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.

 

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.

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.

The perfect reference disc

I wonder what the perfect reference disc would include.

Our first attempt, the Audiophile’s Reference, has sold thousands and served her audience well.

But the Audiophile’s Reference was in service of the accompanying book which was designed to help audiophiles perfect their home stereo system setups.

Once you’ve gotten everything right, then what?

I am wondering what it might look like to build what perhaps would be called a finished disc.

The ultimate checksum.

I’d love to hear your 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.

The golden ear myth

I wonder about the origin of the audiophile myth of golden ears.

In my experience, the differences we hear, the quality of the music played on our stereo systems are immediately obvious to any and all newcomers. I have never had anyone tell me they couldn’t hear “the difference” we bring to the table.

So why are we labeled golden eared? What is it that makes us appear to have special powers of audio observation?

Indeed, I have been with people I would consider as having golden ears. Listeners so astute at their craft they can pinpoint problems and point to probable causes.

But do most audiophiles have greater sonic acuity than your average consumer of audio?

I think not. I believe what the difference is that audiophiles have been exposed to better sound and know the difference between the drek foisted off on consumers vs. what good sound can offer.

We have been exposed to what music can sound like when properly reproduced.

That’s a golden experience.

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.

Dagwood

How many of us can recall the Blondie cartoon strip with one of my all-time favorites, Dagwood Bumstead, and his enormous over-the-top sandwich?

To this day I do my best to pile on as high as possible the ingredients to my sandwich. Over-the-top.

Which reminds me of how we as audiophiles are often over-the-top about much of what we do. From cables to tweaks to attention to the minutest of details, we are often obsessed (in a wonderful way) with all things to do with our home HiFi systems.

Dagwood Bumstead would have made a great audiophile!