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.

Miracle cures

While standing in the supermarket checkout line I couldn’t help but notice the splashy magazine headline.

“Lose 13″ off your waist in 1 week”.

The only way in 1 week to lose 13 inches off your waist is through surgery, something the magazine editors were not promoting.

Most all of us are in one way or another searching for a miracle. Perhaps it’s the external power supply that will change everything, or that one cable that will forever bring life to the system.

Certainly, there can be miracle products and it’s good to keep a watchful eye open.

In my experience, it’s more likely that a miraculous sounding stereo system is the result of hard work and good decisions.

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.

Fundamentals first

I am often asked to weigh in on upcoming decisions for stereo system upgrades: Bi-wire or bi-amp, what to do with the room, which amps, loudspeakers, power products?

Where to get the biggest bang for the buck.

My answers are always conditional. I ask first what it is the person’s hoping to achieve, secondly, what’s the state of affairs for the system as it currently stands, and last is budget.

The first part of the question is answered pretty much the same: Better soundstage, more accurate tonal balance, increased foot tapping.

The range of answers I get to the second part of my two-part question is always a delight for it is here where we get to the core of what needs to be addressed.

And often what needs to change is boring. Boring because more often than not we’ve not spent enough time nailing down fundamentals.

It’s certainly much easier to add a quick fix than it is to address the basics. But it’s the basics that determine the final outcome that tweaks and upgrades can only hope to enhance.

I nearly always recommend a hard look at first the loudspeakers, second the amplification chain, and last (but certainly not least) the AC power chain.

Then, if we’re open to some suggestions to shoring up our fundamentals, we can discuss budget. Maybe it’s worth investing everything into those dream speakers while tolerating a compromised amplification and power chain until finances recover. Or, perhaps we’re lucky enough to identify that one weak link in an otherwise robust chain.

Whatever the case it’s always helpful to step back and think of what we have as a system rather than a collection of bits and bobs.

Fundamentals first.

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.

Saturday morning

Depending on where you are in the world this post will arrive at your doorstep on Saturday morning.

What a fine day to finally get off the old duff and fix up the stereo system. Yeah, I know, it’s probably a better day to kick back and roll some tunes on that system, but having just spent the last few Saturdays revamping and refreshing the PS Audio reference music system in Music Room II, I can tell you it is worth the effort.

For a few years now I’ve listened past some obvious sonic problems in Music Room II. Problems like high distortion at 100Hz from the EMIM midranges, and the lack of kick in the drums as a result of trying to make the EMIMs do more than they were really capable of doing. In short, as good as the IRS V system is, it isn’t without its faults: faults I and others have turned a blind ear to because…well…we could and we were lazy.

Speaker designer Chris Brunhaver and I had a come to Jesus moment over that system. Chris did his best to be gentle in pointing out how in the 100Hz to 300Hz region those EMIM planar drivers just cannot (and never could) produce the dynamics in music—especially pop music. And, when they did what they could there was distortion—like on the order of 10%. This never much bothered Arnie nor me when we were listening to classical and orchestral music since in that area there isn’t typically a lot of energy. And when it came to pop or rock music, mentally I have for years compensated for that deficiency. But now with so many producers, musicians, and rock/pop people relying upon that system for the ultimate standard reference, it was time to change.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what we did and what happened as a result of 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.

Syrup on pancakes

In the 1990s, the idea of an AC power conditioner feeding a stereo system was about the same as adding syrup to pancakes: a nice but unnecessary sweetener.

Few people thought of power conditioners, and later AC regenerators, as being essential elements in a high-end audio chain. In fact, even as late as the early 2000s, most audio systems didn’t pay any attention to the quality of AC power feeding gear or the benefits of protection from surges and spikes.

Today, we’ve come to accept the idea that everything we hear in our systems starts out as raw AC—and the better and safer that source the closer we can get to the music we wish to reproduce in the home.

It takes a long time for a new concept to get accepted into the fold. Just think back to when no one batted an eye at using lamp cord for speaker cables.

I still like maple syrup on my pancakes, but instead of an afterthought or something nice to have, I find it an essential ingredient.

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.

Temples of sound

For a small handful, it is possible to build temples of sound—a dedicated purpose-built room.

They are rare.

More of us convert existing space into dedicated listening areas that we revere as our sound temples, but the vast majority simply plop down our stereo systems in the living room or den and do what we can to coexist with the needs of everyday living.

In my 45 plus years of immersion into the art of home audio reproduction, I have seen very few stand-alone temples of sound. And of those, fewer still that bettered what I have so many times heard in the more common confines of everyday rooms.

It occurs to me that when we invest so heavily in building from scratch that perfect room we lose some of the gutsy compromises one must make in order to maximize that which we have to work with.

