Tag Archives: stereo system

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.

Practical matters

A few years ago when we were researching the PS Audio PowerBase product I spent a few weeks digging into the sonic impacts of vibration control.

What I discovered is how much of a difference a solid rack or other means of damping and controlling vibrations in our electronics makes. It’s a big deal.

It’s also a potential rabbit hole.

The more I listened and experimented the more important it seemed to me to place footers and Sorbothane dampers under each and every piece of equipment until it looked like some sort of nightmare.

Why stop there?

How do you decide to stop if everything you do matters?

Where I wound up was a compromise. I bought an excellent and sturdy shelf for the equipment, closed my eyes, turned off the OCD voices, and called it good.

Good enough.

There’s a point in every stereo system and in everyone’s lives where practical matters supersede the temptation to go further and further.

I don’t compromise on equipment and cable upgrades but I do draw the line on just about everything else from room treatments, seating, vibration control, and even lighting enhancements.

Yes, it all matters.

But then the practical side of life gets in the way.

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.

Gravity doesn’t care

Gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. You’re not going to float free into space.

You can jump up and down and claim it’s a conspiracy to limit your personal freedom of movement, but in the end, gravity just doesn’t care.

And the same can be said about our own sport. High-end audio produces results that are demonstrably better than any mid-fi stereo system whether you believe that or not.

It really doesn’t matter what the Best Buy salesperson tells you about the latest high-technology receiver or the know-it-all self-proclaimed expert that swears it’s true that cables do not matter.

The truth just doesn’t care.

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.

Higher fidelity

We define the word fidelity as being loyal, devoted, and faithful.

Our goal at PS Audio has always been to reach for a higher fidelity.

In search of pure musical truth.

It’s a lifetime quest that has taken us from the building of a single piece of audio gear to finally crafting every link in the chain from capturing a higher fidelity at the recording microphone to playing back that sound on a stereo system in your home.

From the AC wall socket to your ears.

We’re all about reaching for a Higher Fidelity.

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 admire Paul for this post. Miles Davis said something to the effect that “not to fear mistakes – there are none”. You can certainly hear this on some of his recordings. He was unusual that way, in addition to many other ways.

Within limits, I try for perfection with regard to my stereo system, but otherwise, not as much. Still a great life, the way it is, so thankful for that and especially thankful for my family…and my stereo system.

Imperfection

It is often the imperfections and small mistakes that I love most.

Unfortunately for me, I feel rather alone.

A constant battle I wind up fighting at Octave Records is the tendency of musicians and engineers to polish out imperfections.

My love of music includes those special moments of humanness that some call mistakes while others refer to them as life: a less than perfect performance, a breath taken at the wrong time, a grunt, a laugh not on the score.

For me perfection is imperfection.

From the heart.

Flaws and all.

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.

Great one from Paul.

Engine timing!! I set the timing on my car too, but like Paul, 40 years ago. Now, other than doing routine maintenance on our cars, I’d have no idea how to fix anything under their hoods.

Crossing the chasm

My father’s father, Claude, would probably find our modern technological wonders magic. Or unbelievable.

Imagine getting in a time machine and over coffee explaining to him that we can talk with anyone anywhere in the world. That within a matter of hours we can be transported in luxury anywhere in the world. That the entire knowledge base of humanity is available at the touch of a button. And let’s not forget our ability to watch any movie or listen to any music by just asking a robot.

He would likely just smile and think me a nutjob.

But, here’s the thing. I could probably manage to help him understand many of the basics including a turntable-based stereo  system. It’s not that far-fetched to show the principles behind the technology. A string and two cans would be a great help.

Now imagine explaining how digital audio works. Try to make sense of an optical disc and a pulsating laser to a person who just saw their first automobile.

Between the electro-mechanical era where inventors like Edison and Tesla could convert physical objects like horns, wires, wax, and needles into miracles, and the age of digital electronics spans a chasm so deep and wide as to be either magic or witchcraft.

In fact, do you think you could explain to someone with zero knowledge of electronics or science how music is stored and retrieved from an optical disc or a solid-state memory?

I would wager to say that when we crossed the deep divide between the electro-mechanical age and were thrust headfirst into manipulating electrons that we lost our grip on the ability to manipulate our own world. It wasn’t that many years ago I could set the timing on my car. Now my car has no timing to set.

It feels a bit humbling to have crossed the greatest chasm of humankind.

I am happy to be here. What a ride!

