Tag Archives: vinyl LP’s

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 art of impurity

In a recent comment in response to my video about vinyl LP’s, viewer Richard Haggerty wrote:

“Vinyl is a physical medium, having a stylus riding on the surface causing friction. No matter how minimal, it remains no matter what measures you take to eliminate it. It’s the laws of physics. This contributes to the feeling of warmth. It’s like poetry read by a crackling fireplace. Next is resonance. Again, you can’t completely eliminate that either. The vibrating cantilever effects all solid matter making contact in the chain. All this is not a negative. The physical properties are candy to the auditory nerves. It’s the art of impurity.”

Not only was this a well written, thoughtful comment, but it also sparked something in me.

Is there perhaps a measure of truth to what he writes?

Is it possible that some of what we hear with vinyl is caused by the friction of the needle rubbing the walls of vinyl—friction that adds a kind of audible bias like a warm blanket following perfectly the music.

The art of impurity.

What a fascinating concept.

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 true treasure

Sometimes our memories of great experiences are rose colored. We forget the bad parts and seem to focus on the good parts.

Memories are like that.

Yet, sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes we forget just how great something was and once relived, all those wonderful emotions and experiences come rushing back.

I recently pulled out from the archives a few of the vinyl LP’s I kept. In particular the Sheffield Labs Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues series.

OMG. I had a very fond memory from back in the 1970s of being gobsmacked by the recording’s impact. The thwack of the kick drum, the clarity of the piano. In particular, Stevie Wonder’s composition You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.

What a recording!

Listening again to this direct-to-disc beauty I realized I had forgotten two things: the magnitude of the recording’s perfection and how the music never resonated with me.

I think that was the first time I figured out the reason I was listening was entirely the recording, which led me to purchase other recordings that were maybe not the best musically but the sound…. oh the sound…

Now, Mayorga’s performance is excellent. Professional all the way. It’s just not my style.

But style or no style, it’s one heck of a great work of art. A true treasure.

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 lines

As we’re growing up it’s our job as children to test limits. How far can I go before my fingers get burned or I get caught?

As a parent, I was greatly pleased (as well as amused) watching my four sons stretching their boundaries. I would often give them at least two shots at upping their game before I would draw the proverbial line in the sand. While one doesn’t want to stymie their growth, there needs to be some sort of guidelines for them to grow with.

Once the line in the sand had been drawn they’d inevitably ask me what would happen if they crossed over and my answer was always the same.

“I think you should cross it and find out.” The threat seemed enough for them to never challenge it.

(Truth was, I had no clue what punishment I would inflict.)

I think that as we grow older we tend to move our lines in the sand to better fit our experience and knowledge.

How many times have I declared I would never consider doing something like giving up the clarity of the electrostatic loudspeaker, listening through high-end headphones, or moving from vinyl LP’s to digital?

Our boundaries are all made up. They help us tell our story.

They are not always so easy to move but knowing they are self-imposed 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.

Simply so

Simple, cleaner, less cluttered. That’s the way we like our signal path, right? Less is more.

In simpler days when vinyl LP’s were all there was, a clean and straight path was typically the best for audio quality: the perfect cartridge/arm/table, feeding a great preamplifier, and then on into a power amp. This was before cables and accessories were a thing. Didn’t get much cleaner than that.

Today even analog rigs seem to require more to make them sing. Perhaps it’s an expensive set of audio cables, isolation products, tube dampers, separate phono and line stage, monoblock amps, and so forth.

I remember my first education in how simple isn’t always better. Years ago we used between the phono preamp and amplifier the very finest potentiometer available. No line stage or buffer after the pot for us, because we knew simpler had to be better. Until we tried a proper buffer after that pot and then everything changed. Gone was the wimpy bass without slam factor. Enter a new dimensionality in instrumentation separation and a much cleaner, clearer, better defined soundstage.

All because we recognized simpler isn’t always 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.

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.

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 value of libraries

The value of a music library can easily be measured with only two metrics: its quality content and easy access. If you have 1,000 treasured record albums but cannot figure out where any of the best titles are located it has a lot less value than an organized version.

As we work on our upcoming music server, Octave, one of the keys to its success will be its metadata and what we do with it. A massive stored and streaming music library approaching 1 million tracks isn’t of interest if you cannot easily and joyfully find and play what you’re looking for.

Equally important is how that media sounds. Even the best maintained library isn’t of much value if its content isn’t what you’re interested in or the playback isn’t as good or better than what’s on your discs or vinyl LPs.

Ultimately the value of a library is the same as what attracts us to a great restaurant: easy access to the best there is.

We’re getting closer by the day to launching Octave but don’t hold your breath. While we’re still on for 2019 I predict the days will need to get a lot warmer before she peeks her gorgeous head out into the world.

Can’t wait.

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 quiet revolution

My father Don was one of the few in our neighborhood that had an actual sound system. It was a cobbled together group of separates: Rek-O-Kut turntable, Stromberg Carlson electronics, homemade speakers. The few neighbors that had sound systems relied upon the classic all-in-one console, while everyone else got music through a simple radio.

