Tag Archives: DAC

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.

This is kind of funny and the reason mini storage facilities flourish in this country. We are consumers of everything, including high end audio equipment!

Retail therapy

Color me appreciative of learning a new lexicon of terms, chief among them Covid-fatigue, and retail therapy.

Laugh at my naivety if you will. Truth is, I don’t get out very often and I never spend any time in social media haunts (and if we’re starting a list, I am also fashion challenged).

But if I get antsy or a bit down I can for a brief moment elevate myself by buying something. And if I buy it on Amazon I get a second jolt of satisfaction when in the next few days the package arrives. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

What I buy doesn’t much matter as long as it serves to further a project or make life a bit more efficient: an office chair seat cushion, a new higher-resolution webcam for all the Zoom meetings I have, a new music CD, an upgraded HDMI cable for better I2S, a new book, a desktop organizer, a car trash bag, the hard to find dental floss I prefer.

Whether it’s a trinket, a new cable, a new DAC, some olives I might have missed, or the latest Octave release, I am just coming to grips with the idea that the few times a month I get the itch there’s actually a name for it.

Retail therapy.

Who knew?

I am not alone.

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 just got in a T+A MP2500 Multi-Player, which is a combination SACD/CD player, streamer and DAC. It also has a tuner in it and bluetooth and it is just an incredible sounding player. So, while my system is mature, as described by PauI, T+A’s two DACS’s that I’ve owned, have made a really good sounding system, now sound great.

The asymptote

When energy is first applied to the building of a high-end audio system big improvements come quickly. Over time changes get increasingly smaller despite the same energy applied.

We refer to this as an asymptote (diminishing returns). Rapid progress slows as the system coalesces into its final form. Thus, the new and exciting DAC everyone’s talking about rarely has as big an impact on the mature system as it might when replacing a mediocre product.

This is natural and to be expected.

What’s remarkable is when you read of a new product that even on the most mature systems leaps forward in performance.

It’s one thing to best a meh product and quite another to stand out in a crowded field of exceptional gear.

You’ll know it’s worth your time when those of us nearing the asymptote find a new product worth shouting about.

 

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.

Today, some original content from me as my 21 year old so, Michael, has put his toes into the Audiophile realm, for the first time.

Typically, Michael has gravitated to things that are hot amongst his age group. His first interest was better earbuds, then Gaming headphones and now something better. With dads help, he is on his way.

When he came home yesterday, he asked about good sounding headphones and how to get better sound from his gaming computer, as well as other sources, such as YouTube.

The answer is better headphones and a decent DAC/Headphone amplifier that has Bluetooth. I happen to have both sitting around, neither getting much use, so they will go back to school with him later today.

I recently took on the T+A (Theory+ Application) product line out of Germany and purchased their T+A DAC 8 DSD to see what they were all about.

What they are all about is the best sounding solid state based audio I’ve yet heard. I liked the DAC 8 DSD so much, I sold it to a local customer and bought T+A’s MP2500R, which combines basically the same DAC, but adds an integrated  SACD player. SACD is DSD and supposedly is the best audio you can get from a digital source.

I expected delivery of my demo MP 2500R, pretty much within a weeks time, so I installed Skips DAC 8 DSD, only to find out that CV19 has affected Germany and I would have to wait for the MP2500R.  I was so impressed with the sound of T+A’s DAC, I also purchased their AMP 8 power amplifier and it too, is amazing.

So, in addition to the MP 2500R, I will also be receiving their T+A PA 2500R, which is their integrated amplifier. My unit will be outfitted with their MC phono stage and I have high expectations for it.

What does this have to do with my son? Tune in tomorrow.

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.

Unprecedented control

I’ve been having a blast learning and working with musicians, producers, and engineers at Octave Records. It’s fast paced: quick learning steps leading up the ladder to new understandings of more than just the subject at hand, especially as it relates to how we listen.

When you and I are playing music on our stereo systems we’re constantly evaluating the work of producers and recording engineers. Up until recently, the only control we had over how their efforts sounded involved only the playback chain.

Once you’re immersed in both the playback and recording an entirely new vista of comprehension opens up. If I hear something not quite right in Music Room 2 I can go into the mixing room and change it: depth, width, tonal balance, room size, etc.

There is much to think about with this new found control—questions that we have been asking ourselves for decades. How do we voice our electronics for the greatest number of our HiFi Family members becomes how do we voice our recordings for the greatest number of HiFi Family members? What’s right and what’s wrong? How does it honor the music? The musicians?

