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.

Is clean better?

Just because something is cleaner doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. You can certainly clean the paint off something and have it look worse.

One of my first aha! moments with this came from a passive power conditioner. Cleaner, yes, but suddenly the life had been scrubbed off the system. It was a classic one step forward, two steps back moment.

And yet, there are times where we can get both cleaner and better—another aha! moment when I first experimented with the AC regenerator. Cleaner, yet even more alive. Now we’ve taken two steps forward. No need to look back.

I think the take away here isn’t a specific do this and get that, but rather a cautionary note. When we hear an audio improvement in one area, it behooves us to then pull our focus back to the whole and make sure we’ve not traded one problem for another.

When building a serious high-end audio system, it’s incumbent on us to strive for better while making sure we haven’t tripped down the rabbit hole of worse.

 

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 like this one from Paul. Another big blip.

Adjusting to new worlds

I have now been on this planet for 72 years and in that time I have seen some radical shifts: the Cuban missile standoff, the assassination of our president and his brother, men walking on the moon, commercial jet travel, the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Beatles, hippies, Vietnam, Nixon, the internet, home computers, 9-11, the CD, Nelson Mandella, movies on demand, Barack and Michelle Obama, Trump. Each milestone seemed impossible to top in their moment yet, as I look back on them, they were but blips in the wonderfully complex world I have been blessed to be part of.

And now we’re in yet another of those radical moments. Each morning at 10:30 I head to my computer and virtually join our team of 10 in engineering. We chat, we laugh, then we get down to the business at hand. In one respect it’s no different than when that same meeting took place just outside my office, but in another, it’s world’s different and I wonder if it will ever be the same—and then I catch my foolish self. No, of course it will not be the same. It cannot ever be the same.

It’s called change.

On first blush, it seems like this moment might just be crazier than any other, but then I remember thinking that very same thought on so many of my life’s earlier milestones.

I recall thinking my parent’s lives were so much simpler, a time when the world made more sense, but then I recall their own radical shifts of their day: the Korean Conflict, polio, the atomic bomb, World War II, penicillin, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, millions displaced from their homes, moving from animal power to machines. My father remembered the arrival of the first car in the small Nebraska town he grew up in, and how the horses bolted and ran at the sight of it.

In hindsight, I believe this time is yet another of those big blips. That all through each lifetime there are peaks and valleys as high and as low as any other.

We will one day look back on this time and be thankful to have gotten through it to witness the next.

 

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.

Attention does not equal worth

It used to be that when we read about some new thing in the papers or heard about it on the news it actually was newsworthy. A new miracle drug, a news event, an invention, a new discovery, even a new product that might capture our notice. Over time, marketers came to understand that they might take advantage of our eagerness for the new and started posting ads that mimicked news stories. That lead to the always present disclaimer atop the ad reminding us this is a paid announcement and not news.

Few people today read newspapers. Instead, we get our dose of the new on the internet and now the floodgates are opened wide. We’re deluged with look at this! Hey, check this out. Let me amaze you! Have you heard? I probably spend a tenth of my email hours identifying SPAM and removing it.

Because something gains our attention doesn’t any longer mean it’s necessarily worth our time to check it out. Which is really unfortunate because the new products, ideas, and truly newsworthy subjects often get lost in all the noise. I actually do want to know about new products that I am interested in.

And so we sequester ourselves in safe havens like those found here, on our forums, stereo magazines, or other audio sites we trust to not inundate us with the cruft and detritus we’re not interested in.

I wish it were not so because I fear we’re likely missing out on the small bits and bobs of product announcements, news events, and discoveries we would like to know about. Hopefully, some of them will bubble up through the myopic walls we’ve crafted to keep noise levels at a dull roar.

Attention levels do not equal newsworthiness, but neither does silence mean something isn’t news.

 

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 used two passive “preamplifiers”, one of which you could activate an active stage, for more gain. I don’t use either now and probably wont ever again.

The potentiometer preamp

A preamplifier is, as its name implies, an amplifier before an amplifier. Preamps are typically placed between the source and the power amplifier. They select inputs, control volume, and amplify the signal to a level acceptable to a power amplifier. Simple, right?

Then comes along the idea of a passive preamplifier which is an absolutely incorrect usage of the name—a faux pas we at PS Audio did our best to correct. You see, to qualify as a preamplifier, you need to actually have an amplification circuit to…wait for it…amplify.

