both techniques were aimed at the same goal. The reduction of imperfections.

We can relate these practices to our own passions in audio.

Like an over-etched or over-sharpened image, some combinations of stereo cables and transducers go too far by unnaturally emphasizing certain areas of sound (cables by means of unequal attrition and transducers by specific addition).

When this happens we’re at first enamored by the increase in detail but over time we’re less drawn into the music.

High levels of detail that are not in balance with the overall presentation of the music can act as a harsh light that makes us squint.

Perfection in an audio system is found when we achieve the perfect balance.

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

The special person

Just because someone hears a high-end audio system—marveling at how lifelike and far from what they listen to it is—rarely does it equate to them running down to the store and buying one.

It takes a special person to become inspired to the point of taking the leap that changes their life.

Is it one out of a thousand that hears a great stereo system and decides for themselves that this is worth their time?

I don’t have any insight into the numbers.

What I do know is that it takes a very special person to care enough about the quality of their musical reproduction system to invest their energies into building one for themselves.

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.

Preconception

What an interesting idea. To preconceive of something. See the future in your mind’s eye. Imagine how something is going to sound.

When one of our engineers like, Darren, Bob, Chris, or Chet come to me with their grand vision of how a proposed new stereo product is going to sound or a new design is going to look, they have this amazing preconception of the final result. They share it with me in such a way that I too get excited of the prospects for its end results despite the fact it doesn’t actually exist.

And then the long weeks and months of hard work begin. Work needed to turn a vision into a reality.

Rarely does the finished product match exactly the preconception, but more often than not it’s at or beyond the level of expectation.

And when we exceed our expectations of a future vision that’s when it feels like magic.

Whether you’re dreaming of building a high end audio system or imagining how much better it will sound by swapping out this product or that, the act of preconception is how we establish the dreams that become our reality.

Imagine that!

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.

Critical thinking

You can find information and knowledge on just about any subject in the world. Just Google it. Have a math problem? There are online calculators at the click of a mouse. Need a chemical formula? No problem. Design a room for best stereo sound quality? It’s a few clicks of the mouse away.

With a bit of time and persistence, the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips.

What the immense resources of our connected world bring to the party is only going to become more easily accessed over time. What’s not available online, however, is the ability to think.

Critical thinking skills seem to be rather scarce these days. And, that’s a shame because even with all the resources on the planet if one doesn’t know how to use reason and logic to solve a problem, we’ll never get to where we want to go.

Take for example the skill required to source and set up a high end audio system. Because each environment is so different it becomes necessary to not only have the knowledge needed to cobble the right separates and interconnects together, but the ability to think about how to best optimize the system within the room.

Understanding the why of how things work is the first step to thinking through a problem.

Or, take as another example an engineer. When we hire engineers and programmers we evaluate them more on their ability to think as opposed to the knowledge in their heads. Knowledge can be added or easily Googled. Thinking is a learned skill that some have invested in while most have not.

I won’t get into a rant about the state of our school systems with respect to the teaching (or lack thereof) of critical thinking skills. I get that the education machine struggles with just teaching the basics of maths, language, and history.

If you have a choice, go for the assets that have developed thinking rather than simply spewing information.

Information is easy. Solving problems is where the fun is.

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.

Labels

Labels are necessary for communication yet offered without thought of consequences they can be destructive.

There’s no harm in labeling sodium chloride as table salt. In fact, labeling a shaker of white crystals as “salt” is extremely helpful at the dinner table.

But what happens when we label stereo equipment with opinions? For example, labeling a particular phono cartridge as wooden or tight-assed can destroy a product’s reputation. Imagine taking home an expensive moving coil cartridge and on your audio system, it doesn’t sound right. You label it with your opinion and it is forever tainted—even if all that might have been wrong was your ability to set it up properly.

I remember the first time I heard about Cambridge Audio products. Asked what their shtick was I was told it earned the label: cheap gear. Good, but cheap. It wasn’t until I spent the time to audition their products myself that I realized the label was not only unwarranted but unfair. Not because it wasn’t inexpensive gear (it was) but because that label assigned it a low value in people’s minds. I began to support the brand by telling people it was an exceptional bargain.

