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

Nyquist

Swedish electronic engineer Harry Nyquist figured something interesting out. If you want to capture sound using digital audio conversion, you need to sample at twice the frequency you hope to preserve.

Thus, if your goal is to capture without loss frequencies as high as 20kHz, you need to build a stereo system that gathers twice that frequency—40kHz. Add to that requirement the fact such a system gets wigged out if you feed it frequencies higher than the maximum sample rate, one is required to make sure a steep filter is applied before conversion from analog to digital.

Which is how we wound up with CD’s sampling rate of 44.1kHz. We need the 40kHz part to keep Harry Nyquist happy, and the extra 4kHz bit to keep engineers tasked with building a brick wall filter from jumping out of windows.

But here’s the thing. If Nyquist was correct (and he was) that we can capture with perfection half the frequency of our sample rate, why do we need higher sample rates?

After all, we can’t hear anything above 20kHz (and most of us can’t hear that high).

The answer lies not with Mr. Nyquist, but instead with the challenge of steep low pass filters. As my friend Robb Hendrickson puts it: “Whether you’re recording at 44.1 or 48kHz, you are LITERALLY applying a low-pass filter to NATURE!!!”

Indeed, it’s not the lack of 20kHz (because there is no lack of it), but the effects of filtering we hear.

If we need to apply a low pass filter to nature, it had best be really, really, high. Like 100kHz to 200kHz.

Harry gave us only half an answer. The other half is figured out by our ears.

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

AC receptacles

For those of us with long memories here’s a flashback. Remember when preamps sported rear-mounted AC receptacles to power the rest of the stereo system?

The first memory I have of the rear-mounted AC receptacle was on my father’s McIntosh C28 preamplifier.

Note the use of switched and unswitched outlets. The idea was that unswitched outlets were for the power amp and switched outlets for tuners and tape decks.

What a grand idea. Run your entire stereo system including your power amplifier through a skinny 16-gauge 2-wire zip cord.

What was it Red Fox used to put his hands up towards the heavens and cry out?

“Elizabeth! They’re coming for me.”

Some innovations are better left in history’s dustbin.

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.

Poetry

My favorite Fair Trade coffee describes itself as having “smooth earthy notes”. The coffee I thought I would like, but do not, describes itself as “sweet and rich with floral notes”.

These poetic offerings attempt to describe how one will respond to what’s on offer. They remind me of how we audiophiles refer to the sounds of our stereo system: full bloom, foot-tapping, syrupy, slam.

Using poetry to describe emotional responses makes more sense to some while infuriating others. Why the dichotomy?

What I prefer between the two coffees is how one is inviting while the other off-putting—probably because the one I like has lower acidity (or whatever it is that gives some coffee a “bright” taste). The same could likely be said for different stereo system designs: a list of lower this and higher that.

Would we really better off with a laundry list of variables as opposed to poetry reflecting emotion?

Isn’t the end goal of a good cup of coffee and a great listening session how one feels at the end of it?

It is for me.

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.

There has been an High End Audio show in California that combines audio with wine, cigars and even luxury cars. All luxury items many of us are lucky to have.  I count my blessings every day and hope the rest of most of this country does the same.

The trained listener

Forty something years ago when Terri and I first began having children, ultrasound technology was in its infancy. The doctor would show us unrecognizable blurry blobs that only he and other experienced viewers could make out as anything but, well, blobs. They seemed to know what it all meant, but to our untrained eyes, they could have been anything.

In the same vein, you can set two glasses of wine down in front of me and I can tell you which I like and don’t like, but not much more. Try the same thing in front of a Master Sommelier and you’ll be accurately told the wine’s year, location, and brand.

Set an experienced listener in front of a high end stereo system and they can easily tell you what’s going on in the system. Or, if you’re like some of us, we can tell you what’s likely going on inside the circuits processing the sound.

In each case the difference between observers is experience. Training.

It is no more accurate to say that the difference between cheap and expensive wines is undetectable in a double blind test than the same for a stereo system.

Our measure of veracity is always personal. What we can accurately say is that we cannot tell the difference.

We ain’t me, or you.

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.

