Tag Archives: Marantz

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.

Homebrew

Most of us don’t brew our own beer because it’s easier and probably tastier to let the experts do it for us. In that same vein, we rarely design our own audio gear. But that’s not true for a really fun splinter group, the DIY folks.

Reader Ted Williams sent me a link to pictures from one of Germany’s groups called the Frickelfest.

These DIY get-togethers happen all over the world. Though I’ve never attended one, they’ve got to be a real hoot and I’ll bet more fun than an audio show.

Much of what we think of as high-end audio started out as DIY projects back in the 50s when that was the only way to get separates and high-performance audio in the home. From there it morphed into making more of a particular kit or project to supply friends and family and that turned into a company. Saul Marantz is a perfect example, building most Marantz gear in the basement of his New York home for many years before his “overnight success”.

What fun!

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.

Most high end audio electronics these days are pretty good, especially Marantz, Sony ES and Yamaha Aventage AVR’s.

Stereo speakers, however, are still all over the place in terms of size, expense and sound quality.

My one of a kind main loudspeakers are pretty big and mostly stay put because of this. My back up pair, which may not sound quite as good are a good deal smaller, easier to handle and beautiful to look at. This is important when I do audio demonstrations here, as I like things to be as perfectly set up as possible.  My secondary pair of Daedalus Audio speakers will be updated soon and I suspect they will sound a lot better when I eventually get them back.  Maybe good enough to become my primary speakers, once again.

Speakers are, without a doubt, the most important  audio component in a high end stereo system.

 

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 is Paul writing about balanced audio. PS Audio’s DSD DAC, BHK preamplifier and BHK amplifiers all use transformers to turn single ended into a balanced audio signal and I like it.

The nicer AV Processors for Home Theaters from Marantz have balaced inputs and outputs!!

 

Overnight success

It takes about ten years of hard work to become an overnight success. In the case of balanced audio, it took many more than ten.

Balanced audio has been around as long as there have been audio transformers in use—and that’s a long, long time.

I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the subject of balanced audio and we’ll start with common myths.

Common myths

Boy, we Audiophiles sure have a lot of myths. Right? Everything from conspiracies to misunderstandings becoming fact. Let’s look at just a few of the Audiophile myths concerning balanced audio.

  • It takes twice the circuitry to make a balanced input
  • If you feed a balanced amplifier a single ended signal it defeats its balanced benefits
  • Only a handful of devices actually enjoy the benefits of a balanced input, the majority are fakes
  • Single ended circuits sound better because they are simpler

Twice the circuitry

This first one is pure bunk in the most practical sense. A balanced input can be designed with a single op amp, or a single tube, or a simple diff pair. Yes, in its dumbest form one could accurately suggest that you cannot make a balanced input with but one transistor – but then you cannot make any form of good sounding amplifier with but one transistor – so the argument is nonsensical.

Only balanced signals get balanced treatment

This is true for the input to an amplifier, but false everywhere else. A properly designed balanced amplifier takes single ended or balanced signals in and they become balanced for the rest of their journey. The simplest example of this is an audio transformer. Regardless of its input, balanced or single ended, its output is always balanced. Same with a purpose designed tube, or diff pair. It is true most designers don’t follow through with balanced designs, but that is their choice, not a limitation of the art.

Most XLR inputs are fake

Bullshit. It is true that there are some in the world of cheap amplification devices, even some pro applications offering “courtesy” XLR ins without purpose, but the vast majority of high end audio equipment offering XLR inputs are balanced. Where this myth started I can only guess. For years there were those companies in our industry that claimed to be balanced amplifiers when all they did was flip the output phase at the last moment. But when we look strictly at inputs where balanced biggest benefits are to be enjoyed, I’ve never seen a high end audio company that played such games.

Single ended sounds better because it’s simpler

Give me a break. Properly designed, it is neither simpler nor better. I won’t get into a pissing match over designs—single ended vs. balanced—because there are simply too many variables to contend with. But the notion that simpler is better, while true, does not here apply in the strictest sense of its meaning.

