Tag Archives: High End Audio

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.

Apparently PS Audio’s newest DAC is perfect. Imagine that, as perfect doesn not exist.

So, yes computers for music are noisy and one way to get around a noisy computer is to use an audio only server, specifically made with an eye towards noise. That’s what I do with a Melco server and a T+A MP2500R DAC/SCAD player/Streamer, with galvanic isolation.

Works great and the streamer inside the T+A is wonderful sounding and as good as the WAV files I have ripped onto the Melco!

Know your enemy

I get a lot of flack for my dislike of USB as a medium between the computer and DAC.

Truth is, it’s not USB I don’t like. It’s what USB connects with that bothers me.

Noisy computers.

Here’s the deal. We all know computers are vile, noisy affairs that hopefully are as far away from our pristine high-end audio systems as possible.

When we want to extract music from these noise-ridden contraptions what’s the best arm’s-length, noise-free way to do it?

Ethernet—an isolated one-way communication medium.

What’s the worst way to connect?

USB—a two-way connected open-gate flood of data and noise.

Our goal should be to get the data out of our computers with as little noise and connection as possible, which is why Ethernet (or long-ago fiber optics before Toshiba’s TOSLINK format screwed up our chances for high sample rates) or WiFi are the best choices.

I get it. It’s a heck of a lot easier just to fire up a USB cable and be done with it. Ethernet and WiFi are pains in the keester.

But better.

One possible solution is to use a USB reclocker device like the Matrix.

It helps, but it isn’t perfect.

Perfect is a new DirectStream MK2 DAC with 100% galvanic isolation.

With an MK2 in the system, you can use USB and stop worrying about 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.

Yes, everything does matter and well beyond high end audio.

Everything matters

Back in the 70s, 80s, and even into the early 90s there was no such thing as Power Plants or power conditioners for high-end audio. Heck, there weren’t even high-end power cables.

Back then we just plugged into the wall and went about our business.

And we had some great sounding systems back then because everything we knew about mattered. We paid attention to cables and amplifiers and loudspeaker placement. And it all mattered.

AC power issues that we now know held back performance were not a thing. So we did the best we knew how to and got great results unaware of how much better they could be.

I remember the first time I heard a power conditioner. A passive one from MIT. Arnie Nudell and I were shocked at the difference it made.

It took us about a week to realize that while the sound was cleaner and quieter it also had been stripped of its life (as all passive conditioners do to some degree) and so we returned to plugging into the wall.

Everything matters in the 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.

Budget systems

People new to our corner of the world of high-end audio often find what we do daunting.

Eyebrows are raised at the idea of many thousands of dollars spent on electronics and speakers.

What often brings them back to planet Earth is knowing that for around $1,000 one can bring the magic of high-end audio into their homes. A system built around a Sprout and a pair of Elacs makes wonderful music.

That same $1,100 spent on a cheap receiver and speakers is light years away from what even a modest budget audiophile system can bring.

It’s not the money.

It’s how you spend 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.

Using your own products

One of the delights of Apple products is their packaging. Easy to open, clean, simple, and elegant with a promise of more joy to come with the product itself. If the packaging is a joy think how nice what’s inside must be.

What’s worth talking about is just how far removed they are from everyone else. For the vast majority of consumer products, packaging is an afterthought designed to look expensive or slick but rarely a joy to open. How many times have you had to fight to remove the little clear sticker holding the top and bottom of the package together? Or worse, find a knife or scissors to hack open a blister pack?

I often wonder how many people involved in the design of a product ever try it themselves as end users. My guess is not many. I’ll bet that as the size of a company grows the chance of a single end-user having a say over product design or packaging diminishes proportionally.

This is what makes Apple so unusual. A giant company that uses its own products.

But this isn’t a rant about Apple. No, this is about how products from smaller companies like PS Audio are, in the end, used and approved by a small handful of caring people with the power to send it back for a redo. It is about how we make products we would want to take home and use for ourselves. How we send back to engineering a design that does not better the performance in every respect from the product it is replacing or the others in the field.

Isn’t this what you expect from companies that make high-end audio? Loudspeakers that have been listened to death and labored over until every last detail is the best it can be. Amplifiers that have been measured and listened to until their performance is beyond expectations.

I have no doubt this is exactly what happens in our small community of like-minded companies. It is what you expect.

It is what you deserve.

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.

Nothing about high end audio, but a good one none the less.

