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.

Those treasured moments

Once in a while, everything clicks. The lights are dimmed, the music flows unimpeded. You forget you’re in a room. A smile warms across your face and there’s only you to enjoy it. Blissful. Audio nirvana.

And then there’s the look on someone’s face when first they experience the true wonder of a reference stereo system. They find themselves sitting in the room with the musicians. Magical. Their world has been forever shaken.

And there’s the joy of having read the reviews, asked the questions, done the research, made the decision, waited for the new piece to arrive, plugging it in—having your expectations exceeded.

The high points in life are treasured moments. The ones we remember. The ones that matter.

They may be few and far between, but that’s what makes them treasures.

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.

Audio sensitivities

Even as a kid I never bought the premise behind Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Princess, and the Pea. Just a bit too far fetched for my young engineering brain to believe that anyone could feel a pea under multiple mattresses.

Fairy tales aside, it is a fact that we are all different when it comes to our audio sensitivities. I might be more sensitive than many to sound staging while someone else really focuses on tonality.

We make choices in equipment and set up based on those differing sensitivities: cables that bring out more details, vacuum tubes that warm and soften, subwoofers that build a solid foundation.

Our systems are all different, just like our tastes and sensitivities.

Few of us could likely tell if there were a pea under the cushion of our listening chair, but if our stereo system’s sound is even slightly amiss we know it instantly.

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.

This is kind of funny and the reason mini storage facilities flourish in this country. We are consumers of everything, including high end audio equipment!

Retail therapy

Color me appreciative of learning a new lexicon of terms, chief among them Covid-fatigue, and retail therapy.

Laugh at my naivety if you will. Truth is, I don’t get out very often and I never spend any time in social media haunts (and if we’re starting a list, I am also fashion challenged).

But if I get antsy or a bit down I can for a brief moment elevate myself by buying something. And if I buy it on Amazon I get a second jolt of satisfaction when in the next few days the package arrives. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

What I buy doesn’t much matter as long as it serves to further a project or make life a bit more efficient: an office chair seat cushion, a new higher-resolution webcam for all the Zoom meetings I have, a new music CD, an upgraded HDMI cable for better I2S, a new book, a desktop organizer, a car trash bag, the hard to find dental floss I prefer.

Whether it’s a trinket, a new cable, a new DAC, some olives I might have missed, or the latest Octave release, I am just coming to grips with the idea that the few times a month I get the itch there’s actually a name for it.

Retail therapy.

Who knew?

I am not alone.

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.

Who knew? Not me!

Audiophile Day #5

Just a reminder that today, October 2nd, 2020, is Audiophile Day.

On this day of celebration for what we all love—perhaps through our comments section—we can share some of our stories and thoughts about what it means to be an audiophile.

I’ve told the story many times of my first experience with a high-end audio system. I even wrote about it in my upcoming book The Audiophile’s Guide.

“I had yet to grasp stereo sound’s true potential. That revelatory moment came in 1971, on a hot summer’s day in Santa Maria, California. I was working as a disc jockey and program director at a local FM radio station, and the station’s chief engineer, Jim Mussell, invited me to his home to hear his stereo system. He’d heard I loved music and knew I bragged about my home audio setup. Given that my rig played loud rock, impressed my friends, and had two tall loudspeakers, I felt pretty confident that I was in the upper echelon of stereo aficionados. I was soon to learn otherwise.

Jim lived in a modest three-bedroom track home on the east side of Santa Maria, near the noisy 101 freeway. His home was a hoarder’s dream, filled with stacks of papers, test equipment, and piles of boxes kissing the ceiling. From the front door we wound our way through the chaotic maze and into a surprisingly neat and orderly living room. Wedged into each of the room’s two far corners was a 4×4’ dark mahogany speaker cabinet. In their center was a two-foot-wide and three-foot-tall panel of dark wood, flanked on each side by black grille cloth. Near the very top of the center block was what looked to me like window louvers. These two cabinets, explained Jim, were his pride and joy: an original pair of JBL D30085 Hartsfield corner horn loudspeakers. On the table to the left side of the room sat a fancy looking turntable, with an unusual arm that moved straight across the album instead of the typical pivoting tonearm. And next to that was an ancient looking Audio Research preamplifier with vacuum tubes (of all things). I remember quietly snickering at the use of these ancient fire bottle vacuum tubes—my dad had used them, for Pete’s sake, but I had long since graduated to the newer transistor models. All Jim had was an ancient pair of loudspeakers coupled with old amp technology…and I was supposed to be impressed?! Harrumph. As I sat in the single overstuffed chair facing the speakers, Jim lowered the needle onto Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. I did my best to be polite, pretending I was going to be impressed.

