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.

Nothing more to add to this today and now Audio listening/Home Theater rooms are talked about.

The tiniest of changes

I asked in yesterday’s post how the tiniest of changes can be heard through the grossest of mediums. Loudspeakers and rooms.

Loudspeakers are grossly inaccurate. Phase, frequency, and linear transfer of energy are off by orders of magnitude relative to the electronics that drive them.

To add insult to injury, rooms add yet another layer of distortion to the mix.

How is it possible that through all these performance barriers—difficult to measure jitter levels, near perfect energy transfer, frequency response beyond human hearing—we can still detect minute changes in sound quality?

It turns out we humans have amazing abilities to change our points of reference on the fly. For instance, we can pick out single conversations from a crowd of people, pinpoint location and timbre amidst a cacophony of distractions and recognizing vanishing low levels of added harmonics, as examples.

The question of importance between sources and outputs is a circular argument based around this very important observation in today’s post.

Let’s ruminate on its implications and pick up the discussion 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.

More from Paul about the audio playback chain and its effects on sound quality.

While he is focused on audio, the same thing goes for video and Home Theater systems.

He mentions this here, but still not talking about the room as much yet and this is one of the biggest problems when it comes to playing great sounding music in the high end audio realm.

I’ve got well over $1,000 in room treatments to control flutter and help with room gain and also use audio EQ’s for both my main speakers and two subwoofers. All this, to make better quality sound, so occasionally you do feel like the performers are in the room with you. Of course, most recordings don’t get you close enough in the first place, but yet, we keep trying.

Now from Paul, with one really funny typo corrected.

Chipping away

My friend Tony reminds me it is unrealistic to focus one one part of a complex chain, when what we hear is the sum of all that has transpired.

He’s right, of course, but those of us creating the chain have to do both.

Imagine Michelangelo’s task of converting a slab of stone into the statue of David. He had to chip away at the bits, in service of the whole.

As designers we tinker with the bits and evaluate the whole through imperfect speakers and rooms. What a daunting task!

One of the most curious aspects of our art is the delicate, minute work we do—taking jitter to seemingly absurd levels, flattening phase and amplitude beyond the reasonable, lowering the tiniest of perturbations of the signal—and evaluating the benefits on grossly inaccurate speakers played in even worse rooms.

Reader Steven Segal sums up our task brilliantly.

Take two wooden boxes, a few wires, transistors, capacitors and transformers, and make a device that will PERSUADE me I’m sitting in Carnegie Hall listening to Vladimir Horowitz playing Scarlatti.

We chip away at the tiniest of imperfections to change the bigger whole, yet somehow it works.

So, the question for tomorrow’s post: how can the tiniest of changes be so obviously reflected in the grossest offenders in the chain, the speakers and room?

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.

Paul’s post today talks about losing information in a playback chain of audio components, from a source component, like a turntable or CD player, through the components inside each of these, through wires and then through the loudspeakers.

All true and why things sound different. Different capacitors, wires, resistors and transformers, speaker cabinets, etc. will all alter sound and really, the same could be said about video components, by adding a video display of some sort, whether a TV, or video projector and t least 5 speakers and sometimes more..

Then…..There is the room to consider…..

Now from Paul…

 

Circling back

We’ve established the obvious truth about sources. Information lost, ignored, or distorted can never be recovered.

But that doesn’t mean the answer to our riddle of which is more important, sources or outputs, has any clearer answer.

For, as I hope will soon be obvious, even if you successfully capture all that is buried in the recorded media, it still can be altered or lost along the way to your ears.

Let us assume for argument’s sake we have managed to capture the lion’s share of information from the source.

Now, we begin the perilous journey through a maze of wires, capacitors, semiconductors, and solder, in our quest to reach the shores of the loudspeaker with most of what we started with. A tough task indeed.

What happens if we pick up unwanted baggage along the way? It’s instructive to remember that harmonics can be added, and sidetones can be generated. Or the opposite, where a few bags of info fall off the transport.

