Tag Archives: audio

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.

Wow and flutter

The terms wow and flutter will bring back memories of tape recorders to some, perhaps pictures of butterflies to others.

Wow is a low-frequency fluctuation while flutter is a much faster version of the same thing. Steady state instruments like oboes and piano are particularly affected by these mechanical distortions prevalent in tape recorders and record players.

I was reminded of these ancient problems when digital audio pioneer, Tom Jung of DMP Records visited Gus Skinas in Octave’s studios. For those of you unfamiliar with DMP records, look up one of my favorites, Tricycle by Flim and the Bbs. To this day it remains one of the punchiest tracks I know of.

It was great to see Tom and we chatted and laughed as we both remembered our relief when the move to digital audio began. No more needles, wows and flutters to worry about. (of course, there was plenty of other problems, but that’s another chapter).

(pictured from left to right: PS Audio’s Gus Skinas, Chris Brunhaver, Darren Myers, and Bob Stadtherr followed by Tom Jung and disc mastering engineer, Matt Lutthans)

I recently ran across a 2018 interview in Stereophile magazine between Jonathan Scull and Tom Jung.

Jung: Well, back in ’76 it was the absence of wow and flutter. No matter how you slice it, it’s still there in analog machines. And you can hear it, especially with the piano. Digital’s absence of wow and flutter sounded more like what was coming off the studio floor. Of course, at the time we couldn’t compare it with the lacquers because they were all carefully packed and sent to the manufacturing plants. But we did compare it with the analog tape, and everybody in the studio thought there were things they liked better about digital. But as time went on I came to realize that digital sounded maybe a bit confused…

Scull: No pun intended?

Jung: [laughs] Anyway, something we had in analog was missing. So no free lunch, but overall digital was a better thing from the get-go.

Scull: Ah, a chink in the armor. What was missing, do you think?

Jung: Well, information. You know the way PCM or any digital works—it breaks the analog signal down into little pieces. And I’ve learned that the smaller the pieces are, the better it’s going to sound. That, and a lot of attention to detail all the way ’round. And, given that, to me DSD just sounds better. In fact, one of the biggest problems with PCM digital today is the analog circuitry that surrounds it. But PCM can sound very good if the analog is really done right both on the A/D and back again.

Remembering our past helps us move forward in our future.

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.

Getting started

We all want better quality high end audio but where do you start if you’re not getting all you hope for?

If the imaging or tonal balance are off, do you work with the loudspeakers or the electronics? If your speakers aren’t disappearing or the music is presented in your lap rather than on a proper soundstage, do you tweak setup or change cables?

It is difficult to know where in any complex system to start.

My advice has always been simple (though often not very satisfying).

At the beginning.

It may seem obvious to some, but if you don’t have the basics of setup, AC power, and room tweaks in place then every effort at improvement is more a Band-Aid than a fix.

I have helped countless audiophiles get a handle on their systems by pulling their attention away from the tweaks and back to the basics.

Getting the fundamentals right—especially the initial speaker and listening position—is critical to every system.

Getting started on fixing weakness when you haven’t first addressed the basics is like trying to shore up a teetering house with chewing gum and baling wire.

Fundamentals first.

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.

More than what’s obvious

In yesterday’s post, I made the point that regardless of the delivery method—transport or streaming—identical digital audio bits received at the DAC should sound the same.

They do not.

Why?

Let me first start with a little story. When we had the opportunity to listen to the PerfectWave SACD Transport (PST) for the first time, we had high expectations. Inside was a new way to handle bits: an extension of the work we had been pursuing for years, the Digital Lens.

A DL is a big buffer with a low jitter fixed output clock. Bits go in one end of the DL, gather together in a holding pen, and then when the jitter-free output clock has the “time” (pun intended), it pulls from the holding pen the next set of digital audio bits to send to the DAC.

The lowered jitter produced by the Digital Lens provided a revolution in sound quality.

What was different inside the PST—the new innovation we had been sitting on pins and needles to hear—was more than just a DL (we already knew what that sounded like). The PST’s internal DL had been galvanically isolated as if it were an entirely separate entity from the PST. We had built this new structure in the hopes of removing the last vestiges of sonic degradation: noise and jitter introduced by the power supplies and shared grounds inside the transport.

It worked. The sonic differences between the new PST and the older DMP it replaced were more than just better. They were extraordinarily better—a first-note-obvious better.

And therein lies what I believe to be the answer to yesterday’s question. Identical bits cannot sound different unless something else has changed. That something else is noise and induced jitter on shared grounds.

Which is why, in large measure, digital audio received from a computer via USB sounds remarkably different than the exact same bits as received from a transport.

It is not the veracity of the bits but all the baggage associated with the gathering and delivery of those bits.

As is almost always the case, it’s more than what’s obvious.

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.

Keeping score

Most businesses are profit-centric. Their decision-making process is based on how to best maximize profits.

That does not describe PS Audio.

PS Audio has always been more about affording all the engineering and production resources necessary to build state-of-the-art products that have enough profit in them to sustain and grow the organization so we can do it again.

This is a rather different business model than most.

Proft-focused companies make decisions based solely on how it will impact their bottom line. They succeed when the profit scorecard gets higher.

We, on the other hand, make decisions based on our primary goal, building great products and community so we can grow and do more of it.

We’d never make it on Wall Street.

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.

Subwoofer history

In one of my Ask Paul video questions, I was asked how far back subwoofers go in 2-channel audio. The community member had only become aware of subs as they related to home theater.

