Tag Archives: high end audio system

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.

Now, this guy Paul sure is an audiophile!!! I agree with him regarding loudspeakers and set up, however, perhaps he should maybe name his newest book ” The Loudspeaker”, instead of “The Speaker”, as maybe that could be interpreted as a book about public speaking?

Order to chaos

Over the past few months I have been hard at work writing the next book in our series, The Audiophile’s Guide.

That first book, The Stereo, was an all-encompassing work covering the complete stereo system from electronics, to cables, to speakers.

This newest book, The Speaker, is a much more detailed work specific to the challenge of setting up a pair of speakers.

I can think of nothing more important in a high-end audio system than properly setting up the speakers. Even with the greatest electronics in the world, a less-than-great setup saps the life out of the music.

One of the issues I kept running into during the research and writing phase was the amount of opinion and chaos among audiophiles as to the best way to set up speakers.

(Wait! Audiophiles, opinions, and chaos?)

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I have confirmed it’s not a train!

Seriously, this is one exciting project for me to work on. We’ve just finished an extraordinary group of recordings in the new Octave Studio that will accompany the book in a step-by-step fashion and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Fingers crossed for a July 2022 launch.

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.


What an interesting idea. To preconceive of something. See the future in your mind’s eye. Imagine how something is going to sound.

When one of our engineers like, Darren, Bob, Chris, or Chet come to me with their grand vision of how a proposed new stereo product is going to sound or a new design is going to look, they have this amazing preconception of the final result. They share it with me in such a way that I too get excited of the prospects for its end results despite the fact it doesn’t actually exist.

And then the long weeks and months of hard work begin. Work needed to turn a vision into a reality.

Rarely does the finished product match exactly the preconception, but more often than not it’s at or beyond the level of expectation.

And when we exceed our expectations of a future vision that’s when it feels like magic.

Whether you’re dreaming of building a high end audio system or imagining how much better it will sound by swapping out this product or that, the act of preconception is how we establish the dreams that become our reality.

Imagine that!

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.

Critical thinking

You can find information and knowledge on just about any subject in the world. Just Google it. Have a math problem? There are online calculators at the click of a mouse. Need a chemical formula? No problem. Design a room for best stereo sound quality? It’s a few clicks of the mouse away.

With a bit of time and persistence, the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips.

What the immense resources of our connected world bring to the party is only going to become more easily accessed over time. What’s not available online, however, is the ability to think.

Critical thinking skills seem to be rather scarce these days. And, that’s a shame because even with all the resources on the planet if one doesn’t know how to use reason and logic to solve a problem, we’ll never get to where we want to go.

Take for example the skill required to source and set up a high end audio system. Because each environment is so different it becomes necessary to not only have the knowledge needed to cobble the right separates and interconnects together, but the ability to think about how to best optimize the system within the room.

Understanding the why of how things work is the first step to thinking through a problem.

Or, take as another example an engineer. When we hire engineers and programmers we evaluate them more on their ability to think as opposed to the knowledge in their heads. Knowledge can be added or easily Googled. Thinking is a learned skill that some have invested in while most have not.

I won’t get into a rant about the state of our school systems with respect to the teaching (or lack thereof) of critical thinking skills. I get that the education machine struggles with just teaching the basics of maths, language, and history.

If you have a choice, go for the assets that have developed thinking rather than simply spewing information.

Information is easy. Solving problems is where the fun is.

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.

Before taking the plunge

We are all different.

When I want to learn something I jump in feet first, immerse myself, learn and do everything I can so that later it becomes easy—second-hand nature.

Others ease into the learning slowly, drip by drip until it’s easy.

My method works for me because I can quickly pivot if the path I am taking appears wrong. Others would be better served to take their time and make minor tweaks along the way.

However you learn the art of building a high-end audio system—taking the plunge or starting small and growing over time—it’s important to remember that finding a good starting point can be critical. Our lifelong opinions are shaped at the end of our learning process.

Study up before taking the plunge.

If we start off on the wrong foot, cobbling together a compromised system that misses the mark, it may take a lifetime to unravel bad habits learned.

Once formed, opinions are awfully difficult to change.

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.

Pleasure, indeed!!