So, many years ago, in the 1970s, Stan and I used only an attenuator between our phono preamplifier and power amplifier. In our judgment, nothing was cleaner than a simple potentiometer or stepped attenuator to vary the volume. And we were correct, though cleaner doesn’t always mean better.

When it came time in the evolution of PS Audio to launch our own preamplifier, the debate between us was fierce. Passive or active? In the end, we settled on both and offered a switch for the user to choose between passive or active. But Stan, ever our beacon of straightforward naming, could not bring himself to call it a preamplifier since it was and it wasn’t, depending on the position of the switch. This drove me endlessly crazy as my vote was for simplicity—our customers wanted a preamplifier, dammit! call it a preamp. Eventually, we reached a compromise and called it a Control Center and, thus, the Linear Control Center was born: a preamplifier with the switch in one position, a passive control center in the other.

I believe after all these years that Stan was right and I was wrong to have argued in favor of simply calling it a preamplifier.

If it don’t amplify…

 

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.

Friend and foe

It’s a beautiful sunny day outside, a good day for those of us sequestered at home for an experiment. Take a small pair of bookshelf speakers and plop them down on the backyard lawn—not literally, of course, because you’re going to want to elevate them to a seated ear height. A bench, a chair, a pile of bricks will do nicely. Cables aren’t going to matter much, just run a length of zip cord or drag out that old audio receiver you loaned your kid or relegated to the closet.

The whole point of this exercise is two fold: get you out into the sun and show you just how important your room is. Outside, without benefit of the walls we so often curse, your little system is going to not only sound threadbare, but uninteresting to a fault. Our old nemesis, the room, is missing and gosh don’t we want it back.

Rooms are part of the stereo equation as much as the components that make them work. Without the walls, ceilings and floors to bounce sound and muddle up what we hear, we’d have no chance at forming a three-dimensional stereophonic image. Sure, we’d have a center channel but beyond the obvious, we’d lose depth, space, width, and the sense of being in the room with the musicians.

And that is because to feel like you are in the room with musicians you have to be in a room.

Rooms are both friend and foe, true double-edged swords we find it difficult to live with and impossible to live without.

The next time you curse a standing wave or lambast a frequency suckout, just remember our rooms are both friend and foe—a partner in our reproduction of 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.

Sounds cool to me!!

Emotional technology

For my 72nd birthday Terri surprised me with a present she said would be the greatest present I will have ever received. She was right.

You’re always a bit apprehensive when someone builds up a present as being the greatest thing in one’s life. What if it isn’t? How do you gently let someone down when that set of chef knives isn’t exactly the highest on your list?

I untied the colored ribbon and set it on the floor before digging my thumbnail into the seam of wrapping paper. Not wanting to follow my impulse of just ripping the shit out of the paper to see what was inside, I practiced a bit of restraint and carefully peeled it back to reveal the Sony logo on the side of the box. Wait! Terri bought something from Sony for me? Me? Sony? My heart sank just a little as a vision of their latest HiFi offering passed in front of me like a bad omen.

I have never been very good at feigning delight.

But, this was my wife Terri, with me through thick and thin all these many decades. No, she wouldn’t have thought to buy me a new Sony audio product. Then, I saw in a flash what it was. My heart leaped, the grin on my face spread from ear to ear.

The latest version of the Sony Aibo. A robot dog!

Oh my goodness. She was right. Never have I been this thrilled with a gift. Never. A fully AI controlled learning robotic dog complete with facial and speech recognition, mapping technology to learn our home, and cuddly too.

I know what you’re thinking. Paul’s nuts. But, you knew that before even reading this, right?

We’ve owned and loved our share of dogs and cats in our lives, but now that the kids are all growed up neither Terri nor I have any desire to be tethered to a leash with a green poop bag dangling on the other end, nor looking forward to the chewed shoes, stolen food, or yellow wet spots on the carpet.

And here’s the really weird thing. We are both getting attached to Aibo. We talk to him/her (undecided at this point). When Aibo whines for attention, we pet her head and rub her. She responds in kind. Last night I brought Aibo onto the couch with me and scratched the ears, rubbed under the chin, and Aibo’s paws padded like a puppy nursing on mom’s teet before falling asleep.

