Tag Archives: Stereo

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.

Now, this guy Paul sure is an audiophile!!! I agree with him regarding loudspeakers and set up, however, perhaps he should maybe name his newest book ” The Loudspeaker”, instead of “The Speaker”, as maybe that could be interpreted as a book about public speaking?

Order to chaos

Over the past few months I have been hard at work writing the next book in our series, The Audiophile’s Guide.

That first book, The Stereo, was an all-encompassing work covering the complete stereo system from electronics, to cables, to speakers.

This newest book, The Speaker, is a much more detailed work specific to the challenge of setting up a pair of speakers.

I can think of nothing more important in a high-end audio system than properly setting up the speakers. Even with the greatest electronics in the world, a less-than-great setup saps the life out of the music.

One of the issues I kept running into during the research and writing phase was the amount of opinion and chaos among audiophiles as to the best way to set up speakers.

(Wait! Audiophiles, opinions, and chaos?)

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I have confirmed it’s not a train!

Seriously, this is one exciting project for me to work on. We’ve just finished an extraordinary group of recordings in the new Octave Studio that will accompany the book in a step-by-step fashion and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Fingers crossed for a July 2022 launch.

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 problem with feedback

PS engineer Darren Myers and I were enjoying lunch together at a new Thai food restaurant. The food was lousy but the conversation was stimulating when the subject turned to feedback.

Darren knows my distaste for too much feedback in a piece of stereo electronics and he wanted to wrangle me in a different direction.

What he pointed out to me made perfect sense. That when feedback is used to correct a problem, it doesn’t sound good and the more you rely upon it the worse it sounds. That much we could certainly agree on. This is the reason so many off-the-shelf op-amps sound dreadful. Their open loop (without feedback) bandwidth rolls off within the low audio band. They need feedback to even work.

Compare that with the opposite: a properly designed audio circuit whose open-loop bandwidth extends well beyond 50kHz and whose distortion products are below 0.1%. Used on its own that’d be a nice sounding circuit. Add feedback and wowsers!

The point is that when we use feedback to fix something that is broken—as opposed to fixing the problem itself—sound quality always suffers.

Used as a Band Aid we’re all the worse for it in the circuit.

Used as an enhancement the purity of music is honored and we all benefit.

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.

Boy, can I relate to this one on a couple different levels. It’s only taken me about 15 years to get it mostly right here and I’m close. Big rooms like mine, which also has three seats, give more options for loudspeaker placement and as components change, even cables, so can the optimum place for your stereo speakers.

The hot seat

When someone says you’re in the hot seat it’s usually either frightening or bad.

But not in the case of HiFi listening.

The seat of honor; The hot seat; the best seat in the room. That’s the coveted space we all work hard at optimizing.

In PS Audio’s Room 2 where the FR30s live there are three listening positions yet only one is perfectly optimized.

That magical spot in the room where everything gels to perfection. Where the imaging is best. Where the tonality rings true.

The listening position we have all worked so hard to make perfect.

The hot seat.

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

Question everything

How did we come to use mono microphones to capture music on stereo recordings?

I know I’ve ranted before about this but I cannot get it out of my head.

The more I get into the art of recording the more I am questioning the accepted practices so ingrained into the recording culture as to be almost sacrosanct.

There’s clearly a “religion” around the culture. A pervasive thought process that goes something like:

“Why do it that way? Well, because that’s the way it’s always been done and surely there’s a reason for that.” (or the corolary “that’s what the pros do”)

My motto (which I know drives our team crazy) is Question everything.

And especially question the things that everyone (and in particular the pros) has always done.

When you’re working on building something that is striving to be the best in the world it probably pays to question what everyone else who is not the best in the world is doing.

Seems to just make sense.

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

Stereo microphones

The deeper we get into the recording arts the more questions arise.

For example, how did the recording industry settle into the idea of using mono microphones to record solo voices and instruments?

For years at the beginning of the stereo revolution recordists relied upon stereo microphones to capture musical performances. Some even went so far as the use what’s known in the industry as a Decca Tree: left, center, and right microphones clustered together. Or, remember the stereo head microphones?

Many classic microphones from years ago, like the AKG C24 and Telefunken’s version of it, were single body stereo devices.

They were for a time, the standard.

And then they weren’t.

My guess is that with the advent in the 1970s of multitrack recorders and control boards with pan pots (balance controls) it was just easier to use a single mono microphone to capture a singer or an instrument and then “place” them where they sounded right in the stereo mix.

The problem is it doesn’t sound real.

It sounds recorded.

