Tag Archives: Tesla

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.

Great one from Paul.

Engine timing!! I set the timing on my car too, but like Paul, 40 years ago. Now, other than doing routine maintenance on our cars, I’d have no idea how to fix anything under their hoods.

Crossing the chasm

My father’s father, Claude, would probably find our modern technological wonders magic. Or unbelievable.

Imagine getting in a time machine and over coffee explaining to him that we can talk with anyone anywhere in the world. That within a matter of hours we can be transported in luxury anywhere in the world. That the entire knowledge base of humanity is available at the touch of a button. And let’s not forget our ability to watch any movie or listen to any music by just asking a robot.

He would likely just smile and think me a nutjob.

But, here’s the thing. I could probably manage to help him understand many of the basics including a turntable-based stereo  system. It’s not that far-fetched to show the principles behind the technology. A string and two cans would be a great help.

Now imagine explaining how digital audio works. Try to make sense of an optical disc and a pulsating laser to a person who just saw their first automobile.

Between the electro-mechanical era where inventors like Edison and Tesla could convert physical objects like horns, wires, wax, and needles into miracles, and the age of digital electronics spans a chasm so deep and wide as to be either magic or witchcraft.

In fact, do you think you could explain to someone with zero knowledge of electronics or science how music is stored and retrieved from an optical disc or a solid-state memory?

I would wager to say that when we crossed the deep divide between the electro-mechanical age and were thrust headfirst into manipulating electrons that we lost our grip on the ability to manipulate our own world. It wasn’t that many years ago I could set the timing on my car. Now my car has no timing to set.

It feels a bit humbling to have crossed the greatest chasm of humankind.

I am happy to be here. What a ride!

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.

We had one of those “clickers” for a Zenith TV, which was state of the art in its day. It made a boing noise every time you pushed the button to change the 4 channels we had, or turn volume up or down. It was the generation previous to the one Paul is showing and didn’t have individual buttons. And it wasn’t a color TV, either. We had ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS! My, how things have changed in the last 60 years!

The remote control

In 1898 Nikola Tesla remotely controlled a boat by wireless means to the amazement of onlookers at Madison Square Garden. Tesla called his boat a “teleautomaton”, one of the first demonstrations of remote control. Leap forward 58 years to 1956 when engineer Robert Adler and the Zenith corporation launched the Zenith Space Command, a wireless remote control for televisions that used ultrasonic tones to change volume and channels.

When the user pushed a button on the Space Commander, it struck one of four xylophone-like bars and emitted different fundamental frequencies at ultrasonic harmonics. Listening circuits in the television detected these sounds and interpreted them as channel-up, channel-down, sound-on/off, and power-on/off. With each button press, the user heard and felt a “click”. Over time, we referred to these as clickers.

I remember well these clickers. My grandpa Bill had one and I was allowed to click away to my heart’s content. Fortunately, there were only three television channels at the time so with each click, one of three network programs appeared: NBC, CBS, ABC.

I could not even imagine how this magic worked. It was truly as if from some mysterious space command.

Today we take for granted the magic of wireless everything, but for some of us old enough to remember, the transition from manually turning the channel selector knob on the television to clicking it from afar was nothing short of a miracle ushering in the space age.

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.

Gilding lilies

If you own a Toyota Prius upgrading its tires to the racing variety isn’t going to turn it into a Tesla. Nor would swapping tires with the Prius significantly alter the Tesla.

Yet better tires definitely improves performance when paired with the right vehicle.

The same can be said for our hifi systems. An expensive cable won’t help much on a consumer level stereo nor would a consumer level cable cripple a state of the art rig.

Polish and incremental improvements matter most when paired with products at the peak of their performance.

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.

Which components get in?

As audio designers, we want nothing but the best in our creations—the finest capacitors, connectors, power supplies, and wiring. Yet there’s an obvious problem with that. Not every product can be cost-no-object. Otherwise, few among us could afford to buy equipment for our music systems.

And thus the art of intelligent compromise comes into play. Take cars as an example.

Elon Musk has started to change the world with his all-electric Tesla automobiles, yet they remain too expensive for the average person. Which is why the company is introducing their Model 3 which begins to bring it into the realm of pricing many more can afford. So, where do Tesla designers compromise to lower costs?

If they are smart, they do not violate the core reasons people want that car—electric, long-range, fast, low operating costs, zero maintenance—which is exactly what they did.

