Tag Archives: PS Audio

There will be no compromise here!

For a while there passive preamps were all the rage.  Today it’s hard to even find one.  A passive preamp consists of an input selector switch and a volume control.  It’s called a “passive” device because it does not plug into a power source.  They don’t exist because, in general, they’re not very good.

I believe we were the first ones to introduce such a device into the marketplace.  Ours was unique because you could switch it in or out.  Your choice, active or passive.  That feature existed because of an argument between myself and my original partner, Stan Warren.  The compromise we reached set the course of preamplifiers for our company (and others) for years to follow.  But compromise was something Stan struggled with.  Stan was an absolute minimalist, purist at his very core.  Compromise was a dirty word.

It was the mid 70′s and PS Audio had but one product: a phono preamplifier.  We sold lots of those preamplifiers but perhaps “preamplifier” is a misleading term because while technically correct, it does conjure up visions of a box with controls.  There were no controls on this product.  Turntable in one end, interconnect to a full preamplifier, integrated or receiver on the other end.   The product existed because many of the built in phono preamplifiers of that day were not the best sounding circuits.  Certainly those built into receivers, integrateds and even a number of separate preamplifiers, like those from SAE and Dynaco were less than perfectionist oriented.  Ours was better and demonstrably so.  People bought our phono “box” to supplement their preamplifiers and the combo of a PS phono box and a preamp worked great.

It didn’t take long for PS owners to figure out if the phono stage in their preamp wasn’t so good, the rest probably wasn’t much better.  People also knew that we didn’t compromise with our setup, so naturally they wanted to know what preamp we used.  Truth was, we didn’t use a preamp.  We had no need for a preamp.  We listened to nothing but vinyl, so no need for an input selector switch.  There was nothing to select.  In fact, our system was so simple that we placed a single potentiometer (pot) between the output of the phono stage and the input to our power amplifier.  The path was short, the interconnects unique and designed for the specific task.  There really wasn’t a shorter, cleaner path possible.

But our customers weren’t happy.  They wanted what we had and demanded we offer a full solution.  They wanted our phono box and our volume control.  They wanted to sell their preamps and have an all PS system.  Unfortunately, they didn’t realize just how funky our setup was.

Time after time people would call or write letters (before the internet) and ask what our interconnects were, what our preamplifier and power amp was.  They were unhappy with our accessory phono stage tacked onto their preamp which they figured could be bettered.  They were right.  But duplicating what we had wouldn’t be easy.   Truth was, the interconnects were Stan’s “Air Cables”, the preamp was an Alps pot dangling between his Air Cables and the power amp was our own design we were playing with for fun.  There wasn’t much we could tell people.  What they wanted was for us to build another product.  A preamplifier.  I was fine with it, anxious to make another product.  Stan hated the idea because it wasn’t pure and it certainly wasn’t minimalist to built yet another box when a gaggle of wires and parts, suspended in mid air, was perfect.  Anything you did that wasn’t what we had was less than perfect.

If people wanted a PS preamp to go along with their phono stage, they’d have to make do with exactly what we had.  No compromises, according to Stan.  This meant Air Cables, no chassis and an open frame pot dangling between them, floating in mid air.  Not much of a product in my eyes, so we went nowhere.  That is until Stan started building this collection of wires for people and sending it to them.  His idea was to convince me it was the way to go, so great these would sound, so strong the demand for this product he’d create.

Tomorrow, the Air Cable preamp.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio Intl.

Oohs and aahas

I am in the process of setting up a new listening room at PS Audio.  It’ll be Listening Room Three and a simple one.

Here’s a situation where I don’t want to invest a lot of time and money into perfecting the room or the system, but rather focus on cobbling together an excellent setup from “stuff” I have around the office.  I am building this room so I can master the many hundreds of hours of tape I recorded years ago and hopefully turn out some gems worthy of your attention (if I get the artist’s permission to distribute them).

I am writing about this setup because it may be closer to what many of you have to work with and unlike the mega system I have in Music Room One.  In fact, this setup uses an older pair of Era loudspeakers I had laying around.  These originally retailed for $1,200 the pair, the company since out of business and you can probably pick up a pair on eBay for a few hundred dollars.  I am powering it with our older A100 low cost power amp based on a B&O ICE module, good cabling from my stash of PS Cables and, of course, a couple of Power Plants to make sure I don’t have any power problems.

The room itself is an office with a drop ceiling, drywall sides and carpet.  Certainly no attempt has been made to help the room.

Yet, within perhaps an hour it sounds wonderful.  The speakers disappear and the soundstage is wide, deep with proper tonality.  All that’s missing from the system is a subwoofer.  I will fix that shortly.  I have my eye on a REL on eBay.  This whole setup is well under $5K even if I had to go buy it new.

What makes the system sound so transparent?  Setup.  Because the room is quite small from front to back I am forced to sit within a few feet of the loudspeakers.  My first inclination is to toe them in, pointing right at my head.  I always do this.  It’s almost always the wrong thing to do.  I just can’t help myself.

When I first fired up the system I put on Diana Krall’s Isn’t it a lovely Day from a CD of mine.  Sounded good, Diana is nicely centered with a reasonable amount of depth of soundstage and tonally she is about right.  Unfortunately the entire presentation is trapped between the two speakers.  Too much toe in.  But I am afraid to toe them in less because I don’t want to loose the great focus of the center image.  I go against these first instincts.  I point the speakers straight ahead.  Zero toe in.  Doesn’t look like it could possibly work from my seating position.  But it does.

The soundstage now exceeds the boundaries of the two speakers.  Depth is even better than before and surprise of surprises, Diana’s voice is exactly the right size and maintains perfect focus (if she wasn’t I could put the pair closer together slightly).  The speakers are now no longer in the room.  I add a couple of small diffusers on the back wall and everything gels perfectly.  It now sounds like a small version of Music Room One.

It’s instructive to remember about setup.  Whatever you do, getting the speakers to disappear, the soundstage extending behind and beyond the sides of the two speakers along with proper tonal balance can be achieved with nearly any loudspeaker setup at any price.

Don’t let the fact your system is inexpensive or expensive stop you from getting oohs and aahs from you and your friends when it properly disappears and all that’s left is the music, clear, plain and simple.


Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.