Tag Archives: audiophiles

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.

Why DSD isn’t everywhere

As diehard advocates of DSD as the ultimate audio capture technology, we are in the infinitesimal minority.

We find ourselves here on the wild frontier for one reason and one reason alone. DSD sounds remarkably better than any other capture method (including analog).

So the question continues to pop up. If DSD is so darn good why wouldn’t major studios like Abbey Road use it? They claim to be state of the art.

I’ll venture forward with a couple of thoughts on the matter.

First, DSD is a pain from a workflow standpoint made worse by the one program to work with, Pyramix: an ultra-sophisticated network-capable DAW used by many of the major studios and orchestras. It is used not because it is easy (it is anything but that) but because of its incredible network capabilities. Without worry of latency or loss, hundreds of channels of high-sample rate PCM or DSD audio can be moved around a network connected only by CAT6 cable.

But moving hundreds of channels of audio data around isn’t something Abbey Road needs, or for that matter, any of the famous recording venues. And of the studios, live venues, production houses, and orchestras where Pyramix is used it is almost never DSD. (In fact, in speaking with the engineers and owners of Pyramix it turns out almost no one uses it for DSD)

Big and famous studios have to accommodate workflows and knowledge chains of visiting engineers and producers—none of whom have any experience with DSD or Pyramix. They are in the business of being the best there is within the bounds of what those who might use their services know and understand.

And, that is not DSD nor Pyramix.

That our quest for the best sound regardless of the difficulty and limitations in achieving it is what drives us in a certain direction—one not shared by the mainstream—should come as no surprise.

It’s why they call us Audiophiles.

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.

Musicians

Everything we do in high-end audio is an attempt to get closer to the music.

Music is made by musicians.

Ergo, we are trying to get closer to the musicians.

Only, not many seem to be on the same page as we.

From what I can tell, most musicians would rather we keep our distance. That for many, their music is deeply personal. What we get from them is about as much as they want to share.

Perhaps that’s why so few musicians are audiophiles.

Composers, producers, and engineers seem to relish digging deeper into what we as audiophiles love; just not so much musicians.

I wonder if it’s like the proverbial sausage maker? Enjoy the product but don’t look behind the curtain?

Whatever it is it is a curiosity to me.

Thoughts?

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.

Invisibility

Audiophiles are a rare breed.

Whenever I am asked what I do for a living there’s a common pattern of questioning that follows.

“My family owns a small company that makes HiFi equipment.”

“Oh, like Sony?”

“No. Our customers are audiophiles.”

What follows is the inevitable eyebrow raise as the second half of the word audio-phile leaves my mouth.

“An audiophile is a good thing,” I explain. “Not the kind of phile you might think of in a bad way.”

They nod their heads as if they understand and go about their business.

Clueless.

It should come as no surprise we as lovers of HiFi are for the most part invisible. The world doesn’t know we exist.

Fortunately, our members are welcoming and encouraging.

I’ve never met anyone that wasn’t open to sharing the joys of what we are so fond of.

We may be invisible but not because we are hid

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’s perhaps humbling to remember that for most of the world we audiophiles are not only amateurs but thought to be teetering on the edge of lunacy.

We work hard to make magic from the recordings we want to listen to.

Most pros—folks who make (or hope to make) a living at recording and reproducing music—consider all the hoops and “out there” technology we obsess over to be little more than Tom Foolery.

In their world, speakers and electronics are chosen more on what’s accepted in the industry as the gold standards. Basically, they hope to copy the technical elements of those who have risen to the top of the heap. YouTube is filled with the pros sharing their secrets of favorite equipment. Vintage this. Modern that.

One small glimmer of this making sense is the fact that unlike we lowly amateurs saddled with merely listening to the fruits of their work, they can manipulate sound to make up for deficiencies in stereo equipment.

If their choice of loudspeaker is so bright and harsh as to drive a poor audiophile out the window, they need only EQ the recording to where it sounds alright.

And perhaps that’s the core of it.

We are stuck doing our best to build audio systems that bring musical pleasure into our homes without benefit of manipulation. Like eating without the advantage of seasoning.

Which is one reason why at Octave Records we build music to sound perfect on the very equipment it will eventually be played back with.

Now, to me, that makes a lot more sense.

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.

Matching components together

One of the constant challenges we audiophiles face is the matching of stereo components.

Pairing together two products to make musical magic.

We can rely upon a previous matching effort like that of the manufacturer. (An all PS system, for example, is a known quantity)

We can also rely upon the equipment matching suggestions of reviewers and their systems.

Or, we can boldly go forward and trust ourselves to make great matches.

However we get to the point of pairing together products to make the final output our stereo systems are capable of, the goal is always the same.

Turn the lights low, press play, close your eyes, and connect yourself with the music.

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.

Notes or numbers?

Are we as audiophiles more interested in musical notes or measurement numbers?

The quick answer is, of course, musical notes. Yet I doubt few would disagree with the need to have measurement numbers good enough to get the job done.

Great measuring equipment doesn’t always sound musical and musically great sounding stereo equipment doesn’t always measure well.

The trick, of course, is found in the balance.

*ht: Mark Petersen for the subject

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.

Changing minds

Changing a tire makes sense. The car won’t go much further on a flat tire.

Changing a mind is nearly impossible. Imagine being asked to believe in a different religion, lifestyle, political view, stereo opinion, subjective vs. measurement-based, etc.

