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.

My audio DAC does nothing with the signal, playing it back with the exact information that it was recorded with, bit for bit and at the native sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz.  The DAC does have  all sorts of oversampling, which is manipulation of the bitstream, yet it sounds best, by a long ways, in its non-oversampling mode.

Still I owned a PS Audio DAC for many years and it sounded great too, although I like what I’m using now a bit more. However, both are musical. When it comes to audio design and life in general, different strokes for different folks.

Regenerating vs. conditioning

There is a fundamental difference between purifying water through boiling and distillation vs. merely filtering it. The first fundamentally alters the source while the second just modifies it.

Of course, this is the basis of our Power Plant AC regenerators, units that fundamentally alter the power coming into your home.

I am reminded of another kind of regeneration vs. filtering and this time in the digital domain.

In the mid-1990s, as digital audio was just gaining a foothold in high-end audio, we had learned a new term. Jitter. Jitter is a timing error, a deviation in time against a fixed standard. If that deviation happens at a quick enough rate we can hear its distortion. Slowly deviating jitter—measured in seconds, minutes, or years—is not audible.

No sooner had the subject of jitter bubbled up to the attention of the high-end audio community than clever engineers offered us a means to reduce it. Jitter filters were suddenly everywhere. These filters typically used a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) which is a fancy term for a way to detect variations in timing, speeding up or slowing down the digital signal to compensate. Better, to be sure, but still a Band-Aid in the way those early products worked.

That’s when our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, and I decided to take a different approach. Instead of speeding up and slowing down the data stream to get closer to an ideal periodicity, we decided instead to throw out the original data stream and generate a new one with a jitter-free clock. In other words, we regenerated a new digital signal free of jitter and changes in speed.

We called it the Digital Lens because it perfectly focused the digital audio stream.

Cleaning up a mess is effective, but rarely as good as starting fresh.

 

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.

More than one way

While I am not into skinning cats, there’s always more than one way to get where you need to go. Take woofers as an example.

Years ago, Arnie Nudell, Bascom King and I relied upon an active feedback system to lower woofer distortion, equalize performance within the box, and improve bass response in the speakers we made for Genesis Technologies. The technique of active feedback around a woofer as called a servo system, a name coined in the 70s when Arnie first launched the Infinity Servo Statik 1.

Servo technology is great, but it is not without limitations. Nothing we engineer is. The problem we ran into was a reduction in the apparent slam factor. Servo control on and distortion got lower, but slam factor seemed weaker. At the time, the benefits of lower distortion and flatter frequency response in a given box outweighed the slight reduction if slam.

Move forward to today and we find ourselves experimenting with another path: designing a woofer that already outperforms the best we achieved with a servo. In other words, eliminating the need for the fix-it in the first place—like designing a zero feedback audio circuit.

Getting there is far more difficult than a servo system. In order to outperform an active feedback arrangement, our speaker designer, Chris Brunhaver had to pull out all the stops.

In order to make the woofer more dynamic, he went to a split gap woofer design for linear BL versus excursion (increased slam factor) because, traditionally, the motor force dropping with excursion in either direction, amplitude modulates the signal, something you don’t want. Next, Chris optimized the compliance (ability to move) versus excursion (distance the cone travels) using a custom tooled surround, suspension and double mirror-imaged spider assembly (the spider is what holds the rear of the cone in place). Lastly, inductance (versus excursion and current) is linearized through the use of a Faraday ring in the split inside the magnetic gap, and symmetrical shorting rings. This both lowers inductance (increasing apparent speed and bandwidth), reduces AC harmonic distortion, DC offset, and magnetic rectification.

Lots of engineering talk, but bottom line, it’s likely going to be better. Stay tuned.

 

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.

My family and my stereo!!

Happiness is …

According to John Lennon, it was a warm gun.

If you ask me, it’s elevating the performance of my stereo system with a new piece of kit. There’s just such a rush of excitement when I add something to the setup that takes music to new heights: a new amplifier, cable, process.

Yes, I love the idea of stability, of relying on an established performance level I can count on day in and day out. But, the thrill of the new is hard to beat.

Happiness is for you …?

 

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 cost of a soundstage

Visitors to PS Audio often walk away from Music Room 2 with their jaws still open.

Following a recent visit, Karel Osten wrote to me:

“I know you have described the sound but until I heard it for myself I had no concept of the depth and rock solid placing of the sound. Words are inadequate to describe the effect of the wide soundstage but at the same time the precise location of instruments and vocals. It seemed to me to be a strange combination of mono and stereo if that makes sense. How much do you think you have to spend to get anywhere close to the same sense of depth and soundstage?”

This is a great question and one we struggle with all the time. Fact is, what you hear in MR2 is not just the IRSV but an entire audio system. Those speakers are some of the more revealing speakers made. Thus, anything before the speakers gets shown in a harsh light—for better or for worse. There’s no hiding possible.

When it comes to the specifics of Karel’s question of depth and soundstage, that’s a little easier to answer. Given decent electronics, even a low cost loudspeaker system can disappear and in its place, listeners can experience a full soundstage. It just takes some setup skills, enough room for the speakers to breathe, and the right group of equipment. Synergy focused on soundstage.

I am pretty confident most of us already have many of the basic components needed to achieve what Karel’s looking for.

The reason we don’t get there is often a single missing piece in the chain.

 

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.

Recommended music

When we flip through some of the more mainstream streaming services like Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music, we’re often not surprised when they make recommendations to us that fit our profile. I stream a weird combination of opera, jazz and dance music, yet the recommendations for me on Spotify line up pretty well at times.

Machine learning using comparative data strings is becoming increasingly commonplace in our artificial intelligence centric world. I note that the music server Roon is dabbling in a version of this based on their connected community. PS Audio did the same thing nearly a decade ago with our PerfectWave Transport and its online cover art library.

