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 to disagree with here, either.

Starting small

I would imagine the canon shots on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 might sound more like the banging of pots on a B&W Zepplin, or a pair of bookshelf speakers. Big music should be honored by full range gear.

Conversely, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, or Red Norvo sound right at home on small kit. If your musical choices lean towards ensembles, light classical, acoustic, and vocals, a compact stereo system might be just the ticket. Especially if you haven’t much room to contribute.

We could likely spend weeks covering the gamut of the small, so I’ll need to narrow the discussion by focusing more on high-end audio as opposed to the Sonos, and single system devices.

The first place to start is facing the elephant in the room, the loudspeaker. There’s simply no way around the necessity of moving air if you want to have music. Sure there are ways we don’t have to pay any floor space penalty, like the invisible Aminas, or in-walls like the Invisas, but these are mid-fi compromises. If imaging and spatial cues are important to you, you’ll need to tolerate the physical intrusion of external boxes.

Let’s settle on the idea of donating some amount of floor space, as opposed to bookshelf speakers mounted on their namesake or a table. The reason we want our speaker boxes off shelves and away from physical objects is to minimize sonic damage. Speakers sound best when their envelope of sound is unimpeded. Place them away from as many obstacles as possible.

Wrap your heads around the idea of rescuing a small bit of floor space and tomorrow I’ll give you some ideas what to do with 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.

Nothing to disagree with here…About the most important component in your audio system….Your room…
Starting from scratch

“My first piece of advice for anyone curious about stereo is start with where you are going to put it and create your system moving forward from there. What sort of sound priorities you have is the next issue to consider. A jazz trio in a closet is a different challenge than Carmina Burana in a cathedral.”

Great advice from one of my readers, ‘footfixed’.

Few of us have the luxury of starting from scratch. Whether starting anew or repurposing what you have, it’s helpful to hit mental reset before starting your project. Going into a system rebuild with preconceived notions of what does and doesn’t work is often more limiting than enabling.

As our reader suggests, you need to first determine the amount and location of available real estate. Perhaps the entire living room is up for grabs, but chances are good you’re only getting a portion of it—and likely a small one at that.

Second question, what is it you hope to accomplish? Big, room-filling sound or light background music with the occasional boogie? If the former, you’ll focus your efforts on the loudspeakers and grabbing as much space as you can. If the latter, convenience and disappearing into the setting might be where I’d want to start.

For this series of posts, we’ll spend time on each. Today, take stock of what space you have available and determine what you hope to gain from that space.

Tomorrow, we’ll start with simple, small, convenient.

 

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.

While I’ve had dedicated listening rooms in my three homes, each one bigger and better than the previous one, this could change with the next move, if that ever happens.

Paul will be writing about this and I will re-post and comment as I see the opportunity.

Using what you have

Few of us are lucky enough to have dedicated listening rooms.

For most people, stereo systems are part of where we live: shared spaces with couches, chachkes, family members. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Some of the most satisfying musical experiences I have enjoyed were not in dedicated rooms, but rather part of real-world living environments.

If I were building a system around the limitations of a lived-in room, I would do things differently than I have in Music Room One.

Tomorrow I’ll touch on a few of these thoughts and differences.

 

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.

This is particularly interesting to me, as I use EQ in my audio system, which usually isn’t a part of a high end audio purist system.

However, on balance, this helps me listen to a system that is unsurpassed in my own listening experience.

I’ve owned a purist system, compromising a Beauhorn crossoverless full range single driver horn speaker system, a 2A3/45 SET amplifier,  an all tube transformer coupled preamp with a high gain phono stage with a Micro Seiki turntable with Dynavector DRT-XV1 cartridge. It was also great sounding and in a couple ways better than what I listen through now. However, like most horn based speaker systems, it was just a touch to bright for me on everything but classical and that was a killer. If all I ever listened to was classical I’d still probably have most of that system, although the amp and preamp were unreliable.

Different strokes..
Pure heart

Not all of us are wired the same. And wiring changes over time.

Take purity. As a young and aspiring audio nut, I went for the quick and exciting before the honest and pure. My original speakers and amplifier setup didn’t have the bass and top end I desired, so I cranked up the tone controls. Quick, easy, efficient.

Instant gratification at the expense of long-term gain. I had more highs and lows but music became homogenized.

Years later, better amps and speakers offered superior frequency extremes. Time-consuming, expensive, inefficient.

Long term happiness at the expense of short-term gain. It took a few years and a few bucks to get there, but the sound was amazing and each track came alive as an individual.

Purity is a philosophy that once embraced, pays big dividends over the long term.

It’s often tough to give up the quick gratification, the sparkly toy, the latest fad.

Over the years, purity wins.

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.

Everything matters, including solder.

Solder

Solder is the glue that holds our modern world together.

The trillions upon trillions of connected parts that we depend on for everything from transportation, information, entertainment, communication, and medicine—all of it—passes through solder.

Before 2006 when the European Union banned the use of lead in solder (thank you!), most connections were an amalgam of tin and lead.

Modern connections are lead-free, composed instead of tin, copper, and silver.

