Tag Archives: preamps

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

AC receptacles

For those of us with long memories here’s a flashback. Remember when preamps sported rear-mounted AC receptacles to power the rest of the stereo system?

The first memory I have of the rear-mounted AC receptacle was on my father’s McIntosh C28 preamplifier.

Note the use of switched and unswitched outlets. The idea was that unswitched outlets were for the power amp and switched outlets for tuners and tape decks.

What a grand idea. Run your entire stereo system including your power amplifier through a skinny 16-gauge 2-wire zip cord.

What was it Red Fox used to put his hands up towards the heavens and cry out?

“Elizabeth! They’re coming for me.”

Some innovations are better left in history’s dustbin.

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.

Tinkering

One hundred years ago a tinkerer was a traveling craftsman skilled in the art of metal repair. He would be invited into homes to repair eating utensils and small metal objects.

Today, in our disposable society, there’s no need for a person to repair a mangled spoon or a fork’s broken tine. We just throw it out and replace it.

A more modern usage of the word tinkering might apply to an audio purist’s quest to build a musical system. A modern tinkerer will mix and match stereo components, tweak and tune an audio system until reaching a new level of purity.

When it comes to high-end audio I cannot think of another personal pursuit that so encourages tinkering. Most endeavors support the use of pre-approved (often brand-specific) components: Canon lenses on Canon cameras, Tesla swag on Tesla cars.

Not so much HiFi. DACs from one manufacturer connect to preamps from quite another and both interconnected from yet a third vendor.

Mixing and matching, tinkering and adjusting, tweaking and tuning.

It’s part of what makes our passion so unique and our results so personal.

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

Something for nothing

We all like something for nothing: the extra scoop of ice cream, the baker’s dozen, the unexpected set of vibration canceling feet included with our new amp purchase.

Rarely are we pleased with the opposite—something intangible for plenty more. Yet, this is the conundrum we face when considering headroom.

Headroom in amplification—both preamps and power amps—offer huge benefits that we never notice until they are missing. Compare a low headroom amplifier with its polar opposite and the problems of compression, increased non-linearities, and eye-squinting strain become apparent.

It’s not easy to plunk down more funds for greater headroom because it requires a leap of faith, and faith is something we all struggle with.

It’s often the invisible we benefit from the most.

 

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.

Pauls post reminds me of a joke I heard at a MD’s convention a few years back. The Audiophile version of this applies and would be the following:

If you ask 10 Audiophiles how to set up a system, you’ll get 20 answers as each of them would eventually change their minds, at least once.

Holograms

There are numerous aspects to the high-end audio system: tonality, resolution, inner detail, micro, and macro dynamics, and of course, the holographic image.

Whether your system provides little more than the basic phantom center channel or a full-on three-dimensional holographic soundstage, you’re always dealing with an audio hologram.

A few days ago I wrote about the importance of not cluttering up with equipment the space between the loudspeakers. That’s important for two reasons. First, our sources and preamps are sensitive to microphonics. We should get them as far away from the speakers as is possible. Second, that clutter of equipment visually interferes with the hologram.

Whether we like it or not, our vision is often a distraction when it comes to generating a perfect audio hologram. It’s why it sounds better when we lower the lights or listen in the dark. Once our visual distractions are removed, the brain can more easily process the deep, tall, and wide soundstage that lurks behind our loudspeakers.

Of course, not all setups have managed to build the proper holographic image where the speakers have disappeared, and the musicians are standing behind them. But, on a proper system, this holographic image can be breathtaking—an essential element in a great high-end rig.

If your HiFi doesn’t image the way it should, consider removing physical and visual clutter from where you hope the phantom soundstage will appear.

If it hasn’t a place to exist, it likely will not.

 

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.

If it walks like a…

When we think of products in terms of functionality they’re all somewhat the same. DACs convert digital to analog, power amps drive speakers, preamps control the level. But, that’s often where the similarities end.

How a product does what it does makes all the difference in the world. The output of an R2R ladder DAC and a DSD-based DirectStream DAC may look the same, but they’re not even close in how they got there—nor in how they sound.

The same is true for power conditioners. They have AC power going into them, and with multiple AC sockets at their outputs, some modified form of AC coming out. To say or even suggest that a power conditioner or isolation transformer has anything other than form factor in common with a Power Plant would be grossly incorrect. Yet, it happens all the time.

We invented the Power Plant concept in 1997. Since that time, 23 years ago, one of our long-standing life’s missions has been to help people understand the black and white differences between an active AC regenerator and a power conditioner. The only thing the two have in common is one AC input and many AC outputs.

