Tag Archives: loudspeaker

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.

Proof pudding

No matter how much we wish to believe in something the proof’s often in the pudding. It tastes good or it doesn’t.

For years I have been a disciple of servo-controlled subwoofers. And, for good reason. Proper servo control has a number of advantages: lower distortion, reduction of overhang, flat response irrespective of the enclosure and driver parameters. That’s a lot to like.

Every Genesis Technologies woofer system I helped design was servo-controlled. It just worked and sounded great.

Not until our senior analog engineer, Darren Myers, and loudspeaker designer, Chris Brunhaver, joined the PS engineering team did I begin to question my long-held beliefs. If memory serves me it was Darren that first questioned the actual sound from the servo system. It wouldn’t take long for Chris to join him. Their beef? It didn’t sound right.

They said the pudding would taste better without the servo.

The idea of letting go my love of servos was at first abhorrent. Hard to change that which you have truly believed in for as many decades as I. Yet, it didn’t take but a few hours of demonstration to flip my switch. What they argued wasn’t all that complicated. Servos did indeed produce cleaner bass but, they argued, at the loss of audible slam and impact.

Over the course of a few weeks, multiple experiments were conducted on every kind of music we could come up with. The results were always the same. With the servo in place some of music’s excitement was lost—something one doesn’t notice until a better example is at the ready for comparison.

It’s always a good reminder that no matter how great the recipe, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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.

Uncovering secrets

As a young lad, I remember staring at my grandfather’s fireplace mantle where sat a majestic ship in a bottle. It was a three-mast schooner with big billowing white sails jutting out of the dark brown wooden hull perched on a wavy blue bed of stylistic ocean. It had to be a good ten inches tall. How that beautiful sailing ship got through the bottle’s tiny neck and into that glass vessel was a mystery to me. I begged and pleaded with my grandfather to tell me the bottle’s secret but he refused. With a twinkle in his eye, he challenged me to figure it out.

I never did. Puzzles and I don’t get along together. I think it was my father that finally shared the secret with me, and I found myself disappointed with the answer. The magic was suddenly gone.

Some secrets like magic tricks and ships in bottles should remain unknown. Once exposed all the fun and wonder vanish into the ordinary.

But other secrets such as those once reserved for hired experts, like the art of turntable arm setup, the inner workings of circuits, computer coding, loudspeaker placement, and how to build a stereo system unlike anyone else has, deserve to be shared.

Keeping an expert’s hard-won tricks of the trade close to the vest in order to protect one’s livelihood once made sense, but not so much today. Thanks to the internet’s open access as well as the proliferation of worldwide markets, personal experts for hire are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Today, it makes much more sense for experts to hop onto a YouTube channel and uncover the secrets once reserved for those who paid admission.

The times they are a’ changin’.

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 listen to Lee Ritenour’s 4 to 6, by Wes Montgomery as my first music selection, when listening to a new stereo component. Why this? Simply because I love it!!

What to first turn to

When evaluating a new piece of gear—perhaps that new Power Plant, DAC, cable, or loudspeaker—what’s the first track of music you turn to? Is it always the same? Does it vary from type to type of gear?

In my experience we all have a few go-to pieces of music we rely upon to evaluate equipment. It occurs to me that much of what we think of how a product presents itself may in part depend on this go-to piece of music.

For example, I almost always go to an acoustic piece with a vocal. This is a quick and easy way to tell if the voice sounds right or if it’s off base. From there I can branch off to other tracks. But, what if that practice leads me astray from the truth? Perhaps the strength of the new product is in the top end, or the opposite. Maybe its strengths or weakness fall outside the bounds of my first impression piece.

I’ll bet that, for many of us, that first piece of go-to music has a lot of bearing on how we feel towards a particular piece of gear—half full or half empty.

What we first turn to may be more important than we sometimes give credence to.

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

This may work for some, but depends on type and size of the loudspeaker, as well as the listening room. The Red Norvo piece of music is great!

Tilt ‘er back

If you’re looking for a quick and easy fine-tuning technique, try tilting the speakers forward or backward relative to the listening position.

