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.

Some well deserved marketing from Paul today, heaping praise on PS Audio’s new power amplifier, their Stellar M1000 monoblock power amplifiers. I’ve not heard them, but a lot of power for their size and very efficient, using a Class D output stage.  One reason they probably sound good is due to their use it of B&O’s ICE power modules, which I think sound a lot better than the more typically used Class D Hypex modules.

And the hits just….

…keep on coming. In the January issue of the UK’s HiFi News, our killer M1200 monoblock combo received another stellar review (pun intended).

“The latter track positively erupted, the amplifiers creating a searing midband with Matt Heafy’s sinewy guitar tone brought to the fore, and drums again hitting with the speed and aggression of a champion boxer.”

Reviewer Mark Craven goes on to write:

“This slender monoblock amp is not solely devoted to room-shaking power. It has that capability, but appreciation of its punch comes with an appreciation of its grace. The sound is a confluence of steel and silk – fast, rhythmic and able to respond astutely to the shifting dynamics of music. A smooth treble lifts it high above the realms of the rough-and-ready, and there’s an energetic delivery of the midband. But the star attraction – the one that gets your blood pumping right away – is its exceptional bass handling.

To check my Bluesound Vault 2i was behaving itself, I fired up, at random, Chris Rea’s ‘Daytona’ [The Road To Hell; Tidal Master]. After no more than a second I had stopped worrying about my network connection and started focusing on the music. This gentle, mid-tempo homage to a Ferrari race car (complete with tires squealing over the outro…) arrived with a slippery, fluid and authentic bass sound that I wasn’t prepared for, the kind that has you wondering why you haven’t always done your listening through 600W monoblock amplifiers.”

If you’d like to read the entire article, you can download a copy by clicking here.

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.

Bi-Amping, which I cant even do with my Daedalus loudspeakers, never did anything to improve sound quality to me and actually could easily introduce more problems than it solved. Paul has reached the same conclusion!!

Does bi-amping still make sense?

Twenty something years ago, horizontal bi-amping made a great deal of sense. One type of power amplifier for the woofer sections, another for the top end.

It made sense because amplifiers of those days rarely did everything well. Perhaps the big amps kicked booty on bass while grating nerves on the top end. Little tube amps were wimps on the bottom end but sweet as honey on the top.

Leveraging an amplifier’s good points while steering clear of its failings was a reasonable proposition. Today, most speakers still come with dual sets of binding posts so as to allow for bi-amping.

But do we still need it?

I think not. Today’s amplifiers are great from top to bottom of the frequency range. A pair of M1200s, or a BHK, garner rave reviews from the lowest bass notes to the ringing of bells and beyond.

Bi-amping is a thing of the past.

And thank goodness for that.

 

 

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.

Mine is break in and warm up, once a piece of stereo equipment is sufficiently broken in.

Audio taboos and sacred rituals

There are certain audio taboos we’re loathed to violate. High atop my list would be plants atop speakers. (But it behooves us to be diplomats if we’d like not to sleep on the couch)

Diplomacy aside, we purists rarely tolerate violations of our taboos and sacred rituals.

Some taboos make sonic sense: plugging all your equipment into an AC extension strip, stacking a turntable atop a power amplifier.

Perhaps more prevalent than taboos would be the sacred rituals which cover everything from record handling, room light levels, seating positions, warm-up time, and source protocols.

I never start a listening session with vinyl. My ritual is to get the system warmed up and me adjusted to it with known digital references. Then, and only then, am I comfortable switching sources.

What are your audio taboos and sacred rituals?

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 mostly agree with this and certainly the amount of power an audio amplifier produces doesn’t alway correlate with sound quality, but parts used and poor build quality, can have an effect beyond the designer.

I once imported a high end audio line from Australia and the products were  very well designed and the parts quality was good, but the build quality and packaging were horrible and ended that experiment for me!

More power equalled worse sound

One of my readers, Daniel, was surprised to find that a smaller power amplifier sounded better than a bigger, more powerful version. He wondered how that could be given how many times I have waxed enthusiastically about the benefits of headroom and power.

Of course, the answer lies not in the power differences but the skills of the designer.

It is often tempting to focus on one area of performance as the key indicator of how a piece of equipment will sound in our systems. Unfortunately, it’s never quite that easy. The number of variables determining sound quality is so many as to make one’s head spin like Regan MacNeil.

Which is why we 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

Too many facts

The problem with facts is choosing which to follow. For example, it is a fact that regardless of which audio cable we use to connect the output of a power amplifier to our Audio Precision test equipment the results will be the same. Of course, that doesn’t mean the cables are the same.

As access to information increases so too do the available facts of any subject. Some facts are important to include while developing understanding while others detract or at best confuse us. If we’re designing an amplifier it’s best to stick to the facts pertaining to our specific design rather than chase factual rabbits down confusing holes.

How to choose which facts to follow?

Before the internet’s deluge of information, our limited research turned up end results that resonated with us: a product we liked, a person we admired, a book worth reading, a teacher worth learning from, a circuit worth emulating. Once a direction had been chosen, we could then dive deep into the facts that pertain specifically to that end result.

Today, we have a tsunami of facts and end results that may or may not be relevant, yet each can send us spinning off into the confusion of the weeds.

If we want to rely on the clarity of facts we need to make sure we are researching the relevant ones.

Pick a product, pick a guide, pick a direction, and then study the facts that helped shape 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.

I’ve used two passive “preamplifiers”, one of which you could activate an active stage, for more gain. I don’t use either now and probably wont ever again.

The potentiometer preamp

A preamplifier is, as its name implies, an amplifier before an amplifier. Preamps are typically placed between the source and the power amplifier. They select inputs, control volume, and amplify the signal to a level acceptable to a power amplifier. Simple, right?

