Tag Archives: subwoofers

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.

Proof pudding

No matter how much we wish to believe in something the proof’s often in the pudding. It tastes good or it doesn’t.

For years I have been a disciple of servo-controlled subwoofers. And, for good reason. Proper servo control has a number of advantages: lower distortion, reduction of overhang, flat response irrespective of the enclosure and driver parameters. That’s a lot to like.

Every Genesis Technologies woofer system I helped design was servo-controlled. It just worked and sounded great.

Not until our senior analog engineer, Darren Myers, and loudspeaker designer, Chris Brunhaver, joined the PS engineering team did I begin to question my long-held beliefs. If memory serves me it was Darren that first questioned the actual sound from the servo system. It wouldn’t take long for Chris to join him. Their beef? It didn’t sound right.

They said the pudding would taste better without the servo.

The idea of letting go my love of servos was at first abhorrent. Hard to change that which you have truly believed in for as many decades as I. Yet, it didn’t take but a few hours of demonstration to flip my switch. What they argued wasn’t all that complicated. Servos did indeed produce cleaner bass but, they argued, at the loss of audible slam and impact.

Over the course of a few weeks, multiple experiments were conducted on every kind of music we could come up with. The results were always the same. With the servo in place some of music’s excitement was lost—something one doesn’t notice until a better example is at the ready for comparison.

It’s always a good reminder that no matter how great the recipe, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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.

Audio sensitivities

Even as a kid I never bought the premise behind Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Princess, and the Pea. Just a bit too far fetched for my young engineering brain to believe that anyone could feel a pea under multiple mattresses.

Fairy tales aside, it is a fact that we are all different when it comes to our audio sensitivities. I might be more sensitive than many to sound staging while someone else really focuses on tonality.

We make choices in equipment and set up based on those differing sensitivities: cables that bring out more details, vacuum tubes that warm and soften, subwoofers that build a solid foundation.

Our systems are all different, just like our tastes and sensitivities.

Few of us could likely tell if there were a pea under the cushion of our listening chair, but if our stereo system’s sound is even slightly amiss we know it instantly.

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’m so impressed with the T+A Audio gear I’ve now got on display and using full time, that I’m going to listen to their T+A Criterion S2200 CTL speakers here to possibly take the place of my beloved Daedalus Ulysses V2 speakers. I’ve loved the Daedalus speakers for  along time, so I think its going to be hard to top them. However, I have an open mind and even if I replace the Daedalus loudspeakers, most likely I’ll keep the BOW subwoofers, as I have a large, mostly concrete listening room and they will work great with the T+A speakers, as well.

The illusion of fixed

Standing atop Flagstaff mountain, one of the highest points in Boulder Colorado, I feel anchored. Immovable.

And yet I am intellectually aware that is but an illusion. That I am actually held by gravity to a single point on a huge sphere spinning at 24,000 miles an hour while rotating around a 584,000,000 mile arc at 67,000 miles an hour. From my vantage point that could all be nothing more than a myth. To me, I am just standing still.

No, I haven’t yet joined the Flat Earth Society.

The point of this post is to remind us that even though it may appear we’re locked in place, fixed, unmoving, we’re actually flowing down a continual stream of changing circumstances. Like riding in a car at 60 mph. The road outside’s constantly changing and yet inside the car life appears static.

I listen more and more to streaming sources like Qobuz, though my stack of trusty SACDs stands at the ready. One year ago it would have been the opposite.

What will tomorrow bring?

I’ve lived for years with the Infinity IRSV as my lifetime reference standard, but I am open to considering something else.

Fixed circumstances are but an illusion, though the comfort gained from a steady hand on a known course cannot be dismissed.

Steady as she goes but only for the moment.

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.

RCA terminated audio interconnects aren’t going anywhere, at least not for a long time.  Too many applications where they are good enough and often these cables are unshielded, so the negative conductor is not used as a shield.

Whereas I use XLR cables between my T+A DAC 8 DSD and my T+A Amp 8, as well as between the DAC 8 DSD and my Luxman Integrated amp, as well as between the DAC 8 DSD and my Rogue Audio RP-7 preamp, I do use RCA cables for my phono stage and for the plate amps for my two Daedalus BOW subwoofers. I’d prefer to use XLR cables, except I don’t have that option, as neither have balanced inputs and my Rogue Ares phono stage is definitely high end audio!

The RCA connector

I cannot imagine any reader of this blog that hasn’t heard of the RCA connector.

Designed in the 1940s by the Radio Corporation of America, its first use was to connect the internal components of console and tabletop radios manufactured by RCA. Back then consumers had never seen an RCA cable unless they dug deep into the radio’s internals. In the 1950s, as radio morphed into consumer audio equipment, RCA cables began to replace the quarter-inch jack, the standard for external interconnection of audio products. Before you knew it, the RCA cable was everywhere.

