Tag Archives: stereo systems

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 agree about using subwoofers and thats why I have always had two of them with all my stereo systems, including the ones with full range speakers.

How much are we willing to miss?

There are very few systems that are truly full range. The shortcomings of rooms and speakers often preclude simple setups from delivering all there is on a disc.

Take Music Room Three at PS Audio. The spot in the room where the FR30s disappear and one finds themselves totally immersed in the music happens to also be one of the worst places for low bass. Move the speakers around to capture those incredible low notes the FR30s are capable of and some of the holographic magic is lost.

I for one am unwilling to forego even a smidge of holographic magic and near-perfect tonal balance to gain any of the missing low-end.

Should I just stick to music that hasn’t those lowest of notes? Or, should I stress over missing them?

For me, that question is instantly answered when I put on a track that moves the floor and puts a smile on my face as the system reproduces without hesitation the lowest of notes.

I have to have it all.

But, how to get there?

Simple. Supplement the main system with a subwoofer. Or, a pair of subwoofers.

In our case, all that is missing happens from 28Hz and below. A single REL Predator placed dead center on the rear wall does the trick nicely.

If your musical choices tend to lean towards chamber music or light jazz then none of this really matters.

It’s just good to know how much we’re willing to lose.

 

 

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.

Reaching equilibrium

If I am to enjoy a morning breakfast of blueberries, yogurt, and granola there has to be a proper balance between the flavors. My preference in berries runs towards the firm and tart which means that in order to reach a perfect balance there needs to be a bit of sweetness. Too much in any one direction and the meal is less perfect.

The same idea of equilibrium—reaching for that perfect balance—applies to our stereo systems as well. Too much emphasis on the top end at the expense of the lower frequencies skews the balance towards an unwelcome brightness.

As much as we might believe that our setup work and equipment choices are focused on achieving the traditional audiophile values of transparency, effortlessness, tonal purity, slam, and musicality, a lot of those goals are really all about achieving equilibrium within the system.

We’re far more likely to notice something out of balance than we are at spotting a particular standout characteristic.

Some of the best audio systems I have ever heard had achieved a near-perfect balance of all the elements.

Nothing pointing to itself.

A perfect equilibrium.

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.

100% agree with this.

 

Getting down to tastes

When we hear a HiFi system that is just plain wrong there’s little discussion about its merits. We can all agree it needs some help.

But when stereo systems are good enough to be called great, the differences between them come down to a simple matter of taste. Perhaps system A is to your ears a bit lean in the bottom end. Or the opposite. Or any number of differences we might quibble over.

And that’s the point we’re all hoping to achieve.

Differences that engender a mere quibble: To bring our system’s performance up to where we can confidently say our differences boil down to a simple matter of taste.

What a great place to be.

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.

In the AV world, I use to sell racks that were made of steel,  huge and very heavy, to hold all sorts of electronic gear. In addition, sometimes these racks make it very hard to get to the wiring, when trying to do service.

Now, with everyone streaming audio and/or video, even for a 7.2, 9.2, or even an 11.2 system, where the equipment is hidden, bascally all we need are two shelves, one for an AVR and one for and Apple TV or Roku and surge protector and that’s about it. I’ve been doing installs using a $40 wire rack from Lowes and is enough, small and light!

Stereo systems are a different matter with a preamp, amplifier, streamer and maybe a disc player needing additional shelves. Some very expensive stereo equipment, like a preamp, can actually have three boxes, one for a separate power supply and two more, one for left channel and one for right channel. Ditto for power amplifiers. Some even four with a separate power supply for each channel. Crazy stuff that doesnt always equate to better sound quality.

The 19″ rack

As long as I am getting nostalgic I might as well ruminate about the 19″ rack.

When we first started PS Audio in the mid-1970s and well into the late 80s, all separates had 19″ face plates with rack mount holes. Today, none of them do.

The standard back then was derived from the pro-market where everything had to fit into a rack. Chassis were 17″ wide, and faceplates were 19″ wide. The unit’s height was determined by units called 1U, 2U, etc. The Us were shorthand for Rack Unit and each rack unit was 1.75″ high (44.45 mm). So, a 2U high unit was 3.5″ tall, and so forth.

Almost no one I knew ever had an actual rack to put their equipment in. The rack mount era was just the way it was and few of us questioned it.

Slowly but surely, a few brave companies started inching out of the trend producing 17″ wide equipment without the extra 1″ ears and holes mandated by the convention we started with. They were the “odd man out”.

Before you knew it everyone lost the rack ears and today I’ll bet you’d be hard pressed to find any company not in the pro field selling equipment with those old rack ears.

Things change over time and in this case I must say for the better.

 

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 pictures in our head

When we critically listen to music on our high-end stereo systems we are constantly comparing the sound we hear with the pictures in our head.

We all have a very well defined “picture” (model) of how the human voice sounds. When we hear a recorded version of that voice we mentally compare notes to figure out if it is accurate.

