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.

Montreal

Just a quick note to share with you the setup in our room at the Montreal High End Audio show. Today is the last day of the show so if you do have a chance to make it there, it will be something you don’t want to miss.

Here’s a shot of our room taken at around midnight after Scott McGowan and I finished setup.

The room is fairly large, as you can see, and the setup pretty standard. In order to get the FR30s to play nice with such a large room, we pulled them out from the front wall to where in the hot seats the bass was pretty even. It only took us a few hours of tweaking to get them sounding quite good.

In either the lone front seat or the row of seats behind, the speakers are simply gone. Close your eyes and there’s nothing but music.

Our thanks to Peter of Nexus, Don of Kimbercan, and Travis of PS Audio for all their hard work getting the room set up so that Scott and I could come in and make the final tweaks.

Hope you get a chance to see and hear them.

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 revelation

In yesterday’s post, I posited a gnarly problem. How to rely upon the sound of a loudspeaker in order to achieve the perfect capture.

After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect microphone or speaker. These two transducers are to some degree flawed.

Experienced recording and mix engineers have solved this problem through years of experience with specific monitors. After hundreds of hours of trial and error, they know that when an instrument or voice sounds a certain way that it will be good/acceptable on the average listener’s speakers.

That while that methodology works for the vast majority of recordings, it’s hardly “as good as it gets” if your target audience of listeners is our high-end audio community armed with some of the most revealing home reproduction systems the world has to offer.

This dilemma really came to light after we replaced the Infinity IRSV with Chris Brunhaver’s amazing FR30 loudspeakers. As soon as I had some quality time to listen to them it became immediately obvious the FR30’s planar tweeter and midrange were on a different planet than anything I had ever heard. So real and revealing were these two transducers that I had to stop and reevaluate everything I thought I knew. After all, the IRSV too uses the same technology for its tweeters and midrange. *(as an aside from our story, one of the lessons I learned about creating a speaker of this caliber came from watching the process Chris used to design the FR30 tweeter and midrange. Employing hundreds of hours of mind-numbing measurements, Chris first perfected the two drivers themselves, then spent months working on how they fit into the baffle (just look at the tweeter and note the innocent looking divider down its middle or the slight horn-like opening for the midrange) and how that affected their response, and finally to the crossover, then back again to the beginning, etc.)

Having never heard the upper end of any system sound as real as what I was now hearing, it didn’t take too long to get used to this new reality. That soon became problematic.

After auditioning in MR2 on the FR30s a new mix for Octave Records, I followed the engineer up to the mix room and heard it played back again, but this time first on the conventional drivers of the ATC monitors as well as the Sony speakers Gus likes for mastering.

Holy crap. A slap in the face moment. I was listening not to cymbals but instead, I was listening to tweeters.

The story continues tomorrow.

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 ears have it

It’s both fascinating and refreshing to me getting deeper into the recording arts. Like High End Audio, the myths, legends, wisdom, and common knowledge base are a potpourri of fact and fiction.

Sorting through the morass of opinions on what’s the best stereo equipment, techniques and skill sets is a seemingly endless task. Each step along the way is like peeling back the proverbial onion. One bit of common wisdom dispelled leads to another to be sussed out as truth or fiction.

And everyone has a strong opinion.

I love it. No wishy-washy opinions in this field.

As with High End Audio, my methodology for digging down for the facts is basically the same: do the research, make your best guess, then listen.

Always listen. It’s the ultimate arbiter of everything from science to pseudo-science.

It’s at least comforting to know that even in a distantly related field like pro audio one can rely upon long-held skills for answers.

When it comes to uncovering the truth, the ears have 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 progress journey

Progress comes in steps of understanding.

Think back to when you first got the itch to have a high-end audio stereo system. Perhaps like me, you got bit upon the first listen to a true audiophile setup. My first taste was enjoyed through a friend’s tri-amped Audio Research rig with a Decca cartridge, Rabco linear tracking turntable, twin 18″ subs, electrostatic midrange panels, a Blue Flame tweeter, and ready access to a freezer full of fine hashish (It was, after all, the 1970s).

Armed with a new level of understanding of what home audio could represent I set out to duplicate as much as I could afford.

I consider that first introduction—the one that lit my flame—a Level 1 upgrade in understanding along the progress journey. Level 2 would be discovering how expensive and (at the time) unobtainable that system would be.

Each new level of understanding has us circling back to our original goals and desires for a fresh look. Armed with new insight, this is how progress is made.

How each of us gets from point A to point B is different (unable to afford what I dearly desired, I helped form an audio company to get it).

The step-by-step process of gathering fresh understanding is kind of like climbing the steps of a ladder. With each rung, we see a different view.

“If only I knew then what I know now.”

Of course, if that old chestnut ever came true I think it might be a shame.

Perhaps it’s helpful to remember it’s the journey that counts.

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

Not sure Paul should be expressing opinions of competitors loudspeakers by making a very generalized  statement regarding the sound quality of their products, especially compared to a new loudspeaker product they are just releasing, but it’s a fee country, so here you go. Not having heard PS Audio’s new speaker, or an ATC speaker in a long time, this is all Paul.

Analytical vs. resolving

The terms we use in high-end audio are often confusing.

When I listen to a pair of studio monitors like the ATCs I find them analytical, meaning they are cold, forward, in your face with about as much emotional engagement as a doctor listening through a stethoscope.

When I listen to a pair of our FR30 loudspeakers I find them highly resolving, meaning they are so emotionally engaging I am drawn into their sound so that I might hear deeply into the music.

Both speaker types are very detailed.

One engages me with the music in the same way I might interact with a university textbook.

