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.

And the music, room and listening tastes!!

Best place to set volume

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple set of rules and guidelines for audiophiles to follow?

Do this and get that?

I’ve tried my best, in the Audiophile’s Guide, to get as close as possible to that standard. Do this and get that works in the Guide because you’re part of a process that involves feedback. Your ears tell you if you’re getting close and then the Guide explains what to do if you’re not.

What we don’t have is a simple set of “switches”. Do this and get that instructions that work without feedback and tweaks are rare.

For example, where’s the best place to set the volume level in a digital audio system? DAC at 100%? Computer at 100%. Preamp in the mix or not?

The problem with saying one way or the other is the right way is that it depends. Yes, it depends. It depends on what kind of equipment you have. It depends on the synergy of the system.

A preamp in the chain is the right way to go but only if the preamp is of a certain quality.

How do you know if it has the right quality?

The right place to set the volume or the best cable to use is dependent on a set of variables and without identifying the proper variables it’s difficult to answer.

The best place to set the volume depends on the 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.

Our first integrated

I just received my second CoViD shot last night and so find myself on shaky ground at the moment but wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a day of a post.

I was just ruminating on the steps leading up to our first integrated amplifier, the Elite.

When Stan and I had built our fledgling company to the point where we hired our first two employees, Lowell and Jeff, we were building two products: our phono stage and its companion Linear Control Center. The LCC was not a whole lot more than a volume and balance control, an input, and a gain selector.

From a circuit perspective, there was a 10X stereo preamp inside that offered 20dB of gain the user could choose to run the signal through or not. Passive or active preamplifier.

As Jeff and Lowell did their best to keep up with customer orders, Stan and I worked on our new power amplifier to be called the Model One. The power amp’s circuitry was not a whole lot more than the LCC’s gain stage with a pre-driver, driver, and output transistors. The Model One was capable of 70 watts per channel into 8Ω.

Because we didn’t want to “color” the sound of our new amplifier while it was in development, we chose not to use the LCC as a volume control. We wanted the signal path as free of circuitry as possible so that we would be tuning only the amplifier and not the combination of LCC and amplifier.

But we still had to control the volume of the turntable/phono stage.

Stan grabbed a power drill off the shelf and without saying a word proceeded to punch a hole in the amp’s front panel, then from inside the amplifier popped in a potentiometer, and added a knob.

Voila! The first PS Audio integrated 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 is having a sale. I’m no longer a dealer as they have gone direct,  but here it is and if you buy, they donate money to musicians!

Power the Performers

There are very few add ons to our stereo systems that aren’t double-edged swords—they help and hurt at the same time. I remember the first time I played around with an inline vacuum tube “warming device”.  Placed between either the input to the preamp or its output, the box did as advertised but it wasn’t a free lunch. The warmed music had also gotten blurred and lost specificity.

One technological add on that offers benefits without losing something in the bargain is a proper power regenerator. Placed inline with the incoming AC power, waveform distortion is reduced by a factor of 10 or more, voltage variations become so low as to be inconsequential, and most importantly, the impedance of the AC power source drops by magnitudes. It’s as if your stereo system were next door to the city power supply, unmolested by neighbors and miles of wires and transformers.

One of the best uses of a regenerator is for our sources and preamplifiers. These ultra-sensitive devices are not appreciative of the noises and unwanted emissions generated by their fellow system companions and vice versa. The noise and hash that comes out of the AC inlet of a DAC or CD transport are easily injected right into your sensitive preamp or phono stage. The ultra-low impedance AC source of a regenerator, like our Power Plant, stops those emissions dead in their tracks. Their pollution is unable to pass between sources, DACs, and preamps.

If your sources, DACS, and preamps aren’t benefitting from a dedicated Power Plant, you’re missing out on what just might be one of the bigger improvements possible.

This month, we’ve got the Stellar P3 Power Plant available to US residents at a remarkably low price. It’s the perfect Power Plant for your sources, or even to power a smaller system. Our program is entitled Power the Performers. You’ve no doubt caught on to the first idea of powering your source performers, but there’s more power yet available.

For every US P3 purchased in the month of May, we’ll cut a check for $100 cash and send it to the Grammy’s MusicCares program where Spotify will match those funds, getting $200 into the hands of musicians in need.

Now’s your chance to make a difference to your system and those in need. Head here and grab one before the end of the month.

Your ears and our musicians will thank you.

*Not in the US? Check with your country’s dealer/distributor to find out if they too are offering similar price reductions in May.

 

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.

Change of vantage

Music Room Two, with its magnificent Infinity IRS V, BHK monoblock amps, multiple P20 Power Plants, BHK preamp, DirectStream DAC, and Stellar Phono is one of the most revealing systems I know of. It’s our reference that allows us to hear deep into the music. It’s an invaluable tool for the design and voicing of PS Audio products.

Yet, Music Room Two is forever changing, something you might think a reference should never do.

As we change cables, improve DACs, find new music, or tweak speaker positions, our vantage point changes and it sounds different. Often, we’ve enough improvement that previously unnoticed details in familiar music come to the forefront, requiring us to readjust our expectations.

I think of this change in vantage point very much like changing one’s seat in a favorite concert hall. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to attend New York’s Carnegie Hall or the Met, it’s been in different seats. And each of those positions gave me a very different perspective of the whole.

