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.

For a small specialty audio company, PS Audio is one of the largest and getting larger. 42 people and counting.

Teamwork

Companies are groups of people coming together for a common purpose. We call this collection a team—a term also used by sports and horses. PS Audio’s team now numbers 42, quite large from the original 2 of me and Stan.

Teams aren’t faceless. Each person within the team brings a lifetime of experience and stories; family and memories; love and dedication; purpose and determination. It is the rich and cumulative experience of the team that defines any company, for better or for worse. In our case, the better. We have an extraordinary group that design, build, package, and account for all things PS Audio.

Take for example our CFO, Keenan Haga, who runs a marathon every week. He’s run so many of these 26-mile races that after completing his first 50 (one in each state), he’s decided to go for his second. And early next year he’ll run a marathon in Antarctica.

Or, senior software developer Tyera Eulberg, captain of the USA Women’s Underwater Hockey Team. Yes, indeed, you have that right. Check out this NHL video of Tyera.

Or, senior programmer Barry Solway, an author, engineer, software developer, writer, dancer, martial artist and a former Marine. His latest book, Gladiator, is a sci-fi thriller that is a real page-turner.

And these two are only part of a great team that come together 5 days a week to build the best audio products on the planet and take care of our greatest asset, our customers.

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.

When transparency is the goal

What we hope for in any piece of stereo equipment is sonic transparency. We get there by practicing the Hippocratic oath, “First, do no harm.”

And while this is all well and good the facts are unfortunately not in our favor. All electronics affect the signal in some way: robbing or adding. There’s no such thing as harmless.

What we practitioners of the art can strive for is to leave as small a musically agreeable footprint as possible—to do no harm, and what little impact we have should be toe-tapping good.

At least when transparency’s the goal.

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 makes an amp musical?

As design engineers, we all have different rules of thumb design crib sheets. If we want to design a servo-controlled power amplifier we engineer for maximum control and fast step rate. On the other hand, if we want to build a syrupy-sweet sounding amp we’d use a soft-focus input like a JFET or a vacuum tube. (If you’re a design engineer and want to test this just listen to the difference between a 5532 and a TL082 op-amp).

Each amplifier design is specific to the task at hand because no amplifier is perfect. When we focus our efforts in one area like high damping, low distortion, or high wattage, we do so at the expense of another.

I’ve mentioned this before but it likely bears repeating. Engineering is the art of minimizing compromise to achieve the design criteria. We gain here by losing a little over there.

The broader question posited in today’s post’s is so system dependent it’s almost difficult to answer with any clarity, though we can offer a few observations. Musically pleasing amps generally have the following attributes: voltage-centric devices at their inputs (FETS or tubes), stable open loop performance (they don’t require feedback to keep amplifying), relatively high bias at their output stages.

There are hundreds of designs in the world of high-end audio. Some are more musical than others.

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.

How emotions impact sound

We listen to music with our ears but hear with our emotions. Every sense we possess runs through the lens of our emotions and that lens can pretty easily warp our feelings.

Take for example spit. Imagine spitting saliva into a cup then drinking it again. Gross, right? Logically we know that emotion is absurd. The saliva was just fine a millisecond ago while in your mouth. As soon as it is outside we are repulsed. That’s our emotions clouding our logic.

If we are told a piece of audio equipment has been getting bad reviews or the opposite, we tend to cloud our judgment with these pre-biases. But, we don’t have to.

Understanding the power of emotional bias is often enough to counter it. I know that in my own case if someone asks me to audition a piece of equipment or a new circuit, it’s a lot easier to cut through the emotional baggage if I don’t know what the opinions are. But, even if I do, understanding pre-bias is enough to cut through the lens and get to the truth.

I am sure you already know this, but it bears repeating from time to time.

Your first reaction can be a powerful tool. If it’s been preconditioned, ignore it. If it’s fresh, pay close attention.

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.

The impersonal internet

I spend a great deal of time on the forums and comments section of our channels: Ask Paul, Ohms Law, Paul’s Post, PS ForumsYouTube, Copper Magazine, Facebook.

I do this because the internet can be an impersonal place if you let it. Just look at some of the more untended channels and you’ll see they’ve degraded into shouting matches and hate filled comments of no value to anyone—like weeds taking over a vacant lot or graffiti defacing an abandoned building.

It’s as if people are warning others to stay away. The ground here is no longer fertile.

Each of our community outreach channels is like a garden. Tended to and cared for it grows and flourishes, providing sustenance to a community hungry for a place to gather and tip glasses together in friendship. A place to learn and share.

If we care enough to devote our time and energies to something, our great community is eager to respond in kind.

It’s one of high-end audio’s core strengths and I thank each and every one of you for 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.

This reminds me of a tube preamp I imported from Australia many years ago. Beautiful on the outside and one of the worst built audio products I ever saw… Beauty on the outside, but UGLY on the inside.

If it looks like a…

We can’t judge a book by its cover any more than we can a piece of high end stereo equipment by its case.

And yet we do, time and time again. It’s just human nature. The outer appearance should define the inner workings but often misses the mark. Remember the old Corvair? It looked like a sporty car but in reality…

One of the homeliest pieces of gear I ever owned was the Audio Research SP3 preamp. Plain Jane does not adequately call out its looks. And certainly, its mundane appearance in no way reflects its sound quality. For several decades it was the best preamplifier I had ever heard. And then there’s the story of my original phono preamp prototype housed in a Roi Tan cigar box…

As designers we do our best to mirror what’s inside by the statement the outside makes, but rarely do we succeed.

So, the next time you hear something good about a product only to be turned around by its looks, maybe take a moment. Turn off the auto-judgment emotion and give it a chance.

Ugly duckling sometimes become beautiful swans.

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.

