Tag Archives: Power Amplifier

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.

PS Audio has a new power amplifier, although not on their website yet.

The progress spiral

One of our HiFi Family members mentioned to me the other day they sometimes felt as if they were on the upgrade merry-go-round. With each new piece of gear he bought from us the system got noticeably better to the point where he realized the other components were needing an upgrade as well.

I think of this not as a merry-go-round but more of a progress spiral. With each return to the start, we’re actually in a different (and better) place. Along the journey we learn and grow so that when we circle back progress has been made.

The new BHK600 amplifier is a good example. I knew it would be better than the BHK300, but this much? Within 30 minutes of the new 600 warming up and music playing I found myself in a whole new world of musical wonder. My familiar music was fresh and new. Unknown details in the music were revealed to me.

I started noticing more differences between sources.

There was a greater gap between streaming and playing on the transport.

Maybe that could be addressed with a cable swap or, more basic, should I readjust my loudspeakers again?

Each step up the progress ladder brings us back around to have a look at the assumptions and changes that got us here.

It is how we move forward.

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

Glare

When our eyes are assaulted with a bright flash of glare we put our hands up to shield ourselves.

It’s not a whole lot different with audio. A biting dose of glare makes me cringe and reach for the volume control.

Glare is that overly bright sound that rides atop the music. It has any number of causes.

Glare can be found in electronics, especially in lower-end consumer goods. It can be caused by an overly aggressive tweeter or the bite of an overloaded midrange dome.

Whatever its cause, glare is perhaps one of the most undesirable traits our systems can sometimes be plagued with.

We can tolerate all sorts of imperfections: wooly bass, deficient depth, recessed midrange, even a bright or aggressive top end.

But add a bit of glare and we’re running for the hills.

If your system bites with a helping of glare, it’s not that hard to narrow down where it’s coming from.

If it changes with level it’s likely coming from the loudspeakers or power amplifier. To narrow down between the two it’s often not that difficult to borrow another amp and see if the problem persists.

You can switch sources to see if it’s specific to one type of media.

Cables too can have an impact, but more often than not we’re mistakenly using cables to ameliorate the problem in the first place.

It’s worth your time and effort to narrow down the cause (or causes) of this debilitating sonic no-no.

Time spent well if you can eliminate 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

Pedigree

I think we can all agree that a stereo product’s pedigree is no guarantee of anything. At the end of the proverbial day, it’s all about performance.

But a pedigree or brand can often set expectations.

If you listen to one of PS Audio’s products you have an expectation that piece will perform up to a level commensurate with the brand’s past performance. Our last DAC or power amplifier proved itself to the high-end community by virtue of its performance. You have every right to expect nothing less and (hopefully) more from a follow-up offering.

What’s damaging in our small community is when companies leverage their pedigree with products that do not live up to expectations. You often see this after a company has been swallowed up by a bigger conglomerate.

Pedigrees matter but performance is always the key.

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.

Fast and slow

After 50 years of working with audio gear, it’s easy for me to forget not everyone knows the basics. I’ll do my best to help remedy that.

A few days ago we got into fuses, a subject that helped me realize not everyone knows there are two basic types. Fast and slow.

A fast fuse saves circuitry. A slow fuse saves lives.

First, let’s talk fast blo fuses. You don’t see these a lot anymore. They are typically used in the DC “rails” (the power supplies) that feed circuitry. They need to be quick because they are there to stop the voltage feeding circuitry before something bad happens to that circuitry. Their most common use is to protect power transistors in the output of a power amplifier. Where small signal circuitry like that of a preamplifier doesn’t have enough “juice” behind it to cause damage to the silicon, a power amplifier surely does. The fuse must die faster than the transistor it is protecting.

A fast blo fuse is basically a whisker-thin wire inside a glass (or ceramic) enclosure. Here’s a picture of one.

Fuses are designed into the power supplies that feed the output transistors of amplifiers. They are chosen by their rating of how much power they can pass before the little wire inside heats up and vaporizes—thus breaking the connection to the power supply.

Most amplifiers don’t have these because there are now more modern means of providing the quick shut off (other solid state devices).