The same can be said for high-end audio equipment. Our customers expect performance above all, so when we build to a price point that’s the one thing we do not compromise. Sure, the chassis, connectors, and even the features may not match those of their high priced elders, but core principals of performance and sonic expectations are central to the design.

I think smart designers get to the core of a product’s raison d’être and do what it takes to keep that intact while making intelligent decisions of what can be jettisoned without harm. That’s the key to deciding which components and features get in, without sacrificing the very reason someone wants to own that product.

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.

NAS, controller

A home music system without a controller is like a car without a steering wheel. There’s little you can do with it. Maybe once Google and Tesla perfect driverless cars, and voice recognition gets a lot better, we won’t need steering wheels or music controllers, but for now, they’re a fact of life.

The controller in a music system is the interface between you and the machines that run everything. For many of us the controller is all we’ve ever seen, all we’ve ever known about.

Open the app on a tablet and you’re presented with a list of what’s in your library–fancy controllers have attractive views of cover art. Select what you’d like to listen to, build a playlist, turn the level up and down, fast forward, select a radio station, edit metadata that’s not to your liking.

The controller IS the raison d’être of a music system. There’s little advantage to storing your music on a hard drive if you don’t have or use a controller. And, I would argue, the quality of the controller experience defines the level of pleasure extracted from a network music system. In my opinion, the controller through its interface is THE most critical element of the three we’ve been discussing: server, controller, renderer.

What exactly does the controller do and how does it work?

Surprisingly, for such an important element, controllers are rather dull witted. A well designed one, in fact, is hopefully as close to stupid as possible. Why? The less the controller has to do, the faster it works, the fewer connection and speed problems users are likely to experience. Designers with high expectations for the user’s experience would be well advised to let the server’s internal computer do as much of the work as possible. But, that isn’t always practical – especially when the server is rather dull witted itself. Like Twonky. But I digress.

Remembering the three elements of a DLNA music system:

Server, controller, player; the controller reaches out to the other two parts of the system for what it needs. Let’s say, for example, you open your tablet and want to scroll through your music library. The controller, which is a program installed on a mobile device–either Android or IOS–sends a request to the server.

Send me all the cover art. The server complies and the mobile device displays what it’s been sent. You touch one of the covers–perhaps Abbey Road–and a new request is sent to the server. Send me the track listing for Abbey Road. In the time it takes for the mobile device to animate the cover flipping to its backside, the track listing is sent over and displayed. Now, you wish to play the entire album, or perhaps one song. This time the controller sends a command, rather than a request.

Each track in your music library is actually a separate file with a specific memory location on the hard drive. It’s like a street address. Along with the track listings is the address where the track is located on your hard drive. Let’s say it’s 1234567. When you select that track, or a group of tracks (files), the controller sends a command to the player something like this: go to memory location 1234567, connect and play. Now, the player and the NAS, through its internal computer running Twonky server, open a connection to the file located at 1234567 and the player essentially downloads the file from the hard drive.

As a user, you now hear music through your DAC. The controller does one more thing at this point. It request information from the player about time–how long has the file been playing and how much is left. If you want to fast forward, the controller simply says: move to the middle of the file. Or, stop, or, play the file again, etc.

There aren’t that many good UPnP/DLNA controller programs around–and zero great ones. Of the good ones, there’s MConnect for IOS, and MConnect for Android. Bubble UPnP (for Android only). Other controllers include PlugPlayer for IOS, and PlugPlayer for Android. Linn’s Kinsky for IOS, and Kinsky for Android. There are others, but these are the most popular and will work with all NAS equipped for DLNA.

My favorite is MConnect for IOS, Bubble UPnP for Android.

Asheville, North Carolina ‘s Home Theater and Audio specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.


We’ve discussed some of the elements of a power supply, starting with the diodes that convert the AC to DC. I have mentioned the results of passing AC power from your wall socket through a series of these one-way gates is still AC, just separated AC. We don’t yet have DC. Smoothing out the transitions that occur 50 or 60 times a second is the job of the storage banks called capacitors. One element in the chain I left out is the transformer, and I left it out to make a point. We don’t need a transformer to change AC to DC. Transformers are useful for other duties, which I will explain, now that we are experts in how to channel that AC into separate plus and minus directions.

Transformers are miracles.

