The Schiit

“You won’t believe this Schiit” and so reads the front page of Schiit Audio’s website.

Schiit Audio has my admiration for several reasons: the brilliance and audacity of the name, their products and the founders.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure to try their Schiit, but people I respect highly have and they are raving about the value and performance.  Thier main products, headphone amps, are really supposed to be “the Schiit” and one of the best there is out there.  Great work guys.

Founded by Jason Stoddard of Sumo and Mike Moffat of Theta, these guys are knocking ‘em down designing and selling products of exceptional value and performance.  The industry can use as many companies like this as possible and I, for one, applaud their efforts.

I don’t know Jason but I surely know Mike Moffat and have written of him several times in these Paul’s Post Series.  Mike was the first person to demonstrate to me that cables make a difference, the first person to show me the lighter side of some of our industry’s greats and lunatics, and a very independent and talented audio designer.

If you have a chance, check out their Schiit.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Recipe for high end

Words, tastes, sights, sounds are specific recipes that activate neuro transmitters in our brains that bring meaning to each.  I know it’s the engineer in me that brings this to your attention, but how things work fascinates me.

When you taste something it is a specific formulation of the 5 primary tastes and smells: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory.  And it is the specific combination of those 5 primary tastes, activating a special combination of neuro transmitters, that cause us to identify a flavor.  The same is true for words. although there are many more than 5 primary factors.  When someone says a word that you get meaning from, that word is actually a recipe firing a specific and unique combination of neuro chemicals.  And sound is no different.

If we listen to music through an uninvolving piece of audio gear, and our emotions are not stimulated, it’s because the audio “chef” has the wrong recipe (or no recipe) for emotional involvement.  It is the combination of good ingredients blended together just right that gets your taste buds in love with what you’re eating or your ear/brain in love with what you’re hearing.  Most audio designers are unaware of the subtle design nuances that connect us to the music – as if they all worked for McDonalds, unaware (or uncaring) of great restaurants and their ability to stimulate our emotions.

The recipe for high-end Audio is no different than any discipline designed to stimulate just the right combination of neuro transmitters – success or failure depends on the skill of the chef.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Borrowed slogans

I smiled when one of the posters on our Community Forums quoted another company’s slogan “no cable is better than any cable” explaining how their wireless approach is superior to a hard wired ethernet  connection.  I smiled because they lifted one of our long term slogans “there’s no preamp like no preamp”.

When we came up with that slogan, many years ago, it had a very specific meaning that is more accurately stated “there’s nothing better than nothing” meaning if it’s possible to remove one piece of gear in the audio chain, it’s a better, cleaner approach.  In our case we encourage people to replace their preamplifier with nothing – going directly into a power amp from their DAC.

Replacing one piece of gear for another doesn’t really do justice to the slogan.  If you replace an ethernet connection with a wireless transmitter and receiver, you haven’t replaced something with nothing you’ve simply replaced one thing with another.  Small point?  Perhaps.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

If you’re going to borrow a slogan, at least get it right.

Meters and emotions

Our upcoming new product called the NuWave Phone Converter, or NPC, is really two products in one box: an analog phono preamp and an ADC (Analog to Digital Converter).  Recently on the PS Community Forums there’s been a lot of talk about which ADC is the best to go with – and there are a few good choices out there – most coming from the pro audio market.

But here’s the thing: they have little to no interest in what we sometimes take for granted, high-end audio qualities – qualities that focus on bringing out the life and emotion buried in each recording.

Companies like TASCAM make exceptionally good ADC products packed with plenty of features and options – but I am pretty sure no one on their staff is in to high-end audio – as a consequence they really never pay any attention to what’s important to most of us.  Lots of technical accomplishments, no one paying attention to the musical end result.  In a nutshell, “they got no soul”.

On the other hand, companies like Meitner and PS are immersed in both the technical and the high end – so you get the benefit of what the engineers and the Audiophile’s strive for – a kit with a soul to it, a piece of gear that conveys the essence of the musical performance – an essence only our ears can attest to.

What’s interesting to me about this is not so much that well regarded high-end companies manage to achieve this through hours of commutating back and forth between the listening room and the test bench – but that in the end we make technical changes to give the equipment the ability to convey emotion; emotion embedded in the music itself.

One approach keeps the meters and test equipment happy while the other balances meters and emotions to great advantage.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The thing about failure

…is that it leads to success.  Perhaps the hard way, but sometimes it’s the only path there.

Thanks for all the kind words of encouragement about the amp not living up to what I wanted but, here’s the thing about failing, it pushes you harder to succeed and in the process of figuring the problem out great things usually emerge.

If everything just went according to plan life’d be pretty boring – and for those of us afraid of failure (and who isn’t?) – once we get over the initial disappointment most of us roll up our sleeves and really get moving.  So, on that note, what will be my first steps?

As I’ve been traveling as of late and enjoying time off in the northern parts of our country I’ve been contemplating what to do – why would the amp sound somewhat closed in, less open and have a stiff top end that sounds recessed?  What are the probable causes?  It occurs to me that when we designed the new all FET front end stage that we had to resort to a constant current source on the FET gain transistor.  The reason for this was greater linearity and because we’re using MOSFETS for the outputs of the analog gain stage, keeping a constant current helps bias these devices.  But there’s a problem with a constant current source connected to a gain transistor – far more gain than is perhaps manageable – because the current source looks like an infinite resistor.

