Dammed if you do, dammed if…
PS Audio has always prided itself on building high value musically honest audio products. We pore thousands of hours into squeezing out every last drop of performance possible in our products, and we’re proud as punch that they are affordable and accessible to folks.
So, it’s always a bit disheartening when someone reaches out to me complaining about our “astronomically high prices”. They will point to examples of 800 watt per channel power amplifiers on Amazon for $150 as evidence of our sins against the free marketplace. “If these guys can make one for $150, why is yours so much more?”
What a fascinating world we live in. On the good side, we now have the ability to make our views known and felt throughout the public space. Doesn’t matter what makes sense, what the truth is, or what our reference points are. And the bad side? It’s the same as the good side.
I think what’s missing is a bit of perspective. It’s perhaps far too easy and tempting to grab facts and figures and form opinions without regard to reference. For example, are you aware there’s a 99.26% correlation between the divorce rate in Maine and margarine consumption? Or, I don’t suppose you knew there’s a 95% correlation between the number of people who drowned after falling out of a fishing boat and the marriage rate in Kentucky.
Do these correlations mean something? Of course not. They’re just a few examples of how two pieces of data can be tied together to form a false truth.
We can tie in any sets of facts to each other whether or not they make sense to do so.
That still doesn’t get us close to the truth.
Now that PS Audio engineer Chris Brunhaver has rebuilt the Infinity IRS woofer sections in Music Room II, tracks of music that once overloaded the room or underwhelmed the listener are back on the table.
Tracks like Deeper by Pete Belasco, When the Party’s Over by Billy Eilish, or Handel’s Organ Concerto Number 3 suddenly make more sense.
Before the woofer change, there was plenty of deep bass but it was more an effect sound than a real live note. Now, the system sends chills up your spine when those notes move both you and the room.
In fact, one of the joys of an upgrade to your audio or video system is the opening of new musical opportunities. If it’s better bass, you start looking through your library for tracks that demonstrate the new prowess. If a new tweeter or speakers with airy extended highs, you search for more thrills in that music.
If you want a few thrills and chills to challenge your system, and have Qobuz, you can access what we listen to by going here.
Have fun and give my apologies to the neighbors.
Confessions of an Audiophile
When I started to write my memoir, 99% True, it’s original working title was Confessions of an Audiophile. I figured it’d be a tell-all book about the HiFi industry and its people. It’s certainly that, but as it progressed through the year-long process of writing it became far more—thus, the title change to 99% True.
Since its publication, more than 5,000 people have read its contents and learned of my misbegotten youth and struggles to build PS Audio (and stay mostly out of jail).
Some who have read the book are still speaking to me.
The original print run of personally signed hardback copies is just about exhausted. There’s a hundred or so hardback copies left in our inventory and when they’re gone, I’ve no plans to print more.
If you’re interested in getting one of the last copies of my memoir in its personally signed hardback form, go here and grab one. If you would prefer the Kindle, paperback, our audiobook version, these can be purchased here.
To grab one of the last signed copies before they are gone, go here.
I do hope you’ll still speak with me after reading it.
In search of better
If we’re buying a new amplifier we expect to pay a higher price for more: features, power, energy storage, damping factor. On the flip side, we’re equally comfortable paying a higher price for less: distortion, impedance, elements in the signal path, noise.
In an age where many think we’re always out after more, more, and more, it’s refreshing to consider that it can be equally beneficial to seek out less.
What we’re really after is better.
Better is a much cleaner term because it distinguishes between the wanted and unwanted.
Whenever I start leaning in the direction of more I stop myself and readjust my thinking to consider better. Better food is preferable to more. A single Better performance is preferable to a greater number of mediocre ones.
I think it’s valuable to think more in terms of better than more.
I totally agree with this one and don’t listen to any of my systems until its been playing for around one hour.
Is burn in real?
I had to chuckle to myself. Sitting in our weekly meeting, where production engineers meet with design engineers, the topic of discussion was how to build a new burn-in rack and system for the upcoming M1200 monoblock amplifiers.
What made me laugh is all the time and money we’re spending setting up a rack whose only purpose is to make sure when owners first turn on their new amplifier it sounds right. That’s a bunch of needless expense if burn-in weren’t real.
In fact, the new M1200s require more burn-in time than any product we’ve yet manufactured. We’re still debating not the number of hours, but rather the number of days. The discussions even include what track of music to use for best results. Sound silly? Not really. The average energy level of reproduced music has a direct impact on the improvements we desire to make. A quiet musical piece wouldn’t be nearly as effective as a loud one.
