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

Forbidden fruit

I am delighted when taboos and rituals are challenged and good things still happen.

Remember how much more enjoyable playing music became when we no longer had to demagnetize or paint green edges on CDs? Or weigh down the tops of our stereo equipment with VPI Bricks? Or paint the tip of our stylus with Last? Or zap our vinyl with a Zerostat?

We were told not to eat the forbidden fruit of simple system enjoyment without first running through the essential rituals and routines.

Did those rituals work? In many cases, they sure seem to, but over time, they became so tiresome that I moved on.

Sometimes it’s better to eat the fruit of simple musical enjoyment and let the quality of your equipment do the work.

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

I’ve made more than a few mistakes with regard to my stereo equipment, but more mistakes trusting business associates and thoise hurt a lot more.

Mistakes

Thankfully, mistakes happen. Without those mistakes, we’d never make forward progress into the new.

What’s often frustratingly confusing about those mistakes is when we make them along a proven and trusted path. Even then, if we make enough of them, we wind up changing that path for the better.

The older I get the more I am thankful for my mistakes: learning opportunities I would never have if I wasn’t comfortable making mistakes.

I believe it was Albert Einstein who said “The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas”.

After you get over your Doh! I made a mistake moment, replace it with a smile.

If we can get our mindset right, mistakes are a gift.

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.

Personal standards

We all have our personal standards by which we determine whether or not something lives up to our expectations. When I play a new track of music I expect a certain level of musicality, transparency, tonal accuracy, and overall believability. If I listen without any preconceived expectations I can either accept or reject the new music.

Sometimes, however, I manage to let my expectations get a bit out of hand. I struggle to separate high-hope expectations from personal standards.

Or, put another way, I might have unrealistic expectations of a new recording or piece of equipment. If that happens it’s hard to then accept it based on those minimal personal standards.

Why does this sometimes happen?

I think most of us are on the lookout for that undiscovered gem (I certainly am). We hear from those we respect how great a new piece of music is or how much better their stereo equipment sounded when they added this or that. Our expectations might soar and we give it a shot. If the results match our high hopes, bingo! But, if not, we sometimes reject it out of hand (despite the fact it meets our personal standards of acceptability).

All this to suggest the more we approach expectations with a touch of caution the more likely we are to discover the new that meets our personal standards.

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.

When better should be ignored

It is comforting to believe that we use the best simply because it is the best.

Tell that to Mark Levinson (the man) when he tried to force a change in the industry to the Lemo connector.

Or remind anyone who uses on their test bench the superior BNC connector why that same connector does not grace the rear panel of high-performance stereo equipment.

Instead, we polish and plate with gold the inferior RCA connector.

It makes us feel good.

Truth is we go with industry standards not because they are better but because they are compatible with everything else.

While it’s fine to lull ourselves into believing what graces our expensive equipment is there because it’s the pinnacle of performance.

But in a sobering moment of understanding, it’s probably helpful to know the truth.

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.

Advanced judgement

It has been multiple decades—in fact, most of our adult lives—that neither Terri nor I have consumed meat or fish.

To many Americans we encounter we are an anomaly, a curiosity to be poked and prodded to see if we are real. We both giggle when we get that knowing wink of disbelief from a food server who figures we just say such outlandish things to be in vogue.

In their experience, one cannot live without meat. To them, we are either lying, delusional or that rare once-in-a-lifetime curiosity.

But this rant is not about being a healthy vegetarian or how a plant-based diet helps the planet. It’s about preconceived notions.

It’s about being convinced without listening to how digital versus analog sounds. Vacuum tubes versus solid state stereo equipment. Horns versus boxes. Measurements versus subjective. DSD versus PCM.

To some degree, we all fall into the same trap. We enter a new situation with a prediction of the outcome.

It’s just the way we’re wired.

One of the great joys of age is the freedom to let go of some of my preconceptions.

I no longer feel the need to protect and defend many of my long-held beliefs.

Lowering one’s expectations to the point of openness to new input is the quickest means I know of to advance and learn.

As you get older are you leaning towards becoming more set in your ways or less?

Opening up or closing down?

It’s something to consider.

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.

Surprise and delight

We all have our benchmarks for what is best.

We’re surprised and delighted when that benchmark is exceeded.

Octave Records has proven to be one of my more consistent bar raiser. Every time I think a track or a recording approach is the best I’ve ever heard, bam! something better comes around.

I don’t get that thrill so often with stereo equipment or new audio designs. Not that they don’t still come my way, but with the amount of work designing new circuits and technology involves, those new benchmark moments are far and few between.

Recordings, on the other hand, are a constant delight. New techniques, room improvements, pushing the envelope at the touch of a fader.

I probably sound like a junkie looking for my next fix and at times it feels that way.

I love to be surprised and delighted.

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!