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

Room correction

Rooms are bad for hi fi systems, yet necessary.

Loudspeakers are designed to work inside our homes despite the fact our homes constantly get in the way: bass modes, sidewall reflections, too reflective, too absorptive, etc. One way to work with the problem is room correction software. This approach typically uses a digital equalizer in the signal path that “fixes” the problem: reducing or increasing bass, treble, midrange, adjusting phase. In other words. whatever damage the room is doing to the sound, your loudspeakers put out the opposite of the damage, thereby lessening it. Room correction software doesn’t fix the room, it changes what’s in the room to compensate.

To use a car analogy as an example, let’s imagine we’re driving down an extremely bumpy road. There are two ways to adjust for the bumps: add self adjusting shock absorbers or fix the road. Room correction software is like adding self adjusting shock absorbers – the bumps gets better, but at the expense of changing the car’s ride characteristics.

Until we manage to invent something that fixes the room itself, I am going to remain a stubborn guy and just tolerate the bumps.

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

Dealing with change

In my view one of the beauties of our DirectStream DAC is its ability to change everything about its behavior through software.
Place a small SD memory card in the back, power cycle it, and you have an entirely new DAC; maybe better, maybe worse (we certainly hope better). We could turn it from a pure DSD to a pure PCM based device in less than 30 seconds and email users the means to do that with. That’s powerful stuff.

I have been observing, as of late, how each of us deals with change; not just with this DAC but in general. Some jump on the latest improvements and rejoice, others recoil in horror, and there’s everything in between. And it’s nearly impossible to predict how people will react to change based on their day-to-day behavior.

Take me for example. Terri will tell you I am a man of routines. I have my routine in the morning and if completed I am good for the rest of the day – changed and I am at odds, struggling to find my center of balance. I park in the same lot at the airport, go through the same TSA area, arrive in the same amount of time for a flight. It just works for me.

So based on these patterns of sticking to a routine, you’d think I’d be the first to run from change. Yet the opposite is true. I am almost always the first to eagerly embrace change when it comes to something outside my set routines.

Give me new software and I eagerly install and evaluate it.
If I had to distill my notes on change down to a single observation, it’d look like this: one group embraces the new while the other misses the old. I don’t believe either one is superior to the other.

Both groups seem able to move back to the center line just as easily, if that’s the direction that works for them.

I guess it goes back to the old adage of half full vs. half empty; a phrase I used to believe had one clear goal.

I am now reconsidering that thought.

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

What makes something high end?

My son Scott is being thrown into the fire without a protective suit, answering hundreds of emails and questions about his new product Sprout; some pretty rough. I feel for him.

It’s really generous when people help him get the word out and support his ongoing effort, the flip side is all the naturally occurring questions; some can be rather heated and direct.

One gentleman lambasted Scott over his claim Sprout is a high end piece. The poster pointed out that an Audio Research product is high end, Sprout is anything but.

I would imagine all my readers would chuckle a little at this poster’s assertion; Audio Research is clearly high end, but why would one automatically assume a small integrated isn’t? It got me to thinking about the question. What makes one thing high end while the other isn’t?

I am sure it’s not price – if it were then products like the Audioquest Dragonfly USB DAC wouldn’t be accepted in high end circles. I am sure we’ve all heard stelar sounding budget systems and equipment.
And to be honest, it doesn’t really have to apply just to hi fi to be high end. I would suggest there’s high end foods, high end cars, high end cameras, high end lots of stuff.

No, I think high end has to do with intent. Did you intend to build a product that serves the masses and makes everyone a little happy and gives little reason for anyone to be upset and reject it? Or did you build a product designed specifically to honor the end goal first, and worry about what people would think second?

The first is what Bose and McDonalds does.

The second is high end.

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

Full circle

Ever notice how much of what’s good comes around full circle?
One great example is vinyl. When I was visiting my friends at Music Direct I got a tour of their warehouse. The area dedicated to vinyl was perhaps 100 times larger than the small and, apparently, dwindling area of CDs they have for sale.

