Tag Archives: Audiophile

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek Audio and Paul McGowan of PS Audio, Intl.

Polishing touches

It is always a conundrum whether to polish or rearrange a stereo system.

The first time I hear a new audio system that has yet to be dialed in I have to decide if it is close enough for a bit of polish or so far off we need to start from scratch.

We just went through this exercise at PS Audio.

Ever since we replaced the Infinity IRSV with the aspen FR30s we’ve not been happy with the system’s bottom end—frustrating because the FR30s have an extraordinary bottom end that rivals the IRSV (aspens extend down to about 23Hz in the room and are more than capable of rattling your pant leg and putting a smile on your face). Unfortunately, because of Music Room 2’s dimensional ratios (and the fact its floor is as bouncy as a spring), the best position for imaging is the worst place for the bottom end (in the case of the IRSV we simply moved the separate bass towers to where in the room we got proper bass performance at the listening position).

Music Room 3, however, is a little longer front to back and the dimensional ratios work. Those few feet of additional length are all that we needed to enjoy the aspen’s thundering bass and so they were moved.

Caleb and the guys in sales did all the heavy lifting of switching systems and rooms. When I first sat down for a listen I was duly impressed. They had done a wonderful job of setting everything up and in the right place. I whipped out the disc from The Audiophile’s Guide: The Loudspeaker, and played Gabriel Mervine’s tracks (where the Quartet is presented one instrument at a time). Sounded pretty close but not perfect.

Polish or rearrange?

For me, the easiest way to determine this is to begin with some obvious polishing steps like moving a little the loudspeakers and/or the seating position. If it feels like we’re making sufficient progress then that’s the right thing to do.

If it’s just different…..then time to start from scratch.

In the case of Music Room 3 and the aspens, all we needed was a bit of a polishing touch (truth is, these are some of the easiest speaker in the world to dial in).

If you’re in the neighborhood, due stop in and have a listen.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek Audio and Paul McGowan of PS Audio, Intl.

In the beginning, there were a lot of terrible sounding rooms at the Audiophile shows and although it’s been a while since I attended a show, they had gotten a lot better sounding as time has gone on. Maybe after our next move, we will have time for a show, or two, a year, as they are fun for me.

Stark differences

Since we are all on the same page when it comes to wanting the accurate and enjoyable reproduction of music in our homes, it’s always startling to me how different stereo systems can sound.

Visiting different rooms at a HiFi show is demonstrative of what I am referring to. Most rooms sound good and, happily, like music. But then, one wanders into a room where the sound is so different as to make one’s fingers start scratching their head.

I’ve heard this foreign sound presentation from a myriad of speaker types from horns to dynamics: cupped, closed in, with the tonal balance askew.

This wouldn’t stand out to me as a “thing” if it wasn’t for the fact this happens at shows where manufacturers and dealers represent themselves as experts.

If the sound of live unamplified music is our reference, how could some be so far askew?

I’ll never forget walking into one room at an industry show in Vegas. The manufacturer was selling his brand of loudspeakers. The place was empty but I ventured in anyway—attracted by the odd look of the speaker which had a big woofer and a tiny tweeter—both vertically separated in the cabinet by a few feet. This seemed odd to me as I couldn’t imagine how this setup would couple in the midrange.

On offer was a simple classical piece of piano and voice. It might have been Mozart. The lone man in the room seemed happy to see me and beckoned me to sit in the sweet spot.  The voice came across as shrill while the piano had nearly no midrange: mostly bottom end and a smattering of top end. Clearly, the midrange of the system—from perhaps 500Hz up to 2 or 3 kHz—was missing (as one might expect with this design choice). Like a 3-way speaker whose midrange was missing.

“What do you think?”

I really hoped he wouldn’t have asked. “Seems a bit empty in the midrange. Highs are great and there’s good bottom end.”

“Exactly.”

“That’s what you’re hoping for?”

He shook his head yes.

“Everyone’s system sounds the same. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I’ve never been much on midrange and love the top and bottom ends of the speaker. Like most people.”

That brand wasn’t at next year’s show and I have never seen them again.

He did stand out from the crowd.

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 about this, although not many truly bad sounding loudspeakers out there in the Audiophile world these days. I have got a pair of Daedalus Ulysses and double BOW subwoofers, as well as a pair of homeade, but beautiful, loudspeakers based on the GPA Altec 604 and both sound great on theor own, but both are also in great listeneing rooms.

