Tag Archives: B&W

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 called sell out and make a bunch of money. It’s to Paul’s credit that he didn’t take this route with PS Audio, as I’m sure there could have been suitors and a sale.

Big vs. small

I am struggling to think of a smaller company that’s gotten better after being acquired by a bigger one.

I cringe at the aftermath of Harmon’s purchase of Infinity, and JBL, and I wince at the results following Sound United’s big gulps of Denon, Polk, Marantz, B&W, Def Tech, Boston, and Classe. The list seems to be endless.

None of those brands retains any semblance of its former glory.

And it’s not just the audio industry. Shop in Whole Foods after Amazon’s purchase.

Surely there must be some advantages to being swallowed by a bigger company with heavy resources and financial freedom.

I just cannot think of any.

 

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’ve only owned one pair of active speakers and they were old B&W’s, so not a fair comparison, because they sounded lousy. I’d like to try a pair of active speakers one day, although this isn’t what this article is about!

Active battles passive

There’s always strong debate when it comes to AC power. One camp believes a passive collection of coils, caps (and sometimes) exotic materials does a better job with delivering AC power than an active regenerator.

I think this battle may be misplaced. A passive solution is not trying to accomplish the same things as an active device because the passive device can never hope to do what a regenerator is capable of. Thus, each should be evaluated on its own merit.

For example, a passive conditioner cannot fix AC power problems like impedance, voltage fluctuations, distortion of the waveform, etc. What it can do, is remove noise and deliver a much cleaner source of power to our equipment.

So, the argument should not be whether a non-regenerator is better than a regenerator at specific tasks, but rather, what’s the greatest benefit to connected equipment?

Some will argue that clean power is all you need. Others, like me, suggest that while clean power is beneficial to sound quality, it pales in what regeneration provides that conditioners can’t.

When you think about AC power—that all critical source of energy our systems rely upon—it’s probably helpful to narrow your search down to evaluating the benefits or lack thereof of specific tasks rather than comparing models with the same function.

Do you want an active system that replaces missing energy, lowers impedance, distortion and noise, and stiffens the power to your equipment? Or do you feel better forgoing all those benefits—except noise reduction—in favor of a passive approach?

Those are the questions one needs to ask.

 

 

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.

Perceptual confusion

Regular readers of this blog will know I often am critical of a few well known speaker brands. This doesn’t sit well with owners of those brands and for that I apologize. I single out a few brands because, to me, they represent great examples of perceptual confusion—conflating two ideas together that don’t necessarily match.

Take Sonus Fabers for example. These are excellent speakers and ones I heartily recommended to my son Lon when he wanted new speakers for his house. They are beautifully built, great looking, wonderful value, and good sound too. So, what’s the beef? Why do I not recommend these to most audiophiles? They aren’t what I consider highly resolving speakers on sonic par with (say) a Von Schweikert, Magneplanar, Wilson, or Infinity. They are not. Which is not say they aren’t great speakers, ones I would not hesitate to recommend again and again.

The difference is I would not recommend them to someone interested in achieving audio nirvana. That’s not what they do.

Nor do B&W (for that matter). Their persona is one of technical accuracy, designed and engineered by teams of white coat scientists with million dollar spectral analyzers. They are, indeed, that. And, if that’s what you want, then there are none better than B&W. But, if recreating the illusion of an orchestra in your home through the disappearing act of musically perfect speakers and electronics is your goal, then I would not be recommending them.

This rant is not about downgrading two fine speaker brands. Not at all.

I have the ultimate respect for both brands and the customers of those brands.

My purpose is to help align expectations and reduce perceptual confusion.

It’s always tough to sort through the perceptions and positioning of products to suss out the essence of what you really are after.

But, when you do, life gets a lot easier.

 

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’ve long said that the audio listening room is the most important part of a good music system. Match the system to the room and then add acoustic  treatments  that will work , aesthetically.  The electronics are pretty easy. The speakers not so much.

How could they be so far off?

We can, with all accuracy, suggest some loudspeakers are bright while others are not. Or, some speakers have bass or they don’t. Or a recessed or forward midrange. This leads one to conclude there’s little to the notion of flat frequency response. For, if it were flat, there’d be no discussion needed.

Take a pair of B&W 800 series—a speaker that is one of the most popular in the world within the medium to expensive range. For a brand of speaker to be so accepted it has to be a good loudspeaker. And it is. But they—like every brand of loudspeaker—have characteristics consistent with a deviation from our picture of flat. In the case of the 800s some might say: ultra revealing, overly accurate, a touch of too bright. Others say they are perfect.

We might get just the opposite when looking at another brand: too dull, midrange heavy, bass shy. Or, perfect.

What’s important about this observation concerns flatness: there’s no such thing. Not with published deviations of +/- 1.5dB for great designs and broader for the less accurate.

And yet the flattest sounding speakers are the ones that do not draw attention: The few with sculpted response that raises no red flags and points to nothing but musical qualities we have come to accept as flat (despite their measured deviations).

In fact, all speakers are far from flat. It’s just how close designers get to what sounds flat that determines their performance.

They are all off.

 

 

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.

Nothing to disagree with here, either.

Starting small

I would imagine the canon shots on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 might sound more like the banging of pots on a B&W Zepplin, or a pair of bookshelf speakers. Big music should be honored by full range gear.

