Tag Archives: hifi

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.

Armchair quarterbacks

The classic armchair quarterback can be a valued member of any team. Their dispassionate views often add value to those actually making the plays.

But making the plays, designing the audio equipment, making the tough decisions of how to get from point A to point B is a very different challenge than what a critic faces.

What designers, engineers, and craftspeople bring to the table is hands-on experience—the hard-won skills to successfully bring a new product or service from an idea to a finished piece.

When I share my knowledge and experience of designing and building products with the HiFi Family it comes from a desire to help others see what I see without their having to spend 50 years accumulating it.

I truly love the role reviewers, critics, and armchair quarterbacks play. They are not mired in the detritus of sorting through the years of successes and failures.

I do wonder sometimes if they’ve forgotten the differences between passing judgment and actually envisioning, designing, building, and producing that which they judge.

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.

Our son played trumpet for much of his pre-teen and early teenager years and we had two dogs that used to howl when he played. However, when they would hear recorded versions of the same material, played back on my wife’s cellphone, they would also howl. So, our experience is different than Ed’s.

The dog gets it

When HiFi Family member Ed Spilka sent me the following note I just had to smile. How many times have I heard a similar story? Too many times to count.

And here’s the thing. It’s not just about vinyl. I have heard the same stories about DSD, vacuum tubes, and even good vs. bad cables.

I am sure the measurement folks will have a field day with this one.

“I wanted to share an interesting audio experience that happened the other day.  We were visiting a friend of my wife’s in San Antonio. She was showing us around their new house when we walked into “his” room which held Wilson Alexandria speakers, D’agostino amps, Berkeley DAC’s etc. You get the idea.

When he came home he invited us into his inner sanctum and we began to play. At one point we were A/B’ing between his vinyl collection and streaming on tidal/Qobuz with Sonny Rollin’s Way Out West. On one cut it is just the drummer and Sonny. When Sonny started blowing on the vinyl version, their dog began singing along—howling like crazy. As soon as we switched to the streaming version, the dog was silent, uninterested.

My wife pointed it out to us since we were too engrossed in “listening” to notice the obvious! It happened every time we switched back and forth between vinyl and streaming. Have you experienced that before?”

As I said, this has happened to me with animal reactions more times than I can count.

We might argue like crazy, but the dogs get it.

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 soft effect

A very kind HiFi Family member generously sent me a few Sheffield Labs Direct to Disc CD’s. These treasures are hard to find and I was extremely grateful to have received them.

Upon playing the Lincoln Mayorga and Friends disc I was reminded of just how direct and dynamic they were. There’s a clarity here that you just don’t find on even the best vinyl products.

That clarity comes not so much from the direct to disc mastering process but rather from the lack of the tape recording process.

Tape recorders have a softening effect and every generation of tape gets softer and softer. Cutting out the tape and going direct to disc, while a pain in the keester to make happen, really demonstrates just how soft tape can be.

We get that same softening when we run our audio through analog electronics. Each pass through the circuit rounds off ever so slightly the transient edges, blurring the lines just enough to hear it.

It turns out one of the main advantages of digital is the elimination of the softening effect. No matter how many copies or generations of digital we never lose any resolution.

Tape was an essential medium. Without it we’d never have gotten to where we are today. But I am reminded of how much I do not miss its softening effect.

I prefer the direct dynamics found in the music—regardless of how they got 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.

Community members

From as far back as 1974 (which to me doesn’t seem that long ago) I have felt part of a community. The community of people like you and me. Out of the ordinary folks who know what good sound is and are willing to invest their time, passion, and available funds into achieving great sound.

I suppose community can apply to any sort of group that finds more benefit from togetherness than from being apart. Certainly, I gain more from our audio community than I would setting out alone and I guess that’s true for most of you reading this post.

Communities give and they take. They give camaraderie, shared knowledge, friendships, and connections. But, like any community, those living within have to agree on some sorts of mutual terms. If we’re fighting and bickering amongst ourselves (as opposed to spirited debates) then we’re not enjoying the benefits of togetherness.

Our HiFi Family is one of the kindest, friendliest, and generous communities I have known. I am proud to call you my friends.

Thanks for all you do for our community.

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.

Outward appearances

Like it or not we place a lot of importance on outward appearances. Take rats for example. Most of us are repelled by the sight of these rodents, but dress them up with a bundle of soft fur and a bushy tail and now they’re adorable enough to name them differently. A squirrel.

My first circuit was a phono stage that I placed in a Roi Tan cigar box and powered it with a couple of 9v batteries. Ugly and crude do not adequately describe its appearance and most of my audiophile friends wouldn’t let it near their system. Take that same circuit and battery pack, put it into a nice metal box and suddenly it’s a welcome guest.

