Tag Archives: equipment

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.

Shiver me timbers

Perhaps the greatest compliment a piece of audio equipment can get is a shiver down a spine—exactly what Calord experienced on his first listen to the new Steller Phono Preamplifier.

Read all his comments here.

You’d think designers would get most excited when the magazines launch a great review, or when an official set of measurements shows off the kit’s prowess, or when industry-recognized pundits proclaim it a hit. And, designers do. But not like when a first time user gets shivers down their spine.

I cannot think of a greater compliment than to have a piece of gear reach deep into a person’s soul and connect them with their music.

What a truly magical moment.

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.

End of an era

Equipment has life cycles not unlike our own. They are dreamed up, assembled, brought to life, nurtured, flourish, fade, get old, and die. And, like us, their progeny carry on with fresh ideas, dreams, and new approaches to our needs.

One technology in the getting-old-phase turns out to be the very instrument I am writing this post on: the personal computer—but perhaps not in the way you might think.

PCs have been the core of music playback for decades. In 1991 Microsoft introduced WMP (Windows Media Player), which was eclipsed a decade later by Apple’s iTunes, suddenly available on both a PC as well as a mobile device known simply as iPod. It wouldn’t be long before digital music control was completely ceded to the PC because all digital music had to somehow come through the PC.

In 2008 things began to change when two engineers, Daniel Ek, and Martin Lorentzon—working out of a shared apartment in Stockholm—began changing the world.  Ek and Lorentzon started a company that would soon become one of the world’s largest musical content providers and challenge the reign of the personal computer for music’s playback. The name they chose for their new company, Spotify, was born from a misunderstanding as Lorentzon yelled his choice across the room and Ek misheard.

With Spotify and all its imitators accessible on mobile platforms (as well as purpose-built systems like Sonos, and a growing number of servers, NAS, and other schemes) the need for PCs to play and control music is diminishing.

But it isn’t just streaming services that are freeing us from the tether of big, high-tech boxes tied to mice, keyboards, and video screens. Even physical media like CDs are being controlled and played back less and less on PCs.

Within the next five years, I believe we’ll see PCs fade into the mists of time as the primary interface for our music.

I for one will be thrilled to never use a mouse, keyboard, or video screen to enjoy or control my tunes.

You? Me too.

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.

Paul writing about sharing secrets….Audio technology, in his case.

He’s not afraid, so he shares, but not everything. After all, he has a lot invested in his technology and why give that away for free? I sure wouldn’t.

Cagey

There are two camps when it comes to protecting intellectual property: cagey/secret, and open/forthright.

Most companies producing technological equipment fall into the first camp, cagey/secret. They dance around their consumer offerings, extolling the advantages of unexplained mystery technology. They never reveal their magician’s tricks.

Then there’s the few who do their best to be open and forthright. These are the technical innovators openly sharing discoveries and proprietary process so that when they tout the benefit of their miracles, people can more easily make informed judgments on the IP’s merits. Their magician’s tricks are always revealed after each performance.

We’ve always been party to the second group, open and forthright. No, we don’t always give recipes and step-by-step instructions on how to copy what we’ve worked hard to achieve, but enough information that others can choose to follow if they wish.

I have never understood the need for secrecy.

Perhaps I was never a good magician’s apprentice.

 

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.
Breaking in what?

It has been said that break-in, the phenomena of equipment improving its sound quality with use, has more to do with breaking in the user’s ears than the kit.

I think that opinion is misleading.

There is a difference in equipment performance with break-in. Of this I am certain. I can almost always tell when a unit is fresh off the line or has been in service for some time. It only takes a single audition.

That’s not me breaking in. It is the equipment changing with use.

That said, here’s an uncomfortable truth. Our ear/brains break-in over time too. The longer we listen the more accepting we become of sound.

While both are true, one does not negate the other.

It’s tempting to dismiss the equipment break-in observation because equipment break-in is hard to explain. Often a mystery.

Mysteries are there to solve, not dismiss.

improving its sound quality with use, has more to do with breaking in the user’s ears than the kit.

I think that opinion is misleading.

There is a difference in equipment performance with break-in. Of this I am certain. I can almost always tell when a unit is fresh off the line or has been in service for some time. It only takes a single audition.

That’s not me breaking in. It is the equipment changing with use.

That said, here’s an uncomfortable truth. Our ear/brains break-in over time too. The longer we listen the more accepting we become of sound.

While both are true, one does not negate the other.

It’s tempting to dismiss the equipment break-in observation because equipment break-in is hard to explain. Often a mystery.

Mysteries are there to solve, not dismiss.

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.

Touching music

Sometimes the music reproduced on our systems is so real you can touch it.

What creates the touchable illusion?

We know a pair of earbuds or a boombox doesn’t come close.

Even live music doesn’t always evoke the same sense.

I think it has two requirements: a quiet environment and great components.

I can stir the sense of touch only if there are few audible distractions. Like what we often achieve in our listening spaces, or hear in an intimate live venue.

But even the quietest of spaces won’t beckon touch if the equipment isn’t up to the task.

If your system is touchable, you’ve done well.

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.

Yesterday I read an article that came to me from an on-line audio publication.