Then comes along the idea of a passive preamplifier which is an absolutely incorrect usage of the name—a faux pas we at PS Audio did our best to correct. You see, to qualify as a preamplifier, you need to actually have an amplification circuit to…wait for it…amplify.

So, many years ago, in the 1970s, Stan and I used only an attenuator between our phono preamplifier and power amplifier. In our judgment, nothing was cleaner than a simple potentiometer or stepped attenuator to vary the volume. And we were correct, though cleaner doesn’t always mean better.

When it came time in the evolution of PS Audio to launch our own preamplifier, the debate between us was fierce. Passive or active? In the end, we settled on both and offered a switch for the user to choose between passive or active. But Stan, ever our beacon of straightforward naming, could not bring himself to call it a preamplifier since it was and it wasn’t, depending on the position of the switch. This drove me endlessly crazy as my vote was for simplicity—our customers wanted a preamplifier, dammit! call it a preamp. Eventually, we reached a compromise and called it a Control Center and, thus, the Linear Control Center was born: a preamplifier with the switch in one position, a passive control center in the other.

I believe after all these years that Stan was right and I was wrong to have argued in favor of simply calling it a preamplifier.

If it don’t amplify…

 

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.

More psychological than real, people would probably not know the difference between speaker wire lengths in a blind test. However, as Audiophiles, we are neurotic group, so a no go.

I think interconnects are as important as speaker cables, but as long as low inductance on speaker cables and low capacitance on interconnects, things should be good, without spending a fortune.

Audiophile cabling can be a crazy thing.

Same length cables

One of the often asked questions concerns speaker cable lengths. Should they be identical?

For some reason, we rarely ask the same question about interconnects. Interconnects feel like a pair and I have never seen anyone use them otherwise. But, speaker cables? All the time I see differing lengths of speaker cables.

I succumbed to this oddness at several points in my long audio journey, and each time I found myself squirming in the listening chair, uncomfortable in the knowledge one speaker was different than the other.

Here’s the thing. Of all the analog interconnects in your system, speaker cables have the most impact on sound quality. The interactions between speaker and power amplifier are complex, forming a type of network that impacts the audio. So, while it might feel wrong to have to coil up the speaker cables for one speaker, while the other channel sits in a proper straight-line connection between amp and speaker, you’re better off with two equal lengths.

Where cables are concerned, symmetrical lengths rule the day.

 

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.

Customize

It won’t be too much longer before we release our newest power amplifier, the Stellar M1200. Hopefully, we’ll be able to unveil this beauty in March.

When engineer Darren Myers came to us with the idea of a 1200 watt monoblock power amplifier with a vacuum tube front end, it wasn’t in the form of an idea. No, he had already built it and was listening to it at home.

It doesn’t get any better or more personal than that.

Because the sound of an amplifier is so dependent on its input stage—something obvious to those lucky enough to own BHK power amplifiers—it was fun to experiment with different vacuum tubes. Every variety of tube we played changed the sound of the M1200, just as you’d expect.

Of course, tube rolling is nothing new. In fact, customizing the tubes in equipment is just part of the experience many expect when acquiring a vacuum tube-based product.

Yet, more than a few are just as happy leaving the customization to others. In fact, despite what many think, the vast majority of vacuum tube equipment owners never customize their products.

I still run our stock tubes in all my BHK equipment.

Customizing can be fun, but it’s not for everyone.

Sometimes, just the fact you can customize is enough of a feature to keep us happy.

 

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.

Steam power

I love the term “running out of steam”. It’s an obvious reference to the beginnings of the industrial age where our world transitioned from animal power to steam power. When something runs close to its limits we say it’s running out of steam, or gas.

Recently there’s been quite a flap over on Ask Paul’s Videos. A question came to me about a subject that seems a tough one to grasp. Can preamp gain make up for low wattage? You can see the video response here.

Turns out this is a tough one for many to understand. I’ll see if I can approach it from a slightly different angle to chip away at the answer.

What’s confusing is the idea that if you put the same loudness music signal into both a big amp and a small amp, they produce the same number of watts (assuming they have the same gain – which most do).

To be more specific, let’s assume we have a 50 watt amplifier and a 500 watt amp, each with the same gain. Put 1 volt of music into either amp, and you will get (for this example) 30 watts out of both.

With me so far?

Using the same setup, now we will double the input voltage to both amps. Same thing happens, only the little amp will run out of steam—it can’t produce double the 30 watts and it clips. The bigger amplifier has plenty more steam available so it merrily outputs the expected 60 watts.

So, going back to the original question, can preamp gain make up for amplifier power, the answer is no. More preamp gain simply increases the input signal size to the power amplifier. It will still run out of steam at the same point. A preamp just gets it there quicker.

 

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.

Receivers

In the dawn of HiFi, the most popular audio product was the receiver—essentially a radio tuner and power amplifier with a level control. The receiver was how we all listened to music.

Over time, the receiver’s minimal feature set was added on to with various upgrades like tape and phono inputs, then later equalizers and other bells and whistles. Before long they became the Swiss Army Knives of audio.

Today, a receiver is about as far away from its origins as one could imagine. Some of the more feature-laden receivers don’t even have radio tuners any more. They are more home theater processors sporting up to 12 channels of power amplification, digital signal processing, streaming audio and even television tuners.

What’s funny is how the name “receiver” has stayed with the product category over all this time.

Sometimes products become so widespread their names no longer reflect their function. When this happens we refer to them as an eponym, like Kleenex, or Xerox.

I vote to upgrade the venerable AV receiver to eponymous status. After all these years, it certainly deserves it.