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.

A bone to pick and this is an original, not from Paul, who will return.

In the edition of The Absolute Sound I was looking at this morning, one of their most experienced writer reviewed a Turntable made by a German company called Clearaudio. A true engineering marvel for something that just needs to play LP records.

It costs $60,000 as tested and unsurprisingly, it sounded great to the reviewer, as I would expect it to. In the magazine, they list the reviewers system and this guy probably has a couple million dollars worth of stereo equipment, retail wise. I have no idea about him, so maybe he can afford all this, but he’s as old as I am and I hope he has someone to help him move stuff around because a lot of what he owns is massive in size and weight. The equipment he uses to review stuff, like this Turntable, is over the top stuff, most of us could only dream of.  Does everything he has in his reference sound good? Probably, but who really knows and I have mu doubts for one very good reason. Old ears…

I once read this writer describe the rooms he visited at one of the audio shows, when there used to be such a thing and practically every room he visited sounded dark to him. I guess we were supposed to take that as the components in these many rooms were dark sounding. Well, I can tell you that what I got from his “reviews” of the rooms at this show, was his ears probably weren’t working perfectly, as is often the case with all of us.  If there is a commonology of sound characteristics at an audio show, most likely it isn’t the equipment in the rooms, although it could be the rooms themselves. However, other people at the same magazine wrote about less expensive stuff at the show and there weren’t these “dark” types of comments.

One thing I’ve taken notice of lately is the quality of the writing in the main Audio magazines I subscribe to, including The Absolute Sound and Stereophile.

Some of it is contains so much verbiage to describe the sound, I can’t stand it. Such was the review of the Clearaudio TT. I realize that the writer is looking for ways to describe what they hear and feel, but most of it is so over the top, I can’t read it all and dont even skip to the end to see what his final comments about the product are.

Art Dudley didn’t use as many words, nor were they necessarily as poetic as some writers, but I enjoyed reading what he wrote and that’s the end game for me with reviews.

I’d probably make a bad reviewer because, except for a very few bad sounding high end audio components that have made their way though here,  I think things are either good, ok, or sometimes great and those are enough words for me.

 

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.

Although I just use my eyes and ears to set up customers audio and video systems, I use the XLO/Sheffield Labs disc to test my reference system. I know how things are supposed to sound, better than I know the back of my hand, so this disc is very helpful. The Stereophile one is a good one too.

An easy better

One of the pitfalls of audio system testing is loudness between devices under test. One must be scrupulously careful to gain match anything you’re comparing to. If a new amplifier even a dB or so difference in gain can make a noticeable performance change. And, you certainly don’t want to choose one piece of kit over another when a simple twist of the volume control can make this right again.

When we test various designs or wish to listen to the works of others it’s pretty easy to gain-match since we have access to a lot of fancy audio test equipment. You, dear reader, probably do not have that same access and so it can be a little more difficult.

You can often go to a manufacturer’s website and get their specs. There, you can see at a fixed frequency how much gain an amplifier has. If it’s off by dBs, then your next challenge would be how to compensate. With many preamps, such as our own, we specify our volume in predefined steps: 0.5dB for most of the range.

You can also gain match with a test disc and microphone setup. On my iPhone, I have several dB meter apps. Decibel X is one that’s worked well for me, but truth is, you can use just about anything and it’s fine. The key to gain matching is making sure the microphone is in exactly the same spot each time and the tone played is the same too. I still use the Stereophile test disc as my reference standard.

However you manage to gain match equipment, just make sure you do when evaluating for sound quality.

It 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.

Up or down?

There are HiFi systems that bring me up. They energize me, fill me with a desire to hear more and encourage upward volume level nudges.

And then there are the opposites, HiFi systems that bring me down: fatiguing, over etched, trying, encouraging downward volume level nudges.

One of the best means of knowing if your gear choices are serving you, if your system setup is satisfying, is this very test. Does your system inspire you to listen more or cause you to shrink back into silence after some play?

We may not be able to put a finger on the exact causes of either emotional response to music’s reproduction, but just knowing we can use this knowledge as a tool puts us in a heck of a lot better place for evaluating gear.

Home audio reproduction can cut both ways: a real up that energizes and inspires us or the opposite.

When you’re evaluating a new process, amplifier, cable, power device, or the system itself, be mindful of how you react to it.

Your emotional state, as a result of music’s immersion, can often be more telling than just about any other metric.

 

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 and I sure aren’t alike!!

Competition

I was never good at sports nor do I have any interest in watching others play it. Which is perhaps why the notion of competition eludes me.

Since the day Stan and I started PS Audio, back in the dark ages of the early 1970s, we’ve never tried to compete with other manufacturers. The idea of “they do this so we’ll counter with that” had never occurred to us. Instead, we focused on “competing” with ourselves.

The definition of competing is striving against one another to gain or win something. The desire to gain or win something other than producing products that meet a certain performance level is just, well, strange. Besides, who keeps score?

We always strive to better our previous efforts. I suppose that’s a kind of competition though I prefer to think of it more like the climbing of a ladder. Each time you better your efforts you get higher on the ladder’s rungs and gain a better view. In a true competition, you win some, you lose some, then you start a new season. That doesn’t seem to fit in what we do.

I know there are competitive types out there comparing their efforts with those of others, but that’s just not something that’s ever interested us.

The real goal is to get closer to 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.

Palpable sound

When an illusion is real enough it feels as if we might be able to fondle it. Palpable.

That’s what we strive for in our voicings of audio products, sound so real you can imagine touching it. That’s a tough challenge from a design perspective. How do you arm an engineer with the knowledge and tools to craft sound so real it’s touchable?