This is a time-honored tweak that not everyone’s familiar with, but it sure works great. The easiest way to do this is by using a CD jewel case under the front of your speaker for tilt back or under the rear of the speaker for tilt-forward. The half inch or so depth of a CD case is about perfect for a tilt change. You can use multiple cases to arrive at your final position.

What you’re doing is aiming the tweeter slightly above or below your ear—off-axis. Tilt back and above your ear will open the soundstage and offer a more airy presentation. Tilt forward and the opposite happens.

For this exercise, I like to start a well recorded multi-instrument piece like Reference Recording’s Red Norvo How’s your mother in law. As I tilt back the speaker the image gets deeper, wider, and more open, but it also loses a bit of upper harmonic energy. Heading in the opposite direction I increase the HF energy (depending on how your tweeters are now aimed) and gain more life.

Once that recording is dialed in I put on one of my favorite setup discs, Buddy Holly’s True Love’s Ways. Here I am listening for the immediacy of the voice and make my final tweaks to get it just right.

Nice to have an easy tweak we can try at home.

 

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.

Mon, Jun 22 at 5:01 AM
Rocks and hard places
When designing a loudspeaker one of the most difficult problems turns out to be the crossover. Marrying the falling response of the woofer as it climbs higher in frequency to the opposite response of the tweeter is almost never going to be perfect.

And so one might suggest that a single driver designed to cover all frequencies would be best, only, now you introduced another kind of distortion where slow moving bass notes modulate the higher frequencies our ears are so sensitive to.

Dang. Can’t win for losing when we’re up against a rock and a hard place. What’s a designer to do?

Compromise by finding the solution with the fewest problems and the best chances for optimization. That’s what we engineers do, regardless of what we’re attempting to engineer.

It’s not very glamorous writing about compromise because as audio perfectionists we don’t like to think in those terms. We’d rather use words like optimization, words that too are accurate depending on one’s viewpoint.

It’s important to know the thought processes, aims, goals, and success rates of the designers and company’s you want to work with. Did they make the best choices for sound quality and performance? Do they have the same goals in mind as you?

After all, we wouldn’t want to compromise.

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.

Amen to this and most folks I know don’t have a lot of options when it comes to loudspeaker placement. I do and have the marks on the carpet to prove I’ve tried a bunch of different locations and it seems each speaker is different. Sometimes, changing electronics has me change things a bunch.

However, as I get older, I justs want to listen and where my Daedalus Ulysses speakers are now, works great, so I’m done…Probably…

Speaker placement

There’s perhaps nothing more important than speaker placement. Where those two boxes sit in the room vs. where you the listener sits, largely determines how your music sounds.

And here’s the sticky part. There are multiple right places, each sounding quite different.

I have watched many an expert set up speakers and each has a completely different approach that results in very different placements. If one watches Wilson Speaker setup expert Peter McGrath work, you’d notice him first walking the empty room clapping his hands and speaking into the air to find the best starting point for the setup. Contrast that with REL Subwoofer owner, John Hunter, who starts with but one channel and spends hours moving it about the room discovering the best place for bass.

At the end of each expert’s process, the sonic results are wonderful yet sonically night and day different.

Now think about your own best efforts at speaker setup. No doubt what you have achieved sounds different indeed from what they would have come up with.

I am in the middle of writing the first in a new series of books called The Audiophile’s GuideThe Stereo offers a detailed step-by-step setup guide for getting the most out of your 2-channel audio system. Following my instructions, there’s no doubt your system will take a leap forward in performance.

But, here’s the thing. My setup methods are different still than experts McGrath and Hunter. And so, yes, once set up, music and its image on the soundstage will be different yet again.

I think the point of this post is to point out just how much difference setup makes.

It’s easy to imagine otherwise.

 

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.

Whacky ideas

If you want to send a spacecraft to another star you’re going to have to wait a long time. Our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light-years away. Today’s spacecraft could reach the star in 81,000 years. It would then take an additional 4.3 years for pictures to reach us. Let’s call it 85,000 years. I haven’t yet looked at my calendar, but I suspect I might not be available to view the results.