Fortunately, there is a common thread that we’re confident in. If it sounds great on our reference system it will sound great on the vast majority of our HiFi Family’s systems. That’s a wonderfully comforting thought—one we have verified time and again over the years with efforts like our Mountaintop DAC upgrades and how our products sound and perform in the field.

But this is new. The level of control when one starts at the microphone and gets to optimize the entire chain right up to the ear is startling, to say the least. Much more will come of this. We are just beginning to scratch the surface.

I predict our future holds not only lots of great recordings but discoveries and revelations on the playback side too.

The closer one gets to the source, the easier it will be to uncover the truth.

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.

When to upgrade

When is it time to upgrade? Add another component like a Power Plant, a new cable, a better DAC?

I get asked this question a lot. Just recently the question put to me was a tough one to answer. If the system is limited by the setup possibilities: loudspeakers shoved up against the wall, a lower end integrated driving them, and not much room for change, is it worth upgrading components?

Of course we understand an upgraded component will typically outperform its replacement but by how much? Is it worth adding a high-end power cable to an off-the-shelf integrated amp when it’s already difficult to hear small changes in music resolution?

These are the tough questions one must ask before dropping coin. My general advice on this question starts with asking what the person hopes to achieve. It’s a great question we should all be asking ourselves. If we’re hoping to make the speakers disappear, bring the sound of live musicians into the room, then simply upgrading components isn’t going to get us where we want to go—not if we’re unable to accommodate the space necessary for the speakers and proper setup.

If the basics are there then it makes sense to begin the upgrade process. But without the ability or willingness to dedicate a decent amount of living room space or take the time to set up properly, it’s probably not worth your time to start down the upgrade path.

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 listen to Lee Ritenour’s 4 to 6, by Wes Montgomery as my first music selection, when listening to a new stereo component. Why this? Simply because I love it!!

What to first turn to

When evaluating a new piece of gear—perhaps that new Power Plant, DAC, cable, or loudspeaker—what’s the first track of music you turn to? Is it always the same? Does it vary from type to type of gear?

In my experience we all have a few go-to pieces of music we rely upon to evaluate equipment. It occurs to me that much of what we think of how a product presents itself may in part depend on this go-to piece of music.

For example, I almost always go to an acoustic piece with a vocal. This is a quick and easy way to tell if the voice sounds right or if it’s off base. From there I can branch off to other tracks. But, what if that practice leads me astray from the truth? Perhaps the strength of the new product is in the top end, or the opposite. Maybe its strengths or weakness fall outside the bounds of my first impression piece.

I’ll bet that, for many of us, that first piece of go-to music has a lot of bearing on how we feel towards a particular piece of gear—half full or half empty.

What we first turn to may be more important than we sometimes give credence to.

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 get this and mostly agree.

Looks can be deceiving

The popularized term for not wanting to face hard facts is to bury your head in the sand as an ostrich does. Only, the myth that these big birds bury their heads in the sand is not true (they’d suffocate). The birds bury their eggs in small pockets in the warm protective earth, then stick their heads in the entrance hole to turn them.

Looks can be deceiving.

When it comes time to build (or build upon) our audio or video systems, it’s important we enter into the project with eyes wide open. We don’t want to move too far in any one direction because we believe in some sort of myth that in the worst case may not be true, and in any case may be misunderstood. For instance, it is misguided believing that a major investment in network cabling, high-performance routers, isolators, regenerators, and potions to clean and isolate streaming data is anywhere near as important as simply purchasing the right DAC. But, flipped around, where we start with a great DAC before adding the spit and polish of cabling and tweaking, makes a whole bunch of sense.

It often feels safe to immerse one’s self in the accepted lore of those who sometimes talk over our heads or are so deep into a subject that we assume they’ve already tried everything, but, looks can be deceiving.

My advice is to get the basics right first. Once you’re on solid ground with the essentials, it’s a good time to venture into the exotic.

 

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.

PS Audio is having a sale. I’m no longer a dealer as they have gone direct,  but here it is and if you buy, they donate money to musicians!

Power the Performers

There are very few add ons to our stereo systems that aren’t double-edged swords—they help and hurt at the same time. I remember the first time I played around with an inline vacuum tube “warming device”.  Placed between either the input to the preamp or its output, the box did as advertised but it wasn’t a free lunch. The warmed music had also gotten blurred and lost specificity.

