The author of the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous line was, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
And so it goes about the truth. We’re taught as children to always be truthful but it doesn’t take too long to figure out the truth can sometimes hurt—like a smack on the butt or a good scolding for whatever crime the truth-teller has just owned up to.
But being truthful is at the core of trust and it is trust most of us work our whole lives to earn.
That said, I think it’s important to titrate the truth to fit the situation at hand. Never lie, but sometimes it pays to soften your words. You’d hardly want to crush the spirit of a young child asking for your opinion on her latest crayon creation, and then there’s always the potential minefield for unsuspecting blockhead males not thinking through the answer to “how does this dress make me look?”
When it comes to high end audio there is as well a fine line to walk. How could I tell the whole truth of how awful something sounds when the presenter has worked their heart out crafting the masterpiece?
I make a point of doing my best to never falsifying anything. I mix this credo with a dash of softness and a sprinkle of surely there has to be something positive to say.
And then there’s the opposite situation where words aren’t adequate to express the truth and beauty of someone’s stereo system.
The truth cuts in many ways.
Never lose sight of it, but like strong medicine, be careful with its application.
Over my 73 years, I have come to discover I am not very good at foretelling the future.
So why is it I put so much credence into worrying about a future I cannot accurately predict?
That worry often stymies forward motion.
Yet, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
While I don’t seem able to accurately foretell the future, it turns out that I am a reasonable navigator landing close enough to my intended target that the slight course deviations required for a successful outcome can be handled on the fly.
Why’s this matter?
I think it is likely that most of us are better navigators than fortune tellers.
We imagine a future outcome, like how a piece of stereo equipment is going to perform or how our system is going to sound, and then we move forward. If our expectations are to get close enough to make it work as opposed to hitting the bullseye, I’ll bet we’d have a lot more confidence in trying something new.
Getting close to new and better is perhaps more profitable than never leaving home.
One of the more ironic tasks in HiFi is to make the speakers disappear. Quite a feat of magic for big boxes dominating the room.
Yeat, difficult or not, that’s exactly what we want to do.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re system is working correctly is to close your eyes and see if you can point to the playing loudspeakers. You shouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of sound.
Getting this right can often be challenging, especially when you don’t use much toe in (as I often recommend).
The fixes for non-disappearing speakers are often a mix of room treatment, proper electronics, and setup.
I would always start in the reverse order from which I just listed. Setup can often make invisible the speakers right in front of you.
If it takes a change of cables or stereo equipment because of harshness or colorations that focus attention on the source of sound, that becomes a more difficult task.
Whatever the case, working towards achieving vanishing sound certainly has its rewards.
Hmmmm, but they have a business to support and sound quality should be better, as their other stuff offers great value, but the BHK stuff can definitely sound better, compared to the higher end of great stereo sound. Competitive at their prices, but there’s room upmarket for PS Audio and I think this is where they are headed and I don’t blame them one bit. I owned the BHK Preamp and DAC and what I’m using now is light years better sounding, although a lot more expensive. Time marches on and so do they!
In yesterday’s post about the fluidity of my stereo system, I mentioned upgrading from the amazing BHK300 monoblock amplifiers to the newer BHK600s.
More than a few people emailed me asking why. Why would I upgrade what is already an overkill amplifier to one with even more wattage?
It’s a good question. Let’s look at some of the specifics.
The Infinity IRSV in Music Room 2 is about 90dB efficient. Meaning that for 1 watt of input power we can expect to get 90dB of sound at its output.
90dB is loud.
1 watt is nothing.
300 watts is overkill.
600 watts is absurd.
And yet I am still over-the-top excited. Not because I have more power than I could possibly want but because this new amp will bring an entirely new level of performance to an already amazing system. And because the extra wattage I now have places even less of a demand upon the amp.
What we do in high-end audio isn’t always logical.
It won’t take but one listen to not care about the logic.
It’s all about the sound.
Work in progress
How many of us can say we’ve reached the highest pinnacle we’re ever likely to achieve? That where we are and what we’re doing is it. Fini, finito, finilizado!
I suspect not many of us. Not if we’re being honest.
My stereo system is finished and perfect only in the sense of right now. It comes with the understanding it’s a work in progress and that as soon as the next best thing comes along, it’ll change. Hopefully for the better.
It won’t be too long, for example, that I am able to upgrade my BHK300 monoblock amplifiers with a pair of our new BHK600s. I can’t wait.
My system and I are a work in progress.
Always have been.
Always will be.
Not sure about this.
