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 on the break in process of audio and home theater electronics.

Another clue

One big clue about the nature of break-in. Memory.

We know that once broken in, cables and components retain many of the benefits earned through extended playing time.

If we put our Sherlock hats on we could make some guesses as to what kinds of characteristics are capable of being stored.

Capacitors change character after voltage has been applied to them in a process called forming. Forming changes the oxide layer of the insulating dielectric necessary for the capacitor to function properly. Over time and use, this layer’s thickness can change for the better. And there are other changes to capacitors as well.

Cable insulation can also retain a charge. AudioQuest (among others) actually add a battery to throw a high voltage on the insulation for better performance. Something similar happens when we run electrical currents through the cable.

Whatever is happening in break-in, the effects last for some time before the device or cable slowly reverts back to its original state.

If we don’t know specific answers to unanswered observations, we use clues to help us reverse engineer the answer.

 

 

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 is talking about breaking in audio and home theater components and this is something I truly believe in.

There are two different types of breaking in. One is breaking in new components, whether it is electronics, speakers or cables. I have found, with complicated electronics, that this can take up to 500 hours of playing time.

The Parasound JC-1 monoblock amplifiers I owned 10 years ago  come to mind here. They were the most extreme example I’ve experienced with break in of audio components. They sounded great out of the box and then gradually got darker and darker sounding. Then, they started lighting back up until they got what I considered neutral.  The they kept going lighter, until I thought their final sound was tilted up in the treble. Then they started a downward trend until they got it right. Nice amps….

The other is more what I would call warm up and to me, both need to happen with music playing. I warm my system up for at least an hour, each time I plan on listening, which is pretty much every day.

Here is Paul.
Saving up

The best sounding cables I have heard were a bare set of wires. Hardly practical in the real world, cables without shielding and insulation sound better than those with them.

We insulate cables so their conductors don’t electrically touch each other. We shield them with tin foil or woven metal to protect them from noise.

None of these techniques of isolation and noise reduction improve sound quality. Air is the best insulator and a noise free environment what we hope for if we want to avoid shielding. Unfortunately, dangling conductors in the air is as impractical as hoping for a noise free environment. Insulation and shielding are necessary evils.

The problem with insulators is energy storage. When a signal is passed along the conductor they cover, small portions of the signal are stored then released in the insulation. This effect can be measured and enumerated using what’s known as the Dielectric Constant. If we’re building a capacitor we want that number high. If it’s a cable, the lower the number the better.

Of the readily available insulation materials, Teflon has one of the lowest dielectric constants—far lower than standard insulation. But Teflon’s expensive and hard to work with, which is why it’s used sparingly.

In our ongoing discussion of break-in, I suspect it is this dielectric constant that changes with signal.

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.

Sounds to me like PS Audio used cables they didn’t know and weren’t broken in at the recent Axpona audio show. They should know better, but this is more common than most of us would think.

Charging up

I hate it when I am wrong. Or miss something. But that’s life.

I don’t play music through an amplifier or preamplifier that’s burning in. The reason’s simple. What’s going on inside the amplifier is the forming of capacitors and the settling in of parts and circuit boards. Playing music hasn’t much impact on those changes. Running current through the system does.

This flies in the face of Audiophile lore that states: music played through electronics burns in faster than just being on. Not sure I buy that and have never found evidence to support it.

That said, the same isn’t true when we’re talking about an entire system. And that’s the point I have been missing. The key is not the individual electronics, but rather the connecting cabling.

Missed that.

Speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords need music playing through them to burn in. Of the many cables in a system, the most important seem to be the speaker cables. We know different types of insulation materials impact sound quality: Teflon, Polypropylene, Polystyrene, Mylar all sound different. And we also know that as AC signals pass through cables dielectrics change state.

Why would this matter? We know different types of insulation materials impact sound quality: Teflon, Polypropylene, Polystyrene, Mylar all sound different. And we also know that as AC signals passing through cable dielectrics change state—and sound different.

Many will say this is all BS. And that’s fine.

But there won’t be another show we attend without first burning in the cables with music.
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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.

Life’s investments

I am always struck by the magnitude of experience needed to design a state of the art high-end audio piece. Think of the lifetime of work invested in products designed by Dave Wilson, Bascom King, Arnie Nudell, John Curl, Steve McCormack, Richard Vandersteen, Jeff Rowland, Ray Kimber.

Each has poured their hearts and souls into their work.

I can think of only a handful of industries where years of passionate effort are invested into the products that define it.

Every time you crank up the tunes on your high-end audio system, what your hear reflects the life’s experience of the designers who crafted it.

It’s why so few of us are OK with buying into the nameless, soulless commodities that purport to capture the essence of music—clever marketing phrases that wind up being empty words.

It’s this personal investment that keeps me motivated in what we do.

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.

New ideas

Every new idea has risk. When radical new inventions like the light bulb, car, airplane, or escalators were launched most scoffed at their introduction. Yet, today they are commonplace.

Change is hard for most people, but a small group of us are eager for it. We’re known as early adopters.

The vast majority of people want to wait until all the noisy changes have sorted themselves out and found acceptance. And that makes perfect sense because most change is short lived.

New ideas are what drive innovation. As an audio manufacturer, it’s our job to keep pushing the envelope and seeing what comes out of the effort.