Practical vs. pleasurable

A Corvette Stingray is not the most practical of cars. Yes, you can pick up groceries at the market, arrive in style, and race about town, but you’d be hard-pressed to take the family to dinner.

A fully decked out high-end audio system, on the other hand, is both practical and pleasurable, though we likely didn’t take the plunge because it was practical.

For most of us, the word practical didn’t much enter the conversation when we drooled over the latest amp, scrimped, and saved for that new transport, or sweet talked our better halves into that new pair of loudspeakers dominating the living room.

The operative word was pleasure.

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 character assassination of salt

We generally associate salt with unessential nice-to-have seasonings, condiments, and food enhancers. I would argue salt is instead a critical ingredient.

Salt fundamentally changes food. It denatures the rigid structure of proteins, making their flavors tastier and more aromatic. Salts bring out aromas by releasing specific molecules from food into the air, which in turn stimulates our olfactory receptors. Salt changes food’s ability to retain moisture and it fundamentally changes food’s structure at a microbial level, which in turn affects how bacteria interact with our gut.

Why does any of this matter? Because when it comes to our high-end audio systems there are corollaries. Take cables for an example.

We treat audio cables as accessories when in fact they are essential. Try running your stereo system without them.

Worse, we imagine them as possessing the ability to enhance, to make better, to go beyond that which existed before their addition when in fact the best they can do is harm less.

And the same can be said for salt. It is essential to getting food not only right but healthy and palatable—the very essence of why we eat.

Cables, like salt, are essential.

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.

Music’s soul

The Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, were unrelated. Their name came when a fan shouted, “That was righteous, brothers!”, and would often greet them with “Hey righteous brothers, how you doin’?”.

Their music had soul. It touched us at an emotional level—as did Mozart, Gershwin, John Lennon, Martens, Johnny Cash.

It’s hard to put your finger on what elements in music reach deep within us to elicit emotional or intellectual energy. We know it when it grabs us.

We don’t require a high-end audio system to touch the soul of music. A song played in the car can grab you as firmly as a live performance.

And yet the best stereo systems I know of have a magic to them that seems to enhance beyond words music’s emotion.

I think of high-end’s magic not as a requirement for connecting with music’s emotion but as an aid, a seasoning, a spice.

There are few pleasures better in life than connecting with music’s soul.

A high-end system gets us closer.

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.

Who knew? Not me!

Audiophile Day #5

Just a reminder that today, October 2nd, 2020, is Audiophile Day.

On this day of celebration for what we all love—perhaps through our comments section—we can share some of our stories and thoughts about what it means to be an audiophile.

I’ve told the story many times of my first experience with a high-end audio system. I even wrote about it in my upcoming book The Audiophile’s Guide.

“I had yet to grasp stereo sound’s true potential. That revelatory moment came in 1971, on a hot summer’s day in Santa Maria, California. I was working as a disc jockey and program director at a local FM radio station, and the station’s chief engineer, Jim Mussell, invited me to his home to hear his stereo system. He’d heard I loved music and knew I bragged about my home audio setup. Given that my rig played loud rock, impressed my friends, and had two tall loudspeakers, I felt pretty confident that I was in the upper echelon of stereo aficionados. I was soon to learn otherwise.

Jim lived in a modest three-bedroom track home on the east side of Santa Maria, near the noisy 101 freeway. His home was a hoarder’s dream, filled with stacks of papers, test equipment, and piles of boxes kissing the ceiling. From the front door we wound our way through the chaotic maze and into a surprisingly neat and orderly living room. Wedged into each of the room’s two far corners was a 4×4’ dark mahogany speaker cabinet. In their center was a two-foot-wide and three-foot-tall panel of dark wood, flanked on each side by black grille cloth. Near the very top of the center block was what looked to me like window louvers. These two cabinets, explained Jim, were his pride and joy: an original pair of JBL D30085 Hartsfield corner horn loudspeakers. On the table to the left side of the room sat a fancy looking turntable, with an unusual arm that moved straight across the album instead of the typical pivoting tonearm. And next to that was an ancient looking Audio Research preamplifier with vacuum tubes (of all things). I remember quietly snickering at the use of these ancient fire bottle vacuum tubes—my dad had used them, for Pete’s sake, but I had long since graduated to the newer transistor models. All Jim had was an ancient pair of loudspeakers coupled with old amp technology…and I was supposed to be impressed?! Harrumph. As I sat in the single overstuffed chair facing the speakers, Jim lowered the needle onto Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. I did my best to be polite, pretending I was going to be impressed.

