Tag Archives: preamplifier

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.

Is simple better?

Forty-something years ago we believed with all our hearts that  within the audiopath, simple was better. That a single potentiometer (volume control) in the signal path was the cleanest, purest, best sounding preamplifier anyone could build. Today, we’ve come to understand it was close, yet no cigar.

Rarely are things as simple as we would like them to be. We’re happiest when an issue, problem, or thought can be tick-and-tied neatly with a bow and set on the shelf as fact so we can move on to the next problem. It’s rarely that simple.

It’s true a simple signal path is cleaner and has a better chance at purity than a many-stage device. Take our single potentiometer idea as an example. When Stan and I first started building products in 1974, we made a high-end phono stage. To test that product we tacked a single high-quality potentiometer onto the input of an amplifier. This was the cleanest way we knew to hear our phono stage without the encumbrance of another line stage of a preamp. It worked well because we were able to marry the pot and amp together without connecting cables.

When we tried to extend that logic to a product—a pots-in-a-box preamp with an input selector switch and output cables and connectors—things started turning sour. The sound remained pure but music’s impact, bass, and authority was lost. To fix the problem we needed to add a transparent, active buffer, something we didn’t know how to build back then.

Four decades later the buffer is an easy build and the increased number of parts in that short signal path make for better sound.

Simple isn’t always better, but it’s a great place to start.

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.

Older audio

Older audio equipment is very much like our memories. Always different than they really were.

We tend to remember the emotional highlights of events—both good and bad. The sordid details and problems fade into the background but jump right back to the forefront once re-experienced.

One of my first loves was the Audio Research SP3 preamplifier. Big, warm, sweet and slobbery like those Cinnabons you know you shouldn’t eat. Musical? Not so much if accuracy is a consideration, but oh how lush its sound and how deeply you’re drawn into a performance. My memories are so tainted with the sweetness that I forget its lack of top end, its blubbery bass, its excessive white noise.

But sometimes our first loves turn out to be better than our memories of them. Like the Infinity IRS I first heard at HP’s home in Sea Cliff New York. From that one evening’s experience, I wanted that speaker system. Thirty-something years later I got it and realized it was better than I had remembered.

Vintage audio is always a crapshoot. You just never know if your recollection of its performance is better or worse than reality.