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.

The best sounding stereo I know of? In this recluses house!!

The art of sharing

For the nearly 50 years I’ve been involved with High-End Audio, it’s been better because of the shared experiences of others.

Most all of what I’ve learned over the years has been through the help and suggestions of others. Even the times I have used my experience and knowledge to solve problems for those in need, I learned and grew.

We all likely benefit from sharing, even if it is a one-way street. Take for example the recluse who never shares the magic of his system with the outside world. While it may be true that no one but he has listened to the system, he is likely to have benefited from advice read over the internet or gleaned from a dealer—and by his questions, they learned and grew.

We benefit from the experience of others and hopefully share the results of that learning in exchange.

Community is built upon sharing.

It is how we grow and elevate the performance of our treasured audio systems.

Thanks for sharing with me.

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.

Techno-babble

Back in the 70s, when I became fascinated with high-end audio, there was a list of terms rarely heard today: tape hiss, surface noise, VTA, azimuth, cantilever, and rumble.

To the uninitiated, those terms would today probably sound more like techno-babble than sense.

They’ve now been replaced by a lexicon of new techno-babble: sample rate, bit depth, Ethernet, jitter, timing, and I2S.

With each new change in technology, we get to learn a new set of insider words.

I wonder what the next decade will bring.

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.

Knob feel

Speaker designer Chris Brunhaver shared with me a funny YouTube video.

Check out the Knob Feel channel.

Probably worth one or two quick views for a good laugh. However, it does bring to mind the importance of feel.

I doubt many of us are immune to the touchy-feely aspects of high-end audio.

I know I am not.

On any piece of stereo gear, I like to twist the knobs, click the switches, and pet the finish.

I can’t help myself.

And, as a designer and a person ultimately responsible for the finished product quality, there have been more than a few times I’ve nixed a certain kind of pot or rotary encoder. Perhaps it felt wobbly. Maybe it didn’t have the right back pressure feel.

The security and assurance of a proper feel to a knob is not nothing.

It is an important aspect of engaging with a piece of audio kit.

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 go on Instagram, as I enjoy the pictures and videos, even high end audio posts, shared with my family members. I also have a Facebook page for myself, as well as Cane Creek Audio, but no longer utilize Facebook for either. Grandbaby videos come in on Snapchat, so a couple times a week, I look at it.

However, I understand not doing any social media, as Paul describes and except for Instagram and Snapchat, I don’t utilize Facebook, TikTok, or any of the others and never will.

Passing trains

I have probably spent a total of 5 minutes on social media.

Facebook, Instagram, Tick Tock, and whatever new connection program out there has zero interest for me. It feels like a potential blackhole vortex waiting to suck me in and chew up my time without any obvious benefit.

The counter I hear to that is that I am missing out on connecting with people. That because everyone’s using these platforms to connect with each other, those not engaged are like people not invited to the party.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been too big on parties.

I do spend, however, a great deal of time on our own forums and comment sections specific to these posts and our HiFi Family.

I wonder if this is the same thing with just different rules?

Missing out on the general news and gossip that seems prevalent on social media seems to bother only those immersed in it.

To me, it’s more like waving at a passing train. Interesting for the half-second I see a familiar face and then they are gone.

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.

Shaking off the old myths

I think that by this time in our lives we no longer believe in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, or the Tooth Fairy.

Like the myths of our youth, old tropes that we might have picked up when we first started our journey down the path of high-end audio can often be difficult to shake off.

How many of us still believe you’ve got to be older than 50 to be part of the club? That you need a trained ear to hear subtle differences? That your ability to discern high-performance audio is somehow tied to the accuracy of your hearing?

I do my best to help dispel a number of these old myths but sometimes it feels like an uphill battle.

From time to time it might be beneficial if each of us were to try and shake off a few of these tired old facts.

Like getting excited for Santa’s arrival they serve us well in the beginning.

Over time, we learn the truth.

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

See through music

When you are watching a live show you can see the musicians and hear their individual instruments. The visuals add clarity to what you are hearing.

Listening on your stereo system loses that visual element but in exchange adds a proximity advantage. You are now closer to the musicians than you could have ever been at a live show.

Better than a front row seat.

This see-through music is one of the first qualities I look for in a high-end audio two-channel system. It’s one of the more difficult challenges for a system and hard to achieve because rarely does setup have a big impact on the level of transparency. Instead, it’s almost always a function of cables and electronics.

Speaker and seating positioning coupled with room conditions offer big benefits in tonal balance and the system’s disappearing act, but when it comes to seeing through the music it’s almost always in the equipment itself.

Case in point, the new DSMK2 DAC. Every time I turn the system on I am stunned at the transparency I hear. Going back to the MK1 immediately clouds the music (relative to what I am hearing on the MK2)—and the MK1 is no slouch! It’s held its own as one of the most transparent DACs around.

So when the MK2 takes the music to this new level you know something special is going on.

I can’t wait for you to experience what I and the Beta Testers are experiencing.

See-through music.

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

Loudspeakers and the room are more important factors on sound quality than anywhere else in the amplification chain, although there is some amount of variability between the sound of high end audio stereo components.

Put a great Turntable system, preamplification, amplification and speakers in a really crappy room and the sound quality wont be very good.

Put good equipment in a good room and good sound. Put great equipment in a great room, as I have the fortune to experience and it’s great!

Beginning or end?

Linn’s Ivor Tiefenbrun famously suggested that if you can’t get the information off the vinyl disc in the first place then nothing else you do afterward matters.

There’s much truth in what he said (though I have never agreed with the conclusion that some make that turntables are more important than loudspeakers).

But this thought process has deeper implications when it comes to capturing sound.

In my experience, DSD is a far better capture technology than PCM. Why this would be is something we can over time sort out (is it the format or is it the capture hardware?).

Regardless, using the finest A/D hardware available there is a clear and undeniable sonic advantage to capturing sound in DSD. Later converting that DSD capture to PCM has far less loss than either recording in PCM in the first place or converting DSD to analog for mixing and then back again.

There are plenty of folks who do not agree with me on the latter part of my statement (conversion) but let’s leave that debate for another day.

Here’s the main point. Like the difference between a great turntable/cartridge and a mediocre one, there’s no valid argument possible when it comes to capturing the information. You either do or don’t capture what’s on the disc (or case in point with what is available for capture on our microphones).

If you can capture all there is available, what you do afterward is less important than putting the right effort into the initial capture.

As Ivor said, if you can’t get the capture right nothing else you do down the rest of the chain matters.

When you grab a copy of an Octave Record you know the capture was done properly with DSD.

Once we have captured the data without loss, it doesn’t matter as much the form you listen to it in.

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

Art or science?

I am often asked whether high-end audio is an art or a science. Of course, the convenient answer is both.

Maybe a better question would be the degree to which the two are divided.

At PS Audio, the balance between art and science varies depending on the project’s phase.

When we first dream of a new product it’s almost purely art: dream about what we would like to have in our own systems without any concern for the technological hurdles.

The next phase is where we roll up our proverbial sleeves and generate schematics specific to the various systems that will be required: experience from prior art coupled with a lot of science.

Phase 3 is a 50/50 mix of art and science: how does it sound and what should we change to maximize performance? It is often necessary to think outside the box.

Phase 4 is all science: test, measure, test again.

But that’s just us. Other manufacturers bounce around from zero art and all engineering science to a myriad of other combinations.

When products become personal you know there’s a good blend of both art and science.

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.