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.

Sonder

In 2006 John Koenig ran into a few roadblocks while writing poetry. He couldn’t find the right words to describe complex emotions. So he made some words up and added them to his own dictionary. Some of those words eventually came into the general lexicon. Like sonder:

“…the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

That’s a lot of words to describe a simple concept, yet it points out how difficult it can be to connect us to our emotions.

One of the common traps we audiophiles fall into is describing what we hear and how our emotions connect with that experience. When I say something sounds transparent, for example, I don’t mean it’s invisible or ghostly because we can see through it. I mean that it doesn’t stand in the way of other sounds, that I can “see” around it to what lies hidden on some stereo systems.

There have been lots of attempts in the past at building audio vocabularies we can all agree upon, but mostly they are just repurposed words with meanings relevant only to insiders.

I wonder if we might be better served relating how music played through various equipment makes us feel rather than trying to put a label on the emotional triggers in the music.

It wouldn’t be as specific to tell you that listening to a new amplifier made me feel inspired and brought new meaning to familiar music, but it might get us closer to agreement.

Thoughts?

 

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.

Withdrawals

I swear music is addictive. If I go more than a few days without my dose I am unhappy. Jittery. Argumentative.

And music in the car, or what passes as background music in my home, soothes the withdrawal symptoms but does not give me the fix I need.

My true drug of choice is found in Music Room Two and the IRSV. I press the standby button on the BHK preamplifier. Ten seconds later there’s the satisfying click of the BHK Monoblock amplifiers turning on at the behest of the trigger voltage. Another 10 seconds later and my spirits rise as the IRS servo woofers thump into life. And then all is right. The air in the room feels different. Perhaps it’s the slight rush of noise from the servo woofers. Hard to say. Easy to feel.

I am listening to Gus Skinnas’ latest mix of Jessica Carson’s masterpieces. There’s that opening sound of the room just before she plays the first notes on the piano. Maybe its the air conditioning system in the studio, or the slight shuffling of her feet finding the piano pedals. I am transported into the music and we are one.

I don’t need more for a day or two before withdrawals set in and the pattern repeats.

My drug of choice.

 

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.

Fluid stability

For most of us, maintaining stability with our stereo system is paramount. Turn the system on, have it work the way we expect, enjoy the music without hassles. Not much better than that.

Yet, to stay on top of the progress that’s being made we’re also obliged to remain a bit fluid: to stay up to date with changes in media and equipment, to keep our ear to the ground for new developments.

We love stability. It comforts us. We can relax after a trying day and just enjoy the music. Yet, over time, our restless nature find its way into our lives. We poke our heads out of our everyday routines and venture forth to elevate our pleasures even further.

It’s a careful dance between maintaining the status quo and staying up to date with the world around us.

But it’s a dance worth dancing. The best of both worlds.

 

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 am always surprised…

…but rarely shocked when overwhelming evidence doesn’t at least spark a modicum of curiosity.

Take the subject of Climate Change. We might dismiss California’s unprecedented droughts and fires as a warning, but when NASA and 18 scientific bodies again shows clear evidence our world is warming, one would think it might raise at least an eyebrow.

Or when 11,400 scientists from around the world warn us about it in yet another report.

And yet…

I am not here to argue either way but I think my readers know my thoughts.

No, I am more interested in how we get to these long-held beliefs and why we cling to them with such tenacity. That’s a subject that fascinates me and applies directly to our beloved stereo systems.

I am understanding of long-held beliefs. I have many (like my stance on going direct with DACs, or short speaker cables vs. long—all thrown out in the face of new evidence). And I understand the desire to cling to them because change requires more than admitting we were wrong. It requires a new thought process, perhaps even a course correction.

But, once changed, new vistas open. It’s freeing.

We work hard building our worldviews, and even harder changing them.

But, change keeps us alive and healthy.

 

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.

Repercussions

Whatever changes we affect in our systems have repercussions: a new preamp changes the synergy of what came before it, records sound different with a new phono cartridge, AC power through a regenerator is radically different than straight from the wall.

Our systems are sensitive enough that we need to be mindful of the repercussions of change. Even setup changes have their repercussions.

The trick with repercussions is to give them their due. Too often I have found people expecting isolated change when performing an equipment swap.

The idea that more than what we directly change has a broader impact on sound is a good reminder—something to tuck away for future reference.

Our systems don’t exist in a vacuum.

It’s better to imagine them as parts in a chain. Each link affects the other.

 

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.

Observations and theories

It might sound like a bird’s chirp, but scientists listening to what might be misunderstood as the sound from a video game is actually the billion-year-old echo of the collision of two black holes. This bird-chirp represents something extraordinary, something Einstein predicted more than 100 years ago. Ripples in the space-time continuum that are produced by cosmic events — called gravitational waves.

That it took more than 100 years to measure what Einstein had predicted might shed a small light on the nagging argument in high-end audio. How can we hear that which we cannot yet measure?

I would suggest that while it might seem a bit of a stretch to compare the theories of Einstein to what we struggle with in the high-end, it might be less than you think. That is because nearly all theories have their roots in observations. Einstein’s theory of relativity was partly born from observations he made sitting on a moving train. He noticed that on the moving train everything was “normal” or stationary relative to him. But, one look out of the window and time seemed different.

Another series of observations made by Einstein during his formation phase of the General Theory or Relativity suggested that these same gravitational waves would bend light—a theory that brought howls of laughter and loads of ridicule until in 1919, when British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington took advantage of a solar eclipse to prove light from stars bent as it made its way around the sun, it did, surprising Einstein not in the slightest.

