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 has gone to a direct sales model, so no more dealers, including me, although I sold nothing for them as they have been competing with their dealers for years. So, as in this blog, you will see some PS Audio “advertising”, which is understandable, considering that Paul writes every day and I will try to continue supporting him by re-posting this daily blog.

Still, Paul is an excellent writer and has something new to say every day, so with his permission, I’ve been posting his blogs for some time now and will continue to do so.

The search for panaceas

Silver bullets kill werewolves. Penicillin cures all infections. Cod liver oil eases aches and pains. Aftermarket audio fuses always improve the sound.

We’re continuously in search of magic potions, silver bullets, clear remedies to improve our high end audio systems. One magic cure for all is the shortest path to audio nirvana. Who wouldn’t want that?

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is rather different (and boring).

There are no panaceas. Not in medicine nor in high-end audio.

Building a wonderful HiFi system that enriches our lives with music takes some time and often a bit of patience.

Like anything good, to reach a certain level of perfection one must work at the details until they are just right.

This isn’t intended to cause us to shy away from building an audio system, but rather to remind us that when we hear of this or that changing everything for the better and ending our quest for perfection, we should be a bit careful.

Miracles are the result of getting the right building blocks together.

If you need help, feel free to call 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.

How important is validation?

When my stereo system choices hit the perfect sweet spot, and I know everything is just right, the first thing I want to do is share.

“Come, you have to hear this!”

This most basic of impulses is a genuine emotion with no hidden agendas. “I found something wonderful,” almost always evokes the desire to spread the good word and share the wealth. Maybe in our long-ago past we wanted to share with the others in our tribe our success with finding food or shelter.

It isn’t too long after the sharing process that it turns into the validation desire. Is what excites me really as good as I think?

Once we get validation from the other members in our tribe, the circle of success is complete. We know we’re on the right track. We make an indelible stamp in our memories that this path leads to success.

But, what happens if we’re not validated? For some, we shrink from sharing our discoveries or we find fault in them (sometimes warranted, other times not). For others, we might believe we didn’t communicate well enough or the other opinion is simply incorrect.

Validation is what we’re after: in the forums, when we read reviews, when we put forward an opinion.

The trick with validation is tempering it with an understanding that it’s closely linked with opinion. We don’t accept everyone’s opinion as our own, anymore than we should worry about 100% validation from others.

Validation is important but only to the extent it helps us learn and grow.

As soon as it stymies innovation and forward motion, we should question its author.

 

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.

Changing focus

If you’ve ever played around with cameras you’ll know it’s easy to change perspective. We can zoom in for closeup details or move back for a panoramic view.

Each image offers an entirely different feel and focus. A closeup encourages examination of minute details. A more distant view offers a better sense of what goes into those details.

The same can apply to our HiFi systems. If our focus is centered around bringing out music’s finer details, it’s sometimes at the expense of the bigger image. I remember participating in a cable quest to extract music’s every nuance. I got what I wanted but not without damage. My hunt for detail came at the expense of tonal balance.

Of course we’ve all heard the adage of missing the forest while searching for the tree.

It’s true for forests and stereo systems alike.

Once you’ve focused intently on one area of music’s reproduction, it’s probably a good idea to pull back and make sure you haven’t missed the bigger picture.

Beauty is found in the whole.

 

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.

Negative voltage

When I was first learning electrical engineering one of the terms I struggled with was negative voltage. How could a voltage be negative? There was ground and there was + voltage. To me, voltage was always a higher potential than zero.

I understand this is something most people don’t wake up in the morning and wonder about. Yet, it’s probably worth a short story.

My first encounter with this mysterious property of electricity came from working on audio synthesizers. In the early 70s I was intent on building musical synthesizers. I hadn’t yet moved to audio. One of the key components in a synthesizer is called the Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO). An oscillator is the sound source of musical notes in a synth. It generates the tones we hear when a keyboard note is pressed. In synths of old, differing voltages were used to set the frequency of the oscillator (hence the term VCO). Higher control voltages produced higher audio frequencies.

VCOs are not nuthin’ to design, so I searched for an integrated circuit instead. In those early years, there wasn’t much to find other than the Intersil 8038.  This ancient IC did everything I needed. It took weeks to get a block of ICs mailed to me but finally, they came. I soldered up the chip according to the schematic and applied voltage. Nothing worked. In fact, the chip got hot and died. On the datasheet had been a reference for the control pin that required negative voltage. Having never heard of negative voltage, I figured it must have been a mistake and applied positive voltage instead.

