Tag Archives: Stereophile

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.

PS Audio is a pretty amazing company. They build all sorts of power re-generators, stereo amplifiers,  stereo preamplifiers, DAC’s and now, loudspeakers and do it all in the USA. They also make high resolution recordings, which they release in all sorts of formats, including LP’s.  Paul is the ultimate audio nerd and I say that in a good way. I have a lot of respect for his passion.

Cat’s out of the bag

In case you have yet to see the latest issue of Stereophile Magazine, I wouldn’t want you to be the last on the block to know what’s going on.

In that latest issue is a two-page color spread showing for the very first time our long-awaited FR-30 loudspeaker.

At 60″ tall it’s not as big as the IRSV it’s pictured in front of, but it’s not small either. The FR-30 features 4 custom designed ultra low distortion long throw 8″ woofers supplemented by 4 10″ side-mounted passive low-frequency radiators. Ribbon tweeter front and back and a 10″ ribbon midrange. No internal amplification, this speaker will light up the room with as few as 100 watts per channel.

It’s been a long time coming. To my eyes and those of the few that have been lucky enough to see them, they’re are a thing of beauty.

Hopefully you can make it to RMAF this year to hear them (and hopefully RMAF actually happens!)

And sonically? Hang on to your hats my friends. Hang on to your hats.

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.

Bling is important in high end audio and maybe more important than just audio quality, especially with higher priced stereo equipment, although I just purchased some Analysis Plus Silver Apex IC’s and their Big Silver Oval speaker cables and they weigh a lot more than my previous stuff, look nicer and sound a lot better, so there’s that one. A lot more expensive too, at around 10 times the cost of what I’ve been using.   Worth it? It is, to me.

Passing judgment

Leafing through the latest Stereophile Magazine I ran across an interesting ad. Its question to me was whether I would get more excited about paying a high price for a product that weighed very little or half the price for one that weighed significantly more.

Audio by the pound.

How many of us really have a handle on what to consider when it comes to choosing new gear?

How do we know what will synergistically fit into the complex puzzle we call our high-end audio system?

For some, I suspect it’s based on brand loyalty. This brand has always worked fine in my system.

For others, perhaps it’s the allure of new technology, the promise of uncharted waters.

And still others, the sheer emotional draw that gets us salivating.

Whatever motivates you to try something new doesn’t really matter.

At the end of the proverbial day, if it slots in and works then hallelujah!

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.

Hard to imagine

When Stereophile reviewer Michael Fremer writes “on electric bass… the M1200 is a monster”, he’s not alone. More and more emails daily come across my screen extolling the virtues of the M1200’s bass.

How can it be that one flat measuring power amplifier can sound remarkably more powerful in one area than another?

Flat is flat, right?

Not so fast. Let’s have a closer look at the M1200’s measurements. 10Hz – 20KHz +/- 0.5dB

A measurement of 10Hz – 20KHz +/- 0.5dB says a lot if you look closely (and know what you’re looking for). What’s first apparent is its ruler flat performance within the range of human hearing.

But a deeper look shows something else: the amp is down at 10Hz by only 1/2dB. This is important because it means that an octave higher the amp is perfectly flat. Ruler flat response within the audible band is critical for removing phase shift. Turns out the ear is very sensitive to phase shift and the way to keep the phase from shifting is to start any measurable roll off well below the limits of human hearing.

You see, most power amplifiers will have specs that are more like -3dB at 10Hz (-3dB is important because it’s believed that’s where the ear perceives a level change). Fine that the point we first perceive a level change is below the ear’s frequency limits but what’s not mentioned is the phase shift. To be -3dB at 10Hz means you’re 1/2dB down point is well up into the audible range of bass—and we get phase shift.

When phase shift happens in the audible frequency range it will convince the ear the bass sounds wimpy.

And one more point.

A monster amp like the M1200 not only has no phase shift in the audible bass regions, it also has the power and reserves to effortlessly deliver that phase free note without any change in character.

Measurements aren’t always clear and simple.

The story behind the measurements matter.

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.

Moving forward

When Stereophile Magazine awarded Stellar Phono its coveted Analog Product of the Year award we were, of course, ecstatic. What an honor.

That award got me thinking about the near-impossible job of a phono preamplifier: to amplify without noise a tiny signal 30,000 to 50,000 times smaller than what comes out of your preamplifier.

I remember from 40 years ago my struggles to design without noise PS Audio’s first moving coil preamplifier. It felt impossible. How does one add, without additional noise, 30dB of gain in front of an already high gain moving magnet phono stage? Everything I tried came with unacceptable levels of noise. I searched, I studied, I consulted with experts. At the time, the general consensus was it couldn’t be done and we should instead do what everyone else was doing: use a step up transformer.

