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.

Rising tides

When the 6th largest economy in the world, California, raises automobile emissions standards the rest of the world is forced to go along and we all benefit from cleaner air. When the European Union sets new standards for electrical efficiency that forces every audio manufacturer to change its power supplies worldwide, we all benefit from using less energy. And when a company in our own small community of high-end audio sets a new bar for performance standards so radical we’re all forced to follow suit, the entire music-loving community of audiophiles benefit (though some may go kicking and screaming).

The cliche, of course, is that a rising tide floats all boats—a phrase commonly attributed to President John F Kennedy, who used it in a 1963 speech to combat criticisms that a dam project he was inaugurating was a pork-barrel project.

When we first launched the Power Plant in 1997, there were almost no AC power products on the market. MIT had its parallel box of caps and inductors called the Z-stabilizer and George Tice had built an isolation transformer, but they went mostly unnoticed. The PS Power Plant regenerator was a revolutionary new concept in high-end audio, one that sparked the interests of thousands, and spawned an entire product category of differing designs.

Though it wasn’t a government mandate, it exerted the same pressure to jump on board or be left behind.

When Ivor Tiefenbrun introduced the Linn LP12 in 1972, the world was forced to change—not because he had invented the turntable (he hadn’t), but because he introduced a table that outperformed just about everything else at a price people could afford. The LP12 became the defacto standard. If others in the field wished a stake at the table, they had no choice but to roll their sleeves up and meet the challenge—just like car manufacturers who want to sell in California, and power supply manufacturers who want to sell in Europe.

Competing ideas in a free market place, unencumbered by the heavy hand of monopolistic companies, are the engines that bring needed progress.

 

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.

Squandering skills

What few maths skills I once possessed rusted away at the hands of a calculator. And similarly, I used to be a whiz at turntable setup, but now it all looks like a mystery. And it’s been 10 years since I sat at my design bench and plugged transistors and resistors into my protoboard. Today, high-level concepts and new applications are more my style than the nuts and bolts that once ruled my world.

The question I often ask myself is whether or not progress that relieves us of our hard-won skills is moving us forward or backward? Do we squander our skillsets when we replace them with technology? And if so, who cares?

If I want to know the wavelength in feet of a frequency, do I rack my brain for formulas I once memorized or click here? And if I want to understand Boltzmann’s Constant do I go to the public library or click on Wikipedia?

I suspect as long as we’re not soon reverting back to a world without technology, that we’re better off shedding years of training in exchange for quicker access to answers.

Squandering time might be a worse sin than letting go of hard-won skills.

 

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.

Feels wrong

I remember how proud I was upon learning the trick of screwing a stubborn lid onto a jar. Though it feels wrong, my father counseled, you first unscrew the lid until the threads are aligned, then turn the opposite direction and tighten ‘er down.

There’s plenty we do that’s seemingly incorrect to get things right: increasing the length of the audio chain with a preamplifier to improve sound quality. Or adding another speaker cable in parallel with an existing one to get tonality in line. Or powering small speakers with big amplifiers so as not to limit dynamics.

Doing what feels wrong to get things right is the inflection point where experience trumps intuition.

When we know enough to pull ourselves out of the rigors of standard practices and leap into the chaotic, we can confidently say we’ve arrived. And that’s a great feeling in whatever endeavor we hope to succeed at.

The circle of experience and knowledge is actually a spiral that is never in the same place at the same time, yet repeats itself in slightly different form as we each share what knowledge and wisdom we’ve accumulated over the years.

It made me feel good when years later I was able to return my father’s lesson. As I watched his face scrunch up as he tried in vain to open a stuck jar lid, I shared my own experience. I turned the jar upside down and demonstrated how a stuck lid needs only a couple of sharp bangs on the countertop to free itself for the turning.

As audiophiles, we have knowledge about music and its reproduction that not many others do. If we can share that wisdom and experience, we lift up those around us.

Just as music was always intended to be shared, so it is with our knowledge. It might feel wrong to speak up in the presence of bad sound, but I’d lean in the opposite direction.

There are few gifts better shared than properly reproduced music and the knowledge required to achieve it in our homes.

 

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.

Pediophobia

Remember Chucky the scary clown? In the 1988 movie Child’s Play, film producers took advantage of a particular phobia that more than a few people have. It’s known as Pediophobia and it is the fear of dolls, or more generally, a fear of things most people find normal.

What the film producers did was to exaggerate a doll’s features, so they went from cutsie to horrific (the nasty teeth and smile). This is a spin-off of a similar device used in the movie The Exorcist. Remember Regan (played by Linda Blair)? A cute girl who eventually spits green fluids and has her head spinning (literally). It’s the exaggeration of normal that fascinates us.

The point of all this is that when we chose to take something “normal” and exaggerate its features, there are typically two reactions: acceptance or rejection.

I have seen more than a few people walk into Music Room Two and put their hand over their mouth in a combination of horror and astonishment. (and the opposite)

“That’s a stereo system?”

And I have seen my share of audiophiles reel backwards when faced with a gargantuan exaggeration of normal. Remember Magico’s giant assemblage of horns that engulfed the entire room? It was fascinating to watch people’s reactions. Some were drawn to the spectacle like flies to molasses. Others shook their heads in disapproval.

I, for one, love the extremes—not so much as a potential customer, but because I love to be presented with the new and extraordinary.

Bring on the clowns!

 

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.

Ho, Ho, Ho

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from your Hi-Fi Family.

I thought that perhaps given this day of family and good cheer, I would simply write a short note of thanks to each and every one of you. It is our community and our connection with you that makes what we do with music and its reproduction so special.

