Tag Archives: DAC’s

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.

Defining high-end

It’s easy enough to bandy about the term high-end audio. Right? This is high-end, this is mid-fi, this is low-brow stuff. But, as easy as it might be to point and judge, what makes a product high-end?

I think it’s an often asked question and probably one more difficult to answer than most.

If I were to take a stab at it I’d start with aspirations. What does a product purport to do and whom is it intended to appeal to? An Amazon Echo or Dot make no claims of being high-end. A product like the Apple HomePod, on the other hand, does.

Just because a product aspires to high-end audiodom doesn’t qualify it as such, but at least it’s a start—an easy way to sort through the chaff.

The much more difficult challenge would be the judgment phase, a very sticky wicket indeed. One could suggest that it’s all performance-based, but I find that argument far too simplistic. For example, few would argue that a 5 Watt single tube power amplifier isn’t high-end, yet it could easily sound worse than an off-the-shelf mid-fi power amp.

Some products are so specific to the high-end they could be classified as nothing else: femto clock addons to DACS, uber pricey cables, USB re-clockers, power regenerators. Yet, while these could be nothing other than high-end I don’t think they alone embody the true meaning of high-end audio.

I would suggest that a much more telling attribute of a high-end audio product just might be its clear and obvious efforts at recreating the sound of live music in the home. Using that definition might get us closer because it can be fairly applied. For example, as good as some receivers might be, their aims are far too broad to be called high-end. These are targeting the much broader areas of what has become known as simply Home Entertainment. The Apple HomePod is not high-end, but it is a high-performance home entertainment piece.

Distinctions like this may not seem important to everyone. Personally, I want to know who/what a product was designed for so I can decide if they had me in mind.


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 it walks like a…

When we think of products in terms of functionality they’re all somewhat the same. DACs convert digital to analog, power amps drive speakers, preamps control the level. But, that’s often where the similarities end.

How a product does what it does makes all the difference in the world. The output of an R2R ladder DAC and a DSD-based DirectStream DAC may look the same, but they’re not even close in how they got there—nor in how they sound.

The same is true for power conditioners. They have AC power going into them, and with multiple AC sockets at their outputs, some modified form of AC coming out. To say or even suggest that a power conditioner or isolation transformer has anything other than form factor in common with a Power Plant would be grossly incorrect. Yet, it happens all the time.

We invented the Power Plant concept in 1997. Since that time, 23 years ago, one of our long-standing life’s missions has been to help people understand the black and white differences between an active AC regenerator and a power conditioner. The only thing the two have in common is one AC input and many AC outputs.

Because Power Plants provide instant dynamic voltage and current regulation along with rebuilding the AC sine wave itself, they are unflinching in their rock-steady delivery of AC power to equipment. A power conditioner, on the other hand, does little to justify its namesake. The condition of the power through a conditioner is, for the most part, unchanged—except to have made it slightly worse in the very areas a Power Plant makes it better. Impedance. (this too applies to isolation transformer based conditioners as well, though they are closer to their namesakes in that they do isolate)

Active voltage and current regulation are the keys to reversing what many people fear most with the addition of a power conditioner—loss of dynamics and life. Those who have figured out they’re likely better off plugging their power amps directly into the wall socket rather than cripple them with a conditioner, isolation transformer, or any passive device, have exactly the opposite reaction when listening through the lowered impedance of a Power Plant.

Just because it walks like a Power Plant, it certainly doesn’t sound like one.