In our home music systems, every note we enjoy passes through hundreds of solder junctions. Companies like PS Audio pay particular attention to the quality of those junctions, using more silver.

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that matter most.

is the glue that holds our modern world together.

The trillions upon trillions of connected parts that we depend on for everything from transportation, information, entertainment, communication, and medicine—all of it—passes through solder.

Before 2006 when the European Union banned the use of lead in solder (thank you!), most connections were an amalgam of tin and lead.

Modern connections are lead-free, composed instead of tin, copper, and silver.

In our home music systems, every note we enjoy passes through hundreds of solder junctions. Companies like PS Audio pay particular attention to the quality of those junctions, using more silver.

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that matter most.

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.

Why there is MP3 and where it came from.
Can you hear that?

In the early 1980s, graduate student Karlheinz Brandenburg began working on digital music from an unusual perspective. How much detail could be removed before the average listener noticed what was missing?

His efforts paid off with the creation of MP3, the first popularly accepted lossy music compression scheme.

MP3 changed the world. Where once file storage and bandwidth limitations doomed music lovers to small libraries in limited locations, MP3 launched an entire revolution of big libraries and the beginnings of streaming.

His work built upon research from 1894 when the American physicist Alfred M. Mayer reported that a tone could be rendered inaudible by another tone of lower frequency. This discovery lead to a field of science known as auditory masking, later called psychoacoustic masking.

Brandenburg was fascinated by the idea of pairing down file sizes by eliminating unnecessary musical information, like soft details covered up by louder sounds. You probably wouldn’t miss a lone cough during the crescendo of Hallelujah chorus.

MP3 was a wild success. Without it, and its many variations of lossy compression, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have been able to change the world with the iPod and internet—depriving billions of their music.

But lossy compression’s time has passed. We no longer worry about bandwidth or storage restrictions.

MP3, AAC, and the plethora of lossy formats that trade musical information for smaller files sizes should be relegated to the closet.

Lossy compression succeeded in changing the world.

Let’s allow it to rest in peace.

 

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.

Jumping to conclusions

The moment you place a new piece of audio gear in a system the clock begins ticking and the questions fly. Is this better or worse? If I’ve made gains, what were the qualities lost?

How do you evaluate the new within the old?

Our systems have been set up and optimized for existing components. Newcomers either add or subtract—not because they are better or worse as independent products, but because they are integral parts of a system.

An all in one product, like Sprout, makes an easy case for judging—you have only Sprout and speakers. Change one and you’re judging only that piece in concert with one other.

In a complex system of cables, player, DAC, power amp, preamplifier, loudspeakers etc., changing small pieces of the bigger pie tells us less about the individual product than the whole.

The more we optimize individual parts of our systems to be excellent standalone performers, the easier it is to judge the merits of one within the many.

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.

Two ways to look at a problem

The problem with problems is they first need recognition. If you don’t see something as a problem, you won’t look for a solution.

Take AC power as an example. If your HiFi system displays a constant low-level grunge, or a bright tinge riding atop music’s notes, chances are good you have an AC problem. Some recognize it as a problem and search for a solution. Others, either unaware or in denial mode, either shrug their shoulders or blame something else.

The hard part is recognizing a problem exists in the first place. It’s easier to pass unhappy results off by assigning them to fate.

Here’s another example. If all sample rates and formats of digital audio sound the same to you, there are two courses of action:

  1. Ignore it, believing differences don’t exist.
  2. Identify it, and look for a solution

I typically take the latter.

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.
Stacking the deck

Technology stacks; one advancement atop another. Like building blocks, or cards. Without computers there would be no digital audio, without digital audio there would be no DACs, without DACs there would be no personal music player built into inch-long headphones.

Each time we advance the state of one art, another benefits from it.

This makes predicting the future almost impossible. If I don’t know what someone’s going to invent next, I can’t map a strategy for building on top of it.

We’ve been working for nearly two years on a new user interface that we hope will set people’s expectations higher than ever before. By the time we get it ready for launch, perhaps it will already be outdated. Maybe by that time, it’ll be better to just use voice commands instead of graphics.

Stacking the deck only works when the variables are known and finite.

Everything else is a crapshoot.

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 writing about sharing secrets….Audio technology, in his case.

He’s not afraid, so he shares, but not everything. After all, he has a lot invested in his technology and why give that away for free? I sure wouldn’t.

Cagey

There are two camps when it comes to protecting intellectual property: cagey/secret, and open/forthright.

Most companies producing technological equipment fall into the first camp, cagey/secret. They dance around their consumer offerings, extolling the advantages of unexplained mystery technology. They never reveal their magician’s tricks.

Then there’s the few who do their best to be open and forthright. These are the technical innovators openly sharing discoveries and proprietary process so that when they tout the benefit of their miracles, people can more easily make informed judgments on the IP’s merits. Their magician’s tricks are always revealed after each performance.

We’ve always been party to the second group, open and forthright. No, we don’t always give recipes and step-by-step instructions on how to copy what we’ve worked hard to achieve, but enough information that others can choose to follow if they wish.

I have never understood the need for secrecy.

Perhaps I was never a good magician’s apprentice.