I think it starts with bass. If you can clear away the phase shifts and filters to get to unfettered bass, then you begin to actually feel the kick of a bass drum in your gut. I know for me that was my first palpable connection. A good thump in the gut from a recorded kick drum.

Over time and experience, you begin ferreting out the small nuanced cues that bring life to music. They happen slowly at first: a bell rings with such veracity you might believe it’s actually in the room. Perhaps a voice so real it’s as if the singer is in the room with you.

The best designers I know have placed this one virtue over just about all others. Make the sound so real it’s as if you can reach out and touch it.

It’s what we strive for and what you likely lust for.

It seems like magic.

 

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.

Loud voices

The loudest voices get all the attention. Yet, softer’s likely the better path to follow. That is if you’re interested in traveling the road of a reasoned audio approach.

From politicians to forum posters, the ones that are most heard make the loudest, angriest, sensationalist claims. We’re somehow drawn to them like moths to a flame despite the fact the results for the moth and us are likely the same.

We trust that when the need arises, loud voices will warn us. Someone whispering “fire” isn’t going to save many people.

The problem arises when those loud and angry voices are at high volume levels merely to be heard over the din of reason.

Over the long run, it’s the reasoned quiet voices that help us move to a safer, higher ground.

We’ve taken a bit of flack over our clamp of heated dialog on our forums, but know that we still believe if you’re looking for a calm and reasoned place to hang out, our forums and online magazine, Copper, are lively enough not to bore and calm enough not to enrage.

Both good places to be in these times of chaos.

 

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.

If it walks like a…

When we think of products in terms of functionality they’re all somewhat the same. DACs convert digital to analog, power amps drive speakers, preamps control the level. But, that’s often where the similarities end.

How a product does what it does makes all the difference in the world. The output of an R2R ladder DAC and a DSD-based DirectStream DAC may look the same, but they’re not even close in how they got there—nor in how they sound.

The same is true for power conditioners. They have AC power going into them, and with multiple AC sockets at their outputs, some modified form of AC coming out. To say or even suggest that a power conditioner or isolation transformer has anything other than form factor in common with a Power Plant would be grossly incorrect. Yet, it happens all the time.

We invented the Power Plant concept in 1997. Since that time, 23 years ago, one of our long-standing life’s missions has been to help people understand the black and white differences between an active AC regenerator and a power conditioner. The only thing the two have in common is one AC input and many AC outputs.

Because Power Plants provide instant dynamic voltage and current regulation along with rebuilding the AC sine wave itself, they are unflinching in their rock-steady delivery of AC power to equipment. A power conditioner, on the other hand, does little to justify its namesake. The condition of the power through a conditioner is, for the most part, unchanged—except to have made it slightly worse in the very areas a Power Plant makes it better. Impedance. (this too applies to isolation transformer based conditioners as well, though they are closer to their namesakes in that they do isolate)

Active voltage and current regulation are the keys to reversing what many people fear most with the addition of a power conditioner—loss of dynamics and life. Those who have figured out they’re likely better off plugging their power amps directly into the wall socket rather than cripple them with a conditioner, isolation transformer, or any passive device, have exactly the opposite reaction when listening through the lowered impedance of a Power Plant.

Just because it walks like a Power Plant, it certainly doesn’t sound like one.

 

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 may have been the last review Art Dudley did that will be published and it was about a product made by the Luxman Corporation. I use a Luxman L-590AXII,  which I would describe the same way Art described the Luxman CL-1000 in this review and this is it……

“One may regard the Luxman CL-1000 as part of that tradition—or one may sidestep the history and regard the Lux as simply a hell of a good product, at a high but not unreasonable price. Either way, it’s a hell of a thing, and I loved every minute with it.”

RIP Art Dudley.

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.

Emotional tuning

I was attempting to describe to a good friend outside our audio industry what we do in engineering. It was a strange conversation explaining how, through materials, design choices, and component types, we can wring emotions from music. A real head-scratcher, that.

Yet that is what we do—handcraft our products to perform as we wish, to reproduce the sound the way we would want in our own homes.

I suppose it’s not a lot different from engineers that design toasters or cars. They might also have the skillset to make it easy or hard to get the toast right; easy or hard to drive the car from point A to point B. The question at hand is one of intent. Do they care enough to make it personal? Is producing an outcome that appeals to them personally part of the game plan or are they simply meeting a predefined spec? Or worse, waiting for the clock to strike quitting time?

I believe what separates remarkable from mundane is personal touch. The Black and Decker toaster for offer at Wal Mart isn’t likely as personable as what I hand-curated for my kitchen. Not if one cares about the quality of toast. Or music. Or anything we take personally.

All designers are capable of emotional tuning. Most either are unaware of their abilities or simply punching the clock.

If you want to connect with your gear, make it personal.

 

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.

A little advertising.

My system’s temperament

Fortunately, my music system isn’t temperamental, but it certainly has a personality all unto its own. A temperament.

Now that I have to wait until the evening hours to sneak down to PS Audio and get a dose of Music Room Two just to keep my stereo sanity intact, I am reminded of how different it is than my home system. Where at home we get good imaging, reasonably dynamics, and pleasing sound, Music Room Two is just from another planet: big, intense, yet delicate and subtle when the music demands.

Describing an audio system’s personality is akin to the challenge wine tasters must have describing a particular vintage. There’s a flavor to reproduced sound that’s unique to every system I have ever had the privilege to listen to. Like wines, some I love, others not so much.

One of the benefits of populating your stereo system with gear from a particular company is knowing their tastes and having confidence that if they like it, so too will you. Same with an AV system.

Like an honest vintner willing to put their name and reputation on the bottle, products designed and voiced by the people you know and trust is a good and safe bet.