I own up to being a stubborn mule. Dammit! I was going to figure out an active solution and so I continued to slug it out with various schemes. Finally, after a year of constant failure, I succeeded. Low impedances and a single common base BJT amplifier were the answer.

One of the industry’s very first active moving coil amplifiers, the PS Audio MCA, was born.

That was four decades ago. Today, innovative bright young engineers like Darren Myers are blazing trails I couldn’t have imagined.

Progress. Breaking new ground. Moving forward. It’s what gets me up in the morning.

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.

Good for PS Audio!!

Analog product of the year

“Wow!” That’s about all I could say when I learned PS Audio’s Stellar Phono Preamplifier had been named by the editors at Stereophile Magazine as their Analog Product of the year.

“Wow!”

Congratulations to the entire PS Audio engineering team who worked hard to build this beauty. And a special shout out to the product’s principal architect, PS Audio’s own Darren Myers.

That an offering from our most affordable product line, Stellar, was chosen as the best analog product of the year from a crowded field of mega thousand dollar competitors makes this award even more startling.

Thanks to our HiFi Family for your support of this fine product. Also, thank you to reviewer Michael Fremer who was first to review the Stellar Phono and the editors of Stereophile Magazine.

We are honored.

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.

Road maps

Finding your way is easy once you’ve been somewhere. When it’s an unknown, a map is essential.

Problem is most newcomers to high-performance stereo don’t even know there’s a place they should be, let alone locating a map of how to get there.

Years ago in what seems like another dimension, we had the neighborhood dealer to act as our guide. Within the walls of their shop, we could get an idea of what 2-channel audio sounds like, what wonders were in store for us, and a helping hand in how to get there. Today it’s increasingly anyone’s guess how newcomers find their way.

Certainly, print magazines like Stereophile, Absolute Sound, and HiFi News are great starting points. One could even delve into the online mags like John Darko’s, Tone Audio, and the many others. The problem with all these magazines is they seem to come with an entry-level requirement that readers have a clue what’s going on—something unlikely if we’re talking about true newcomers to the fold.

For PS Audio’s part, we help newbies into better sound through Sprout, our all-in-one integrated no larger than a small-sized novel. It’s really refreshing and informative to read the amazing comments and answer newcomer’s questions. No, most Sprout owners are not audiophiles, but they are interested in good sound and proud to have found this little jewel amongst the rough and tumble of the online audio wild west.

Sometimes road maps are not what one might normally expect. Instead, they are found in small tastes of what’s possible.

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.

A bone to pick and this is an original, not from Paul, who will return.

In the edition of The Absolute Sound I was looking at this morning, one of their most experienced writer reviewed a Turntable made by a German company called Clearaudio. A true engineering marvel for something that just needs to play LP records.

It costs $60,000 as tested and unsurprisingly, it sounded great to the reviewer, as I would expect it to. In the magazine, they list the reviewers system and this guy probably has a couple million dollars worth of stereo equipment, retail wise. I have no idea about him, so maybe he can afford all this, but he’s as old as I am and I hope he has someone to help him move stuff around because a lot of what he owns is massive in size and weight. The equipment he uses to review stuff, like this Turntable, is over the top stuff, most of us could only dream of.  Does everything he has in his reference sound good? Probably, but who really knows and I have mu doubts for one very good reason. Old ears…

I once read this writer describe the rooms he visited at one of the audio shows, when there used to be such a thing and practically every room he visited sounded dark to him. I guess we were supposed to take that as the components in these many rooms were dark sounding. Well, I can tell you that what I got from his “reviews” of the rooms at this show, was his ears probably weren’t working perfectly, as is often the case with all of us.  If there is a commonology of sound characteristics at an audio show, most likely it isn’t the equipment in the rooms, although it could be the rooms themselves. However, other people at the same magazine wrote about less expensive stuff at the show and there weren’t these “dark” types of comments.

One thing I’ve taken notice of lately is the quality of the writing in the main Audio magazines I subscribe to, including The Absolute Sound and Stereophile.

Some of it is contains so much verbiage to describe the sound, I can’t stand it. Such was the review of the Clearaudio TT. I realize that the writer is looking for ways to describe what they hear and feel, but most of it is so over the top, I can’t read it all and dont even skip to the end to see what his final comments about the product are.

Art Dudley didn’t use as many words, nor were they necessarily as poetic as some writers, but I enjoyed reading what he wrote and that’s the end game for me with reviews.

I’d probably make a bad reviewer because, except for a very few bad sounding high end audio components that have made their way though here,  I think things are either good, ok, or sometimes great and those are enough words 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.

Although I just use my eyes and ears to set up customers audio and video systems, I use the XLO/Sheffield Labs disc to test my reference system. I know how things are supposed to sound, better than I know the back of my hand, so this disc is very helpful. The Stereophile one is a good one too.

