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.

Before the 1970s, there were almost no detachable line cords. In those days, every stereo component had a fixed line cord held into the chassis by what we call a strain relief, a small black plastic 2-piece clamp held together by a thin strip of material.

There was even a special tool used to clamp the strain relief over the line cord before installing it into the chassis. Once in, you could dangle the unit from the line cord without it coming out.

Fast forward to 1970 when the IEC, the international electrical regulatory agency, released IEC 60320 Appliance couplers for household and similar general purposes. This daunting document ushered in standards for the detachable line cord, something we today consider de rigueur.

Change can be difficult for some. I remember a number of hand wringing discussions at PS Audio over the costs. A strain relief cost us less than $0.25 and a line cord about $1. An IEC AC inlet, on the other hand, hovered around a buck and a detachable cord an easy 3 bucks, plus additional labor to install the IEC with screws and nuts, an expensive custom punch die for the irregular shape that now had to be cut out of the chassis. All in, we went from easy and cheap to painful and expensive.

I can remember William Zane Johnson, owner and head designer of Audio Research, with arms folded in defiance. “Over my dead body,” was often heard from him when addressing the subject of switching from a captive line cord to the detachable variety. In Bill’s case, it wasn’t the expense but the insult of allowing outsiders to have a choice in what fed his equipment power. This was just at the beginning of the power cable wars and he wanted nothing to do with that lunacy (as he called it).

Of course, today, we wouldn’t think of building products without detachable cords. But change comes hard.

Our values can remain fixed and, if they’re good ones, they should be inviolate.

But, that doesn’t mean we have to be stubborn with trying new ideas that might reinforce those same values.

 

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 forever problem

It seems like we’ve been living with our reference audio or video system forever. The mighty Infinity IRSVs have dominated our lives, determined our sonic course, helped sort out performance standards for what seems like an eternity. Yet, forever has only been 6 years.

6 years ago, it seemed like we had lived with our Magneplanar reference system (including the Tympani 1 bass panels and Martin Logan Descent subs) forever.

2 weeks into my strict weight loss program and it seems like I’ve been doing this forever.

And so it goes.

Has your music system been there forever? Is it time to think about an upgrade?

When new things happen; when our settled in comfort levels have been disrupted; when our feathers have been ruffled, we work hard at getting back to forever.

Forever is comfortable, but it can get old.

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.

Not that long ago

While looking at a replacement woofer for a friend of mine, I noticed its huge magnet and metal encasing shield. Ah yes, I thought, the magnetic shield that was all the rage a few years ago.

That shield was needed to protect cathode ray tubes from TV’s which use magnetic steering to position their controlling electron beams. Those electron beams had to be pointed at precise locations to light up different colored phosphors.

Ray tubes! What Buck Rogers technology was this?

Of course, I am referring to the old style television tube known as the CRT: small glowing tubes that grew in color range and size over their 75-year reign. The largest commercially available model was about 45 inches and weighed several hundred pounds. Larger TVs were technically possible but not marketable as the depth, weight, and cost made them difficult to sell. A 50-inch TV would require a 38-inch picture tube and even larger casing, making it near impossible for the TV to fit inside a standard door (let alone be hefted by mere mortals).

CRT televisions were finally phased out as late as the 2000s and replaced by plasmas, LCDs, OLEDs, LEDs, etc. The newer technologies are insensitive to magnetic fields, and thus, the need for magnetically shielded speaker drivers has vanished in little more than the blink of a technological eye.

Still, does any technology sound more high tech and futuristic as a fricking Ray Tube?

Buck would probably shed a tear for the passing of ray tubes into the boring of Light Emitting Diodes, so too would his contemporaries: Flash Gordon, Jack Swift, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Speed Spaulding, and John Carter.

 

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 voice of music

RCA’s canine mascot, Nipper, was able to recognize his Master’s Voice through a crude phonograph. (The original painting by Francis Barraud was of Nipper sitting atop his master’s casket, the master’s voice back from the dead).

We all know the sound of the human voice, yet its exacting reproduction is often a challenge—which is why vocals are my favorite evaluation recordings.

If you take a look at my playlist on Tidal, or my published list of favorites here, it’s worth noting the vast majority are vocals. This is because while we can all agree on what someone’s voice sounds like, we might not have the same experience with musical instruments. Not everyone is familiar with the sound of an oboe.

Voices? Even dogs recognize them.

What’s your baker’s dozen favorite vocals for when that new piece of gear arrives?

 

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.

Terms and conditions

My fancy digital watch just asked if I want to upgrade to the latest operating system. Sure, why not? Maybe it’s better? Maybe it’s worse. I have no way to judge except to try it (knowing full well there’s no going back).

First, I need to agree to the Terms and Conditions which I have never read, and have no intention of reading.

Does anyone read them?

I imagine the terms protect the company if they hose your data or device. It’s kind of like the hold-harmless agreement you sign when renting a bike, only in the first case you hold the company harmless if they screw up, and in the second case, you hold the company harmless if you screw up.