It was a story about an audio cable from Albania. It was called Organike and it went into how this audio cable was developed by a guy in Albania and how great it was in the “reviewers” stereo system, although it was a bit greasy, as the outer jacket of the cable was made out of sausage casing. ….Yes…sausage casing…

So, I read the article and laughed, more about the idea of a cable like this, than the writing itself. Would anyone believe this and would anybody really buy something like this.

While I haven’t tried to confirm this, I’m pretty sure that this article is most likely a joke, but I wonder how many Audiophiles are searching the web to see and read more about it. Probably a few, but surely not the vegetarians and vegans among us.

We sure can be a fickle lot…

Here’s Paul’s post for today….Does it take skill to put together a great sounding stereo or Home Theater system? I think yes!!

Skill

September 20, 2016 by Paul McGowan

 

The company just dropped another bundle of cash on a couple more Audio Precision test suites (each costs in excess of $10,000). We use the less expensive versions for testing our products, and the fanciest ones to help in our equipment designs. But the quality of this advanced test gear is meaningless without the skill required to use it and understand its results. If you don’t know how to boil water, buying an expensive set of cookware won’t make you a better chef.

Truth is, it’s the skill of the artist that creates the art, not the equipment used to craft it. It’s why a growing group of professional photographers have turned to mobile phones for cameras, why some of the best audio designers in the world still rely upon antiquated test gear to design their masterpieces, and many master craftsmen prefer hand tools to machines.

Skills are earned, never bought.

 

 

 

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.

It’s a matter of taste

My favorite dish is probably not yours. And my favorite restaurant may or may not be to your liking.

Each of us has personal favorites that match our preferences: sounds, feels, looks, tastes, music, mates.

It’s true for you and for me. It’s why there is no perfect DAC, preamp, speaker system. There can’t be. Perfect suggests it matches everyone’s taste and, as I just reminded us, everyone’s tastes are unique.

Some like their music stripped bare of fluff, added harmonics and richness. Others love it fat, full and warm. Still others somewhere in between. And each of us believes our preferences are closest to real. Of course, real and right are perceptions clouded by personal bias.

We even pick our own best live venues, choosing one over the other because we like the way music is presented there, as opposed to here. Others go elsewhere.

When I voice a piece of equipment I make sure it represents music in the way I perceive the sound of live. To me, it sounds more like musicians are in the room, and that’s what I go for.

When a group of us agree on something, it’s called a community.

Like minded people sharing and discussing the fine points of taste.

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

Alphabet transformers

Now that we understand the benefits of transformers, isolation and getting the voltage where equipment wants it, let’s take a moment to discuss the different types.

The two main styles of transformer construction are the traditional brick-looking affair called an EI, and the donut-like toroid.

Today we’ll cover the classic EI type. Here’s a picture of what the finished EI frame transformer looks like:

You’ve no doubt seen many of these in equipment. They are low cost, efficient, sound good, easy to make.

The name “EI” refers to the way the iron laminations are shaped. Thin sheets of steel are cut into two types of shapes, a capital E and a capital I. Here’s a picture:

We need two coils of wire for our transformer: one for the incoming AC, the second for the outgoing. These coils of wire are wound around the center of the E. The number of times the first coil is wrapped around the center of the E, relative to the second coil, determines the output voltage. The amount and size of the steel laminations, plus the thickness of the wire in the coil, determine how many Watts the transformer can handle.

Before the outer window dressings are applied, here’s what the transformer looks like.

This transformer has more wires coming out of the bottom because it also has “taps” which means added wires at different points in the coil, so multiple voltages can be had.

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

Transformers

If it plugs into the wall it has a power transformer.

Power transformers have an impact on sound quality—one that is not small nor trivial. In fact, power transformers play a significant role in our sound systems, yet not that many designers pay them enough attention.

I figured we’d delve into the nature of these beasts over the next few days. A lark, really, but perhaps one that will help a few gain understanding of what’s inside their equipment and why it’s there. Let’s start with that.

Power transformers have two key functions: isolation and proper voltage. Let’s talk isolation first.

We know better than to stick our curious fingers into the AC wall socket. While not usually lethal in the United States, that isn’t true in most of the rest of the world where voltages are doubled. You definitely don’t want 230 volts coursing through your heart for too long. Isolating the equipment you interface with is a good thing, and transformers do it well.

Near magical devices, transformers work through invisible means. There is no physical connection between the wall socket and your equipment. Instead, power is transferred through a magnetic field, helping keep us disconnected from the house wires—and safe.

Tomorrow let’s look at the second function transformers provide.

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

Like it or not

We might feel pretty righteous that no decisions were made to balance sound with equipment and cable choices: warm cables to offset cold electronics.

No, ours is selected pure. Each piece chosen for its own merits and without regard to enhancing one at the expense of another.

But is that true?

I would argue you are always making decisions in the same way. Not out of purity, but out of synergy. No equipment is judged alone. Speakers play in systems, and systems do not play without speakers or headphones to listen.

Every decision you’ve ever made was never decided in a vacuum. That preamp you love? It has never been neutral, none are. And that speaker? Accurate to the ‘nth degree and ruler flat? Hardly. And that room you’re playing in, or those headphones you’re auditioning with?

Like it or not, choices you make are always based on synergy with other components.