Tag Archives: PS Audio

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.

Wow and flutter

The terms wow and flutter will bring back memories of tape recorders to some, perhaps pictures of butterflies to others.

Wow is a low-frequency fluctuation while flutter is a much faster version of the same thing. Steady state instruments like oboes and piano are particularly affected by these mechanical distortions prevalent in tape recorders and record players.

I was reminded of these ancient problems when digital audio pioneer, Tom Jung of DMP Records visited Gus Skinas in Octave’s studios. For those of you unfamiliar with DMP records, look up one of my favorites, Tricycle by Flim and the Bbs. To this day it remains one of the punchiest tracks I know of.

It was great to see Tom and we chatted and laughed as we both remembered our relief when the move to digital audio began. No more needles, wows and flutters to worry about. (of course, there was plenty of other problems, but that’s another chapter).

(pictured from left to right: PS Audio’s Gus Skinas, Chris Brunhaver, Darren Myers, and Bob Stadtherr followed by Tom Jung and disc mastering engineer, Matt Lutthans)

I recently ran across a 2018 interview in Stereophile magazine between Jonathan Scull and Tom Jung.

Jung: Well, back in ’76 it was the absence of wow and flutter. No matter how you slice it, it’s still there in analog machines. And you can hear it, especially with the piano. Digital’s absence of wow and flutter sounded more like what was coming off the studio floor. Of course, at the time we couldn’t compare it with the lacquers because they were all carefully packed and sent to the manufacturing plants. But we did compare it with the analog tape, and everybody in the studio thought there were things they liked better about digital. But as time went on I came to realize that digital sounded maybe a bit confused…

Scull: No pun intended?

Jung: [laughs] Anyway, something we had in analog was missing. So no free lunch, but overall digital was a better thing from the get-go.

Scull: Ah, a chink in the armor. What was missing, do you think?

Jung: Well, information. You know the way PCM or any digital works—it breaks the analog signal down into little pieces. And I’ve learned that the smaller the pieces are, the better it’s going to sound. That, and a lot of attention to detail all the way ’round. And, given that, to me DSD just sounds better. In fact, one of the biggest problems with PCM digital today is the analog circuitry that surrounds it. But PCM can sound very good if the analog is really done right both on the A/D and back again.

Remembering our past helps us move forward in our future.

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.

External power supplies

On the periphery of exotic upgrades is the external power supply. Sometimes this supply is bigger and more powerful than what’s standard inside audio products, but more often than not it’s simply the only means of powering a product. A wall wart is a great example.

In my experience, the first use of an external power supply came from PS Audio, nearly 50 years ago (though likely others did it too).

When Stan and I were working on building new products, Stan had discovered the benefits of an oversized power supply: more slam, openness, greater solidity in the bottom end, and far better transparency. The bigger the transformer the better the sound.

At the time, we only made line-level products like preamps and control centers. These types of products were always housed in 1U, 2U, or sometimes a 3U chassis (a “U” is short for Rack Unit and is a standard for rack mounting at 1.75″ tall). Our 2U chassis height could never accommodate a monster power transformer so we did what anyone trying to shoehorn in a 5-pound hunk into a one-pound bag: we put it in a new and larger housing. We called it the HCPS for High Current Power Supply.

The benefits from externalizing the power transformer were many: better sound, lower hum, and the ability for our customers to choose what level of performance they could afford. The last one we produced was back in the PCA2 preamp days of the 2000s, as well as a smattering in the Gain Cell line of products. It was (and is) a cool idea but, alas, limited in its appeal.

Seems the trend today is less rather than more.

Big external boxes powering high-end audio products are rare and often viewed more as exotic than standard.

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.

Grails, holy and hopeful

One of the more famous literary motifs is the idea of the Holy Grail, a metaphorical vessel with miraculous powers providing happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance.

Grails, both holy and hopeful, can apply to any number of aspirational audio goals. For me, that grail is to be found in digital audio.

We’ve long known that digits are digits and thus can be endlessly replicated without loss. That said, we’ve also known that digital delivery and processing are prone to differences that are most audible.

The Grail would, for me, be to design a series of digital audio devices that are agnostic to the storage, transmission, and processing of bits. That no matter how one gets those bits delivered and processed, the audible results would be the same.

We are a long way away from drinking from that grail vessel, though with PS Audio’s recent innovations of galvanically isolating inputs and CPUs from the digital outputs we’re more than one step closer.

Grails, both holy and hopeful are what keep most of us in research and development going.

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.

Impersonal personal

As the information age grows, communications have increasingly become both more impersonal as well as the opposite.

Where once we might have picked up the phone and called a retailer with our questions, today we turn instead to Google’s bots, nameless people on live chat software, downloaded PDFs, and FAQs. Need help assembling or fixing something? There’s a YouTube video at the ready.

