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.

Qsound

Qsound is a technology intended to reproduce surround sound with only two speakers. The results can be rather spooky. Sonic images appear in 360˚ patterns around the listening position. That’s quite remarkable given their two-channel source. The classic example of Qsound is Roger Waters Amused To Death.

If you’ve never heard this work on a decent stereo system it’s worth the purchase just to experience surround sound from your stereo.

There’s a catch. Qsound only works for one person at a time. That person must be seated dead center between the speakers to appreciate the surround effects. Move off-center even just a bit and we get standard stereo again.

According to the Wikipedia article: “QSound is essentially a filtering algorithm. It manipulates timing, amplitude and frequency response to produce a binaural image. Systems like QSound rely on the fact that a sound arriving from one side of the listener will reach one ear before the other and that when it reaches the furthest ear, it is lower in amplitude and spectrally altered due to obstruction by the head. However, the ideal algorithm was arrived at empirically, with parameters adjusted according to the outcomes of many listening tests.”

That’s correct but a much simpler way to understand what’s going on would be to focus on phase differences, which is what Mathew Polk and his team at Polk Audio did years before in their SDA products. Using cross-connected stereo speakers and an additional set of midrange drivers, a bit of out of phase left was fed into the right channel’s “dimensional” drivers, and vice versa—the stereo width was extended beyond the room boundaries because the left ear got a slightly delayed out of phase signal from the right channel, and so on.

The same technique called Interaural Crosstalk has been applied in multiple ways: Ambiophonics, Carver’s Sonic Hologram generator, among the many.

Essentially, all these systems were precursors to what today we use to direct sound in big PA systems so every seat gets the same image and at the same amplitude.

There’s a lot more than just two dimensions possible with 2-channels of audio.

Just ask any audiophile about depth, width, and height for starters.

 

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.

Getting the itch

I am not alone getting the itch to upgrade. Plenty of folks email me expressing that seem feeling and wondering what their next purchase should be.

I’ll go for months before I get antsy to try something new, but inevitably, the itch pops up and I look around to scratch it.

I wonder what’s behind those desires.

Are we simply bitten by the bug or is there a larger underlying reason? In my case, the new expands my reach and brings me deeper into the technological fold—a place I thoroughly enjoy being in. I know this because it’s not only stereos that give me the itch to try something new.

On a recent business trip, my Lyft app asked if I would be willing to ride in an automated driverless car. Are you kidding me? How quickly can I press the button that shouts “hell yes!”? I can’t think of anything more exciting. My only disappointment was the arrival of a boring Subaru instead.

The itch for new strikes more than just me. Are you looking to scratch it as well?

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.

Biting bits

Yesterday we talked of the difficulty understanding how digital audio bits could be higher or lower quality. Would we hear differences in sound quality between digital bits streamed over the internet vs. those found on our local hard drives or CD players?

The simple answer is no. Given identical source files, bits are bits when transferred between data sources and their end clients. There are no clocks associated with streamed, stored, or transferred data. So, for example, one cannot accurately suggest that the “timing is off” on CD or hard drive stored data since the data itself are unrelated to timing devices. Once that data gets delivered to our DAC the server or CD player has added a clock to the bits. That is a horse of a different color. If the timing of streamed bits is off, it’s the server or CD player we can point a finger at.

The quality of the switch handling our network data is meaningless. It either faithfully passes the bits or it does not.

So, why do people hear differences with various switch types and connecting cables managing our internet traffic? My guess is other reasons than data corruption. Fact is, we know the data is uncorrupted so finger-pointing probably needs to change direction: shielding, power supply noise entering the DAC, ground noise or contamination.

When investigating a commonly held belief it’s always beneficial to assume the many observations are correct. That attitude leads one to quickly dismiss the obvious and dig deep for underlying possibilities.

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.

Switch quality

Here’s one of those brave posts where I air my laundry and open myself to criticism and ridicule.

Ain’t life grand?

I am often asked if network switches and routers impact audio quality while streaming. And as a secondary question on the same subject, does it matter whether streaming is transmitted via WiFi or Ethernet?

I find this particular can of worms really intriguing because it’s close to the same question of whether power matters. So, let’s start with that.

The power debate often starts with the questioner’s arms folded, his head cocked to one side, and the mouth humorously pursed as if listening to a child explaining Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. “So, let me get this straight. The power coming into my house makes my system sound different than the power going into my neighbor’s house, right? And worse, my neighbor’s power usage might affect the sound quality in my house? And, we agree there are hundreds of miles of cables connecting everything together?”

I am just as incredulous when it comes to how bits get delivered from far away servers: servers that distribute those bits not in order like ants marching to food, but in chunks taking circuitous routes before accumulating at our DACs.

Tomorrow, let’s take a look at the question in more detail.

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.

Valuing value

How do we place value on things? One simple method is to compare costs to benefits. I paid this in exchange for that.

When we look deeper into the subject the exchange dynamics get more complicated. Two DACs retailing for the same dollars are very different value equations. One may be feature-laden and performance-shy, while the opposite might apply to another. Then still, a high-value product might be a combination of both.

I would wager to say every company has their own set of valuations. We all know companies that place their highest value on aesthetics and casework just as we know companies that put performance above all else.