An easy better

One of the pitfalls of audio system testing is loudness between devices under test. One must be scrupulously careful to gain match anything you’re comparing to. If a new amplifier even a dB or so difference in gain can make a noticeable performance change. And, you certainly don’t want to choose one piece of kit over another when a simple twist of the volume control can make this right again.

When we test various designs or wish to listen to the works of others it’s pretty easy to gain-match since we have access to a lot of fancy audio test equipment. You, dear reader, probably do not have that same access and so it can be a little more difficult.

You can often go to a manufacturer’s website and get their specs. There, you can see at a fixed frequency how much gain an amplifier has. If it’s off by dBs, then your next challenge would be how to compensate. With many preamps, such as our own, we specify our volume in predefined steps: 0.5dB for most of the range.

You can also gain match with a test disc and microphone setup. On my iPhone, I have several dB meter apps. Decibel X is one that’s worked well for me, but truth is, you can use just about anything and it’s fine. The key to gain matching is making sure the microphone is in exactly the same spot each time and the tone played is the same too. I still use the Stereophile test disc as my reference standard.

However you manage to gain match equipment, just make sure you do when evaluating for sound quality.

It matters.

 

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.

This morning, I learned that my favorite Hi-Fi writer ever, from Stereophile Magazine, Art Dudley, passed away on April 14th of this year.

I had no clue Art was sick and this came as a shock to me, as well as just plain sad. He wasn’t that old, in his early to mid 60’s,  and always looked healthy and robust in the pictures and videos of him, I was able to see. Truly, life is fragile and this has hit home for me.

Art loved Single Ended Triode amps and tube preamplifiers, which I’ve owned many of in the past and one of his favorite pair of loudspeakers is an old high efficiency Altec design from 1966, called the Flamenco, similar to one of the speakers I own and use now. I say “similar to”, because the driver I use, the Altec 604, has been brought back to life by Great Plains Audio, so while mine is a copy and my cabinet is a one of a kind thing I designed and had someone build, the driver does use original Altec tooling, so an Altec driver. Art would probably disagree and I wish I could have had that conversation with him.

He used old vintage Garrard and Thorens turntables that he re-conditioned himself and digital audio was pretty much an afterthought for him. I don’t think he thought digital was listenable enough for him to enjoy. He also didn’t sweat room acoustics and audio tweaks. Probably better off that way. He was also an accomplished guitar player.

I was hoping to go to the 2020 Axpona show, where he would have been and meet and talk to him for a couple of minutes. Maybe have a discussion about that Altec driver. I’m truly sorry I won’t ever be able to now.

Anyway,  Art was an opinionated writer, but could put sound into words, like no other writer I’ve ever read.  I can tell from things he wrote about and things I read about him that he was a good husband, father, animal owner and human being. I just watched a video of him from 2017 describing his system in great detail, his thoughts on stereo equipment and at the end, he is driving somewhere and sees a turtle in the road. He pulled his car over, took out his floor mat and pushed the turtle to the other side of the road. Only a good person would do this and I will miss him.

Our thoughts go out to his wife and daughter and all his friends and co-workers  that were able to interact with him often. I regret never meeting him in person, although I felt I knew much about him from his writings. He will be missed by many.

 

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 is one picture with this post that shows people listening with their eyes closed. I wonder if any of them are asleep. With much of the music at shows being simple things that sound good on almost any stereo, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are one or two!

Vinyl exceeds CDs

Yesterday we learned that sales of vinyl LP’s have outstripped CDs for the first time in decades. An article posted in Rolling Stone Magazine made the rounds at RMAF, yesterday. I haven’t yet figured out if this means sales of CDs are continuing their downward spiral or vinyl’s picking up steam, but whatever the implications, it’s certainly a twist of events.

And speaking of vinyl, one of the great treats of a consumer trade show like RMAF is the chance for our Hi-Fi Family to gather together and enjoy what we all are interested in, music and 2-channel audio.

Reviewer Micahel Fremer of Stereophile and Analog Planet fame was generous enough to bring his collection of prized vinyl to our room and play it to a packed house for an hour. Just check out the crowd. I could barely squeeze into this standing room only group outside the few prized seats in our listening area to get this picture in the first place.

What a treat! Mikey pulled from his arsenal a prized copy of Joni Mitchel’s Court and Spark to start the afternoon off, and I don’t believe anyone in the room had heard such glorious music. All were transfixed with the vinyl he played. I had chills running down my spine listening to his last track, Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven. Holy Moly! I am so used to the flat and lifeless digital version that I had no idea of what the recording really sounded like.

Fremer and Stellar Phono designer, Darren Myers, worked well together to make this a seminal event. In the second picture down, we were also honored by the presence of Sharyl Wilson of Wilson Audio fame in the front row.

Here are a few more pictures from the event to enjoy.