Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The Ice Man

Thanks for the kind notes on the DirectStream video.  Part 2 has been released and you can view it here.

Making videos is fun and I’ve making them since I was a teenager.  Which brings to mind a funny story from out of the past.

I was constantly in trouble in my high school days.  After being arrested by the the Secret Service for climbing a wall and sneaking into the Balboa Bay Club to take a picture of Barry Goldwater, a candidate for president at the time, my parents threatened  to disown me if I didn’t straighten up.  I figured I should chill on the adventures for a bit and stay close to home.  But I needed a project.

I had saved my money, much of it garnered from stealing change off my father’s dresser (remind me to tell you the story of the lie detector my Dad built), and bought a used 8mm film camera.  The problem with owning a film camera when you’re 16 years old: there’s nothing interesting to shoot.  I had to create something.  I figured it’d be fun to make a film.  A real film with actors and a story.  Only, I didn’t know any actors and there was no story.  That never stopped me in the past.  I turned to my best friend, David Wiley, for guidance.

David was amazing.  He could play the piano (because his parents forced him to), he could act and he was popular with girls.  Perfect.  A real movie star.

As we had no budget and our only motivation was to find something to do with my camera, the plot had to be simple and involve no sets or props.  The story was titled, The Ice Man.  Actually, we didn’t have a story, but if we did that would have been the title.  We modeled it as a cross between a Charlie Chaplan character and the Three Stooges.  Charlie Chaplan because we didn’t have any sound and we needed only a mustache for a prop, the Three Stooges because we wanted it to be funny and had seen one of their shorts about delivering ice to customers.  Never mind that in 1965 no one had ice delivered anymore.  A block of ice was cheap and so was the fake mustache.  We were ready to go.

Our first idea was to film our star carrying the ice down the street.  He would get tired, set the block down, sit on it and wipe his brow.  Of course the ice would start to slide and this would make our first action in the movie as our star careened down the street on a block of ice, out of control.  Hilarious.  Only, if you live in Anaheim California there are no hills steep enough to have this work.  And even if there were, ice apparently doesn’t slide with a 120 pound teenager attached to it.  I know because we tried.

My slightly older neighbor, Mike Meyer, was the driver involved in the failed attempt to photograph Goldwater.  He too was arrested by the Secret Service and so was a bit wary of helping us, but he did have a car.  We needed a car and a driver.  A car could pull a block of ice if that ice were cleverly attached to the rear bumper with a cable.

Tomorrow, we convince the local police department to block off the street for us.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Cats out of bags

Sometimes I am the dumbest person I know.  Which is saying a lot because I know a lot of people.  Worse yet, at my age you’d think I’d have gotten smarter over the years.  The opposite has happened.

I feel badly and want to apologize to all my readers.  I had asked each of you to wait until Saturday for the big announcement of our new product.  Then I went ahead and authorized a press release to publish yesterday morning, somehow stupidly figuring the editors wouldn’t get around to publishing right away.  Boy was I wrong!   That’s not cool and I apologize. To hear the news through anywhere other than right here is a disservice to you and you have my apology. 

For those of you that didn’t hear, the new product I’ve been hinting at is the DirectStream DAC, the replacement for the PerfectWave DAC.  This new DAC is quite revolutionary in how it works and what it does and accomplishes.  There will be an upgrade path for all PWD owners.

I just finished uploading part 1 of the video I intended to launch Saturday morning.  Here’s a link to it.  It explains everything about the new DAC.

I’ll try and get part 2 up later today, which includes Ted’s technical explanation and a Q and A with the members of the Colorado Audio Society.

It’s very late Wednesday night as I write this.  I am going to go have a beer.  Odell’s has a new red IPA I have been looking forward to.

Sorry.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Directional engineering

There are two types of engineering directions if we take a broad stroke view: forward and reverse.  Forward engineering might look like engineering a new product from a simple idea from scratch.  Reverse engineering would look like the opposite: start with something that already works and take it apart to figure out how it was made.  Both disciplines are effective means of building a new product or discovering a new concept.