Room or speaker?

There seems a persistent notion that rooms need to be of a certain quality in order to take full advantage of what a speaker has to offer.

If your room isn’t good enough then investing in a wonderful pair of speakers is a waste of resources. Kind of like the idea that if you’re not a gourmet you cannot appreciate fine food.

Poppycock.

Of course it is true our rooms play a huge role in helping and hurting our HiFi system’s performance. There can be no disputing that. Where I draw the line is in supporting the belief a room has to live up to certain standards in order to take full advantage of every nuance available.

Speakers always outperform the rooms they play in.

A notable exception might be with dipoles. Indeed, not every room can take full advantage of all that a dipole has to offer. Dipoles need space and the front wall impacts how they sound.

That said, I would still argue that even in the unfriendliest of rooms the qualities of your speaker will be appreciated way before any room difficulties stymie their performance.

When it comes to rooms vs. speakers, ignore the room and focus on the speaker.

You can always help a bad room sound good but it’s not possible to put enough lipstick on a pig of a speaker.

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.

Much improved

Over on the PS Audio forums, there’s a thread about audio cable lifters. You can read it by clicking this link.

Elevating the speaker cables off the floor works to improve the sound.

Should you run out and grab a set of cable lifters today?

Much depends on the state of your stereo system. If you’ve managed to dial it in to where there’s nothing more to gain, then yes, by all means, nab a set of cable lifters.

What sometimes troubles me about these exotic tweaks is our tendency to use them as a crutch.

A freebie.

An excuse not to dig in and do the work of proper setup.

Proper setup takes a bit of work and dedication. Rolling up the proverbial sleeves and getting down to business.

If this idea of really digging in to make sonic magic is appealing to you, I will mention the long overdue book and SACD (and download), The Audiophile’s Guide: The Loudspeaker is finally (and really) available.

Click here to grab your copy.

And once you’ve put in the afternoon’s hard work at getting your system to sing, it makes sense to then elevate your loudspeaker cables.

Icing on the proverbial cake.

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.

Outsiders

Living in our little audiophile bubble means that everything we obsess over seems normal. It isn’t until we step outside the bubble and view our little world through the eyes of an outsider that one begins to realize just how far removed from the crowd we are.

Terms that seem obvious and normal to us like soundstaging, transparency, resolving power, and bass extension engender either head-scratching or outright contempt.

Head scratching makes sense to me. Imagine trying to explain to someone used to listening on consumer audio drek how imaging works.

It’s the outright contempt that always boggles me. Someone who has never heard a high-end audio system—usually a pro in the audio or recording world—seems to get really heated about the terminology we use. In fact, I have been told that we are akin to the devil for spreading such egregious lies about a system’s ability to produce a holographic soundstage divorced from the loudspeakers.

Why would this cause anger?

I suspect they somehow feel threatened.

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.

Now, this guy Paul sure is an audiophile!!! I agree with him regarding loudspeakers and set up, however, perhaps he should maybe name his newest book ” The Loudspeaker”, instead of “The Speaker”, as maybe that could be interpreted as a book about public speaking?

Order to chaos

Over the past few months I have been hard at work writing the next book in our series, The Audiophile’s Guide.

That first book, The Stereo, was an all-encompassing work covering the complete stereo system from electronics, to cables, to speakers.

This newest book, The Speaker, is a much more detailed work specific to the challenge of setting up a pair of speakers.

I can think of nothing more important in a high-end audio system than properly setting up the speakers. Even with the greatest electronics in the world, a less-than-great setup saps the life out of the music.

One of the issues I kept running into during the research and writing phase was the amount of opinion and chaos among audiophiles as to the best way to set up speakers.

(Wait! Audiophiles, opinions, and chaos?)

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I have confirmed it’s not a train!

Seriously, this is one exciting project for me to work on. We’ve just finished an extraordinary group of recordings in the new Octave Studio that will accompany the book in a step-by-step fashion and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Fingers crossed for a July 2022 launch.

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

My T+A MP2500R plays SACD’s, as well as CD’s and boy, does it sound great doing it!

Go for the gold

Today marks a smile milestone for Octave Records.

We’re launching two new killer discs, each mixed on the FR30s, and each available as a 24-karat gold CD in addition to our standard SACD and download versions.