Another was sent to me by my friend Tim. It now looks like Moore’s law may be adhered to with, of all things, vacuum tubes. Yup. Talk about coming full circle.

Moore’s Law states that in computing hardware, the number of transistors will double every two years. When Intel founder Gordon Moore wrote that “law” he knew that someday that number would get so big it will bump up against the laws of physics. And we’re getting to that point now. But a group of scientists have discovered that we may be able to go beyond current limitations in transistor sizes by bringing back the vacuum tube, in the form of a vacuum transistor.

Here’s a picture of a vacuum transistor, compared to a MOSFET.

You can read the article by clicking here.

Love how this works!

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

Why?
This may be the dumbest post ever.
When I was at the last DirectStream demo in Chicago, one of the attendees asked me why I personally answered hundreds of customer emails each day.
My reply was simple: because I enjoy interacting with Audiophiles and love helping people.
Is that too simple?

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

Keeping it real

I was reading some of the comments on Sprout and noticed one poster suggested it couldn’t be considered high end because it uses a 3.5mm connector for the analog input. This got me thinking.
It’s a well known fact people have little to judge quality and purpose of gear without an intimate knowledge of either what’s inside or how it performs.

Typically we judge a piece of kit from its exterior. There’s the “knock, knock” test. This is where you test to see if the top cover is solid or flimsy. Then there’s the “audio by the pound” test. This is pretty common, and involves picking up a piece to judge its weight: heavy and it is high quality, light and it is perceived as cheap. Next is the “audio jewelry” test. This is perhaps even more common than the weight test, wherein a product is judged by the outward appearance of its connectors, fit and finish: low cost or too small, must be be low grade.

There are a number of reasons for these seemingly irrelevant measurements we use. Fact is, most of us don’t have anything else to go on without listening to it. We choose our food and our mates in much the same way; judged on outward appearances first, if they pass the initial test, we dig deeper to see if the rest matches. Human nature.

Of course we all agree that keeping it real would mean ignoring the outside appearances and judging solely on its merits. That’s a very lofty goal. I remember my mother lecturing me about “beauty is only skin deep” and I should look beyond what I see to appreciate the true beauty of people from the inside. Great advice. Only I never took it, probably not many of us do.

I only wanted to date cute chicks. Go figure.

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

Eat well

Before we get going with today’s post I wanted to let my international readers know we opened Sprout up to the rest of the world. As I write this there are only 80 left at the $449 level. If you’re interested in supporting Sprout, click this link.

Here I am in a Wheeling Illinois hotel room getting ready for a meeting with the Head Fi Group in an hour. When you read this I’ll have moved on to the Chicago Audio Society, Sunday, and if you’re in town drop by the Arlington Heights Historical Society and check out DirectStream.

Back to the hotel room. I am sorry, but I cannot get over how things are marketed. Take headphones, for example. I typically see some wild young lady bopping around, ecstatic and beyond control, so awesome are the headphones she’s listening to. Never mind reality.
Sitting on the desk in front of me is the room service dining menu . Its title? “Eat Well.” And the picture is a simple bowl of kiwi fruit, sitting on white linen. Certainly from the graphic design standpoint a perfect job. Open the Eat Well menu up and what do we find?

On page one a listing of Superfoods and their health benefits: Apples, Avocado, beans, broccoli and so on. Very Nice! Only, they are just descriptions and not one of these Superfoods is actually available on this Eat Well menu.

No, what we have available this afternoon: chicken salad, meatball hero, sirloin cheeseburger, pizza burger, turkey burger, pot roast, skirt steak sandwich, spaghetti with meatballs and … wait for it … a bacon, avocado, jalapeno cheeseburger.

They got a Superfood in there after all!

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

Tosca

I gift myself 45 minutes each and every day of the week for “Paul time”.

I put on my earbuds, I run a few miles through the neighborhoods of Boulder and I listen to opera. Running puts me in a zone of contemplation and opera inspires me and calms my mind. When I am done running and listening, I am charged up for the day.

