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.

Amateur Audiophiles

One of the reasons I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide was to help fix the biggest problem in high-end audio systems. The one most of us take for granted, yet never master.

Setup.

Sure, we all know the basics: approximately where to place the loudspeakers, how to connect the kit, how to tame a lousy room.

But basics are not mastery in the same way learning how to boil water doesn’t make you a culinary expert.

With over 10,000 copies in circulation, I am happy to report that more systems sound better than ever before.

But, the Guide doesn’t work for everyone because not everyone gets the same benefits from simply reading a book.

That’s where someone like David Snyder can help. David, who refers to himself as an amateur audiophile (aren’t most of us?), has taken apart every aspect of The Audiophile’s Guide and methodically laid it out in much easier to understand language than I was able to.

He’s published this work in a 5-part series called Unlocking Great Sound and to be honest, he’s done a far better job than I.

If you’re interested, you can go here and begin with part 1.

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.

Hope for the future

There are many reasons why we launched Octave Records, but chief among them was to add to the small supply of high-resolution recordings as well as to help set standards of what we as the high-end audio community demand in the way of well-recorded material. To that end, I think we’re on the right track.

Part of the reason we felt compelled to add our voice into what seems like an empty wilderness is the deplorable state of most modern recordings. Seems the state of the art has been sliding backwards for years.

I was heartened to learn that a committee formed by the Grammys has been pushing to set some standards for high-resolution recordings. Though they are not taking a stance on either heavy-handed compression or the loudness wars, they are at least addressing the issue of resolution and…get this…pushing hard against not only MP3, but raising the sample rate above CD quality!

Imagine!

“THE REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 44.1/16, 48/24, 96/24, 192/24 AND BEYOND
Is there truly a noticeable difference between MP3s and 192/24 files? Absolutely, but everyone owes it to themselves to listen and compare. In most cases the differences between CD-quality and 192/24 are at least noticeable, and frequently, they are stark. Skillfully mixed and mastered music with a wide dynamic range benefits dramatically from a hi-res workflow. For recordings
such as symphonic film scores, classical music, or other recordings that feature acoustic instruments, hi-res audio is a perfect fit—the increased audio quality can be appreciated by virtually anyone who hears it. In the experience of this committee and the audio professionals we interviewed (including numerous rock, pop, and urban producers and engineers whose work is aggressive and powerful), recording, mixing, and mastering at resolutions 96/24 or better results in a final product that is both sonically superior and faithful to the sound of the final mastered mix.”

You can download the paper here.

I realize this is a task akin to steering the Titanic away from danger, but we gotta start somewhere and I am heartened to read that recording engineers are being told resolutions higher than 44.1kHz are audible and preferred.

Maybe there’s hope for the future.

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.

Getting started

We all want better quality high end audio but where do you start if you’re not getting all you hope for?

If the imaging or tonal balance are off, do you work with the loudspeakers or the electronics? If your speakers aren’t disappearing or the music is presented in your lap rather than on a proper soundstage, do you tweak setup or change cables?

It is difficult to know where in any complex system to start.

My advice has always been simple (though often not very satisfying).

At the beginning.

It may seem obvious to some, but if you don’t have the basics of setup, AC power, and room tweaks in place then every effort at improvement is more a Band-Aid than a fix.

I have helped countless audiophiles get a handle on their systems by pulling their attention away from the tweaks and back to the basics.

Getting the fundamentals right—especially the initial speaker and listening position—is critical to every system.

Getting started on fixing weakness when you haven’t first addressed the basics is like trying to shore up a teetering house with chewing gum and baling wire.

Fundamentals first.

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’d be willing to bet that for every audio designer that thinks high end audio amplification design like Paul, there are an equal amount that think otherwise. As far as an amp breaking a sweat, my experience with certain types of solid state amps is that they sound their best when breaking a sweat.

Careful on the input

One of the ways we designers make good sounding audio amplifiers is to lightly limit the input frequency while at the same time extending its high-frequency response.

That’s something that might seem counterintuitive but it works.

For example, at the input of a power amplifier, I like to form a light low pass filter of around 30kHz but within the amplifier’s circuitry, extend its bandwidth to as high as is practical—hopefully somewhere close to 100kHz.

This combination of limiting what the amp has to deal with while making sure what does come in is easily handled makes for a wonderfully open and easy presentation of music.

I like to think of it as a car with more power than it needs, and then a light foot on the accelerator pedal.

Easy in so the amp never breaks a sweat.

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.

External power supplies

On the periphery of exotic upgrades is the external power supply. Sometimes this supply is bigger and more powerful than what’s standard inside audio products, but more often than not it’s simply the only means of powering a product. A wall wart is a great example.

In my experience, the first use of an external power supply came from PS Audio, nearly 50 years ago (though likely others did it too).

When Stan and I were working on building new products, Stan had discovered the benefits of an oversized power supply: more slam, openness, greater solidity in the bottom end, and far better transparency. The bigger the transformer the better the sound.

