Tag Archives: speakers

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.

FR30s go live

Tomorrow, Friday the 25th, marks the world’s public premiere of the FR30 loudspeaker.

If you’re planning on attending the Montreal High End show at the Hotel Bonaventure, you can drop by our room to get a taste of one of the world’s best speakers, the Aspen FR30.

Here’s a link to the show information. PS Audio and the FR30s are located in the Westmount 6, room.

Scott McGowan and I are attending the show setup today to get them ready, but we’re unable to hang out and meet and greet folks tomorrow when the show opens. (With great sadness, we both have to head home to lay to rest on Friday one of our team members and dearest of friends, Woody Woodward, who died unexpectedly. Many of you may know of Woody through his wonderful writings in Copper Magazine)

I do hope you have a chance to drop by and check out these remarkable speakers. It’ll be well worth your time.

Have fun!

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 revelation

In yesterday’s post, I posited a gnarly problem. How to rely upon the sound of a loudspeaker in order to achieve the perfect capture.

After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect microphone or speaker. These two transducers are to some degree flawed.

Experienced recording and mix engineers have solved this problem through years of experience with specific monitors. After hundreds of hours of trial and error, they know that when an instrument or voice sounds a certain way that it will be good/acceptable on the average listener’s speakers.

That while that methodology works for the vast majority of recordings, it’s hardly “as good as it gets” if your target audience of listeners is our high-end audio community armed with some of the most revealing home reproduction systems the world has to offer.

This dilemma really came to light after we replaced the Infinity IRSV with Chris Brunhaver’s amazing FR30 loudspeakers. As soon as I had some quality time to listen to them it became immediately obvious the FR30’s planar tweeter and midrange were on a different planet than anything I had ever heard. So real and revealing were these two transducers that I had to stop and reevaluate everything I thought I knew. After all, the IRSV too uses the same technology for its tweeters and midrange. *(as an aside from our story, one of the lessons I learned about creating a speaker of this caliber came from watching the process Chris used to design the FR30 tweeter and midrange. Employing hundreds of hours of mind-numbing measurements, Chris first perfected the two drivers themselves, then spent months working on how they fit into the baffle (just look at the tweeter and note the innocent looking divider down its middle or the slight horn-like opening for the midrange) and how that affected their response, and finally to the crossover, then back again to the beginning, etc.)

Having never heard the upper end of any system sound as real as what I was now hearing, it didn’t take too long to get used to this new reality. That soon became problematic.

After auditioning in MR2 on the FR30s a new mix for Octave Records, I followed the engineer up to the mix room and heard it played back again, but this time first on the conventional drivers of the ATC monitors as well as the Sony speakers Gus likes for mastering.

Holy crap. A slap in the face moment. I was listening not to cymbals but instead, I was listening to tweeters.

The story continues tomorrow.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek Audio and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

For my truly great sounding homemade Altec GPA 604 speakers, I use a small amount of EQ to tame a little rise at 2k and that’s another way to voice a loudspeaker!

The icing on the cake

Look at the frequency response curve of any loudspeaker and you’ll immediately see it is not flat. Not even close. Deviations in loudness at specific frequencies are denoted in terms like +/- 3dB (on a good day). Some active speakers boast +/- 1dB, but even that’s hardly flat.

And those measurements have little to do with the actual in-room response at one’s listening position.

When a speaker designer is faced with the reality of inevitable loudness swings of this magnitude, they can either shrug their shoulders and say that’s as good as it gets, or they can use those deviations to their advantage.

When they decide to go with the latter decision, the process they use is called voicing.

If +/- 3dB is the accepted limitation, designers who understand the art of voicing decide where those deviations are best put to use. Instead of a dip at one frequency, the overall sonic presentation might benefit from a bump in loudness instead.

The deviation range remains the same. The sound does not.

Not all designers choose the art of voicing.

For those that do, it’s the icing on the cake.

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.

Got to hand it to Paul…Introducing their new loudspeaker. I think they are too close together.

The FR30s in Music Room 2

Sometimes, despite our worst fears, life shines its happy light on us. And we should be thankful for those times that it does.