RCA cables can work in our high-end stereo systems. They are by far the most used connection scheme today. But just because something’s used a lot doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. RCAs have a number of shortcomings. When inserting the connector into its female counterpart, its extended hot tip makes contact before the ground and we hear a “blaaat” if we change cables with a live amp.  And, shielding? It’s not good on an RCA as one of the two conductors is attempting to also act as a shield. I could go on.

In “pro” applications we use the XLR balanced connector which not only solves the RCA’s shortcomings but adds another layer of improvement in its balanced configuration. And in high-end audio, an increasing number of people are moving to the superior XLR cable too. Bravo.

Some technologies have run their course and need to be replaced. The RCA cable has enjoyed an 80 year-long run. It’s probably time to join the other retirees in the setting sun.

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.

Another stereo book!!

The Audiophile’s Guide

I have been making steady progress in writing The Audiophile’s Guide. This will be a new series of books, the first of which is The Stereo.

The Stereo will be a step-by-step guide to assembling, tuning, and working with your speaker and room setup so your system sonically disappears and in its place appears a holographic soundstage where the musicians perform. There will be an optional CD to aid in setup.

I am quite excited about this work—something I have been planning to do for decades. I believe there will be few in our HiFi Family that would not benefit from its guidance. A weekend spent with the setup procedure outlined in The Stereo will net big gains in sound quality without spending a dime.

As I near completion I wanted to engage our community for a bit of help. Below I have listed the major subjects covered in the guide. Did I cover everything? Is there something you’d like to see in this first book in The Audiophile’s Guide series?

If you have a moment to drop me a note, I would be very appreciative.

Here’s what I’ll cover in The Stereo. Again, the book’s goal is to help with setting up and tuning the system.

  • Introduction
  • The history of 2-channel audio
  • What to expect for budget
  • Choosing the right loudspeakers
  • Choosing the right stereo electronics
  • The room
  • Basic setup
    • Placing the speakers
    • Placing the electronics
    • Placing the listening seat
  • Basic tuning
    • Making the speakers disappear
    • The grid system
    • Paul’s secret formula
  • Advanced tuning
  • Advanced room acoustics
  • Subwoofers
  • The importance of connection
  • The importance of power
  • Digital room and speaker correction

Of course, I didn’t include all the subchapters. But, this gives you a basic idea of what’s there.  Let me know if it’s complete enough and what else you might want to see.

Thanks.

 

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.

When we visited PS Audio a few years ago, they had their Infinity IRS’s set up in a very small room. It somehow managed to image pretty well on a couple of tracks in terms of width, but not depth and otherwise didn’t sound like they probably could. I really don’t know how the IRS’s could sound, as I never hear a pair properly set up, in the right room, but this room was definitely too small for them.

I’ve owned three single family homes and each has had a dedicated music room, The first one was 12’x16′ and I used small Proac Response 2 speakers and a pair of HSU cylindrical subwoofers there. The next room was larger and I used an assortment of larger speakers and two subwoofers in that room and the current one is the largest yet, at 18’x23.5′.  Yep, beside either my own home built speakers, or my aperiodically loaded Daedalus Ulysses speakers, I use two Daedalus BOW subs there, each cabinet having two 12″ drivers, also in an aperiodically loaded cabinet, powered by a big Bryston amplifier.

Let’s get real

How many among us have true dedicated listening rooms? I’ll bet fewer than 1% of a fairly big audience. No, I think most people have their home audio systems in their shared living space. Part of the home decor, to be enjoyed by all who live in the house.

In all the many decades I’ve been building audio systems I’ve had only one dedicated listening room in my home, and frankly speaking, I would have been better off with that setup in the living room or going for a smaller system. The large bedroom I commandeered for myself wasn’t really big enough to handle the 4-piece Infinity RS1 that came into my possession after Absolute Sound Magazine’s HP first hooked me up with Arnie Nudell of Infinity. Arnie demanded I “get real” and lose the Magneplanars I had at the time for some “real” speakers. Wanting to play with the big dogs, I jumped at the chance for a pair of RS1s even though I hadn’t anywhere to put them.

The ones pictured here are just a pair I grabbed off the internet, but mine were very much the same.

Too big for a bedroom, I would have been so much happier had Terri let me take over the family’s living room. That was not to be as our fourth child was ready to enter the world and the house was barely big enough for all of us—so my first dedicated room was somewhat of a letdown for a system of this size.

