Tag Archives: Audiophile

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.

Wisdom

Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.

Aphorisms aside, I think it’s instructive to honor doubt in service of gaining wisdom. When we doubt that parts quality matter, or the topology of a circuit can have a major sonic impact, we can dismiss it or embrace it.

Dismissing something as nonsense simply because it doesn’t fit into our worldview is self-limiting. What wisdom do we gain by blowing it off? If, on the other hand, we keep an open mind in service of curiosity, we open ourselves to new possibilities and understanding.

It is healthy to doubt and even healthier to investigate that which does not immediately ring as true.

The wise audiophile is open to new ideas, new methods of achieving sonic purity.

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.

What is the truth?

I saw a survey that suggested nearly everyone believes they are an above-average driver. In fact, it turns out that most of us believe we’re not only above average, we’re significantly better than just about anyone on the road. Of course, the majority cannot be above average.

And don’t most of us believe we’re above average in our abilities to tell fact from fiction?

Others may fall for BS but rarely us.

I don’t know anyone that wanders around thinking they’re wrong despite the impact our personal biases have on facts and truth. Whether we like it or not the sun rises each morning, gravity sucks, the Earth is not flat, and a violin sounds like a violin. Our beliefs and biases change neither facts nor truth.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to be an audiophile. There’s an ultimate truth to music’s reproduction. The sound of live instruments.

It’s worth the struggle to build your stereo system to tell the truth.

Audiophile labels

By the headline, you might think I am referring to record labels, but I am not.

If you’re reading my words you own the label audiophile. You have an interest in better sound, in music, in attaining an emotional connection with that which emanates from two loudspeakers. You sometimes sit and stare at a blank wall behind the loudspeakers just like I do. You likely turn down the lights and relish the idea of spending time with your favorite musicians. I know that certainly applies to me.

I often think of time spent in the listening room as a guilty pleasure.

Just for me.

Does that label me an audiophile? Most definitely. And that’s just fine because that term, that label—Audiophile—has meaning only amongst our kind. I cannot tell you the number of times when I have been asked what my passions are and answered “audiophile” only to be greeted by a blank stare.

It’s just a label. But that label has meaning amongst those of us reading this blog post, and I find that to be something special.

You’re an Audiophile.

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.

Blind squirrels

There’s an old saying that even a blind squirrel on occasion finds a nut. A humorous aphorism about stumbling into success.

The more we get involved in the recording industry the more convinced I become that the paucity of great recordings comes from the same set of circumstances dictating the quality of the average home stereo. Most people wouldn’t know what we audiophiles consider truly great sound if their lives depended on it. Run-of-the-mill recording engineers included. The majority of their work is by audiophile standards mediocre. Once in a while, they stumble upon a great recording.

At Octave Records, we record exclusively in DSD because it sounds better than PCM and analog tape. But it’s a pain in the butt to edit which is why few engineers take the time and effort to use it. And, if what you’re working with sounds great to you, why would you bother?

Audiophiles know what remarkable sound is.

We’re a rare breed of sighted squirrels.

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.

Today, some original content from me as my 21 year old so, Michael, has put his toes into the Audiophile realm, for the first time.

Typically, Michael has gravitated to things that are hot amongst his age group. His first interest was better earbuds, then Gaming headphones and now something better. With dads help, he is on his way.

When he came home yesterday, he asked about good sounding headphones and how to get better sound from his gaming computer, as well as other sources, such as YouTube.

The answer is better headphones and a decent DAC/Headphone amplifier that has Bluetooth. I happen to have both sitting around, neither getting much use, so they will go back to school with him later today.

I recently took on the T+A (Theory+ Application) product line out of Germany and purchased their T+A DAC 8 DSD to see what they were all about.

What they are all about is the best sounding solid state based audio I’ve yet heard. I liked the DAC 8 DSD so much, I sold it to a local customer and bought T+A’s MP2500R, which combines basically the same DAC, but adds an integrated  SACD player. SACD is DSD and supposedly is the best audio you can get from a digital source.

I expected delivery of my demo MP 2500R, pretty much within a weeks time, so I installed Skips DAC 8 DSD, only to find out that CV19 has affected Germany and I would have to wait for the MP2500R.  I was so impressed with the sound of T+A’s DAC, I also purchased their AMP 8 power amplifier and it too, is amazing.

So, in addition to the MP 2500R, I will also be receiving their T+A PA 2500R, which is their integrated amplifier. My unit will be outfitted with their MC phono stage and I have high expectations for it.

