Tag Archives: cello

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

Ringside seating

On most recordings, there is a combination of close and distant miking. The close miking gets us a closer-than-natural intimate view of the instrument or performer, while the distant microphones add the missing ambiance and space close-miking cannot capture.

What’s odd about this miking technique is that it works despite the fact we are never as close to the instruments as the microphones.

One way to think about this is to visualize actual musicians in the room. Let’s use a single cello in our example. Mentally place the cellist a few feet behind the loudspeakers. Now, close your eyes and imagine how that would sound from your listening seat.

What you are hearing is a combination of the direct sound from the bow and string coupled with the room’s interactions.

Now, mentally replace our imagined performer with the close-miked cello. It sounds “the same” because the distance between the loudspeakers rendition of the close-miked sound and the listener mirrors the distance between our imagined performer and where we’re sitting.

It may seem counter intuitive to place microphones closer than our ears ever go, but that’s how we get musicians in our rooms.

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.

Everybody has their audio thing. Paul’s is mid bass and his thoughts are not unreasonable. Except, if too much mid bass, something else suffers. Pick your audio poison.

The mid bass dilemma

Mid bass is that all-important frequency range between 200Hz and 500Hz and covers the most important instruments in our musical libraries: voice, cello, viola, brass, tympani, woodwinds, bass, guitar. Just about everything we treasure has some element of mid bass. In fact, it is the foundation of almost all music.

Yet, despite its essential presence loudspeaker designers have traditionally treated it as just another frequency, counseling that for best performance we have only the position our left and right speaker cabinets to affect its correctness: closer together and mid bass increases, farther apart it thins out.

Infinity founder Arnie Nudell was obsessed with mid bass rightness. In his view, there was little else of greater importance. “Get the mid bass right and everything else falls into place”.

Infinity and Genesis loudspeakers of his design had no more chance to get the mid bass correct than any other speaker for the first 50 years of his design prowess impact on our industry. And then, a flash of insight. Why not create a 4-way loudspeaker that offers users the ability to adjust the all-important mid bass with the turn of a knob?

And thus, the adjustable mid bass coupler was born, one of the quietest revolutions in audio’s long history.

His invention covers the narrow range of 100Hz to 300Hz with a specially designed dynamic driver blessed with its own high wattage power amplifier and volume control. And, it works. This innovative approach to musical perfection permits the user an unheard of luxury: the ability to place the speaker pair where they image best, then tune the mid  bass to achieve sonic bliss.

This feature will, of course, be in our upcoming line of speakers to launch in late 2019. But, in the meantime, it’s good to noodle on the benefits of mid bass.

Music finds it critical.

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.

Mark Levinson is a guy who sold his name  and has been described as….err….challenging to work with. Yet he has carved out a niche for himself in high end audio, that has lasted around 40 years now. More than anything, he is a salesman, but perhaps not such a great business partner.  If they were still around, ask Sandy Berlin and Mike Kay about that and it would surely have been a story. God bless him, Mike Kay lost money with Levinson the person, twice.

Mark Levinson, Wadia, Cello

Mark Levinson started his company, Mark Levinson Audio Systems (MLAS), in 1972, two years before the founding of PS Audio. Mark was the company visionary while a parade of engineers including John Curl, Dick Burwen, and Tom Colangelo designed the products. Like many garage-based operations, MLAS loped along until investors Mike Kay (Lyric HiFi) and Sandy Berlin (Harman) came to the rescue.

But even after an infusion of cash, MLAS struggled before vaulting itself into the iconic status the company once enjoyed in its prime.

Instrumental in the meteoric rise of MLAS was their director of sales, Jim McCullough, a man whose chief qualification for selling high-end audio was that he’d read a few magazines and owned MLAS equipment. In five short years MLAS went from near-nothing to $10,000,000 before McCullough left for Wadia, where he managed to do it again: From nothing to $10,000,000 in five years. And then, it was on to Mark Levinson’s (the man) new company, Cello.

Of course, no one man can take all the credit for a company’s success. But one thing Jim McCullough can do is playback a wealth of great stories of how it all happened. And those stories and history are a hoot, well worth the time to listen.

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 use EQ..I use EQ…Use EQ…But, they aren’t all the same..LOL

Purist controls

We’re purists, right? We seek to clear the clutter, end the distortion, cut through the haze, and get to the musical truth.

It’s why we don’t like audio tone controls or, for that matter, anything not focused on purity—except when the unpure is packaged as perfectionist.

I remember when Mark Levinson’s second company Cello launched the Audio Palette, itself a tone control. But it was expensive, in a beautiful chassis, and helped remove the stigma associated with tone controls.