We could spend days stressing over the potholes and pitfalls presented by electronics. Instead, we’ll look at the far bigger highway bandits; speakers and rooms.

Stay tuned.

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.

Today Paul is talking about the founder of Linn, Ivor Tiefenbrun.

Linn was probably the first company to talk about retrieving all the detail there is to be had from record grooves and Ivor’s famous mantra was a system is only as good as its source component, mostly his turntables. So, if you want to capture all the details hidden in those record grooves, buy a good turntable and phono cartridge.

I maybe don’t know as much about great sound as Ivor, or Paul, but while I agree with this, but I guess I diverge by saying a system is only as good as its weakest link. If you have a great record player and cartridge, but a lousy phono stage, preamplifier, amplifier, loudspeakers or listening room, your system still won’t let you hear those details, no matter how good the record player playback is.

More on this another time, but now from Paul.

Buried treasure

Linn’s founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, wanted to sell turntables. He did this in the early 1970s by building a great product, certainly. But more than just a product, he threw a bit of wisdom into the high end lexicon that I believe has had more of an impact than anything else I can think of.

The idea he put forth—that information locked away in recorded media, once lost or distorted, can never be recovered—was neither revolutionary nor original, yet it was profound, and for all the right reasons.

During those early days of audio the world viewed stereo kit as appliances, giving no more thought to their performance than that of a vacuum cleaner (and no, I don’t mean they all suck, but it’s a good line). When Tiefenbrun came round the timing was just right. He had, on his lips, the right thing to say at the right time and our world hasn’t been the same since.

The idea he put forth that all turntables were not the same, that some lost information, while others uncovered more, was a revolutionary thought—spoken at just the right moment—striking a chord I refer to as the quest for buried treasure.

When I first started down this lifelong journey of high end audio, it was the prospect of buried treasure that resonated with me more than anything. I believe I am still in search of treasure to this day. Hearing more in the music than I had known was there lights my light, floats my boat, sends chills down my spine, my raison d’être.

I have Tiefenbrun to thank for flicking the light switch in my head, for pointing out the obvious—when the obvious wasn’t clear—and for helping all of us realize that once lost, information cannot be recovered.

Losing or distorting information is akin to misreading the treasure map and digging in the wrong place.

No matter how deep the hole, if you’re information is wrong or distorted, you’ll never find the treasure buried deep within the music.

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.

Today Paul has written about the Linn LP12 turntable which was one of the first high end specialty turntables made. It started life in 1973 and is still with us today, although refined and with many options. It’s a bit more expensive, too.

I am a dealer for Well Tempered Labs and use their Amadeus GTA turntable here. It’s an oddball looking thing with no suspension, a golf ball used as the pivot point for the tonearm and a thin polyester thread used as the drive belt. Looks kind of funny, especially compared to many of the massive and expensive turntables out there now, but in combination with the Dynavector 17D3, with its tiny diamond cantilever, it sure does play music and at its best, better than any digital I’ve even heard.

Now Paul….

 

Round and round

In 1973 a Scottish machine shop, Castle Precision Engineering, was an OEM for the turntable company Ariston, marketing the RD11. Not long after, Castle engineering opened its own sales branch to offer essentially the same product from a new company, Linn Audio. Their first turntable was christened the LP12.

Their founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, had quite a challenge ahead of him; selling turntables to dealers who considered them little more than appliances.

One of Tiefenbrun’s most often quoted lines demonstrates the degree of difficulty that lay ahead. When prospective dealers inevitably brushed off his sales pitch for the expensive LP12 with, “turntables only go round and round” he’d fire back, “and loudspeakers only go in and out!”

Reviewer Ken Kessler has referred to Linn’s founder as the PT Barnum of HiFi, but I think he’s much more. He was a high end audio pioneer that helped turn a nascent industry into something substantial, something worthy of its own category.

It’s perhaps instructive to remember that in the early 1970s most audio dealers were selling essentially hifi appliances—turntables that went round and round. When Tiefenbrun came through their door, he was on a mission to show there was more—much more to just round and round.