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 mornings edition of a on-line audiophile publication spoke about another high end audio system at the most recent RMAF show. They liked it a lot. Retail cost of the components in this room? Around $318,000!!!

Preamplifier for $55,000, power amplifier for $53,000, speakers for $63, 000, a pair of REL subwoofers for $8,000, which comparatively, look like the bargains of the room, a phono stage for $13,000, equipment racks for $33,000 (yikes), etc. etc.

Who’s is buying this stuff and how many of these people are there? Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that these products exist and I would probably love to own many of them, if not for their audio prowess, just based on how they look. This is called eye candy.

However, it isn’t in my future for a couple of reasons. One is certainly cost, as I have a son about to go off to college. However, the other reason goes to the soul of the music. I’ve heard many systems like these that just don’t sound that great and I know you don’t need to spend anywhere near this to make great sound. I sure haven’t.

People don’t need to spend $315,000, or $200,00 or $100,000 or $50,000, or even $25,000 to make great sounding music. I sell a tube integrated amp called the Chronos Magnum, made by Rogue Audio’ that is fantastic sounding at $2495 and even has a phono stage and headphone amp built in. Add a good pair of Martin Logan Motion speakers and a Marantz or Oppo CD player and you can have great sound for around $5,000, or even less.

Currently, my system revolves around either a $3500 Rogue Audio RP-5 preamp, or a soon to arrive $6000 PS Audio BHK preamp. My system is inherently balanced and while the RP-5 sounds great, it is really mismatched in my system. The PS Audio is a balanced preamp and will work great, although I wish it had two balanced outputs, one for my main speakers and one for my Daedalus BOW subwoofers with Behringer DSP and a Bryston amp. By the way, as far as I know, my Daedalus subs, which are crafted out of solid maple and look and sound beautiful, are the only pair with two 12″ drivers in each cabinet. As are all Daedalus speakers, they are great subs and masterworks cabinets.

The only way I figured I could outdo my Daedalus Ulysses speakers, which I still have and will most likely end up with one of my children, as I consider it a keepsake, was to design and build my own speakers, incorporating some things I’ve learned along the way. I designed a  Rosewood covered loudspeaker cabinet that I had someone local build  for me and added a Great Plains Audio 604E drivers and their modified crossover to the final product, which sounds fantastic and ended up costing me around $5,000 to build. It may be the best speaker I’ve heard, although it needs EQ for this and most commercially available products aren’t as good as what I use here.

My hat is off to my friend Bryan for turning me on to the Altec and Urei stuff, which is a forever part of my audio system.

My amplifiers are Rogue Audio pure tube Apollo Dark monoblock amps that are $15,000 a pair, or my Urei 6500 vintage SS amp that I have about $1000 in to. My source components are a PS Audio DSD DAC that retails arond $6,000 and my analog rig, which is a Well Tempered Turntable with Dynavector 17D3 low output moving coil cartridge and Rogue Audio Ares tube phono stage, would also retail for about $6,000. All of this is expensive, right?

Well, compared to most people I know it is, but compared to what is being shown at these audio shows, maybe not.

Here is Paul talking about power amps. I think this is the harbinger for a new product to come from PS Audio and knowing PS Audio (like Rogue Audio), it is sure to offer great bang for the buck in a great sounding, American made audio product.

More for less

Perhaps no other category of amplification device has had more thought applied than power amps. How to get as many watts as you can for as little money as needed. It’s a big challenge.

Power amplifiers convert AC wall power into music. The same energy that runs our lights and chills our food is now engaged in playing Beethoven.

Speakers need power to move them. Back and forth, fast and slow, the moving elements of speakers pressurize air and music appears. But pressuring air takes energy—in some cases, lot of it.

We measure energy by its motive force; horsepower for machinery, Watts for speakers. The average loudspeaker needs only a few Watts to get it making sound, but lots more to fill the room. If we ignore the outliers, like SET and low power tube amps connected to horns, most power amplifiers of consequence range from 50 Watts upward. The average is 150.

