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.

Stealin’ from the best

Artist Pablo Picasso is credited with an old saying. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Composers routinely lift riffs and melodies from each other. In 1775, at the age of nineteen, Mozart composed the “Misericordias Domini,” a six-minute sacred work that is rarely heard today. In it, Mozart employs a melody that would one day be lifted, dusted off and become one of the most famous melodies of all time: the “Ode to Joy” theme that undergirds the long fourth movement of Beethoven’s massive Ninth Symphony.

In 1958, music artist Chuck Berry penned and popularized Sweet Little Sixteen, only to be copied in 1963 by the Beach Boys in their mega-hit Surfin USA. It’s remarkable to compare the two entirely different genres of music—rock and roll “Race Music” to mostly white “Surfin’ Music”—and hear the same tune presented so differently. Those differences wound up in hands of lawyers until the Beach Boys manager (and father), Murray Wilson, agreed to give the publishing rights to Arc Music, Berry’s publisher. It wouldn’t be until 1966 that Berry would actually get credit for penning the song.

There are certainly other examples too, like “Bring It On Home,” by Led Zeppelin (1969) vs. “Bring It On Home,” by Sonny Boy Williamson (written by Willie Dixon) (1966) or “Whole Lotta Love,” by Led Zeppelin (1969) vs. “You Need Love,” by Muddy Waters (also written by Willie Dixon) (1962), or the tune to “My Sweet Lord,” by George Harrison (1970) vs. “He’s So Fine,” by the Chiffons (written by Ronnie Mack) (1962).

There are only 12 notes to work with in western music, yet some combinations of those notes are just too good to pass up.

All composers and musicians stand on the shoulders of those before them.

And some tunes are so good they are worth stealing.

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 power of community

Every passion driven enterprise seems to have its community and high-end audio is no different. Members helping other members without much in the way of competition.

Our Community Forums are one of the most widely read online audiophile gathering places on the web. It’s an open and friendly place that exists not just for PS Audio customers but anyone with any equipment interested in the same things we all are. Music and its reproduction.

While many other forums seem a dangerous place in which its members might rip into an innocent question, chastise newbies for their ignorance, replay some communal rant, or push forward a sensationalist’s agenda fueled by advertising dollars, ours is a calmer safer place.

The power of community grows when members feel encouraged and help and advice are freely offered without judgment or malice.

I like to think of it as our HiFi Family. Sure, there’s the occasional bickering and squabbling as in any family, but for the most part, we’re a supportive group with the goal of elevating everyone.

The real beauty of community is leveraging the combined knowledge and wisdom of thousands—something no organization could replicate internally.

I hope you have a chance to join our community if you’re new to it.

We welcome you.

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 is it good enough?

Most of us live with good enough for the bulk of our lives.

The problem for me is deciding when good enough isn’t good enough—when I suspect something’s better but don’t really know.

This can lead to an unsettled feeling filled with hand wringing and constant doubt or I can sometimes just take a deep breath and blow it off. But usually not for too long. And that’s when I know it’s time for a change. When that nagging urge keeps coming back to haunt me.

Once the decision’s made I can roll my sleeves up and start the research phase: reading the audio and video forums, talking with friends, searching the magazines. It’s kind of fun until I’ve narrowed the choices down. Then it’s time to evaluate.

If we’re talking audio or power cables it’s pretty easy and quick. Speakers, not so much.

We once were able to head down to one of several high-end audio dealers in the city and spend the day poking around to make our decision. Now that’s mostly changed. The few local dealers have narrowed their product offerings to practical levels and rarely get in the latest greatest to play with. The online fellows have a broader selection but aren’t always so agreeable to my lust for playing around.

And who can blame them?

There’s no perfect solution I am familiar with other than relying upon trust. If I trust a manufacturer then I am more likely to know what to expect. But trust requires familiarity and long term connection, something not always practical in a fast-changing technological world.

I am guessing as the age of the neighborhood retailer morphs into the digital connection era, scratching the “I am interested in change” itch will get easier once we’re through the current stalemate.

I can’t wait.

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.

Filling a vacuum

When we think up new products sometimes it’s because we have a novel idea like the Digital Lens. That’s a product/technology that solved a problem most people didn’t even know they had.

Then there are the obvious ones like stereo amps and audio preamps to fill out a system.

But sometimes products come into being to fill a vacuum. And surprising that’s why we’re committed to building a new category of loudspeaker.