At the time, we only made line-level products like preamps and control centers. These types of products were always housed in 1U, 2U, or sometimes a 3U chassis (a “U” is short for Rack Unit and is a standard for rack mounting at 1.75″ tall). Our 2U chassis height could never accommodate a monster power transformer so we did what anyone trying to shoehorn in a 5-pound hunk into a one-pound bag: we put it in a new and larger housing. We called it the HCPS for High Current Power Supply.

The benefits from externalizing the power transformer were many: better sound, lower hum, and the ability for our customers to choose what level of performance they could afford. The last one we produced was back in the PCA2 preamp days of the 2000s, as well as a smattering in the Gain Cell line of products. It was (and is) a cool idea but, alas, limited in its appeal.

Seems the trend today is less rather than more.

Big external boxes powering high-end audio products are rare and often viewed more as exotic than standard.

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.

Syrup on pancakes

In the 1990s, the idea of an AC power conditioner feeding a stereo system was about the same as adding syrup to pancakes: a nice but unnecessary sweetener.

Few people thought of power conditioners, and later AC regenerators, as being essential elements in a high-end audio chain. In fact, even as late as the early 2000s, most audio systems didn’t pay any attention to the quality of AC power feeding gear or the benefits of protection from surges and spikes.

Today, we’ve come to accept the idea that everything we hear in our systems starts out as raw AC—and the better and safer that source the closer we can get to the music we wish to reproduce in the home.

It takes a long time for a new concept to get accepted into the fold. Just think back to when no one batted an eye at using lamp cord for speaker cables.

I still like maple syrup on my pancakes, but instead of an afterthought or something nice to have, I find it an essential ingredient.

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.

Subwoofer history

In one of my Ask Paul video questions, I was asked how far back subwoofers go in 2-channel audio. The community member had only become aware of subs as they related to home theater.

Of course, many readers of Paul’s Post know subs date back much further than home theater.

From Wikipedia: In September 1964, Raymon Dones received the first patent for a subwoofer specifically designed to augment the low-frequency range of modern stereo systems (US patent 3150739). Able to reproduce distortion-free low frequencies down to 15 Hz, a specific objective of Dones’s invention was to provide portable sound enclosures capable of high fidelity reproduction of low-frequency sound waves without giving an audible indication of the direction from which they emanated. Dones’s loudspeaker was marketed in the US under the trade name “The Octavium” from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. The Octavium was utilized by several recording artists of that era, most notably the Grateful Dead.

Two years later, in 1966, my former partner in Genesis Technologies and the co-founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, along with his airline pilot friend, Carry Christie, launched the second and perhaps most important subwoofer of its time, the Infinity Servo woofer, based on an 18″ Cerwin Vega driver.

My experience with a subwoofer began a few years later when I was first introduced to a true high-end audio system. There, in the living room of local audiophile Norm Little, was serial numbers 1 and 2 of aerospace engineer Eugene J. “Gene” Czerwinski’s creation, a pair of 18″ Cerwin-Vega subwoofers capable of producing 130 dB at 30 Hz, an astonishing level during its time (or any time).

I suppose I have never gotten over the experience of hearing for the first time, all there is in the recordings, including subsonics.

Until you hear it all, you’re not going to know what true high-end audio really 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.

Tweaks

To tweak is to improve something by making small, fine adjustments to it. In other words, we take something that we already like and make it slightly better.

In our world of high-end audio tweaks abound: vibration dampers, cable lifters, tube rings, shorting plugs, green pens.

I bristle when someone suggests a Power Plant AC regenerator is a “tweak”. Certainly, a Power Plant makes something better, but it’s hardly a “fine adjustment”.  It fundamentally changes AC power.

I think it’s valuable to separate essential and fundamental improvements from those products making only slight adjustments to an existing product.

A record cleaning machine might straddle the center line.

When we’re considering investing money into our systems we should be aware of the balance scales. Do we invest in a tweak or a fundamental improvement?

I think this is a subject worthy of further discussion.

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.

I’ve used nothing but separate audio components for many years, but now have two different integrated amps, one from Luxman and one from T+A and both are exceptional sounding. The T+A Integrated amp, the PA3100HV, is truly phenomenal sounding.

However, neither have a built in digital section and that’s probably why they sound so good.

High-end audio is more separates than completes. You don’t see many all-in-one receivers connected to high-end speakers.

It’s not that it’s technically impossible to build a great sounding receiver. Plenty of companies from PS Audio to McIntosh to Devialet have.

Yet always a collection of their separate counterparts outperforms the all-in-one. Why?

One could easily argue the shared power supplies don’t help, nor the shared AC cord. Still others might argue the close proximity of noisy circuits within the same chassis, or the need to bring the piece in at a reasonable price.

Yet, speculation aside, I would venture to suggest it is probably not possible to put a digital source next to an analog output without significant compromise. That it is proximity and the inverse-square law that stands between success and failure.

Sometimes we just have to separate things in order to maximize their potential.