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

So…Here is a too long question…

How does someone listen to a pair of loudspeakers in a store and expect to hear the same music sound the same at their home, if everything else but the loudspeakers are different, including the room they are listening in?

Back then, I, as well as most of the audio guys I knew, didn’t give this a thought as the store I first shopped in, as well as the articles I had read in the audio magazines of the time, said that all amps, preamplifiers, turntables, (record players back then), cassette players , etc, sounded the same, so get the best speakers you can.

There was a whole world of high end audio, I knew nothing about and there were Audiophile people like J Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson who knew how to make great sound music from a stereo system. Me? I had no clue, although  didn’t know this at the time.

So, if I believed what the store and the magazines said, which I and most of my friends at the time did, it followed that if I heard Marantz 5G speakers at Tweeter Etc. and hooked them up at home, they would sound the same as they did in the store.

Not even close, but the purpose of this blog was to tell about the deceit that took place during auditioning and this will follow. It was the first time I was fooled, but not the last.

Maybe I was “Audio Dumb” back then, but not so much today. However, I know plenty of people that are and in most other ways, these people are very smart people.

What is it?

 

 

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

It was the mid 70’s and I started making enough money to have my own apartment and buy my first stereo system.

It was a very exciting time for me, as we made our way through college listening to my friend and roommate Jay’s all in one KLH stereo music system and while it served us well, Jay was off to Grad school, KLH in tow, and I needed a system to call my own.

I went to a store in Coral Gables, Florida, called Tweeter Etc., which I believe expanded to South Florida from the Boston area. This was an all audio store. No TV’s, appliances or anything else. Computers for consumers didn’t really exist back then. It was a world of typewriters and wired telephones. I would say I wonder how we survived without such things as Cell phones and computers, but we did. It just took a lot longer to do almost anything related to work and we definitely were less informed about most everything, than we are today. It might have been a bit more blissful than things are today, but information is good, so today is good for me.

Tweeter had a large room with two long shelves of speakers, which was where my main focus was. I didn’t realize at the time, that lousy audio signal in, lousy out, no matter what speakers you used. In fact the worse the signal chain before the speakers, the worse the sound with the better speakers. Of course, electronics at the time, weren’t very sexy and all that mattered to me were the speakers. I wasn’t the only one and this persists today.

While I was sure I was going to buy a pair of the Henry Kloss designed Advent Loudspeaker, after a A/B comparison, I ended up focusing on two speaker systems. The Advent Loudspeaker, which frankly didn’t do much for me in the store and a pair of Marantz 5G’s, which I liked, although had reservations about it’s bass.

It was surprising as I had heard the Advents before and loved them, especially their tight, well defined bottom end.

Well, the story here turns to selling and marketing and will come next. It’s not a pretty tale.

 

 

 

 

Something new….A Loudspeaker Project

After listening to many……many…..Did I say many?……commercially made loudspeakers over the last 30+ years, and after having figured out that you need to be careful in learning the ins and outs of “High End Audio”, I decided about a year ago to build my own loudspeaker to work in my 18′ by 23′ dedicated listening room.

When I say dedicated listening room, I mean no TV, although this will probably change soon, as I will be adding a 75″ TV and be able to play movies and music videos, where I cannot do this now.

Why am I adding video? Well, the audio is so good now, I want to make further use of it and enjoy it even more, than I do now.  Most of my listening is solitary, but I think, if I add video, the family might be interested in joining me for the fun. It’s nothing but fun, after  all.

Audio makes pictures seem more real than they are by themselves, so off I went and will continue this blog, by recounting where I began the journey and where I am with it now.

I’m thinking I might take a jog here, or there, depending on the mood.

Tune in…and Paul’s PS Audio post will be back enough soon.

 

 

 

 

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

Dream setup

If I were to roll my sleeves up and design a speaker system from scratch, I’d not use passive crossover components connected directly to the drivers—as is done in 99% of all speakers. Being an electronics guy, I’d self amplify this mythical speaker, assigning the right amp for the right driver: class D mega amp for the woofer, tube input/MOSFET outputs for the midrange, simple all-tube design for the tweeter.