On the other hand, in the long-ago age of the local stereo retailer, if they didn’t have the info you needed it was nearly impossible to connect directly with a manufacturer. Dealers provided an insular barrier between companies and customers and that was exactly what many companies wanted. I remember trying to outfox the switchboard guards of numerous companies trying to get an audience of someone within the company for an answer.

Then came the internet. Some companies pounced on the new connection technology to further isolate them from their customers while others did exactly the opposite.

Take PS Audio as an example. As the information age grows we’re embracing it as a means of greater one-on-one connection with our community: videos, blogs, forums, one-on-one phone communication, emails answered by people, not bots.

The web is a double-edged sword. For organizations unconcerned with providing a one-on-one experience with their customers it permits entire companies to be built with not more than two or three people. On the flip side, if greater connection is the goal, the web also provides a golden opportunity to get closer and closer to a worldwide community of like-minded people.

Like anything in technology, it’s how one chooses to use it that matters.

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 heard the PS Audio system at their previous location and very good, although that room was too small for the Infinity IRS V loudspeakers.

Reference

The three P20 Power Plants, two BHK monoblock amplifiers, 12 channels of 1,000 watt amplification, the Infinity IRSV and all the other peripherals to be found in Music Room Two form the basis of the PS Audio Reference System.

Is it the best system in the world? Of course not. There’s likely no single system that might qualify for that honor.

What we can say, however, is that it is a reference-quality system. And what does that actually mean?

In my view, a reference system has a number of requirements. It must be neutral, full range, highly resolving, unflappable, and most important, reliably utilize all its merits to test the identity, strength, quality, and purity of any connected gear. In other words, it cannot impart its identity on devices under test.

While constant improvements to the system are expected—even demanded—those improvements must always be made with the goal of neutrality without suffering sonic bias.

A true reference system is different than a maxed out home audio system. In the former, we want limitless unbiased resolving power where, in the latter, we accept bias in favor of knocking our socks off.

You probably don’t have a reference quality system at home, but in the long run, that’s likely a good thing.

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.

Hysteresis

Hysteresis describes how something appears or responds based on its history.

What we see in the present is that way only because of what happened in the past. Stretch a rubber band and upon its release, the band does not return to its original shape. That’s hysteresis.

Understanding hysteresis means we can put its somewhat predictable behavior to good use. Take for example your smartphone’s reaction to finger flicks.

Because hysteresis can be a dynamic lag between an input and an output that disappears if the input is varied more slowly—called rate-dependent hysteresis—a slow flick of your finger on the smartphone’s screen inches up a list while a quick flick sends the list zooming forward.

Hysteresis.

We build the same rate-dependent hysteresis in PS Audio’s volume control knobs. A slow turn inches forward the volume but a fast turn sends the level up or down quickly. This programming is not by accident.

Hysteresis.

As long as we’re still in the audio category there’s also something called hysteresis distortion. This kind of distortion occurs in audio products based on magnetic principles: loudspeaker drivers, crossover inductors, or all those magnetic components in a Class D amplifier. Once the passage of a varying audio signal magnetizes in one direction a piece of magnetic material, it retains that state. When our constantly changing audio signal then reverses direction, the magnet’s historic memory adds or subtracts from the audio signal causing distortion.

Its history affects its future outcome.

Hysteresis.

It’s not worth getting hysterical about hysteresis (I couldn’t resist those words) but maybe fun to read up on it and how it affects our everyday life.

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.

Walls vs. ceilings

The four walls of our rooms are both friend and enemy. They contain and support the generated sound field while at the same time distorting music’s reproduction.

We cannot live without our walls yet it’s a struggle to listen within them.

To my room’s walls, I can mitigate problems through acoustic treatments such as bookshelves and furniture as well as pictures and diffusers.

And then there are the other two often ignored walls: floor and ceiling.

Floors covered in carpet are partially better but only for higher frequencies.

Ceilings are even more of a problem: hard to reach; carpet looks goofy; extremists can add diffusers and absorbers.

It’s relatively easy to partially address the room’s problems through wall treatment, but incredibly difficult to apply the same to our fifth and sixth walls—floor and ceiling.

I don’t have a magic cure, though the best course of action involves seating position setup—something covered in the Audiophile’s Guide.

The book itself is currently available on both Kindle and paperback on Amazon (where it is a national bestseller), and later this month, the entire package of the book and its companion Reference Music will be available on PS Audio’s website.

My son Scott will reach out to you with full details when the reference SACD and complete package are available on our website. Stay tuned for details.

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.

Not to get political, but to look at 2020 any other way than a nightmare is unfathomable to me.