All that changed in the late 1960s with a quiet revolution. Japanese receivers, speakers, and turntables began infiltrating American homes—not through stereo stores at first, but through the military. It was the height of the war in Vietnam, NATO troop buildups in Europe, and cleanup activities in Korea. The US military was everywhere and so too were the audio stores and PX where low cost Japanese (and eventually American) hifi equipment found their way home to America. Entire systems could be had for hundreds of dollars and GIs in search of bargains, their pockets filled with cash, flooded the stereo outlets.

By the mid 1970s, when the Baby Boomers were taking over, the stereo situation had completely changed. Now, there were almost no homes, dorms, apartments, or condos without the minimum requirements of a turntable, receiver, and pair of speakers. It was the heyday of the music revolution.

When I think back on these days it occurs to me there was a perfect storm of simultaneous revolution going on: the British music invasion, Woodstock, vinyl LPs, FM stereo radio, folk music, protest music, Motown, and what today we refer to as Classic Rock.

Without many taking notice we went from radios and the occasional console stereo to a near complete penetration of sound systems in every home—and it wasn’t just America. All over the world people plugged in, played music, and changed the world.

Digital works

While the hornets swarm around the last subject we brought up for a little bit, I thought perhaps we’d turn back to A/D Converters, the topic we started before all this got somewhat sidetracked.  When we left off our discussion on the Analog to Digital Converter, I had just finished explaining the function of the Sample And Hold Circuit of older, more traditional A/D Converters.  That circuitry used to take a “slice” or “snapshot” of the incoming analog signal, hold its value intact while the A/D Converter converts the sample to a digital number.

Early A/D converters needed the sample held because the method they used to figure out the correct digital number for the sample was time consuming.  Many of the original Pro A/D Converters, used to record music, ran at 48kHz and were bandwidth limited to half that sample frequency, or 24kHz, just slightly above the extremes for human hearing.  As you may remember, the system had to employ a steep and (mostly) intrusive filter on the input to make sure no higher frequency artifacts were sent to the A/D Converter, or a form of distortion known as Aliasing might occur.

Today’s A/D’s are much more sophisticated and fast, not suffering these types of distortions or limitations at all.  For example, the A/D used in our upcoming NPC product has an incoming sample rate of 352.8kHz.  To put that in perspective, it means we can have a very gentle low pass filter on the A/D Converter’s input that starts at 80kHz, far outside the band of any usable audio information from any format other than perhaps a live performance (and then “useful” information might be questioned).  In fact, we are recommending that NPC users do not exceed 96kHz for playback or recording of bandwidth limited analog source such as vinyl LP’s, tape recorders, FM tuners, etc..

This recommendation no doubt flies in the face of many of us who would immediately go right to the highest available sample rate of 192kHz.  I know I did before doing a little research and listening tests.  But truth is, 96kHz not only sounds better when playing vinyl LP’s, it makes no sense to go higher.  There are several reasons for this: first, 96kHz/24 bits captures any and all info possible on a vinyl LP, tape recorder or just about any analog source you might connect to the A/D.  Because the output sample rate on the A/D Converter is unrelated to the input sample rate and rolloff (352.8kHz and 80kHz respectively), there really isn’t any downside to using 96kHz to feed your DAC or computer.  One last reason (and this applies to many modern A/D Converters) the decimation digital filters (output digital filter) have guaranteed zero group delay only up to 96kHz.  Beyond that most modern A/D Converters have some form of small group delay above a higher frequency.  Group delay simply means that some groups of frequencies are slightly out of time with others and in the case of an A/D, it is a consistent gentle change at the upper frequencies.  Audibly you might hear a slight emphasis in the upper frequencies, relative to a zero group delay.  Recording engineers can (and do) make slight EQ adjustments to compensate when employing higher sample rates with PCM – but for mere mortals like us, we don’t generally have such luxuries available.

I know this is going to raise the hair on some folks necks who are convinced that PCM running at 192kHz is essential for best sound, but I would have to argue that if you handle the incoming musical signals properly (i.e. do not roll them off anywhere near the usable bands) there really isn’t much advantage to it UNLESS you are converting DSD to PCM.  Standard rate DSD runs at 176.4kHz and double DSD runs at 352.8kHz.  But if you are playing or recording vinyl LP’s, tape recordings, FM tuners etc. there’s no advantage to higher sample rates than good old 96kHz/24 bits.  if you’re recording live performance events using the A/D there may be some wisdom to capture using the highest sample rate and bit depth when properly executed, but if I were making live recordings I’d be using DSD and not PCM anyway (and none of these issues apply to DSD).

Perhaps a lot to absorb here, but it would seem to me a very common sense approach to making high resolution copies of your analog sources, saving hard drive space, reducing demands on playback processors, etc.  It’s what I am doing and happily so.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.