Have the lawyers taken over our lives to such an extent that we have to play by their rules just to get to first base? Will there come a day where we sign waivers at restaurants before eating? Food poisoning can be deadly.

It seems to me that companies providing products and services have an obligation to their customers regardless of legal documents.

Maybe I am just offended because it has become more of a nuisance than a consideration. As I am firing up my new digital toy I just agree, agree, and agree again to God knows what.

What’s the point if I don’t know what I am agreeing to?

I suppose the burden’s on me to actually read the hundreds of legalese words I am agreeing to, but if I did I’d probably never upgrade a product again.

Perhaps the ultimate solution is to sign a general waiver for everything on the day we’re born.

It’d be a lot less paperwork.

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 stereo!!

Machine love

I have loved quite a number of machines in my day: my Austin Healey 3000 (which I wrote about in my book), my Audio Research SP3 preamplifier, my Gaglia espresso machine, my IRS V speakers, my 8×10 view camera, my DirectStream DAC, my P20 Power Plants.

We’re all fond of physical things to some degree, but I suspect there’s always a few we’d reserve for the emotion called love: perhaps a wedding ring, childhood toy, or treasured book.

When I was very young I had a coveted stick (and it was a damned good stick!).

The physical objects we fall for can be as fickle as the humans and pets we would normally categorize as lovable. How many times have I fell head over heels in love with one piece of gear only to ban it from my life a few years later?

While it may sound strange to ascribe love to an inanimate object, I find it actually freeing to write about it—to shout out my affection for a few of life’s treasures.

Have you given yourself permission to love the machines in your life?

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.

Users vs. listeners

Interacting with a front panel has always been important, but rarely how we judge a piece of audio equipment. Even the klunkiest front panel layouts were tolerated if the unit’s sound quality was up to snuff. The user interface took a distant second to performance.

As we rush headlong into the age of the user interface that dynamic has been flipped on its head—out of phase if you like. Increasingly, we judge a server’s performance by its user interface first, its sound quality second.

I think this is a fascinating development because it more closely mirrors the way we used to interact with the music in hi-fi’s heydey, through the album’s cover, liner notes, and back cover.

Once we entered the digital audio era of CDs, and later downloads and streaming, we were disconnected from the user interface and left only with the performance and sound quality. While this may have been a more expedient way to consume music for some, it was a letdown for others.

I, for one, welcome the return of the user interface.

 

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.

Finding just the right spot

Most preamplifiers have a zone on their level controls where they sound best; typically higher on their dials.

Finding that perfect spot on the dial isn’t too hard, but getting there can be because much depends on the loudness levels of the source and the sensitivity of the speakers.

Most sources don’t have level trim controls to help match their gains to the rest of the system.

If you have a DAC, like our DirectStream, then it is an easy task to set the gain to match the sweet spot on your preamplifier. For example, depending on the system I am using, I like to set the DirectStream at around 80 on its level control. This places most tracks in the upper 40s and 50s on the BHK preamplifier, and the softest tracks bumping into the high 70s.

It’s tempting to think preamps sound the same at any level setting, but it isn’t true. Not for most preamps, anyway.

Finding just the right spot on the preamp level dial can bring hours more enjoyment to your system.

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.

If a tree falls…

…in the forest and there’s no one to witness, does it make a sound? We all know the answer to this question because we understand the mechanism of sound, but the old chestnut gets one to think.

How much do hidden sounds impact our world?

If your audio or video electronics pass all the details in the music to speakers unable to fully reproduce those details, does it make sense to afford high-resolution electronics?

I think this is the same question people ponder when contemplating the addition of a subwoofer. Most music has very little in the way of subsonics, yet subwoofers offer a presence that cannot be achieved without them.

It is the reproduction of hidden cues that can influence what we perceive: Extended phase response can help the highs sound more present. Quicker transients improve plosives. Lower noise levels blacken backgrounds. Subwoofers extend realism.

It is not always the obvious we should focus on. Sometimes, it’s the hidden gems that make magic.

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 quiet few

When we proffer an opinion we risk ridicule. It’s probably been that way from before we swung down from the trees to walk on the savannahs.

The thought of offering an opinion open for public scrutiny can be immobilizing. Yet, without the brave few offering up their thoughts our levels of communication within the community would be hampered.

If our goal as a HiFi family is to leave this space better off than when we came, wouldn’t it help to have more voices rather than less?

For every audible voice, there are hundreds of the Quiet Few we rarely hear from.

Your opinion matters.

I know it’s hard to be heard, to speak up and risk the thoughts of others who do not agree. But it’s also an act of generosity.

We need more generous acts.

Here’s my suggestion. Post on our forums, or here, or wherever you can find an audience of like-minded souls. And then, don’t read the comments. Just post your thoughts and never look back.

You can’t be hurt by what you don’t see.