Yesterday’s post was about chills and that got me thinking this morning about bliss.
Bliss describes a state of perfect happiness. It’s a moment where one is oblivious of everything else.
I can count on one hand the consistent events that bring to me a state of bliss.
The unconditional laughter of children, a knowing smile from someone I love, a warm breeze on a summer’s night, music. Great music, rendered live or on the perfect HiFi system.
What brings you bliss?
Just walked out of the listening room after having auditioned two mix versions of a new song for Octave Records.
Wow. Chills up my spine.
I wonder what it is that connects us to music and story in such a visceral way.
When it occurs I cannot control it. And in its absence, I cannot create it.
There’s something magical about the connections music affords us. It makes me want to grab someone and sit them down in the listening seat and with them share that experience.
That joy. That magic.
Chills up my spine. (the track, if you’re interested, is called “Things worth remembering”
McCartney and Rubin
My son, Scott is a fan of Hulu television. I haven’t spent much time exploring it because I don’t watch much television.
Sometimes though, a show or two is good enough to really grab my attention. Like Apple TV’s light-hearted comedy, Ted Lasso.
But then, sometimes, a show comes along that’s not just good for a laugh or break from work, but something truly extraordinary.
Such is the show McCartney 3,2,1.
Producer Rick Rubin sits down with The Beatles co-founder, Paul McCartney, in an extraordinary 6-episode series of one-on-one.
What’s fascinating is their viewpoint. The show is filmed around an old analog mixing board and playing is the original multi-track masters of the Beatles and their music (as well as McCartney’s). If you’ve ever wondered how important the mixing artist is, have a watch as they turn up and down the individual tracks and talk about the performances and how it all fits together.
Rubin is amazing. You can go here to watch, though it is a paid service.
PS Audio is a real company, wile many high end audio companies are not, so PS Audio uses a pretty standard pricing model, while others, get what they can and often times a lot better margins on what they sell, if they can make a market for their stereo products.
As of late, there’s been some discussion on the forums about the model we use for product pricing.
From what I can ascertain, the general view seems to be companies have a complex pricing model based on a combination of what they believe the market will bear and what it takes to cover all their R and D and tooling costs. At some level, this pricing model surely exists, else how do we wind up with half-million-dollar loudspeakers or $50K audio cables?
When it comes to the mainstream companies I think the truth is somewhat simpler.
My guess is we’re all pretty much the same: a simple multiple of what each product costs to manufacture. The multiples vary depending on the expected number of units to be sold and what the sales volume of the company is.
At the end of the proverbial day, companies have to charge enough to cover expenses.
For most companies like PS Audio, pricing is based entirely on what it costs us to build your products.
Simple works best.
Does gold matter?
Most high-end audio equipment uses a microscopically thin layer of gold plating on their connectors. We certainly do. It’s what’s expected.
And the general consensus in the audiophile community is that this layer of precious metal makes a sonic difference. I know from personal experience that the choice of precious metals like rhodium, palladium, silver, or gold, has a sonic impact on a quality constructed connector.
How much does the obvious beauty of the outer finish contribute to sound quality vs. the actual construction of the connector?
Here’s my take on it. Gold plating, in and of itself and without benefit of proper cable and connector construction, does not necessarily sound better. We can purchase gold-plated RCA cables from Amazon Basics for $6 that sound like dog-do compared to a well designed nickel plated higher end cable of proper design.
How about if we turn an old saying on its head? All that glitters is not gold might in this context make more sense if it read: All that is gold does not mean it sounds good. (ok, I am not a good adage writer :))
Perhaps the best adage of all would be Beauty is only skin deep.
It’s what’s inside that matters.
It’s the setting that matters
If I am critically listening to a stereo system, it’s important that the setting be right and that I am comfortable with my surroundings.
That comfort level matters for me because in order to easily hear sonic differences I have to be relaxed and not on guard or self-conscious about being judged.
It is part of my nature to freeze up if it feels like I am on trial—never a good thing in school when tests were what determined your place in the educational rankings.
Your mileage may vary.
I think it’s valuable for each of us to self-examine our strengths and weakness as listeners and evaluators.
I, for example, am far more accurate when I don’t know what’s on offer. If a listening session starts out with prejudice it takes time and effort to wash away those preconceptions. Much easier if it’s merely A and B from which to decide.