Of course, many readers of Paul’s Post know subs date back much further than home theater.

From Wikipedia: In September 1964, Raymon Dones received the first patent for a subwoofer specifically designed to augment the low-frequency range of modern stereo systems (US patent 3150739). Able to reproduce distortion-free low frequencies down to 15 Hz, a specific objective of Dones’s invention was to provide portable sound enclosures capable of high fidelity reproduction of low-frequency sound waves without giving an audible indication of the direction from which they emanated. Dones’s loudspeaker was marketed in the US under the trade name “The Octavium” from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. The Octavium was utilized by several recording artists of that era, most notably the Grateful Dead.

Two years later, in 1966, my former partner in Genesis Technologies and the co-founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, along with his airline pilot friend, Carry Christie, launched the second and perhaps most important subwoofer of its time, the Infinity Servo woofer, based on an 18″ Cerwin Vega driver.

My experience with a subwoofer began a few years later when I was first introduced to a true high-end audio system. There, in the living room of local audiophile Norm Little, was serial numbers 1 and 2 of aerospace engineer Eugene J. “Gene” Czerwinski’s creation, a pair of 18″ Cerwin-Vega subwoofers capable of producing 130 dB at 30 Hz, an astonishing level during its time (or any time).

I suppose I have never gotten over the experience of hearing for the first time, all there is in the recordings, including subsonics.

Until you hear it all, you’re not going to know what true high-end audio really 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.

Spicy

One of the cures for bland tasting food is to liven it up with the addition of a dash of spice.

In audio, it’s not so easy.  There’s really not anything we can add to the system if we want to liven up the sound. There is, however, something we can subtract.

In my experience, stereo systems presenting themselves as dull or lifeless are more often than not victims of their environment.

An over or under damped room is often the perpetrator and the first place we should turn to—though often we mistakenly lay blame on the stereo equipment.

It’s true that speakers and electronics have individual voices, but often those are not properly supported within the room.

If your system’s too spicy, or not spicy enough, consider first the room. It’s easy enough to add or subtract absorptive materials like furniture, pillows, and the like (and a hell of a lot easier than equipment swaps).

Our instincts often lead us first to equipment swaps but I think it’s valuable to remember the room.

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.

Community members

From as far back as 1974 (which to me doesn’t seem that long ago) I have felt part of a community. The community of people like you and me. Out of the ordinary folks who know what good sound is and are willing to invest their time, passion, and available funds into achieving great sound.

I suppose community can apply to any sort of group that finds more benefit from togetherness than from being apart. Certainly, I gain more from our audio community than I would setting out alone and I guess that’s true for most of you reading this post.

Communities give and they take. They give camaraderie, shared knowledge, friendships, and connections. But, like any community, those living within have to agree on some sorts of mutual terms. If we’re fighting and bickering amongst ourselves (as opposed to spirited debates) then we’re not enjoying the benefits of togetherness.

Our HiFi Family is one of the kindest, friendliest, and generous communities I have known. I am proud to call you my friends.

Thanks for all you do for our community.

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.

Grails, holy and hopeful

One of the more famous literary motifs is the idea of the Holy Grail, a metaphorical vessel with miraculous powers providing happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance.

Grails, both holy and hopeful, can apply to any number of aspirational audio goals. For me, that grail is to be found in digital audio.

We’ve long known that digits are digits and thus can be endlessly replicated without loss. That said, we’ve also known that digital delivery and processing are prone to differences that are most audible.

The Grail would, for me, be to design a series of digital audio devices that are agnostic to the storage, transmission, and processing of bits. That no matter how one gets those bits delivered and processed, the audible results would be the same.

We are a long way away from drinking from that grail vessel, though with PS Audio’s recent innovations of galvanically isolating inputs and CPUs from the digital outputs we’re more than one step closer.

Grails, both holy and hopeful are what keep most of us in research and development going.

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 vs. reproducing

As Octave Records grows it’s becoming more evident to me the difference between recording and reproducing.

On the former, we’re often using heavy hands to capture as best we can what happens in acoustic space: different microphones, preamps, EQ, reverb—everything we would never consider in the act of reproduction.

I think of recording as building a movie set. Hours, sometimes days are spent assembling all the pieces together so that the final image perfectly represents the vision in one’s head. We’re not as interested in being faithful to the moment as we are true to the vision. The best recordings use whatever is available to them to capture the perfect sound.

The opposite is true when it comes to audio playback. The best lenses and cameras, like the best audio reproduction chains, are built with only one goal in mind: to be faithful to the original.

It took chisels, hammers, and heavy hands to fashion from a block of marble Michelangelo’s David, but once crafted, very different apparatus to enjoy 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.

Tweaks

To tweak is to improve something by making small, fine adjustments to it. In other words, we take something that we already like and make it slightly better.

In our world of high-end audio tweaks abound: vibration dampers, cable lifters, tube rings, shorting plugs, green pens.

I bristle when someone suggests a Power Plant AC regenerator is a “tweak”. Certainly, a Power Plant makes something better, but it’s hardly a “fine adjustment”.  It fundamentally changes AC power.

I think it’s valuable to separate essential and fundamental improvements from those products making only slight adjustments to an existing product.

A record cleaning machine might straddle the center line.

When we’re considering investing money into our systems we should be aware of the balance scales. Do we invest in a tweak or a fundamental improvement?

I think this is a subject worthy of further discussion.