PS Audio products were for years labeled as “The poor man’s Audio Research”. I guess that’s a compliment, though I probably could have picked a better label.

I guess my point is we should be careful about the labels we assign products and certainly people.

They have a habit of sticking.

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 heard the PS Audio system at their previous location and very good, although that room was too small for the Infinity IRS V loudspeakers.

Reference

The three P20 Power Plants, two BHK monoblock amplifiers, 12 channels of 1,000 watt amplification, the Infinity IRSV and all the other peripherals to be found in Music Room Two form the basis of the PS Audio Reference System.

Is it the best system in the world? Of course not. There’s likely no single system that might qualify for that honor.

What we can say, however, is that it is a reference-quality system. And what does that actually mean?

In my view, a reference system has a number of requirements. It must be neutral, full range, highly resolving, unflappable, and most important, reliably utilize all its merits to test the identity, strength, quality, and purity of any connected gear. In other words, it cannot impart its identity on devices under test.

While constant improvements to the system are expected—even demanded—those improvements must always be made with the goal of neutrality without suffering sonic bias.

A true reference system is different than a maxed out home audio system. In the former, we want limitless unbiased resolving power where, in the latter, we accept bias in favor of knocking our socks off.

You probably don’t have a reference quality system at home, but in the long run, that’s likely a good thing.

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.

And the music, room and listening tastes!!

Best place to set volume

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple set of rules and guidelines for audiophiles to follow?

Do this and get that?

I’ve tried my best, in the Audiophile’s Guide, to get as close as possible to that standard. Do this and get that works in the Guide because you’re part of a process that involves feedback. Your ears tell you if you’re getting close and then the Guide explains what to do if you’re not.

What we don’t have is a simple set of “switches”. Do this and get that instructions that work without feedback and tweaks are rare.

For example, where’s the best place to set the volume level in a digital audio system? DAC at 100%? Computer at 100%. Preamp in the mix or not?

The problem with saying one way or the other is the right way is that it depends. Yes, it depends. It depends on what kind of equipment you have. It depends on the synergy of the system.

A preamp in the chain is the right way to go but only if the preamp is of a certain quality.

How do you know if it has the right quality?

The right place to set the volume or the best cable to use is dependent on a set of variables and without identifying the proper variables it’s difficult to answer.

The best place to set the volume depends on the system.

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.

Before taking the plunge

We are all different.

When I want to learn something I jump in feet first, immerse myself, learn and do everything I can so that later it becomes easy—second-hand nature.

Others ease into the learning slowly, drip by drip until it’s easy.

My method works for me because I can quickly pivot if the path I am taking appears wrong. Others would be better served to take their time and make minor tweaks along the way.

However you learn the art of building a high-end audio system—taking the plunge or starting small and growing over time—it’s important to remember that finding a good starting point can be critical. Our lifelong opinions are shaped at the end of our learning process.

Study up before taking the plunge.

If we start off on the wrong foot, cobbling together a compromised system that misses the mark, it may take a lifetime to unravel bad habits learned.

Once formed, opinions are awfully difficult to change.

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.

Tinkering

One hundred years ago a tinkerer was a traveling craftsman skilled in the art of metal repair. He would be invited into homes to repair eating utensils and small metal objects.

Today, in our disposable society, there’s no need for a person to repair a mangled spoon or a fork’s broken tine. We just throw it out and replace it.

A more modern usage of the word tinkering might apply to an audio purist’s quest to build a musical system. A modern tinkerer will mix and match stereo components, tweak and tune an audio system until reaching a new level of purity.

When it comes to high-end audio I cannot think of another personal pursuit that so encourages tinkering. Most endeavors support the use of pre-approved (often brand-specific) components: Canon lenses on Canon cameras, Tesla swag on Tesla cars.

Not so much HiFi. DACs from one manufacturer connect to preamps from quite another and both interconnected from yet a third vendor.

Mixing and matching, tinkering and adjusting, tweaking and tuning.

It’s part of what makes our passion so unique and our results so personal.