Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Speaker cabinets

I’ve been grousing about the lack of low bass in expensive speakers. My expectations when paying 5 or 6 digits for a loudspeaker would start with full range and go up from there. Such is not the case.

But one positive thing I have observed is the cabinet and just how much attention is paid.

The perfect speaker cabinet adds nothing. Place a set of drivers in a cement wall and you’d get close to what we’re hoping for—the vibrating drivers don’t excite the cabinet.

Most expensive loudspeakers handle this wonderfully and it is one of the central reasons they sound extraordinary in the frequency range where they work. Like Magico, YG Acoustic, Wilson Audio, lavish attention to detail on cabinetry pays off in spades. You can break a knuckle testing rigidity.

Lower cost speakers do their best with bracing, varying densities of materials, clever architecture. But they’re not inert and you can hear the difference.

The greatest contribution a speaker cabinet has to make is nothing.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Great lengths

Before I get started I wanted to mention there are a few slots still open for LANRover beta testers. Go here to sign up. It will only be available in the US. Shipping commences this week.

We go to great lengths to get our music systems to sound right. Often, extraordinary lengths.

The wondrous results we sometimes achieve are worth the quest.

But despite our efforts, they don’t always pan out.

I remember some years back when I was interested in delaying the sound of a subwoofer a few milliseconds. Physically moving the sub to a far location delays sounds arrival, but often the room’s too small for a meaningful delay. It would have been nice to leave the sub where it sat and adjust a small amount of time delay instead. It seemed like a simple task, yet it wasn’t.

The first decision one would have to make is how to delay sound. There aren’t many means to do so while keeping it analog. Had I been willing to convert the signal to digital the task becomes trivial, but I was focused on pure and keeping it in its original form.

I discovered a device called a bucket brigade that would do the job. A bucket brigade works as its name implies. A small slice of the analog signal is captured and passed from handler to handler until it is dumped at the output. Each hand off of the voltage slice takes time to move and, if you have enough buckets to move the signal along, it delays its arrival. More buckets, more delay. It seemed a clever enough device and we gave it a try.

Ugh.

Even though frequencies were quite low, slicing and dicing the analog signal and then trying to reassemble it never worked out. In fact, we eventually resorted to going digital, and that proved to be fine.

Sometimes we go to great lengths to maintain purity, but they don’t always give us the results we had hoped for.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

The LANRover

I have been hinting about a special device that improves the sound of USB audio for some time. Now it’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

When you connect your computer to your DAC through USB there’s a lot of problems getting the sound right. This is because your computer is a hostile environment for delivering clean audio data. Think of your computer like a noisy crowd and the music like a lone musician trying to be heard at a cocktail party. It’s near impossible unless you separate him from the crowd.

One trick you can use is to connect the computer through a USB hub, using two USB cables–one between the computer and the hub, the other between the hub and the DAC. While it may seem counter intuitive to improve something by adding another element in the data path, it works. In fact, the idea of a purpose built USB hub is what the famous Uptone Regen essentially does – and it works well – improving audio in every case. A USB hub, like the Regen, offers a degree of isolation between the computer and the DAC, though it’s not complete. Think of this degree of isolation as a doorway separating the noisy crowd (our computer). Our beleaguered musician is close to the open door and we hear him more clearly than before.

If we wish to remove even more of our imagined crowd noise, we can filter it by adding something like the AudioQuest Jitterbug for even clearer sound.

But if we want to eliminate the crowd noise altogether we need a completely new approach. Enter the LANRover.

The PS Audio LANRover leverages network protocols to fully isolate the computer’s crowd noise from the music. The LANRover employs two boxes: one connects to your computer, the other to your DAC. Between the two boxes a computer cable, commonly known as a CAT5, is used. The miracle of this technique is the near 100% isolation between the noisy computer and the quiet needs of a DAC.

By converting the USB data into packetized network data we get two major benefits. First, near perfect isolation cutting the computer’s crowd noise and jitter levels so effectively the level would be acceptable in a quiet library. And that has HUGE sonic benefits. Second, once converted to network audio, as opposed to directly connected USB audio, we can place a great deal of distance between the two boxes if we want to–the computer can be anywhere in the house and connect to your DAC anywhere else. We can do this even over WIFI. Imagine your computer’s no longer in the listening room, but upstairs in the office where it belongs. Bingo!

I’ll write much more about this revolutionary new product in the coming weeks. For now, here’s a video presentation I made to the Colorado Audio Society a week or two ago.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Interfaces

Strangely enough it is the interfaces between equipment that often determines more about sound quality than the units themselves—something disconcerting to those among us working hard to make the perfect sources and controllers.

And I don’t just mean cables.

Take for example single ended vs. balanced. Running single ended between equipment is always an uphill battle, while XLR just cruises along. Or, input vs. output impedance. In professional equipment they’re always matched, hi-fi equipment almost never. Amplifier to speaker, source to preamp, phono cartridge to phono input.

We’ve such an eclectic group of boxes available to insert into our systems that it’s no wonder mixing and matching has such wildly varying results.

Standards would be nice, though I don’t see them coming.

