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.

Endless variations

It is fascinating to me the myriad of seemingly endless variations designers apply to sound reproduction equipment.

Take the rarely seen today bipole loudspeaker. The last mass-produced version I remember was by the Canadian company, Mirage.

Let’s start with a smidge of reference. Most loudspeakers are monopoles: sound comes out of one plane of the speaker box. A smaller number are dipoles: sound comes out of two planes (front and rear) and the rear plane is out of phase with the front. A bipole is like a dipole in that it too has front and rear radiating planes, but instead of being out of phase the front and rear are in phase.

Perhaps the easiest way to picture a bipole is the idea of a pulsating cylinder, though not in the same way you might think of an MBL (which literally is a pulsating sphere). In the bipole, the same woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers that you find in the front of the speaker are duplicated on the rear of the speaker—all wired in phase.

The acoustic pattern that is created is somewhat of a figure 8.

The bipole had some advantages, like fewer sidewall issues than monopoles, but for the most part I never really found the configuration very attractive—and it had a number of the problems we associate with dipoles and open baffle speakers—sans the bass cancellation problems.

If you’re curious about the Mirage speakers, there’s a well written review by Tom Norton in this issue of Stereophile.

What’s interesting to me about this design is that it’s but one more attempt by clever people to build a speaker that differentiated itself from the pack. One more twist to an ever-evolving evolution in the art of making high end audio products.

The variations at times seem endless.

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 is a good one!

Opinions and experts

In Stereophile Magazine’s opening section, As we see it, author Jim Austin has a little title at the top of the page that says, “There are as many opinions as there are experts”.

How true.

Every expert in our field has what I like to call a point of view—their opinion of the best way to get from here to there and why they chose that destination in the first place.

Take my long-held conviction that recording the analog output from a microphone preamp is best when captured with DSD. I can spout off how this conclusion was reached, from as far back as my introduction to the idea by our own Gus Skinas, Ted Smith, and Cookie Marenco, to years of experimenting, listening, testing, and verifying.

All that work has helped me form a point of view that guides my journey through the recording process.

I haven’t enough fingers to count those that argue the exact opposite.

Or, take my heretical point of view that breaks with a long-held tradition that, once captured in DSD, it is best to analog low pass filter the DSD through a DAC for mixing and mastering.

Our friends, the Murrisons (of Bit Perfect fame), have devised a phase-perfect digital low pass filter that performs the same function without ever leaving the digital domain and suffering the slight degradation of the DAC, the miles of circuitry in the analog mixing board, and a return trip through another A/D converter.

This new all-digital technology sounds to my ears remarkably better than the tried-and-true method of converting back and forth between digital and analog.

Few agree with me and most are unwilling to even entertain the idea.

“There are as many opinions as there are experts.”

Thankfully we all have a point of view that differs. From these differing viewpoints come what we call progress. It’s how we go from “that’s batshit crazy” to “that’s just how you do it”.

Progress.

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.