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 dab

In 2008, authors Karl Johan Åström and Richard M.Murray wrote about feedback: “Simple causal reasoning about a feedback system is difficult because the first system influences the second and second system influences the first, leading to a circular argument. This makes reasoning based upon cause and effect tricky, and it is necessary to analyze the system as a whole.”

Now, that’s about as nerdy as one can get but their point is well taken. One must look at the whole.

Feedback is taking the outcome of a past event and, in the future, comparing it to one’s original expectations.

We have many different forms of feedback: from customers, friends, family, our own internal loops.

In circuits there’s also a great variety: loop, local, forward, negative, positive.

In my experience, in the world of stereo, the best use of feedback is to have it do as little as possible. In other words, we shouldn’t rely upon feedback to set our course. Rather, feedback should be the finishing touch.

This applies equally to personal and company feedback as well as circuits. We know that if an audio amplifier’s open-loop performance (operation without feedback) is good, then the addition of feedback generally makes things sound better. We also recognize that the opposite is true. Rely upon feedback for an amplifier’s stable operation and the audible results are not worth your time.

Like all things in life, a little dab’ll do ya’.

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.

Card decks

When we enter this life we’re each dealt a hand of cards. Each hand has a different distribution of good ones and bad ones and it is up to us to make the most out of the hands we are dealt.

The same can be said for our HiFi systems and rooms. None are perfect. All are compromised.

How we handle our setups: emphasizing its strengths, shoring up its weaknesses, determines the outcome.

I have always been most impressed with the humblest of systems.

When those shine you know there’s a master card player behind them.

It is not a measure of how much great stereo stuff you have, it’s how effectively you have utilized what you do have.

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.

It’s called sell out and make a bunch of money. It’s to Paul’s credit that he didn’t take this route with PS Audio, as I’m sure there could have been suitors and a sale.

Big vs. small

I am struggling to think of a smaller company that’s gotten better after being acquired by a bigger one.

I cringe at the aftermath of Harmon’s purchase of Infinity, and JBL, and I wince at the results following Sound United’s big gulps of Denon, Polk, Marantz, B&W, Def Tech, Boston, and Classe. The list seems to be endless.

None of those brands retains any semblance of its former glory.

And it’s not just the audio industry. Shop in Whole Foods after Amazon’s purchase.

Surely there must be some advantages to being swallowed by a bigger company with heavy resources and financial freedom.

I just cannot think of any.

 

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.

Mastering

After more years than I can count I am still trying to figure out mastering.

This might seem kind of odd considering our own in-house mastering engineer, Gus Skinas, is one of the world’s most respected. Yet, still I struggle with defining exactly what they do.

I do know they volume adjust tracks on an album or disc. I also know they selectively EQ in order to average out the recordings. Sometimes too they add a touch of compression.

But beyond the obvious, there seems to be a bit of a mystery in the form of art. Like sorcerors holding tight the secrets of their craft.

In 2018 I interviewed the famous Bernie Grundman. If you’re interested in learning more about the art of mastering, this is a good one to listen to.

You can click here to hear the interview.

Whenever art is involved there’s inevitably going to be craft that cannot be put into specific instructions like do this when that happens.

Art is personal. At the end of the day, we’re listening to a person’s vision of how music should sound.

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.

The soft effect

A very kind HiFi Family member generously sent me a few Sheffield Labs Direct to Disc CD’s. These treasures are hard to find and I was extremely grateful to have received them.

Upon playing the Lincoln Mayorga and Friends disc I was reminded of just how direct and dynamic they were. There’s a clarity here that you just don’t find on even the best vinyl products.

That clarity comes not so much from the direct to disc mastering process but rather from the lack of the tape recording process.

Tape recorders have a softening effect and every generation of tape gets softer and softer. Cutting out the tape and going direct to disc, while a pain in the keester to make happen, really demonstrates just how soft tape can be.

We get that same softening when we run our audio through analog electronics. Each pass through the circuit rounds off ever so slightly the transient edges, blurring the lines just enough to hear it.

It turns out one of the main advantages of digital is the elimination of the softening effect. No matter how many copies or generations of digital we never lose any resolution.

Tape was an essential medium. Without it we’d never have gotten to where we are today. But I am reminded of how much I do not miss its softening effect.

I prefer the direct dynamics found in the music—regardless of how they got there.

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.

Attributions

Knowing what attributes are important and why can be valuable.

For example, if we understand that AC voltage regulation is beneficial to our stereos performance, it behooves us to know why. Otherwise, we might take that info at face value and implement the wrong system. Case in point, there was a period of time when a few companies built long term voltage regulators that were purported to help sound quality—motorized variacs or multi-tap step/up down transformers. While these indeed regulated the voltage they sounded worse than not having them in the system.

That’s the problem with a thin understanding.

What this ignores is the deeper understanding of voltage regulation. In order to improve performance it must be dynamic (instantaneous).  And here’s where things can get confusing. With few exceptions, it doesn’t much matter whether a piece of audio equipment is being fed 115 volts or 120 volts. What does matter—the underlying area of importance—is the source impedance. The lower the better.

