Death of the Album?

Dave Paananen, our director of engineering, asked “Isn’t it obvious the need for an album or CD is rapidly becoming unnecessary?”

At first I dismissed the thought, so ingrained is the notion of an artist creating a package around a body of work, but then I realized he is right.  The medium itself has always dictated the package musicians use to wrap around their work.

There’s the famous story of Sony founder Akio Morita’s dictate to set the length of the CD to 74 minutes in order to play the entire Beethoven 9th, which probably isn’t true but a great story anyway, to 45 rpm 2-sided discs for hit releases, the LP or Long Playing record, the 78 rpm, etc.  All content packaged as an album, or set of tracks, has been dictated by the capabilities of the medium.

The concept of the album came about because of the restrictions of the physical medium it was stored on.

Another good example is multi-disc sets of CD’s or vinyl.  From the perspective of a connected library, it makes little sense to separately display all 14 discs with identical cover art of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, instead I simply compile them all together in one “album” with many tracks.

Now that we’re entering the age of the physical medium having essentially no limits, why should an artist feel restricted to produce a musical package of a specific number of tracks and time?

I think Dave’s correct in his observation: we are witnessing the death of the album/CD as a package.

More freedom for musicians, more music freedom for us.

From Paul’s Posts….Paul McGowan from PS Audio.


PS Audio talks about Software Jitter

Just when we thought we had it all figured out along comes a new form of distortion to tackle: software jitter.  The culprit here is, unfortunately, a very necessary component in the chain of digital audio – the CPU (central processing unit) itself.

We first noticed this problem when we started releasing different versions of software and firmware – every release of our music management program eLyric sounds different and every release of the Bridge firmware sounds different.  This might seem obvious to you but not to our designers since the changes we were making had “nothing” to do with the data stream or the audio itself.  Sometimes a change in the front panel display code would cause a major upset in sound quality.

Turns out the core of this issue is our old “pal” the power supply – the problem we started working on in 1975 when we introduced external high-current power supply options and again in 1997 with the Power Plant.  Differences in code change how the CPU chugs along or gets wild with activity – which in turn modulates the power supply causing tiny voltage shifts.  These voltage shifts affect the transition area between a 1 and a 0 causing a temporal shift in the data called jitter.

Of course it should be obvious the way to fix this isn’t in the code that causes the changing flurry of CPU activity but in the hardware itself – a much bigger challenge.  You can see some of this work reflected in our new MKII upgrade of the PWD where we went from a couple of localized regulators to 11 – all in an effort to minimize the effects of software jitter.

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PS Audio International: When it’s just good enough

Alan Sircom, writing in the April issue of Hi Fi Plus magazine, suggests that the problem with getting newcomers into the high-end is they already find their means of reproducing music “good enough” – so why spend more time and money getting something better?  There’s some truth to what he writes.

I would put forth the argument, however, that it is in our nature as humans to want more: to tolerate good enough only for as long as we are unaware we can do better.  Once we realize others have moved from good enough to better, a fixed percentage of us want what’s better.  It’s always been that way and always will be that way.

So the challenge remains the same: how do we let people know there’s something better and what happens when they go looking?

Imagine for a moment our industry hired a PR agency to spread the word there’s something better out there.  The agency started placing news stories and articles about the subject – perhaps even ads – something clever like “If your music at home is “good enough” then please don’t read any further.”  A certain percentage of curious people would take the call to action and read further, do a little investigating.  But what would they find?

In some cases they might find a friendly dealer who could hold them by the hand and get them into a nice affordable high-end system – but frankly, it’d be hard – a stretch for that to happen.

So I think the first part of the equation might be easy – getting people to know there’s something better than good enough.  The second part of the equation, what happens when they go looking, is a lot more difficult.


PS Audio International: It’s gotta happen in 3 minutes!

We wanted to be able to explain how a Power Plant regenerator works in less than 3 minutes to people who had zero technical knowledge.

I didn’t want an ad or a fluff piece, but something fun, interesting and most important  – informative.  The challenge, it turns out, is quite hard.

In fact, I have been attempting to do this for more than 15 years without much success – as it’s a rather technical subject.

Then I ran across a creative agency that was willing to take a shot at it – and mind you these people haven’t a clue as to what high-end audio is, let alone a Power Plant.  The agency isCreativello in Seattle.  Having never worked with a creative agency this was going to be an interesting experience – especially when they told me “easy challenge, no problem”.  Yeah, right – heard that one before!

But ….. as my wife Terri would say “wowsers” when they came through.

I think what I learned from this project is that if you get the right people involved, not only are the results good but the process itself is really fun.  I’ve also discovered, through our forums, that several of you have used the video to help justify your Power Plant purchase to “the other half” who now understands what it does.  Brilliant!

If you have a moment I’d appreciate your opinion on the results

My thanks to the Creativello team and, in particular, Lori Rock whose hand is doing all the drawings.



PS Audio International: Why everything matters in today’s high-end systems

In 1973 when we first started PS Audio everything mattered to the sound quality path: types of capacitors, types of transistors, resistors, circuit topology, connectors, power supplies, chassis builds and so on.  Then we moved to digital audio and the pundits of the day proclaimed that bits are bits it wouldn’t matter what we did with them it would always sound the same as long as the bits didn’t change.

Boy were the futurists of that time wrong.