Converting wall AC power to speaker wattage is an engineering challenge with many variables: heat, distortion, transient speed, impedance fluctuations, sound quality, isolating the source from the vagaries of power distribution.

No two power amplifiers sound alike because the types of technologies addressing the many challenges are as varied as the speaker types they drive. We’ve seen transformer coupled, cap coupled, tube, solid state, digital, digital, pulse width and density based, down converting, up converting, single ended, balanced, and bridged. Power supplies feeding amps are no less creative.

The long and short of all these amp types boils down to a basic problem faced by designers. How to get more for less without sacrificing performance. If the goal is to build a reasonably powered affordable amp that sonically competes with expensive counterparts, the first design decisions comes quickly.

What class of operation will be used for the output?

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.

So, I was very excited about buying my first stereo and it was going to be purchased at Tweeter Etc., long ago. In fact, Tweeter has been gone a very long time.

The listening room was good sized an they had two tiers of loudspeakers on shelves. You could select and compare two pairs of speakers buy pushing a button on a wired switch.

After the stores recommendation of a pair of Marantz 5G bookshelf loudspeakers and being told that the amplifier (Receiver back then)  didn’t matter, which I believed, I told them I had my sites set on a pair of the original Advent loudspeaker.

They said the Marantz sounded better and that I could compare the two, although they weren’t an Advent dealer.

I compared and while I liked the Advent bass a lot more, the rest of the comparison was a no contest. I was surprised and bought the Marantz’s.

I liked the 5G’s, but they had no low bass and I missed that.

I later found out that Tweeter had the tweeter in the Advent disconnected, so of course it didn’t sound as good. Not honest and that was the first time I had been fooled, but not the last. I never went back and apparently neither did a lot of other people.

This event made sure that the speaker Merry-Go-Round was to begin and begin, it did. It wasn’t until much later that I would figure out that system synergy was where it’s at and that everything mattered, but speakers the most.

 

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.

So…Here is a too long question…

How does someone listen to a pair of loudspeakers in a store and expect to hear the same music sound the same at their home, if everything else but the loudspeakers are different, including the room they are listening in?

Back then, I, as well as most of the audio guys I knew, didn’t give this a thought as the store I first shopped in, as well as the articles I had read in the audio magazines of the time, said that all amps, preamplifiers, turntables, (record players back then), cassette players , etc, sounded the same, so get the best speakers you can.

There was a whole world of high end audio, I knew nothing about and there were Audiophile people like J Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson who knew how to make great sound music from a stereo system. Me? I had no clue, although  didn’t know this at the time.

So, if I believed what the store and the magazines said, which I and most of my friends at the time did, it followed that if I heard Marantz 5G speakers at Tweeter Etc. and hooked them up at home, they would sound the same as they did in the store.

Not even close, but the purpose of this blog was to tell about the deceit that took place during auditioning and this will follow. It was the first time I was fooled, but not the last.

Maybe I was “Audio Dumb” back then, but not so much today. However, I know plenty of people that are and in most other ways, these people are very smart people.

What is 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.

It was the mid 70’s and I started making enough money to have my own apartment and buy my first stereo system.

It was a very exciting time for me, as we made our way through college listening to my friend and roommate Jay’s all in one KLH stereo music system and while it served us well, Jay was off to Grad school, KLH in tow, and I needed a system to call my own.

I went to a store in Coral Gables, Florida, called Tweeter Etc., which I believe expanded to South Florida from the Boston area. This was an all audio store. No TV’s, appliances or anything else. Computers for consumers didn’t really exist back then. It was a world of typewriters and wired telephones. I would say I wonder how we survived without such things as Cell phones and computers, but we did. It just took a lot longer to do almost anything related to work and we definitely were less informed about most everything, than we are today. It might have been a bit more blissful than things are today, but information is good, so today is good for me.

