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.

Today, some original content from me as my 21 year old so, Michael, has put his toes into the Audiophile realm, for the first time.

Typically, Michael has gravitated to things that are hot amongst his age group. His first interest was better earbuds, then Gaming headphones and now something better. With dads help, he is on his way.

When he came home yesterday, he asked about good sounding headphones and how to get better sound from his gaming computer, as well as other sources, such as YouTube.

The answer is better headphones and a decent DAC/Headphone amplifier that has Bluetooth. I happen to have both sitting around, neither getting much use, so they will go back to school with him later today.

I recently took on the T+A (Theory+ Application) product line out of Germany and purchased their T+A DAC 8 DSD to see what they were all about.

What they are all about is the best sounding solid state based audio I’ve yet heard. I liked the DAC 8 DSD so much, I sold it to a local customer and bought T+A’s MP2500R, which combines basically the same DAC, but adds an integrated  SACD player. SACD is DSD and supposedly is the best audio you can get from a digital source.

I expected delivery of my demo MP 2500R, pretty much within a weeks time, so I installed Skips DAC 8 DSD, only to find out that CV19 has affected Germany and I would have to wait for the MP2500R.  I was so impressed with the sound of T+A’s DAC, I also purchased their AMP 8 power amplifier and it too, is amazing.

So, in addition to the MP 2500R, I will also be receiving their T+A PA 2500R, which is their integrated amplifier. My unit will be outfitted with their MC phono stage and I have high expectations for it.

What does this have to do with my son? Tune in tomorrow.

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.

Reducing noise…

How many layers?

With some new circuit or software innovations, we hear deeper into our stereos and the music—removed is an obfuscating layer revealing what lies just under the surface.

Which begs two questions: are there actually layers to be removed and if so how many are there?

The assumed layers blocking a closer look inside the music have been called many things: veils, layers, clouds, and haze—a stack of barriers separating music and listener. Their one-by-one removal gets us closer to the original recording, or so we imagine.

I question this whole notion of layers and wonder if instead, it’s more closely related to increasing the contrast or adding saturation to a video image.

Could it be that instead of removing layers, we’re actually supercharging the musical signal?

More than just a semantic twist, there’s a fundamental difference between removing haze and amping up content.

It’s an interesting question, one I will spend more time exploring over these next few months.

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.

Exceptions to the rule

Our opinions and judgments are strongly connected to our personal biases. If we’re convinced LP’s are superior to digital we carry that belief into a listening session. If we should hear something that counters our vinyl predisposition, we typically pass the experience off as an exception to the rule.

The rules turn out to be arbitrary: self-imposed fences that help us navigate the complexities of the world.

I am predisposed to believe stereo systems will not properly image unless there’s enough room between them and the front wall to let the image breathe. I am always surprised when I encounter an exception to that rule.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to reset our accumulated biases? Like a case of amnesia.

In my personal development, I have found it valuable to mentally press reset when presented with new ideas or concepts—to let down the guard of my internal rule book and permit the new idea to wash over me without fear or bias. I’ve never managed to pull off this reset technique on the fly, but given a bit of prep, I find it valuable.

I think it’s good to remember that rules are like fences—self-imposed boundary walls erected to keep us safe.

If we’re brave enough, sometimes we can scale the fence and trespass on the greener grass.

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.

New concepts

Most of us understand the differing reactions to new product concepts. Early adopters seek out and embrace the new, while most other people have a wait-and-see attitude. Sometimes the radical new elicits downright terror.

Take what happened a hundred or so years ago with the introduction of the automobile. People were deathly afraid of them, but perhaps not for the reasons you might imagine like safety or noise. Rather, people were convinced cars were a terrible idea because they were brainless, not possessing even the intelligence of a horse. How could a totally stupid machine ever succeed?

New concepts and innovations that threaten the status quo are often viewed with suspicious eyes. Things were just fine the way they were.

Yet, without the rapid pace of progress, we’d still be listening to 78 rpm LP records through sewing-needle-sized stylus.

As we move forward into the age of artificial intelligence, building robots that are indistinguishable from their biological creators, and interactive immersive sound reproduction appliances that seem more comfortable in the hands of Lieutenant Commander Data than your next-door neighbor, it’s probably good to remind ourselves that technology’s here to serve us as opposed to the ever-constant angst some fear as a loss of control.

My car’s now a hell of a lot smarter than a horse, but I still tell it where to go.

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.

Scrubbed clean

Squeaky clean. Yup, that’s how we like our dishes, hands, cars, and floors. Not so much our music.

The idea of sterile stereo sound—scrubbed clean—is not something I would look forward to listening to, yet I certainly don’t want the opposite. Dirty, gritty, or cluttered, makes my face scrunch up.

If we don’t want either extreme—sterile or dirty—what is it we’re searching for?

Realism.

When I stand in front of a musician playing an acoustic instrument like a guitar or (recently) a dobro, there’s nothing sterile about what I am hearing. If I pay attention—close my eyes—I hear her finger plucks, room sound, shuffling of feet, breathing, and on occasion a grunt or two.

Music—real music—captured live is not sterile and neither should its reproduction.