One technological add on that offers benefits without losing something in the bargain is a proper power regenerator. Placed inline with the incoming AC power, waveform distortion is reduced by a factor of 10 or more, voltage variations become so low as to be inconsequential, and most importantly, the impedance of the AC power source drops by magnitudes. It’s as if your stereo system were next door to the city power supply, unmolested by neighbors and miles of wires and transformers.

One of the best uses of a regenerator is for our sources and preamplifiers. These ultra-sensitive devices are not appreciative of the noises and unwanted emissions generated by their fellow system companions and vice versa. The noise and hash that comes out of the AC inlet of a DAC or CD transport are easily injected right into your sensitive preamp or phono stage. The ultra-low impedance AC source of a regenerator, like our Power Plant, stops those emissions dead in their tracks. Their pollution is unable to pass between sources, DACs, and preamps.

If your sources, DACS, and preamps aren’t benefitting from a dedicated Power Plant, you’re missing out on what just might be one of the bigger improvements possible.

This month, we’ve got the Stellar P3 Power Plant available to US residents at a remarkably low price. It’s the perfect Power Plant for your sources, or even to power a smaller system. Our program is entitled Power the Performers. You’ve no doubt caught on to the first idea of powering your source performers, but there’s more power yet available.

For every US P3 purchased in the month of May, we’ll cut a check for $100 cash and send it to the Grammy’s MusicCares program where Spotify will match those funds, getting $200 into the hands of musicians in need.

Now’s your chance to make a difference to your system and those in need. Head here and grab one before the end of the month.

Your ears and our musicians will thank you.

*Not in the US? Check with your country’s dealer/distributor to find out if they too are offering similar price reductions in May.

 

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 audio DAC does nothing with the signal, playing it back with the exact information that it was recorded with, bit for bit and at the native sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz.  The DAC does have  all sorts of oversampling, which is manipulation of the bitstream, yet it sounds best, by a long ways, in its non-oversampling mode.

Still I owned a PS Audio DAC for many years and it sounded great too, although I like what I’m using now a bit more. However, both are musical. When it comes to audio design and life in general, different strokes for different folks.

Regenerating vs. conditioning

There is a fundamental difference between purifying water through boiling and distillation vs. merely filtering it. The first fundamentally alters the source while the second just modifies it.

Of course, this is the basis of our Power Plant AC regenerators, units that fundamentally alter the power coming into your home.

I am reminded of another kind of regeneration vs. filtering and this time in the digital domain.

In the mid-1990s, as digital audio was just gaining a foothold in high-end audio, we had learned a new term. Jitter. Jitter is a timing error, a deviation in time against a fixed standard. If that deviation happens at a quick enough rate we can hear its distortion. Slowly deviating jitter—measured in seconds, minutes, or years—is not audible.

No sooner had the subject of jitter bubbled up to the attention of the high-end audio community than clever engineers offered us a means to reduce it. Jitter filters were suddenly everywhere. These filters typically used a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) which is a fancy term for a way to detect variations in timing, speeding up or slowing down the digital signal to compensate. Better, to be sure, but still a Band-Aid in the way those early products worked.

That’s when our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, and I decided to take a different approach. Instead of speeding up and slowing down the data stream to get closer to an ideal periodicity, we decided instead to throw out the original data stream and generate a new one with a jitter-free clock. In other words, we regenerated a new digital signal free of jitter and changes in speed.

We called it the Digital Lens because it perfectly focused the digital audio stream.

Cleaning up a mess is effective, but rarely as good as starting fresh.

 

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.

Change of vantage

Music Room Two, with its magnificent Infinity IRS V, BHK monoblock amps, multiple P20 Power Plants, BHK preamp, DirectStream DAC, and Stellar Phono is one of the most revealing systems I know of. It’s our reference that allows us to hear deep into the music. It’s an invaluable tool for the design and voicing of PS Audio products.

Yet, Music Room Two is forever changing, something you might think a reference should never do.

As we change cables, improve DACs, find new music, or tweak speaker positions, our vantage point changes and it sounds different. Often, we’ve enough improvement that previously unnoticed details in familiar music come to the forefront, requiring us to readjust our expectations.

I think of this change in vantage point very much like changing one’s seat in a favorite concert hall. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to attend New York’s Carnegie Hall or the Met, it’s been in different seats. And each of those positions gave me a very different perspective of the whole.

Even in Music Room Two I’ll often take the right-hand seat instead of the center sweet spot just to change vantage points and listen from a different perspective.

We can get inured to the point of ignoring the obvious if we’re not careful.

A change in vantage point is often the best way to refresh and renew the music.