When he was asked what he would have done if the measurements had discredited his theory, the famous physicist replied: “In that case, I would have to feel sorry for God, because the theory is correct.”

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that what we consistently observe is true but cannot yet measure is more than likely the truth in search of a theory.

Once there’s a theory of why observations don’t match the limits of test equipment, then it’s only a matter of time when some bright minded person will set the record straight.

Until then, we’ll just keep plugging away.

 

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.

Isolated

Over time, our civilization has become increasingly isolated from the physical world. We wake from our warm beds and check the outside temperature to know how to dress ourselves. It wasn’t that long ago when the first out of bed had to start a fire to keep the others from freezing.

Given our culture’s odd mix of hyper-connectivity and super isolation, it’s anyone’s guess what society will look like from decade to decade.

What we can be sure of is how important isolation is when it comes to our Hi-Fi systems (how was that for a seque?).

Each audio component in a separates system is better off as an island. As soon as you connect one to the other, you face a bevy of problems: ground loops, EMI, one power supply affecting the other, noise, increased jitter, to name just a few.

The ideal setup would enjoy complete galvanic isolation as well as physical separation. One piece does not impact the other as if the two were not connected together or even in the same room.

That ideal is something we have been working on for some time now. In the upcoming Octave Server, our AirGap interface galvanically and physically isolates the internal computer from the external digital Lens connecting equipment together. The new transport we’re building (to be launched hopefully in January) sports galvanically isolated outputs. Ted Smith’s upcoming Obsidian DAC enjoys galvanic isolation on all of its ins and outs and even goes to the extent of physically separating the analog from the digital by virtue of two chassis connecting with fiber optics.

It’s my guess that over time, isolation will become more prevalent in high-end audio equipment.

Certainly at PS Audio that will be true.

 

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.

Misconceptions

It’s easy enough to have a misconception. It is a notion of one thing that turns out to be quite something else.

Misconceptions happen because we go into a situation with a set of expectations that aren’t met. Then, we label the whole thing a misconception.

When engineer Darren Myers took me upstairs and into Music Room 2 to hear his first cut at a new power amplifier, the M1200, I had a very clear idea of what that would sound like. And, I was wrong.

The new Stellar M1200 is a massively powerful audio amplifier as its model name implies. 1200 watts is big! Big enough to dump unfettered bass energy into even the most demanding of speakers without batting an eye. I dare say, nothing is likely to phase the M1200. Whatever one would hook it up to will enjoy tons of headroom and never suffer dynamic compression.

But what took me by surprise was not what it did, but what it didn’t.

The M1200 has a vacuum tube front end. And, it is this input stage that I assumed would give the amp a “tube sound”: lush, fat, warm. What I heard was not that, but rather a tonal accuracy that belied the nature of its input stage.

I should have known better. The first time I experienced vacuum tubes sounding like music (as opposed to adding stereotype characteristics) was in the BHK series. Bascom King demonstrated to me that tubes didn’t have to match their reputation of coloring the sound. In fact, properly designed, they would cut through the expectations of lush, fat, and warm to offer instead, musical truth.

The M1200 won’t be available until close to Christmas, but when it launches, it’s certain to change one’s expectations of tube sound.

Misconceptions are erased when what we expect is met.

Expect great things to come in time for Christmas.

 

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.

Measure well, sound bad

Folks are often stumped when a unit that sounds great doesn’t measure great. Perhaps the THD is high, or the noise levels higher than expected. We chalk the mismatch between measurements and sound quality up to the unknown.

It is assumed by many in our industry that the one sure thing we can count on is if it measures great, then it must sound great. And that is completely wrong.

I am sure the old measurementist debate isn’t worth rehashing for the umpteenth time, but it is curious that we can accept the idea of a good sounding audio unit not measuring particularly well, but often reject the notion that a great measuring device can sound awful.

I was recently reminded of this puzzle when Darren Myers was working on the Stellar Phono Stage. He had that beauty measuring like there are no tomorrows, and yet unhappy with the sound. It certainly wasn’t dreadful, but it was closed and restricted when the THD and IM were at their lowest. As he lifted the feedback levels that offered such great measurements, the sound opened up and blossomed. It was truly a thing of beauty to witness.

This is just one more example of how critical it is that Hi-Fi products intended to sound good must be designed with one foot in the measurement lab, and the other firmly planted in the listening room.

Anyone that tells you it’s the best measuring product there is had better back that up with the second half of the equation if it’s going to be worth your time to audition it.

Measurements give us a clue.

Listening is what matters.

 

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.

Tube time

As I look out my office window I see tufts of melted snow, bare trees, a busy highway of squirrel traffic gathering whatever it is they store for the winter, and our cute, red, neighborhood fox keeping those same squirrels from overrunning the place.

It is fall and soon to be winter.

That’s the perfect time for me to run through Music Room Two and Three and change out all the tubes in the BHK amps and preamps. I use the cold of fall as a reminder to swap out the year-old vacuum tubes for new fresh ones.

Over time, vacuum tubes tend to lose some of their life, vim, and vigor. It’s a slow loss, one you don’t notice until a year has passed.

The fun of upgrading the tubes comes with the first listen. Wow! Time to go through all that new music you accumulated over the summer and relisten with the new fire bottles in place.

If you have tubes in your equipment, it might be worth thinking about changing them out for a fresh pair.

Fall is Tube Time!