I cringe just a little when someone suggests to me their sound is “clean and crystal clear, free of any distortion”.

When scrubbing systems clean, be careful you don’t lose the baby with the bathwater.

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.

Put lousy sounding audio equipment in a great room and it will sound lousy. Put great stereo equipment in a lousy room and it wont sound great. There needs to be a balance of both. I’m lucky that I have a great room and great audio equipment from Rogue Audio, Luxman, T+A (THeory + Application),  Well Tempered Labs and Dynavector. Things usually sound great over here!!

Setup and rooms

We all pay at least lip service to the importance of rooms and setup though I suspect in our heart of hearts we believe the components are really the key to sound quality.

It’s truly a chicken and egg sort of thing: crappy equipment in a great room isn’t going to sound amazing just like excellent equipment in a crappy room’s not going to set your hair on fire.

But like the age-old debate about whether sources are more important than loudspeakers, the truth behind setup and room importance vs. the contribution of the stereo equipment is always going to be a contentious one.

I have heard equipment I have little respect for sound more than amazing in a well set up room. In fact, if I had to summarize my years of experience, I’d have to say I’ve heard better high-end audio systems of medium quality equipment in great setups than the opposite.

I can’t tell you the number of great collections of equipment that have sounded dreadful. Yet, knowing that equipment can sound amazing leads me to conclude that in the end, all things considered, setup, and room is more important than the components playing in them.

Just sayin’.

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.

Sheffield Labs in a great music label and makes both LP’s, as well as CD’s. Their recordings sound terrific and what Paul is writing about today, has seen the same thing happen here, especially with the new T+A electronics I use and have become a dealer for. And, unlike many labels, their music selection is varied.

Dynamic surprise

The first time I listened to a Sheffield Labs direct to disc recording I experienced a dynamic surprise. A kick drum that seemed to come out of nowhere to pound my chest. Oh my gosh that was an amazing experience, one that’s stayed with me all these many decades.

Modern recordings seem to have forgotten the joy of dynamic surprises. Instead, many producers want constant loudness and drama, forgetting (or maybe not being aware of) the sheer delight rapid changes in dynamics can bring.

Very few recordings in my stable of treasures have those dynamic surprises, something we fully intend to change as we produce music.

If you have a few favorite recordings with dynamic surprises, please do share it with us.

There’s always an appetite for the unexpected.

 

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.

Unprecedented control

I’ve been having a blast learning and working with musicians, producers, and engineers at Octave Records. It’s fast paced: quick learning steps leading up the ladder to new understandings of more than just the subject at hand, especially as it relates to how we listen.

When you and I are playing music on our stereo systems we’re constantly evaluating the work of producers and recording engineers. Up until recently, the only control we had over how their efforts sounded involved only the playback chain.

Once you’re immersed in both the playback and recording an entirely new vista of comprehension opens up. If I hear something not quite right in Music Room 2 I can go into the mixing room and change it: depth, width, tonal balance, room size, etc.

There is much to think about with this new found control—questions that we have been asking ourselves for decades. How do we voice our electronics for the greatest number of our HiFi Family members becomes how do we voice our recordings for the greatest number of HiFi Family members? What’s right and what’s wrong? How does it honor the music? The musicians?

Fortunately, there is a common thread that we’re confident in. If it sounds great on our reference system it will sound great on the vast majority of our HiFi Family’s systems. That’s a wonderfully comforting thought—one we have verified time and again over the years with efforts like our Mountaintop DAC upgrades and how our products sound and perform in the field.

But this is new. The level of control when one starts at the microphone and gets to optimize the entire chain right up to the ear is startling, to say the least. Much more will come of this. We are just beginning to scratch the surface.

I predict our future holds not only lots of great recordings but discoveries and revelations on the playback side too.

The closer one gets to the source, the easier it will be to uncover the truth.

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.

Time for a laugh?

Copper Magazine’s cover artist, Bob D’Amico sent me this list of tongue-in-cheek quips that made me laugh.

Yes, the pandemic is horrible but maybe we have a moment to poke a little fun at ourselves?

1. So let me get this straight, there’s no cure for a virus that can be killed by sanitizer and hand soap?
2. Is it too early to put up the Christmas tree yet? I have run out of things to do.
3. When this virus thing is over with, I still want some of you to stay away from me.
4. If these last months have taught us anything, it’s that stupidity travels faster than any virus on the planet, particularly among politicians and bureaucrats.
5. Just wait a second – so what you’re telling me is that my chance of surviving all this is directly linked to the common sense of others? You’re kidding, right?
6. Another Saturday night in the house and I just realized the trash goes out more than me.
7. Remember when you were little and all your underwear had the days of the week on them? Those would be helpful right now.
8. It may take a village to raise a child, but I swear it’s going to take a whole vineyard to home school one.
9. Did a big load of pajamas so I would have enough clean work clothes for this week.

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.

Joy

I was deeply saddened when the wife of a longtime reader let me know of her husband’s passing. With family by his side, his beloved high-end rig playing, he passed listening to Mozart.

She told me his stereo system was what kept him going when times were tough.

It brought him joy.

Sometimes it helps to take a step back and remember what it’s all about.

The joy of the journey.

Safe travels.