There is, however, a wacky idea that could get there in a mere about 20 years, delivering photos in 25.

The idea, called Starshot, was originally proposed by Stephen Hawkings. It involves a massive solar sail and a bunch of high powered lasers. Like the ships of old, Starshot will sail to the stars on a solar wind generated by an earthbound laser. The laser array’s stream of photons accelerates the craft to 1/4 the speed of light and off she goes.

Crazy, right?

Here’s the thing. Crazy, whacky, off the wall, is where true innovation comes from. In our industry, think of Peter Walker’s electrostatic loudspeaker, Alan Blumlein’s idea of stereo itself, Alan Hill’s Plasmatronic, Nelson Pass’s Phantom Acoustic room corrector, and the list goes on.

While most of us are content to repolish and rehash the tried and true, it’s the wacky ideas that actually move us forward.

Here’s to all the whack jobs and their crazy ideas. Keep on keepin’ on!

 

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 introducing a new amplifier from PS Audio. It’s based on a B&O Ice Power module, which is a lot better sounding Class D module than any Hypex based amp I’ve heard and is very powerful, efficient and probably sounds very good, if not excellent.

Myth busting

Just about everything in our lives goes back to a story living in our heads. Perhaps it’s the story of your childhood, or maybe how you learned to drive, or your first stereo system. When we think back over our experiences we come to understand we’ve built stories around them, stories that help us navigate the world.

When those stories are incorrect we refer to them as myths.

One of the most common audio myths is the need to match a power amplifier’s output wattage to the connected loudspeaker. It’s been taught to us we don’t want to overpower a speaker. Connecting a 1,000 watt amplifier to a bookshelf speaker just feels wrong, yet that’s only a myth.

The facts of the matter are pretty clear. All power amplifiers deliver only the number of watts they are told to by the preamplifier. The speaker’s role involves only its impedance. A 4Ω speaker draws twice the 8Ω power needs for a given volume level.

Of course, most myths have their roots in truth. A 1kw power amplifier has the potential to fry the crap out of a small speaker just like a 500 horsepower engine has the potential to slam your car into a cement abutment at 100 miles an hour. But, potential should not conflate to will.

I bring this to your attention because we’re just now making public the webpages for our new 1.2kw monoblock amplifier, the Stellar M1200.

We’ll be beta testing the Stellar M1200s this month, and I can tell you that it is a stunning achievement. Rarely have I ever heard dynamics as uncompressed and open as what the M1200 provides. I mean, I’ll go so far as to suggest that in my 50 years of HiFi listening I have yet to hear anything as dynamic as these new monoblocks.

When the going gets tough, when the orchestra revs up, the trombones blat, the 32 violins get rippin’, the double basses get bowin’, the tympanis are poundin’, and the horn section blares, I swear I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. The crescendos seem to just soar outside the room with zero hint of compression.

Until you hear 1.2kw driving the system you simply do not know what’s been holding things back. You can’t. Not until it’s been removed can we know what we’ve been missing.

 

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.

Audio shows

This April’s Chicago’s Axpona audio show seems far off in the future. Yet, we’re already planning for it. My wife, Terri, runs our shows and she’s already busy arranging all the necessary details. Thank goodness for her. If it were left up to me and the engineers it’d be a last-minute disaster.

Our big feature this year will be the production-ready model of the new loudspeaker, now officially christened the FR-30 (formerly the AN-3). For those attending the show, you will be able to see, hear and touch the 30s. This is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking in the same way new parents must feel when first showing off their newborns.

Of course, shows are a big distraction from our everyday tasks, yet we find them time well spent—not because we get the chance to strut our stuff, but because we get to come face-to-face with our community.

There are probably other means by which we could be amongst our extended Hi-Fi Family, but audio shows are among the best. I wish we had the bandwidth to attend more of them.

Consider this an early invitation to attend Chicago’s Axpona and say hi to the family.