The point of this post is not to whine but to suggest we’re often best served by outfitting our homes with systems that integrate well into the family living space.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a proper dedicated listening room, you’re better off adjusting the main system to the home’s living space and enjoying music with the family.

Once I learned that lesson, life and my home music got a lot 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 old saw, there’s no free lunch, has been both a curse and a blessing to me. A curse because I’d rather have 100% benefits without dealing with consequences. A blessing because knowing the flipside helps decide how much cake I can have and eat.

Take for example subwoofers. If you place a subwoofer in the room’s corner you’ll enjoy greater output because the corner acts as an acoustic amplifier. That’s the good news. The bad news is that’s exactly the position that will activate every unwanted room node possible. More gain, more problems.

On the flip side, placing a subwoofer in the center of the wall has the least amount of unwanted room interactions. That’s the good news. The bad news is you’ll lose output and perhaps struggle with getting solid bass at your listening position.

Everywhere else is a compromise for best performance at your listening position.

Like the game Whack a Mole, there’s pretty much nothing you can do in your system’s setup that doesn’t have a consequence elsewhere. The same is true for most things in life where we have to consider the choices and weigh the consequences.

That said, we shouldn’t let the cost of lunch stop us from sitting at the counter. We shouldn’t forego the good because we’re anxious of the bad.

What’s important is understanding the potential consequences of our actions, then making the right choices.

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 great mystery

I write and speak a great deal about subwoofers because I believe they are the missing element in almost every audio system I encounter. And that’s always been a mystery to me.

My guess is that a good 90% of systems haven’t the advantages of greater presence, air, low extension, and life a subwoofer brings and it probably has to do with the way it’s always been presented—as an optional add on.

Imagine if tweeters were optional add ons. “Have a hankerin’ for some of them high notes? Just add yer’self one of these here tweeters and make like a bird.”

Perhaps the reasons are simpler than what I am making fun of. From the very beginnings of stereo, speakers were “full range” single-box entities. They had all they were going to have and add ons, as subwoofers have always been seen as, were about as necessary as super tweeters.

It is fascinating to me to be known as a “bass freak” because I don’t want a system that isn’t full range.

For now, I’ll just add this great mystery to the stock of others that I accumulate.

Now, perhaps someone will explain to me why frozen bread toasts up so much nicer than fresh…

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.

Missing the point

I sometimes feel like a lonely preacher in my quest to get every audiophile invested in a subwoofer. The few who pay attention to my sermons write back with effusive praise and always there’s the accompanying exclamation, “I had no clue”.

Indeed.

Perhaps the most oft-quoted reason for not adding a subwoofer sounds something like, “I don’t need any more bass” or “my speakers already go low enough”. We should not forget the classic, “I don’t listen to music with subwoofer-deep bass”.

All these procrastinations are missing the point of what’s in it for them: an added realism that simply cannot exist without a full range speaker. And no, most passive speakers do not deliver subwoofer-low bass to listeners in the room.

It’s true most of our systems don’t need more bass. What they lack are the subtle cues we hear in real life like ventilation systems, footfalls, room modes, and environmental rumblings—and what they produce is the unnatural (and unintended) phase shift of their woofer’s high pass function.

All passive speakers have a high pass roll off at the point where the woofer is no longer is flat. This adds an unnatural phase shift to the music within our audible range. Adding a properly aligned and tuned subwoofer can correct this shift (as well as any crossover can) and take the sub’s high pass below the frequency recorded on the disc. Thus, we don’t hear the phase shift.

Powered subwoofers, whether built into a speaker or external to it, add life and realism to the music in not so obvious ways.

Is your system full range or missing the point?

 

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 use some pro audio gear, specifically Urei Equalizers, but agree that audio equipment for the home is and should be different than pro audio stuff.

Pro vs. home

Our knee-jerk reaction to pro vs. home is that the former is better than the latter. After all, the pros make their living using equipment and we amateurs don’t.  Ergo, a pro drill must be better than a Black and Decker, a chef’s knife superior to a Popiel offering.

Of course, not all pro gear is better than home gear and for a good reason. They are often intended for different tasks. Take professional loudspeakers and subwoofers  vs. home versions: neither would work well in the other’s application.

Pro speakers intended for concerts and public events focus on loud and efficient at the expense of frequency extremes and performance qualities precious to an audiophile. Home speakers are the opposite. A home subwoofer, for example, will try and plumb subterranean depths while a pro version is intentionally rolled off at 40Hz to 50Hz. There’s no need to go lower in a crowded live setting and doing so requires a ton of amplifier power.

A pro tool might better suit a carpenter but it’s unlikely pro audio gear will ever sound as good in our homes as simple “amateur” products do.