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 owned just about them all, including horn loudspeakers, Quad 57 electrostat’s, Eminent Technologies planar magnetic hybrids and dynamic speakers,. At the present time, I use a pair of Daedalus Ulysses speakers in my all music system and a pair of custom Horn speakers for my Home Theater system, which I designed the cabinet for and had built locally. They are excellent and feature a Great Plains Audio Altec 604e driver and their crossover, which has upgraded parts. Both systems have two subwoofers and are incredible sounding and that’s not just my opinion.

I’ve also tried all sorts of different tube and solid state amps, both separates and integrated amps. However, I haven’t yet tried omni directional loudspeakers, so  maybe changes aren’t over yet.

Pigeonholed

One of my readers reminded me that I don’t like either electrostat’s or vacuum tube output stages.

Funny thing is, it isn’t true.

There was a period in my life where all I listened to was through electrostatic loudspeaker powered by vacuum tubes.

I moved away from electrostat’s because I missed dynamics.

I moved away from vacuum tube output stages because I missed the control afforded by high damping factor amps.

But just because I moved on doesn’t mean that at the time I wasn’t in love with what I had.

In each phase of our development, we define ourselves by where we are in time.

And then that changes.

It’s the tradeoffs in life that define where we are at the moment.

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.

Poke the box

My friend, Seth, wrote a book called Poke the Box. It’s well worth the short read.

In it, he argues that progress, real progress, happens when we move outside our comfort zone. When we take a leap without knowing if there will be a safe landing.

It’s so easy and comforting to stay within the bounds of what we know works. We put up a comfort fence and rarely go outside its perimeter.

That new audio streaming service.

The idea of regenerating power for your system.

An audio cable that defies logic.

Rethinking your stereo setup.

It can be a bit unnerving to wander outside those safe gates but often that’s where the gems lie.

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.

Opening up

If we’re lucky, we learn something every day.

While auditioning with the artist a new set of Octave record mixes we asked them to tell us which of the two they preferred. On the first go-round, the two musicians shrugged and said they didn’t hear much in the way of differences.

Knowing they were not used to listening to a reference system like that in Music Room Two I let them settle in and relax. Before long, they were hearing all sorts of differences. And accurately identifying exactly what we had been working on.

What was interesting to me was to watch the time it took for them to relax enough in the new environment to be open to hearing differences.

Their ears and hearing were always the same, yet relaxed vs. uptight made all the difference in the world.

We are not machines.

Listening—really listening—is an emotional event.

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.

truisms

It’s often tempting to believe that if one thing is true then ergo, something else must also be true.

Take for example a system that excels at reproducing the sound of an orchestra. Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, and Copeland are perfect.

Does that mean Coltrane, Morrison, Hendrix, and Enya are equally represented?

Are glorious highs and mids always accompanied by realistic bass?

When it comes to sweeping generalities and expectations it’s rare one truism follows another.

Too often I have made the mistake of believing that if this is one way then surely what follows is predetermined.

Truth is, life and stereo systems are full of surprises.

It’s one of the reasons I truly love what we do.

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 it good enough?

I am often asked if a particular piece of stereo equipment is “good enough”. Though this is a great question it’s often hard to answer.

The problem is defining the boundaries.

Good enough to work? Absolutely.

Good enough to get your foot tapping? Probably.

Good enough to suspend disbelief? Rarely.

The age-old question of when something’s good enough starts out easy but soon spirals out of bounds.

Good to first know what you’re hoping to achieve.

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.

While power conditioners/re-generators can be important in a stereo system, the system has to be good and the power lousy to hear a big difference.  However, protecting audio and video equipment from surges is a different story and most good ones do this. I use a Furman isolation transformer that has filtering and balanced power for the lower voltage outlets and power factor corrected high current outlets, for amplifiers. I plug my integrated amps into the high current outlets. The Furman, by its nature as an isolation transformer, is about as good at protecting from surges as anything. It can also output over 80 amps, so it has what Paul is referring to in this article.

Peak demand

In yesterday’s post, I said that today we’d discuss how to increase the size of the power supply capacitors inside connected equipment. A tall order, indeed, but I got sidetracked.

