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.

Guide books

In all my years of designing, building, and playing around with stereo systems, when it comes to performance the two constants have always been audio equipment choices and setup.

And setup trumps equipment choices. The best equipment poorly setup sounds worse than the best setup of poor equipment.

We have reviews and in-home trials to help us find the best equipment, yet the art of setup requires hands-on experience, knowledge, and skill—a problem in our age of virtual connectivity and pandemic lock-downs.

My modus operandi has always been that of a fixit person. See a problem, find a fix. The first CD players sounded dreadful. We figured out the culprit was its internal D to A converter. We invented a better version and launched the world’s first consumer audio digital to analog converter.

Where once an abundance of experienced setup experts eager to apply their skills and knowledge in customer’s homes haunted local stereo dealers, today we live in very different times.

Which is why I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide and spearheaded the creation of its companion music resource, The Audiophile Reference Music Tracks.

The idea of designing a setup system based on a written guide and a recorded reference disc has long been in my toolbox. It’s taken me 45 years to launch it.

Setting up a stereo system takes skill.

Skill can be learned.

Grab a copy of both The Audiophile’s Guide and its companion Reference Music Tracks today.

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.

Hard to imagine

When Stereophile reviewer Michael Fremer writes “on electric bass… the M1200 is a monster”, he’s not alone. More and more emails daily come across my screen extolling the virtues of the M1200’s bass.

How can it be that one flat measuring power amplifier can sound remarkably more powerful in one area than another?

Flat is flat, right?

Not so fast. Let’s have a closer look at the M1200’s measurements. 10Hz – 20KHz +/- 0.5dB

A measurement of 10Hz – 20KHz +/- 0.5dB says a lot if you look closely (and know what you’re looking for). What’s first apparent is its ruler flat performance within the range of human hearing.

But a deeper look shows something else: the amp is down at 10Hz by only 1/2dB. This is important because it means that an octave higher the amp is perfectly flat. Ruler flat response within the audible band is critical for removing phase shift. Turns out the ear is very sensitive to phase shift and the way to keep the phase from shifting is to start any measurable roll off well below the limits of human hearing.

You see, most power amplifiers will have specs that are more like -3dB at 10Hz (-3dB is important because it’s believed that’s where the ear perceives a level change). Fine that the point we first perceive a level change is below the ear’s frequency limits but what’s not mentioned is the phase shift. To be -3dB at 10Hz means you’re 1/2dB down point is well up into the audible range of bass—and we get phase shift.

When phase shift happens in the audible frequency range it will convince the ear the bass sounds wimpy.

And one more point.

A monster amp like the M1200 not only has no phase shift in the audible bass regions, it also has the power and reserves to effortlessly deliver that phase free note without any change in character.

Measurements aren’t always clear and simple.

The story behind the measurements matter.

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.

Story time

We catalog and explain concepts like careers, hobbies, science, heritage, family, and even our stereo systems as stories.

Stories help us wrap our heads around that which is unknown, complex, or only partially understood.

In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago we believed the Earth was the center of the universe: the blackness of the night sky composed of a solid material called the Firmament, the shining stars as holes in that firmament, their light emanating from a bright physical place atop the firmament. Heaven.

It’s a lovely story and for hundreds of years considered fact.

We get new information and then the story changes.

The height of high fidelity was based around a single loudspeaker setup. Monophonic sound. We told ourselves it sounded like the musicians were in the room.

Then stereo came around and the story changed yet again.

We explain ourselves and the world around us in the form of a story.

We just need to make sure it’s a good 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.

In a world and in a country that is often times refusing to understand what others think, this is an appropriate post. Good one, Paul!!

It’s not meant for you

Not everything is going to fit you and your particular needs. Yet sometimes we get the wrong cues about the intended audience for a product or service. When that happens, we often blame the product rather than the message.

Here’s a silly example. As a vegetarian, I might get excited that a fast food chain is now serving meatless burgers—excited enough to try one yet be ultimately disappointed because, well, I don’t eat that kind of food.

It wasn’t meant for me.

It’s fun to get new things but incumbent upon each of us to make sure they are intended for us. A new MP3 player might be exciting to some, but not me.

What’s perhaps instructive about this observation might be that we don’t want to pass judgment on a product just because it doesn’t fit our profile. I’d be doing a disservice to potential MP3 buyers by dismissing the latest innovation in a field that does not interest me.

It’s often not the product that’s to blame, only its intended recipient.

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.

PS Audio has a new CD/SACD transport.

SACD Transport

The Super Audio Compact Disc was Sony and Philip’s follow-up format to the original Compact Disc—itself an innovation that fundamentally changed the world forever.

It’s hard to get lightning to strike twice, which is why it should have been no surprise at the SACD’s tepid success.

The problem for Sony and Philips getting their new super format to replace the many millions of CDs already in play turned out to be of their own making. Few but audiophiles cared about getting sound better than the CD. After all, the CD was pitched as perfect sound forever.

Now, nearly 40 years after the introduction of the Compact Disc, we chuckle at the absurdity of their marketing claim.

