Tag Archives: JBL

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.

It’s called sell out and make a bunch of money. It’s to Paul’s credit that he didn’t take this route with PS Audio, as I’m sure there could have been suitors and a sale.

Big vs. small

I am struggling to think of a smaller company that’s gotten better after being acquired by a bigger one.

I cringe at the aftermath of Harmon’s purchase of Infinity, and JBL, and I wince at the results following Sound United’s big gulps of Denon, Polk, Marantz, B&W, Def Tech, Boston, and Classe. The list seems to be endless.

None of those brands retains any semblance of its former glory.

And it’s not just the audio industry. Shop in Whole Foods after Amazon’s purchase.

Surely there must be some advantages to being swallowed by a bigger company with heavy resources and financial freedom.

I just cannot think of any.

 

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.

How to buy a speaker

I cannot keep track of how many times we’re asked—begged sometimes—for help choosing which loudspeaker to match with our stereo equipment. And often, not even our equipment, just “how do I get great sound?”

My advice is going to be rather simple and straightforward. Choose the company, its people, and its mission, not the speaker. Do a little homework to see if your values line up with theirs. Once you find a company you’re comfortable with, a company whose mission matches your own, that’s when it’s time to check their references, see what kind of reviews they get, and what people think about them. But first, you need to see if they are on the same page as you.

Take for example a vaunted long-term company like JBL, or perhaps Bose, Sonos, or Klipsch. All four companies make great and well-respected speakers for some portions of the market. But while their outer persona speaks of quality and music, look deeper at their stated claims. JBL serves mostly the pro-market with sound reinforcing speakers for live events—but you’re interested in home audio. Bose is heavy into the consumer market and strives to give good average sound for the dollar, but is that what we’re trying to do here? Sonos is the leader in connected home audio, but few believe they strive for audiophile quality performance, and Klipsch—while once dedicated to bringing the sound of live music into your home—is now on a different sort of mission.

From their website: “Delivering an intense sound experience in an elegant package, Klipsch floor standing speakers provide soaring highs and booming lows while complementing your home décor.”

See what I mean? While soaring highs and booming lows might interest many, they are not necessarily what we, as audiophiles, are looking for.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but when it comes to home audio reproduction I am looking for honesty, purity, and full range excellence that brings the sound of live musicians into my room without coloration or affectation.

If purity of music—bringing truth and life of what’s recorded on the disc—is what the company you’re considering are aiming for, then you have a fighting chance.

 

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.

Before and after

When we’re exposed to new experiences we change and, once changed, we can never go back to where we were. But that is alright because now we can take the next step ahead.

I remember as if it were yesterday an experience that forever changed my life. My first slap-in-the-face high-end audio exposure.

First, a little background. I had always been interested in HiFi from as far back as I can remember. My father built his own rig, and then I did the same: a single driver mono turntable setup based on an old receiver. Mine was the envy of the neighborhood, the best sound anyone my age had heard. Move forward another decade and now my HiFi experiences were expanded to the studio monitors and headphones radio stations used—a real step up from my homebrew rig.

But then I was invited to listen to a pair of JBL corner horns driven by an all Audio Research system. From the first needle drop, I knew this was sound from a different league. There was actually an image, something I had never experienced (other than the phantom center image we all get). From that moment on, I was forever changed. Which is exactly the point of this post.

Were I to recreate that same setup and play the same music today, I’d no doubt have a good chuckle. What I listen to now, relative to what I heard in the past, is light years better. It’s the magnitude of change—the major stepping stones—we get to experience that radically alter our lives.

Perhaps this knowledge is what drives my lust for the upgraded experience.

Just when I think it cannot get better, I remind myself that is simply not true.

We can always move beyond the stepping stones of our experience.

 

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.

Time machines

Wouldn’t it be wild if we could bring some of the early audio pioneers like Emile Berliner, Thomas Edison, Alan Blumlien, or even Alexander Graham Bell into the future? Sit them down and play for them a modern stereo system. From their perspective, I’ll bet they’d think we had made magic.

In a way, we have.

I remember hearing a vintage JBL system that once would have been the pinnacle of sound reproduction. It was memorable not for its perfection, but because it sounded so contrived. I was not listening to music, I was listening to an obvious contrivance, a HiFi, a recording. Good? Yes. But compared to even the simplest of modern systems, it couldn’t hold a candle.