In the center
When I look at the wonderful collection of system photos from our HiFi Family photo album, the one thing I notice is that most people place their electronics stack between the speakers.
I too do this when at a tradeshow, but almost never do this in my personal or reference system if I can help it. In fact, for many years, almost no one would consider placing their electronics in the center of the front wall and between the speakers.
Before there were remote controls, it would have been a real pain in the keester to have to jump up and down to change volume levels for each track.
I understand most folks don’t have the luxury of extra real estate to be able to put their electronic stack to the side, and some are anxious to keep their cable lengths short, but I am guessing there’s also another reason.
We like to see the stereo equipment when music’s playing. After all, most of us own some pretty cool looking gear.
So here’s the thing. My recommendation is to keep the equipment stack—or anything for that matter—out from between the loudspeakers. Equipment racks, tables, televisions, all wreak some level of sonic havoc.
It’s not always easy nor convenient, but if you can manage, put the shelf-full of kit off to the side.
Choosing your tradeoffs
In high-end audio as in engineering, it’s all a matter of managing tradeoffs. There are no perfect solutions.
I think when evaluating acceptable tradeoffs one must make a shortlist of inviolate parameters. For example, I am unwilling to sacrifice: dynamics, transparency, bass, soundstage, and listenability.
Which, by default, suggests I am willing to sacrifice: tonal balance, PRaT, noise, extended highs, and colorations.
Your list of must-haves and acceptable sacrifices is unlikely to be the same as mine.
I think what’s important is twofold: an understanding that compromise is inevitable, and crafting a list of requirements.
The cost of your stereo system will be directly reflected by the balance between the two lists.
The longer your requirement list the more you’ll need to spend to build the system you want.
Accepting the inevitability of tradeoffs and maintaining your list may be one of the most valuable tools you have available to you.
We ultimately judge the performance of our stereo system but how closely it brings us to music. Real music.
So, if in 1981 we had systems that brought us close to the music, where a violin sounded like a violin, a Fender Stratocaster like a Fender Stratocaster, how much progress could we legitimately claim over the ensuing 40 years?
Probably lots and here’s why. Using the identification of one instrument from another is somewhat of a strawman argument. Fact is, I can distinguish the sound of a violin as well as a Stratocaster from inside my car from an MP3 source.
So it isn’t so much the proper identification of instruments, but rather how close we can get to creating a realistic space where we believe the musicians are playing in our room.
IMHO that’s a truer mark of the classic goals of high end audio.
We’ve come a long way in the ensuing 40 years, but we still have a long way to go.
PS Audio is a real company, wile many high end audio companies are not, so PS Audio uses a pretty standard pricing model, while others, get what they can and often times a lot better margins on what they sell, if they can make a market for their stereo products.
As of late, there’s been some discussion on the forums about the model we use for product pricing.
From what I can ascertain, the general view seems to be companies have a complex pricing model based on a combination of what they believe the market will bear and what it takes to cover all their R and D and tooling costs. At some level, this pricing model surely exists, else how do we wind up with half-million-dollar loudspeakers or $50K audio cables?
When it comes to the mainstream companies I think the truth is somewhat simpler.
My guess is we’re all pretty much the same: a simple multiple of what each product costs to manufacture. The multiples vary depending on the expected number of units to be sold and what the sales volume of the company is.
At the end of the proverbial day, companies have to charge enough to cover expenses.
For most companies like PS Audio, pricing is based entirely on what it costs us to build your products.
Simple works best.
Mechanical vs. solid state
When we need to switch inputs on an analog preamplifier we use a switch. The kind of switch we use affects stereo sound quality.
For years we had only mechanical switches from which to choose. Standard switch contacts in those days were nickel or tin-plated while the more expensive and better-sounding styles were either silver or gold.
These worked great and sounded excellent, but they had a problem. They were nearly impossible to remote control.
The customer’s desire to control their systems from their easy chairs drove us designers to replace mechanical switches with electromechanical relays. Relays were available with the same contact materials though because they weren’t self wiping (like mechanical rotary switches), their slap and connect operations produced a slight degradation in sound quality.
Relays are expensive and cumbersome.
Along came silicon switching. Low cost, quiet, reliable, and without the problems of contact degradation. Sonically, they fell into third place, but not too far behind relays.
Engineering is always a matter of compromise. We give up one thing and in exchange get something else.
In most of PS Audio’s PerfectWave series of analog audio products, we rely upon a combination of electromechanical and electronic switching.
Common sense, practical, excellent performance.