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.

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.

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.

Remote control of a preamp is a great thing, as long as it’s done well.

Control vs. convenience

There’s a constant battle going on inside me over two fundamental urges: control or convenience. On the one hand, I want to place myself in a position of control over life’s simple variables like dialing in the exact time and temperature of morning toast or setting the thermostat to suit my immediate needs. On the other hand, it’s great to just push a button and have things perfect without intervention.

Those same urges conflict me when it comes to stereo systems too. Do I want the perfect stereo experience at the push of a button, or would I prefer to control every aspect according to my moods and whims?

Here’s what I’ve figured out. The answer depends on a set of unknown variables that change from day to day. Some days I want to roll my sleeves up and control and perfect every aspect of the musical experience: the perfect volume, the adjusted seating height, a little lower on the lights, activate CleanWave on the PowerPlant between every track. Other days I am just thankful everything’s working up to snuff and I can close my eyes and enjoy.

I am not sure how to predict which side of me wants to run the system on any given day. But I can suggest it’s awfully nice to be in a position to choose one or the other depending on my mood.