To fill a vacuum.

When our customers ask for loudspeaker recommendations to match their musical tastes we’re at a loss of where to send them, which is weird because there are more speaker manufacturers than any other category in our industry. You’d imagine with all that choice there’d be a slam dunk for people who want true full range, high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers.

But there’s nothing we know of that fits that bill (though admittedly that’s quite a laundry list of requirements).

So, as we’ve done in the past with AC power and digital audio—and even as far back as our early standalone phono stage—we need to step up to the plate and do it ourselves.

To some, this post will sound like over the top marketing fluff or just plain boastful. Probably is. But to those who have genuinely sought out the aforementioned laundry list in earnest and found themselves settling on the next best choice, this is all too real and a problem worth solving by someone.

Anyone.

I wish we could do it sooner.

 

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.

Strawberry red

If you’re growing strawberries it’s easy to find the ripe ones by their color. Bright red through and through is when the fruit’s at its peak and the sugars are just right.

That eons-old technique no longer applies when shopping for the tasty fruit at the market. Beautifully colored berries aren’t a guarantee of ripeness or sweetness in a modern American market (and I suspect elsewhere in the world as well).  This is because the vast majority of our fruit is picked green then ripened by ethylene gas (even organic strawberries). This may sound awful but it’s not a new invention. The technique has been around for centuries.

If you want to experiment, place an unripened strawberry in a plastic bag and with it add a banana. Bananas release natural ethylene gas which then will redden the strawberry.

Force ripening fruit doesn’t do a whole lot to improve its taste and sugar content. It mostly improves the color. The best tasting fruits are field ripened but nearly impossible to then get them to market in time to eat.

I bring this to your attention because it occurs to me there’s a similarity in the way we perceive stereo equipment. We judge strawberries by their color and we judge hifi equipment by the look and weight of the chassis. Neither really tells us much about what’s inside.

And the shame of it is that this method once worked. Red used to indicate ripeness and a pristine chassis once reflected the care of design inside.

Is all hope lost? Hardly. What’s changed is a bit more added weight on the consumer’s side. It’s now more important than ever to know who you’re buying from and what their motivations for producing goods are. Search out the ethical manufacturers who openly discuss their goals and give you more than just a peek inside. You want the whole story.

Farm fresh is worth seeking out if you can, just like digging in deep with your hifi manufacturer.

I’d sooner trust the word of the farmer than the reseller.

 

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.

Offering opinions

Audio shows are often difficult. When I wander the halls and go into the different rooms as a curious onlooker I’d like to remain anonymous in order to get an unbiased opinion of what I hear. That’s often difficult because my mug’s been seen by too many people through our YouTube channel.

The problem with this unwanted notoriety is the request for an opinion—something easy to offer when it’s good, difficult to know what to say when it’s not matching my personal tastes.

Presenters are always proud of their work and wouldn’t spend the time or money to exhibit if they didn’t believe they had something of value to offer. And, of course, they always do though it’s impossible to please everyone.

I remember back several decades ago while at an audio show I ran across an interesting company who had built loudspeakers into table lamps. A great idea to hide the speakers in the days before in-walls. I found the idea novel and complimented the designer on his ingenuity. This lead to the uncomfortable situation of being asked what I thought of the sound. It was clear from the expression on his face he expected praise and I really didn’t know what to say. The last thing I wanted to do was speak the truth. I can’t remember my exact response but it was something qualifying like “I am surprised how good a lamp can sound posing as a speaker.”

I should probably avoid any aspirations at politics.

It’s tough to know when someone wants an actual constructive opinion or is looking instead for support for what they consider good.

I suppose it’s something we all struggle with from time to time.

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.

Wringing emotions

The finest in music and the arts wring emotions and connects to our inner beings in ways that are hard to imagine living without. If my soul isn’t touched for a very long time I feel disconnected and sans family. It’s then I turn to music.

Music’s a quick and repeatable connection. I can be brought to tears or filled with joy in three minutes or less in music’s company. It can take a few days of reading or an hour with a film to get a similar connection and then rarely does it work a second time.

And in the same way that a beautiful book or an excellent cinema brings me closer to the work than a Kindle or television can, a great sound system is a better emotional conduit than a mediocre system from Best Buy.

If wringing every last drop of emotion from music is our goal, it’s incumbent on us to build the best reproduction chain we know how to put together.

There’s nothing quicker and more satisfying to me than connecting with music.