The pictures in my head are unique.

Developed over a lifetime.

I am certain most of you can figure out where this is going.

If each of us has a slightly different picture of what’s real and what’s not then, when it comes to judging the recorded audio qualities of music, we will all have a slightly different opinion.

Which is exactly what I find to be true. Yes, we can all agree on the big picture of a particular work, but when it comes down to the details we’re mostly in disarray.

And that’s the way it must be.

To each of us we’re right.

The pictures in our head tell the story.

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.

Maybe, some time ago, I would have cared what others thought about my system, but after hearing a lot of other stereo systems, including some big dollar ones,  those days are long gone. As long as I’ve lived in Asheville, I’ve only heard one single criticism of the sound of my stereo and my opinion of this is its born more more out personal feelings, than sound quality.  As long as I want to listen, which I do every day, I’m happy!

Listening to critics

We’re all a bit worried about being criticized.

What if those we respect don’t agree with us or have differing opinions?

What would happen if you played for someone your favorite track on your perfect setup and they were unimpressed? Or worse, pointed out problems?

We all love it when our friends and family swoon over what’s important to us.

And we all know and tell ourselves that at the end of the day it is us that we’re working to please. That the opinions of others don’t really have an impact on our decisions.

But we know that’s not true. Not really.

It’s kind of lonely being the only person that agrees with you.

Perhaps another way to think about the critics is to flip the whole idea on its head. That it is indeed we that we’re working to please first and, if we’re happy with the results, maybe our critics are focused on something different than we are. For example, I might be focused on the ecstasy of the high frequencies while another hones in on a small problem in the bass. They aren’t focused on what you are.

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.

Augmented reality

The latest craze in the art of having fun turns out to be called augmented reality. A contraption is placed over one’s head that covers the eyes and (sometimes) the ears in an effort to immerse the person in another place and time.

Gamers love the system.

When I think about it, our stereo systems are an audio version of augmented reality.

We work hard in both recording and playback to help us travel to a different place in time and space to experience what seems like a live musical event.

At the press of the play button, we can find ourselves immersed in the moment.

Sharing emotions with musicians.

The better our systems the greater the 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.

Matching components together

One of the constant challenges we audiophiles face is the matching of stereo components.

Pairing together two products to make musical magic.

We can rely upon a previous matching effort like that of the manufacturer. (An all PS system, for example, is a known quantity)

We can also rely upon the equipment matching suggestions of reviewers and their systems.

Or, we can boldly go forward and trust ourselves to make great matches.

However we get to the point of pairing together products to make the final output our stereo systems are capable of, the goal is always the same.

Turn the lights low, press play, close your eyes, and connect yourself with the music.

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.

HiFi snobs

I really dislike labels as they apply to people. I have spent much of my adult life working hard at removing them from my lexicon.

Labels encourage us to place complex people in simplistic organized little boxes.

That hardly allows for diversity or nuance.

Yet, today’s crowd seems ever more eager to assign labels to people in the same way we might catalog sweaters or golf clubs.

One consistent label thrown at our community is that of the HiFi snob. A person who believes that their tastes in music and its reproduction in the home are vastly superior to those of other people.

What is troubling about that definition narrows down to a single word. Taste.

Taste infers superiority.

How would you or anyone else feel if another claimed superiority?

What we can safely say without issue is that our stereo system’s performance vastly outperforms that of the average person’s home audio setup.

It’s why anyone can walk into the room of a highly resolving high-end audio setup and immediately hear that which they are unable to experience in their own home.

It’s why the label golden-eared audiophile is disingenuous.

Our carefully crafted systems are the star performers.

We’re just along for the ride.

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.

Theory vs. execution

It’s nice to build stereo systems and equipment with hand-wave theories of the perfect this and that but turning that hand wave into something of value is where reality sets in.

Take for example loudspeakers. I constantly get notes about why there should be no such thing as the need to voice a loudspeaker because they should all be perfectly flat. A fine hand-wave theory that’s not technically possible.

Or, another example is a Power Plant. In theory, one could just buy an off-the-shelf double conversion UPS and power their system with that. It’s a LOT cheaper than a power plant and, in theory, it’s the same process of AC power regeneration.

But then comes the execution of that theory. An off-the-shelf UPS uses a class D amplifier at its output. It has a tiny power supply. It has a low-resolution sinewave generator. Its designers did everything they could to cut every unnecessary penny out of the design.

And, if you try it on your equipment you’ll quickly discover you would be better off without it. That straight-out-of-the-wall power is better sounding.

That same theory of power regeneration executed properly with a class AB power amplifier, low impedance output, lowest distortion sinewave, and biggest power supply possible have exactly the opposite results. It can turn your system into a miracle of sound.

The first example of execution was built with a goal of minimal performance at the lowest cost, while the latter was designed for the highest performance at whatever it takes to get there. Same theory, different execution.

Hand wave design vs. the hard work of building something of value.