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.

I don’t know about Paul’s Audiophile guide, but it’s taken me forever to get my main listening room set up to its best effect and well worth it. Sometimes, if the listening room is small, its hard to do, so it’s important to get the correct stereo gear for situations like that.

Depth perspective

Just for a moment, take in the beauty of Zeljko Kozomara’s gorgeous photo of Canada’s Lake Ohara in the Yoho National Park.

Given all the depth and area captured in this stunning photo, you might think a wide-angle lens was employed. After all, there’s a lot of territory covered in the image.

You’d likely be wrong.

My guess of what was used is the exact opposite. A telephoto lens. Note how close and tall the mountains appear relative to the foreground. To get the illusion of great depth without sacrificing proportions, we want to bring everything closer, not the opposite which is what happens when we use a wide angle lens.

In audio sound staging, we are presented with a similar challenge. How to maintain deep front-to-back depth while at the same time keeping individual instruments and voices in proper perspective.

When we put together the Audiophile’s Guide one of the most important tracks turns out to be depth check. On these three tracks, we can hear the two singers at precisely measured distances from the microphone. If one’s system is correctly set up then the relative size of the voice should remain human-sized while moving deeper into the background.

Not many systems/rooms are set up to correctly handle both proper depth of soundstage and correct perspective, but when you get it right it’s a true joy.

Lastly, what I find fascinating is that once you achieve proper depth and perspective the tonal balance of what’s on offer seems to get better too.

It’s a real win win situation.

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.

Rituals

There are plenty of audiophile rituals. Though they might seem quirky or odd to the great unwashed they are part of what defines us as purveyors of the art.

Take for example the rituals many of us have for playing a vinyl record: how we carefully remove the disc from the sleeve, cleaning the stylus, perhaps zapping the staticy disc with a Zerostat, the care with which we set the arm over the record, the flourish at the end as we make a last check everything’s in order before sitting down in our listening spot.

Did I mention our listening spot? The sweet seat? The ritual where newcomers to our stereo system are offered that lofty perch from which to fully enjoy the pleasures of the experience?

Or the turning low the lights for that special track?

Or setting the cover of the CD or album upright as if it were being presented as a marquee?

I won’t even mention demagnetizing a disc before playing.

Rituals are there to make sure everything’s in order and that chaos does not affect the outcome.

As Audiophiles, we’ve certainly got our share.

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 agree with this!!

Center perfection

Over the years I have noticed a perfect center fill can foretell a perfect soundstage.

And while it might at first seem simple a simple formula—get the center image right and the soundstage falls into place—it doesn’t always work that way.

The problem with relying upon the center fill as a harbinger of soundstage correctness can be found in the difficulty of getting the phantom center channel perfected.

It’s easy to use extreme speaker toe-in to get a holographic center image. Unfortunately, that’s often at the expense of soundstage width.

Center fill perfection occurs when we have all the center channel elements in place: depth, height, size, palpability, and three-dimensionality.

As I write in The Audiophile’s Guide, the solution to getting the center channel right is found not with toe-in but without. The closer you can get to center channel perfection with the speaker baffles parallel to the left/right horizontal ear-plane, the wider, deeper and more convincing your soundstage.

As I explain in the book, the degree to which you can have your center channel and soundstage cake and eat it too depends on your speaker’s off-axis response character. A relatively flat off-axis response is key to soundstage perfection.

Set your bullseye for the center but don’t ignore everything around 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.

Reviewing the critics

A stereo reviewer is an audiophile with knowledge, experience, and the chops to write about it.

They are essential community assets.

Theirs is a tough job. Imagine the challenge of reviewing loudspeakers. It’s hard enough for any of us to get a new pair of speakers and set them up properly. It must be a magnitude more difficult to do this for a review. Get the setup wrong and readers get an unfair evaluation of the speaker.

And then there’s the challenge of passion. A dispassionate clinical review—one that’s not clouded by personal bias—is what most of us think we’re after. To quote Sgt. Friday, “give us just the facts”.

But honestly, how many of us don’t thrill to a reviewer’s passion? It’s actually what I look for. Their level of excitement tells me more about a product’s virtues than any technical description or dispassionate analysis.

I care about how the stereo equipment made them feel.

Because how the audio equipment makes us feel is what it’s all about anyway.

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.

Guide books

In all my years of designing, building, and playing around with stereo systems, when it comes to performance the two constants have always been audio equipment choices and setup.

And setup trumps equipment choices. The best equipment poorly setup sounds worse than the best setup of poor equipment.

We have reviews and in-home trials to help us find the best equipment, yet the art of setup requires hands-on experience, knowledge, and skill—a problem in our age of virtual connectivity and pandemic lock-downs.

My modus operandi has always been that of a fixit person. See a problem, find a fix. The first CD players sounded dreadful. We figured out the culprit was its internal D to A converter. We invented a better version and launched the world’s first consumer audio digital to analog converter.

Where once an abundance of experienced setup experts eager to apply their skills and knowledge in customer’s homes haunted local stereo dealers, today we live in very different times.

Which is why I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide and spearheaded the creation of its companion music resource, The Audiophile Reference Music Tracks.

The idea of designing a setup system based on a written guide and a recorded reference disc has long been in my toolbox. It’s taken me 45 years to launch it.

Setting up a stereo system takes skill.

Skill can be learned.

Grab a copy of both The Audiophile’s Guide and its companion Reference Music Tracks today.

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.