A great example of the effectiveness of reverse engineering happened in the mid 1880′s to Charles Darwin, author of the Origin of the Species.  Darwin spent a great deal of time in the Pacific ocean trying to solve a mystery.  It was commonly believed that all islands were volcanically formed and rose out of the sea in an eruption.  But standing on a South Pacific atoll, Darwin wondered how it was that all the atoll islands he visited managed to be just a few feet above sea level, when he knew that over the years, sea levels had risen and fallen.

He began to reverse engineer how that might happen as the level of coincidence of these island atolls all being the same elevation seemed unlikely, especially because of the unpredictable nature of a volcanic event.  Volcanic islands like Hawaii varied dramatically in height.  Not so for the island atolls, scattered over thousands of miles of ocean.  They were all identical in height.  Of course we now know that the islands were actually made from the remains of small creatures called corals and when the seas rose, they simply built onto their existing structures to rise up high enough to meet their needs for the energy from the sun.  Darwin shocked the world when he figured this out.  He simply reasoned there must be something else going on and started looking on a microscopic level.  It was then easy to see what was not obvious to anyone else.

The project we’ve been working on is somewhat similar in that we backed into a problem with digital audio we didn’t know existed.  Starting with the solution, we began to question what we were hearing.  And then reverse engineered the answer to what was going on.  Had we not started with the solution, we would never had known to look and figure out what’s going on.

Fascinating stuff.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The perfect music collection

Here’s a quick observation about listening to music and making evaluations.  If I listen alone it often takes more time to figure out differences than if I have someone else listening with me.  You?  Anyway, just a weird quirk I need to figure out.

On to the subject at hand.

Would we really be happy if we had the perfect music collection?  How many of us could say that if we did, we would do nothing but kick back and enjoy our library, without ever venturing out to have something even better?

There’s always a new pair of speakers, a new amp, something to bring us closer to where we want to be.  But perhaps, like many of us have discovered with AC power, by fixing one element of our system we can safely and confidently move on to other tasks without looking back.  We would have complete confidence in at least this area.

I don’t propose that we’re going to fix those tendencies towards perfection and I am not sure it’d be as much fun or interesting if we did.  Most of us are truly committed to having the best we can manage to help enjoy our music and technology does march along at a quick pace.

But if we can put to rest one area of our system that would be a good thing.  And if that area reduced the chasm between analog and digital, perhaps we could enjoy a much wider selection of music from all mediums and formats.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Buried treasure

My friend Laura writes to me.  ”Color me stubborn or old fashion if you like, but I just can’t get the emotional involvement from digital I have with vinyl. From pulling the record off the shelf, taking it out of its sleeve, putting it on the TT, lowering the tone arm, the artwork on the cover, liner notes one can read without a magnifying glass, and most importantly, the sound the comes from those grooves. It sounds far more like real music to me.”

And sounding like real music is what it’s all about.

We’ve spent the last 100 years of vinyl reproduction perfecting the art of pulling music out of those grooves.  We’re getting pretty good at it.

After 30 years of trying to do the same from the shiny silver discs, we’re getting better.

But there’s a lot of music buried in those little silver discs you’ve not yet heard.

You have a library full of buried treasure.

And soon you’ll have a treasure map that will unlock those secrets.

I am guessing right around March 1.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Who could it be?

Nearly every person I encounter that isn’t familiar with high-end audio tells me the same thing.  ”I could never tell good sound from bad sound.  I don’t have golden ears.”

Where does that notion and term “golden ears” come from?

Did Consumer Reports use this term as a thinly disguised criticism of Audiophiles?  Stereo Review?  Popular Science?  The New York Times?  All of them?  It seems so universal that people have this idea and I am curious as to how it started, where did it get its roots?

Of course it’s not true.  Over the over 40 years I’ve been playing with audio I have never found anyone that didn’t quickly pickup on subtle differences when played back on a good system.  And they all seem surprised that they hear a difference.

I don’t know where or how it started but it’s certainly one of the most prolific myths around.  Someone did a good job for this to become this widespread.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Do you like vinyl?

I like vinyl and I am guessing a number of you do as well.  But let me suggest that if we like vinyl, what we really mean is we like tape.  Or perhaps even more accurately, we like an inferior copy of tape.  Both definitions will do.

99% of all LP’s ever pressed were copied from recording tape.  Certainly there were a handful of direct to disc recordings that skipped the tape process.  And those direct to disc LP’s generally sounded a lot better than what we’re used to, copied from tape.  As recently as the mid 1980′s some LP’s were copies of digital audio recordings.  But for the most part, LP’s are copies of tape.  And neither tape nor LP’s benefit from the copying process.