Times change. In defense of tone controls, they were needed when they were introduced. ‘Back in the day’ speaker systems and recordings were so lacking in frequency extremes that a small boost or cut in the upper or lower areas made sense.

I’ve recorded a podcast on the subject you can listen to here. If you’d like to subscribe you can get it on your iPhone or iPad by going here. Just click on the button “View in iTunes” below the Ohm’s Law picture of me. If you have an Android phone or tablet, go here to subscribe. Or, if you prefer to listen on the webpage, all the available podcasts are here.

This Saturday I am posting my interview with the late Arnie Nudell. The following Saturday, my interview with Elton John, and the Saturday after that Steve Mariott and Humble Pie. More interviews each week. I’d appreciate it if you’d subscribe, leave some feedback, and tell a friend.

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.

Ruffling feathers

Sipping my morning cup of java I stared aimlessly out the kitchen window. My reverie was suddenly interrupted by the loudest cacophony of angry, chattering, magpies I have ever heard—an easy dozen of the white trimmed black birds all with feathers ruffled. Below them, next to my neighbor’s fence, was a small bobcat who clearly was unhappy for all the attention, and they chased the poor critter off the property. Man! That was an exciting morning.

I think yesterday’s post probably ruffled just as many feathers as that bobcat. I had suggested that up until recently our cherished remote controls corrupted sound quality, a claim I stand by with some explanation.

Remote control wands are harmless devices. Neither their infrared or RF signals are bothersome to sound. It is what those wands control that causes me to make such claims. Before all the remote control fuss, preamps were simple collections of switches and pots. For example, a good friend of mine, Jim McCullough still builds high-end handcrafted non-remote control products under the Cello brand. Here’s a picture of its insides.

A beautifully built piece of kit. You can see the care and attention paid to the switches, wires, and pots. Are these the perfect solution for sound quality? No. Nothing is perfect and everything comes with its baggage, though I’ll refrain from delving deep into particulars after receiving this note from the designer.

“No snarky comments tomorrow about how metal to metal contacts in the input selector and palladium wipers in the volume control matter less than not having to drag yourself across the room to change the volume.”

If we hop on our way back machine to the earliest days of replacing the manual volume control with a remote, the very first schemes were simple motors replacing your hand. Klunky, but effective, these earlier motorized pots struggled with fine volume adjustments but worked. The degrading compromises I spoke of had yet to enter the scene.

The plot thickens when motorized pots were replaced by electronic volume controls. Depending on design types sound quality took a big hit with their introduction. The myriad of schemes were all over the map: relays and resistors, CMOS and resistors, op amps, and so on.

The advent of electronic volume controls is where the problems for sonics really kicked in. We’ll delve a bit deeper tomorrow.

See! No snarky comments about wipers.


Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Concert seats

When you go to a live concert where do you prefer to sit? If it’s orchestra, I prefer the right side, several rows back from the stage, where the lower frequency instruments like cello and double bass are emphasized. Others prefer center stage, while the left side seating affords a crisper sound, closer to the smaller stringed instruments.

If the venue is jazz or bluegrass, I want to be a little further into the audience to enjoy the crowd as well as the music which, almost always, has to be amplified.

But when you set up your speaker system, what seating position do you focus on for imaging? The question isn’t about where the sweet spot is–dead center between the left and right speakers and just slightly lower than the tweeter axis. No, the question is one of speaker placement and equipment choices and how they affect the imaging in the room.

I set up for a deep, wide soundstage behind the loudspeaker pair, emphasizing separation of instruments and a clear picture of the space musicians play in. Others I know like the image to come forward of the loudspeakers; a practice that drives me up the wall.

But then, they’re likely to scratch their heads when they hear mine.

Fascinating to me is the variability built into stereo systems. We can tweak the image and stereo presentation with placement, cables, room conditioning, and electronics. Like an artist’s pallette, our range of colors and textures available to us are as many as we can dream up.

And it begs the question posed by the title of a magazine. Is there an Absolute Sound?

There certainly is a sound, but absolute?

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.

DSP: Next step

In yesterday’s post we covered the beginnings of signal processing, explaining how it all began with simple bass and treble tone controls, moving on to more complex version of multi-frequency equalizers. The trend of analog EQ culminated in the seminal Cello product called the Audio Palette.

The problem with audio EQ as an aftermarket instrument is two fold: added components in the signal path, and major phase and time domain shifting. Used to correct actual problems, you have a sonic advantage. Used to enhance speakers or recordings beyond their inherent limitations, and music can become strained and unejoyable. A great example of analog EQ used to enhance an inadequately designed pair of speakers is the Bose 901. Built from a grouping of small, low cost woofers, analog EQ was used to boost bass and treble to levels resembling flat response. The results were often unlistenable. To be fair, it wasn’t necessarily the fault of analog EQ and there were many reasons the Bose required large amounts of alcohol or Tylenol to enjoy music, but I do think they represent a good example of a bygone era of analog EQ gone too far.