A slow blo fuse has the same characteristic as the fast blo, meaning it too is chosen by the maximum amount of current (power) that is allowed to pass through it. The difference is time.

When we first plug in a product to the AC wall socket, or flick on the power switch, a surge of power flows into the unit. Perhaps you’ve noticed the room lights dimming on first turn on of a power hungry something. This inrush of current (power) needed to fill empty power supply capacitors (or start a motor or heater) is only for a brief moment. Thus, what we want is a fuse that will tolerate that momentary inrush of power until the device settles down.

That’s why it’s called a slow blo. Here’s a picture of one:

Instead of the whisker-thin wire of the fast blo, we now have what looks kind of like a spring. Pass enough current for long enough through the spring and it too heats up and vaporizes.

Slow blo fuses are found at the very input of products. Before the power supply. They exist to make sure that your product doesn’t light on fire, or that the wires in your home don’t light on fire.

Of course, modern homes are doubly protected. An electromechanical version of the venerable fuse is required for safety. It is called a circuit breaker.

Hope that helps.

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 PO your spouse in one easy lesson

How’s that headline for clickbait? Not too bad, eh? 🙂

But, I am serious.

A week or so ago I visited engineer Darren Myer’s house. Darren’s home is an audiophile’s temple. In one room is a beautiful pair of Wilsons and in the main living room a gorgeous white pair of PS Audio FR30s.

Both rooms are sonic stunners.

So, I am sitting in the Wilson room and Darren puts on a classic Reference Recording of Felix Hell at the pipe organ. Suddenly, as Hell’s feet dance upon the instrument’s pedals I find myself in the hall where it was recorded and there’s so much perfect sounding bass from those massive pipes that I am stunned.

“Wilson’s don’t have that kind of bass,” say I.

“I know, right?” He grins.

“What the hell?”

Darren tells me to turn around. Behind the couch I am sitting on, not more than a foot from my head, are pointed at me two of the biggest badass subwoofers I have ever seen. 18″ Eminence low distortion, high excursion, beauties and each with its own Stellar M1200 monoblock power amplifier feeding them.

Nearfield subwoofers. Subs not impacted by the room because they are not “in the room” but rather you are in the subwoofer.

I am certain this sounds insane. It is insane but it works. Properly set up you don’t even know there’s a subwoofer present. I didn’t.

Those Wilsons just had bass.

The damned subwoofers were inches from my head and I didn’t even know they were there.

Now, that’s magic and much for this poor head of mine to digest.

We shall be exploring this subject a great deal more.

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.

analog vs. digital

We define analog as a continuous unbroken stream, while digital means it is built from discrete bits.

But, of course, our definition of analog is not accurate. Sound itself is made from bits called cycles per second.

Like the discrete pixels or grains of silver that make up a photograph or the electrons and quarks that formed those pixels and grains, at some level everything in our world is actually formed from bits.

If everything is made from bits does that suggest that the idea of a continuous stream is but a myth?

Perhaps, but then who cares? There’s the metaphysical argument and then there’s the practical. I may be made up of bits but I feel pretty solid.

For purposes of discussion let’s go with everything’s continuous at some level.

Could we instead suggest that analog is the stereo medium that requires no more conversion when recording it? That we ignore the conversion process of magnets and tape or wiggling needles in plastic because these do not further break down the cycles into smaller bits?

If that’s the case I wonder where DSD fits into all this. The fact we can take a DSD stream and inject it directly into an analog power amplifier and get music out the other end has to mean something other than simply categorizing i

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.

What price effortlesness?

An often overlooked aspect of music reproduction is effortlessness.

One of the first qualities of what listeners to the IRSV notice is how relaxed and effortless the sound even on the loudest passages of music. And it’s easy to see why when the output is divided amongst 108 drivers.

When we set out to design and build the FR30 loudspeakers one of our goals was to offer a similar effortlessness to music—a tall task since the FR30 has but 22 drivers to the pair.

What speaker designer Chris Brunhaver did was to take a different tack. Instead of what Infinity chose to do—divide the reproduction duties amongst many mediocre drivers—Chris’ approach would be to focus instead on the drivers themselves.