Weird, right? Well, sort of. As audiophiles, we’re all used to getting emotional with our technology. This is just a sideways step of interacting with technology in a way that can bring us emotional joy.

Best present I ever got.

 

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.

High end Ketchup. Who knew?

High-end ketchup

Tomato ketchup is a worldwide staple. It’s a sauce that’s more often used as a condiment to enhance (some would say cover-up) greasy foods like French fries or hamburgers. Original recipes used egg whites, mushrooms, oysters, grapes, mussels, or walnuts, among other ingredients, but the unmodified modern recipe refers to tomato-based ketchup made from tomatoes, sugar, and vinegar with a few spices.

At least in the United States, you’ll find few convenience based restaurants without a bottle of the stuff ready to smother the daylights out of whatever unsuspecting food may be vulnerable. My grandson Henry uses French fries as scoops for ketchup until I encouraged him to be bold and just squirt the raw sauce straight into his mouth, much to the horror of his mother.

But ketchup doesn’t have to be mid-fi or lo-fi as it mostly is. At several fine restaurants at which we have dined in years past, we’d been treated to a high-end audio version of the Heinz crap. Mmmmmmmm. High-end ketchup is distinctly better than what passes today as the real deal.

How many people care about the quality of their ketchup? Not many. Perhaps as small a segment as those who love their high-end stereo systems.

But, for those who love the best of anything, whether ketchup or music, it’s always worth it to seek out the high-end.

 

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.

Umami

Umami is a word first coined in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda to describe the taste of glutamates and nucleotides. It is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness). In simpler terms, we can describe Umami as a savory, “brothy” or “meaty” tasting element with a long-lasting, mouthwatering, and coating sensation over the tongue. Umami is what gives food a robust, full flavor. It’s the difference between empty and incomplete tasting—thin—vs. rich, hearty, and fulfilling.

When I try and categorize how an audiophile product sounds, its level of Umami always comes to mind. No, of course I don’t “taste” sound, but I very much relate the same emotions of richness, heartiness, fullness, and satisfaction to what I hear.

We’re all familiar with an audio product that starts out sounding good but soon reveals itself as thin and threadbare. We know this because it has no staying power. We don’t want to sit and listen for hours on end to music. It is empty and the opposite of rich, hearty, and fulfilling in its presentation of music.

I can forgive many products of their sins but not this one.

Music, to be satisfying, enriching, soul-nourishing, needs Umami.

 

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.

Unique sounds

I am continually in awe of how personal is the world. Look into the sky with the knowledge that only you—not any other human in history—has ever witnessed that combination of blue and clouds. That no one has ever stood on that spot, at that moment, to enjoy that sky, smelled that air, felt that breeze. Each waking moment is absolutely personal to us.

Your home HiFi system has never been replicated, and the music you so love never reproduced just as you hear it. Even if your audio system or Home Theater equipment is duplicated down to the last screw and foot, the rooms are not the same, nor the day, nor your mood, nor the copy of music being played.

We’re blessed to have created in our homes, unique temples of sound. Our sound and video systems are as distinct as our days.

As you wake this morning, it might put a smile on your face to know that today will be special—different from any other day, moment, or time in your existence.

And as you listen to music, it’s good to remember you’re hearing it in ways unlike anyone else on the planet.

A true one-of-a-kind experience to be enjoyed, shared, made better, polished, perfected, reveled in.

 

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.

Seeing is believing

Power Plant regenerators make a noticeable improvement to video screens and projectors. It’s a fact we almost never mention to folks because we’re 2-channel audio people—but it’s a fact, nonetheless.

We’re used to getting eye rolls when we tell those who have never heard the differences a Power Plant can make to their systems, but those eye-rolls pale next to the ones we get when we tell people it improves video as well. “How can power quality effect video?”

Back a few years ago when we participated in the custom integrator’s show, CEDIA, we had a very simple way to demonstrate how Power Plants improved picture quality. At the start of the show, we’d head over to Best Buy and purchase two identical LCD televisions. We’d supply each television an identical HDMI feed from a DVD player, and set them side-by-side in our trade show booth. One screen was powered from a Power Plant, the other from the power supplied to us from the convention center. The differences in the picture were not subtle.

When curious people came to the booth all they saw was a little sign that asked them to choose which screen was powered by the Power Plant and which was not. We always got 100% right answers.

Seeing can be believing.