To separate the frequencies, I’d use simple passive networks of very high quality, small size, working into the high impedances of the three power amplifiers.

Of course, this is only a dream, one I wouldn’t even think to begin.

Even under the best of circumstances, it’d probably wind up sounding like crap. Why? Because I am not a speaker designer. I would be like the proverbial wanna be culinary expert that knows just enough to be dangerous: best ingredients + great recipe + no skill = good, not great.

But the concept I laid out is still a better alternative—in the right hands—than what most speaker designers have to work with. The smaller components in the passive networks can be of exquisite construction, the amps tuned perfectly to the driver.

Yet rarely do you see such a setup because it is simply not commercially viable. Audiophiles like to pick their own amplifiers and, besides, even if that weren’t true, designers would be taking a huge gamble that their tastes matched yours. Once you go down the rabbit hole of an inclusive design, you’re limiting people’s choices.

That can be a good thing, but also, a scary thing.

There are those brave designs like the Devores, Meridian, Genelec, Emerald Physics, and I am certain I have missed a few.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about a speaker project I built years ago and what made it unique – and yes, it was active.

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

Speaker extremes

Tomorrow I want to move on the another way to divide frequencies in speakers, the amplified electronic crossover. But first, let’s wrap passive speakers up with a look at a very expensive one.

Wilson Audio has always been among my favorites. Sure, every loudspeaker has its fans and detractors, but ever since the first day I met Dave Wilson and he encouraged me to sit in front of a pair of Watt Puppys, I have been a fan. They disappear nicely, always sound musical, leave me wanting for little.

At $200,000 the pair, the Wilson Alexandria XLF ain’t for the faint of heart. Imposing, full range and musical, this loudspeaker is arguably one of the best in the world.

So, what’s it look like under John Atkinson’s measurement microscope? Here’s a graph of its frequency response as averaged in reviewer Michael Fremer’ listening room from a 2012 review in John Atkinson’s.

Not bad, right? Reasonably flat and in a room too. But reasonably flat isn’t “flat”. Each horizontal line on the graph represents 5dB, and while the average runs in a relative straight line, the particulars are all over the map.

And I am not singling out this fine loudspeaker.

It’s one of the best, and that is the point.

Loudspeakers are like unpolished children. You don’t want to look too closely.

A lot of forgiveness is what’s needed.

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

Woofers and tweeters together

Yesterday I shared with you what a single tweeter looked like. If you’ll recall, it was anything but smooth and flat.

But we don’t listen to tweeters alone. Our systems use both woofers and tweeters in the hopes of reproducing flat sound.

Here’s a response curve from Stereophile’s review of the YG Anat professional monitor.

The blue line represents the output of the woofer, the red, the tweeter. Together they present a pretty flat response from 70Hz to 20kHz.

Note where the blue and red lines meet. This, of course, is the crossover point and, depending on how well the designer managed to pull rabbits from hats, will hopefully add together in the right places to present an even response to the listener.

You see the difficulty faced by speaker designers. There’s little to be done with all the wiggles, bumps and dips of this response—and frankly, this is pretty good.

Imagine if this were an amplifier, the bottom end handled by one approach, the top end by another, the two hopefully meeting in the middle.

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

Voicing

I am not a speaker designer, but I’ve spent much time with some of the best in the world.

I don’t envy their task.

When I design electronics the initial work is relatively straightforward and the results predictable. Even first year engineers haven’t too much trouble designing platforms with full frequency response and low distortion.

Once completed some of us take the extra steps of voicing our work, a process that takes years of experience to get it right.

None the less, even if you don’t voice your work you’re miles ahead of that which faces speaker designers, because the elements they have to work with are so flawed in the first place.

Here’s an example:

This is a response curve from a ribbon tweeter. To understand the difficulties faced by speaker designers, just look at the solid green line for starters. This represents what’s known as the “on-axis” response. The measurement microphone points directly at the tweeter. Yikes!

Even straight on this thing’s all over the map. It’s about as far away from “flat” as a roller coaster.

But, now look at the other lines. They are what we hear off-axis, meaning the microphone (like the listener) sits to the side of the tweeter. These aren’t different by a small amount. Each response differs by many dB.