Then, we enter the digital age. The first thing to remember about digital is that all digital audio anything requires conversion from that which we can hear, analog, to that which we can manipulate, digital. What’s this mean to us? Conversion. There are a few digital in, digital out signal processors on the market, but in my experience they are somewhat rare for the application we’re discussing. And, even if you have digital in, digital out, you’ve obviated analog anything–like a turntable–unless you accept conversion from A to D.

So what we’re left with, when discussing DSP as an aftermarket box, is analog in->convert to digital->manipulate the frequencies and timing–>convert back to analog. There is little doubt the amount of processing affecting the original analog musical signal is greater with DSP than with ASP, but once you’re over that fact, DSP offers a stunningly powerful array of tools for good sound.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Perceptually speaking …

My friend Jim McCullough, owner of Cello, finally hit tilt with my constant harping on analog medium’s lack of bass and dynamics. He sent me the following note.

“I understand that it’s the common perception, and the measurements back it up, but it’s a lot (to me) like the perception that all amplifiers (basically) sound the same and there are measurements to back that up. Maybe that’s the case because it gets repeated so often and consistently.

I just don’t hear it.

But I always find it interesting.

Power of words.”

Dang if he isn’t right and I am wrong; perceptually that is. Technically what I have said about analog recording mediums like tape and vinyl is correct: they are both limited, relative to capturing all that’s on a microphone, and what we hear when live music plays. But it doesn’t sound that way.

I don’t hear that limitation described in the measurements either. On my LPs the bass and dynamics are stunning. As they are on my CDs and streaming media.

This just reminds me how easy it is to fall into the trap of selectively buying concepts that serve a particular point of view when it suits us best.

Guilty as charged.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Wading in deeper

In yesterday’s post The beat goes on I shared with you an observation of PCM vs. DSD and how the sound differed: PCM always being a bit more ‘alive’ and ‘energetic’ while DSD being a bit more ‘laid back’ in its presentation. What I appreciated in the observation was the lack of a judgement as to which was better or worse. It was just an observation.

But it is a head scratcher when an original DSD recording, like those of Blue Coast Recording’s magnificent Mahler series, can sound more ‘alive’ and ‘like music’ when converted to PCM. I’ve been scratching my head over this for quite some time now.

Over on the comments section of yesterday’s post, one of our more prolific and informed commentors, Acuvox (who happens to make unbelievably realistic acoustic recordings himself), proffers this opinion:

“The “energized” sound reported on PCM is probably an artifact of ringing filters on the transient edges. They typically exhibit “pre-ringing”, that is they start to ring BEFORE the transient. This time smearing increases the perceptual loudness of the transient. It is exciting, but fatiguing. Real music produces a relaxed euphoria. People who listen to acoustic music daily find PCM inferior to DSD and digitally compressed music unlistenable. If you take the time to acclimate by listening exclusively to DSD for a few weeks (and not through DACs that convert to PCM as an intermediate step), you may find your preference shifts as well.”

I am not certain I can agree or disagree with his opinion on the cause, or even his conclusions, as I haven’t enough facts to move forward on.

Perhaps the single biggest differences I notice are the increased energies right at the transient which sounds more ‘real’. For example, a double bass or cello, you can hear more of the bow hitting the strings of the instrument and believe that to be closer to the real thing. It can sound that way. So perhaps Acuvox is helping explain the mechanism in play that slightly exaggerates the transients.
Let’s suggest he’s correct. What then?

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Perfect Sound Forever

In 1980 there was no internet as we know it today.

The PC was introduced in 1981 and in that same year, we listened to our music on turntables and tape decks.  Vinyl, tape and the inherent limitations of their mediums came to be known as analog and were all we had to reproduce our music.

The best analog recording mediums were never capable of reproducing the full dynamic range of an orchestra or a live band.  Analog was flawed, restricted and limited.  And we knew it.

But analog also had an advantage.  It sounded like music.  We tolerated its limitations, its wows, its flutters, its ticks, its pops, its warps, because it sounded right.

No, it wasn’t perfect.  In fact, far from it.  But we could close our eyes and be transported to another place through the music.  A cello sounded like a cello.  A violin like it’s namesake.

No wonder that in 1982, when Sony and Philips announced they had achieved audio perfection they called “Perfect Sound Forever”, music lovers the world over rejoiced in anticipation of great things to come.  No longer would we have to tolerate all of analog’s limitations.  It would be a new world.  It would be contained on a compact silvery disc.  A miracle.

Imagine our disappointment when we were so filled with expectations and high hopes of getting even closer to the music.

Just imagine.