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

Watershed moment

A watershed moment is that aha! moment of revelation. The point where the proverbial light bulb has been turned on to illuminate the darkness.

Watershed moments are memorable: like the first time I heard the difference a loudspeaker cable makes; when (by accident) we discovered the improvements wrought by an oversized power transformer; how much of a difference small changes in VTA affect the playing of vinyl.

These moments are so enjoyable that I have come to realize they are what keeps me excited to jump into the thick of problems. To immerse myself in the unknown so that I might have a chance to unravel enough answers to yet again experience the transition of dark to light.

Aside from the chance to break new ground and push the limits of the recording arts, I am pretty certain one of the reasons for having started Octave Records is to open up new mysteries that present the opportunities for watershed moments.

One such moment came while helping our recording engineer, Zach, set up a piano recording. The choice of microphone and placement is a continuing artform with more opinions and beliefs than Carter’s got pills. What occurred to us both is that unlike end users of the recording, we have the amazing ability to stand at the piano and hear exactly what it sounds like in real-time. Not just casually listening with an attention span divorced from the moment (as we so often do), but blessed with being right there, right now, right in the moment, and then being able to do something meaningful about it. (It’s not been that long ago that the recording arts weren’t good enough to truly capture exactly what we hear)

How do the notes decay? How much body? How different distance from the instrument makes.

Then to take that aural memory fresh in our heads right into the control room and mentally compare. Then adjust, And compare again until the two match precisely.

The watershed moment came when we realized we finally have a system of recording, monitoring, and playback that is fully capable of exactly matching that which we hear.


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 power of monitors

Not until we got deeply immersed in the building of a state-of-the-art recording label, Octave Records did it occur to us just how important the recording/mixing loudspeaker monitors are to the final outcome.

Consider that every single decision made in any recording is 100% determined by ear. No measurement arguments live here.

If the guitar sounds too bright or loud it is adjusted to sound right. If the vocalist sounds buried in the music the band’s level is modified to sound right.

Every single decision in a recording is by ear.

How it sounds is entirely in the hands of the monitoring system via the loudspeakers and the room they are playing in.

When you listen to a recording you are as if in a Star Trek-style Teleporter. You’re hearing what the mix engineer heard and adjusted for.

While this may be to some so obvious as to be trivial, it is to me a revelation with major consequences.

Octave Records will soon release two new albums: a Spanish-styled acoustic wonder called the Everlasting Dance, and a new compilation, Audiophile Masters VI.

These two new releases will be the first mixed and mastered on the FR30. And the difference between these two releases and all the others is remarkable.

The recordings were made in DSD on the Sonoma as we have done in the past.

What’s different is the monitoring system. Now, with the FR30s, we can hear so deeply into the music that the decisions we make have major implications on the final outcome of the music.

I can’t wait for you to hear for yourself what I am writing about.

We’ll release them in a week or so.

Stay tuned for something extraordinary.

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 perhaps humbling to remember that for most of the world we audiophiles are not only amateurs but thought to be teetering on the edge of lunacy.

We work hard to make magic from the recordings we want to listen to.

Most pros—folks who make (or hope to make) a living at recording and reproducing music—consider all the hoops and “out there” technology we obsess over to be little more than Tom Foolery.

In their world, speakers and electronics are chosen more on what’s accepted in the industry as the gold standards. Basically, they hope to copy the technical elements of those who have risen to the top of the heap. YouTube is filled with the pros sharing their secrets of favorite equipment. Vintage this. Modern that.

One small glimmer of this making sense is the fact that unlike we lowly amateurs saddled with merely listening to the fruits of their work, they can manipulate sound to make up for deficiencies in stereo equipment.

If their choice of loudspeaker is so bright and harsh as to drive a poor audiophile out the window, they need only EQ the recording to where it sounds alright.

And perhaps that’s the core of it.

We are stuck doing our best to build audio systems that bring musical pleasure into our homes without benefit of manipulation. Like eating without the advantage of seasoning.

