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.

My T+A PA3100HV has a lighted panel, including meters,  and while I usually don’t like lights on in my dedicated music room when I’m listening, I like this one, so on it stays, albeit at a reduced illumination setting.

Tingle meter

I am convinced that the majority of McIntosh owners were attracted more to the big and cool front panel metering systems than they were sound quality.

And I get it. They are wicked cool. The techno-junkie part of me also lusts after eye candy.

But my best metering system is when the hairs on my arm rise up. That tingling sensation when everything’s just right.

Meters are cool, but when my tingle meter pegs, that’s when the fun begins.

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 totally agree with this!!

Truth or preference?

In our search for sonic truth, there comes a point where the stereo systems get so good their “truth” is more about our personal preference.

In fact, personal preferences often trump truth. We know we’ve gotten closer to the truth when it matches what we believe to be the musical truth.

Of course, no one knows what musical truth is. Even if you were present when a recording was made, all you can really know is whether or not you got close to the studio’s monitoring system.

That’s not truth unless you’ve managed to copy everything in the recording chain down to the room itself.

Maybe it makes more sense to suggest that what we’re really after is getting as close as possible to what our personal preferences are.

When my system puts a smile on my face I figure I am closest to achieving sonic truth.

That’s certainly my preference.

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.

More than what’s obvious

In yesterday’s post, I made the point that regardless of the delivery method—transport or streaming—identical digital audio bits received at the DAC should sound the same.

They do not.

Why?

Let me first start with a little story. When we had the opportunity to listen to the PerfectWave SACD Transport (PST) for the first time, we had high expectations. Inside was a new way to handle bits: an extension of the work we had been pursuing for years, the Digital Lens.

A DL is a big buffer with a low jitter fixed output clock. Bits go in one end of the DL, gather together in a holding pen, and then when the jitter-free output clock has the “time” (pun intended), it pulls from the holding pen the next set of digital audio bits to send to the DAC.

The lowered jitter produced by the Digital Lens provided a revolution in sound quality.

What was different inside the PST—the new innovation we had been sitting on pins and needles to hear—was more than just a DL (we already knew what that sounded like). The PST’s internal DL had been galvanically isolated as if it were an entirely separate entity from the PST. We had built this new structure in the hopes of removing the last vestiges of sonic degradation: noise and jitter introduced by the power supplies and shared grounds inside the transport.

It worked. The sonic differences between the new PST and the older DMP it replaced were more than just better. They were extraordinarily better—a first-note-obvious better.

And therein lies what I believe to be the answer to yesterday’s question. Identical bits cannot sound different unless something else has changed. That something else is noise and induced jitter on shared grounds.

Which is why, in large measure, digital audio received from a computer via USB sounds remarkably different than the exact same bits as received from a transport.

It is not the veracity of the bits but all the baggage associated with the gathering and delivery of those bits.

As is almost always the case, it’s more than what’s obvious.

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.

Keeping score

Most businesses are profit-centric. Their decision-making process is based on how to best maximize profits.

That does not describe PS Audio.

PS Audio has always been more about affording all the engineering and production resources necessary to build state-of-the-art products that have enough profit in them to sustain and grow the organization so we can do it again.

This is a rather different business model than most.

Proft-focused companies make decisions based solely on how it will impact their bottom line. They succeed when the profit scorecard gets higher.

We, on the other hand, make decisions based on our primary goal, building great products and community so we can grow and do more of it.

We’d never make it on Wall Street.

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.

Streaming vs. discs

The controversy over music streaming vs. physical disc seems endless.

On the one hand, we know that all things being equal, there’s no difference to the DAC how it gets its digital audio data. It can come from as close as three feet away via cable or can stream from thousands of miles away via the internet. As long as the bits received are identical it won’t matter.

Yet that seems not to be the case.

Discs currently outperform streaming on any platform I’ve experimented with by a lot. I believe that has nothing to do with the bits and everything to do with how they are received and processed (though this does not explain in any way why Tidal and Qobuz sound vastly different with Qobuz the clear winner—a subject for another day)

Let me share a bit of my thinking. If I upload to Dropbox an Octave master DSD file, then download it and capture it to a USB memory stick, and play that stick in our PerfectWave SACD transport, it sounds absolutely identical to the same file as played on a DVD data disc. Thus, the round trip travel to the Cloud and back again have zero impact on the data. Transferring that same data from a hard drive on a Qobuz or Tidal server should then be identical to that of a Dropbox server. In fact, several of these choices employ the same Amazon Web Services for their server. For all we know, the two could be housed in the same building.

Yet, they sound remarkably different.

Tomorrow I will discuss why I believe that to be true.

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.

Headphones vs. speakers

I’ve never understood the rift between headphone and loudspeaker advocates.

Chat rooms, forums, and blog posts by the hundreds are rife with strong opinions why one’s superior to the other. It is constantly pointed out that headphones are more full range, lower distortion, generally have only one driver, are easy to drive, and so on. Defenders and provocateurs of loudspeakers point out that headphones miss out on any visceral feel, they cannot recreate a true sense of room, and they do not encourage sharing.