I’ve heard many master tapes back in the day.  They sounded better than their vinyl counter parts.

So if we like LP’s, we like tape.  If we like tape and LP’s we like analog.  And most of us understand those analog recording/playback mediums are limited.  They are restricted in terms of dynamics, noise levels and frequency response.  They’re limited relative to the real deal, live music.  But they sure sound good.

To be clear “analog” isn’t limited, just the traditional means of recording and playback it back are.  For example, most amplifiers and preamplifiers are analog and we can extend their dynamics and frequency response beyond any human auditory capability.

Many of us cling to our analog playback mediums because, for the most part, they sounds more like real music than anything else we’ve listened to, despite their obvious limitations.

Take a moment to digest a great article by our friend George Moneo called Quo vadis, “analog” we just published.

I think you’ll find it stimulating.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Perfect Sound Forever

In 1980 there was no internet as we know it today.

The PC was introduced in 1981 and in that same year, we listened to our music on turntables and tape decks.  Vinyl, tape and the inherent limitations of their mediums came to be known as analog and were all we had to reproduce our music.

The best analog recording mediums were never capable of reproducing the full dynamic range of an orchestra or a live band.  Analog was flawed, restricted and limited.  And we knew it.

But analog also had an advantage.  It sounded like music.  We tolerated its limitations, its wows, its flutters, its ticks, its pops, its warps, because it sounded right.

No, it wasn’t perfect.  In fact, far from it.  But we could close our eyes and be transported to another place through the music.  A cello sounded like a cello.  A violin like it’s namesake.

No wonder that in 1982, when Sony and Philips announced they had achieved audio perfection they called “Perfect Sound Forever”, music lovers the world over rejoiced in anticipation of great things to come.  No longer would we have to tolerate all of analog’s limitations.  It would be a new world.  It would be contained on a compact silvery disc.  A miracle.

Imagine our disappointment when we were so filled with expectations and high hopes of getting even closer to the music.

Just imagine.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The new kid

I rely on most of my life as being a stable platform from which I can pass judgments and make decisions from.  I am guessing most of us do this.  It’s why we’re creatures of habit.

We rely on things being the same to cut down the amount of clutter sorting and processing we’re required to do navigating our environment.  We drive the same car, we eat at the same places, we sleep in the same bed, we watch the same TV programs, listen to the same radio stations, we listen to the same stereo system.  And we judge new components on that same system.  In my case it’s called our Reference System.

Anyone’s main system is, in fact, their Reference System.  When we evaluate a new cable, piece of music, DAC, turntable, cartridge or change of any kind, we reference what we’re familiar with vs. what change we’re adding.

So when your reference fails you, like mine did yesterday, it’s disorienting because it’s unexpected.  Because it’s unexpected, what we rely upon as our reference becomes last on our list to question when something doesn’t sound right.

The longer I do this the more I question everything.  That’s a big leap for me, a person who loves his comfort food, his security blanket of repeated habits that keep me “safe”.

Safe isn’t where we want to be to make progress, but it sure feels comfortable.

Asheville’s Home Theater and Audio specialist presents Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Risky business

Being a designer, an entrepreneur, a business owner, a creator, a writer is risky business.  You risk failure at every turn.

You risk not meeting your own expectations let alone those of your customers.

Yet, without making those risks there are no rewards.  And at the end of the day, the rewards seem worth the risks.  At least to me.

I spent an entire afternoon auditioning two units, each with slightly different codes on them to see which sounded better.  They both sounded awful.  Just yesterday they sounded great.  My first reaction was one of fear.  ”Had I misjudged them yesterday and today the truth reveals itself?”

Risk fuels fear.  And fear fuels doubt.

But I knew they sounded great yesterday.  They couldn’t sound 180 degrees out of phase today.  Something else must have been amiss.

Turns out my 35 year old loudspeaker’s woofer system had given up the ghost.  Two hours later, some screwdrivers, scopes and meters and we were back in business.

Yet I learned another good lesson.  What we do is risky and if there’s no risk, there’s no boundaries to cross, no discoveries to be made.

We can’t have rewards without risks.