Which is one reason why at Octave Records we build music to sound perfect on the very equipment it will eventually be played back with.

Now, to me, that makes a lot more sense.

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.

Studio vs. home

I remain flummoxed as to how the stereo industry wound up separating studio monitors from home audio.

Both have the same task of reproducing music as accurately as possible.

Yet the way they are marketed is so very different.

Pro monitors, as they are referred to (because professionals wouldn’t want to think about amateur home speakers for their studios) take an interesting approach. Here’s a bit of their info as to the importance of materials and driver technology:

“You’ll find all manner of speaker construction materials out there, from paper to Kevlar to aluminum alloys and beyond. Manufacturers are constantly innovating, and if you’re interested there are plenty of resources available about the properties of different materials. But step back for a moment – do you really care what it’s made of at the end of the day?

Materials play a big part in the sound of a loudspeaker, but would you really buy studio monitors based on one specific material used in its construction? While we fully acknowledge the huge impact speaker driver materials have on its sound, you can quickly get confused if you focus on materials instead of application-specific benefits.”

Ahhh, love it. We wouldn’t want anyone to get confused over those pesky materials or driver types. No, better in the pro world to go with reputation. What are the other pros doing?

Seems in the recording world most aspiring engineers are in awe of their heroes who have gotten various accolades or had their work sell millions.

All this is very interesting to me. In this world, home audio speakers are often scoffed at. A few companies—B&W in particular—have worked hard at getting their top of the line home products into studios and accepted by pros. This is then turned around in the marketing to great affect.

“Now, you too can have at home what the pros acknowledge is the best.”

Tomorrow, pros versus the amatuers.

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.

FR30 crossover

Of course, we’re all interested in what makes a product tick. Inside a loudspeaker is the crossover network that divides the frequencies between the various speaker drivers: tweeters only produce their intended range, as well as midrange and woofers.

Below are photos of the crossover networks in an aspen FR30. They are split between a midrange/tweeter network and woofer network.

Designer, Chris Brunhaver explains:

We are using all air core coils (for the high power handling and low distortion) including a 5.5 pound 12 awg coil on in the woofer network.

Capacitors are all metallized poly film type (excepting the large electrolytic caps required for the 45 Hz conjugate notch filter we use to flatten the impedance curve at low frequency).

The resistors are a high-quality 15W wire wound type.

The crossover slopes are all forth order Linkwitz-Riley acoustic, but the resulting electrical networks vary between second and third-order to achieve this.

lf crossover
What you don’t see here are the years and years of experience and knowledge needed to put the right value parts in the right places.
Every product is an amalgam of its parts and the experience to know where and how to use them.

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 power of small

A small change in loudspeaker toe in of less than an inch can snap a stereo into focus the center image.

That’s the power of small.

But, it goes deeper.

Once the center image is stabilized your emotional connection to the music changes. You relax. No longer are you working hard at wondering if what you’re hearing is right, or moving your head enough to center the singer.

You let down your guard and the music pulls you in.

An inch can make all the difference—not in the big scheme of things—but in the little scheme. The one where you are relaxed enough to forget everything else and engage with the music.

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.

FR30s go live

Tomorrow, Friday the 25th, marks the world’s public premiere of the FR30 loudspeaker.

If you’re planning on attending the Montreal High End show at the Hotel Bonaventure, you can drop by our room to get a taste of one of the world’s best speakers, the Aspen FR30.

Here’s a link to the show information. PS Audio and the FR30s are located in the Westmount 6, room.

Scott McGowan and I are attending the show setup today to get them ready, but we’re unable to hang out and meet and greet folks tomorrow when the show opens. (With great sadness, we both have to head home to lay to rest on Friday one of our team members and dearest of friends, Woody Woodward, who died unexpectedly. Many of you may know of Woody through his wonderful writings in Copper Magazine)

I do hope you have a chance to drop by and check out these remarkable speakers. It’ll be well worth your time.

Have fun!

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.

Simply better

Simpler is better for quite a number of things including, traveling, truth, recipes, and math.