The arguments and battles seem rather endless.

I take a different, more moderate view. I like both.

Instead of pointing out the flaws inherent in each, I prefer to instead focus on the positives afforded by these very different methods of playing music.

Each is high-end and each provides an entirely different and unique listening experience.

It’s not that one’s better than the other.

We could safely suggest that both bring us closer to the music in ways the other misses.

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.

Who’s on first?

Making a decision as to which model of loudspeaker, amplifier, phono stage, or preamplifier can be daunting. There are more brands than one can count and, within those brands, many models.

In the days of dealers, we relied upon their curation skills to narrow the field. The only problem with that model is that most times big dealers carried not what they believed you needed most (after all, how could they?) but what worked best for them.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the norm in our small high-end industry. The dealers we loved and honored were those that stocked what they loved and eschewed brands and products that didn’t meet their standards. Those were the good guys in our industry. Personal pride and a love of audio drove their interests and formed their opinions.

Sadly, many of those heroes are gone. (Lyric HiFi recently announced the closing of its New York City store)

Despite the shrinking number of honest and heartfelt curators, it is still possible to cut through the cruft to narrow down the field to a few choices.

That happens through trust. Trust built through a magazine, an advisor, a reviewer, a manufacturer, or a friend.

Who’s-on-first gets less confusing when we’re working with people we trust.

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 use a bit of an unorthodox approach to loudspeaker placement here for my Daedalus Ulysses and it works wonderfully. I think it probably looks different to many audiophiles, however there are good reasons for how they are placed and it sure does work.

However, this does not mean this positioning will work for all loudspeakers in this room, as my GPA Altec 604E based speakers do not sound best set up the same way as the Daedalus speakers.

Auditioning speakers

If you go to a big box store, or even a medium-sized store, you’re likely to encounter a switch box approach to speaker selling. Multiple pairs of speakers are lined up as if in a forest and the salesperson can play any of the many speaker models at the push of a button.

This same switch box method is also used in the smallest of shops where there’s not enough space for a proper listening room.

The advantage of a switch box audition is its rapidity. While playing the same track of music, one can toggle through speaker models quickly.

The downside, of course, is that none of the speakers are properly set up to maximize their potential. In fact, none are set up at all. Plunked down upon a shelf, typically standing side-by-side like soldiers at attention, one can make accurate gross judgments about tonal balance preferences but not much else.

Contrast that demonstration mode with what used to be called the single speaker audition favored by some high-end audio shops. In this demonstration model (pioneered by UK brand Linn) only one pair of speakers were allowed in the room at a time.

The advantage of this approach is the potential for proper setup without any distractions. The downside is comparisons are more difficult for the inexperienced listener. Those not spending a lot of time auditioning and comparing audio products haven’t yet built the skills necessary to hold in one’s memory what one system sounds like when comparing to another.

Auditioning any products is a challenge.

Speakers are the greatest of them all.

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 is interesting in that they are making the music studio rooms for recording, performing, etc.,  look much like a  concert hall and that makes total sense as I did much the same thing here in  the Cane Creek Audio stereo room.

Live end dead end

As we move forward building the new Octave Recording studio we’re learning a great deal from both Gus Skinas and J.I. Agnew.

Most of you know Gus, the mastering engineer of some note (you name the artist and it’s likely Gus has mastered something of theirs), and Copper Magazine readers know of J.I. from his articles on the big move and tape machines.

In terms of isolation and sound quality, J.I. is the principal architect behind the design of the studio.

And, it’s a big challenge.

Have a look at the sketch of what’s being proposed.

For those of you not familiar with the in-crowd terminology of recording studios, a tracking room is the studio where the musicians play and the control room is where the engineers and equipment sit. The middle control room is a pure mixing room where the tracks laid down in the studios can later be mixed and mastered.

You can see the problem in terms of isolation. Imagine having simultaneous work going on: a rock band playing in Tracking Room One at the same time as a delicate piano piece is being recorded in Tracking Room Two and in the middle, we’re mixing something loud. Each room has to be completely isolated from the others. A tall challenge, indeed.

What’s interesting to me is how J.I. is making the wider part of the control live, while the narrow parallel wall behind where the engineer sits is as dead as night. There, more than three feet thick absorbers are built into the space in an effort to keep the front wall live and the back wall dead. And, all the while, no bleed.

I’ll keep you up to date as to our progress.

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 place of honor

If you’re an important person invited to dinner, tradition suggests you be given the place of honor, perhaps the seat next to the host.

But places of honor aren’t reserved for just the dinner table.

In our home, the first thing you notice upon entering the living room is our beloved HiFi system.

You notice it because it occupies a place of honor, there for all to see, hear, and enjoy.

More than invited guests, our stereo HiFi systems are valued family members that contribute greatly to our well being.

They deserve a place of honor.