Perhaps it’s like artists who do their best work when they’re unknown and struggling.

It’s often the challenge of making do with what you have that churns out masterpieces.

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.

Touching souls

When we listen to music we’re hoping for a connection.

Does it touch our soul?

We all have experienced that connection to music. Sometimes it happens at a concert, other times it’s totally random: in the car, somebody whistling a tune, or on your high-end audio system.

The better my stereo system sounds the closer I get to connecting the inner me with the music.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow measure that level of connection?

Alas, we need to rely upon our emotions both for connection and measurement.

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.

Cheats

It’s good when we can cheat death, but not so much if we cheat on our diets or cut ourselves permanently short when it comes to getting what’s best from our sound systems.

When we’re in the middle of set up, short cuts, Band-Aids, and slapped together fixes are all valid temporary solutions. Once we’ve settled on the final stereo system it’s time to clean up those fixes and set things permanently right.

I remember the times I’ve had at the ready what seems like a bushel basket jumble of audio cables, tuning devices, absorbers, diffusers, and acoustic pillows as I selectively try this and that for best sound.

And then between all the cheats and experiments, you hit what sounds like Nirvana.  Bingo. You’re there.

Time to clean up, make permanent what you experimented with, and call it good.

Hopefully great.

The cheats and shortcuts we employ are exactly what we need to get it dialed in.

Then it’s time to put them in the closet for the next adventure.

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.

Marrying components

When we’re building a stereo system it can often feel like a marriage.

We want our components to get along with each other but we also want to make sure their strengths and weaknesses are complementary.

If we lean too hard in any one direction the results often end in divorce. We sell off the offending component and search for something a bit more agreeable.

Unlike a good marriage where partners are bound together for life, our stereo components can come and go like lovers. We hope for a great match but it’s awfully hard to tell just from the romance of reviews. Though living together before getting married was once frowned upon, fortunately, when it comes to our audio components, the home audition is still a great idea.

Our quest for audio bliss is all about synergy—marrying together the components that make magic.

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.

Sat, Mar 27 at 5:03 AM
Becoming one with the machine
 

Ok, so the headline of today’s post is all very zen-like but I am yet again reminded of the importance of becoming one with the problem, technology, machine, or stereo system.

Recently, my home’s heating system went on the Fritz. As Murphy will explain, heating systems never die in the summer: always the winter. Several thousand dollars of plumbers later it’s still intermittent. Since the “expert” can’t figure it out, time for me to put my troubleshooting hat on.

The first thing troubleshooters do is narrow all the variables down to one clear problem. That’s easier said than done especially when you don’t know diddly about a gas-fired circulating water heater. But, I reason, what’s to know? The problem I am experiencing seems more electrical than mechanical. When one of the thermostat zones calls for heat, the circulating water pump kicks in and the burner fires up—only that’s not happening. Calls for heat go unanswered and so, at the plumber’s suggestion, we replace the controller. It works better but still requires me to sometimes pound with my fist on the machine to get it to work.

I won’t bore you more than I already have with the details, but none of my periphery attempts at identifying the problem worked. Time to become one with the machine.

To become one with any machine the engineer has to mentally embrace its operation to the point where it can be easily modeled in one’s imagination. For me, it’s hands-on. I start with enabling and disabling subsystems to understand how the beast works. Once it’s been devolved from a mysterious complexity to the simplicity of subsystems, the machine is essentially a part of your consciousness: you can then apply if/then statements to narrow down the problem.

This oneness is essential, for example, with circuitry. To truly understand an amplifier’s circuit to the point you can manipulate its sound one must fully understand what each subsystem contributes to the overall. At that point, it becomes trivial to pull the levers and get what you want.

But first, you must become one with the machine.

Oh, and the problem the plumber couldn’t figure out and I did? A f***ing loose wire from the temperature sensor on a terminal block (which explains why on occasion I had success beating on the machine).

Sigh.

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 plunge vs. the splash

When it comes to embracing change we’re typically afraid to take the plunge. But, why?

The story we sometimes tell ourselves is that we’re afraid of the splash, but I wonder if that’s true.

Could it be that we’re so afraid of upsetting the apples in the status quo cart that we lay blame on the outcome rather than the trigger?

While we can clearly see what the plunge looks like because it’s right in front of us, the same cannot be said about the future splash.

When we dream of a new pair of loudspeakers we imagine just how great our stereo system might be. But what if we’re wrong? Is it better not to take the plunge, nesting in the safety of what we know, or risk failure by taking a chance that it might work?

The best systems I have ever heard were crafted by people willing to step out on a limb where the sweetest fruits are found.