This charging of one’s batteries by expending energy runs counter to what logic might suggest; but it works. The running charges, the opera organizes and calms. A great combination for me.

I have been focusing on Puccini’s Tosca as of late. I really feel a connection to the music and what I thought was the storyline as told by the music. I don’t understand a word of Italian other than “Ciao” so I mentally made up what I thought the story told; love, hardship and finally triumph. I couldn’t have been more incorrect.

When you look at the actual story, which covers such fascinating subjects as torture, murder, suicide and deceit, it’s as if Puccini crafted the storyline independent of the music. The opera is based on a popular French play full of overly dramatized life scenes – which maybe the audiences of the day needed for entertainment.

I like to think my storyline is what Puccini really wanted to express.
But we’ll never know. And that’s what I love about the language of music; the purity it affords each of us to build our own libretto around a storyline that is unique to each of us.

I am sure that many of you following the story of Tosca find greater depth and meaning to its music through the understanding of its lyrics, but I for one prefer to keep my own vision of Floria Tosca’s beauty just like it is in my head.

 

 

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

Tell me this isn’t amazing …

I’ve written before how your brain fills in much of what you perceive, whether it be sound or vision. You’re not directly hearing or seeing what’s presented to you, your memory is filling in about 40% of what you hear and see. The amount of memory used is dependent on how new the info is to you.

It’s one of the reasons why blind AB testing does not work.

The environment you create for your testing has to be setup in such a way that is safe and familiar, allowing your senses to relax and not feel overwhelmed with new data. When we do blind AB testing with new music in unfamiliar settings, the brain simply gets overwhelmed with and switches to “memory mode” and we hear no differences, because we’re listening through our memory, not our ears. When we limit the sample size and are in an environment we feel safe in, or when someone points out an area we should be focusing on, that memory mode is switched off and we hear the actual differences.

If you doubt this, read the next sentence and try it yourself.

My friend Tim Jerome sent me a link to a perfect example of this. I recommend it highly.

Click on this link and then listen to the audio snippet. It’s only 50 seconds.
Tell me that’s not amazing.

Thanks Tim!

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

Content and Craft

In yesterday’s post I spoke about radio stations and how most terrestrial based AM/FM stations have gone down the tubes in their listenability. They are not alone: even the very music these stations play are suspect as well. Yet, there ARE good stations, just like there IS good music. One must seek it out.

I was in radio for years, as both an on air talent and a program director, so I have some level of insight into the field. I was fortunate enough to be involved during the heyday of music based radio, both top 40 as well as what we used to call AOR (Album Oriented Rock). Top 40 radio was at its peak in the mid to late 1960′s thanks to a brilliant programmer named Bill Drake who syndicated his sound through the Drake Chenault outlets. In the 1970′s FM radio went from background music to a medium that crushed AM in a very short period of time; and for the same reasons.

Throughout all these cycles of wild success to crashing failures, their were two common threads: the first was content the second was craft.

Content. Top 40 radio was not invented by Bill Drake, but he revolutionized it none the less. He took control of content from the sales department and put it in the hands of programming, maintaining tight standards in every respect. Instead of pandering to the advertisers, he ignored them completely and played to the listeners. This strategy went through a classic cycle: first upsetting the advertisers who bailed on the station, then building an audience who loved the content. The advertisers returned, hat in hand.

Craft. The very best FM radio stations of the day gave the content decisions to the air talent, each crafting their own mix of music. If the audience didn’t respond well to the mix, the air talent was replaced with someone who could do a better job. This is the exact opposite of what Bill Drake did. Drake controlled content with brilliant (but controlled) programming aimed at building an audience. AOR depended on the skill and craft of the individual to build audience.

Today, most radio stations, music services and many musicians are back in the hands of the sales and numbers people. Content and Craft suffer.

When we do discover Content or Craft, let’s all make a point of sharing and supporting those that “get it”.