Electrical engineering is quite unforgiving of wrong moves.

I had to crack open the books to learn what it all meant. Eventually, the IC became the basis of my musical synthesizer, but it forced me to learn about the idea of negative volts.

Here’s a simple way to think about negative voltage. If we take a battery and attach its + terminal to a loudspeaker’s red binding post, and its – terminal to the loudspeaker’s black binding post, we will cause the woofer to jump forward, towards the listener. That’s positive voltage. If we flip the battery around so the + terminal goes to the black binding post on the speaker, the opposite will happen. The woofer will move away from the listener. That’s applying a negative voltage.

If you’ve made it this far in the story you’ll have figured out it’s all relative.

 

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.

Paul writes here about the Placebo Effect in high end audio and I agree with most of what he says, 100%.

I think in the large majority of times, if you give someone expectations of what they will hear,  chances are pretty good that they will hear what is described to them. I’ve seen this a lot.

Bias backfire

We’re conditioned by our culture to believe that bias affects opinion. That if we’re told something’s going to be a certain way that’s what we’ll experience.

I would argue that’s true only in some circumstances.

If I tell you to try on a shirt because it’ll look great, you’ll have an expectation that biases you. If I am right, that’s wonderful. But if I am not, will you be fooled into believing what’s not true? Unlikely.

“Here, take a bite of this. It’s wonderful.” Sometimes yes, often times no.

If we’re told a new audio cable or audio equipment sounds a certain way we’re likely to have that expectation going into a listening session. Yet, if it sounds the opposite we reject it even harder than if we hadn’t been biased.

Now we’ve been fooled.

So where does this notion of bias falsely swaying people come from? The Placebo Effect.  Placebos work for two reasons: our belief in them and their ineffectiveness. You can’t have an effective placebo without both conditions. If I tell you a spoonful of lemon tastes sweet, no amount of belief is going to change your pucker factor. But, if I tell you you’ll have fewer aches and pains by taking this little yellow pill with a neutral agent inside, you might well feel less pain.

The point of this post is simple. Bias changes opinions when the differences between devices under test are either non-existent or minimal.

When there is an actual difference between two devices or services, a bias in any one direction will not sway the outcome.

It’s easy to make sweeping judgments but they are not always 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.

Not my feelings at all, but I guess not all folks think alike when it comes to high end audio.

Conspiracies

I sometimes get the craziest comments. Following the recent upgrades to DirectStream a flood of people smelling a conspiratorial cover-up have emerged.

Weird, right?

The general line goes something like this: “If you know how to improve the DAC’s performance why didn’t you just release it like that in the beginning? You’re purposefully holding back on the product so you can charge us more money.”

Of course, this is absurd. Since DirectStream’s introduction in 2014, there has been a tremendous amount of progress and learning going on. We’ve shared these improvements with the thousands of DirectStream owners for free.

But, that’s not the point of this post. I don’t feel the need to defend what we’ve done or where we’re going.

No, this post wants to riff on conspiracy theories. How the little voices in our heads can sometimes take a sharp turn towards evil plots to explain what we cannot.

I think we all can be guilty of crafting conspiracies to explain the world around us—at least at one time or another. Did you ever think your grade school teacher must have been an alien creature with eyes in the back of her head? How else to explain how she knew you were the one talking? Or how did mom know it was you that ate the cookies? Did you believe she was a mind reader?

It is natural for us to want to build explanations of how the world works. That’s how we make sense of the complexities around us.

But when your explanation starts to suspect conspiracies either on your own or buying into the imaginations of others, I would caution restraint and encourage questioning.

Conspiracies might make for good novels but they are extremely rare in real life.

The truth is, most of us are working without a master plan. We move through daily life dealing with what’s presented to us as it comes our way.

Doesn’t that describe you pretty well?

Don’t for a moment think you’re unusual in that regard.

I’ll bet we’re all pretty much the same.

 

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 this writing from Paul and agree that its not necessary to have a high end audio system to experience what he’s talking about. However, a high end audio system doesn’t need to be that expensive and definitely doesn’t need to be complex, to bring this type of joy.

Music is more than sound

We find ourselves focusing on audio performance and sound quality a lot. Yet, music can be so much more than just sound.

Music is communication. A means of reaching deep into our inner beings.

Healing us when we’re sick.

