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.

Subwoofer history

In one of my Ask Paul video questions, I was asked how far back subwoofers go in 2-channel audio. The community member had only become aware of subs as they related to home theater.

Of course, many readers of Paul’s Post know subs date back much further than home theater.

From Wikipedia: In September 1964, Raymon Dones received the first patent for a subwoofer specifically designed to augment the low-frequency range of modern stereo systems (US patent 3150739). Able to reproduce distortion-free low frequencies down to 15 Hz, a specific objective of Dones’s invention was to provide portable sound enclosures capable of high fidelity reproduction of low-frequency sound waves without giving an audible indication of the direction from which they emanated. Dones’s loudspeaker was marketed in the US under the trade name “The Octavium” from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. The Octavium was utilized by several recording artists of that era, most notably the Grateful Dead.

Two years later, in 1966, my former partner in Genesis Technologies and the co-founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, along with his airline pilot friend, Carry Christie, launched the second and perhaps most important subwoofer of its time, the Infinity Servo woofer, based on an 18″ Cerwin Vega driver.

My experience with a subwoofer began a few years later when I was first introduced to a true high-end audio system. There, in the living room of local audiophile Norm Little, was serial numbers 1 and 2 of aerospace engineer Eugene J. “Gene” Czerwinski’s creation, a pair of 18″ Cerwin-Vega subwoofers capable of producing 130 dB at 30 Hz, an astonishing level during its time (or any time).

I suppose I have never gotten over the experience of hearing for the first time, all there is in the recordings, including subsonics.

Until you hear it all, you’re not going to know what true high-end audio really is.

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 had a pair of re-built, double stacked Quad 57 electrostatic loudspeakers for quite a while and they were fantastic sounding speakers, except for a couple of noise foibles, that I ended up not being able to get around. Nothing perfect, but the Daedalus Ulysses V2 I use now, in conjunction with the Daedalus BOW double 12″ subwoofers, come pretty darn close.

My first electrostat

Until 1976 the only speakers I had ever spent any time with were either dynamic or planar, and 90% of that listening was through dynamic speakers.

The sound of dynamic loudspeakers set the standard for reproduced music. The only hint I had of something different came in the form of a Heil Air Motion Transformer. This black box tweeter replaced a 1″ silk dome tweeter Stan and I were very much used to hearing. Here’s a picture of one.

So efficient was this tweeter that we had to slap a 1kΩ resistor in series with it just to bring it into line. The speed and openness of this folded ribbon was a revelation.

But then we received on loan a pair of Quad electrostatic loudspeakers.

Compared to our tall boxes of dynamic drivers, these quaint little panels looked anemic. They had no woofers nor tweeter. They plugged into the 120 wall sockets and they came with a warning from their owner: “don’t play them too loudly or they will catch fire”.

Stan plunked these odd-looking panels in front of our reference speaker enclosures and hooked them up. Careful not to turn the preamp up too loudly, I dropped the needle on track 2 of Joni Mitchell’s Court and SparkHelp Me began to play and Stan and I looked at each other with mouths agape.

This often played track sounded like Joni and the band was in the room. It was as if all along we had been listening through a window which now was opened for the first time. Never had I heard such clarity and transparency in the music.

This electrostatic marvel hadn’t any bass nor dynamics and we had to fight each other for a chance at the sweet spot, but man oh man it was unlike anything we had ever heard.

Louder and louder we played it until 30 minutes into the session there was a sick crackling sound, a flash of blue, and the acrid smell of something burning.

This was the first time I understood that our standards for accuracy were entirely based on subjective evaluation through a grossly imperfect means of reproduction.

My worldview had been forever changed.

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.

Subwoofers are very important, even in the best two channel stereo systems. I have two subs in my system and what they do for midrange clarity and imaging is almost hard to believe.

Subwoofer LFE

If you’re running a home theater receiver or surround sound processor it’s often tricky to get the subwoofer settings correct.

Theater processors are almost always different in the way they handle bass frequencies than analog preamplifiers who, unlike SSPs, almost never have separate subwoofer outputs.

Confusion arises between the two because (typical to) an SSP is a built-in subwoofer crossover. What often happens is users mistakenly plug the crossed over SSP output into the subs crossover-controlled input—and now we have two crossovers where we wanted only one.

Which is why so many subs have what called an LFE input (Low Frequency Effects). Basically, the LFE is a direct shot into the subwoofer’s amplifier without going through its crossover. Thus, the crossover in the receiver or SSP controls how high the bass goes and to what degree its roll off should be tailored to.

Subs can seem rather complicated at times. Hope this helps.

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.



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.