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.

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.

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.

Hmmmm, but they have a business to support and sound quality should be better, as their other stuff offers great value, but the BHK stuff can definitely sound better, compared to the higher end of great stereo sound. Competitive at their prices, but there’s room upmarket for PS Audio and I think this is where they are headed and I don’t blame them one bit.  I owned the BHK Preamp and DAC and what I’m using now is light years better sounding, although a lot more expensive. Time marches on and so do they!

Why better?

In yesterday’s post about the fluidity of my stereo system, I mentioned upgrading from the amazing BHK300 monoblock amplifiers to the newer BHK600s.

More than a few people emailed me asking why. Why would I upgrade what is already an overkill amplifier to one with even more wattage?

It’s a good question. Let’s look at some of the specifics.

The Infinity IRSV in Music Room 2 is about 90dB efficient. Meaning that for 1 watt of input power we can expect to get 90dB of sound at its output.

90dB is loud.

1 watt is nothing.

300 watts is overkill.

600 watts is absurd.

And yet I am still over-the-top excited. Not because I have more power than I could possibly want but because this new amp will bring an entirely new level of performance to an already amazing system. And because the extra wattage I now have places even less of a demand upon the amp.

What we do in high-end audio isn’t always logical.

It won’t take but one listen to not care about the logic.

It’s all about the sound.

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.

Reconnecting

As of late, I am receiving in my inbox a surprising and delightful increase of messages and heartfelt letters of thanks for our HiFi Family.

Thanks for reinvigorating people’s interest in HiFi. Seems that folks coming to the website find a place where they can once again feel part of a community that they once had.

How cool is that? Just when many thought our numbers were shrinking, along comes a new crop of people interested in what we all love. High-End audio.

I believe the need for like-minded people interested in music and its reproduction in the home has never waned and, in fact, grown.

When the culture changes from one of neighborhood dealers to online communities there’s always going to be fallout. Once things begin to settle in it’s natural for those who always wanted to be part of the community to rejoin.

And that’s a good thing.

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.

Choosing your tradeoffs

In high-end audio as in engineering, it’s all a matter of managing tradeoffs. There are no perfect solutions.

I think when evaluating acceptable tradeoffs one must make a shortlist of inviolate parameters. For example, I am unwilling to sacrifice: dynamics, transparency, bass, soundstage, and listenability.

Which, by default, suggests I am willing to sacrifice: tonal balance, PRaT, noise, extended highs, and colorations.

Your list of must-haves and acceptable sacrifices is unlikely to be the same as mine.

I think what’s important is twofold: an understanding that compromise is inevitable, and crafting a list of requirements.

The cost of your stereo system will be directly reflected by the balance between the two lists.

The longer your requirement list the more you’ll need to spend to build the system you want.

Accepting the inevitability of tradeoffs and maintaining your list may be one of the most valuable tools you have available to you.

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.

Musicality

We ultimately judge the performance of our stereo system but how closely it brings us to music. Real music.

So, if in 1981 we had systems that brought us close to the music, where a violin sounded like a violin, a Fender Stratocaster like a Fender Stratocaster, how much progress could we legitimately claim over the ensuing 40 years?

Probably lots and here’s why. Using the identification of one instrument from another is somewhat of a strawman argument. Fact is, I can distinguish the sound of a violin as well as a Stratocaster from inside my car from an MP3 source.

So it isn’t so much the proper identification of instruments, but rather how close we can get to creating a realistic space where we believe the musicians are playing in our room.

IMHO that’s a truer mark of the classic goals of high end audio.

We’ve come a long way in the ensuing 40 years, but we still have a long way to go.

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.

PS Audio is a real company, wile many high end audio companies are not, so PS Audio uses a pretty standard pricing model, while others, get what they can and often times a lot better margins on what they sell, if they can make a market for their stereo products.

Pricing models

As of late, there’s been some discussion on the forums about the model we use for product pricing.

From what I can ascertain, the general view seems to be companies have a complex pricing model based on a combination of what they believe the market will bear and what it takes to cover all their R and D and tooling costs. At some level, this pricing model surely exists, else how do we wind up with half-million-dollar loudspeakers or $50K audio cables?

When it comes to the mainstream companies I think the truth is somewhat simpler.

My guess is we’re all pretty much the same: a simple multiple of what each product costs to manufacture. The multiples vary depending on the expected number of units to be sold and what the sales volume of the company is.

At the end of the proverbial day, companies have to charge enough to cover expenses.

For most companies like PS Audio, pricing is based entirely on what it costs us to build your products.

Simple works best.

 

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.

Does gold matter?

Most high-end audio equipment uses a microscopically thin layer of gold plating on their connectors. We certainly do. It’s what’s expected.

And the general consensus in the audiophile community is that this layer of precious metal makes a sonic difference. I know from personal experience that the choice of precious metals like rhodium, palladium, silver, or gold, has a sonic impact on a quality constructed connector.

How much does the obvious beauty of the outer finish contribute to sound quality vs. the actual construction of the connector?

Here’s my take on it. Gold plating, in and of itself and without benefit of proper cable and connector construction, does not necessarily sound better. We can purchase gold-plated RCA cables from Amazon Basics for $6 that sound like dog-do compared to a well designed nickel plated higher end cable of proper design.

How about if we turn an old saying on its head? All that glitters is not gold might in this context make more sense if it read: All that is gold does not mean it sounds good. (ok, I am not a good adage writer :))

Perhaps the best adage of all would be Beauty is only skin deep.

It’s what’s inside that 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.

Cultures and communities

Most of us are born into a culture. Over time, we embrace other cultures and join the communities that support them.

Take our group’s choice of the culture known as high-end audio. It’s unlikely any of us were born into it (though to be fair my father might have qualified as an audiophile). And I would speculate most of us chose to embrace this culture and join its community.

We speak the lingo, we understand the concepts, on occasion we finger-wag our firm beliefs, we often preach the gospel, we sometimes shame outside thoughts that run counter to the culture that defines our community.

I know plenty of my fellow audiophiles that bristle at the suggestion ours is a culture. They would prefer the term community.

I would suggest one doesn’t work without the other. They are forever intertwined.

Cultures tend to be more long-term while communities are more transient.

The culture of high-end audio has been evolving for more than 100 years. Our community that supports, feeds, and helps shape our culture comes and goes.

Culture and community are dance partners.

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.

On the playground

As a kid in school, I was likely not alone in my favorite class, recess. The bell would ring and we kids were released onto the playground.

Some kids liked sports, some the swings, others the monkey bars. Me? I liked the groups. The clans.

Like-minded kids would gather together and plan and talk about “stuff”. Some of it was devilish, some of it was inspiring, some of it was…well, thank goodness we never followed through with half our plans.

Playground groups remind me of audio shows. Not the devilish bits, but the group get togethers of like-minded people.

I get a daily taste of the camaraderie here at PS Audio, but it’s just not the same as an audio show where for two to three days in a row every person in the building is there for one reason and one reason only. Our passion for high end audio.

We’ve just signed a contract for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Audio Fest to be held October 8th through the 10th in Denver.

If you’re vaccinated, into high-end audio, then this is where you’ll want to be come this October.

And yes, we will be playing and displaying the long-awaited FR-30 loudspeaker.