Chuckles aside, I think it’s helpful to recognize just how big a step better than CDs SACD’s can be. A CD is limited to just under a megabyte of data, while a dual-layer SACD can store 8,500 times more data. Put another way, one could conceivably archive 8,500 CDs on a single dual-layer SACD.

But we don’t use SACDs for storing our CDs. Instead, their greater storage capacity allows a new and better sounding format to capture our music—DSD. And on top of DSD we can have multiple channels as well as a complimentary CD layer ensuring older CD-only players aren’t incompatible.

PS Audio’s latest transport, the PerfectWave SACD Transport, or PST for short, is more than just a better transport capable of playing SACD. The PST ushers in an entirely new way of delivering digital audio data—whether from a CD or SACD—to your DAC.

Galvanically isolated audio data—pure and noise-free digital audio data without any physical or electrical connection to the transport’s inner workings.

Galvanic isolation happens through our AirGap interface isolating the unit’s internal power supplies and transport mechanism from your connected DAC. PST owners get the isolated benefits regardless of how they connect its output to their DAC: I2S, Coax, AES/EBU.

What’s wonderful about this innovation is we don’t need SACDs to take advantage of it. Good old “perfect sound forever” CDs sound unlike anything you have ever imagined possible.

Yup, just good old CDs shine as never before.

If you want to learn more or experience for yourself the benefits of total isolation for CDs or SACDs, head here.

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.

Closest to accurate

Despite the fact we use some of the most expensive in the world, a microphone’s output isn’t even close to what I hear in person.

And this charade of realism carries forward through our loudspeakers. Different speakers make the microphone’s feed sound different again.

It’s an endless loop.

When I declare a microphone sounding one way what I am really saying is how the combination of microphone, audio amplifier, and speaker sound.

Changing any one element in the chain changes the sound of all three.

Thus, if we are to speak in absolutes the closest to accurate is but a myth.

We could more correctly suggest one chain of equipment or another is closest to accurate—just not a single link within that chain.

Few things stand solidly on their own.

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.

Abstinence

“Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.”

Ahh, yes, another wonderful Mark Twain quote.

Some audiophiles are such purists they allow no consort with what they disagree with. Digital shall not touch my analog stereo system! might serve as example.

Yet abstinence is the cousin of extremism.

In stereo systems and in life, extremism pushes so hard in one direction we miss out on everything left out. Imagine, for example, being so obsessed with high-frequency purity that we ignore the bass.

As Mark Twain observed, when it comes to abstaining, it’s often best to abstain from abstaining.

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.

Stay tuned

In 1967, LSD and counter-culture advocate Timothy Leary produced an album mirroring his famous call to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Though it’s unlikely to have made Billboard’s top 100 list, his ideas of tuning in and dropping out sparked a worldwide movement that forever changed the culture. (The album’s available on Spotify if you’re curious)

Though the days of “tuning in” to radio signals through the use of a tuning coil are long gone, the phrase remains a part of our collective lexicon.

We “tune” our systems, “tune out” that which we don’t want to hear, and “stay tuned” to what interests us.

In fact, we have been tuning for millennia though that isn’t what we always called it.

Tune is a variant of the word tone.

We tune a string to arrive at the desired frequency.

We tune our system for the best tonal balance.

Once adjusted we’re tuned 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.

Side by side

I think most of us are comfortable with side-by-side comparisons. Take two stereo amplifiers and within the space of a few minutes decide which sounds more musical.

Easy peezy.

It gets exponentially more difficult when we make comparisons from memory because we each remember differently. For example, my memories of emotional responses are strong while those of specifics weak.

I easily remember how an amplifier made me feel or how engaged with the music I was. I can’t specifically name the details of what prompted those emotions.

This becomes particularly more difficult as it concerns loudspeakers. There’s no easy way to side-by-side compare loudspeakers. Even ignoring the obvious difficulties of moving in and out large heavy pairs of boxes let us not forget that where in the room one set of speakers shine another might fail.

Speaker setup is so particular to the room that it’s nigh impossible to do side-by-side comparisons of speakers.

Yet there are no more important pieces within our systems than loudspeakers.

And so we must rely upon our memories when it comes time to decide what speakers are best.

I hope yours is better than mine.

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.

Walls vs. ceilings

The four walls of our rooms are both friend and enemy. They contain and support the generated sound field while at the same time distorting music’s reproduction.

We cannot live without our walls yet it’s a struggle to listen within them.

To my room’s walls, I can mitigate problems through acoustic treatments such as bookshelves and furniture as well as pictures and diffusers.

And then there are the other two often ignored walls: floor and ceiling.

Floors covered in carpet are partially better but only for higher frequencies.

Ceilings are even more of a problem: hard to reach; carpet looks goofy; extremists can add diffusers and absorbers.

It’s relatively easy to partially address the room’s problems through wall treatment, but incredibly difficult to apply the same to our fifth and sixth walls—floor and ceiling.

I don’t have a magic cure, though the best course of action involves seating position setup—something covered in the Audiophile’s Guide.

The book itself is currently available on both Kindle and paperback on Amazon (where it is a national bestseller), and later this month, the entire package of the book and its companion Reference Music will be available on PS Audio’s website.

My son Scott will reach out to you with full details when the reference SACD and complete package are available on our website. Stay tuned for details.