Tag Archives: preamp

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 ladder of excellence

I remember the very first time I heard a high-end audio system: a pair of JBL corner horns, an Audio Research preamp and power amp, and a Thorens turntable. It was a stunning revelation compared to my Kenwood integrated amplifier, AR turntable, and Phase Array speakers.

Today that same high-end system that first took my breath away would elicit only a polite smile and a soft chuckle of reminiscence.

We’re first taken by the magnitude of contrasting levels: Kenwood to Audio Research; Wonder Bread to a French baguette. Once we adjust to a new level of performance standard, we need ever greater contrasts to make the same size impression of improvement.

I remember well going to a Hong Kong reviewer’s house and listening to his collection of vintage equipment. My only reaction was to wonder how I ever thought any of those ancient treasures sounded good.

Each time we reach new levels of performance our standards change. What might have impressed us once no longer holds sway.

It’s called climbing the Ladder of Excellence.

Each higher rung advances our understanding of what’s good and what’s merely acceptable.

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.

Audiophile rating system

While answering a customer’s question about matching amps to speakers an old memory popped into my head. The industry’s effort to craft an audiophile rating system.

It was a few decades ago but back then the idea seemed promising. Within the audiophile community, we’d set up a rating system for sound quality to insulate us from the overzealous performance claims of mass market consumer audio companies. Perhaps it would be on some sort of sliding scale or points system, whatever. It really didn’t matter how the metrics worked, just that there would be some agreed upon standard of performance. Once that was decided then manufacturers could submit their products to a listening panel for review. That panel would then rate the product to be “audiophile approved” or not. This rating could apply to equipment and recordings as well.

The purpose of this rating system was simple: a means to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you go online and read the descriptions of power amplifiers, for example, everything from a $19.95 20-watt amp to actually decent sounding products all claim to be “high-performance” or “audiophile grade”. Clearly that is not true nor will it ever be true.

So, how’s a customer suppose to decide if an amplifier, CD player, preamp, recording, or loudspeaker meets some sort of minimum standard of performance? What might be helpful is a stamp of approval similar to a Michelin Star system but without the gradations. Just approved or not approved. Simple.

In the end, the idea was abandoned because of manufacturer infighting. Who would make these judgments? Who would maintain them? Wouldn’t members of the review board wield too much power over the industry? Would there be an appeals process? What if bribery got involved?

My arguments were on the flipside. Perhaps manufacturers that wanted to be approved but weren’t could be given a ratings sheet letting them know where they fell down: poor FR, flat imaging, 2-dimensional sound, too bright, too this or not enough of that. Then, their engineers could upgrade the product until it met with approval. Bingo! Better sales, better sound. Win, win.