Making the decision to swap the IRSV room with that of the FR30 was frightening to me. Both speakers were working great in their environments. The thought they could each benefit from the move was only a guess. What if I was wrong? What if I had to put everything back? And if put back would it (could it) be at least as good?

Taking a leap of faith is frightening to most of us especially when we’re moving from something that works to (hopefully) working better.

What’s the old saying? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

But, fix it we did and now we had to live with the changes. First, the IRSV. As previously mentioned in yesterday’s post, the IRSV really benefitted from the move. We did well!

Bolstered by the improvements we enjoyed with the new home for the IRSV, I made the decision there would be no turning back now, a decision that brings to mind yet another of those old sayings: in for a penny in for a pound.

We wouldn’t be reversing course. It was time to tackle the FR30 in Music Room 2.

One observation I will share with you before I jump in. Speakers are like friends. One needs to get to know them before really feeling close. The FR30 are no different.

I have had to spend time with these beauties to get a feel for what they want and what they give in return. For example, the FR30 are very appreciative of diffusers on the front wall behind them (the IRS likes them too but not quite as much). Also, the FR30 want some sidewall help (where the IRSV don’t). I placed one of our DAAD diffuser towers on each side wall in MR2 and the improvements in coherence and tonality were remarkable. Here’s a picture showing both DAAD diffusers, one on each sidewall just after the Vicoustic panels closest to the listener. (the speakers’s designer, Chris Brunhaver sits on the left side while PS engineer, math whiz, and geek programmer, Carl Solway gets his first listen)

Aside from those two observations, setup is relatively easy. Like most speakers, the FR30 like being away from the front wall. What’s interesting is that (unlike the IRS) they still image remarkably well even with only a foot or two of breathing room behind them.

They, like the IRS, prefer to be pointed straight ahead and then toed in slightly. Here’s a picture where you can see the cool coasters under the feet we supply to make moving the speakers easy and the 3 diffusers on the far wall. The big amps are the prototypes for the BHK 600s (which are…breathtakingly good) and for the sharp eyed observer wondering what the little white boxes sitting on the amps are, they are custom control boxes allowing us to measure every amp parameter and adjust bias, etc.

After an easy hour of moving them around (using the aforementioned coasters under the spiked feet), I was suddenly and unexpectedly flabbergasted by the FR30’s soundstage width. Playing an oldie but a goodie, James Taylor’s Gaia, the image extended from wall to wall and beyond. The IRS had never managed that and even in MR3 it still cannot. I then switched tracks to Jamie Woon and Skin. This amazing track has always been a stunner but now with the FR30’s greater resolution (than the IRSV), I was shaking my head at hearing for the first time precisely how Woon’s voice had been electronically augmented and mixed. Wow. Next, I switched to Octave Record’s release of Foxfeather’s the Nature of Things and their track Too damned small. This piece should have the slam and excitement that reaches into your guts and on the FR30s in MR3 it did not. It was good, just not amazing as it was when I heard it in person. Now, on the FR30 in its new home, it smacks you in the chest and raises the hairs on your neck—your foot taps instantly.

I guess I could go on.

The drum track on Octave’s The Audiophile’s Reference disc begs to be turned up beyond sane levels. On the FR30 Michele’s drums are right there in the room with you—almost frighteningly so. On Reference Recording’s spectacular Organ Sensation with young Felix Hell, track 15, Allegro needs to be cranked up to 70 on the BHK (where we normally listen at 40 to 45). Holy crap! The room shakes when he hits the pedals and any questions you might have had concerning the FR30’s ability to move the room with its woofers go out the window. You feel it in your gut, your pants flap, and you cannot help that shit-eating grin on your face.

Downsides? MR2 still has some serious frequency-specific low-end suckouts that the IRS was able to somewhat overwhelm and the FR30 less so. Pete Belasco’s Deeper misses a few notes while others move your seat as they should. MR2 also has a 50Hz slap echo that when the IRSV was in the room didn’t matter much, but now the smaller FR30 struggles with (this we fixed in MR3 with special absorbers that we will add to MR2).

In the end, I have found my new reference. The FR30 has been elevated to the new reference standard for PS and the venerable IRSV has taken an honorary role as hell yes! It’s a great ride and fun! 