Today everything is different yet the same.  Music is mostly delivered digitally and instead of analog’s direct hardware based paths for the audio to travel we have millions of logic gates to direct the flow of music instead.  We’re learning that the route those digital musical bits takes is every bit as important to the sound quality as it was in the days of direct analog.  Even if the output of bits is identical, the course they take seems to affect the sound quality you hear.

Isn’t it odd that while everything seems different it’s really the same?


reference from PS Audio Internatinal:

Here’s what Apple is going to do next

Fundamentally change the form factor of their mobile devices from backlit LCD to see-through OLED. How do I know that? Because it’s the obvious thing to do to solve a basic irritation. Let me give you a little background.
In yesterday’s post I dropped an idea on you about creating a paper thin OLED touch tablet for music system control. Some of you brushed right past it, others wrote and asked me what OLED was and others quickly grasped the concept. That’s perfect.
Here’s the deal: the iPad, iPod, iPhone series of mobile devices from Apple are all backlit LCD devices – as are the majority of mobile products and virtually all PC monitors and many of today’s TV’s. LCD requires a backlight which works like a stained glass window – you have to shine light through the window to see the colors. OLED requires no backlight because it’s a wafer thin transparent membrane that emits colors both front and back. It’s a young technology but before you know it there will be nothing else used.
So, how do I know Apple and other innovators will switch to it? Because it’s obvious they dislike the weight, thickness, eye strain and battery loss of a backlit LCD – and OLED is the only technology to replace it.
Isn’t it obvious to you that Steve Jobs must have hated the required thickness of the iPad and iPhone cases – that couldn’t be done away with as long as you need a backlit box? Of course he hated it and would have much preferred a paper-thin sheet, attached to a small frame under the sheet that contains the battery and electronics. How much more elegant could you get these days?
The point I want to make is this: if you want to figure out where the future leads us, all you need to do is look at today’s frustrations and shortcomings.
Great new products are usually a surprise and a delight only because we weren’t frustrated with what we had already: but the idea guys hated them enough to build something magical.

PS Audio International: Enjoying it all

In response to our little series on purity and musical truth one of our Australian readers posted this comment:

“It’s all about enjoyment. I have listened to a number of systems that are very detailed and analytical and I hear things that I don’t hear on my system but they are cold and emotionless and to me not enjoyable.”

And I think that sums all this up quite nicely.  There are those of us who insist purity is the only path to achieving musical truth and any deviation from that path must be avoided – but I think we’ve shown there are a number of ways to get there.

Bass and treble controls are not pure but in some cases they may bring us more enjoyment of the music and that’s what matters.

Just remember all the great music out there to be enjoyed on your system.

I am turning mine on right now.

Post from PS Audio International:


PS Audio International: Opening up an age old debate

Several of you have written me suggesting the issue we’ve been discussing on purity has more to do with the playback equipment than the way it was recorded. I think it’s more complicated than that.

There was a time when we could accurately say that most all digital was inferior to most all analog – the CD vs. vinyl debate. As I pointed out the fact we can master a digital recording into vinyl and have it sound like analog suggests that’s no longer the case. In fact I would suggest that hasn’t been the case for some years now as most mastering studios are digital at one point in the chain even if the work started out analog.

I think what’s happening is that how close a recording gets us to our goal of being in the room with the musicians depends more on the playback equipment and the original recording and mastering process than any other factor – but here’s the rub – it isn’t the purity of the equipment design that matters.  Kit doesn’t have to be pure to be true to the experience.

Purity demands nothing be added or subtracted and that term works well when we refer to reproducing the actual event – not the equipment playing it back.

A great DAC playing a great recording can send us into musical bliss just as easily as a great turntable and vinyl disc can – while a cheezy off-the-shelf consumer stereo system playing the same media can leave us uninvolved.

It takes a great high-end setup playing well recorded media to recreate the musical truth of the original event – purity of the kit’s design, digital, analog, CD, hard drive, vinyl, tubes or solid state are just the means we use to get there – and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.

So, the next time someone tells you they only listen to vinyl or analog and they can’t stand the “sound” of digital, you can smile knowing full well the truth of the matter.



PS Audio International: How to prove a point

I am convinced Bob Carver is a crazy genius. He’s given more to our industry than most and always surprises and delights with his innovative approach. His tiny cube amplifier, his miniature room shaking subwoofers and to the point of this post, his amplifier shootout.

I remember back to 1985 when several reviewer challenged Carver to build a solid state power amplifier that sounded as good as a tube amplifier. Bob was just arrogant and smart enough enough to take the challenge and the magazine published the shootout and Bob won that battle easily.

But here’s what’s interesting: he did it by degrading the performance of the solid state amplifier to match that of the tube amp. His method was simple yet brilliant. Gain matching the two amps he placed their outputs on a scope set to difference mode. When in this mode the scope will visually display the differences between the two inputs. You can see an example of this with the PerfectWave Power Plants’ built in scope that displays the differences between the in and out voltages.

Using different musical pieces played on both amps, he masterfully hand “detuned” the solid state amp to match the tube amp and reduce the differences to nothing. The results were that the two amps sounded identical in a blind shootout by the reviewers. I think Bob even tried to capitalize on the publicity by producing a power amp that claimed the same performance – alas, unless Bob personally hand tuned each model it never sounded as good.

The point of all this goes back to our post on Purity and if it is a myth. If one can retune a device to sound more musical (thus no longer pure) and if vinyl records are filters that help digital recordings sound more musical, then what of purity?

Tomorrow I’ll let you know what I think about all this.