I know a lot of people that are in the right tax bracket, or have benefitted from Government programs  are doing ok, as long as they haven’t contracted CV 19, but over 335,000 unnecessary deaths on its own is enough.

However, the Pandemic and its gross mismanagement by this President and his GOP enablers, as well as a  morally, intellectually and corrupt President of the US,  makes 2020 even worse.

And then there are those that support someone who most likely is a traitor to the US and their support for this deeply flawed and dishonest President is is extremely disappointing to me.

There is no apparently no middle and 2020 and 1/20 can’t happen fast enough for me.

Getting near the end

As we approach the end of 2020 we likely all have mixed feelings about this crazy year.

I won’t dwell on the obvious bits of 2020 we’d all like to put behind us. As 2021 approaches I think we’re all hopeful the bad parts stay in the rearview mirror.

The rising sun of 2021 is just there, peeking over the horizon, anxious to spread its gentle glow across a tortured landscape.

At PS Audio we’re excited for what is to come. Our long-awaited loudspeakers, the Octave Player, a new PS Audio website, to mention just a few. In fact, there are seven new products on our busy 2021 docket, the descriptions of which I will roll out to you over the coming months.

I am convinced that with vaccines on the way and a hopeful easing of the massive divide we see in our country, 2021 will be a great and gentler year to look forward to.

 

 

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.

Some well deserved marketing from Paul today, heaping praise on PS Audio’s new power amplifier, their Stellar M1000 monoblock power amplifiers. I’ve not heard them, but a lot of power for their size and very efficient, using a Class D output stage.  One reason they probably sound good is due to their use it of B&O’s ICE power modules, which I think sound a lot better than the more typically used Class D Hypex modules.

And the hits just….

…keep on coming. In the January issue of the UK’s HiFi News, our killer M1200 monoblock combo received another stellar review (pun intended).

“The latter track positively erupted, the amplifiers creating a searing midband with Matt Heafy’s sinewy guitar tone brought to the fore, and drums again hitting with the speed and aggression of a champion boxer.”

Reviewer Mark Craven goes on to write:

“This slender monoblock amp is not solely devoted to room-shaking power. It has that capability, but appreciation of its punch comes with an appreciation of its grace. The sound is a confluence of steel and silk – fast, rhythmic and able to respond astutely to the shifting dynamics of music. A smooth treble lifts it high above the realms of the rough-and-ready, and there’s an energetic delivery of the midband. But the star attraction – the one that gets your blood pumping right away – is its exceptional bass handling.

To check my Bluesound Vault 2i was behaving itself, I fired up, at random, Chris Rea’s ‘Daytona’ [The Road To Hell; Tidal Master]. After no more than a second I had stopped worrying about my network connection and started focusing on the music. This gentle, mid-tempo homage to a Ferrari race car (complete with tires squealing over the outro…) arrived with a slippery, fluid and authentic bass sound that I wasn’t prepared for, the kind that has you wondering why you haven’t always done your listening through 600W monoblock amplifiers.”

If you’d like to read the entire article, you can download a copy by clicking here.

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 glass race

It’s relatively easy for our purchaser, Dan McCauley, to order the thousands of parts needed to build a PS Audio product. If you look at one of our BOMs (Bills of Materials) the list is eye-crossing long: screws, nuts, resistors, chips, insulators, feet, displays, silicon, etc., etc.

It’s hard enough to visualize all the bits and bobs that go into a stereo product, but it’s even harder to work your way back through their sourcing. Just imagine the chain of events that has to happen to make something as simple as a screw—from the mining and smelting of the ore into stainless steel to the machining and inspecting of every part, to the stocking and delivering it to us. And that’s just a screw. Imagine what it must take to produce a several million gate FPGA from the sand used to grow the silicon crystal.

It’s truly mind-boggling, though easy enough to take for granted. That complex chain has long been established and the industries that support it have been humming along for eons.

Now imagine what it must be like to be a part of the race to save our lives. The pandemic’s crush won’t fully go away until the arrival of a vaccine. And while we’re all in awe of how quickly scientists have designed one, it’s not going to do anyone any good unless it can be delivered around the world.

The supply chain.

I was fascinated by an article in the December issue of the New Yorker magazineThe race to make glass vials for the Coronavirus vaccine.

The article details one small critical step in one of the most massive undertakings in our history. Making the billions of specialized glass vials to contain the vaccine.

The vials are not off-the-shelf glass. Standard medical vials—made of borosilicate—often break as they’re filled, and just one damaged vial can ruin a batch of doses and stop a production line.

Photographer Christopher Payne details through this brilliant piece of photojournalism the rush to develop a new type of glass vial called Valor-Glass.

It’s a beautifully photographed essay and one worth your time and nerdiness to read.