Holy shit. Suddenly, the musicians were in the room! No sound came from those two ancient speakers—instead, standing before me were Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose, Dan Hartman, and Chuck Ruff. Winter’s synthesizer was alive and in three dimensions, while Ruff’s drumbeats smacked me in the stomach and dropped my jaw to my chest. It was as if neither the room nor the speakers even existed. I was there, on a holographic soundstage. I could “see” where each musician stood on that stage and I could picture Winter’s fingers gliding over the ARP keyboard he slung across his chest and played like a guitar. Hartman’s bass notes went lower than I ever imagined possible, at least outside of a live performance.

When the final synth note died away in the reverb chamber, I turned to look at my friend. Jim seemed unfazed by what we had just experienced—as if it were just an everyday occurrence—and launched into some engineering techno-babble we two nerds had previously been chatting about. I cannot remember a word he’d said, though, because I was still digesting the life-changing experience.

I had gone from flat monotony to three-dimensional color in the four minutes and forty-four seconds it took Edgar and his group to play that song. The idea that two speakers could disappear from the room and in their place live musicians might appear to play music was so mind-bendingly new that I struggled to wrap my head around it. What made this magic? Was it those speakers? That odd turntable? The vacuum tubes? His room? All of it? I had to know. 46 years later, after a lifetime of designing, building, and helping audiophiles around the world achieve what I experienced on that hot summer’s day, I feel pretty confident I can help you achieve that same sense of wonder and amazement that forever changed my life.”

What’s your story?

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.

It seems intuitive…

As we delve deeper into making recordings for Octave Records some interesting observations have surfaced.

For one thing, achieving a great room sound doesn’t always involve perfectly capturing the room despite the fact that seems rather intuitive. If we place a stereo set of microphones at a distance from the performers we do indeed get a great room sound. However, this comes at the expense of intimacy. What we hoped for was an intimate recording that feels as if the musicians are in the room.

It turns out that in order to achieve both the in-room experience and a sense of intimacy with the musicians, we need a combination of close-miking and more distant stereo microphones.

In the past, I’ve heard wonderful recordings from Keith Johnson that combined room, as well as intimacy, which he achieved with a stereo microphone and careful proximity to that microphone.

As we might have guessed, there’s plenty of recording techniques available to us.

The secret to great recordings turns out to be the same as the secret to designing great audio gear.

One has to listen.

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.

Road maps

Finding your way is easy once you’ve been somewhere. When it’s an unknown, a map is essential.

Problem is most newcomers to high-performance stereo don’t even know there’s a place they should be, let alone locating a map of how to get there.

Years ago in what seems like another dimension, we had the neighborhood dealer to act as our guide. Within the walls of their shop, we could get an idea of what 2-channel audio sounds like, what wonders were in store for us, and a helping hand in how to get there. Today it’s increasingly anyone’s guess how newcomers find their way.

Certainly, print magazines like Stereophile, Absolute Sound, and HiFi News are great starting points. One could even delve into the online mags like John Darko’s, Tone Audio, and the many others. The problem with all these magazines is they seem to come with an entry-level requirement that readers have a clue what’s going on—something unlikely if we’re talking about true newcomers to the fold.

For PS Audio’s part, we help newbies into better sound through Sprout, our all-in-one integrated no larger than a small-sized novel. It’s really refreshing and informative to read the amazing comments and answer newcomer’s questions. No, most Sprout owners are not audiophiles, but they are interested in good sound and proud to have found this little jewel amongst the rough and tumble of the online audio wild west.

Sometimes road maps are not what one might normally expect. Instead, they are found in small tastes of what’s possible.

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 cutting edge

It’s tough being on the cutting edge of new audio product design. One slip and that edge might just slice you right open.