Their principals of operation go back to two of my heroes:

Michael Faraday and Nicola Tesla. Faraday discovered that electricity traveling through a wire creates a magnetic field. He also noticed the opposite happens. A magnetic field in close proximity to a wire creates electricity in the wire. This is all fascinating stuff, but when Tesla used these discoveries to create a new type of interface, called a transformer, he changed much of the world. The device he invented is really nothing more than two coils of wire and some iron. The first coil of wire connects directly to your wall socket: one end of the coil in one part of the plug, the other in what’s left. 50 or 60 times a second the power from your wall socket flows through the wire generating a large magnetic field. The second coil of wire sits close by the first and ‘transforms’ this magnetic field back again to electricity.

Why does any of this matter and what does this transformer accomplish? Two things: isolation and proper voltage. You learned early on in life not to stick your finger into the wall socket for fear of shock. By coupling your equipment to the wall through a magnetic field, you’ve managed to isolate yourself from directly connecting to the home’s AC power. Secondly, most electronics cannot use 120 or 230 volts to operate. Source equipment generally needs no more than 30 volts. The transformer gives us whatever we wish. We control how much comes out of it by the number of turns in the second coil of wire, relative to the first (fewer turns, lower voltage).

So to sum up.

The transformer is the first thing our equipment uses to connect itself to your home’s AC power. What goes into the transformer (AC) is the same as what comes out of it. Next it is converted to separated AC (plus and minus) then smoothed out by the capacitors into DC. We now are ready to take our DC and do something with it.

How many turns?

Yesterday we learned that a transformer is really simple: two coils of wire in close proximity to each other. The power you put in one end is transfered magnetically to the other end with great efficiency and isolation because the wires never really touch each other. The key to a transformer working is that it must have AC and will not work with DC.

In your high-end audio system you have one of these transformers connecting the power in the wall with every piece of equipment’s internal power supply and that chain is critical to the way your system sounds and performs. We’re on the trail of learning how it works so that we can then move on to understand the importance of power.

In our story Thomas Edison could not use a transformer in his system – something he desperately needed to do – because his voltage didn’t move back and fourth. Our friend Nikola Tesla had already figured this out and was waiting to implement these transformers in his system but need to invent a couple of key elements first. But I digress from the story because we first need to understand why we’re even talking about transformers and AC in the first place.

Remember the problem Edison had? His lights were at different brightness levels depending on how long the wire connecting them was and how many lights were sharing the wire. To fix this he would need to send more electricity than all the lights combined needed down a central wire and then figure out how to tap into this higher voltage for each house that wanted a light. His DC power scheme would not allow this to happen – because the lights would then get way too much electricity and blow up. There was no way to selectively reduce the DC to the proper level for each home.

But now imagine instead of DC power traveling at high voltage down a central wire we use, instead, AC voltage. Remembering that AC voltage is the same as DC voltage, only the plus and minus are alternating back and fourth 60 times a second, we can now connect a transformer to the main wire and have that transformer work – something that could not happen with DC.

So let’s now picture a main power cable running down the a busy street in New York. Along the street there are 100 homes we wish to provide the same amount of power to. In Edison’s DC system, every home that connected a light bulb caused the main power wire to drop in voltage and if all 100 turned their lights on at the same time, the lights all got dimmer and dimmer by 100. But if we replace the DC voltage with AC and make the AC voltage 100 times higher than any home needs we solve the problem IF we can get 100th of the power to each home.

Our transformers now come into play. Each of the 100 homes is outfitted with a transformer that magnetically couples the home to the main line and power comes into the home. How do we get only 100th of the power? Simple! Remember that a transformer is two coils of wire? The ratio of the two coils (the number of turns that make up the coil) determines the voltage. So if the input coil has 1000 turns and the output coil has 1000 turns, then whatever you put into the transformer you get out 1:1. But if the input has 1000 turns and the output coil has but only 10 turns, the voltage comes out 100 times less than what you put in. By simply changing what we refer to as the turns ratio between the input coil and the output coil we can get more or less voltage at will.

Bingo. With the AC system and transformers transforming the power from high to low, you can connect as many homes as you wish and all homes get the same level of brightness for their lights. Problem solved.

So where does Tesla come in? Well before Tesla we couldn’t do two things with AC power very well – generate it and use it to make a motor.

Tomorrow, Tesla puts it all together.