The greater resolution and musicality of the FR30 vs. the IRSV is a real ear-opener, something I didn’t think would happen.

I could not be happier.

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.

Apple carts

I am not certain where the term upsetting the apple cart came from but I can only imagine the hassle of cleaning up an overturned cart full of apples.

Now that the FR30 has been dialed in to Music Room 3 something I never thought would happen has happened. To my ears and everyone that has a chance to hear it, it clearly outperforms the IRSV. And not by just a little. In terms of musical pleasure, in terms of effortlessness…heck, just plain pleasure…the FR30 wins.

Now, is that partly because it’s in the larger of the two rooms? Is it because of setup? We’ve used close to the same AQ cables and the same audio electronics. So, clearly, the differences come down to the loudspeaker itself (which thrills me to no end) and the room.

The IRSV has been our gold reference standard for years. I am not yet ready to abandon it.

Then, my son Scott had an idea. Why not swap rooms?  Move the Infinity IRSV from Music Room Two to Music Room Three. What a great (and terrifying) idea. The larger dimensions of MR3 better fit the big IRSV while the smaller dimensions of MR2 more perfectly fit the new FR30. Maybe.

Fact is, the FR30 are killing it in MR3. It’s risky to “break” what works in favor of potentially something better.

Oh well, here we go.

I am truly excited to swap speakers and systems in these two classic rooms.

I will be reporting on the results in an upcoming post and video series.

Stay tuned.

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.

A pinch of sparkle

There’s an incredibly fine balancing act at play when it comes to the top end of a stereo system. Too much and it sounds bright, too little, and the opposite.

What many of us are hoping for is to not hear the drivers at all. We don’t want to say “oh, the tweeter sounds great”. What we’re banking on is saying something more like “that cymbal has just the right amount of sheen to it.”

Perfect performance from a tweeter is rare.

For many years (and still to this day), some of the biggest loudspeaker manufacturers added a bit of tizz or sparkle to their speaker’s top end. Why? Because they stand out from a crowded field of speakers when auditioned at a dealer’s showroom. As audiophiles, we might think all dealers take the time for a single speaker demo while forgetting how the rest of the world is shown speakers: through a switch box, the salesperson can click through to quickly see which one sounds best.

Once we get home that standout pair of speakers with the added pinch of sparkle, we soon find ourselves getting fatigued by the over-emphasized top end.

When there’s time to get to know our speakers the one thing we want to focus on is not hearing the drivers.

All we’re interested in hearing is the music.

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.

Here’s a picture of Paul sleeping, while standing up. Not really, but their new loudspeaker looks amazing and they have been at it for quite a while now. This one looks finished and I like the driver arrangement with two what looks like Heil type drivers for the tweeter and midrange, which is a lot of the battle. Still have cabinets and crossovers to get right, but sure they will get that down.

Where reality meets virtual

In yesterday’s tongue-in-cheek post, I poked a bit of fun at augmented reality. And you know what? It’s good to have a laugh at some of the crazy stuff we’re being introduced to.

That said, many of you wrote me (with some excitement) to ask about this idea of virtually placing our loudspeaker in your home to see how it fits, how it looks, how it meshes. So, let me just say that at some point in the not too distant future you’re going to be able to do exactly that.

But not just now. We’re working out the details and it takes a good deal of programming and work to make this a reality.

That said, I do want to share with you my first real-world experience with the power of this amazing new technology of AR.

As we work on the new Octave Record’s recording studio we’re daily measuring and planning. So this morning, engineer Chet Roe and I were trying to visualize in the new control room where the speakers would go and how they will fit relative to the room—a not too easy task that takes a lot of imagination.

Then Chet had an idea.

“Wait! Let’s try the new AR model of the speaker I have been working on. And we did. OMG. The model, which is accurate to tenths of an inch, can, with nothing more than your iPhone (or Android) be placed anywhere you want. It can even serve as a measurement tool to see the tweeter height and so forth. I was so blown away with the power of this new tool I just had to share this with you.

Yes, I know I look like I am asleep, but at the time neither of us was thinking about posing for a picture. But, you know me. I just had to share. In my right hand (outside the photo’s frame) is a tape measure which I used at Chet’s direction to check tweeter height relative to the control board.