But simpler isn’t always better for high-performance home audio. Sometimes a bit of complexity does a better job.

Take for example a loudspeaker.

It’s simpler to use one driver than it is to use multiples, yet the results support the harder and more complex route. It’s perhaps comforting to believe the coherence found in a single driver should outdo any Rube Goldberg crossover extravaganzas aimed at perfectly marrying multiple drivers, but the facts simply don’t hold sway. A woofer attempting to be a tweeter just doesn’t work no matter how much we wish it would.

Another example might be found in circuitry. We may like the quick wave of a hand simple design of a single amplification device in the signal path (proving more that short is better than lengthy numbers of devices to travel through) but we cannot ignore the fact that adding more complexity in parallel like current sources, regulators, and DC servo loops, aren’t significantly better sounding and performing than a single device and a handful of resistors.

Simple can be better but it’s not a universal axiom we should rely upon to choose our equipment.

When in doubt, have a listen.

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 revelation

In yesterday’s post, I posited a gnarly problem. How to rely upon the sound of a loudspeaker in order to achieve the perfect capture.

After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect microphone or speaker. These two transducers are to some degree flawed.

Experienced recording and mix engineers have solved this problem through years of experience with specific monitors. After hundreds of hours of trial and error, they know that when an instrument or voice sounds a certain way that it will be good/acceptable on the average listener’s speakers.

That while that methodology works for the vast majority of recordings, it’s hardly “as good as it gets” if your target audience of listeners is our high-end audio community armed with some of the most revealing home reproduction systems the world has to offer.

This dilemma really came to light after we replaced the Infinity IRSV with Chris Brunhaver’s amazing FR30 loudspeakers. As soon as I had some quality time to listen to them it became immediately obvious the FR30’s planar tweeter and midrange were on a different planet than anything I had ever heard. So real and revealing were these two transducers that I had to stop and reevaluate everything I thought I knew. After all, the IRSV too uses the same technology for its tweeters and midrange. *(as an aside from our story, one of the lessons I learned about creating a speaker of this caliber came from watching the process Chris used to design the FR30 tweeter and midrange. Employing hundreds of hours of mind-numbing measurements, Chris first perfected the two drivers themselves, then spent months working on how they fit into the baffle (just look at the tweeter and note the innocent looking divider down its middle or the slight horn-like opening for the midrange) and how that affected their response, and finally to the crossover, then back again to the beginning, etc.)

Having never heard the upper end of any system sound as real as what I was now hearing, it didn’t take too long to get used to this new reality. That soon became problematic.

After auditioning in MR2 on the FR30s a new mix for Octave Records, I followed the engineer up to the mix room and heard it played back again, but this time first on the conventional drivers of the ATC monitors as well as the Sony speakers Gus likes for mastering.

Holy crap. A slap in the face moment. I was listening not to cymbals but instead, I was listening to tweeters.

The story continues tomorrow.

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

Live or reproduced?

Once you hear the real deal it’s almost impossible to go back.

Such was the experience I had relayed to you in yesterday’s Paul’s Post. It hadn’t taken me long to raise my standards of what music sounds like as reproduced by the extraordinary planar midrange and tweeter drivers of the FR30 loudspeaker. Newley recorded cymbals shimmered and sounded as if they were in the room.

The stark differences between that live performance sound and then hearing it played on conventional driver designs was a literal slap in the face.

One sounded real, the other a contrived version pointing to itself.

“I am a tweeter.”

Until that moment I had never had that stark of an experience. I think what really helped was also having the recording, mixing, and mastering facility in the same vicinity and as part of the same process.

Even with all this newfound clarity and realism I still haven’t answered the original question. How can we know the proper placement of a microphone if we must rely upon the accuracy of a loudspeaker or headphone for verification?

I wish I had a magic answer, but I don’t. Best I have is to go where we’re now going. Monitoring and listening on the most accurate transducers possible.

It won’t be perfect but dang if it doesn’t get us closer.