Tag Archives: electronics

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.

Breaking with accepted facts

Five hundred years ago, most of the world’s experts clung to the facts of a flat Earth, despite the fact that we’ve shown the planet to be round from as far back as 2,000 years prior to that. *The Greek philosopher Pythagoras was the first to come up with the concept of a spherical Earth back in the 6th century BCE, based on his observations of the moon during a lunar eclipse. He noticed that the shadow cast by the Earth on the moon was always round, no matter what part of the planet was facing the moon.

Experts and authorities are really good at holding the line. Their job is to steer us in the accepted direction. Rarely does an expert veer away from accepted standards and beliefs. If they did, they’d be called something else.

Imagine the turmoil caused by those that dared challenge the experts. They locked Galileo up for life. They ignored and often ridiculed Ignaz Semmelweis as he campaigned for doctors to wash their hands to save lives. And stereo? Imagine the turmoil and opposition from the experts when manufacturers wanted to replace all the mono electronics and add yet another speaker to a system that already worked great.

We find safety and comfort in the experts.

We find innovation and new directions from the outliers.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek Audio and Paul McGowan of PS Audio, Intl.

Lowering our guard

We learn from very early on to protect ourselves from pain and unpleasantness. If something is too loud we cover our ears and move away.

On a more moderate scale, we do the same thing when listening to music. If something is too piercing, bright, screechy, or objectionable our ears tighten up as a form of protection.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when music is natural, open, and inviting, our ears relax. We become more open. We invite in the sounds.

I often think of this as a safety valve. The better the system and the recording the more open the valve.

This observation is intriguing because it suggests our hearing is variable. Unlike the wags who would have us characterized as machines that can be cataloged and judged based on A/B testing in a vacuum, I would suggest circumstances skew those results.

Imagine an A/B stereo amplifier test where a poor recording is employed. Listener’s ears are tightened up to the point where they cannot relax and hear into the music.

I have long preached that surroundings, environment, and circumstances play an equally important role as the electronics and recordings themselves.

If our dukes are raised for a fight it’s unlikely we can (or should) lower our guard enough to enjoy the music.

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.

Direction matters

Direction matters in at least diodes, capacitors, one-way streets, and game plans, but it is to the last on this list we write about today.

Being the impatient type I fully understand the temptation to jump into the deep end of a problem without a plan, but, as someone that’s been on the planet for more time than many, I also appreciate the value of a good game plan.

For example, when it comes time to choosing that new pair of loudspeakers or a new set of electronics, how many of us have clear objectives in mind?

I suspect most of our goals are more emotional than logical. I know in my case lust often outweighs reason.

If I were to offer any advice I think it might break down to two very simple questions:

  1. What is lacking in what I have?
  2. What am I hoping the outcome of my new purchase will be?

It might sound super simplistic but you’d be surprised how often these two questions go unanswered or, worse, unasked.

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.

Amen to this and most folks I know don’t have a lot of options when it comes to loudspeaker placement. I do and have the marks on the carpet to prove I’ve tried a bunch of different locations and it seems each speaker is different. Sometimes, changing electronics has me change things a bunch.

However, as I get older, I justs want to listen and where my Daedalus Ulysses speakers are now, works great, so I’m done…Probably…

Speaker placement

There’s perhaps nothing more important than speaker placement. Where those two boxes sit in the room vs. where you the listener sits, largely determines how your music sounds.

And here’s the sticky part. There are multiple right places, each sounding quite different.

I have watched many an expert set up speakers and each has a completely different approach that results in very different placements. If one watches Wilson Speaker setup expert Peter McGrath work, you’d notice him first walking the empty room clapping his hands and speaking into the air to find the best starting point for the setup. Contrast that with REL Subwoofer owner, John Hunter, who starts with but one channel and spends hours moving it about the room discovering the best place for bass.

At the end of each expert’s process, the sonic results are wonderful yet sonically night and day different.

Now think about your own best efforts at speaker setup. No doubt what you have achieved sounds different indeed from what they would have come up with.

I am in the middle of writing the first in a new series of books called The Audiophile’s GuideThe Stereo offers a detailed step-by-step setup guide for getting the most out of your 2-channel audio system. Following my instructions, there’s no doubt your system will take a leap forward in performance.

But, here’s the thing. My setup methods are different still than experts McGrath and Hunter. And so, yes, once set up, music and its image on the soundstage will be different yet again.