Even in Music Room Two I’ll often take the right-hand seat instead of the center sweet spot just to change vantage points and listen from a different perspective.

We can get inured to the point of ignoring the obvious if we’re not careful.

A change in vantage point is often the best way to refresh and renew the music.

 

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.

Velvet blackness

We’ve likely all experienced the sensation of a blacker audio background. Perhaps it’s a new audio or video cable or a software update that did the trick. Or maybe a power conditioner or regenerator that removed a layer of noise. Whatever the cause, when there’s a deeper blackness we hear it.

Or do we?

In a digital audio system, typical background noise levels are very low—well below the threshold of audibility. When we place our ear close to the tweeter we hear some amount of hiss from the analog chain of amps and preamp (or DAC). In a quiet system that small amount of tweeter noise isn’t typically audible at our listening position. So, even if we made a change to the system that lowered the tiny amount of noise broadcasting out our tweeter, it’s unlikely we’d be able to hear less of it.

So, what gives?

My guess is that when we hear a deeper blackness it’s because the noise we’re lowering is part of the softest passages of music. In other words, it’s embedded or riding on the music. We are hearing the lack of that noise piggybacked on the music.

My logic is simple. When the music’s not playing there’s zero difference I can hear in noise levels. It’s only when the music plays that I notice these deeper velvet moments. Thus, it must have something to do with unwanted energy riding atop the music in the same way we sometimes hear glare and tizz.

It’s little more than an observation, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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.

No need to duck

We trust that when we buy a house the doorways are tall enough for us not to have to duck. And for most of us, it’s not a problem. But, imagine if you were 7 feet tall. You’d be concerned with headroom (it’s not called headroom for nothin’).

Headroom is an elusive measure for us. We know we like having room to spare. We also know that getting to close to the limits of any piece of equipment in our stereo chain can be bad.

When Darren Myers designed the Stellar Phono, he built in headroom. Lots of it. Stellar Phono can output 20 volts rms, which is a ridiculous amount of headroom given few preamp/amp combination can take at their inputs more than 2 volts (10X less than Stellar can output).

And yet, Stellar Phono has one of the most effortless presentations I have ever heard in the 45 years I have been involved with turntables and vinyl reproduction. It’s likely no coincidence that having ten times more output capability than is needed has a direct relationship to Stellar Phono’s effortless output.

Or take the upcoming Stellar M1200 monoblock power amplifier. 1200 watts and a vacuum tube input stage without feedback that can swing huge numbers of volts—far more than needed by a magnitude. The M1200 can deliver more output than any speaker system ever needs. Yet, it too shares that same effortless quality of music as does Stellar Phono.

It’s all about headroom. The more you have the greater the ease and effortless of music regardless of load.

Some call it overkill. Others just recognize the benefits of never getting close to the edges.

But, whatever you call it, you can’t have too much of 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.

Roughcut or polish?

Whether one is cutting a gemstone or building a high-performance music system, it’s helpful to identify the order of work that brings the best results. You want to polish after the perfect cut, and not before.

How many times have I lived through an endless parade of tweaks before realizing no amount of polish can fix an audio or video  component that needs upgrading? The most expensive audio cables and isolators in the world can’t fix a mediocre component.

Whether you’re starting fresh or working with a year’s old system, it’s always best to step back from the whole and examine your precepts of the components within. That amplifier you’re so fond of. Does it really meet your expectations? Or the DAC, preamp, or speakers?

It’s easier to upgrade a cable or USB isolator than the DAC itself, yet that may not always yield the results we hope for.

Sometimes it pays to reexamine our basic premise.

You can polish a gem to a bright luster, but it’ll never be as satisfying as the perfect cut.

 

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 sell Yamaha!!

The artist

Japanese audio manufacturer Yamaha announced the release of their new 5000 series of audiophile products including a $15K pair of speakers, a $10K preamp and $10K amp. Their stated goal is to deliver audio components for the “most discerning and passionate audiophiles.”

I wish them well. It would be great if one of the bigger audio manufacturers managed to craft great sound at any price. Their success can only help spread the word of what we’re all after.

But, I wonder. Does their 8 years of development and the expense of the products provide an indication of sound quality?

What floats my boat is not the level of investment in years and research but the artist. The sound craftsman. The person or team that cares enough about how it sounds over everything else.

If you tell me a company has invested millions in examining every aspect of art—finding out what makes us love a particular painting, for example—and then formed a team to produce it, it would elicit a yawn.

Where’s the soul?

I want to immerse myself in art. Soul. Personal statements.

Performance is an art.

 

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.

In search of miracles

I am constantly on the hunt for miracles. I don’t want just improvements or brighter polish when it comes to my audio system. No, in fact, it’s miracles I am after though they do seem rather far and few between.

The most recent miracle to cross my path is the new Stellar Phono preamp. After nearly 30 years of focusing on digital audio, this miracle piece of gear has transformed the way I think of vinyl. Now, I have to reevaluate every decision I have made over the past three decades.

The beauty of this particular miracle is that it is additive to the main music system. Instead of transforming the way I think of digital audio, it has added an entirely new dimension of music’s enjoyment that I had long ago abandoned as dead.

Now, that’s a miracle.