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.

Is it just me?

I have an older Kindle e-book reader sitting idly on my desk at home. It is a perfectly fine Kindle but I never use it because I have a new one that was said to be better. The new one is, in fact, better. At least I think so.

As soon as I read there was a newer, better device available I got excited. Just like I get excited about the new phone—you know, that new phone that replaced the old new one; the one that was so much better than the new one from before.

Is it just me that gets excited over new?

Some improvements are so significant I can’t imagine living without them. Others seem more excitement than substance. It’s hard to know which is what until you take a stab and try them.

I don’t think it’s just me that gets anxious and excited for the new, the fresh, the inspirational.

What about you?

Now that I think about it, I am really happy I got that new Kindle.

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.

PS Audio factory tour

We absolutely love it when audiophiles and music lovers drop by to visit us in Boulder. Folks are treated to the nickel tour of the factory, engineering labs, admin areas, even the ping pong room, and then the grand prize. Music Room One.

Just after January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, Stereophile Editor John Atkinson came by to visit and with him was his trusty videographer, Jana Dagdagan (who spit out our free coffee….yeah, it’s not too good. Girl’s got taste).

They’ve put together a fantastic tour of our facilities which you can watch by clicking here.

John asks me some great questions and this is by far the best tour anyone’s managed yet to do.

It’s worth a view.

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 love my LP’s, as the best of them on my Well Tempered Amadeus record player, Dynavector Karat 17D phono cartridge and Rogue Audio Ares Dark phono stage sound, sound better than my PS Audio based digital collection, but its a lot more work.

Still, I’m a bachelor for a week, so after posting this, I’m going to go play some records.

From where I stand

My friend Isaac Markowitz was visiting PS Audio and we got to chatting about vinyl and digital. Isaac’s as whacky an audiophile as I am but he’s into vinyl and I am into digital. He’s in his mid-30s. I am a lot older.

I grew up with vinyl and over the years found myself cursing its many failings: every copy sounded different, too much repeated play damaged grooves, the necessity to clean it before playing, the mechanical nightmares of cartridge setup. An endless list.

The day digital was good enough to better vinyl I was all over it like white on rice.

From Isaac and my son Scott McGowan’s perspectives: two committed vinyl lovers, the very failings of vinyl were the magnets that attracted them. If every copy of an album sounds different that makes them unique, precious, desired. The ritual of playback resonates as an earned skill separating them from the chaff of MP3 lovers.

As a student of human behavior I find this endlessly fascinating.

From where each of us stands the greenest pastures are rarely the same.

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 and the new PS Audio P20

Hair of the dog

If you were to take careful measurements of every aspect of dog hair: spectrometer, DNA, chemical analysis, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out what the animal looked like if the species was unknown. In fact, it would be as difficult as reverse engineering a computer from taking apart a USB cable.

And that’s the problem we face trying to measure differences in what we hear. Our measurements only look at a tiny slice of the pie and do not yet apply to the whole sensory system.

Recently at our dealer’s showroom in Hong Kong, Radar Audio, a group of customers were treated to a demonstration of music played on a high-resolution audio system with and without the P20. The listeners were told only that A was somehow different than B. The opinions of how much better the audio system sounded powered by the P20 were unanimous. Yet, make any known audio measurement science has available today and I doubt there would be a measured difference.

We cannot measure perception. We cannot measure what your mind crafts in response to aural stimulation.

But you can.

And, you 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.

Perfect? Who and what are perfect? Nobody and nothing.

The definition of perfect

Perfect doesn’t mean flawless. Perfect is full of mistakes and errors. A perfect person is a complex mix of learning errors and achievements won.

When we think of a perfect recording or concert performance it’s never without flaws. The difference is the flaws add to the new, gives us the unexpected, becomes the perfect.

It’s good to search for perfect.

It’s a mistake to believe it means anything other than including all the desired elements. Mistakes too.

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 use iTunes and I use its highest copy rate and error correction, which takes the longest to rip, but I’ve found this to sound best. Others don’t sound bad, but this sounds best, so why not? Hard drive  memory is cheap and a couple extra minutes to get the best sound possible, is worth it to me.

I rip to WAV files and no longer compare type of files, whether FLAC, AIFF or ny of the others. I’ve been there and done that and life is too short.

WAV files are truly lossless and sounded significantly better to me than Apple’s AIFF, so that was that.

Ripped

Here’s something to contemplate. If ripping a CD results in identical bit-perfect data to the original and, if you store that ripped data on a hards drive, how could one ripping process sound different than another?