I think the point of this post is to point out just how much difference setup makes.

It’s easy to imagine otherwise.


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.

The cost of a soundstage

Visitors to PS Audio often walk away from Music Room 2 with their jaws still open.

Following a recent visit, Karel Osten wrote to me:

“I know you have described the sound but until I heard it for myself I had no concept of the depth and rock solid placing of the sound. Words are inadequate to describe the effect of the wide soundstage but at the same time the precise location of instruments and vocals. It seemed to me to be a strange combination of mono and stereo if that makes sense. How much do you think you have to spend to get anywhere close to the same sense of depth and soundstage?”

This is a great question and one we struggle with all the time. Fact is, what you hear in MR2 is not just the IRSV but an entire audio system. Those speakers are some of the more revealing speakers made. Thus, anything before the speakers gets shown in a harsh light—for better or for worse. There’s no hiding possible.

When it comes to the specifics of Karel’s question of depth and soundstage, that’s a little easier to answer. Given decent electronics, even a low cost loudspeaker system can disappear and in its place, listeners can experience a full soundstage. It just takes some setup skills, enough room for the speakers to breathe, and the right group of equipment. Synergy focused on soundstage.

I am pretty confident most of us already have many of the basic components needed to achieve what Karel’s looking for.

The reason we don’t get there is often a single missing piece in the chain.


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.

Strangling meaning

One of my readers emailed me worried about Power Plant regenerators. I thought his concern, along with my answer, might be interesting.

The concern is one we get a lot. “All power regenerators limit current. They can only provide a percentage of the total available current in the wall. I am worried about restricting current to my equipment.”

It is true that any piece of electronics connected to the wall has a limit, including power regenerators. And it would seem that at some point the power fed our equipment will get strangled, compressed, run out of gas. I mean, the words we use suggest that, right?

Words can mislead.

When a Power Plant exceeds its limits it shuts down (something they almost never do in real life). There’s no restriction so obvious as the unit turning off.

But, up until that rare occurrence, a proper regenerator does not restrict or limit power. In fact, the opposite is true.

Our wall AC sockets are limited to their rated power before they shut down. Let’s use 15 amps as an example. If we exceed the wall’s rated power, we trip the breaker.

Now let’s add a regenerator between the wall and our stereo system. Suddenly, we’re able to exceed the wall’s 15 amp rating and not by a little.  A regenerator like the Power Plant can deliver as much as 70 amps at peak—more than 4 times the current available from the wall at the top of each cycle.

This is possible because of its onboard storage reserves which the AC system in your home does not have.

So, while the word “limiting” has a frightening connotation to us audiophiles who want nothing to do with terms like limiting, compression, restriction, choke points, etc, its actual meaning is far more benign and the truth is very different.

Once we understand, the simple words we use will no longer strangle meaning.


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.

A diet plan? I’m interested..

Healthy engineering

I am wired to be an audio engineer. From my earliest days, I was devising plans and schemes to work through problems in systematic ways. I built fantastic machines in my imagination. I couldn’t wait to get old enough to build real ones.

My engineering mindset works not just for audio electronics but any type of problem, like the one I was faced with recently.

My doctor is a straightforward lady. She knows I detest coddling. Just spit it out and let me deal with it.

“You’re on the verge of Type II diabetes,” she said. “You can take a simple pill for the rest of your life and be just fine.”

“I don’t want to take a pill,” I whined. “What’s the alternative?”

“Lose the gut,” she replied.

Sigh. I had been working on just such a thing for two decades without success.

Time to kick in the engineering brain. If all the diet plans I tried weren’t working—and they weren’t because they demanded a lifestyle change—there has to be a way to engineer something that would work without upending my lifestyle.

There was nothing off the shelf so, just like in designing audio equipment, I had to engineer it myself. And it worked. I carved off 22 pounds in 90 days without giving up the foods I like and still drinking a glass or two of vino a night.

My doc signed off on the plan and congratulated me on the results. No pills and lots of health and renewed energy.

I was excited enough with this plan that I wanted to share what I discovered and so I wrote a book on the subject. (Hey, it’s still me after all). It’s short, to the point, and offers a step-by-step schematic of how to do the same.

If you want to find out more you can go to my website. Or just pick up a copy. (If you are outside the US this link won’t work. In that case, go to your country’s Amazon like you normally would and just type in The EAT Diet in the search box to find it).