Recently, a generous forum member posted snapshots showing the image improvements on his LCD television when powered by a Power Plant.

It wasn’t long before an equally generous forum member pointed out that the methodology used wasn’t all that scientific and thus might be more convincing if done differently.

The battle lines had already been drawn.

Both posters were right. The first was doing his best to show what he was seeing. He’s not a scientist. He’s someone doing his level best to share with us what he sees (or hears).

The second person pointed out that it wasn’t scientific and thus the subjective review didn’t resonate with him.

The difference in image quality was apparent and obvious to the first. That attacks the worldview of the second.

Let me share a story with you that illustrates what I am referring to.

A decade ago when we used to participate in CEDIA (an industry-only home theater tradeshow), we were trying to demonstrate the same differences as the first poster showing his photos. We bought two identical big screen TVs at Best Buy, set them up side by side, did our best to make sure both their settings were identical, used an HDMI splitter to feed them both the identical image from a DVD player. We powered one from the AC power in the booth, the other with a Power Plant. The difference in the image was obvious to anyone walking by.

We didn’t announce which was what. We simply asked which was better, then pointed to the back of the TV so they could see the setup.

Of course, the self-proclaimed experts (you think audiophiles are bad, try changing the mind of a CEDIA-certified video expert) who could not wrap their head around the idea a power supply could make a visible (or audible) difference came by. Of course, they saw the difference. But, it didn’t make sense to them because it didn’t line up with their worldview (how could AC power matter?).

It challenged what they believed to be true.

When that happens, we humans typically turn to one of several main avenues of dismissal: the test wasn’t conducted in a properly controlled environment, it was performed by amateurs, or the more common, it was rigged.

I mean, think about it. We all do this regardless of which side of the fence our belief system lies. Either the data is incorrect (or inadequate), we’re too stupid to get it, or we’re being fooled. (note, the idea we might be wrong almost never enters the picture).

Over time, a few open minded folks (open minded typically means you haven’t yet formed a strong opinion) came by and were fascinated by the display, asked good questions, collected info, and moved on.

Near the last day, a return contingent of about 6 arm-folded video experts came back to the booth demanding that we provide proof (after all, we were the outliers challenging their industry). Stymied for a moment because the “proof” was right in front of their eyes, I suggested we swap monitors on the fly. Simple. If one was rigged then the good image should stay with the rigged set.

I am sure you know where this is going. The better image was clearly visible on the other set. It had moved with its power source. Out of the 6, only one looked like a lightbulb had gone off. The other 5 stood there, arms folded, and said they had been fooled by the quickness of the test and the bias inherent in knowing which would be “expected” to be better. In other words, it wasn’t a blind AB performed by a neutral party.

I share all this simply to point out that the idea of changing someone’s mind about what they believe is nearly impossible. As open minded as we believe each of us to be (me included), the truth is it’s nearly impossible. We’re so imaginative and resourceful when it comes to explaining and defending our worldview that even with hard evidence from people we trust we still don’t switch.

A more generous approach for us all would be to try our best to be a bit more welcoming of counter viewpoints and opinions.

It’s hard, but perhaps valuable.

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.

Pickup and playback

In yesterday’s post, I riffed on the difference between the broad strokes taken by recording engineers and the fine polishing we as audiophiles expend to enjoy all that the recording captured.

That line of thought can take us in a few directions. Among them is how very different our views of reality are.

Take for example the differences in sound quality between loudspeaker and microphone types.

It should be no surprise that music played through dynamic loudspeakers sounds very different than the same played through a planar ribbon design—the two transducers are built from radically different technologies.

It should also be no surprise that music captured by a ribbon microphone sounds very different than the same music as captured by a dynamic or a condenser microphone. Again, very different transducer technologies offer us very different sound.

The same can be said for most transducer types. Compare a record played back with a MC or MM phono cartridge.

The point here is that transducers used to either capture or reproduce sound are so radically different as to make one’s head spin.

How, with all these differences, do we ever get close to the real sound as if the musician were playing in the room with us?

Are any of them accurate?

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.

Nuance vs. broad strokes

The end goal for both audiophiles and recording engineers is the same. A perfect capture of a musical event.

How each arrives at their goal is very different.

As audiophiles, we struggle to wring every last nuance out of the music.

Recording engineers are less concerned with nuance, focusing instead on broad strokes: which microphone to use, how far/close to the instrument, mono or stereo capture, avoid acoustic bleed from the other instruments.

These fundamental differences of approach lead both to the same place but through radically different means.

Like a sculptor’s use of hammers and chisels or a painter’s broad brush strokes, recording engineers carve out their masterpieces so we audiophiles can revel in the subtle nuance of the recording.

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.

If only…

Spending some time away from home over the past few days has given me a somewhat different perspective on the day-to-day needs of audiophiles.

One trend I had, in my isolation, neglected is the need for a bit of spice. “My system’s almost perfect. If only…”

Indeed, how many of us are completely satisfied with what we have achieved?

I suspect only a small percentage.

For many I believe we’re looking for that added touch of spice, that extra measure of transparency, just a little more space around the instruments, a bit more blat from that trumpet.

For me the “if only” phase comes and goes in small waves. For the most part, I am somewhat in awe of how my stereo system sounds. More of a constant reminder of just how great everything sounds as opposed to a desire for more.

But once in a while a bit of “what if” creeps in. A healthy dose of non-complacency.

It’s the “what ifs” that lead us down the path of crafting better.