The answer is simple. It cannot.

Yet, few among us would suggest one ripping process sounds the same as another. Thus, if all the evidence is true, that means the data has to be different. Error correction was used. Something other than jitter or timing changed. (We know this because hard drives do not store clock data).

I wonder if there have been any studies or examples of ripped vs. original using different programs. I am often lazy when ripping CDs and use iTunes at its lowest copy rate. My friend Jason Serinus, who is also a reviewer at Stereophile, scolds me for this practice, suggesting the results are less than optimal. Bad, in fact.

Love to know what’s true and not.

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 don’t know any musicians that have high end audio systems here in Western North Carolina and one of the reasons is simply the cost of the equipment and spendable dollars.  Most of the musicians I know and I know quite a few, cannot  afford good quality audio equipment and are more concerned with buying better quality musical instruments than they are with investing their money in audio  reproduction systems.

Musicians and high end audio

Ever notice how few musicians are into high-end audio? Most I know have meh systems and seem happy about them. Shoemaker’s dilemma?

There are exceptions to every rule. I happen to know quite a few musicians who are into high-end audio, but the vast majority are not.

You’d imagine when those who know the sound of real instruments more intimately than most want to playback music it would be with the highest fidelity. It’s a mystery then why that isn’t true.

I offer two observations: the percentage of musicians with high-end stereo interest seems to mirror that of the general population. Very few. The second observation seems a bit more remote but perhaps worthy of some consideration. Master chefs prefer simple food for personal nourishment, staying as far away from the perfection of their craft as possible.

Too much of a good thing?

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 separates

A stew combines the same food elements as are found in a fancy restaurant’s small expensive plates: tastings that are ever so much more flavorful than their amalgam.

The same can be said for most audio integrated amps and audio receivers, but not because they are in one box, but because of the shortcuts taken in their design.

Most integrated stereo products exist to lower unit cost. One obvious savings is the chassis. Separates have individual chassis, power supplies, front panels, controls, and displays. We can save money by combining all but one of these elements without sacrificing quality. The power supplies.

One of the classic errors made in attempting an integrated with uncompromised sonics is the use of a single power supply for the myriad of internal componentry. An integrated’s lack of connecting cables, mutiple displays, and physical distance signals must traverse all work against the idea of separates. Yet, their attention to detail and separated power supplies often provide a performance edge not enjoyed by integrated solutions.

When we next tackle an integrated, one of the things that interests me is to see if we can do so without compromising sound quality, while maximizing cost and real estate savings. A lofty goal, indeed, but one personally interesting as a challenge.

I hope we can pull it off.

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’s all so confusing

I received an email from a new customer seemingly overwhelmed by the myriad of choices in high end audio equipment, and he didn’t mean brands. Just assembling the simplest of high-end systems can be a challenge.

Though I dislike the term, back in the day, I can’t think of one better to describe the long ago when it was easy: A set of speakers, integrated amp, turntable, a roll of zip cord, and you were good to go.

Today it’s a much more complicated process in the same way cars have gone too. Remember how easy it was to work on one? Tweak the carburetor, advance the timing, throw a bottle of elixir in the gas tank, you were good to go.

But, here’s the thing. Cars and stereo systems of yore weren’t all that good. Their memories are much sweeter than their performance ever was.

Change is a good thing, though better often comes with the price of more learning.

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.

Perceptual hearing

Maybe our focus has been to narrow. We think of our ears as mere microphones. We then design measurement equipment to unravel all the distortions and intricacies that might trip up a microphone, only to wonder why those measurements and our hearing perceptions don’t line up.

Our ears are microphones, but that’s only the simplest of their tasks. The ear is a complex instrument, from its outer shape, called the Pinna, funneling sound through a curved canal into the microphone’s diaphragm—quaintly called the eardrum from years before we understood its full nature—and onwards through other archaic names like the Vestibule, Round Window, and Oval Window, continuing through the three tiniest bones in our bodies: the malleus, incus, and stapes, collectively know as the Ossicles (which literally means tiny bones).

The ear’s sorted electrical signals including those of position and balance are fed to our massive CPU, the brain, for further processing—and this is where we form an image of what we hear. Yes. A literal holographic multi-dimensional image with far more information than any recording or measurement device yet imagined.

You see, we hear not only with our ears but our brains. It’s called Perceptual Hearing.

What a wonderful invention it might be to someday devise an analog of perceptual hearing. We could then quantify that which we perceive as sound.

Some work has been done already. Studies of three-dimensional audio holography have made great strides.

But, for now, we are our best analog. The real deal.