And likewise, nothing quite so distancing as the same reproduced poorly.

We should always treat our emotional connections with the greatest of respect.

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.

Personality traits

All amplifiers have personalities—sonic traits that distinguish one from the other.

We choose our power amps first to handle the loads our speakers demand followed closely by how they sound.

Once you’ve settled in with your power amplifier you’ll do what it takes to preserve or enhance the sonic personality you enjoy. This can be anything from choosing the right speaker cables to positioning your speakers to best advantage.

Once we’re locked into our sound perhaps we’d like to stretch our boundaries by adding a subwoofer. That’s a practice I have long preached along with yet another Paul axiom, connecting that sub through the output of your power amplifier. This carries forward the audio personality of your power amplifier so the final presentation is seamless. Which is why the perfect match for your amplifier is when the right amp is built into the subwoofer or loudspeaker.

In the case of our upcoming speaker line, the built-in subwoofer amplifiers we designed to power the speaker’s bottom end have been specifically tailored to get out of the way of the main amp’s personality. This has several advantages: a seamless sound and the ability to focus on one task without affecting the rest of the audio spectrum.

If we were starting from scratch with a new full range amplifier design, we could not equal the performance of a built-in subwoofer amp without sacrificing the rest of the spectrum. By that, I mean a great woofer amp uses gobs of feedback and other techniques to provide slam, pace, and rhythm—all desirable attributes that coincidently detract from the other goals of full range amplifiers such as delicacy and inner detail.

You can’t have it all in one full range amplifier, but what you can focus on is choosing a main amplifier with exactly the personality you’re looking for.

Then it’s up to you to keep that personality intact while enhancing the rest of the spectrum.

 

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.

Selling equipment

Most of us buy and sell a lot of audio and video equipment over a lifetime. It seems to be in our DNA to keep our gear up to date, to try out the latest greatest, to optimize everything about our system for the better.

When it comes time to sell a piece of gear what do you do?

There are dedicated websites like Audiogon. Some people go there but increasingly I hear complaints about them: the fees they charge, the number of dealers selling products outweighing the consumers, the proliferation of silly ads unrelated to audio, featured products are paid advertisements, and so on. There’s also the old standby, eBay, which seems to suffer from many of the same issues as Audiogon. One has to wade through all the dealer come-ons to get down to actual people selling from person to person.

Whatever happened to the good old online marketplace just between consumers?

Many people in the US take advantage of trade-in programs like our own where we buy back used equipment at full retail, but this only works if you’re interested in our products. Other manufacturers have their own trade-in programs as well.

Then, there are the dealers. This is the avenue I once took advantage of “back in the day”.  Like buying a new car, you’d drive your older one in, negotiate your best deal, and leave the keys to the old buggy and drive off in your shiny new ride. While that model still works for cars, that’s seemingly more and more limited with dealers as far as I can tell.

Most people appear to have gravitated to online sites (though with grumbles) or deal directly with manufacturers.

What’s your experience with trade-ins? Do you use online sites, dealers, or manufacturers? If online, which is best and what are the problems?

Are there alternatives I haven’t covered?

 

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.

Recommendations

One of the primary motivators for our launch of PS Audio speakers is a sad but simple truth. There are so few speakers we can recommend in good faith.

This may come as a shock but it happens to be the truth.

Yes, there are some great speakers on the audio and video markets but the really great ones are either astronomically priced or impractical in people’s homes. How many folks could agree to a 4-piece behemoth like the IRSV,  tolerate large panels in the living room, get their significant other to accept the towering likeness of a pterodactyl or escapee from a sci-fi movie, or afford some of the crazy prices in our industry?

For years we have been asked by our customers for recommendations of what to pair with their PS equipment. And for as many years we have shrugged our collective shoulders. Some speakers are affordable but require so much in the way of setup and room correction as to be essentially untenable. Others sound good but haven’t the ability to resolve fine details. Still others are detail oriented but require so much in the way of extras like a pair of subwoofers that cost more than the speakers, or cabling as expensive as the electronics, that they are non-starters.

I suppose it was inevitable that we make our own speakers—as inevitable as making our own amps, preamps, and DACs.

We know part of the fun of hi-fi is the mixing and matching of the best from each company. Yet, we also know there’s more than a few among us that simply want the best sounding system possible without all the trial and error.

Our upcoming speakers won’t be for everyone.

At least I hope not.

We’re building products we love.