And as Audiophiles we worry about tenths of dBs?

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

Getting things right

In yesterday’s post I wrote of the classic 3-way: a 2-way with the addition of yet another frequency dividing network and driver, the midrange.

Now that we have a clear idea of how all this works, let’s think about what it takes to make things sound good.

Imagine a musician standing in your room. He has an acoustic guitar and sings. You are seated the same distance from the musician as you would be from your speakers. Everything sounds natural because, well, it is. The sound emanates from two sources: the guitar and his mouth. Our singer has quite a range and between the two sources of sound, we’re covering areas that will eventually be shared by the top of the woofer, the midrange, and the lower parts of the tweeter – if we record the performance.

And we now understand that each of the three drivers do not abruptly end, while the next takes over in a clean transition. No, it’s more like a relay race where the baton is handed over from the first runner with overlap from the second.

The point where each of the drivers meets has both drivers playing at the same time. Eventually, this overlap goes away, only to be added onto again by the next in line.

This crossover, this sharing of two distinctly different sound sources, does not happen in real life. Our singer has but only one mouth and one guitar from which sound is emitted.

So the question we must ask is how can the original performance ever be duplicated?

The answer, of course, is simple. It cannot. However, we can get close and that’s what we’ll start on tomorrow.

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

2-way loudspeakers

The 2-way loudspeaker is the cornerstone of audio. A tweeter and a woofer cover the full spectrum of sound.

From the beginning, 2-way speakers had crossovers separating highs from lows.

I am no history buff, as Copper Magazine’s editor Bill Leebens is, but my best recollection of an original multi-driver loudspeaker would include the Altec Lansing A-7 Voice of the the Theater.

Horns, yes, but a tweeter and woofer, all the same. I am sure history buffs will point out others I have missed, but an accurate history misses the point of this post. My aim is to point out the how and why of these developments.

The first 2-way loudspeaker I ever heard was one shared by many of my readers.

The 1953 AR-1 by Edgar Villchur and his student, Henry Kloss. My father, ever the hi fi buff, had a pair in the garage that I eventually acquired. Much to his horror, I pulled out the drivers and made them into my own loudspeaker creation, but that’s another story.

Though the two drivers both look like woofers, this was Villchur and Kloss’ two-way loudspeaker that hasn’t much changed since these early days.

Tomorrow I’ll show you the schematic for this speaker and explain its operation.

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

Every design…

…of loudspeaker has its good and bad points. None are perfect. Not even close.

With electronics we can get closer to the ideal, though perfection will always remain an elusive goal.

Single driver loudspeakers, of which we have been discussing as of late, are no different. I have heard many good ones, and just as many bad ones.

Though not a true single driver speaker, Walter Liederman and Mark Schifter’s work on the Emerald Physics line of open-baffle single-point speakers always impresses. And there are more, though my goal in this series is neither one of praise nor condemnation of any one design.

As I wrote, they all have their strengths and weakness.

Before we leave single drivers for the divided world of tweeters and woofers, it’s probably worth a moment to look at another method of separately enhancing highs and lows with one driver.

The whizzer cone.

I don’t know the history of these funneled protrusions but they are a mechanical means of improving high frequency response, one that does not rely on an electrical crossover.

The whizzer cone is a small and separate cone attached to the voice coil. To be effective, designers must decouple the larger woofer cone by the addition of a small bit of flexible material. As the woofer voice coil moves faster, the whizzer cone stays perfectly synched while the larger woofer cone has reduced movement. The idea is that at the highest frequencies the whizzer acts as a tweeter, its small cone area pumping out higher frequencies, while the larger woofer cone relaxes and sticks with lower notes.

These types of cones have fallen out of favor for two reasons: most had a sound to them that wasn’t all that natural, and designers had moved on to what is known as the coaxial driver.

Coaxial drivers are not new. This picture is of an Altec Lansing 601 from 1943. Unlike a whizzer cone, coaxial drivers require a crossover. They are, after all, a two-way loudspeaker, with a tweeter and woofer.

That’s what we’ll cover tomorrow.