Tag Archives: stereo equipment

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.

 

It’s perhaps humbling to remember that for most of the world we audiophiles are not only amateurs but thought to be teetering on the edge of lunacy.

We work hard to make magic from the recordings we want to listen to.

Most pros—folks who make (or hope to make) a living at recording and reproducing music—consider all the hoops and “out there” technology we obsess over to be little more than Tom Foolery.

In their world, speakers and electronics are chosen more on what’s accepted in the industry as the gold standards. Basically, they hope to copy the technical elements of those who have risen to the top of the heap. YouTube is filled with the pros sharing their secrets of favorite equipment. Vintage this. Modern that.

One small glimmer of this making sense is the fact that unlike we lowly amateurs saddled with merely listening to the fruits of their work, they can manipulate sound to make up for deficiencies in stereo equipment.

If their choice of loudspeaker is so bright and harsh as to drive a poor audiophile out the window, they need only EQ the recording to where it sounds alright.

And perhaps that’s the core of it.

We are stuck doing our best to build audio systems that bring musical pleasure into our homes without benefit of manipulation. Like eating without the advantage of seasoning.

Which is one reason why at Octave Records we build music to sound perfect on the very equipment it will eventually be played back with.

Now, to me, that makes a lot more sense.

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.

Notes or numbers?

Are we as audiophiles more interested in musical notes or measurement numbers?

The quick answer is, of course, musical notes. Yet I doubt few would disagree with the need to have measurement numbers good enough to get the job done.

Great measuring equipment doesn’t always sound musical and musically great sounding stereo equipment doesn’t always measure well.

The trick, of course, is found in the balance.

*ht: Mark Petersen for the subject

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 ears have it

It’s both fascinating and refreshing to me getting deeper into the recording arts. Like High End Audio, the myths, legends, wisdom, and common knowledge base are a potpourri of fact and fiction.

Sorting through the morass of opinions on what’s the best stereo equipment, techniques and skill sets is a seemingly endless task. Each step along the way is like peeling back the proverbial onion. One bit of common wisdom dispelled leads to another to be sussed out as truth or fiction.

And everyone has a strong opinion.

I love it. No wishy-washy opinions in this field.

As with High End Audio, my methodology for digging down for the facts is basically the same: do the research, make your best guess, then listen.

Always listen. It’s the ultimate arbiter of everything from science to pseudo-science.

It’s at least comforting to know that even in a distantly related field like pro audio one can rely upon long-held skills for answers.

When it comes to uncovering the truth, the ears have it.

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.

Adjustment time

When evaluating a piece of audio gear there are two schools of thought. Make a quick judgment or live with the device for a while and see how it feels.

Both methods have their good and bad points.

The quick method works well for me because it’s something I’ve trained to do over the years. Using a tried and true set of reference materials with a broad enough range of musical diversity, I can make a pretty accurate rapid assessment on a consistent basis. This method doesn’t work for everybody. Without proper training, mistakes are easily made from using such a small sample. The good news with this quick method is that our ear/brains don’t have time to adjust to differences…which brings me to the second method.

Spending good quality time with a new piece of stereo equipment whether electronics, cables, or speakers has its merits. Instead of a rush to judgment that might have some folks anxious about missing important bits, the long and winding road of living with equipment has the advantage of thoroughness coupled with greater confidence in the decisions made. The bad news is the problem of maintaining impartiality. The longer we live with something more our ear/brains adjust to the quirks and mistakes to the point of sonic blindness.

We lose our reference.

Perhaps the most seasoned approach is a combination of the two: a quick evaluation noting any possible problems coupled with a longer term live-in period focused on compatibility with the noted issues.

In the end, it’s of course important to know what does and doesn’t work for you.

And even if you’re wrong, it’s fun having the luxury of trying out new gear!

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.

Scratching the knowledge itch

Over the last 4 decades, I have been lucky enough to be in a position to repeatedly offer the same advice and information on setup, stereo equipment choices, and how things work.

As an example, I just finished explaining to a customer the differences between amplifier classes: A, A/B, B, H, D, and so on.

I have probably explained those differences at least once each month and perhaps more. And you know what? I am rewarded each time as the lightbulb of understanding suddenly shines brightly.

As new people come on board they want to learn when the question strikes. That’s when learning is at its best.

And it’s not just me that answers questions, it’s our wonderful community.

When we itch for answers it’s great to have a community that is ready to offer the knowledge to scratch it.

Here’s another example of the need to be a part of a community ready to answer questions when the need arises.

After all these years of this scam being online I still get emails like this:

“BANK OF GHANA
International Transfer
Processing Department
(Head Office Annex)
One Thorpe Road,
P.O.Box GP 2674
Accra,Ghana
Phone:+233-502292985

Dear Fund Beneficiary,

I am Dr.Ernest Kwamina Addison, Governor Bank Of Ghana.I am writing to inform you about your long over-due funds that was brought here in my office to arrange and facilitate the immediate release of the said amount of US$1,500,000.00 (One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars Only) being your Part-Payment into your bank account,which you know that this payment has been taken longer than you expected.”