How blessed are each of us to be engaged in a common passion that involves music, friendship, and good spirits?

Outside our small and intimate world, the anger and harsh words we read in the newspapers and hear on the radio can sometimes put a damper on our spirits. But, it’s music that puts a smile on most of our faces. Certainly mine.

From all of us at PS Audio to every one of you in our Hi-Fi Family, may you have a wonderful day of giving, receiving and love.

We’ve gifted this week to our team so they might be with their loved ones. We’ll be back in the swing of things on Monday.

Merry 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.

Intimidating comments

Last month we had 56,080 unique visitors to our forums and of those, 45,463 were newcomers. Those same viewers collectively read parts of (or all of) 371,443 pages. That’s a good amount of viewers reading and spending time on a forum about high-end audio.

But, here’s the thing. Despite all those viewers, only a mere handful took the time to post their thoughts. Out of 56,000 people, fewer than 100 were actively posting and commenting.

Over the years, I have asked many of our Hi-Fi Family members why they prefer reading than participating in the conversation, and the universal answer I get is they are intimidated. Intimidated that they will be made fun of, or their question is too stupid, or they will be drawn into a fight, or their opinions aren’t of interest to others.

I suppose this is normal, yet if there was a way to help the quiet majority think of how much better off we would be.

What it takes is for those the regularly post to up the ante for their generosity and kindness to others.

The more voices that join the chorus the richer the 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.

I’ve only owned one pair of active speakers and they were old B&W’s, so not a fair comparison, because they sounded lousy. I’d like to try a pair of active speakers one day, although this isn’t what this article is about!

Active battles passive

There’s always strong debate when it comes to AC power. One camp believes a passive collection of coils, caps (and sometimes) exotic materials does a better job with delivering AC power than an active regenerator.

I think this battle may be misplaced. A passive solution is not trying to accomplish the same things as an active device because the passive device can never hope to do what a regenerator is capable of. Thus, each should be evaluated on its own merit.

For example, a passive conditioner cannot fix AC power problems like impedance, voltage fluctuations, distortion of the waveform, etc. What it can do, is remove noise and deliver a much cleaner source of power to our equipment.

So, the argument should not be whether a non-regenerator is better than a regenerator at specific tasks, but rather, what’s the greatest benefit to connected equipment?

Some will argue that clean power is all you need. Others, like me, suggest that while clean power is beneficial to sound quality, it pales in what regeneration provides that conditioners can’t.

When you think about AC power—that all critical source of energy our systems rely upon—it’s probably helpful to narrow your search down to evaluating the benefits or lack thereof of specific tasks rather than comparing models with the same function.

Do you want an active system that replaces missing energy, lowers impedance, distortion and noise, and stiffens the power to your equipment? Or do you feel better forgoing all those benefits—except noise reduction—in favor of a passive approach?

Those are the questions one needs to ask.

 

 

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.

4-channel audio

There’s a lot of information in a stereo recording that some systems don’t reproduce well. In fact, most systems keep the room cues and ambiance locked away in our recordings.

One way to unlock them is by careful 2-channel setup and the very best electronics. Like what we’ve done in Music Room Two with our BHK electronics and IRSV speakers. That system has spatial cues that often times surround the listener in uncanny ways.

Yet, few of us have an IRSV and a complete BHK stack. Is there a way to get more of what’s locked away in our recordings with what we have? David Hafler certainly thought so.

In the 1970s, audio designer David Hafler experimented with what has since become known as The Hafler Circuit. In it, 4 speakers are employed rather than just two. The extra pair of speakers are in the rear of the listening room and provide a sense of space that few systems can come close to duplicating today. And the Hafler Circuit required no extra electronics.

If you want to experiment, dig out that old pair of bookshelf speakers that might be gathering dust in a bedroom or closet. Position them the same distance apart as the front speaker, but behind the listener. Then, run another set of speaker cables to the rears. Connect only the + lead from each channel to the + input on each rear speaker. Using a single speaker cable lead, tie the two – terminals of the rear speakers together.

Voila! Surround sound from 2-channel.

This scheme actually works and takes advantage of the fact that in a live performance, the distance between the audience and the performers is great enough that there’s a phase difference between them. Thus, the audience is out of phase with the performers and that difference is played on the rear speakers. When you play studio recordings there’s always enough phase differences to light up the rears and you get a sense of surround sound.

It’s more of a fun project than anything I recommend, but that’s what we’re here for.

 

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 sound of class A

I am often asked what’s the difference in sound between audio amplifier bias schemes like Class A and Class AB?

I understand the motivation of placing labels on circuits when making a product choice. Like tubes vs. solid state, or analog vs. digital. We like to characterize the qualities of technologies so we might put them in neat little category boxes.

The problem is, of course, that Class A and Class AB are biasing schemes that alone haven’t as much to do about how circuits sound as you might imagine.

Certainly, we could say that many Class A topologies generally are sweeter and without the character-changes-with-level some AB circuits have—and we would not be too far off the mark—but consider that many of us have never actually heard a pure Class A power amplifier.

In fact, what we think of as Class A is generally found in a small signal device like a preamplifier or output stage of a DAC, and that most power amplifiers are Class AB.

So, for most of us, our experience with the various classes of biasing schemes aren’t apples to apples, they are more like peaches to plums.

Methinks, in this case, most of our opinions are formed on the basis of what the audiophile myth-making machine would like us to believe.

From where I stand, biasing is but a very small factor in a complex world where everything has an impact on sound quality.