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.

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.

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 we only knew

There are few things in stereo reproduction as important as setup: how well your speakers are positioned, how accepting your room is, the choices you’ve made in placement.

I can’t count the number of times I have been able to wring a higher level of performance from what was thought to be a mediocre group of products by simply rearranging the setup. Or, how often folks reject a new product because it doesn’t fit into an already established concoction of kit.

If we only knew the importance of setup we would get far more benefit out of the electronics, cables, and loudspeakers that grace our homes.

One of the problems we have is believing our setups are perfect for a given space when what’s actually true is they are optimized for the components that make them up at the time of installation and subsequent tweaks.

Change a component, change the setup.

If we only knew the true value of the setup we’d likely be making far different choices.

The next time you try a new piece in your audio or video system’s puzzle, consider the setup.

It may be the single most critical component in your audio 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.

Building foundations

I am not a building contractor but I’ve watched enough new construction to know a few things, like the importance of building a strong foundation. Constructing a beautiful home atop a shaky base is just asking for trouble. (Though, the opposite is equally true)

Top to bottom foundational strength matters in our music systems too. The best speakers in the world can’t blossom without a solid foundation of electronics to power them and vice versa.

I have looked at systems displaying an inverted pyramid of products far too many times. Top heavy in one direction or another: Great speakers with weak electronics or conversely, great foundational electronics with wimpy loudspeakers.

I guess the point of this post is to remind us that foundations aren’t always from the ground up.

What would you find if you took an honest evaluation of your setup? Would yours be a pyramid, hourglass or a solid rectangular shape?

The ideal, of course, is equal strength from beginning to end. Start at the AC wall socket and judge the chain all the way to your ear.

If you find your foundations solid you are fortunate. Few systems I have looked at are end-to-end strong.

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as enjoying the benefits of a rock solid end-to-end foundation.

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

Of course they do!!

Circuits matter

The illusion of depth, width, height, and separation of players within an audio soundstage can be a thing of beauty if executed properly. Unfortunately, a proper soundstage image is rare.

Part of the problem of achieving the lofty goal of disappearing speakers and effortless sound anchored on a nonexistent stage is the requirement of end-to-end perfection in the system. Starting at the wall’s AC socket and ending at your eardrums, every single bit of the stereo chain matters—in particular, the electronics.

If we can assume the room and speaker setup have been optimized for best tonal qualities and imaging characteristics, the biggest challenge is in the electronics. Amplifiers, sources, even the AC power itself play huge roles in crafting illusion.

On a recent equipment voicing project in Music Room Two, engineer Darren Myers had asked me to listen to his latest efforts at dialing in the new Stellar Phono stage (I had written about this in an earlier post). His complex discrete design had the lowest noise I had ever heard from a phono stage and was impressive, to say the least. Only, there was something not quite as good as digital yet. Surface noise remained embedded in the music more than what we hoped for (complete detachment) and depth seemed foreshortened. Where the digital version of a track might have appeared to have 20 feet the vinyl presented about half that. It sounded great, yet not remarkable.

One of the clues to this mystery was in the surface noise. Vinyl surface noise with its ticks, pops, and scraping can be a real challenge for analog circuitry. It’s very fast and contains a lot of quick transients that are unrelated to the music, forming a type of intermodulation distortion circuits with feedback can find challenging.

In this initial design, Darren had employed a classic feedback RIAA curve implementation because this design type enjoys low noise. Classic PS Audio phono stages of the past relied instead on a passive approach to EQ but were far noisier than this new Stellar design. Darren went back to the drawing board and a few days later returned with a passively equalized version to audition. It had given up a mere 3dB of noise and still represented one of the quietest stages I have ever heard.

But, how would it perform?

It was a bloody miracle. The foreshortened depth increased by twice, the soundstage width extended beyond the speakers, and a life that did not exist had been breathed into the music. It was a complete transformation as if the entire design had been rebuilt from scratch.

The unit measured identically well, save for an extra 3dB of noise, but the difference in sound quality was staggering.

Circuits matter.