Yet it’s pretty boring just nosing along the fringes and worse trudging through middle ground.

I think what floats the boats of most forward-thinking designers is to be somewhere just beyond the limits of comfortable as they move the state-of-the-art forward. Too comfortable and you’re not really pushing boundaries. Too many risks and the stereo project’s in danger of never getting to see the light of day.

The balance between building yet another ho-hum product and something new, fresh, and exciting is often a tough one to achieve, but I believe the results are almost always worth it.

Take for example our PS Audio M1200 monoblocks by designer Darren Myers. These cutting edge products were a real game-changer: a 1200 watt power amplifier with a vacuum tube input available at a price most people could afford. It was a gutsy move because who needs a 1200 watt monoblock amplifier?

Turns out people don’t need that much power but what they do need/want is that much headroom and the sonic liquidity that comes along for the ride.

Stepping out on the edge of what people think is normal can be risky, but it’s often worth it.

Sometimes the risky becomes the new norm.

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.

Simply so

Simple, cleaner, less cluttered. That’s the way we like our signal path, right? Less is more.

In simpler days when vinyl LP’s were all there was, a clean and straight path was typically the best for audio quality: the perfect cartridge/arm/table, feeding a great preamplifier, and then on into a power amp. This was before cables and accessories were a thing. Didn’t get much cleaner than that.

Today even analog rigs seem to require more to make them sing. Perhaps it’s an expensive set of audio cables, isolation products, tube dampers, separate phono and line stage, monoblock amps, and so forth.

I remember my first education in how simple isn’t always better. Years ago we used between the phono preamp and amplifier the very finest potentiometer available. No line stage or buffer after the pot for us, because we knew simpler had to be better. Until we tried a proper buffer after that pot and then everything changed. Gone was the wimpy bass without slam factor. Enter a new dimensionality in instrumentation separation and a much cleaner, clearer, better defined soundstage.

All because we recognized simpler isn’t always better.

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.

Global feedback

When we speak of global feedback we’re referring to the practice of wrapping the output signal of an audio device back to its input for comparison and correction. Because the input “knows” what’s right, a simple comparison circuit between the two serves to rectify any differences.

Of course, nothing in engineering is a free lunch. You cannot simply add global feedback in the hopes of perfection in the same way you cannot expect a broken leg to perfectly mend as if nothing happened. Both are improved, neither are perfect.

Along the same vein, it’s been suggested that it might be possible to wrap global feedback around the system rather than just individual components within the system. So, imagine a scenario where the speaker output is measured in real time and fed back to the source for comparison and correction—a brute force approach to lowering errors, to be sure, but an interesting notion too.

From a technical standpoint, running such a long global loop is fraught with problems: timing, latency, phase differences, amplitude changes from the level control that cannot be known to the system are certainly starting hurdles. But while it’s an innovative idea that might have a chance at implementation in the lower frequency ranges, what it suggests to me is something more interesting—just how far off the eventual output signal is from its starting point.

Ss we build upon the chain each component adds just a little bit of its flavor until the end result is reasonably far from its beginning.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our stereo systems are amazing at what they do.

I just find stuff like this ever-fascinating.

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.

Stuck with stereo

Are we stuck with stereo? Wouldn’t multi-channel audio be a step up when it comes to immersing ourselves in music?

There are certainly advantages to 4-channel or 5-channel music recordings though rarely is realism one of their benefits. It certainly could be. In the few instances where the rear 2-channels of a 4-channel music recording have been used to capture the ambience behind the listener, the degree of realism is many times magnified.

Yet, the vast majority of surround sound recordings place everything but ambience on those two channels. We find other instruments, voices, whatevers, seemingly coming out of natural space as if we’re in the middle of the group rather than a listener in the audience.

Perhaps if recording engineers had paid more attention to creating the illusion of being present during the recording we’d not have wound up with only two channels to reproduce realism.

I guess the temptation to use the rear channels for “something meaningful” outweighed the chance to merely bring realism to home audio—and that was perhaps a wise decision. Can you imagine asking the average person to buy two more channels of audio just so it can sound more real?

It would have been a Godsend for us audiophiles, but a disaster for the average buyer of home audio equipment.