So many of you have written me asking about a certain statement made by my friend, Garth Powell at Audioquest. When asked about regeneration, Garth had correctly said that it’s great for some things but if not properly implemented, not for others.

The only mistake Garth made was including Power Plants in his list of regenerators.

The issue has to do with peak current. To lower impedance and produce regulated, perfect sine waves into a hungry power amplifier you need energy. A LOT of energy in the form of peak current. If we remember, sine waves are formed by voltage and supported by current. And it is the combination of voltage and current that makes all this work.

I like to use an automotive analogy to help explain voltage and current. Think of voltage as the spinning motor and current as the horsepower need to keep it spinning under load. As you’re driving along a flat highway at 60 mph your foot is steady on the gas. As you climb a hill the engine’s RPMs begin to fall and you slow down. You need to step harder on the gas pedal to raise back up those RPMs. You are adding energy. The combination of the spinning motor and the energy available to keep it spinning are expressed in terms of horsepower. In an amplifier, the voltage is the spinning and the current is the motive force. We express this in terms of wattage.

In a regenerator the output AC sinewave feeding your equipment is perfect. As it rises in voltage (faster spinning in our auto analogy) we need more current to keep it going. But what happens when the equipment we are attempting to power’s capacitors are empty and need refilling? (it’s as if suddenly there was a massive hill to climb). We need gobs more energy (current) applied and quickly!

This is called peak demand because it happens at the peak (or the tip) of the AC regenerator’s sinewave. And here is where Garth is correct. With few exceptions, AC regenerators fall short of having enough peak current available. When this happens we get increased distortion as the sinewave collapses.

For most regenerators, we’d be better off going straight into the wall socket.

But, not a Power Plant. Power Plants deliver significantly more peak current than what is available from the wall. We routinely deliver peaks of 70, 80, even 90 amps to the load. The wall socket’s lucky to deliver 15 to 20 (on a good day).

Where does all this extra current come from? It is stored in the many capacitors inside a Power Plant.

Lastly, this might also answer why manufacturers don’t typically build proper regeneration into their products. The number of caps, transistors and pounds of copper and iron necessary are not for the faint of heart.

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 home stretch

In yesterday’s post, we learned that our homes present an impedance of about 1Ω to our stereo equipment. This matters, as you can imagine, because when we try and drive a 4Ω speaker with a power source with that high of an impedance we get power line modulation.

Put another way, we make things worse for any audio equipment plugged into our power lines.

Adding an active power amplifier like that found in a Power Plant will improve that situation by an easy factor of 100. And, 100 times better performance is a welcome thing to most of us.

But now we have an opportunity to make things even better.

If we only use the impedance lowering amplifier for that single purpose we lose the opportunity for a couple of major improvements: voltage regulation and waveform correction.

Our incoming powerlines suffer from all sorts of maladies including fluctuating voltage, waveform distortion (called flat topping), and powerline modulation from equipment in our own home.

Simply lowering the impedance in the line doesn’t solve any of these problems.

That’s where we take the next step in the magic of a Power Plant, we feed the input of our impedance lowering amplifier with a perfect sine wave (instead of the raw incoming power).

Now, we have lowered impedance by a factor of 100 and fixed the waveform and restored the missing energy from a flat-topped sine wave.

Life is good, but we still haven’t tackled the last wish on our list, increasing the size of the power supply capacitors inside our equipment.

How to make the caps in your equipment’s power supply bigger is 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.

The free lunch counter

In yesterday’s post, we learned that to effectively lower impedance we need to add energy.

That’s what a power amplifier does and what a passive power conditioner cannot do.

In fact, a passive power conditioner (one without an active power amplifier inside) makes things worse. It raises impedance.

Wrong direction.

To get the most out of our stereo systems we need to figure out a way to stop restricting the power they need by actively lowering impedance.

Good things come at a price.

If we want to lower impedance we either move our home next to the power generating facility or add an amplifier to actively lower impedance.

Here’s why.