The kindness challenge

My wife Terri has on her small kitchen table blackboard a handwritten note:

“Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Treat them with kindness and understanding.”

What amazing advice for each and every one of us.

It doesn’t mean we can’t get upset or object to the thoughts of others.

It just suggests we do so with a bit of kindness and understanding. That despite the bluster and cloaks each of us throws up as a smokescreen hiding what lies below, even a little effort at being kind has its own rewards.

And just imagine if it was you at the receiving end of the kind act or smile.

It matters.

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.

Lots of snake oil in high end audio.

The controversy continues

When I wrote about my memories of the strain gauge cartridge it was presented as mere ramblings. Since that post, there’s been a swirl of controversy and questions. Who knew?

One question, in particular, revolved around the cartridge’s supposed disregard for the need of the RIAA curve. Several among you, including my friend Richard Murrison, questioned the pat explanation as presented on the internet by (among others) Soundsmith, the company that currently manufactures a strain gauge cartridge (which I understand sounds exceptional).

Out of the woodwork comes my friend, engineer Gary Gallo. Gary wrote the following which I share with you here:

Back in 2016 I wrote an article for Linear Audio on RIAA EQ for Displacement-Sensitive phono cartridges. What prompted this investigation was Soundsmith’s claims for their strain-gauge cartridges, and their explanation of RIAA EQ, which is simply incorrect. Peter Lederman refused to answer my questions about how his cartridges could maintain flat response in the constant-velocity portions of the RIAA curve – I made three attempts to get an answer out of him, but he cut off correspondence with me.

You’ll note that DS Audio, manufacturer of LED cartridges that are also displacement-sensitive, holds the same views as me on RIAA EQ. I quote a letter from their chief engineer in my article.

In 2018 I gave presentation for the Connecticut Audio Society on this subject, and took things a bit further than the article. Strain-gauge cartridges use piezo-resistive semiconductors, and I think a piezo-resistive semiconductor’s internal capacitance, interacting with the load, is probably why the constant-velocity portions of the curve flatten out. I repeated that presentation for the New York chapter of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections later that year. Suffice to say, ANY phono cartridge claiming to be displacement sensitive, that outputs a flat response without any RIAA equalization, isn’t truly displacement sensitive. The old Panasonic strain-gauge cartridges certainly weren’t, and I think my simulations on their EQ circuit demonstrate that. That EQ circuit, as you’ll see, compensated for several anomalies in the cartridges response.

As they say on those cable TV ads, “Wait…There’s more!”

The presentation I gave for the NY ARSC Chapter can be seen on their YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNNfMtCp3k0

Linear Audio ceased publication a few years back. All back issues are now available in electronic form, along with the printed volumes:

https://linearaudio.net/

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.

Gravity doesn’t care

Gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. You’re not going to float free into space.

You can jump up and down and claim it’s a conspiracy to limit your personal freedom of movement, but in the end, gravity just doesn’t care.

And the same can be said about our own sport. High-end audio produces results that are demonstrably better than any mid-fi stereo system whether you believe that or not.

It really doesn’t matter what the Best Buy salesperson tells you about the latest high-technology receiver or the know-it-all self-proclaimed expert that swears it’s true that cables do not matter.

The truth just doesn’t care.

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.

Musicians

Everything we do in high-end audio is an attempt to get closer to the music.

Music is made by musicians.

Ergo, we are trying to get closer to the musicians.

Only, not many seem to be on the same page as we.

From what I can tell, most musicians would rather we keep our distance. That for many, their music is deeply personal. What we get from them is about as much as they want to share.

Perhaps that’s why so few musicians are audiophiles.

Composers, producers, and engineers seem to relish digging deeper into what we as audiophiles love; just not so much musicians.

I wonder if it’s like the proverbial sausage maker? Enjoy the product but don’t look behind the curtain?

Whatever it is it is a curiosity to me.

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.

The impermanence of trends

Trends are nearly impossible to see in the moment.

When I was growing up men all wore hats and women were daring if they wore pants. That’s just the way it was.

Normal.

Only, normal is a trend: a temporary condition that feels relevant at the time but in hindsight is only a passing phase.

Trends are rather pervasive in high-end audio. First it was owning a console with everything built-in. Then we moved to separates. Turntables were all we knew until the CD came along. No one considered a subwoofer until it’s not cool to be without.

I think it’s healthy to separate trends from qualities that deserve permanence.

A love of music is timeless.

A desire to strive for better feels eternal.

It’s not a trend to fall in love with a great performance in your home.