Since we’re not in the habit of needlessly incurring expenses, those who doubt the efficacy of burn might be well served to take notice.
Few of us want to be left in the dark. We like to be in the know and get the inside scoop. But often, that means we’re at the beginning of an iterative process winding its circuitous way through roadblocks and failed ideas until reaching a successful conclusion. Some of us are comfortable on this path, while others shy away from the clutter.
Think of the times you’ve been party to a meeting or discussion where the outcome is uncertain: what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, what kind of audio or video technology is best to achieve a specific goal, determining the price point for a product. Some in the group are comfortable with the many choices while others may view them as more chaos than clear choice.
In my case, I am happiest at the beginning of a complex project when little but the end result is clear: we want this outcome but we do not know how to get there. The uncertainty and chaos of a fresh challenge attract me like a moth to the flame. Others have exactly the opposite reaction: call me when you figure it out.
When I share with our community some of PS Audio’s beginning design challenges, and the long path we travel to produce a finished stereo product, some feel encouraged and included while others run away as fast as they can.
I can’t change who I am, but it would sure be helpful if I could find a way to let our community know when I am sharing the beginnings of a project or the final result.
Those who are comfortable with either stage could then choose to read or move on to something else.
Hearing what you want to hear
We sometimes front-load our expectations into what we believe people will say or what a stereo system should sound like. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a room full of loudspeakers and prejudged their performance before the music started playing. Often, I am surprised, both pleasantly and otherwise.
The problem with preloaded expectations is we have to work past them to get to the core of what’s really there—yet, it’s often those very expectations that drove us to try something new in the first place.
When I am told what to expect from a piece of audio gear or new technology, the results can go one of two ways: I am happily rewarded or sadly disappointed. The problem with this process is we can often miss the underlying truth blurred by our preconceived notions.
It’s not always possible to audition new gear without the burden of expectations but, when we get the chance, it’s likely to give us a more honest result.
Hearing what we cannot hear
As a design team, we work hard at extending our amplification product’s bandwidth beyond that which humans can hear. We do that because it sounds better: more open, extended, transparent.
Yet, how could that be true? If we cannot hear above 20kHz (and most of us not above 12kHz), then why should it matter that our preamplifier extends to beyond 60kHz?
Spoiler alert. The answer is phase shift, something we humans are quite sensitive to. In an analog circuit with a maximum bandwidth of 20kHz, phase shift occurs well into the audible band. Take, for example, this simple graph below. It’s a simulation of phase shift from a 1kHz signal from both a high pass (bass roll off) and a low pass (high frequency roll off) function. Note how much phase lag and lead occur away from the center frequency.
To get phase shift out of the audible band we need to extend the roll off point well beyond that which we can hear.
The point of all this is simple. Sometimes we’re looking so hard in one place we ignore what’s actually happening in quite another.
One of the more difficult choices when assembling a reference audio chain is answering the most basic of questions. What’s it for?
It’s rare we ask ourselves this basic question because few among us really think much beyond the desire to have great music in the home. And frankly, that’s just fine. Hi-Fi is a fun endeavor, not a life and death struggle.
Yet, if we find ourselves actually planning out our future direction for upgrades or beginning system building, it can sure make it easier if we have the time and patience to ask the right questions. If the system’s purpose is to extract every last ounce of information from the music, then our choices will move in one direction. If instead, we’re more interested in maximizing sonic excitement, we might take an entirely different course. And working towards perfection on both accounts yet another path.
Taking just a moment to ask yourself what’s it for, can often times save a whole bunch of time and money further down the line.
This April’s Chicago’s Axpona audio show seems far off in the future. Yet, we’re already planning for it. My wife, Terri, runs our shows and she’s already busy arranging all the necessary details. Thank goodness for her. If it were left up to me and the engineers it’d be a last-minute disaster.
Our big feature this year will be the production-ready model of the new loudspeaker, now officially christened the FR-30 (formerly the AN-3). For those attending the show, you will be able to see, hear and touch the 30s. This is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking in the same way new parents must feel when first showing off their newborns.
Of course, shows are a big distraction from our everyday tasks, yet we find them time well spent—not because we get the chance to strut our stuff, but because we get to come face-to-face with our community.
There are probably other means by which we could be amongst our extended Hi-Fi Family, but audio shows are among the best. I wish we had the bandwidth to attend more of them.
Consider this an early invitation to attend Chicago’s Axpona and say hi to the family.