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 in Chicago. We tried to make it this year, but no go for us.

Building a new speaker Part 4

This is the last in our series of how we built the AN3 speaker system prototypes and may be one of the more interesting of the four. In this latest video, I give a quick demonstration of how the reference Arnie Nudell speaker’s midrange and tweeter sound, then turn around and play the same on the AN3’s tweeter and midrange. Even on my crappy little lapel microphone, the differences between the two are evident.

With newer driver technology and the luxury of standing on the shoulders of a giant, Darren and I were able to build an even more coherent and musically rich system than the reference we started with.

Improving on an existing standard is how modifiers and tweakers of equipment make forward strides in sound quality on existing designs. It is one thing to start from scratch and wander into the wilderness of the great unknown with a new design. It’s a lot easier to have a great starting point to begin the quest, which is fortunately what we had to work with. (For those having attended RMAF last year you might have had a chance to hear Arnie’s reference speakers).

The AN3s are boxed up and probably halfway to Chicago by the time you’re reading these words. If you’re going to the Axpona show in Chicago, please do drop by the PS Audio room and give them a listen. Ted Smith will be available to speak with folks (he’s always a treat) and engineer and loudspeaker designer Darren Myers will be in the room on Friday. On Saturday we’ll do a live Ask Paul video.

Yes, they are only a prototype, but I think they’re polished enough for savvy listeners to get a measure of what they’re all about.

And one final note. The cosmetics of the speaker have a lot of work left. Their base is too big, the frames around the drivers are ugly, the rears are unfinished, there’s no grille, and there will be cables and few boxes hanging off their rears. They are a prototype, after all, so cut them a little cosmetic slack if you can (though we’d love to get your feedback).

PS Audio is showing in a fairly big room on the ground floor behind registration. Hope to see you there!

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.

Building a new speaker Part 2

In yesterday’s post, we kicked off the first of our 4-part series on speaker building. In this series, I wanted to share with you what we were trying to achieve when we designed the first in our new line of reference standard loudspeakers, the AN3, and how we went about achieving our goals.

One point of confusion with the AN3 is where it sits in our eventual line of speakers—it is in the middle. AN3 is one of three in the AN Series, but we plan two series. The second series will move downward in price and size from the AN line but will have a close family resemblance in appearance and performance. Eventually, there will be 6 models of full range loudspeakers ranging from (we hope) as low as $3K the pair to the mighty AN1. All will have servo powered bass, separate midrange and tweeter. The long-awaited Sprout speaker is also looming on the horizon though it will be bookshelf sized and not powered.

They say (whoever “they” are) that it’s best not to watch the process of sausage making. Perhaps designing loudspeakers would have the same cautionary warning attached but you know me, I cannot resist pulling back the kimono and sharing with you the entire story: the clip leads, the helter-skelter, the computer modeling, the successes and failures.

I know that many readers have this Pollyannaish notion of how speakers are designed—white-coated engineers bristling with slide rules and spouting knowledge like Dilbert, but I am here to tell you that’s a rare scene. I’ve spent many years of my life watching and practicing the art of design with some of the best and it ain’t that way for those that use our ears and calculators to design. It’s a combination of meters and screens and computers and sweat and patience and listening.

In the second of the four videos, which you can watch here, I spend the time showing viewers how Arnie’s 4-way system works and how each of the 4 parts actually sounds. So, if you’ve ever wondered how a multi-way crossover works and sounds this is an instructive video to watch.

The demonstration and the information we gain from this is important to the final design. That is because it’s easier to clone the sound of one system into another if it is done in small increments such as just the midrange and tweeters.

I think you’ll find today’s video illuminating.

 

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.

Building a new speaker Part 1

Starting today, and going through the next three days, I’ll be detailing the making of the new AN3 speaker. If you’re not interested in learning about the development process I’d skip the next few days of posts.

One of the reasons I wanted to spend time with this subject is its fleeting nature. Once the process is completed: the pain, sweat, angst, triumph, and failures along the way are lost—and to my way of thinking they are all part of a product’s DNA as much as a young person’s upbringing shapes their lives.

As you read this, know that the AN3 prototypes are now bouncing along I-80 in the back of some truck on their way to Chicago for the Axpona show.