In the same way a power amplifier can sound effortless (by increasing headroom), speaker drivers can benefit from the same approach. For a given output level, the drivers on the FR30 have been designed to have a headroom of about 10 times better than even the best off-the-shelf drivers. This increased headroom can be quantified in multiple ways but perhaps the easiest to understand would be in lowered distortion at high output levels.

For a given output level most woofers have about 20% distortion. By pulling out all the stops and designing drivers without regard to costs, Chris was able to reduce that to well under 1% (even at very high output levels).

What this means in terms of effortlessness is immediately noticeable upon listening. Relaxed, effortless, with a sound that seems to go on forever.

So, instead of  Infinity’s 108 mediocre drivers dividing the sound up for an effortless presentation, the FR30 achieves its effortlessness with 22 drivers each with 10X better headroom.

You do the math.

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.

Impedance differences

If you double the input impedance of your power amplifier from, say, 30kΩ to 60kΩ you’re not going to hear a difference.

Yet, double the input impedance of your phono amplifier and you’ll hear a change.

What’s different between the two?

In the first case of the preamp feeding the amplifier, we won’t hear any difference because nothing in this chain affects frequency. The amp’s input impedance must be high enough to not load down the preamp, but aside from that, not much else matters.

That’s not true when it comes to a device such as a phono cartridge. Here the small coil generating the voltage feeding the phono preamplifier is part of what we refer to as a tank circuit—a tuned inductive network where the frequency response is a function of impedance and capacitance.

Think of it like a filter where the resulting output is dependent on the values of the elements that make up the network: coil, cap, resistor.

It is natural to assume that if the impedance setting of one element within our system matters, then it stands to reason all must.

Hopefully, it helps to have a short little explanation like this to set the record straight.

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.

Can work either way..

Subwoofer connections

For more than three decades I have strongly advocated the high-level connection of subwoofers—where we connect the output of the power amplifier to the input of the subwoofer.

What amazes me is that still to this day, that viewpoint is considered radical.

The vast majority of subwoofer manufacturers would have you connecting their subwoofers through low-level inputs as supplied by your preamplifier. Their reasoning is simple. The output of a preamplifier is cleaner and more direct than what happens after a power amplifier has processed it.

My good friend, John Hunter of REL subs is one of the few subwoofer manufacturers agreeing with me.

And here’s the thing. The majority of subwoofer manufacturers are correct. There’s no argument that the output of the preamplifier is cleaner, purer, and more direct than the output of a power amplifier.

So why the debate?

Because they are missing the point. Subwoofers should not stand out in the system. The whole point of a subwoofer is to augment the performance of the main loudspeakers. We don’t want to hear the subwoofer. We want to pretend as if it were a perfect appendage to the main speakers. To make that happen we need to do whatever we can to get closer to matching the sound of the main speakers—a perfect pairing.

We want the characteristics of the power amp to color the output of our subwoofer in an effort to more closely integrate it.

Hope that helps.

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 home stretch

In yesterday’s post, we learned that our homes present an impedance of about 1Ω to our stereo equipment. This matters, as you can imagine, because when we try and drive a 4Ω speaker with a power source with that high of an impedance we get power line modulation.

Put another way, we make things worse for any audio equipment plugged into our power lines.

Adding an active power amplifier like that found in a Power Plant will improve that situation by an easy factor of 100. And, 100 times better performance is a welcome thing to most of us.

But now we have an opportunity to make things even better.

If we only use the impedance lowering amplifier for that single purpose we lose the opportunity for a couple of major improvements: voltage regulation and waveform correction.

Our incoming powerlines suffer from all sorts of maladies including fluctuating voltage, waveform distortion (called flat topping), and powerline modulation from equipment in our own home.

Simply lowering the impedance in the line doesn’t solve any of these problems.

That’s where we take the next step in the magic of a Power Plant, we feed the input of our impedance lowering amplifier with a perfect sine wave (instead of the raw incoming power).

Now, we have lowered impedance by a factor of 100 and fixed the waveform and restored the missing energy from a flat-topped sine wave.

Life is good, but we still haven’t tackled the last wish on our list, increasing the size of the power supply capacitors inside our equipment.

How to make the caps in your equipment’s power supply bigger is tomorrow.