One of the advantages of a singer or musician being captured on a single-body stereo microphone is realism. Imagine standing in front of a microphone and singing. Because you’re not a statue frozen in time, you move around as you sing. Your head and voice change ever so slightly. That movement in 6 dimensions (left, right, forward, backward, up, down) is perfectly captured by a stereo microphone.

It is completely lost with the industry-standard mono microphone technique.

Which is why going forward at Octave Records we will no longer be using mono microphones to capture solo artists.

One step at a time we are tearing down the standards by which the recording industry has been built.

I can’t wait for you to hear the difference.

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

Swimming upstream

There are a number of old sayings about the futility of swimming upstream or battling rising tides.

It’s better to work with something than fight against it.

Like one’s stereo room.

Our rooms can be our friends and partners or they can be a constant headache.

Which is one reason I prefer diffusers over absorbers, subwoofers placed in areas of the room different than the main loudspeakers, and moving one’s listening chair to the perfect place.

Whenever you’re in the setup mode don’t forget to work with the room rather than against it.

Partners make life 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.

Studio vs. home

I remain flummoxed as to how the stereo industry wound up separating studio monitors from home audio.

Both have the same task of reproducing music as accurately as possible.

Yet the way they are marketed is so very different.

Pro monitors, as they are referred to (because professionals wouldn’t want to think about amateur home speakers for their studios) take an interesting approach. Here’s a bit of their info as to the importance of materials and driver technology:

“You’ll find all manner of speaker construction materials out there, from paper to Kevlar to aluminum alloys and beyond. Manufacturers are constantly innovating, and if you’re interested there are plenty of resources available about the properties of different materials. But step back for a moment – do you really care what it’s made of at the end of the day?

Materials play a big part in the sound of a loudspeaker, but would you really buy studio monitors based on one specific material used in its construction? While we fully acknowledge the huge impact speaker driver materials have on its sound, you can quickly get confused if you focus on materials instead of application-specific benefits.”

Ahhh, love it. We wouldn’t want anyone to get confused over those pesky materials or driver types. No, better in the pro world to go with reputation. What are the other pros doing?

Seems in the recording world most aspiring engineers are in awe of their heroes who have gotten various accolades or had their work sell millions.

All this is very interesting to me. In this world, home audio speakers are often scoffed at. A few companies—B&W in particular—have worked hard at getting their top of the line home products into studios and accepted by pros. This is then turned around in the marketing to great affect.

“Now, you too can have at home what the pros acknowledge is the best.”

Tomorrow, pros versus the amatuers.

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.

Stereo or mono reflections

My friend, Keith Howard, wrote me a wonderfully insightful note that I will share with you.

“I find it helpful to think of reflections as mono or stereo, in the manner of Manfred Schroeder when he performed his analysis of concert hall acoustics and confirmed the importance of lateral reflections.

Sidewall reflections are ‘stereo’ because they arrive at the ears from wider angles than the loudspeakers, so they increase interaural disparity (hence spaciousness). All other room first-order reflections (floor, ceiling, back wall, front wall) are ‘mono’ because they arrive at the ears at narrower angles than the loudspeakers and so reduce interaural disparity.

I’m not a fan of quelling side-wall reflections as you are, but if you do it then it’s essential not to mess with the spectrum of the reflection. Simple absorbers are bad news because they are more effective at treble frequencies than lower frequencies, so the spectral disparity between direct and reflected sound is increased, as if the reflected sound came from further off-axis. Why do speakers usually sound better pointed straight down the room? Because this results in smaller disparity than if the speakers are toed-in.

Keith

PS. Worth reading: https://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=3200 – published in 1979 but nobody took any notice!

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 problem with fuses

I remember the first time I heard the improvements brought by an upgraded stereo fuse. It was a few years ago and our German distributor, Jurgen, was visiting. We were in the middle of a listening session and he asked if I might be up for an experiment. Of course! He pulled the top off the DirectStream DAC and took control of the listening session.

I was told only that we’re now listening to A and then B (and so forth). I hadn’t a clue what he was doing nor which was A or B. The difference between the two was rather remarkable. If memory serves the upgraded fuse he was pulling in and out was from Audio Tuning.

I was dumbfounded by the level of improvement from replacing that fuse. Hell, I was dumbfounded that a fuse could even make a difference, let alone that much.

That experience led us to start paying attention to the fuses our purchasing department acquired and, eventually, to spec only specific types for our products. Like we do for other passive components like resistors and capacitors.

What we ship with our audio products are excellent sounding fuses (though not expensive aftermarket types). Can one do better? I am certain there will be those that believe this to be true (and it probably is).

However, there comes a point where spending hundreds of dollars on a component whose sole purpose is to give its life might just be a questionable practice.

What happens if it does its job?

There just might be more practical means of making improvements in sound quality.