The other draws me in like a great novel begging to be read.

Analytical vs. resolving.

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

Magnifiers

When the fine print’s too small we put on a pair of magnifiers so we can better see the writing.

I wonder if we might define what we in high-end audio strive for as being similar?

Instead of magnifying lenses, we turn to better stereo equipment.

Better equipment has the power of great magnification. It allows us to look deeper into the music, to find more inner detail, to hear more about what’s going on in a recording.

Speakers with greater resolution, amps with improved clarity.

In a way, it reminds me of better magnification, of wiping clean a smudged pair of eyeglasses.

How well do your magnifiers work?

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

I use balanced Interconnects for my T+A MP2500R digital player and have to use RCA for my Well Tempered Labs Amadeus GTA, as that’s the only option. As an analog signal is balanced by nature and as a majority of preamplifiers now have balanced inputs, I expect to see balanced outputs on record players become more normal.

 

SE vs. balanced

We sometimes form incorrect conclusions based on logical leaps.

For example, just because a balanced interconnect is quieter than a single-ended type doesn’t mean single-ended systems are noisy.

A single-ended system using the standard RCA interconnects can be as quiet as the proverbial mouse. It’s the system many of us have for years been using as our reference standard.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that we in High-End Audio began adding XLR connectors and their supporting circuitry so that we could take advantage of the benefits of balanced audio. (Balanced interconnects were for many decades the exclusive purview of the pro-industry: recording studios, live events)

So, to set the record straight balanced audio is, IMHO, the better way to connect your high-end audio system. It sounds better and is quieter. It offers the ability to separate the source gear from the amplifiers so that we might place the amps next to the loudspeakers and keep the preamp and sources close to the listener.

And yes, balanced audio is quieter.

But that doesn’t mean that single ended systems are noisy.

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

The special person

Just because someone hears a high-end audio system—marveling at how lifelike and far from what they listen to it is—rarely does it equate to them running down to the store and buying one.

It takes a special person to become inspired to the point of taking the leap that changes their life.

Is it one out of a thousand that hears a great stereo system and decides for themselves that this is worth their time?

I don’t have any insight into the numbers.

What I do know is that it takes a very special person to care enough about the quality of their musical reproduction system to invest their energies into building one for themselves.

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.

Truth

The author of the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous line was, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

And so it goes about the truth. We’re taught as children to always be truthful but it doesn’t take too long to figure out the truth can sometimes hurt—like a smack on the butt or a good scolding for whatever crime the truth-teller has just owned up to.

But being truthful is at the core of trust and it is trust most of us work our whole lives to earn.

That said, I think it’s important to titrate the truth to fit the situation at hand. Never lie, but sometimes it pays to soften your words. You’d hardly want to crush the spirit of a young child asking for your opinion on her latest crayon creation, and then there’s always the potential minefield for unsuspecting blockhead males not thinking through the answer to “how does this dress make me look?”

When it comes to high end audio there is as well a fine line to walk. How could I tell the whole truth of how awful something sounds when the presenter has worked their heart out crafting the masterpiece?

I make a point of doing my best to never falsifying anything. I mix this credo with a dash of softness and a sprinkle of surely there has to be something positive to say.

And then there’s the opposite situation where words aren’t adequate to express the truth and beauty of someone’s stereo system.

The truth cuts in many ways.

Never lose sight of it, but like strong medicine, be careful with its application.

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 is prepping us for the new PS Audio BHK 600 amplifiers and looks like as ultimate an amp as they can build. Unfortunately, they are only direct now, so, as a high end audio dealer, I won’t be able to partake.

Besides, after talking my T+A PA3100 integrated amp out of my Furman IT Ref 20i power conditioner, I don’t really want anything else, as sonically, these are fantastic sounding amp. At least plugged directly into the wall.

However, with no surge protection this way, I will be installing a SurgeX SA20 surge protection unit, which also has EMI/FRI filtering. I hope not too much of the latter, as I now know that this can kill the amps sound, as the Furman did.

The $35 resistor

I am well aware people in our HiFi Family think were nuts. And, that’s ok. Better nuts than boring.

When people ask me if parts of identical value but different construction sound unlike one another I kind of scratch my head. In my world, parts in the signal path all sound different. It’s like asking me if chocolate and vanilla taste different.

The answer seems so obvious.

But then I climb out of my cloud and plop back down into some form of reality that isn’t mine but close enough to the others in order to communicate.

When building products that people can afford it becomes a challenge to know where to spend what funds you have available. I can assure you $10 Audio Note resistors or $50 Rel Caps in every position on a circuit would place audio equipment out of reach for all but a few.

The challenge then comes down to selectivity. Where to best place your parts funds to get the performance you’re hoping for.

I remember well the tough choice I had to make when designing the Genesis Stealth integrated amplifier. The volume control in the Stealth was the heart of the device: my last all-out assault on fixing the volume control before I finally gave up and eliminated the volume control altogether through the invention of the Gain Cell.

The Stealth volume control was simple. A series resistor with variable shunt resistors. Instead of trying to use what everyone else was struggling with: a high-quality potentiometer or fancy stepped attenuator, my simple circuit depended 100% on the quality of a single resistor.

After much trial and error, I landed on a 1-watt 0.1% tolerance Vishay that in quantities of 500 pieces ran us $35 each. Ouch. That’s a lot when even a great 1% metal film costs about a dime.

The point of the story is simple. The only reason we cut into our own margins by $70 for the stereo pair was because it sounded better. A lot better.

Hopefully, this story will resonate with some and confirm with others what they always suspected. That we’re nuts.

Certainly not boring.