The battlefield where engineers Darren Myers, Bob Stadther, and I (ably assisted by Jordan Kamper) devoted our days nights and weekends in service of making great music has been relegated to the inner canister of a Dyson vacuum cleaner.

A look inside Music Room One would offer no clue of what occurred there: the building of a new kind of loudspeaker—a 4-way hybrid of ribbons and cones and analog and amplifiers and servos and DSP capturing the magic of Arnie Nudell’s work and the bounty of music properly reproduced.

I have filmed four videos to go along with each of the four parts of this saga. The first can be viewed here.

In this opening video, I spend the entire 11 minutes explaining Arnie Nudell’s reference system: what it is, why it works, what he tried to achieve and how. If you’re familiar with that system, the one following his triumph of the IRSV and all that came afterward from Genesis Technologies while he was at the helm and me at his side, then wait until tomorrow to watch Part 2.

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 recording

I have a lot of long term projects in my head and one that comes up often is the creation of a setup CD (or LP).

There have been attempts at just such a product in the past. Stereophile’s setup CD remains one of my favorites. When I set up a new audio system I always check for left and right plus phase on tracks 1 and 2. But, that’s pretty basic and not really what I had in mind.

The problems of setup I see have more to do with dialing in the fine details of tonal balance, spatial cues, room modes, image size, etc. I don’t know of a setup product that really addresses these challenges with specific goals to achieve accompanied by easy steps to dial the sound in.

We’d like to change that.

Would it be possible to have tracks on a recording accompanied by step-by-step directions like:

  • Listen to the voice and adjust the level until the singer sounds proportionally correct.
  • With the help of the included measurement scale on the floor determine where the image is placed behind the imaginary line of the speakers
    • If too far back do this
    • If too trapped in the speaker do that

I am just spitballing here but it seems to me a step-by-step instruction set with specific examples would be invaluable if one could figure out how to pull it off.

What do you think?

What would be critical to be included?

Would you find a tool like this valuable?

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.

Radical ideas

Whenever I hear the term “radical new idea” two things happen: my ears perk up and my caution guard goes up too.

I think most of us are both interested and skeptical of radical change. We love the idea of the new, the radical, the brass ring solution that leapfrogs us away from the land of incremental changes. And yet, how many times have we been disappointed? The 200 mpg carburetor, the Bedini Box speaker cables.

Most radical ideas go nowhere but on occasion, they spark improvements in the tried and true. I remember our first discovery that huge oversized transformers improved the audio performance of source equipment and that discovery lead to the creation of the Power Plant AC regenerators.

The cycles between radical shifts in technology seem to be becoming shorter. Vacuum tubes to transistors happened in a 50-year cycle while the move from analog to digital audio was a little more than half that.

With all the work on new materials for generating sound like graphene and the research on beamforming to direct sound to specific locations, I am guessing we’re in for a radical new approach in the field of reproduction by the middle of the next decade. That’s not a lot of time.

I’ll also wager that the new approach, whatever it is, will come out of left field—or certainly a field far from high-end audio.

As I write these words some companies are installing audio beam projectors capable of following individuals in a crowded public area to spam them with advertising—and only the targeted individual will hear it. Applied to a stereo system it means sound could track the individuals within a room perhaps moving the soundstage with the person.

It’s fun to imagine what the future might hold for audiophiles like us.

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.

Hobby or lifeline?

For some, building a reference audio system is a hobby. For others, their life’s blood.

Which is it for you?

When I ask this question of people I often sense a defensive reaction as if one evokes less passion or commitment than the other.

I am not sure we need to make that distinction.

Sure, the two terms are different: a hobby is considered optional while a lifeline is essential. Yet, I don’t see that difference when it comes to levels of intensity or commitment between the two. We can be just as passionate and intense with our hobbies as we are with our lifelines.

This might seem like a silly distinction but I think it speaks to the heart of what we’re all invested in, wringing emotion out of music.

We squeeze every ounce of performance out of music trapped in recorded medium and I don’t think hobbyists squeeze and less than lifeliners.

Perhaps the difference between hobbies and lifelines is more semantic than real.

 

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 bigger audio enthusiast than I….Building microphones now…

Microphone preamps

As Gus Skinas and we build out the new recording facility we run into the inevitable issues of electronics, in particular, the microphone preamplifiers. There are so many opinions on which preamp topology betters the next you’d think we were back in audiophile land. Maybe worse.