I’m guessing sometime in December I will be able to share with you the actual ability for you to place our speakers in your home, walk around them, examine minute details, etc.

In the meantime, if you’re curious about the recording studio progress you can go here and watch the short video.

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.

Vanishing sound

One of the more ironic tasks in HiFi is to make the speakers disappear. Quite a feat of magic for big boxes dominating the room.

Yeat, difficult or not, that’s exactly what we want to do.

One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re system is working correctly is to close your eyes and see if you can point to the playing loudspeakers. You shouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of sound.

Getting this right can often be challenging, especially when you don’t use much toe in (as I often recommend).

The fixes for non-disappearing speakers are often a mix of room treatment, proper electronics, and setup.

I would always start in the reverse order from which I just listed. Setup can often make invisible the speakers right in front of you.

If it takes a change of cables or stereo equipment because of harshness or colorations that focus attention on the source of sound, that becomes a more difficult task.

Whatever the case, working towards achieving vanishing sound certainly has its rewards.

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.

Yep!!

Point of first reflection

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about acoustically treating the room. I had used a term unfamiliar to some.

The point of first reflection.

This is the point along the room’s sidewalls where sound from the loudspeaker first strikes and then bounces off back to the listener. When this happens we get a delayed reflection in addition to the direct sound reaching our ears. (The sound is delayed because it is taking a longer path than the direct route)

Here’s a drawing I scrounged off the internet.

By absorbing or diffusing that point of first reflection along the sidewall, you can dramatically improve the performance of your stereo system. If you refer to yesterday’s post, I had recommended placing a tall bookshelf on both sidewalls as an attractive and effective means of diffusing/absorbing that reflection.

Finding that point where sound first strikes is easy if you have the luxury of an assistant and a small mirror. Have your volunteer hold the mirror against their chest and place their back against the sidewall. As you sit in your listening position have them scootch along the wall until in the mirror you can see your speaker’s tweeter.

Bingo!

That’s where you place your bookshelf.

(These tricks and tips are all covered in my book, The Audiophile’s Guide)

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 had a pair of re-built, double stacked Quad 57 electrostatic loudspeakers for quite a while and they were fantastic sounding speakers, except for a couple of noise foibles, that I ended up not being able to get around. Nothing perfect, but the Daedalus Ulysses V2 I use now, in conjunction with the Daedalus BOW double 12″ subwoofers, come pretty darn close.

My first electrostat

Until 1976 the only speakers I had ever spent any time with were either dynamic or planar, and 90% of that listening was through dynamic speakers.

The sound of dynamic loudspeakers set the standard for reproduced music. The only hint I had of something different came in the form of a Heil Air Motion Transformer. This black box tweeter replaced a 1″ silk dome tweeter Stan and I were very much used to hearing. Here’s a picture of one.

So efficient was this tweeter that we had to slap a 1kΩ resistor in series with it just to bring it into line. The speed and openness of this folded ribbon was a revelation.

But then we received on loan a pair of Quad electrostatic loudspeakers.

Compared to our tall boxes of dynamic drivers, these quaint little panels looked anemic. They had no woofers nor tweeter. They plugged into the 120 wall sockets and they came with a warning from their owner: “don’t play them too loudly or they will catch fire”.

Stan plunked these odd-looking panels in front of our reference speaker enclosures and hooked them up. Careful not to turn the preamp up too loudly, I dropped the needle on track 2 of Joni Mitchell’s Court and SparkHelp Me began to play and Stan and I looked at each other with mouths agape.

This often played track sounded like Joni and the band was in the room. It was as if all along we had been listening through a window which now was opened for the first time. Never had I heard such clarity and transparency in the music.

This electrostatic marvel hadn’t any bass nor dynamics and we had to fight each other for a chance at the sweet spot, but man oh man it was unlike anything we had ever heard.

Louder and louder we played it until 30 minutes into the session there was a sick crackling sound, a flash of blue, and the acrid smell of something burning.

This was the first time I understood that our standards for accuracy were entirely based on subjective evaluation through a grossly imperfect means of reproduction.

My worldview had been forever changed.