DSP and bass

One objection many of us harbor towards DSP (Digital Signal Processing) is the necessity to convert analog to digital then back again. While I have nothing against digital—my system is pretty much all digital—I am still a purist at heart. The idea of working as hard as we do to get perfect analog out of the DAC and into our amps and speakers, just to convert it back and forth again, seems an injustice. Of course, one can argue that DSP is innocuous if done in the DAC, but that leaves all our friends with turntables in the cold.

There might be a solution if one is selective. Where I would draw the line with this purity is right about 200Hz and below. When audio frequencies head down into the basement the foibles of back and forth digitizing seem to go away. Whatever crimes digital stands accused of seem to happen above 200Hz, leaving everything below an open field ripe for improvement.

As long-time readers know I have never felt comfortable correcting room problems by changing the signal to the loudspeaker. Instead, I have consistently advocated fixing the room and leaving the audio signal as pure as possible. That dictum still stands above…you guessed it…200Hz.

Subwoofers are the obvious place to put a DSP that can smooth the peaks and ignore the dips. And I wonder why more subwoofer companies don’t include DSP. We’re not worried about mucking up the sound where it matters, but we are hopeful of smoothing out the peaks that plague systems.

As we move into our own loudspeakers inspired by the late Arnie Nudell, DSP for the bass will be one of the hallmarks of the new models. It’s an exciting prospect and one I would heartily encourage others making subwoofers to embrace.

I believe it will help 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.

Cool things going on over at PS Audio, including a new recording studio.

If it’s good for the goose…

Boy. Yesterday’s post sure kicked up a lot of dust. Good. Recording studio quality isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. As half-baked home studios proliferate, the few excellent studios like Cookie’s Blue Coast and a handful of others struggle. And when quality recordings become fewer, there are fewer new juicy cuts of music to enjoy.

One of my readers pointed to a book which uses pretzel logic to make a point. In a nutshell, the author suggests high-end audio equipment is farcical because if it were any good, recording studios would use it. As if recording studios had a clue.

As we map out the build for our own studio we look at the state of the art in mixing consoles in the hopes they’ve gotten better over the years. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. With few exceptions, modern recording consoles wouldn’t pass muster with even budget high-end electronics, let alone serious attempts at maintaining great sound through a complex chain.

Somehow, we grew to assume “the pros” who make the recordings must have greater insight into sound quality than those who listen to their work.

To set the record straight, what’s good for the goose ain’t necessarily good for the gander.

And one last rant before we close on this topic.

Our plans are to offer studio time to musicians for free. We believe musicians, recording/mastering engineers, and audio quality, are all getting the short end of the economic stick and we aim to fix that. How will our model work? In the same way our One CD worked. Artists record in our studio, at our expense, in exchange for letting us print and distribute a private label release of their music and give them the lion’s share of the revenue the release generates. This frees legitimate artists from the economic burdens of studio time, distribution costs, and all that goes along with getting their music in the hands of anxious fans. They can then take their mastered files and do whatever they want with them on their own label. For free, with a check from us in hand.

That’s a long-winded way of saying this. Artists and engineering people no longer pay for studio time, we pay them and the world of music lovers wins.

What’s in it for us? Plenty, though making a profit isn’t one of them. We get true live music recorded perfectly, and there’s nothing more valuable to a manufacturer of high-performance audio equipment. We get to build a community of music lovers looking forward to a monthly release of new music. We get to rub elbows with the people we love and admire. And we get the pleasure of knowing we’re making a difference in the world we love, high-performance music.

What’s not to love?

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.

How we struggle to keep bad sound

I would suggest that well over three quarters of the CD’s in my physical library suck. Yup. Bad recordings all. Sure, some great music, but when it comes to recording quality not many live up to high standards and even fewer are exemplary.

Isn’t it odd then, given all the poor recordings, that we struggle so hard to perfectly reproduce them?

I have spent a great deal of time in recording studios over the years. Most are pathetic when it comes to fidelity. Based mostly on chip op-amps, heavy EQ, miles of wiring and switches, and less than adequate power supplies, what passes for quality in a studio wouldn’t make it past first base in a high-end two-channel stereo system.

And yet, we cherish those recordings, spending thousands to make sure we wring every last nuance from the recording itself. (Which kind of makes sense since often there aren’t many of those nuanced sounds to be enjoyed).

As I have mentioned in past posts we are building a state of the art mastering and recording studio in partnership with Gus Skinnas and a handful of the few recording experts left that care about quality. We will build that studio in our new facility and from those efforts we intend to reimagine what live sound reproduced in your home really means.

It’s something we are quite passionate about.

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.

Expressing ourselves

I am continually impressed with the generous people expressing themselves in the comments section of our media outreach channels. Most are supportive or have questions; some are put off; others are delighted; a few are horrified. It’s the horrified that gets me scratching my head.

Each of us crafts a personal worldview: A story that explains just about everything in our lives. Those narratives are unique yet similar enough that we align ourselves with like-minded people. We’re all audiophiles and while we argue about all sorts of things, at the end of the day, we share a worldview when it comes to music and its reproduction. For example, who among us would argue that electronics and speakers sound different?

Yet, that statement offered up in some crowds can elicit all sorts of emotions including anger, which is odd to me because it seems like a pretty harmless viewpoint.

When a worldview is in direct conflict with someone else’s story we can react in a few different ways: learn, ignore, respond, try to change, feel threatened. I think when people are aghast or horrified by an opinion it’s because they feel threatened. And no one wants to be threatened.

So my question is this. How can we present ideas to the outside world that don’t threaten people? Is there some way of expressing audiophile opinions that can be taken easily enough to spark debate and healthy discourse on the one hand, while not angering and spewing bile on the other?

I’d love to know.