Not all of us jump at new ideas, but it is those new ideas that eventually become the bread and butter discoveries that make our music better.

Thank goodness for the new.

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.

Air conducting

I don’t seem to be able to restrain myself with music. My hand just starts waving in the air—like Peter Seller’s character in Dr. Strangelove—though mine’s in the style of a conductor rather than a demagog.

I am always impressed at the power of music to move me. And I am not alone. Cadres of rock concert air guitars conduct dancers unable to sit when the music’s playing.

It’s all I can do to restrain my hand gestures at symphonic concerts or a night at the opera. But even the most cultured music listener cannot fully restrain themselves. I’ve seen heads bob, toes tap, and tears of joy at these events too.

The power of music to move us is in our DNA and cannot be ignored.

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.

Setup day

Setup day is a lot more fun than teardown, though both are a royal pain in the ass.

Here in Chicago for Axpona to help out the Scaena guys I came yesterday to help setup and make sure the sound is as good as it can be within the confines of what we have to work with. A hotel room. In this case, a rather large one on the main lobby floor.

The whole show thing is odd. Setting up a stereo system for three days inside a hotel room. I can’t think of another industry that’s similar. You don’t see new cars, watches, cookware, drones, or other consumer products in hotel rooms with crowds walking the halls in search of the latest. I attended the very first “hotel shows” in both Chicago and Vegas and watched the transition from CEA sponsored events to these more regional independent affairs.

Strange or not, here we are. And, I suppose what I like best is the familiar faces of exhibitors and customers alike.

Yup. It’s the faces, the smiles, the camaraderie that appeals to me most.

If you’re in the neighborhood, come by and say hi!

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.

I’ve never had Wonder Bread and wonder what’s so wonderful about it.
The joy of discovery

The world’s a tough place to navigate during childhood. We burn our finger, fall off our bike, spit out food we dislike, get caught red handed in the cookie jar. Most of those hard-won lessons stick with us until we start to branch out a bit. And that’s when it gets interesting.

Food discoveries were my first awakening beyond childhood: a sweet raw pea instead of the boiled gray spheres I grew up with. High-end Italian food compared to Chef Boyardee spaghetti or French bread vs. Wonder bread.

Many of these first-time discoveries change life-long habits. I remember the first time I heard a high-end stereo system (a pair of JBL corner horns fed by Audio Research equipment). That single experience changed my life forever and continues to offer personal growth.

When our eyes are opened to the new and wonderful we grow as individuals in the same way as climbing a mountain. Each step brings us closer to the top where the views are nothing short of magnificent.

Don’t settle for Wonder Bread.

The joy of discovery—widening vistas—stretching our comfort zones—can eradicate personal stagnation.

What new have you discovered today?

 

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.

Good post. If you love something, do what you need to do to get the most enjoyment out of it you can.

I love music, so I go outside my normal boundrys to have put together a great sounding stereo system and I enjoy it to the max.
Sensibilities

Is there some reason we must always be sensible, efficient, and purposeful? We don’t bother with it on vacation, at the park, on a hike, or snoozing on a warm Sunday afternoon. But driving to work we obsess over saving a few precious minutes.

An early birthday present for me was a $150 cast iron dutch bread oven. This was in addition to the one I already have (they are not the same). Doesn’t seem very efficient. In fact, my whole obsession with bread baking makes no sense at all. Just down the street is one of the best bakers in the city and my chances of equalling his skill are remote, and certainly not economically sensible. I can purchase a lifetime of loaves for the price paid for my baking obsession. That’s not why I do it. If you’re interested in why watch this.

High-end audio is perhaps not the most efficient, cost-effective, or sensible means of filling your home with music. In fact, I guarantee we can do it for less.

Yet, we don’t. We give ourselves permission to step outside our self-imposed boundaries for the sheer joy of it.

It makes perfect sense to keep your life in order and provide for your family.

That doesn’t mean your pleasures and passions have to make sense.

They only need to bring you their namesake.

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.

A beginner’s guide

Every year about this time we host the Colorado Audio Society (CAS), as we did this past Saturday. They are a wonderful group of people and it’s an event I always look forward to. We share stories, enjoy music together. CAS is the group that hosts the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), the one big consumer show we do each year (though we will be at Axpona sharing a room with Scaena loudspeakers).

Several new members approached me for a quick tour around the facilities. One person in particular interested me. As I am showing him the lab, engineering offices, and pointing to a few projects in development, he announces that he’s new to High-End audio. Starts asking basic questions confirming his level of knowledge. “A CD player consists of a player and a DAC, right? And you guys separate them into two boxes. Why? What’s the benefits?”

It occurred to me that there must be quite a number of people on the periphery of High-End audio. They have a system—perhaps something acquired at Best Buy—and they’re curious about stepping up.

What we do can be daunting.

Why isn’t there a beginner’s guide to High-End Audio? Of course, there’s Robert Harley’s wonderful work A Complete Guide to High-End Audio, and Jim Smith’s Get Better Sound, but these are targeted not at the beginner, but at those of us wishing to extend previous knowledge of the art.

An actual beginners guide—kept simple, descriptive, history-laden—would be a big help to bringing newbies into the field we love.

I would actually love to tackle this.