Tag Archives: hifi

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.

Imposters

At some level, we’re all imposters. We fear our projected self-worth—the way we present ourselves or the way we believe others see us—doesn’t live up to expectations.

In my 74 years, I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t to some extent suffer from what is commonly known as Imposter Syndrome. Maybe it’s a fear that our HiFi systems aren’t as good sounding as we believe, or maybe it’s what holds us back from offering advice and opinions (despite the wealth of knowledge we each hold in reserve).

The outward image we project is almost always a combination of guarded talents and knowledge depth sprinkled with a smidge of hopeful confidence. We don’t want to set expectations too high for fear of embarrassing failure yet we don’t want to go too low and be ignored.

It’s probably not as bad as you might suspect.

When it comes to our HiFi systems and how good they sound, I suspect they are far better than most of us inwardly fear.

In fact, if you’re reading this blog post you are most likely one of the few experts on audio systems in the world (relative to the other 7 billion of us). You know more about sound and high-performance audio than just about anyone on this planet.

And that is quite an accomplishment.

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.

In the beginning, there were a lot of terrible sounding rooms at the Audiophile shows and although it’s been a while since I attended a show, they had gotten a lot better sounding as time has gone on. Maybe after our next move, we will have time for a show, or two, a year, as they are fun for me.

Stark differences

Since we are all on the same page when it comes to wanting the accurate and enjoyable reproduction of music in our homes, it’s always startling to me how different stereo systems can sound.

Visiting different rooms at a HiFi show is demonstrative of what I am referring to. Most rooms sound good and, happily, like music. But then, one wanders into a room where the sound is so different as to make one’s fingers start scratching their head.

I’ve heard this foreign sound presentation from a myriad of speaker types from horns to dynamics: cupped, closed in, with the tonal balance askew.

This wouldn’t stand out to me as a “thing” if it wasn’t for the fact this happens at shows where manufacturers and dealers represent themselves as experts.

If the sound of live unamplified music is our reference, how could some be so far askew?

I’ll never forget walking into one room at an industry show in Vegas. The manufacturer was selling his brand of loudspeakers. The place was empty but I ventured in anyway—attracted by the odd look of the speaker which had a big woofer and a tiny tweeter—both vertically separated in the cabinet by a few feet. This seemed odd to me as I couldn’t imagine how this setup would couple in the midrange.

On offer was a simple classical piece of piano and voice. It might have been Mozart. The lone man in the room seemed happy to see me and beckoned me to sit in the sweet spot.  The voice came across as shrill while the piano had nearly no midrange: mostly bottom end and a smattering of top end. Clearly, the midrange of the system—from perhaps 500Hz up to 2 or 3 kHz—was missing (as one might expect with this design choice). Like a 3-way speaker whose midrange was missing.

“What do you think?”

I really hoped he wouldn’t have asked. “Seems a bit empty in the midrange. Highs are great and there’s good bottom end.”

“Exactly.”

“That’s what you’re hoping for?”

He shook his head yes.

“Everyone’s system sounds the same. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I’ve never been much on midrange and love the top and bottom ends of the speaker. Like most people.”

That brand wasn’t at next year’s show and I have never seen them again.

He did stand out from the crowd.

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.

I’ve owed the PS Audio PW DAC back when I was a dealer for them and it was a very good sounding DAC. It had a couple of interesting things on the digital side that Paul gets into here, especilly as relates to the original DAC’s soon to be released replacement, but one of the most interesting things about that DAC to me was its analog output stage, which primarily consisted of just transformer coupled outputs. I dont know anyone else doing this and now with the PWDAC Mk2, they seem to have carried this part over from the original. Very simple and elegant, by its simplicity!

It’s about time

It’s been 8 years since we introduced the groundbreaking DirectStream DAC.

8+ years since designer Ted Smith blew me away with the sound of his prototype and we began the process of turning it into a product.

It’s been an amazing journey and now we’re about to release the MK2 version of this stunning product.

As we enter the beta phase of its release (click here if you’re interested), I wanted to bring to your attention one of the coolest and most sought-after features of this new DAC.

The ability to add multiple mountaintop firmware versions.

As most of you know, DirectStream has always been unique in many respects. One of the most popular of its many features was our free mountaintop upgrades. Every so often Ted Smith would emerge from his lair announcing he had come up with a significantly new rewrite of this FPGA-based DAC. This was exciting as all get out as each new upgrade he produced was like getting a brand new DAC.

And these upgrades were all free to our HiFi Family members.