I still get these because somewhere there’s a person alone and without the support of community to explain in that very moment why this is a scam.

Thank you to our community for being here now and in the moment.

We all have questions and what a gift to get answers you can trust.

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.

Seeing what we can’t see

We can’t see a dust mite but we know they exist.

And the same is true for sound and electrical waves. We cannot see them with our eyes but, through our stereo equipment, we can generate a visual representation.

That representation is not the real deal, but rather a translation or interpretation molded to fit our limited senses.

What this means is that we build our audio systems around invisible forces and then manipulate them for best results through mental constructs built around less than perfect (and certainly incomplete) translations of real events.

It’s a leap of faith that the constructs we rely upon to make decisions are correct.

We don’t really see if using an optical cable vs. a coaxial one is better or worse. Using our measuring equipment we can get an incomplete glimpse of the results, but those results are only one view of the invisible.

We can also use our ears to test the validity of our theories as to what works and what doesn’t.

Either method of observing that which we cannot see has its pluses and minuses.

If I can hear it I don’t need to see it.

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.

Magnifiers

When the fine print’s too small we put on a pair of magnifiers so we can better see the writing.

I wonder if we might define what we in high-end audio strive for as being similar?

Instead of magnifying lenses, we turn to better stereo equipment.

Better equipment has the power of great magnification. It allows us to look deeper into the music, to find more inner detail, to hear more about what’s going on in a recording.

Speakers with greater resolution, amps with improved clarity.

In a way, it reminds me of better magnification, of wiping clean a smudged pair of eyeglasses.

How well do your magnifiers work?

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.

Almost hard to believe, but I remember these well.

Too good to be true

In 1946, in an effort to sell more cigarettes, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company created a Medical Relations Division and advertised it in medical journals. This division produced the following ad with the slogan: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” They’d solicited this “finding” by giving doctors a free carton of Camel cigarettes, and then asking what brand they smoked.

By the mid-1950s, when tobacco companies had to confront good evidence that their products caused lung cancer, they decided to instead promote the idea that there’s no proof of a cause between smoking and lung cancer. To reassure a frightened public they formed The Tobacco Industry Research Committee to investigate. In charge of this committee, “will be a scientist of unimpeachable integrity and national repute. In addition, there will be an Advisory Board of scientists disinterested in the cigarette industry. A group of distinguished men from medicine, science, and education will be invited to serve on this Board.” (You can read the original document here).

In hindsight, this all seems pretty transparent. A classic coverup to keep an industry alive, despite the facts.

What’s fascinating to me about this history is the knowledge that little has changed today. When we read stereo equipment reviews that feel a bit self-serving, or when we’re told something that defies common sense actually works like magic, it probably behooves us to take a step back and check our sources of information.

I recently received an advertisement for a new brush on fluid that works like magic to “lower distortion, remove brightness, and eliminate sonic grunge.”

When something is too good to be true it probably isn’t.

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.

It’s all in the translation

For most people, amplification of the musical signal means just that. Taking the original signal as generated by the source and making that signal bigger.

Only, that’s not what happens.

In the same way the energy from your leg pressing a gas pedal is not actually amplified in the movement of an automobile, it would be more correct to think of it as being translated rather than amplified.

Why is this important? Because understanding at a fundamental level that an audio amplifier is a power supply whose output valve is controlled by the input signal shines a bright light on the importance of the valve and the power supply rather than focusing on the input signal.

Going back to our car analogy, we shouldn’t care about the quality of the shoe used to control the gas pedal. Instead, we want to focus on how perfectly the translation of our foot’s instructions is carried out by the car’s drive train.

It’s the translator that we should be focusing on as opposed to harboring the notion we’re somehow preserving tiny signals in their original form.

Thus, we designers must pay strict attention to the power supplies that feed downstream stereo equipment and the responsiveness of the valves used to regulate the flow of their power.

It’s all in the translation.

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.

Enhanced or held back?

If we make a change for the better to our room or stereo equipment, one that gets us closer to the music, was it achieved by a fundamental change or by the removal of existing obstacles?

When I first asked myself that question my immediate answer was semantics. What’s the difference if we achieve better by removing obstacles or improving performance?

I believe it’s more than semantics. In fact, I think it may be at the core of what we do.

Lowering distortion might be viewed as removing an obstacle while improving the slew rate probably qualifies as an enhancement. Both work to improve performance, each in a different way.

Perhaps another way to look at this would be the difference between removing obscuring veils vs. improving dynamics. Or, for a more common metaphor, the difference between cleaning a room vs. redecorating. One makes better what is while the other addresses fundamental weakness.

Lumped together they become more difficult to focus the engineer’s efforts.

Viewed as separate tasks we clear away misconceptions and arrive at a clearer path towards better performance.