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

Polish before cutting

It sure is tempting to add the polishing steps to a stereo system before finishing the basic cuts and steps. Kind of like seeing how the jewelry looks before getting fully dressed. Though sometimes helpful, more often than not it simply clutters the process.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a listen to what’s eventually going to be the finishing touches. Where I get cautionary is when we start making decisions around those final steps without having first mastered the basics.

It’s especially hard for an impatient person like myself.

I have found over many years that the audio cable swaps, dressing the connections, lifting the speaker cables off the floor, and all that hazarai we do at the end are best kept at the end.

Restraining myself helps me get the best results in the shortest period of time.

Better to fill in the basic blanks first, else run the risk of the polish determining the cut.

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 used both of these methods over the years and ultimately what sounds best depends on the loudspeaker radiation pattern and the room the loudspeakers are placed in.

Generally, for most of the people whose homes I’ve visited, using speakers that have controlled directionality, works best, as it takes some of the room effects out of the equation, or at least, minimizes them.

For me, with my particular music room being being relatively large, at 18′ x 23′ and acoustically treated, I can use both methods and for the best sound staging and tonality in my room, I use Paul’s preferred setup.

But, I’ve tried both and have gotten fantastic sound quality both ways.

Beyond the sides

The soundstage illusion is complex.

Move your speakers far apart, point them towards you, and the soundstage appears like a hologram between them.

Put them closer together, toe them towards your ears only slightly, and now the soundstage extends beyond the outer edges of the speakers.

When we’re setting up a system it’s important to first determine which of these two soundstage models you prefer: stuck between the two speakers or extending beyond them.

Both are valid, both give great results, both work.

But one must choose.

For my stereo systems, I prefer the model where the soundstage extends beyond the speaker’s outer edges. This is a fairly simple setup that places the speakers as far apart as they are from the listener to form an equilateral triangle.

To get the most effective illusion from this method the room typically benefits from diffusion behind the speaker.

What works best in your system?

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 have a diffusor panel taking the place of the picture, as Paul describes. However, I don’t  use it to help imagine a center focus, as the center focus in my system is pretty damn obvious!
Focusing on the center
 

The center image of a stereo system is known as the phantom channel for a good reason. It is an illusion. It doesn’t actually exist.

Once you realize the center channel is completely dependent on setup, room, and speaker placement, it becomes a lot easier to purposefully do whatever it takes to enhance the palpability of your third channel.

One of the best techniques at center channel enhancement turns out to have nothing to do with speaker setup or equipment.

Place a vertically oriented picture or painting dead center of the front wall (the wall behind the loudspeakers) at about 6 feet high (its center should be human eye height).

That picture or painting will work wonders with your center image—not because it changes the sound, but because it helps you mentally focus that center image.

It is, after all, an illusion.

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 don’t agree with this as small signal vacuum tubes, like 12AU7’s, 12 AX7’s, etc, unless defective, should last for years. Power tubes, not as long, but a lot longer than 6 months, at least in a good circuit where they aren’t driven to extremes.
On the other hand, the small signal tubes Paul is referring to are fairly inexpensive, at least pre Putin’s war, so not a big deal to most. Russia is probably the largest tube manufacturing country in the world, so who knows what’s instore, that way.
Changing of the guard
There’s been a bit of kerfuffle lately about a video I made where I detailed my experience in changing vacuum tubes.

I do it often. As often as every 6 months on the main stereo system. I do it because once replaced, new life is breathed into the music.

The resistance to my statement seems to have come from those that have the opposite experience.

That for them, changing tubes hasn’t the same new life result and therefore is a waste of money.

They are probably right in their situation.

Unless you have exactly the same everything as me why would a different result not be the natural occurrence?

The right and wrong of something are only valid as they pertain to the situation in its entirety.

In identical circumstances, we’d likely agree.

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

REL loudspeakers make some of the best subwoofers in the world. Owner and chief bassifier, John Hunter, is nothing short of a magician when it comes to setting up a stereo system.

John gets the true purpose of a subwoofer. To fill in for the main speaker.

A perfectly set up subwoofer disappears. Only the main speakers seem to be working.

Which can be a bit of a visual struggle when you see a stack of 8 subs (4 per side) next to the main speakers.

One might think the room is going to boom like nothing you’ve ever heard. Time to nail down the pant legs when when the music starts.

And yet, the sound is perfect. The subs disappear. The main speakers are perfect.

It’s why so many folks get the purpose of subwoofers wrong. It’s why more subs are typically better than fewer (it’s the room we’re battling).

Subs give visually false clues. They look like they’re ready to overpower the room.

But when set up right, they no longer exist.