The LP12’s superior bearing and suspension assembly eliminated audible speed variations and obfuscating feedback and rumble. To get skeptical dealers to care, Tiefenbrun used a bit of common sense that resonated with even his most ardent critics. His gospel was simple. Once information was lost, distorted or corrupted, it was gone forever and could never be corrected. Garbage in equalled garbage out. If that message resonated, all he needed to do was demonstrate his turntable sounded better than their appliances—the simple mechanisms that went round and round—and the deal was done.

That bit of logic, coupled with a demonstrably better sounding product, launched the company Linn Audio.

But, it turns out that much more than Linn was started.

Tomorrow, the birth of buried treasure.

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.

What’s the most important component in a great sounding stereo system? Speakers, sources like CD’s, streaming or analog? Maybe preamplifiers, amplifiers, or maybe room acoustics?

Well, to me, if any one of these these components are bad, the resulting sound quality will be bad.

However, these days we rarely find bad sounding source components, preamplifiers or amplifiers, but we do find bad listening rooms and bad loudspeakers.

At the last RMAF show I attended, I heard many bad sounding systems and only a few good sounding ones.

From what I read, I think this has changed lately, as people now better know the rooms they will be showing their equipment in and bring acoustic paneling with them to help deal with some of the acoustic problems found in typical hotel rooms.

There are ways to set up rooms to minimize the effect of the room, but the smaller the rooms, the harder it is to get great sound without using some sort of acoustic paneling.

Another way to correct for sound is DSP, or even just a good quality frequency equalization device, as I use here.

Thing is, you have to prepare for shows and pay a lot of attention to every detail in setting up a stereo system and getting the most out of it.

I sweat the details here and I know it one of the reasons my stereo gives me so much satisfaction.

Now, from Paul…

Sources vs. outputs

With the new DirectStream Memory Player shipping to beta testers next week, my thoughts turn to an old debate. What’s more important, sources or outputs?

The old arguments go something like this.

Sources matter most. If you don’t extract the material properly, nothing you do after the fact matters. Once lost, never recovered.

Outputs matter most. The best input signals in the world lose meaning if you can’t get their info to your ears intact. Once captured, easily lost.

Over the years reasoned minds have concluded the obvious. Both are equally important. Yet, the debate remains, as so often is the case.

Over the next few days it might be fun to examine both claims to see if we can’t wrestle some insight.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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.

From Paul

Spectacle

Most of us enjoy the spectacular, from the throngs in Turandot’s palace courtyard, the canon shots of Telarc’s 1812, to the lights and dancing of a Taylor Swift concert. Big, brash, exciting, put you back in your seat moments, live on in memory for life.

But, so too do the more quiet moments, the intimate love songs that pull at your heart strings, the upbeat machinations of free wheeling jazz, or the bump and grind of rap.

Truth is, spectacle has many meanings when music’s the subject.

Our stereo systems are E tickets to the best rides in town. The more we enjoy their pleasures, the greater return on our investments.

There are fewer objects in our home that bring as much lasting pleasure and spectacle than our two-channel audio systems.

Take care for their feeding and well being.

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.

Paul has written about visiting Nashville and going to a couple of music venues.

In one, Vince Gill was the performer and Paul waxed praise on the sound quality of the venue. He visited a second site with less impressive results. In fact, he wrote that he went to the bathroom to stick wet paper towels in his ears, as the audio quality was offensive to him.

I’ve seen the same thing. However, sometimes it’s the venue, sometimes where we are sitting, but mostly the person on the mixing board.

I remember seeing Porcupine Tree a few years ago in the Thomas Wolfe auditorium in Asheville, NC, where we reside. There was an opening act by rock band I wasn’t familiar with, nor do I remember who they were today.  The sound was so loud for the first band, we took off for the lobby and it was still loud there.