One of the hallmarks of a “closed in” sound that we learn, as designers, can sometimes be attributed to the problem of too much open loop gain – in other words, too much gain before feedback results in too much feedback – and this, in my experience can be the cause of such a sound.  So as soon as I am back from my trip I’ll figure out a way to keep the constant current source working, yet limit the open loop gain so the amount of feedback is low.  We’ll see what that does.

Some of the most open sounding preamps and amps have little to no feedback and that’s for a reason – this very problem I am describing.  No feedback at all has its problems, and too much has them as well.

I’ll let you know what we find as we dig a bit deeper.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Whoa, whoa

Yesterday’s post detailing my experience in the power amplifier shootout surprised quite a few of you.  Some wrote and questioned why I would publicly announce our new power amplifier wasn’t as good as the $10,000 tube amp we compared it to (no names please).  Others wrote in support of my forthright approach.

I guess I would suggest that it’s important to me and the entire team at PS that we are open and honest about how we feel about our products, even if that means I have to admit it isn’t as good as other products.  Heck, I’ll bet there’s a few amps it isn’t better than.

I would also suggest that I brought the subject up because one thing I cannot stand is to listen to one of our products knowing it’s lacking in one area or another. I am fine that it isn’t quite this or that, but the fact that the ability to reach out and touch the instruments is simply lacking in this design really upset me – and now there’s no turning back.

How can i sit in front of our magnificent Music Room One knowing the system, our amplifier, is missing an entire element?  I don’t think I can.  In fact, I know I can’t.

Finding and achieving this elusive quality may be quite a challenge, but I am up for it.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Reaching out and touching the sound

On a recent pilgrimage to Arnie Nudell’s home (founder of Infinity and Genesis) to have a power amplifier shootout, I was struck by a comment he made to me about the way the system sounded (which was nothing short of magnificent).

He correctly pointed out that the sound was so real you could easily imagine yourself reaching out and touching each of the instruments.

We were listening to a great new piece of music I was unfamiliar with called La Folia.  Using period instruments, this great recording really showed a wonderful soundstage and indeed the instruments were so real it was as if you could touch them.

How did our new amplifier do compared to that experience?  Unfortunately, it was as if the ability to touch them was gone when we put the new amp on.  I was quite upset over the experience but although our amplifier sounds great, the fact that it didn’t live up to this standard was new to me.  I am determined to figure out why and what the mechanism is.

And just when you think you have the world by the tail, you take it to a new test and learn of a whole new dimension.

And here’s something else interesting – I’d wager good money these two amplifiers we compared would measure close to identical – yet one had this amazing realism and palpability the other lacked.

I don’t think it’s back to the drawing board but it does appear like I’ll be rolling my sleeves up again.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl

Working too hard

I think one of the hidden factors in our quest to enjoy our high-end audio systems is how hard our brains work at processing the sound we hear – less processing equals less listener fatigue.

Good friend and fellow Audiophile Mark Lewis wrote me a inspiring note that suggested he enjoyed his time in Music Room One with the IRS because he had less processing to do – everything more separated, clearer – the illusion of soundstage so real your senses had less to fill in and imagine.

We’re all familiar with the phenomena of Listener Fatigue – when something we hear is too bright or harsh, too loud, too complex – our brains have to either guard against or untangle the sound fields we hear and this is work!  The harder we work the less we relax and enjoy what we hear, the more fatigued we get.

Surely one of the very best indicators that you have everything in your system dialed in right is the feeling of wanting more after a listening session.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have listened to a new DAC or amplifier – found myself enamored with its sound – yet felt fatigued after spending time with the device or thrilled to put the next track on and can’t get enough of the experience.

Certainly some of this can be mood, but overall if you find yourself wanting more, you’ve got something quite right.

Off axis

If I am in the Music Room listening to some change engineering made or a new tweak we want to put into products, it’s my responsibility to listen and evaluate those changes as best I can and pass judgment on them.  Sometimes that’s very difficult because I find myself in a situation where it sounds worse here, but better there, etc.

One of the tricks I use to get a different viewpoint on the subject is to sit off axis.  In each of the Music Rooms we have three identical seats: one of which is, of course, the hot seat right in the middle.

I can move to either the left or the right seat next to the hot seat to get a different view of the sound and in many cases, the decision is made much easier by doing this.

I first noticed this while at Genesis Technologies with Arnie Nudell, founder of Infinity.  Because Arnie has always been the chief listener and evaluator, I was always sitting next to his seat; riding shotgun if you will.

Many times in our listening sessions over the years I would hear differences much quicker in the copilot’s seat rather than the pilot’s seat and thus, over the years, I’ve figured out the times when I need to simply move over and get a different view.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.


I thought you might be interested in an update on the Helmholtz Resonators we built into Music Room One.  For those of you who watched the video series on building the sound room you will remember that we closed off each of the room’s four corners, built a wall at a 45 degree angle in each of those corners, filled them with sound absorbing material and then proceeded to add tuned port resonators to help eliminate the 12dB bump we have at 24Hz.

I am sorry to say they didn’t work all that well and Bob Stadtherr (our chief engineer) and I are a bit baffled (not to make a pun).  We did get about a 4 to 6dB reduction at 60Hz, which is good because we also had a problem area there, but almost none at the target frequency.

The good news is we were able to quite accurately calculate and predict the problem due to the room’s dimensions.  The bad news is we weren’t able to accurately calculate what we should do about it.

We’ll keep plugging away to make progress, but I did promise you I’d say what happened.

There’s a video we produced that’ll show you the process we went through.  Head here to see Tuning the Music Room, Part One.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.