For now, it’s skill and ears determining the optimum interface.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Hearing

Thanks for all the kind requests to be beta testers for LANRover. We’ve filled our limit and beta testing will begin next week. Everyone in the US that asked to be on the list was sent an invite, then it was first come first serve to finalize the process. If you didn’t get in, my apologies. If you were outside the US, again, my apologies. I wish it were an easier process.

Stay tuned to the forums for the beta tester’s opinions of its performance. We’ve opened pre-ordering for non-beta testing if you wish to be first to receive a production unit, mid August, providing testing goes as expected.

All that we do involves our ears in a process we refer to as hearing. We’ve heard our world through the small appendages straddling our heads from the moment we popped out into the bright world. Over many years we’ve developed auditory memories of sound and relationships to sound that we rely up in everyday life.

And then, there’s music.

Music bypasses common barriers and goes directly to our emotional centers, irrespective of languages, culture or upbringings. We don’t have to speak a particular tongue to get in the groove or for our toes to start tappin’.

Music’s just like that.

But, how many of us actually listen to what we hear? We can let the music wash over us, or focus on details within each note.

I know when my stereo system’s just right. I stop listening, and just hear.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Back to bass again

I know. I harp on this a lot. Yet, the puzzle never ceases to amaze me.

Why do most loudspeakers have wimpy low bass? Wouldn’t you think a speaker that costs $80,000 would have it all? Or even a speaker costing much less? Or much more?

Maybe it’s just me and my expectations. I walk into a dealer’s showroom with the best speakers they carry on display—some extremely expensive. I crank up a few of my favorite pieces and right where the low note is supposed to be, there’s little but a faint reminder of what’s recorded. And the rare times I do hear it the note comes from a subwoofer.

Perhaps fewer and fewer people are interested in music’s full range. Yes, perhaps that’s it.

Otherwise, the whole affair is just confusing to me.

Reviewers that shall go unnamed wax and enthuse about expensive speakers without once mentioning the missing low frequencies.

A true puzzle.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

Even though…

…I see great evidence of server-side music systems when I travel—Bridges, Roon, iTunes, NAS—the vast majority of listening experiences remain on silver discs.

I think part of the reason for the physical media still reigning has much to do with people’s libraries. Like me, the vast majority of our libraries are still contained on CD and SACD. Sure, I have taken the time and effort to rip much of my favorites onto hard drives, but I am loathe to give up the little silver discs.

And it seems others are as well.

This surprises me. The convenience and consistent quality of server-side audio is so compelling that you’d think once someone got the bit in their mouth they’d run like the wind with it.

But that has yet to hold true.

How about you? Is the majority of your music still trapped on plastic, or have you taken the leap and transferred it to hard drives?

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

The importance of speaker cables

We’ve been discussing the differences I have experienced between the two connection methods facing Audiophiles with separates: long speaker cables or long interconnects.

After years of stubbornly clinging to the logical notion long speaker cables are best, I was finally swayed to the other side. It happened because A/B comparisons proved to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, short speaker cables with the amps near the speakers worked best. I wish I understood why, but some things must be taken on empirical evidence, even if they don’t make a lot of engineering sense.

My speaker cables are about a meter and a half long. The amps that drive them, the BHK 300 monoblocks, laugh at the electrical complexity these short cables present to them. And yet, some of the biggest changes I can demonstrate for people are to be found in these short connecting cables.

As those who have visited Music Room One are aware, the speaker cables I prefer are giant flat ribbons of silver. Handmade by MG Audio Design, these bad boys are jaw droppers of the first order. Which still seems odd to me.

My 50 foot long Audioquest balanced interconnects made a big improvement even over the former cables in the sound room—a great pair of 30 footers. But the differences they made pale in magnitude to what the short speaker cables wrought to the system. It’s a crazy thing, one I’ll openly admit I simply do not understand. Not one whit.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up this series and we can move on to a new subject.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest, Brevard and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Inc.

A real head scratcher

As I wrote yesterday it still baffles me why long balanced interconnects seemed to sound better than long speaker cables. I previously shared with you my experience at HP’s home with an Audio Research preamp. That demonstrated just the opposite.

So one conclusion we can make is the equipment you’re using has a lot to do with which connection method will sound best. If you’re tube based, then you’re likely better off with long speaker cables. And by tube based, I am not referring to a tube preamp like the BHK, which is a hybrid:tubes in front, high current MOSFETs for the output. A pure tube preamplifier will likely struggle driving a long set of interconnects.

If you have a good driving circuit in your preamp, and many do, then it seems to come down to the quality of the interconnect itself.

Once I built the new Music Room One, the distance between the preamplifier increased from 30 feet to 50. 50 feet is a long distance and for that run, I turned to my friend Bill Low of Audioquest. Bill didn’t hesitate. He recommended a great set of his WEL Signature balanced interconnects and made a custom 50 foot pair. Hell, they sounded significantly better than my former 30 foot pair. Quality of cable is critical.

Once speaker cables are short, you’d wonder if they make as much difference. That’s what I’ll touch on tomorrow.