Dynamic regulation lowers source impedance while slow AVR (automatic voltage regulation) increases source impedance.

Both regulate but one helps while the other hurts.

But this isn’t a rant about lower source impedance. It is about attributions. We attribute better sound to voltage regulation, not because the ultimate voltage level matters, but because a specific type of voltage regulation has the secondary benefit of lower source impedance and it is lower source impedance that matters.

We attribute better sound to voltage regulation but it behooves us to dig a little deeper into why.

Without a deeper understanding of what that ultimately means, we might easily be led astray.

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.

Fundamentals first

I am often asked to weigh in on upcoming decisions for stereo system upgrades: Bi-wire or bi-amp, what to do with the room, which amps, loudspeakers, power products?

Where to get the biggest bang for the buck.

My answers are always conditional. I ask first what it is the person’s hoping to achieve, secondly, what’s the state of affairs for the system as it currently stands, and last is budget.

The first part of the question is answered pretty much the same: Better soundstage, more accurate tonal balance, increased foot tapping.

The range of answers I get to the second part of my two-part question is always a delight for it is here where we get to the core of what needs to be addressed.

And often what needs to change is boring. Boring because more often than not we’ve not spent enough time nailing down fundamentals.

It’s certainly much easier to add a quick fix than it is to address the basics. But it’s the basics that determine the final outcome that tweaks and upgrades can only hope to enhance.

I nearly always recommend a hard look at first the loudspeakers, second the amplification chain, and last (but certainly not least) the AC power chain.

Then, if we’re open to some suggestions to shoring up our fundamentals, we can discuss budget. Maybe it’s worth investing everything into those dream speakers while tolerating a compromised amplification and power chain until finances recover. Or, perhaps we’re lucky enough to identify that one weak link in an otherwise robust chain.

Whatever the case it’s always helpful to step back and think of what we have as a system rather than a collection of bits and bobs.

Fundamentals first.

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.

Saturday morning

Depending on where you are in the world this post will arrive at your doorstep on Saturday morning.

What a fine day to finally get off the old duff and fix up the stereo system. Yeah, I know, it’s probably a better day to kick back and roll some tunes on that system, but having just spent the last few Saturdays revamping and refreshing the PS Audio reference music system in Music Room II, I can tell you it is worth the effort.

For a few years now I’ve listened past some obvious sonic problems in Music Room II. Problems like high distortion at 100Hz from the EMIM midranges, and the lack of kick in the drums as a result of trying to make the EMIMs do more than they were really capable of doing. In short, as good as the IRS V system is, it isn’t without its faults: faults I and others have turned a blind ear to because…well…we could and we were lazy.

Speaker designer Chris Brunhaver and I had a come to Jesus moment over that system. Chris did his best to be gentle in pointing out how in the 100Hz to 300Hz region those EMIM planar drivers just cannot (and never could) produce the dynamics in music—especially pop music. And, when they did what they could there was distortion—like on the order of 10%. This never much bothered Arnie nor me when we were listening to classical and orchestral music since in that area there isn’t typically a lot of energy. And when it came to pop or rock music, mentally I have for years compensated for that deficiency. But now with so many producers, musicians, and rock/pop people relying upon that system for the ultimate standard reference, it was time to change.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what we did and what happened as a result of it.

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.

Agree to disagree

When it comes to strongly held matters of opinion I believe it is sometimes best to agree to disagree.

This simple act often has the ability to relieve a bit of pressure from the argument. With lower pressure perhaps one day, a bit of middle ground might open up.

Case in point there’s been an ongoing battle in the comments section of our YouTube channel about higher sample rates than 44.1kHz. It is there that after many attempts to express an opinion based on years of experience I must resort to asking if we might just settle the matter by agreeing to disagree.

When I write that there is a major sonic difference between making a recording at 44.1kHz vs. 176kHz some will automatically jump to the conclusion we’re speaking about upsampling vs. original recordings. Indeed, upsampling may benefit sound quality because the DAC uses a different filter algorithm but not because there’s more information. There is not.

What’s missing is pretty important. It cannot be effectively argued that an A/D converter running at 4X sample rate sounds identical to one running at standard CD quality speeds. If that’s where the argument is going it suggests to me either the person has never actually made the experiment or, if they did, they were not evaluating the results on a system with enough resolving power to hear the differences.

Whatever the case, the discussion turns heated because the conclusions don’t match each other’s worldview. I get that.

Time to agree to disagree.

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.

MVP

When sports-minded people see the TLA MVP they naturally gravitate towards the acronym meaning Most Valuable Player. In our case, we’re going to refer to another definition, one used in product design, Minimum Viable Product.

Most stereo product designs start out with a MVP specification defining the least it must do. Designs are then generated to meet the MVP spec and then forwarded to the marketing department to see if anything more is needed to make it salable.

That’s certainly one way of designing products and, sadly, the most popular way.

Designers who are emotionally attached to their creations often assume a very different set of guidelines from which they design.

In this model, they dream big then titrate their grandiose dreams to something that fits into practical realities.

Two very different approaches.

The products resulting from these two design philosophies will likely perform differently as well.

Which would you choose?