Energizing us when we’re down.

Uplifting spirits.

Tears.

Laughter.

Inspiration.

Think of all the times you’ve been moved by the sound of music in your home.

How much is that worth to you? To your friends and family?

It may not take a great HiFi system to convey more than sound and connect us with music.

But it sure helps.

 

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 is correct and that is why I use and sell Computer Audio Design products. They filter this noise Paul is talking about, out!!!!

The sound of noise

Ultrasonic noise should have no sound to it. It is, after all, “ultra” sonic which means it is beyond our hearing.

Yet, we know removing ultrasonic noise riding on the music reduces glare and brightness. So, if we cannot hear noise how does it add to the brightness of sound?

Here’s my unscientific guess as to why that’s happening. High-frequency hash and noise upset the amplifier’s circuitry and that’s adding a degree of harshness.

We know from years of experience in circuit design that feedback circuits struggle when challenged with higher-order frequencies. Circuits without feedback sound much more open and are more tolerant of square waves and other high-frequency events that can trigger ringing. (One might then ask why anyone would bother with feedback at any level and that’s a discussion for another day. Let’s just suggest engineering is all about the best compromises for a given result).

The point of this post is simple. Cause and effect are not always 1:1. In other words, it would be easy to argue the logic that ultrasonic noise cannot be bright since we cannot hear the noise. Yet, our experience shows us something very different.

Just because it’s logical doesn’t make it 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.

History lessons

In yesterday’s post on listener fatigue, we came to understand it’s the over-etched quality of upper frequencies that often lead to our ear’s protective mechanisms engaging. Too much unnatural detail and we move away from the source as if it were a blinding light.

Tracking down and fixing the problems at the root of listener fatigue can be challenging because there are so many possible culprits: audio cables, electronics, rooms, source material. An endless list leaving us lost.

What to do?

My first suggestion is to jump into the history game for a moment. Here, we look back over time to see when the fatigue wasn’t there. If we’ve just made changes to the system then our job gets a bit easier. Before the change, no fatigue. After changes, fatigue. Let’s imagine this is our situation.

Perhaps our first reaction is to just go back to when we didn’t have the problem. Yet, that’s unlikely. We made the change in the hopes of getting something better. Let’s stay the course—at least for a little while. Perhaps a few suggestions to try:

  •  New electronics. Break-in is nearly universal. Any new audio or video gear removed out of the shipping box will sound tight and restricted without a break-in period. Power the unit on and connect it to the system. Often it’s enough just to have power running through the device. Break-in can take between hours and weeks.
  • Cabling. It’s typically a mistake to assume the cabling that worked for one piece of gear is going to work for another. You might get lucky, but then again… My best advice is to swap out cables to see how much of any impact they are making. If it’s big then consider mixing and matching.
  • Toe-in. We set our systems up for the time and equipment we have on hand. As soon as anything in the system changes it’s incumbent on us to readjust our carefully balanced systems. Speaker toe-in points the tweeters more or less at our ears. We can often get broader imaging and less fatigue with less toe-in.
  • Tilt-back. If all else fails there’s always the trick of tipping the speakers back a skosh. I use a thickness of a CD jewel case for starters. Place the jewel case just under the front of the speaker so it arches back. This changes the vertical dispersion enough to lower fatigue levels. Try two or more until it’s too much.

There are plenty more tricks if you need. What we want is to neither tolerate fatigue nor run from the hills when we encounter it.

You can always call our Hi-Fi Advocates for help too. 800 PSAUDIO if you just want to chat or need some advice.

 

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 tired?

We’re elated when our audio systems sound open, lush, and musical.

We’re not so happy when they cause us fatigue. Yet, fatigue can be a useful indicator of system setup.

When setting up a new system or working on a new design, one of the cautionary signals we look for is listener fatigue. If the music’s a bit over-etched or the upper details too pronounced, the ear gets tired. Instead of diving deeper into the music, we turn down the volume or find other activities.

Exaggerations in the upper musical regions can be enticing at first listen. It seems like a door of greater detail has been opened and we’re impressed. Unbeknownst to us our ear’s protective mechanisms fire into action. Our guard is raised.

Over time, those out of balance edginesses lead to our ears getting tired of the battle. Fatigue sets in.

None of us want our listening experiences to be anything but pleasurable.

When we get fatigued it’s time for action.

What we do depends largely on the source of edginess: cables, setup, speakers, electronics.

More tomorrow.