Holy shit. Suddenly, the musicians were in the room! No sound came from those two ancient speakers—instead, standing before me were Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose, Dan Hartman, and Chuck Ruff. Winter’s synthesizer was alive and in three dimensions, while Ruff’s drumbeats smacked me in the stomach and dropped my jaw to my chest. It was as if neither the room nor the speakers even existed. I was there, on a holographic soundstage. I could “see” where each musician stood on that stage and I could picture Winter’s fingers gliding over the ARP keyboard he slung across his chest and played like a guitar. Hartman’s bass notes went lower than I ever imagined possible, at least outside of a live performance.

When the final synth note died away in the reverb chamber, I turned to look at my friend. Jim seemed unfazed by what we had just experienced—as if it were just an everyday occurrence—and launched into some engineering techno-babble we two nerds had previously been chatting about. I cannot remember a word he’d said, though, because I was still digesting the life-changing experience.

I had gone from flat monotony to three-dimensional color in the four minutes and forty-four seconds it took Edgar and his group to play that song. The idea that two speakers could disappear from the room and in their place live musicians might appear to play music was so mind-bendingly new that I struggled to wrap my head around it. What made this magic? Was it those speakers? That odd turntable? The vacuum tubes? His room? All of it? I had to know. 46 years later, after a lifetime of designing, building, and helping audiophiles around the world achieve what I experienced on that hot summer’s day, I feel pretty confident I can help you achieve that same sense of wonder and amazement that forever changed my life.”

What’s your story?

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.

As we age, we have hearing problems. I do, although not all the time and most of the times can correct it, with some effort. Still, if we cannot hear well, what good is a high end audio system? Plenty good, if you ask me.

Ear focus

As engineers, we focus our efforts on what we can quantify by measuring, evaluating, and finding some form of commonality we can all agree upon. Perhaps the easiest is the ear.

We know what the average ear is supposed to do and we’ve got reams of research on the subject. We know its frequency capabilities as well as its maximum dynamic range and loudness levels. There’s probably not too much we don’t know about that appendage on the side of our head, and so it’s easy to give facts and figures on spec sheets as to how well our equipment’s going to interface with our ears.

Only, our ears are little more than sensors. What they interface with is our brains, and here we have far less knowledge of what we can and cannot perceive. For example, we have a general idea of how much and what type of distortion the average person can tolerate before they notice something’s amiss—but that’s not a firm number. It depends on the kind of music, the listener’s tolerance levels, and (maddeningly to engineers) people’s moods.

Our ears as microphones are an interesting concept but hardly how it works.


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.

Tweaking vs. tuning

There comes a point in our stereo journey where we have to decide whether it’s best to tweak or tune. By that I mean we can embellish upon what we have or we can rethink that which isn’t working for us.

Much, I suppose, is dependent on whether or not we’re happy with the status quo. If we love what we have built, then perhaps it makes more sense to tweak in the hopes we can get something a skosh better. If, on the other hand, we’re struggling with sonic problems, maybe it’s better to rethink the setup.

For example, if we have a turntable high-end audio system and, for the most part, records sound great then we’re probably best advised to tweak the various tonearm/cartridge settings to compensate for minor problems. But, if we’re not getting the promise vinyl has to offer, then it’s time to rethink the system components—to tune by either equipment swapping or a radical rearrangement.

All too often I have run into systems tweaked to within an inch of their life with gadgets, process, bells and whistles, when what was needed instead was a radical tuning or equipment swap.

I think it’s part of human nature to want to make smaller course corrections than wipe a slate clean, but it’s also human nature to suffer through a situation because we’re hesitant to make the big change.

Tweaking, polishing, refining are small changes we can leverage to make what’s working better.

Tuning, replacing, rearranging are big changes we often need to make but more often than not shy away from.

To get to where you want to go, do you tweak or tune?