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.

Too wide of a gap

Between a high-performance audiophiles stereo system and the casual plop-it-down-and-listen setup, there seems to be a pretty wide gap.

Which makes me wonder why there isn’t something in the middle.

Imagine a single wireless all-in-one floor-standing speaker. You unbox it, set it up along a living room wall, connect to your WiFi, and voila! A great, full-range musical performance fills your room.

Instead, we seem saddled by Home Pods and glorified boom boxes that pretend to reproduce music as it was intended to be played.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a great two-channel audio system as much as the next. It just seems to me there’s a huge chasm between what we can plunk down and play versus setting up a many-box rig with wires and speakers.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Maybe someday someone will fill that gap.

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.

Status roles

I am aware it makes some of us a bit uncomfortable to admit we use our stereo system’s status as our calling card, but I’d like to suggest it’s fine.

There’s nothing wrong with rating yourself by the status of your audio equipment.

“I am an audiophile,” said the first, proudly.

“Yeah? What’s your system?” asked the second.

As the list of prized components gets rattled off, a judgment forms as to the seriousness and the caliber of the first. This is perfectly normal behavior and one I encourage.

Your equipment is, after all, a reflection of you.

And we should never feel bad or inadequate for being who we are.

We are the best we know how to be.

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.

Fear of the new

People that embrace change are often called Early Adopters. They are a rare breed.

Early adopters are the ones not only willing to take a chance on new products and technology but actually eager to do so. They are definitely in the minority.

Most of us, the ones in the middle of the pack, are most comfortable waiting to see how everything shakes out. We’re concerned about heading down dead-end streets.

Truth is, we’re afraid.

As my good friend and fellow audiophile, Seth Godin, notes:

“While some people reject a new idea simply because it doesn’t work for them, often the people who are saying no are afraid. They’re afraid of what change may bring, and they’re not sure they trust the innovation and the system enough to go forward. But we’ve been conditioned to avoid saying, “I’m afraid,” so if we’re uninformed and afraid, we make up objections instead. And even add angry bravado to our objections, simply as a way of hiding what’s really going on.”

Knowing that it is fear that holds us back from embracing the new won’t change our behavior but it certainly can offer insight and, most importantly, gives us permission to be who we are—comfortable in our own skin.

Fear of the new is completely natural.

Some of us just have to wait and that’s just fine.

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.

Does gold matter?

Most high-end audio equipment uses a microscopically thin layer of gold plating on their connectors. We certainly do. It’s what’s expected.

And the general consensus in the audiophile community is that this layer of precious metal makes a sonic difference. I know from personal experience that the choice of precious metals like rhodium, palladium, silver, or gold, has a sonic impact on a quality constructed connector.

How much does the obvious beauty of the outer finish contribute to sound quality vs. the actual construction of the connector?

Here’s my take on it. Gold plating, in and of itself and without benefit of proper cable and connector construction, does not necessarily sound better. We can purchase gold-plated RCA cables from Amazon Basics for $6 that sound like dog-do compared to a well designed nickel plated higher end cable of proper design.

How about if we turn an old saying on its head? All that glitters is not gold might in this context make more sense if it read: All that is gold does not mean it sounds good. (ok, I am not a good adage writer :))

Perhaps the best adage of all would be Beauty is only skin deep.

It’s what’s inside that matters.

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.

Cultures and communities

Most of us are born into a culture. Over time, we embrace other cultures and join the communities that support them.

Take our group’s choice of the culture known as high-end audio. It’s unlikely any of us were born into it (though to be fair my father might have qualified as an audiophile). And I would speculate most of us chose to embrace this culture and join its community.

We speak the lingo, we understand the concepts, on occasion we finger-wag our firm beliefs, we often preach the gospel, we sometimes shame outside thoughts that run counter to the culture that defines our community.

I know plenty of my fellow audiophiles that bristle at the suggestion ours is a culture. They would prefer the term community.

I would suggest one doesn’t work without the other. They are forever intertwined.

Cultures tend to be more long-term while communities are more transient.

The culture of high-end audio has been evolving for more than 100 years. Our community that supports, feeds, and helps shape our culture comes and goes.

Culture and community are dance partners.

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.