While this trend towards automation and relying upon machines for this work might seem new and novel, the basic ideas of how music gets recommended is as old as distributed music itself. In the earliest days of recorded music, record stores featured the most popular selling discs. Move forward to radio and you’ll find DJs and music directors playing “the hits”. Today, we share our favorites via forums.

Sharing and recommending movies and music is a valuable community endeavor regardless of how the data is gathered, organized, and distributed.

Music is meant to be shared.

 

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.

Celebrating differences

On the one hand, we’re mostly interested in sameness. Reading a great audio or video product review inspires us to obtain exactly what the reviewer had in their listening room.

On the other hand, we’re also fascinated with differing approaches to the same problem. Take loudspeaker enclosures as an example.

We can agree all speakers are targeting the same goal: the recreation of great sound in our rooms. Yet, the ways in which they go about achieving that sound differ wildly. Some designers rely upon rigid isolated cabinets to ensure one driver does not interfere with the other. Others take the opposite approach and combine all the drivers into one cabinet, then tune the results to sound the way they want.

There is no perfect way to get from point A to point B. In fact, there are so many variations and paths open to us that it’s often hard to choose what to focus on: open baffle, sealed, ported, modular, panel, boxless.

We celebrate our differences at audio shows. We read of those different approaches in magazines and online forums.

We all strive for the same thing. Perfection in audio reproduction.

All the wildly different ways we get to the same place is what keeps this fun.

 

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.

Sameness

Is it possible to produce identical sounding products? Can we assume that a new DirectStream DAC sounds the same as every other DirectStream DAC?

I would suggest no. Just like every “identical” car drives differently and every same model piano plays and sounds differently, each piece of audio equipment is slightly different than the other.

When we have complex systems their outputs vary according to the tolerance of parts within them. Imagine for a moment the thousands upon thousands of individual parts that go into a DirectStream audio DAC. Each part has a tolerance and each part varies its performance, if only slightly. Together, they form the whole which we call a DirectStream DAC.

It’s not unusual for a particular piece of kit to be special, to shine brighter than the others. I can remember owning several pieces of audio gear that seemed to defy duplication. That one just sounded…right.

The good news in this observation is that over time, parts tolerances have only gotten smaller as industry perfects its craft.

Your system is one of a kind and, if you’ve managed to build something great, you should be proud of what you’ve assembled.

You might just have a gem.

 

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 one way and like Paul, I use diffusion on the wall in back of where I sit and listen to music, although I prefer to absorb the first audio reflection off of the wall and use the mirror trick Paul describes for this.

Diffuse or absorb?

We know that our rooms play an important role in sound quality. A 2-channel system that performs to spectacular levels in one room, might sound miserable in another.

We’re asked all the time whether or not adding sound absorption or sound diffusion to a room is the best option. The answers are rarely clear and almost never easy because every room is different.

However, there are some general guidelines we can use to help our decision making.

The simplest is when we start with an obvious problem like slap echo or over reverberance. Clap your hands near the listening position and see if the clap sounds natural—without anything added or subtracted—or is there a quick echo slapping off a wall? Always, we’re looking for natural sound in our room. Not overly dull and absorbed, nor overly bright or echo-laden. If you hear an echo that’s likely a good indicator you need some type of absorption to kill the bounce at those frequencies. Corners, the meeting point between ceiling and wall, and large open wall areas are prime candidates for absorption. Use only enough to kill the echo without robbing the room of life.

Step two in room treatment happens after we’ve tamed the echo or overly live room with modest amounts of absorption.

Diffusion’s tricky. While it’s my favorite for improving imaging and smoothing tonal balance, it’s easy to get carried away and wind up with a mashed potato soundstage—wide and deep but nothing has specific placement and individual instruments and voices sound diffuse.

Start with the point of first reflection using the old mirror trick. Employ a friend or spouse to stand with their backs against the sidewall between the speaker and your listening position. Holding a small mirror in front of them—facing the opposite wall, have them move closer and further from the speaker until you can see the tweeter from your listening position. That’s the point where diffusion typically works best (for starters).

Diffusers also work well on the front wall behind your speakers.

My best advice is to go easy. Most people wind up overdoing the room and then regretting it.

Hope these tips help.

 

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.

Pure sound

The definition of pure is pretty simple: “not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material.”

When it comes to purity of sound, we can extrapolate that to mean a pure signal without any added byproducts like distortion. Yet, I am not sure pure alone gives us what we believe we’re looking for in performance.

For example, pure water is tasteless. If you don’t believe me, try a swig of distilled water. It’s the impurities in water that give it flavor. It’s why you pay more for “spring” or mineral water. You’re paying extra for their distortion.

Some of the lowest distortion audio products on the market are similarly unremarkable. I’ll not be naming names or foisting my opinion on others, but let’s just say a triple digit low distortion amplifier is not in itself a mark of great sound. Sometimes, quite the opposite.

Purity on its own is not always what we strive for. It is the balance of purity and flavor that makes for both great tasting water and great sounding audio equipment.

As we’ve seen so many times before, it’s the balance of a product that defines its character.

 

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.

Hearing what others do not

Many visitors to Music Room Two comment more on hearing, for the first time, what was formerly hidden from them in the music they are familiar with, from subsonics to room cues, harmonics, finger plucks, and lingering decays.

Though it might be counterintuitive, much of what’s missing is often found in the lowest frequencies the system produces—frequencies brought out by a proper subwoofer that determine a system’s believability.

And still, the vast majority of HiFi systems haven’t any means of reproducing those missing bits of information in each recording.

For my tastes, I want to make sure I do everything in the electronic chain, as well as the speakers, to ensure a full frequency response.

Knowingly playing a system that leaves out information grates on me.

I want it all!