Because Power Plants provide instant dynamic voltage and current regulation along with rebuilding the AC sine wave itself, they are unflinching in their rock-steady delivery of AC power to equipment. A power conditioner, on the other hand, does little to justify its namesake. The condition of the power through a conditioner is, for the most part, unchanged—except to have made it slightly worse in the very areas a Power Plant makes it better. Impedance. (this too applies to isolation transformer based conditioners as well, though they are closer to their namesakes in that they do isolate)

Active voltage and current regulation are the keys to reversing what many people fear most with the addition of a power conditioner—loss of dynamics and life. Those who have figured out they’re likely better off plugging their power amps directly into the wall socket rather than cripple them with a conditioner, isolation transformer, or any passive device, have exactly the opposite reaction when listening through the lowered impedance of a Power Plant.

Just because it walks like a Power Plant, it certainly doesn’t sound like one.

 

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.

Tube time

As I look out my office window I see tufts of melted snow, bare trees, a busy highway of squirrel traffic gathering whatever it is they store for the winter, and our cute, red, neighborhood fox keeping those same squirrels from overrunning the place.

It is fall and soon to be winter.

That’s the perfect time for me to run through Music Room Two and Three and change out all the tubes in the BHK amps and preamps. I use the cold of fall as a reminder to swap out the year-old vacuum tubes for new fresh ones.

Over time, vacuum tubes tend to lose some of their life, vim, and vigor. It’s a slow loss, one you don’t notice until a year has passed.

The fun of upgrading the tubes comes with the first listen. Wow! Time to go through all that new music you accumulated over the summer and relisten with the new fire bottles in place.

If you have tubes in your equipment, it might be worth thinking about changing them out for a fresh pair.

Fall is Tube Time!

 

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.

Finding just the right spot

Most preamplifiers have a zone on their level controls where they sound best; typically higher on their dials.

Finding that perfect spot on the dial isn’t too hard, but getting there can be because much depends on the loudness levels of the source and the sensitivity of the speakers.

Most sources don’t have level trim controls to help match their gains to the rest of the system.

If you have a DAC, like our DirectStream, then it is an easy task to set the gain to match the sweet spot on your preamplifier. For example, depending on the system I am using, I like to set the DirectStream at around 80 on its level control. This places most tracks in the upper 40s and 50s on the BHK preamplifier, and the softest tracks bumping into the high 70s.

It’s tempting to think preamps sound the same at any level setting, but it isn’t true. Not for most preamps, anyway.

Finding just the right spot on the preamp level dial can bring hours more enjoyment to your 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.

Filling a vacuum

When we think up new products sometimes it’s because we have a novel idea like the Digital Lens. That’s a product/technology that solved a problem most people didn’t even know they had.

Then there are the obvious ones like stereo amps and audio preamps to fill out a system.

But sometimes products come into being to fill a vacuum. And surprising that’s why we’re committed to building a new category of loudspeaker.

To fill a vacuum.

When our customers ask for loudspeaker recommendations to match their musical tastes we’re at a loss of where to send them, which is weird because there are more speaker manufacturers than any other category in our industry. You’d imagine with all that choice there’d be a slam dunk for people who want true full range, high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers.

But there’s nothing we know of that fits that bill (though admittedly that’s quite a laundry list of requirements).

So, as we’ve done in the past with AC power and digital audio—and even as far back as our early standalone phono stage—we need to step up to the plate and do it ourselves.

To some, this post will sound like over the top marketing fluff or just plain boastful. Probably is. But to those who have genuinely sought out the aforementioned laundry list in earnest and found themselves settling on the next best choice, this is all too real and a problem worth solving by someone.

Anyone.

I wish we could do it sooner.

 

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.

Recommendations

One of the primary motivators for our launch of PS Audio speakers is a sad but simple truth. There are so few speakers we can recommend in good faith.

This may come as a shock but it happens to be the truth.

Yes, there are some great speakers on the audio and video markets but the really great ones are either astronomically priced or impractical in people’s homes. How many folks could agree to a 4-piece behemoth like the IRSV,  tolerate large panels in the living room, get their significant other to accept the towering likeness of a pterodactyl or escapee from a sci-fi movie, or afford some of the crazy prices in our industry?

For years we have been asked by our customers for recommendations of what to pair with their PS equipment. And for as many years we have shrugged our collective shoulders. Some speakers are affordable but require so much in the way of setup and room correction as to be essentially untenable. Others sound good but haven’t the ability to resolve fine details. Still others are detail oriented but require so much in the way of extras like a pair of subwoofers that cost more than the speakers, or cabling as expensive as the electronics, that they are non-starters.

I suppose it was inevitable that we make our own speakers—as inevitable as making our own amps, preamps, and DACs.

We know part of the fun of hi-fi is the mixing and matching of the best from each company. Yet, we also know there’s more than a few among us that simply want the best sounding system possible without all the trial and error.

Our upcoming speakers won’t be for everyone.

At least I hope not.

We’re building products we love.