Tweeter had a large room with two long shelves of speakers, which was where my main focus was. I didn’t realize at the time, that lousy audio signal in, lousy out, no matter what speakers you used. In fact the worse the signal chain before the speakers, the worse the sound with the better speakers. Of course, electronics at the time, weren’t very sexy and all that mattered to me were the speakers. I wasn’t the only one and this persists today.

While I was sure I was going to buy a pair of the Henry Kloss designed Advent Loudspeaker, after a A/B comparison, I ended up focusing on two speaker systems. The Advent Loudspeaker, which frankly didn’t do much for me in the store and a pair of Marantz 5G’s, which I liked, although had reservations about it’s bass.

It was surprising as I had heard the Advents before and loved them, especially their tight, well defined bottom end.

Well, the story here turns to selling and marketing and will come next. It’s not a pretty tale.

 

 

 

 

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.

DSP: The finale

Let’s sum up many of our thoughts into this last post on DSP and move on to something else.
I am a user

I am an admitted user. Yes, it does not require an intervention for me to own up to my addiction to DSP.

When we built my home theater we applied as much room treatment as we could tolerate from an aesthetic standpoint: three absorptive wall panels, carpet and furniture. Any further improvements would be handled with DSP through a microphone and setup within the Marantz receiver. And there were several reasons for this. In a home theater setup speakers are placed in specific areas for surround sound: left, right, center, sides, rears, ceiling. They are nearly always in-wall or at least on-wall, offering no chance to move them. Secondly, seating position is more a function of viewing distance, not where it sounds the best. Lastly, DSP is built into every decent surround processor on the market–nothing more is required, it’s part and parcel of the chain–and all modern surround processors have no analog requirements–they are digital to begin with.

With all these considerations, DSP in my home theater environment makes good sense and the audio sounds better with it rather than without it.

I too use tone controls.

DSP isn’t the only way we make gross adjustments to compensate for the room. In my main audio system I have adjustable subwoofers, tweeter and midrange volume controls that I tweak. Many of you know my feelings on subwoofers. They are a necessity for full reproduction of music. Whether built in or separate, a pair of woofers dedicated to the frequencies below 100Hz are a must. Period, end of story. If you don’t have one, you don’t have low bass. I know, I know, I am going to catch flack for that statement, but it’s true. And most reasonable subwoofers have controls that help integrate them into the room.

(hint: don’t believe speaker manufacturer’s claims of low frequency response. If a passive speakers looks like it couldn’t have low bass, assume that it doesn’t) I do not appreciate overkill.

Well, as a vegetarian I don’t appreciate killing anything… but more to the point, adding a DSP to your signal chain to fix the way your system interacts with the room is a little like taking diet pills to lose weight when you are better off simply eating less. In other words, don’t take a sledgehammer to fix a problem that is easily fixed otherwise. I have rarely seen a case where I could not affect the tonality, imaging and performance of a stereo system by getting the placement correct, adding a simple diffuser, or exchanging poor performing products with better ones.

Get the basics of the system and the room right first, resort to a sledgehammer only when all else fails–and even then you’re better off because you’ll need less of the hammer’s blow.
DSP or ASP are great for active loudspeakers
There’s perhaps no better means of making a complete loudspeaker system than a well designed active one. Matching perfect amplification and crossovers to drivers and cabinets allows the greatest freedom to designers to get it right. Downside: people aren’t overly interested in buying them, each channel must be plugged into the wall, they are not simple to feed from a source.

Nothing is free

There is no brass ring to grab. Nothing is free, everything has baggage associated with it. There are no miracle anythings and while we may be delighted and enchanted with gizmos and whiz bang technology (I am guilty as sin) it is instructive to remember there’s a cost/benefit to be weighed.

Occam’s razor
“Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

If you look at most high end stereo systems you find that it is the choice of equipment, the placement of the speakers, and the skill of the installer that makes or breaks performance. In the hands of a skilled setup person few reasonably thought out collections of kit can’t be manipulated to sound terrific.

Start with the basic first, head to fancy signal processing and hammer-like solutions last.