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.

Paul is prepping us for the new PS Audio BHK 600 amplifiers and looks like as ultimate an amp as they can build. Unfortunately, they are only direct now, so, as a high end audio dealer, I won’t be able to partake.

Besides, after talking my T+A PA3100 integrated amp out of my Furman IT Ref 20i power conditioner, I don’t really want anything else, as sonically, these are fantastic sounding amp. At least plugged directly into the wall.

However, with no surge protection this way, I will be installing a SurgeX SA20 surge protection unit, which also has EMI/FRI filtering. I hope not too much of the latter, as I now know that this can kill the amps sound, as the Furman did.

The $35 resistor

I am well aware people in our HiFi Family think were nuts. And, that’s ok. Better nuts than boring.

When people ask me if parts of identical value but different construction sound unlike one another I kind of scratch my head. In my world, parts in the signal path all sound different. It’s like asking me if chocolate and vanilla taste different.

The answer seems so obvious.

But then I climb out of my cloud and plop back down into some form of reality that isn’t mine but close enough to the others in order to communicate.

When building products that people can afford it becomes a challenge to know where to spend what funds you have available. I can assure you $10 Audio Note resistors or $50 Rel Caps in every position on a circuit would place audio equipment out of reach for all but a few.

The challenge then comes down to selectivity. Where to best place your parts funds to get the performance you’re hoping for.

I remember well the tough choice I had to make when designing the Genesis Stealth integrated amplifier. The volume control in the Stealth was the heart of the device: my last all-out assault on fixing the volume control before I finally gave up and eliminated the volume control altogether through the invention of the Gain Cell.

The Stealth volume control was simple. A series resistor with variable shunt resistors. Instead of trying to use what everyone else was struggling with: a high-quality potentiometer or fancy stepped attenuator, my simple circuit depended 100% on the quality of a single resistor.

After much trial and error, I landed on a 1-watt 0.1% tolerance Vishay that in quantities of 500 pieces ran us $35 each. Ouch. That’s a lot when even a great 1% metal film costs about a dime.

The point of the story is simple. The only reason we cut into our own margins by $70 for the stereo pair was because it sounded better. A lot better.

Hopefully, this story will resonate with some and confirm with others what they always suspected. That we’re nuts.

Certainly not boring.

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 a real company, wile many high end audio companies are not, so PS Audio uses a pretty standard pricing model, while others, get what they can and often times a lot better margins on what they sell, if they can make a market for their stereo products.

Pricing models

As of late, there’s been some discussion on the forums about the model we use for product pricing.

From what I can ascertain, the general view seems to be companies have a complex pricing model based on a combination of what they believe the market will bear and what it takes to cover all their R and D and tooling costs. At some level, this pricing model surely exists, else how do we wind up with half-million-dollar loudspeakers or $50K audio cables?

When it comes to the mainstream companies I think the truth is somewhat simpler.

My guess is we’re all pretty much the same: a simple multiple of what each product costs to manufacture. The multiples vary depending on the expected number of units to be sold and what the sales volume of the company is.

At the end of the proverbial day, companies have to charge enough to cover expenses.

For most companies like PS Audio, pricing is based entirely on what it costs us to build your products.

Simple works best.

 

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.

Labels

Labels are necessary for communication yet offered without thought of consequences they can be destructive.

There’s no harm in labeling sodium chloride as table salt. In fact, labeling a shaker of white crystals as “salt” is extremely helpful at the dinner table.

But what happens when we label stereo equipment with opinions? For example, labeling a particular phono cartridge as wooden or tight-assed can destroy a product’s reputation. Imagine taking home an expensive moving coil cartridge and on your audio system, it doesn’t sound right. You label it with your opinion and it is forever tainted—even if all that might have been wrong was your ability to set it up properly.

I remember the first time I heard about Cambridge Audio products. Asked what their shtick was I was told it earned the label: cheap gear. Good, but cheap. It wasn’t until I spent the time to audition their products myself that I realized the label was not only unwarranted but unfair. Not because it wasn’t inexpensive gear (it was) but because that label assigned it a low value in people’s minds. I began to support the brand by telling people it was an exceptional bargain.

PS Audio products were for years labeled as “The poor man’s Audio Research”. I guess that’s a compliment, though I probably could have picked a better label.

I guess my point is we should be careful about the labels we assign products and certainly people.

They have a habit of sticking.

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.