Those treasured moments

Once in a while, everything clicks. The lights are dimmed, the music flows unimpeded. You forget you’re in a room. A smile warms across your face and there’s only you to enjoy it. Blissful. Audio nirvana.

And then there’s the look on someone’s face when first they experience the true wonder of a reference stereo system. They find themselves sitting in the room with the musicians. Magical. Their world has been forever shaken.

And there’s the joy of having read the reviews, asked the questions, done the research, made the decision, waited for the new piece to arrive, plugging it in—having your expectations exceeded.

The high points in life are treasured moments. The ones we remember. The ones that matter.

They may be few and far between, but that’s what makes them treasures.

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.

Musical notes

If you look at a musical score you see the notes dictating the melody. You also see the intonation instructions: where to slow down, speed up, get louder or softer.

Fortunately, only the notes themselves are inviolate. Conductors and performers have the freedom to interpret timing and dynamics.

How boring it would be if every musician strived to be the same.

The open interpretation of music—any music—is what keeps what we love most alive and forever fresh.

Music is fluid and every performer adds his or her voice to the mix.

Just like every stereo system sounds different, every musician colors their performance to match their world view.

The notes of a score may define the melody in the same way our equipment fixes the signal’s outcome, but it is up to the individual performer to add their touch of color to the end product.

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.

What is the truth?

I saw a survey that suggested nearly everyone believes they are an above-average driver. In fact, it turns out that most of us believe we’re not only above average, we’re significantly better than just about anyone on the road. Of course, the majority cannot be above average.

And don’t most of us believe we’re above average in our abilities to tell fact from fiction?

Others may fall for BS but rarely us.

I don’t know anyone that wanders around thinking they’re wrong despite the impact our personal biases have on facts and truth. Whether we like it or not the sun rises each morning, gravity sucks, the Earth is not flat, and a violin sounds like a violin. Our beliefs and biases change neither facts nor truth.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to be an audiophile. There’s an ultimate truth to music’s reproduction. The sound of live instruments.

It’s worth the struggle to build your stereo system to tell 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.

Nothing’s free

Following a recent 10-day road trip from our home in Boulder out to California and back, I gained five pounds while snacking in the car and tolerating restaurant food. Now, back home, it’s time to shed those pounds and get back to my healthy number on the scale. That’s not hard. I just follow the book I wrote and, within a few weeks, I am back to where I need to be.

The hard part is the realization that I cannot cheat. That even if no one else is looking I cannot take a shortcut: a nibble, “just a little” of this, or that.

A reminder to me that nothing’s free.

When I get lazy around my stereo system—impatiently listening before the system warms up, or not using a dose of CleanWave before a critical listen—I have to be alright with the results.

The system doesn’t care what my mood or level of commitment is. It does what it does regardless of me.

Cause and effect. Nothing’s free.

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.

Audio sensitivities

Even as a kid I never bought the premise behind Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Princess, and the Pea. Just a bit too far fetched for my young engineering brain to believe that anyone could feel a pea under multiple mattresses.

Fairy tales aside, it is a fact that we are all different when it comes to our audio sensitivities. I might be more sensitive than many to sound staging while someone else really focuses on tonality.

We make choices in equipment and set up based on those differing sensitivities: cables that bring out more details, vacuum tubes that warm and soften, subwoofers that build a solid foundation.

Our systems are all different, just like our tastes and sensitivities.

Few of us could likely tell if there were a pea under the cushion of our listening chair, but if our stereo system’s sound is even slightly amiss we know it instantly.

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.

Working up or down

We’re all different yet so similar.

Take the way I assemble a stereo system. When I first start a project, whether building a stereo rig or adding a new source, I study, research, and amass every possible configuration and head-scratching perturbation I can imagine and then start building. Over time and use, I begin to better understand the montage and begin eliminating the unneeded—paring the configuration down to its essential elements.

Others do exactly the opposite. Instead of heaping everything possible together and shaking out the collection before reducing it to essentials, the more cautious assemblers start small and over time and usage build up their creations as needed.

We both seem to end up in the same place.

It is only the path taken that differs.

Whether you’re building up a system or paring it down to perfection, it’s the end results that matter.