Or, I’ll send you a PDF for free. Just email me if you’d prefer to do that.

Losing that weight was the healthiest thing I have ever done for myself. I encourage you to do the same if you’re not at your best fighting weight.

What’s important is that you stay healthy.


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.

History lessons

In yesterday’s post on listener fatigue, we came to understand it’s the over-etched quality of upper frequencies that often lead to our ear’s protective mechanisms engaging. Too much unnatural detail and we move away from the source as if it were a blinding light.

Tracking down and fixing the problems at the root of listener fatigue can be challenging because there are so many possible culprits: audio cables, electronics, rooms, source material. An endless list leaving us lost.

What to do?

My first suggestion is to jump into the history game for a moment. Here, we look back over time to see when the fatigue wasn’t there. If we’ve just made changes to the system then our job gets a bit easier. Before the change, no fatigue. After changes, fatigue. Let’s imagine this is our situation.

Perhaps our first reaction is to just go back to when we didn’t have the problem. Yet, that’s unlikely. We made the change in the hopes of getting something better. Let’s stay the course—at least for a little while. Perhaps a few suggestions to try:

  •  New electronics. Break-in is nearly universal. Any new audio or video gear removed out of the shipping box will sound tight and restricted without a break-in period. Power the unit on and connect it to the system. Often it’s enough just to have power running through the device. Break-in can take between hours and weeks.
  • Cabling. It’s typically a mistake to assume the cabling that worked for one piece of gear is going to work for another. You might get lucky, but then again… My best advice is to swap out cables to see how much of any impact they are making. If it’s big then consider mixing and matching.
  • Toe-in. We set our systems up for the time and equipment we have on hand. As soon as anything in the system changes it’s incumbent on us to readjust our carefully balanced systems. Speaker toe-in points the tweeters more or less at our ears. We can often get broader imaging and less fatigue with less toe-in.
  • Tilt-back. If all else fails there’s always the trick of tipping the speakers back a skosh. I use a thickness of a CD jewel case for starters. Place the jewel case just under the front of the speaker so it arches back. This changes the vertical dispersion enough to lower fatigue levels. Try two or more until it’s too much.

There are plenty more tricks if you need. What we want is to neither tolerate fatigue nor run from the hills when we encounter it.

You can always call our Hi-Fi Advocates for help too. 800 PSAUDIO if you just want to chat or need some advice.


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.

Getting tired?

We’re elated when our audio systems sound open, lush, and musical.

We’re not so happy when they cause us fatigue. Yet, fatigue can be a useful indicator of system setup.

When setting up a new system or working on a new design, one of the cautionary signals we look for is listener fatigue. If the music’s a bit over-etched or the upper details too pronounced, the ear gets tired. Instead of diving deeper into the music, we turn down the volume or find other activities.

Exaggerations in the upper musical regions can be enticing at first listen. It seems like a door of greater detail has been opened and we’re impressed. Unbeknownst to us our ear’s protective mechanisms fire into action. Our guard is raised.

Over time, those out of balance edginesses lead to our ears getting tired of the battle. Fatigue sets in.

None of us want our listening experiences to be anything but pleasurable.

When we get fatigued it’s time for action.

What we do depends largely on the source of edginess: cables, setup, speakers, electronics.

More 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.

Uncovering the music

When we try new software or add a new piece of stereo or video gear we often discover more in the music. Suddenly, that bit of detail we didn’t know existed pops out of the musical landscape and we’re thrilled.

We’ve uncovered missing information. Or have we? Was it ever really missing?

Some audio equipment adds a layer of grit to the sound that can deceive us into believing there’s more detail—like over-etching a photograph. No more information has been revealed. All that’s happened is details have been highlighted. But what of the opposite when details have been obscured?

We call that masking.

By whatever names we assign to impacts of electronics, etching or masking, they pale to what speakers can do.

Loudspeakers are the final arbiter in the chain. Information lost in a transducer’s inability to faithfully follow the signal provided by the electronics is gone forever. No amount of enhancement can bring it back.

We might be able to calm over-etched exaggerations or help uncover masked subtleties with differing combinations of signal chain elements, but that’s about the end of our abilities.

I’ve harped for years on the importance of speakers, and this short riff gives you yet another idea why.

Once lost by the speakers there’s nothing that can bring it back.