While our SACD releases are popular, we get soooooo many requests for lower cost CD versions that we rolled up our sleeves to see what we could do.

Our first challenge was to make sure the 44.1kHz versions of the original DSD masters were flawless and held all the magic of a DSD recording. Our second challenge was to find the perfect pressing plant to make these rare 24-karat releases with the quality that we demand.

And we did! Now, for the first time for many, you’ll be able to enjoy state-of-the-art recordings as made by Octave.

Our first is our latest Audiophile Masters compilation number 6. What a wonderful collection of tracks from the likes of guitarist Miguel Espinosa, the Seth Lewis Quartet, a touch of country, classical, and sweet music.

The second is without a doubt killer. The Everlasting Dance by Tierro. I can’t wait for you to hear the recording quality we achieved on this masterpiece.

Both are available now.

Can’t wait for you to see what your system is really capable of.

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’s to say?

I remember the first time a worried audiophile came to me for help. It was many years ago at a consumer tradeshow.

The fellow—let’s just call him Ed—was concerned because a system in a room sounded wrong to him. That was particularly upsetting to Ed because he had been assured by the owners of the room that the system was near-perfect. That if he didn’t hear that perfection then something was wrong with him (as opposed to the system).

Ed came to me for help. Would I give a listen and offer an opinion?

We traipsed down the hall, walked into the room, and listened. Ed was right. The sound was aggressive, forward, amusical to a fault. A wall of loud high fidelity.

The owner of the brand spotted me and smiled.

“What’cha think?” he asked.

“Not really my choice of music. Could we try something a bit gentler, perhaps with a vocal?”

Now the fun begins. The vocal was not a lot different than the wall of sound first on offer, but at least it was music I was familiar with. Norah Jones, if memory serves.

“Very revealing,” said I.

That was good enough for us to be given a hall pass to leave.

As Ed and I walked back to our room he asked me, “you found it revealing? So he was right?”

“What did you hear?” I asked.

“It still sounded all wrong. Completely the opposite of your room where the musicians sound live and in the room.”

“Right,” I said. “The last piece he played was very revealing of that fact. I just didn’t want to finish the sentence and make him feel bad.”

In later years I came to understand that brand owner’s idea of great audio was to bring the sound as far forward as possible. That to him, that represented what was right and best and natural.

Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

If our ultimate goal is to reproduce the sound of live music in our rooms, then ultimately it’s how we each perceive that sound.

Right for him may not be right for me.

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 have in the past used very expensive audiophile cables from Analysis Plus, Audioquest, Cardas, Siltec and many more than I want to remember. However, right now, I don’t use a single cable over $100 in my system and it sounds great. Maybe the best stereo system I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard a bunch. So, like Paul a bit befuddled on this topic.

Directional

When it comes to directionality I find myself a bit lost.

Let’s take for example an AC power cable. Directionality is easy because each of the two connectors is different.

But a fuse?

Perhaps someone can help me understand how a fuse connecting the AC input of our equipment to the wall power can have directionality. Most aftermarket fuses have arrows indicating direction and it is said the construction is different at each end. Fair enough, but which end is the right end and right for what?

An AC power source alternates between plus and minus 50 to 60 times a second. Which direction is right?

Imagine a pendulum. Does it matter if it begins from left to right or right to left?

I have in the past bought into interconnect directionality. Here we too have an alternating current signal. But now the story goes it’s the wire’s directionality when it is being drawn out of the die that the copper was pulled through, thus realigning the crystal structure in such a way as to make it sound better or worse depending on source or receiver side. This argument still befuddles me but I have consistently heard differences in an RCA interconnect.

At least I think I have.

Without reconstruction this cannot be tested in an XLR or AC power cable (the male and female connectors define its source).

But a fuse?

Color me confused.

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.

Audiophile sound

I often hear the term Audiophile Sound in reference to gear. Especially speakers.

How does a loudspeaker sound audiophile and what does that mean?

My guess is that it depends on who is asking the question.

From our viewpoint, the audiophile sound means it’s as close to live as technically possible. In other words, it doesn’t have a sound. In fact, the less it has a “sound” the closer we believe it to be perfect.

From an outsider’s viewpoint, an audiophile quality system is so far removed from their experience of reproduced sound that it warrants a label of its own. “Sounds like an audiophile speaker”.

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.

It all depends on who is asking the question.