Progress comes in small little bites that might seem big when you’re in the middle of them, but lasting change comes only from their accumulation. How many thousands of hours did audiophiles spend tweaking their JBL systems into perfection only to be eclipsed over time by the accumulation of shared knowledge that resulted in real innovation and progress?

The future is built brick by brick, layer by layer. Each tweak, each improvement we make adds up, but only over time.

 

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

I don’t agree with all of this, JBL and Marantz, for instance, but much of it, I do.

Commodity brands

It is truly rare that a brand name can survive an ownership change: Marantz, JBL, Infinity, Harman Kardon, Wharfdale, Klipsch, Krell were all iconic audio brands when owned by their founders. Today they are but commodities.

The wholesale name transfer doesn’t automatically pound a nail in the brand’s coffin. Mark Levinson’s brand got (arguably) better after Mark sold to Sandy Berlin and Mike Kay, but it is rare.

We place a lot of value on these names and companies are willing to pay a lot of money to possess them though it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me what the new owner’s expectations are. Success without breaking a sweat, perhaps?

Some brands take a reverse course. Instead of representing a lifetime of work they represent an idea instead. The ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs is a good example. It is a made up name that over the years has become associated with rich tasting expensive ice cream and to that goal succeeds well.

In high-end audio, though, brand names are more often than not representations of personal work that have or have not withstood the test of time. The dustbin of come-and-gone names is full, yet those remaining have either morphed into something different than their founder’s intent—Klipsch and JBL are great examples—or fade into obscurity over time.

I cringe when someone writes to me excited about a purchasing decision based on the former reputation of a brand only to later question how it got there when they don’t get what they had hoped for.

It’s best to take a close look at what’s attached to any brand before jumping into the deep end.

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 ladder of excellence

I remember the very first time I heard a high-end audio system: a pair of JBL corner horns, an Audio Research preamp and power amp, and a Thorens turntable. It was a stunning revelation compared to my Kenwood integrated amplifier, AR turntable, and Phase Array speakers.

Today that same high-end system that first took my breath away would elicit only a polite smile and a soft chuckle of reminiscence.

We’re first taken by the magnitude of contrasting levels: Kenwood to Audio Research; Wonder Bread to a French baguette. Once we adjust to a new level of performance standard, we need ever greater contrasts to make the same size impression of improvement.

I remember well going to a Hong Kong reviewer’s house and listening to his collection of vintage equipment. My only reaction was to wonder how I ever thought any of those ancient treasures sounded good.

Each time we reach new levels of performance our standards change. What might have impressed us once no longer holds sway.

It’s called climbing the Ladder of Excellence.

Each higher rung advances our understanding of what’s good and what’s merely acceptable.

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.

How good is old?

Good memories sweeten with time.

My first experience with a pair of exceptional loudspeakers was in the home of radio station engineer Jim Mussel in 1973. He and I worked for the same FM rock and roll radio station, KXFM in Santa Maria, California. We were both interested in good sound but he was farther along the path of achieving it than I was. Instead of my Kenwood integrated amplifier driving a pair of Phased Array loudspeakers, Jim’s system was high-end: JBL Corner Horns powered by Audio Research electronics.

The music played through Jim’s system was unlike anything I had ever heard: dynamic, involving, true to the instruments played. Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein took on a whole new meaning when first Winter’s soaring synth riffs cut through the air with a verve I had never experienced. But the icing on the cake was Chuck Ruff’s drum solo. On my system, both had sounded dull and mashed together like potatoes through a grinder. On Jim’s system, they were as clear as a bell.

If I were to listen to that same system today, 40 something years later, it would still bring pleasure but only if they had been maintained.

What can go wrong with vintage electro-mechanical devices like loudspeakers? Aging of the elastic elements and degradation of capacitors. Like people, components age. Woofer surrounds crumble, capacitors dry out.

There are plenty of services for reconing loudspeaker drivers. A quick Google search brought up at least a dozen reputable vendors. Replacing capacitors in aging crossovers is a bit more of a challenge requiring a soldering iron and shoe leather, but there’s a silver lining to it—a chance to upgrade with better components. Head to the Parts Express or my personal favorite, the Parts Connection where you can upgrade to your heart’s content. Just be careful not to change the original values found in the crossover, and you’ll be fine.

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.

Who knew?