As in most things in life, we do our best work when our comfort level is highest.
Labels are necessary for communication yet offered without thought of consequences they can be destructive.
There’s no harm in labeling sodium chloride as table salt. In fact, labeling a shaker of white crystals as “salt” is extremely helpful at the dinner table.
But what happens when we label stereo equipment with opinions? For example, labeling a particular phono cartridge as wooden or tight-assed can destroy a product’s reputation. Imagine taking home an expensive moving coil cartridge and on your audio system, it doesn’t sound right. You label it with your opinion and it is forever tainted—even if all that might have been wrong was your ability to set it up properly.
I remember the first time I heard about Cambridge Audio products. Asked what their shtick was I was told it earned the label: cheap gear. Good, but cheap. It wasn’t until I spent the time to audition their products myself that I realized the label was not only unwarranted but unfair. Not because it wasn’t inexpensive gear (it was) but because that label assigned it a low value in people’s minds. I began to support the brand by telling people it was an exceptional bargain.
PS Audio products were for years labeled as “The poor man’s Audio Research”. I guess that’s a compliment, though I probably could have picked a better label.
I guess my point is we should be careful about the labels we assign products and certainly people.
They have a habit of sticking.
Little speakers and big rooms
There seems a common misconception that big rooms need big loudspeakers.
The truth can be very different.
Aesthetically there’s no doubt a small pair of stand-mounted bookshelf speakers may not fit a large room’s vibe, but from a sonic standpoint, it really shouldn’t matter.
The size of woofer and box determines the speaker’s low end, not how loudly it plays in a room.
A 6.5″ woofer married to a 1″ tweeter in a small box plays at about the same loudness as the same driver complement in a floor-standing enclosure. The floor stander has more internal volume from which the woofer can relax more and go deeper, but chances are good it won’t play any louder.
One benefit of a bigger box is room for more drivers. It’s much easier to build a 3-way or 4-way speaker when you have the available real estate.
And its shape and size may be more aesthetically pleasing in a large room.
If you’re not too concerned with the look, then a small speaker in a big room works just fine.
(And there’s always the possibility of sneaking a couple of subwoofers in the room to augment the smaller woofer)
Can work either way..
For more than three decades I have strongly advocated the high-level connection of subwoofers—where we connect the output of the power amplifier to the input of the subwoofer.
What amazes me is that still to this day, that viewpoint is considered radical.
The vast majority of subwoofer manufacturers would have you connecting their subwoofers through low-level inputs as supplied by your preamplifier. Their reasoning is simple. The output of a preamplifier is cleaner and more direct than what happens after a power amplifier has processed it.
My good friend, John Hunter of REL subs is one of the few subwoofer manufacturers agreeing with me.
And here’s the thing. The majority of subwoofer manufacturers are correct. There’s no argument that the output of the preamplifier is cleaner, purer, and more direct than the output of a power amplifier.
So why the debate?
Because they are missing the point. Subwoofers should not stand out in the system. The whole point of a subwoofer is to augment the performance of the main loudspeakers. We don’t want to hear the subwoofer. We want to pretend as if it were a perfect appendage to the main speakers. To make that happen we need to do whatever we can to get closer to matching the sound of the main speakers—a perfect pairing.
We want the characteristics of the power amp to color the output of our subwoofer in an effort to more closely integrate it.
Hope that helps.
Mechanical vs. solid state
When we need to switch inputs on an analog preamplifier we use a switch. The kind of switch we use affects stereo sound quality.
For years we had only mechanical switches from which to choose. Standard switch contacts in those days were nickel or tin-plated while the more expensive and better-sounding styles were either silver or gold.
These worked great and sounded excellent, but they had a problem. They were nearly impossible to remote control.
The customer’s desire to control their systems from their easy chairs drove us designers to replace mechanical switches with electromechanical relays. Relays were available with the same contact materials though because they weren’t self wiping (like mechanical rotary switches), their slap and connect operations produced a slight degradation in sound quality.
Relays are expensive and cumbersome.
Along came silicon switching. Low cost, quiet, reliable, and without the problems of contact degradation. Sonically, they fell into third place, but not too far behind relays.
Engineering is always a matter of compromise. We give up one thing and in exchange get something else.
In most of PS Audio’s PerfectWave series of analog audio products, we rely upon a combination of electromechanical and electronic switching.
Common sense, practical, excellent performance.