We are very comfortable with the idea that a component’s outward appearance speaks to what’s on the inside. D’Agastino’s beautifully crafted outer chassis reminds us of a Swiss watch. It wouldn’t be wrong to imagine that same level of care went into its inner workings.

While the old chestnuts reminding us not to judge books by their covers or beauty by the depth of skin, I think it’s good to remind ourselves we’re forever tied to equate inner workings with outer appearances.

It’s not a bad thing to love the way your HiFi kit looks.

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.

Lane changes

Whenever I veer away from writing strictly about high end audio I receive more than a few finger wags to “stay in my lane”. My recent Paul’s Post of my experience with the vaccine is a great example.

The idea of me staying in my lane is as far away from understanding or relating to me as I can imagine.

I have spent my entire life changing lanes. I cannot think of anything more boring than staying in my lane.

If it weren’t for frequent lane changes our company would never advance beyond the industry standard ho hum products.

If we stayed in our lane we’d be guilty of fitting into a crowded niche.

I don’t believe our HiFi Family is interested in everyday ordinary.

What are your thoughts?

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.

Over the top

When it comes to having company over for dinner my family’s general rule of thumb has always been better too much than too little.

Too much at the dinner table just sets the stage for lunch leftovers. No big deal.

But when it comes to your HiFi system, too much can be…dare I say…..too much.

As audiophiles, we can fall into the trap of pushing the improvement envelope too hard: adding DSP or an equalizer when all we really needed was some time and elbow grease. An add on super tweeter or perhaps one of many aftermarket tweaks guaranteed to make everything that much better.

It’s always tempting to turn what’s great into something even better.

In my experience, those add-ons are short-lived.

If you’re looking for better, always start with the basics: loudspeakers, power amplifiers, preamps, and sources, such as turntables and DAC’s.

A lunch of leftovers is easy.

Unloading to the used market unnecessary add-ons gets painful.

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

There is something to be said for tone controls, but they need to be done correctly, or they will make a sonic impact on the music. My Luxman 590 AX II has them for bass and treble and they are done very well. It even has a loudness control to be used at low listening levels, boosting bass and high frequencies. Very transparent, but when I’m using the Luxman, I listen direct as my system doesn’t much need tone controls and I almost never listen at low levels.

Tone control

There was a time in our HiFi history that the ability to electronically control music’s tone was necessary. Necessary because the entire chain of electronics and loudspeakers were bad enough to warrant their intrusion.

Sure, many bemoan the lack of bass and treble controls, even full band graphic equalizers, but for the most part, we neither miss them nor need them.

And that’s the point. Our equipment’s gotten so much better as to obviate the need for tone controls.

The crutches of the past don’t apply to the equipment of today.

Yet fond memories of their power linger on.

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.

Tinkering

One hundred years ago a tinkerer was a traveling craftsman skilled in the art of metal repair. He would be invited into homes to repair eating utensils and small metal objects.

Today, in our disposable society, there’s no need for a person to repair a mangled spoon or a fork’s broken tine. We just throw it out and replace it.

A more modern usage of the word tinkering might apply to an audio purist’s quest to build a musical system. A modern tinkerer will mix and match stereo components, tweak and tune an audio system until reaching a new level of purity.

When it comes to high-end audio I cannot think of another personal pursuit that so encourages tinkering. Most endeavors support the use of pre-approved (often brand-specific) components: Canon lenses on Canon cameras, Tesla swag on Tesla cars.

Not so much HiFi. DACs from one manufacturer connect to preamps from quite another and both interconnected from yet a third vendor.

Mixing and matching, tinkering and adjusting, tweaking and tuning.

It’s part of what makes our passion so unique and our results so personal.

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.

Uriah Heep made many great records, most notably for me,  Salisbury and Look at Yourself. Both came out in 1971 and they were certainly prolific.

Salisbury, the title song,  was with an Orchestra and for 1971, pretty far out there. Look at Yourself had a mirror on the front of the album cover and may great sounds. I haven’t listened to much of anything else of theirs, but with 25 records, maybe its time as I still love rock and subscribe to Qobuzz!!

Say what?

While emailing back and forth with several new members of PS Audio’s HiFi Family it became apparent they weren’t aware of our podcast, Ohm’s Law. In fact, turns out they had yet to ever listen to a podcast of any kind.

This is foreign to me. I listen to podcasts daily and find them a wonderful way of absorbing new information on the subjects that interest me. Here are some of my favorites:

Throughline, because I am a history buff and appreciate learning the origins of what is happening today.

Akimbo, because Seth always inspires me.

Infinite Monkey Cage, because I am at my core a science nerd.

Revisionist’s history, well, as I said, I like history and the roots of why things are the way they are today.

And for those of you unfamiliar with Ohm’s Law, which for the most part is simply an audio version of my Ask Paul videos, here are some of my favorites from back when they were separated.

Uriah Heep

Bernie Grundman

Arnie Nudell

Cat Stevens

Elton John