There’s transformer coupled designs, transformerless, tubes, transistors, high voltage, low voltage, vintage, and modern miracles to choose from. And, of course, it’s us so we will roll our sleeves up and design our own. Heck, it’s what we do.

And, like audio electronics, we’ll use (gasp) our ears! in the designs.

As we do in our stereo products we’ll start with a supposition based on a lot of research. We’ll then poke around at what’s available and see what floats our collective boats when it comes to capturing the essence and soul of music through microphones. And then we will combine all that we’ve learned into crafting a new device that perfectly suits our needs.

No, we’re not going to worry about making commercially viable microphone preamplifiers for the recording industry. We won’t be hamstrung by the needs for differentiating them in the marketplace, the trap of building what we hope others will like and buy.

For our quest to capture music’s heart and soul we need only to focus on the results. Like a magician building the perfect trick to elicit gasps of astonishment our only goal is to build what pleases our ears and bags the beauty of voices and instruments.

I cannot imagine a more exciting project.

 

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.

Turntable setup

Proper setup of a turntable arm and cartridge are more important to great stereo performance than even the electronics it feeds.

Of course, it’s all an audio system and even the most accurate setup won’t sound great through a mediocre phono preamplifier but it’s equally true that the world’s best phono stage won’t be worth its cost without the proper arm and cartridge attention.

I wish I could impart an expert’s step-by-step instruction on how to set up your table, but the extent of my knowledge just dusts the surface. Sure, I’ve set up plenty of arms and tables in my day. Protractor and stylus gauge in hand, I’ve fumbled through the basics as most of us have and the results were often good. Time spent adjusting and tweaking always paid off in better performance and the freeing of music trapped in vinyl grooves.

Yet, a novice’s best efforts pale in comparison to an expert’s deft hand. Years ago I paid setup expert Brooks Berdan to tweak my table and upon its return I was floored with the improvements. Suddenly, two dimensions became three: surface noise and music were separated, highs and lows were balanced, and a musicality warmed the room like a fire in the hearth.

Though my readers know I prefer an optimized DSD based system to that of vinyl, there’s no disputing the magic that is trapped in those wiggly grooves.

I fear the skills needed to expertly set up a turntable have largely been lost as, sadly, experts are dying off. However, we do live in an age of recorded wisdom and that’s a good thing.

One of the best setup people still with us today is our good friend Michael Fremer and, guess what. Mikey has a setup DVD available for sale.

This video, followed closely, will bring as much improvement to your vinyl system as any new piece of gear. Maybe more.

Building a reference quality vinyl system takes work. But then, so too does any worthwhile adventure.

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.

Investing

For most of us, our stereo systems are lifelong investments.

We’re not casual buyers of commodities. Instead, we do our research, get advice, study the forums, speak to our friends, go to shows, and work hard at getting up to speed like savvy Wall Street players.

We rarely subscribe to collectives as a monied mutual fund investor might. Instead, we’re more maverick than the herd mentality of consumer audio. For us, the personal choices we make individualize our systems in ways unique to each investment.

And our investments pay off in ways hard to describe to others until they sit down in front of a reference system. Then, the magic of what we’ve crafted reaches deep into the souls of people with heart.

We invest in personal pleasure.

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.

Happiness is…

We’ll likely never know what happiness was to John Lennon but we can get a glimpse of his wry humor when he wrote the song Happiness is a warm gun. The title, taken from the cover of a gun magazine, was so outlandish he said, “I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something.”

In our world of high-end audio happiness can come in so many different forms: finding a forgotten piece of music, installing new gear, relaxing with a glass of red wine to the serenade of a treasured album, cleaning a record, thumbing through rows of CDs, reading liner notes, appreciating all that we have.

Of all the day-to-day activities and interactions I have, I believe the closing of the door to the music room, the magical sense of that special place, the smell of the system, the moment the first note engages and the world melts away is what happiness is to me.

Sure, there’s plenty of other things that make me happy: a smile, a hug from my grandkids, the touch of Terri’s hand, finishing a long project, hearing a great story. But the consistency of the musical experience keeps me coming back for more.

Happiness is different for all of us.

What makes you happy?