Once the upgrade was loaded, DirectStream was all new. But how to do A/B comparisons? We began getting requests to have the ability to load multiple mountaintop versions. A great idea, indeed, but because DirectStream was maxed out in terms of hardware, processing power, and memory we couldn’t accommodate those requests.

With the introduction of MK2, that’s all changed.

MK2 is overbuilt and future-proofed with respect to its FPGA and memory space. This allows us enough room to load as many as 10 mountaintop versions (when they become available) into memory. Without bothering with SD cards or USB sticks, now at the push of a button you can load in new (or old) mountaintops and hear the difference.

There are tons more to talk about when it comes to learning about this groundbreaking new DAC.

Stay tuned.

 

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’s finally lost it

We could all see it coming. A screw loose here, a rattle in the old brain cage, a distant look in my eyes.

Yup. Lost it.

When Octave Record’s executive producer, Jessica Carson, and I were plotting out some new releases one of the ones I was most excited about will be the first in a new series called The Art of HiFi.

The first release will be all about bass. And oh my, this is a must have for anyone that likes bass. Like me.

Once decided I knew it was time to add subwoofers in the Octave mixroom. There is some seriously low frequency material recorded at DSD256 and I don’t want to miss one Hertz of it.

The FR30s we use for monitors have amazing bass extending into the mid-20Hz region but, for those of you that know me, that’s just not the proverbial DC to light I am looking for.

To properly mix this new release I need subs that are not worried about the room and loaf along producing subsonic with ease. And, they have to be sonically invisible.

A tall order.

After hearing Darren Myer’s dual nearfield 18″ sealed woofers I was smitten. I went to our guru, Chris Brunhaver, and asked what he would recommend.

The look on Chris’ face was confusing. It was either one of pure evil or glee. I couldn’t tell which.

Chris insisted I go all out. Dual 21″ low distortion pro subs housed in slender cabinets that are nearly my height—each cabinet weighing in at 150 pounds without the woofer (and the woofer’s just about 80 pounds itself).

These beasts will sit directly across from the mix table where I sit, one pointed right at each ear.

Nearfield subwoofers are not bothered by the room. Once tuned via DSP and powered by a 1,200 watt amplifier, these bad boys will sonically disappear, and it will appear as if the FR30s just got an extra octave of lower bass response well below the limits of human hearing but not the limits of human feeling—gut thumping.

Yup, I’ve lost it.

I couldn’t be more excited. I made a short little video showing the cabinets just before we finished them.

You can watch it here.

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.

Going over your head

It makes me feel sad when I read that something in our technologically complex world of high-end audio has gone over someone’s head. That they cannot grasp the concept as presented to them.

It makes me sad because it means we’ve failed to communicate. It makes me sad because we all know that feeling of being overwhelmed—of being lost (like trying to understand cryptocurrency).

As people. As an industry. It’s on us to do what we can to keep the technobabble at a minimum and focus instead on clarity of definitions and terms we use.

Lord knows I have been guilty of using over-technical terms to try and foster understanding. I hope to not travel again down that same road.

As part of the HiFi Family, let’s do what we can—each and every one of us—to communicate in a way that promotes understanding.

In the words of my favorite philosopher, Foghorn Leghorn, “You’re built too low. Fast ones go over your head.”

Let’s not let anything go over anyone’s head.

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.

About 25 years ago I had a pair of Silverline loudspeakers, in a special mother of pearl finish, brought to my home for auditioning. Our dog Jasper ran into it, knocked it over and it broke. Alan Yun from Silverline made a deal with me to soften the blow of the repair and that was the first pair of Silverline speakers I purchased. He’s quite a character and I’ve very much enjoyed knowing Alan. If I wasn’t totally satisfied with my Daedalus Ulysses and double Bow’s, Id look to one of Alan’s speakers in a heartbeat.

Ratchet of change

While it is true change can happen with the flip of a switch it is more likely to occur in small ratcheted increments.

Big events like the time years ago when one of the Genesis loudspeakers I had traveled halfway around the world to set up fell over and broke in half, are certainly instant life changing events. But they are the exception, not the rule.

In fact, most of the changes in our HiFi system (and our lives) happen in steps along the journey. It might feel life-changing when we add that new power amplifier or change those speakers, but in fact, it is just part of a long chain of events that got you here in the first place.

It is probably beneficial to most of us to remember that each step of the journey gets us closer to where we want to be: moving forward.

In the end, I believe it is forward movement that we all seek. Progress and change simply provide the steps for us to get there.

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.