When we started our company in 1974 casework was the least of our worries. Our first product lived in a Roi Tan cigar box for much of its life. It wasn’t until orders started coming in that we began figuring out what the chassis would even look like—a look more dictated by what we were capable of manufacturing than obeying an aesthetic vision.

We all make value judgments when it comes time to making a purchase decision.

What are your value criteria for audio products?

 

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.

Climbing the crooked ladder

When we first imagine building an audio or Home Theater system from scratch we’re typically of two minds: unsure of where to start or confident in how smooth and easy the process will be. Both are somewhat false narratives.

For the unsure, I think it’s safe to say we know what would likely make us happy in a system, we’re just sometimes afraid to settle in on all the many choices. There’s literally hundreds of speakers to weed through and dozens of electronic choices (not to mention interconnects).

For the over-confident, life seems to rarely hand us exactly what we see so clearly in our minds. The outcome of complex systems are hard to predict.

I get excited at the prospects presented to me by our customers just starting out on their journey with little more than a budget and end goal in mind. They are ready to climb the crooked ladder.

What’s that, you ask? The crooked ladder is a great metaphor for the small bit of chaos we always experience when first setting up a new system or trying out a new piece of kit. It gets installed, it doesn’t quite work as we want, it takes time, effort, and a bit of skill to straighten everything out so we can climb higher as the ladder straightens out.

Even if you’re just upgrading equipment, the benefits are not always immediate. It may need some burn in, interconnect differences or speaker position tweaking. It’s all to be expected.

If you know the ladder will have a few curves in it, then you’ll breeze right through setup and get to the pinnacle of sound.

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 if no one showed up?

We build high-performance audio gear for our community. Without our customers, we wouldn’t have much of a business. But what if no one showed up? What if interest in high-end audio suddenly went away?

I’d continue to build for myself. And there’s a certain freedom in that thought—a system just for me.

I remember my first pair of do it yourself loudspeakers (after the system I built as a kid). I wasn’t trying to make anyone happy but me. They were tall and unwieldy: bulbous with woofers at the bottom, slender and tower-like for the line array of midranges and tweeters near the top. The sides of the speakers were peppered with mid woofers connected to separate amplifiers and controlled by a unique circuit that sent audio to them during dynamic peaks, extending the boundaries of the room.

They weren’t perfect speakers. In some respects, they weren’t even good. But in the areas they shined they were like a beacon in the dark: orchestral dynamics the likes of which I had not heard then nor since. They met my insatiable desire for unfettered bloom, where the room no longer restrained the music. I was laser focused on one aspect of sound reproduction I never was able to enjoy at home with conventional designs.

They would never have been a commercial success.

We build products we want to have at home, then endow them with a broader reach for those who do show up.

I am glad you’re here.

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 heart of music

Searching for the heart of the matter is an investigative practice we’re all familiar with. We dig deep into many elements to suss out the essence, the soul, the heart of the matter in question.

Our HiFi systems are much the same. We love the clarity they give us. We look deep into the performance for the tiniest of details. We get excited when a once covered musical cue is revealed, excited enough to even make the news public amongst our peers: the rumble of the subway under Carnegie Hall, the pre-echo on Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’, the conductor’s chair squeak on the Reference Recording’s Rutter Requiem.

When we audiophiles turn the lights low and the music to just right level, it’s the heart of music we’re hoping to connect with.

Our systems get us closer to the beating soul of the performer in ways mediocre products cannot even begin to approach.

No, we need resolving power to get at the heart of the matter

…oops, I meant 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.

Knowing when it’s right

A few days ago I was upstairs in the home of Octave Records listening to a new recording Gus Skinas had made. It was a beautiful piano piece by local musician Chris Jones on his freshly tuned Bösendorfer, recorded with a one-of-a-kind single point stereo AKG microphone (on loan from musician Dan Schwartz) on the Sonoma DSD system. I am certain I have never heard anything even remotely close to the perfection of that sound.

Instantly, the room was the piano, the massive Bosendorfer’s rich strings and trademark voicing just right.

The whole presentation was right. Just plain, right.

How did I know that? What did I have to compare it to? These are the questions that bubble up to the surface after the fact, but the answers are tough to justify my claims.

We know something’s right almost instantly, and without a lot of debate, because our ear/brain mechanisms are so highly developed. Knowing the difference between sounds was critical to our survival. We had to develop keen senses of identification without a lot of questioning or examination to avoid becoming another creature’s dinner.

Today, those skills are not so critical, but they continue to serve us.

If you trust your senses, you’ll know when it’s right.

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.

Deciding where to draw the line

Drawing lines in the proverbial sand is a common practice. We’ll go this far but cross that line and it’s not in our interest to go further.

Setting these imaginary boundaries can be quite helpful. We can limit our spending, weight, time, interest, or tolerance.

But drawing lines can also be self-limiting. Just one more teensy step across the line might make a difference.

It’s hard to know when it acceptable to cross the line or better to remain safely behind its protection.

When it comes to HiFi, I imagine most lines are drawn around either price or performance: I can’t spend more than this—or its corollary, anything less is probably not worth my consideration. I won’t accept performance under that, or I am afraid of an over performer in my modest audio or video system.

Either way, the lines we draw should be as flexible as if they were truly in sand.

New technologies, standards, manufacturing techniques, and innovation constantly change the landscape.

It’s alright to move our lines to make life better in a changing world.