For Porcupine Tree, our ears were already ringing fro the first band, but there was a different sound guy for PT and the sound was much improved. Great band..

From Paul.

The other side of the coin

Yesterday I waxed enthusiastically of the music and sound quality in Nashville’s 3d and Lindsley country music venue. Today I’ll share the opposite.

Our success with excellent live sound emboldened us to venture out once more. Perhaps this Nashville music scene was unique, focusing on great sound, rather than necessitating ear protection.

The Station Inn was recommended to us as the second best live venue in town. Unlike the first, this room looked like an acoustical disaster. Its low ceilings and square dimensions suggested major sonic problems, and we asked the bouncer for an opinion. “Best sound in Nashville,” and he spit on the sidewalk. “Them other places play it too loud.”

Not more than three notes into the first set and I was running for the bathroom, preparing my wetted napkin earplugs I use in emergencies. Good grief!

The music was horribly loud. To make matter worse the room supported a thunderous resonance between 100Hz and 200Hz. It literally howled when certain notes were hit. The others in the bar seemed not to notice.

My ever-brave wife, Terri, approached the sound man and complained.

“My husband says it’s too loud,” she yelled over the music.  “He has to wear earplugs!”

“Me too!” bellowed the sound man, “Go sit, little lady.”

When the sound man has to wear hearing protection, it’s a good sign it’s time to leave.

Thanks goodness for Uber.

 

 

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.

Country music

There’s all kinds of country music. Most of what I hear on the radio isn’t worth listening to. But the real music, the weepy, heartfelt, jazzy riffs, the fiddles, pedal steel guitar, the talent—the music you hear so rarely—touches my soul like few other forms of music.

Especially if it’s live.

We decided to head to Nashville to see what its music scene is like. What an unexpected pleasure.

Instead of big and expensive venues, nasty bouncers, and restrictive prohibitions on behavior, folks down south like their music up front, accessible and friendly. We were fortunate to get tickets to a sold out show at a small bar and grille in downtown Nashville, called 3d and Lindley. $20 a ticket to see Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers, some of the best musicians I have had the pleasure of listening to, with a big plus added in. Good sound. Really good sound.

Wow.

I took a not very good video from our upper deck vantage point and offer it here. Enjoy.

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.

As I cheerfully re-rip my 2000+ CD’s, due to some really bad Mac service, this post from Paul McGowan at PS Audio hit home with me.

I have these CD’s, which if I had sold after originally ripping them to my computer, I’d be screwed, as well as a couple thousand vinyl LP’s, many of which are very special.

They will eventually go to our kids and along with my stereo system, in which a few of the components might becoming collectible, might be a better long term investment than most of the other things I’ve invested in. Not solely because they will be worth more money as time go’s by, but rather the emotional enjoyment they will also be able to bring.

Now, from Paul.

Is it yours?

When I first started PS Audio some 40 years ago, times were tough. The company was definitely a labor of love, one we not only didn’t make any money at, but instead, invested every nickel we had (and didn’t have) just to keep the dream alive.

One of my regrets was selling my album collection. Over my many years as a DJ I had amassed a pretty amazing record collection. Thousands of first pressings, hard to find albums from all over the world. One by one to pay the bills, I sat at the swap meet each Sunday selling enough of them for one to two dollars apiece to buy groceries for the week. The good news is that money carried us through some tough times. The bad news is obvious.

These sales took place in the 1970s, a time when there was no Napster, no worries by labels of copying and owner’s rights to purchased music. That’s not so true today.

Selling your own copies of that same music comes with some risk if you were not the original owner. In my case, many of the albums I sold were promo copies and gifts from musicians. Technically, I broke the law selling them. The same would be true today if it was a CD, not originally purchased by me.

This whole copyright thing makes my head hurt and to be honest, I treat it as I do the warnings on bedding I purchase not to remove the safety label.

Of course copying and selling is wrong, and wrong on any number of grounds. But what you do with your media collection, regardless of how it was obtained, is your business.

That’s not legal advice. It’s just my opinion.