For the past few days, I’ve been in Japan visiting dealers, riding the Bullet Train (200 mph), and enjoying this wonderful culture and its incredible people. Yesterday I was in the country’s second largest city, Osaka. The day before, the far north. What a treat. I will definitely put together a short video of my trip and post it on our YouTube channel.

Last night was my final evening before a full day of meetings with reviewers before sitting on an airplane for ten and a half hours back to Denver. It was a lovely evening in Tokyo—perhaps 80˚ F with a light southerly breeze—and I sat out on the hotel deck with a glass of red wine, listening to the “clickety clack” of the trains rolling into Tokyo Station and enjoying a moment of solitude. My thoughts—never too far from audio and design—soon drifted to the problems of reproducing piano.

The hotel had crappy JBL outdoor speakers playing a jazz trio: bass, drums, piano (Bill Evans if I had to guess). At low levels, you tolerated the pale imitation of music for what it was, but when the pianist pounded the ivories in the heat of passion, I cringed. The sound wasn’t biting or harsh but restricted, held back, unable to escape the prison inflicted by JBL-who-cares-sound. Of course, I was the only one that noticed, or cared, but it got me thinking about just how far from real this sound was and that it didn’t have to be that way.

I could do better. So could fifty other inventors.
Would any of the other bar patrons have cared? Perhaps not, but we might have gotten a few to wonder where the live piano was, and frankly, that’s good enough for me.

I am an audiophile. And proud of it.

When I rolled out of bed this morning the 100 Audiophile Hats were gone overnight. That put the biggest smile on my face I’ve had in months. Yes! Let’s let the world know it matters.

Great sound—live sound—is worth working towards. It just takes a bit of education and caring. No one objects to things sounding good, but some of us care when it doesn’t. And if we care, we can demand better.

We’re audiophiles, and proud of it.

We’ve ordered a new round of hats and they should be here in a few weeks. You can back order yours now and we’ve opened worldwide ordering.

 

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 never had Wonder Bread and wonder what’s so wonderful about it.
The joy of discovery

The world’s a tough place to navigate during childhood. We burn our finger, fall off our bike, spit out food we dislike, get caught red handed in the cookie jar. Most of those hard-won lessons stick with us until we start to branch out a bit. And that’s when it gets interesting.

Food discoveries were my first awakening beyond childhood: a sweet raw pea instead of the boiled gray spheres I grew up with. High-end Italian food compared to Chef Boyardee spaghetti or French bread vs. Wonder bread.

Many of these first-time discoveries change life-long habits. I remember the first time I heard a high-end stereo system (a pair of JBL corner horns fed by Audio Research equipment). That single experience changed my life forever and continues to offer personal growth.

When our eyes are opened to the new and wonderful we grow as individuals in the same way as climbing a mountain. Each step brings us closer to the top where the views are nothing short of magnificent.

Don’t settle for Wonder Bread.

The joy of discovery—widening vistas—stretching our comfort zones—can eradicate personal stagnation.

What new have you discovered today?

 

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.

In this post, Paul talks about brands and what they mean, or maybe what they used to mean.

As companies get bought and sold to larger conglomerates, things usually don’t get better, especially in high end audio. See Altec, Urei, Advent, JBL, Mark Levinson, Krell and a host of other high end audio companies. Some, like Audio Research, Sonus Faber and REL might be better, but I’m not sure about that.
What happens to brands?

Brands come and go, just like people. And, like people, they have personalities reflecting their raison d’être.

Most brands are formed by entrepreneurs passionate enough about something to take a chance and put everything on the line for it.

But, at some point, these brands can become commodities, bought and sold like a head of lettuce. When that happens they lose their original soul and become something entirely different. That’s not necessarily bad, though it’s almost never the same.

Take JBL for example. The first pair of high-end loudspeakers I ever heard were a pair of JBL corner horns. So good were these sonic wonders it changed the course of my life forever. Yet, go find a pair of new JBL home speakers you could say the same about today.

Millions of musicians and car owners know a different JBL than the one I grew up with, and appreciate it on an entirely different level. Or hate it.

Brands represent their owner’s purpose. Wally Amos wanted to impress friends with the quality of his Famous Amos cookies; I am certain they were pretty tasty.

The current owner of Famous Amos cookies, Kellogs, is more interested in numbers than quality or taste; and their product reflects this.

When you’re interested in buying into a brand, look behind the curtain to see who is pulling the levers.