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.

Where have all the experts gone?

As our audio industry morphs from its heyday of local experts to a more globally connected version, we see a shift that affects us all.

I remember well the differing areas of influence exerted over localities. Big, influential high-end audio dealers in one area would have their favorite go-to stereo systems peppered throughout their spheres of influence. Thus, audiophiles in New York might have systems very different than their west coast brethren.

Now that we are increasingly connected together by the internet, there’s a homogenization of systems around the world.

I think this is a good thing because it allows us to share together information and ideas we might never have had access to.

There are no fewer HiFi experts than there were before.

You just have to look for them online.

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.

Ancient extremes

I find it ironic that at the end of our audio chain lies some really ancient technology based primarily on magnetism.

Loudspeakers, with few exceptions, are moving coils of wire in magnetic fields: technology invented hundreds of years ago by names like Michael Faraday, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison.

The system that powers those ancient technology speakers is state-of-the-art: microscopic bits of silicone.

Of course, there are exceptions: electrostatic speakers, and the rare ionized gas oddities, but for the most part, we’re using magnets and copper to move air.

This effective blend of old and new is fascinating to me.

Perhaps it’s accurate to suggest it’s on occasion difficult to improve on a good idea.

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.

Revealing systems

I am constantly on the hunt for a more revealing audio experience.

When designing a new product or listening to a new Octave release, the closer I can get to revealing the truth of what’s captured in the recording the happier I get.

And yet…

Can something be too revealing? Can a stereo system dig so deep into the recording’s inner details that the sound becomes less inviting?

Too much of the naked truth?

I think that perhaps there’s a perfect balance of unmasked details and inviting coverings that do not conflict or overpower the gestalt of what we’re hoping for.

As in all things in life, it is the careful balance of elements that brings forward the beauty from within.

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.

Choosing your tradeoffs

In high-end audio as in engineering, it’s all a matter of managing tradeoffs. There are no perfect solutions.

I think when evaluating acceptable tradeoffs one must make a shortlist of inviolate parameters. For example, I am unwilling to sacrifice: dynamics, transparency, bass, soundstage, and listenability.

Which, by default, suggests I am willing to sacrifice: tonal balance, PRaT, noise, extended highs, and colorations.

Your list of must-haves and acceptable sacrifices is unlikely to be the same as mine.

I think what’s important is twofold: an understanding that compromise is inevitable, and crafting a list of requirements.

The cost of your stereo system will be directly reflected by the balance between the two lists.

The longer your requirement list the more you’ll need to spend to build the system you want.

Accepting the inevitability of tradeoffs and maintaining your list may be one of the most valuable tools you have available to you.

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.

Musicality

We ultimately judge the performance of our stereo system but how closely it brings us to music. Real music.

So, if in 1981 we had systems that brought us close to the music, where a violin sounded like a violin, a Fender Stratocaster like a Fender Stratocaster, how much progress could we legitimately claim over the ensuing 40 years?

Probably lots and here’s why. Using the identification of one instrument from another is somewhat of a strawman argument. Fact is, I can distinguish the sound of a violin as well as a Stratocaster from inside my car from an MP3 source.

So it isn’t so much the proper identification of instruments, but rather how close we can get to creating a realistic space where we believe the musicians are playing in our room.

IMHO that’s a truer mark of the classic goals of high end audio.

We’ve come a long way in the ensuing 40 years, but we still have a long way to go.

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.

Changing tubes

In my many videos and blog posts about changing tired vacuum tubes, I am continually surprised at the variety of answers.

They range from heck yeah to hell no; from whenever the stereo system starts to get a bit lifeless to never more than 10 years; and everything in between.

I suppose I should never be surprised when audiophiles have and express opinions. It’s what makes us family.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are no universal rules. Every design of vacuum tube audio product has a different setup affecting tube life. I remember a few Sonic Frontier amps that benefitted from changing output tubes every few months. Contrast that with the vintage classic from decades ago that still sings with the best of them.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that all vacuum tubes sound slightly different. Take four or five matched set of new tubes and swap them out between listening sessions. The changes may be subtle, but they are there.

What I have found in all the tube preamplifiers I have owned, from Audio Research to PS Audio, changing tubes at least once a year (and maybe twice) brings a remarkable improvement in music’s liveliness.

Before you reject what I am writing, take the time to actually try the experiment.

You might be surprised.

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.

On the playground

As a kid in school, I was likely not alone in my favorite class, recess. The bell would ring and we kids were released onto the playground.

Some kids liked sports, some the swings, others the monkey bars. Me? I liked the groups. The clans.

Like-minded kids would gather together and plan and talk about “stuff”. Some of it was devilish, some of it was inspiring, some of it was…well, thank goodness we never followed through with half our plans.

Playground groups remind me of audio shows. Not the devilish bits, but the group get togethers of like-minded people.

I get a daily taste of the camaraderie here at PS Audio, but it’s just not the same as an audio show where for two to three days in a row every person in the building is there for one reason and one reason only. Our passion for high end audio.

We’ve just signed a contract for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Fest to be held October 8th through the 10th in Denver.

If you’re vaccinated, into high-end audio, then this is where you’ll want to be come this October.

And yes, we will be playing and displaying the long-awaited FR-30 loudspeaker.

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.

Presumed excellence

I don’t suppose that after all these years I should be surprised when a presumed expert shows off a stereo system that sounds dreadful.

It happens more than it should.

How many times have I walked into a HiFi showroom and did an immediate 180?

Far too many times.

And it’s not just audio where presumed experts get it wrong. Doctors, lawyers, professors, experts.

None are without fault and sometimes embarrassingly so.

An expert is someone who gets it right, time and again. It has nothing to do with credentials.

It’s ok for you to be an expert.

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.