What does this have to do with my son? Tune in 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.

See through sound

Audiophile terminology helps the initiated communicate what they’re hearing: a means of describing with words sounds that we hear.

One of my favorites is transparency—see through sound. I love this term because it makes no sense until you’ve actually heard it.

Sound is the movement of air at wave frequencies too low for our eyes to record. Hearing is the job of our more mechanically minded tympanic membranes called ears.

What our ears record our brains interpret as imaginary images: a trumpet player, a vocalist, a standup bass. Each of these imaginary musicians hold a fixed space behind the loudspeakers. Often, they crowd out other musicians in the set preventing us from seeing around them—a lack of transparency.

As a designer of circuits that improve transparency, how in the world would I ever explain this phenomenon in terms a measurement-based engineer might understand?

I fear the divide between camps is far too great to reach common ground.

There’s just not enough transparency.

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.

Relative better

Last night our Octave Records recording crew went live at a beautiful church venue here in Boulder. There we set up the Sonoma 8-track recorder, a Decca Tree microphone arrangement with DPA microphones, and recorded a spectacular string quartet.

What a great experience and I can’t wait to share with you the recording in a future Octave Records release. This particular recording will be on the upcoming Audiophile Guide setup SACD.

What caught my attention for the subject of today’s post was the little introductory speech I gave to the ladies before they began to play. Our producer, Giselle Collazo, asked me to brief them on what we were hoping to achieve with this recording. Soon I found myself explaining who audiophiles were and what makes us different than someone with a Sonos speaker or a Bose radio. Their blank stares were really telling.

Our world of high-end audio is so far removed from what people consider good home music reproduction as to be mind-boggling. I wish I could have invited these musicians over to PS Audio after the session and play for them their recording in Music Room Two. They would have been quickly brought up to speed of what’s possible in our world. But, alas, the pandemic…

Better is always a relative measure. Sometimes it is so far removed from what most consider normal as to be remarkable.

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.

Except for a few of my audiophile customers, none of the people that I have worked with care about audio cables and audio tweaks. I do, but mostly because Its a hobby and I enjoy it.

That being said, I’ll say it again, a few basic rights and wrongs and you’ve got most of what you need to accomplish with cables taken care of.

I’m not convinced

Boy oh boy, my simple post about our lunchtime conversation concerning cable elevators has once again let all the worms out of the can.

Of course, the controversy is to be expected. Anything involving cables, tweaks, isolation bases, fuses, and whatever manner of heresy I write about will naturally draw ridicule. And that’s alright. I can remember when the notion that electronics sound different or the idea that CDs sound different than vinyl were thought to be subjects worthy of burning one at the stake. Today, that’s mostly accepted.

What truly tickles me is when I get notes from readers announcing they are not convinced. That my words and opinions did not sway their opinions. Thank you for those comments. Anytime someone reaches out and connects it’s welcome.

Here’s the thing. I am not attempting to sway opinion or convince anyone of anything. What I do is to openly share my thoughts with you, our HiFi Family—our community. Think of it like standing at the bar of our local pub, mug of frosty white in hand, chewing the fat about what we believe and why.

We’re community. Family. Friends. I am not out to change the world nor sway others to my thoughts.

Mine is about sharing.

 

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.

Some cables can sound better than others, but mostly overrated and way overpriced ancillaries. Lots of guys/gals making lots of money on this stuff and some of it is incredibly stupid.

If a cable sings in the woods…

I had to smile while reading this comment to a recent video: “I agree with most you say….except about the audiophile wires and power cables….but I still subscribe and like! so there!”

Yes indeed. So there. This issue of audio wires and cables making a difference for some and not for others is one of continual fascination for me. It begs a twist on the age-old question about trees falling in woods without anyone hearing them.

“If I hear cable differences in my system and you are not around to listen, can you make a sweeping edict those differences do not exist?”

Upon questioning cable deniers—their angry eyes ablaze and pitchforks raised high—most admit they’ve never actually tried comparing cables on a resolving system. To them, it just cannot work. There’s no need to actually see for themselves because that would be the height of foolishness—like testing the efficacy of gravity whilst standing atop a ladder.

And so the fallback position is to demand proof before they will consider it.

I am guessing an overwhelming fear of being called out as a fool is the key motivator of cable deniers—understandable as no one wants to wind up in a vulnerable place.

And still, what is true continues to be true despite our beliefs and disbeliefs: trees fall in the woods, rivers run while we sleep, cables matter on resolving systems.