The average home wiring chain presents an impedance of between 1Ω and 0.5Ω depending on the wire gauge within the home and the distance from the utility pole.

14 gauge wire, which is the standard our homes are wired with, has a resistance of about 2.5Ω per 1,000 feet. The thicker wire feeding our homes has about 10X less resistance. So, we’re going to assume a combination that gets us to an average of about 1Ω.

1Ω is a lot of resistance for our power to have to struggle its way through. As our main power amplifier tries to drive those 4Ω (or lower) speakers, it’s struggling to suck needed power through a restrictive 1Ω pipe.

What happens if we add an impedance lowering amplifier between the high impedance power line and our musical power amp?

Voila! Now, instead of 1Ω of restricted access to power, our musical amp can enjoy 100, or even 1,000 times lower impedance feeding it.

Our story continues 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.

Shortening wire length

In yesterday’s post, we posed the question of what might happen if we were to lower or even eliminate the impedance inherent in the AC power wires feeding our home.

The answer is simple. Dramatically better sound.

Something we all want!

But, how best to eliminate or significantly lower the impedance of hundreds (often thousands) of feet of connecting power cables shared by our neighbors?

Traditionally, lowering impedance inherent in wire can be handled in two ways: shortening its length and/or increasing its thickness.

Increasing wire thickness from the standard of 14 gauge copper, which is about 0.06″ thick, to something ridiculously heavier like 0 gauge wire, which is nearly ten times the thickness (times 3 conductors), would help but wouldn’t solve it. Only thickening and shortening the wire to mere feet would get the total impedance where we would want it, to perhaps 0.01Ω or lower.

The problems with taking these steps would be one of practicality (or the lack thereof). Let’s start with thickening the wire. 3-conductor 0 gauge wire is about 1.5″ thick and weighs in at about 1.5 lbs per foot. That’s going to be a bear to install in the walls (never mind the impracticality of typing that wire into an AC receptacle). But, let’s say we managed all that copper. We still need to shorten it to mere feet. To do that we’d have to move our home next to a noisy, stinky, coal-fired power generating station.

We might get some spousal pushback.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. A power amplifier.

Let’s back up a moment.

If you want to power a pair of loudspeakers you won’t get very far connecting the output of your preamplifier to them. Preamps can’t drive speakers because their output impedance is too high.

To lower a preamplifiers output impedance you need to add energy, something a power amplifier is very good at.

Power amplifiers have high input impedance and low output impedance.

Does this sound like something that might interest us in our quest to reduce the impedance of the power line from high to low?

Methinks, maybe.

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.

For phono stages and preamps, external power supplies are almost always best. I recently replaced a high quality wall wart power supply for my Dynavector P75 Mk4 phono stage, with a large, well regulated external supply, which sends DC to the phono stage electronics themselves and was able to squeeze even a little more quietness from my Well Tempered Labs turntable rig.

External cures

From as early as 1980 it had been clear to us that the bigger the power transformer the better the sound—a fact that at first didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Why would a preamplifier that consumed no more than a few watts benefit from a power transformer capable of 100 times that?

Impedance.

Turns out that because bigger power transformers have thicker wire they have lower impedance, thus less modulation.

An easy way of visualizing the difference between high and low impedance transformers would be something akin to spongy vs. brick wall. A spongy power transformer is malleable by the load—or in our case, modulated by the music. A bigger transformer is less affected and thus is impervious to being pushed around by the amplifier’s circuit.

Once we recognized the importance of the power transformer we began implementing bigger and bigger ones until they no longer fit into the chassis, prompting us to begin offering external add-on transformers. Here’s one of the first we ever produced:

While we as the designers and manufacturers of our products could choose any size transformer we wished, that certainly wasn’t the case for others who had already made their choices and now their products were out in the marketplace.

This brings us back to the problem I was facing in the late 1990s when I hoped to come up with a way of improving power supply performance of products not our own.

Would it be possible to externally increase the size of an internal power transformer? And if we could, how about those power supply capacitors inside? Any chance of adding more capacitors without opening the case?

Seemed at the time like more of a fairy tale than possible, but…