Conversely, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, or Red Norvo sound right at home on small kit. If your musical choices lean towards ensembles, light classical, acoustic, and vocals, a compact stereo system might be just the ticket. Especially if you haven’t much room to contribute.

We could likely spend weeks covering the gamut of the small, so I’ll need to narrow the discussion by focusing more on high-end audio as opposed to the Sonos, and single system devices.

The first place to start is facing the elephant in the room, the loudspeaker. There’s simply no way around the necessity of moving air if you want to have music. Sure there are ways we don’t have to pay any floor space penalty, like the invisible Aminas, or in-walls like the Invisas, but these are mid-fi compromises. If imaging and spatial cues are important to you, you’ll need to tolerate the physical intrusion of external boxes.

Let’s settle on the idea of donating some amount of floor space, as opposed to bookshelf speakers mounted on their namesake or a table. The reason we want our speaker boxes off shelves and away from physical objects is to minimize sonic damage. Speakers sound best when their envelope of sound is unimpeded. Place them away from as many obstacles as possible.

Wrap your heads around the idea of rescuing a small bit of floor space and tomorrow I’ll give you some ideas what to do with 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.

From Paul, as I agree with him regarding tweaks and especially high priced audio cables.

Audio cables are important, but you don’t need to spend big bucks to  have good enough wiring. Prices on some esoteric cabling runs into the 10’s of thousands of dollars! Some of them give you boxes to “fix” the audio signal, some give you silver and gold wire and others give you fancy connectors with fancy looks. They all work and there are some differences, to be sure, but is this necessary for great sound? The answer is no.

Much of the “common” high end wires out there are probably Belden, Mogami or Radio Shack wire, which can all sound good, especially with good with good marketing skills. Everybody has their story why their wires are the best and based on personal experience, I can tell you with great certainty, that these people probably believe what they say, but have mediocre systems to test their wires with.

I’ve recently sold a bunch of expensive cables I bought to demo, including an expensive AC cord, that melted!! It took the manufacturer almost a month to send me a replacement and he blamed this on an employee, when I’m pretty sure he builds all of his wire himself.

I often wonder if I took a set of my DIY Mogami/Neutrik based XLR’s and didn’t tell folks what they were, and lied about how much they cost, whether people would believe me. Sadly, most probably, the answer would be yes.

There is also a link to Paul’s bi-monthly publication, called Copper. Take a look as it has some good stuff inside regarding high end audio and music.

DIY

In yesterday’s post we asked what your favorite tweaks are. Some great answers are rolling in.

Copper Magazine, Issue 15, launched this morning and in it we begin a new series called Make It Yourself. This is an exciting direction for Copper to take and we have one of our newest team members to thank.

Darren Myer is an engineer who formerly worked for Classé Audio and B&W, but now has joined our own engineering group. Darren’s passionate about high-end audio and wanted to contribute to our growing community of readers.

His first project is how to build an excellent set of XLR audio cables for $50. You can jump directly to the article here or just glance at it as you’re thumbing through the latest issue.

I love this kind of community engagement. Not because I believe there are thousands of eager DIY waiting for the next project. No, I believe very few people will actually build a set of these excellent sounding cables. Instead, I think it helps ground our industry.

In an age of cables, speakers, amps and others that are sometimes so expensive as to be shocking, it’s healthy to remember our roots.

Thanks Darren.

It’s the least I can do

We’re ending our series on separates with a bit of a summary and a cautionary note.

We’ve seen that when you set out to design a separate, whether its purpose is one of added functionality or improved performance, that separate must stand on its own in a world of unknown connections and situations – thus making the job of the designer not only difficult but very different from that of the integrated system designer.

The integrated system designer has a very different task than that of the separates designer: building a holistic product with a single purpose in mind – which means the parts of the system need only be excellent enough to work together, not necessarily stand on their own. The end results can be all over the map depending on how the project is approached, what tools the designers have to work with and who the end customer is going to be.

One example of this can be shared in my experience as a consumer. I wanted an all-in-one small speaker for my office. Always curious what happens when I go out into the world as a simple retail customer, I travelled to Best Buy and asked to be shown their offerings of a self amplified loudspeaker I could use in my office. Most of what I was shown was pure drek that sounded nothing like music when powered by my selection on the iPhone.

The salesman quickly realized I was after something that sounded like music (go figure). He marched me over to the B and W area and showed me the Zepplin Mini – as the Zepplin itself was out of my price range. Oh my gosh, it was hideous – much worse than some of the other stuff I had heard. I was pretty shocked that B and W would put their badge on this extremely unmusical speaker. But then he stepped me up to the B and W MM-1 which was only another $100 or so. Wow. Music came out and to my surprise, really good music. I bought the MM-1 and have been happy ever since.

A little investigating at what was inside each of these led me to realize there isn’t a lot of difference yet the performance of one was total crap, the other marvelous. I can only conclude there must have been different teams working on each because one got it right, the other totally wrong.

And this is the cautionary note. It hasn’t escaped me or many of my fellow manufacturers who care about how things sound that there are two ways to build a product: by figuring out the least you can do within your constraints to make something good enough, or the most you can do within your constraints to make something excellent. My B and W experience covers both extremes.

When we keep in mind the end goal of making music, we do not have to restrict ourselves to many boxes to achieve our goal. In fact, as long as we’re willing to be open to change and different paradigms of how we recreate music in our homes, I am convinced we can have fewer boxes and better sound.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.