Hearing into the music

One of the smartest and most experienced HiFi fanatics I know is my good friend, John Hunter of REL subs.

In response to one of my recent posts about musicians, John wrote to me what I consider a beautifully crafted lesson in the art of listening. It bears repeating.

“Hi Paul,

I once dated, briefly, a French horn player for the San Francisco Symphony.
She had great ears and quickly grew to love high end audio. She brought some of her fellow musicians over to our store in Berkeley (DB Audio) a couple of times trying to expose them to what she had fallen in love with. It never took. Watching them and their reactions, I quickly understood why. For them, the performance (musical, not audio quality) was all that mattered. They were listening carefully for their part being played and if they could follow it through the system what else mattered?
I did this myself early in my guitar playing  career, playing along endlessly to tons of rock records, memorizing great solos. etc. But it was my older brother who sat me down one night when I was 12 and asked me “How many guitars are playing right now?” I didn’t understand the question; I was a lead guitar player, it was easy to hear “my” part. That night he put on recording after recording and it gradually emerged out of the murk of a mid-‘70s low Rez system (a Sansui all-tube receiver feeding Wharfedale sand-filled loudspeakers and a Dual 1015 turntable if I remember correctly). Slowly I picked out the rhythm guitar, wait, no 3 rhythm guitar tracks. One was tuned differently and I later learned from my friend Joel Bernstein who was an all-everything to many of rock’s greatest acts that I was hearing a high tone guitar–a regular guitar tuned with the high strings a 5th higher that gave a wonderful, jangly, sparkly effect.
What I started to learn that night helped me learn to hear into the mix, dissect what I was hearing and without realizing it, put me onto the path of listening acuity that has defined my career in audio. If your readers don’t already know how to do so, pick out a particular instrument they love and start listening, first for their favorite and then for those instruments that seem to play off that instrument. Then gradually expand your listening focus around that core group until you begin to hear it all. It’s brought me so much joy and insight over the years, I hope this helps those in our hobby as a tip.”
Well said, John. And thank you.

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.

Invisibility

Audiophiles are a rare breed.

Whenever I am asked what I do for a living there’s a common pattern of questioning that follows.

“My family owns a small company that makes HiFi equipment.”

“Oh, like Sony?”

“No. Our customers are audiophiles.”

What follows is the inevitable eyebrow raise as the second half of the word audio-phile leaves my mouth.

“An audiophile is a good thing,” I explain. “Not the kind of phile you might think of in a bad way.”

They nod their heads as if they understand and go about their business.

Clueless.

It should come as no surprise we as lovers of HiFi are for the most part invisible. The world doesn’t know we exist.

Fortunately, our members are welcoming and encouraging.

I’ve never met anyone that wasn’t open to sharing the joys of what we are so fond of.

We may be invisible but not because we are hid

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.

PS Audio has a new power amplifier, although not on their website yet.

The progress spiral

One of our HiFi Family members mentioned to me the other day they sometimes felt as if they were on the upgrade merry-go-round. With each new piece of gear he bought from us the system got noticeably better to the point where he realized the other components were needing an upgrade as well.

I think of this not as a merry-go-round but more of a progress spiral. With each return to the start, we’re actually in a different (and better) place. Along the journey we learn and grow so that when we circle back progress has been made.

The new BHK600 amplifier is a good example. I knew it would be better than the BHK300, but this much? Within 30 minutes of the new 600 warming up and music playing I found myself in a whole new world of musical wonder. My familiar music was fresh and new. Unknown details in the music were revealed to me.

I started noticing more differences between sources.

There was a greater gap between streaming and playing on the transport.

Maybe that could be addressed with a cable swap or, more basic, should I readjust my loudspeakers again?

Each step up the progress ladder brings us back around to have a look at the assumptions and changes that got us here.

It is how we move forward.

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.

Boy, can I relate to this one on a couple different levels. It’s only taken me about 15 years to get it mostly right here and I’m close. Big rooms like mine, which also has three seats, give more options for loudspeaker placement and as components change, even cables, so can the optimum place for your stereo speakers.

The hot seat

When someone says you’re in the hot seat it’s usually either frightening or bad.

But not in the case of HiFi listening.

The seat of honor; The hot seat; the best seat in the room. That’s the coveted space we all work hard at optimizing.

In PS Audio’s Room 2 where the FR30s live there are three listening positions yet only one is perfectly optimized.

That magical spot in the room where everything gels to perfection. Where the imaging is best. Where the tonality rings true.

The listening position we have all worked so hard to make perfect.

The hot seat.