Tag Archives: Edison

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.

Great one from Paul.

Engine timing!! I set the timing on my car too, but like Paul, 40 years ago. Now, other than doing routine maintenance on our cars, I’d have no idea how to fix anything under their hoods.

Crossing the chasm

My father’s father, Claude, would probably find our modern technological wonders magic. Or unbelievable.

Imagine getting in a time machine and over coffee explaining to him that we can talk with anyone anywhere in the world. That within a matter of hours we can be transported in luxury anywhere in the world. That the entire knowledge base of humanity is available at the touch of a button. And let’s not forget our ability to watch any movie or listen to any music by just asking a robot.

He would likely just smile and think me a nutjob.

But, here’s the thing. I could probably manage to help him understand many of the basics including a turntable-based stereo  system. It’s not that far-fetched to show the principles behind the technology. A string and two cans would be a great help.

Now imagine explaining how digital audio works. Try to make sense of an optical disc and a pulsating laser to a person who just saw their first automobile.

Between the electro-mechanical era where inventors like Edison and Tesla could convert physical objects like horns, wires, wax, and needles into miracles, and the age of digital electronics spans a chasm so deep and wide as to be either magic or witchcraft.

In fact, do you think you could explain to someone with zero knowledge of electronics or science how music is stored and retrieved from an optical disc or a solid-state memory?

I would wager to say that when we crossed the deep divide between the electro-mechanical age and were thrust headfirst into manipulating electrons that we lost our grip on the ability to manipulate our own world. It wasn’t that many years ago I could set the timing on my car. Now my car has no timing to set.

It feels a bit humbling to have crossed the greatest chasm of humankind.

I am happy to be here. What a ride!

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.

Completing the circle

What would our world of high-end audio look like if there were only active wireless loudspeakers? If even the half a million dollar mega-beasts were internally amplified and connected via wireless and controlled from an iPad?

No more boxes. No more wires and cables.

Only speakers.

Would we have come full circle, back to the days when music reproduction systems were self-contained?

Would this mark the end of separates and their interconnections?
What would the next generation of sound reproduction systems look like? (Probably nothing because by then they’ll likely be invisible.)

If we look back over the past 142 years since Edison introduced the phonograph there is a clear pattern. All-in-one audio systems grow and grow until they explode into a multiverse of separates then contract back into a new version of the all-in-one.

The circle is complete.

Telling the future isn’t all that hard if you take a look at the past.

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. I’ve had a few of these ….

Failures

There are lots of failures. (Instead of Paul’s picture, picture a guy trimming his beard with a net underneath).

Take this contraption as an example.

Functionally sound, but could you imagine using this without cracking yourself up in the mirror? (apologies to any of you that own this)

One of the tenets of being an entrepreneur is the acceptance of failure. Innovators constantly fail, more often than they succeed, but they pick themselves back up and try a different angle until they find one that works. Edison wrote that he had experimented with the light bulb 2,774 times and even then, he had yet to make it work.

The very first product I invested my heart and soul into—a polyphonic synthesizer—was an expensive failure.

Without failures, there would be no successes.

It’s important we step outside our comfort zones to try new things, break new ground—as inventors and consumers of those inventions.

 

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.

Straight shot

In yesterday’s post, I suggested why a solar panel, independent of the shared power line, is a good idea not yet ready for prime time.

A number of astute readers asked the obvious. “Why go through all the trouble of converting to AC? Wouldn’t DC be better?”

Ahhh. Of course. The obvious. Why go to all the trouble of AC to DC when our equipment runs on DC in the first place?

Maddening.

What DC? Modern computers run on DC voltages varying from 1 to 12. A DAC from 1 to 30. A power amp can easily have 100 volts, a tube anything even higher. There’s little standardization and even if we wanted it, it wouldn’t work. The needs of one product aren’t the same as another—their functions are different.

If we start with high DC and reduce it to fit, the heat loss is enormous. Very inefficient. If we start low and want to go high, we’re back to converting it to AC.

Then, there are the losses over long wires. Not a problem with AC because we always have higher voltages to work with.

This same head scratching occurred more than 100 years ago when Nicola Tesla won the battle with Edison. AC vs. DC.

AC won because of a simple collection of coiled wire, and steel plates, the transformer.

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.

Glue

High end audio progress comes in chunks, driven by generations of designers in concert with generations of listeners.

Of course there was the Edison inspired group of mechanical designs with wax cylinders, cranks and horns. And Alan Blumlein’s stereo invention which, along with vacuum tubes, microphones, vinyl, and startups birthed in garages, ushered in the electrical age. Marantz, Fisher, Klipsch, and Villchur broke free of the cottage industries, and were eventually challenged by Morita, Yamaha, and Matsushita. Nudell, Walker, Tiefenbrun and Harmon lead the charge in the 70’s and 80’s, giving way to Rowland, Hanson, Schifter, Burmeister and my generation. And now we see the next coming of age: my son Scott, Matt Weisfeld, EJ Sarmento, and so many new faces I can’t keep track.

Each generation put forward fresh ideas and products that reflected their love of music and how it is enjoyed in the home.
And those who enjoy the fruits of their labors come and go in the same generational chunks, yet… there is one common bond we all share, the glue that holds us all together.

Music.

What we have isn’t what we want

What comes out of your home’s power wall socket is not what anything in your stereo system needs. In fact, what comes out of your home’s wall socket is the wrong thing for 99% of everything in your home. Certainly there are few things that like it: washing machines, refrigerators and an electric oven, but for the most part what we get isn’t what we want.

Which begs the question of why don’t we get what we want and need out of our home’s wall power? The answer goes back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the battle between two geniuses: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Let’s start by understanding what it is we get (that we don’t want) and what it is that we want (but don’t get). What we get is AC power – and what we want is DC power. 99% of everything you plug into the wall must convert AC to DC before it can be used.

Imagine for a moment the size of the power grid in the United States – of which there are 3 (east, west and Texas) and the thousands of millions of devices that use that power. In each case power must be converted from AC to DC using inefficient methods and losing 10 to 30 percent of available power in the process.

Let’s just round it down and say that 15% of the power in the world is lost because we have to convert AC to DC. That’s a lot of power to spend on this process, so why go through it? The simple answer is that the amount we would lose delivering the power to your home in final DC form is greater than what we lose converting AC to DC. It is more efficient to use AC to send power long distances and that’s where we start our story.

Most of us know Thomas Edison as the guy who invented the electric light bulb and the phonograph. The fact is he invented neither; instead his inventions took the work of others and made them practical to manufacture and use. Edison was a brilliant businessman and had a genius for making things work and turning them into industries. He changed our culture perhaps more than anyone of his time.

After figuring out how to build the world’s first practical light bulb, Edison set about to produce and sell light bulbs as fast as he could. He had one big problem, however, and that was providing electricity to operate the new bulbs. Without power the light bulb was pretty useless and people were just fine using gas lanterns. In fact, homes of that day weren’t wired for electricity at all but instead were “wired” with plentiful gas for their lights. Convincing people to convert from gas lights to this new fangled light bulb was a real challenge.

Tomorrow how Edison started America’s first power company.

Pual McGowan – PS Audio, Intl