Tag Archives: speaker

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.

What makes a reference track?

In yesterday’s post, I offered an extended list of my reference tracks.

Some of you may have noticed that not all tracks are great recordings. What gives?


Whether you’re setting up your stereo system, designing new products, or simply enjoying music, the key to great reproduction is diversity. A proper system should be able to handle a wide variety of tracks without shedding volumes of dander. If you can only enjoy perfect recordings then you might have to rethink some of your equipment or setup choices.

The very best systems show off great tracks and handle without upset the tough ones.

Depending on your goals, diversity can also work against you.

I remember well one of my first introductions into the dark secrets of the Hi Fi industry. While on the road and working with a well known dealer, I watched how he used a very specific tracklist of demo material to sell a certain brand of loudspeakers—a very famous UK brand with a particularly bright tweeter. The idea was that speaker, when paired with the right music, stood out from the pack because of how live the highs sounded—every other model sounded dull by comparison. Lots of people went home with that brand only to discover they had to change the rest of their system to deal with the aggressive tweeter (but that’s another story).

The point of all this is simple. The beauty of a diverse playlist is to offer a broad range of challenges for the system. Too much focus on one quality of recording and you may find yourself home with an equipment choice that only plays nice on a small not-so-diverse list of music.


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.

Cable elevators

Over lunch with engineer Darren Meyers we got to talking about systems and when it’s time to turn to cable elevators for improvements. Cable elevators get the speaker cables off the floor and improve sound quality: they are ultra-tweaks. Your system needs to be at a certain point of perfection before they matter.

Some audiophiles dress their systems to the nines without ever going through the step-by-step audition process to find if any of their efforts actually help—kind of like automatically adding spice without tasting. Others get everything as right as rain and then start the process of ultra-tweaking, listening along the way.

I find myself in both camps at different times. If I’m hustling through a setup for a show or helping someone with theirs, then we dress everything in the system as best we can and cross our fingers for best results. But when the system is part of our long term project it’s best if we tweak a little at a time, listening along the way.

My best systems have come about because I take what I like to call the ladder approach—each change happens in step-by-step order.

The careful grooming of a system generates more than just great sound. You gain knowledge as well.


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.

Another stereo book!!

The Audiophile’s Guide

I have been making steady progress in writing The Audiophile’s Guide. This will be a new series of books, the first of which is The Stereo.

The Stereo will be a step-by-step guide to assembling, tuning, and working with your speaker and room setup so your system sonically disappears and in its place appears a holographic soundstage where the musicians perform. There will be an optional CD to aid in setup.

I am quite excited about this work—something I have been planning to do for decades. I believe there will be few in our HiFi Family that would not benefit from its guidance. A weekend spent with the setup procedure outlined in The Stereo will net big gains in sound quality without spending a dime.

As I near completion I wanted to engage our community for a bit of help. Below I have listed the major subjects covered in the guide. Did I cover everything? Is there something you’d like to see in this first book in The Audiophile’s Guide series?

If you have a moment to drop me a note, I would be very appreciative.

Here’s what I’ll cover in The Stereo. Again, the book’s goal is to help with setting up and tuning the system.

  • Introduction
  • The history of 2-channel audio
  • What to expect for budget
  • Choosing the right loudspeakers
  • Choosing the right stereo electronics
  • The room
  • Basic setup
    • Placing the speakers
    • Placing the electronics
    • Placing the listening seat
  • Basic tuning
    • Making the speakers disappear
    • The grid system
    • Paul’s secret formula
  • Advanced tuning
  • Advanced room acoustics
  • Subwoofers
  • The importance of connection
  • The importance of power
  • Digital room and speaker correction

Of course, I didn’t include all the subchapters. But, this gives you a basic idea of what’s there.  Let me know if it’s complete enough and what else you might want to see.



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.

Amen to this and most folks I know don’t have a lot of options when it comes to loudspeaker placement. I do and have the marks on the carpet to prove I’ve tried a bunch of different locations and it seems each speaker is different. Sometimes, changing electronics has me change things a bunch.

However, as I get older, I justs want to listen and where my Daedalus Ulysses speakers are now, works great, so I’m done…Probably…

Speaker placement

There’s perhaps nothing more important than speaker placement. Where those two boxes sit in the room vs. where you the listener sits, largely determines how your music sounds.

And here’s the sticky part. There are multiple right places, each sounding quite different.

I have watched many an expert set up speakers and each has a completely different approach that results in very different placements. If one watches Wilson Speaker setup expert Peter McGrath work, you’d notice him first walking the empty room clapping his hands and speaking into the air to find the best starting point for the setup. Contrast that with REL Subwoofer owner, John Hunter, who starts with but one channel and spends hours moving it about the room discovering the best place for bass.

At the end of each expert’s process, the sonic results are wonderful yet sonically night and day different.

Now think about your own best efforts at speaker setup. No doubt what you have achieved sounds different indeed from what they would have come up with.

I am in the middle of writing the first in a new series of books called The Audiophile’s GuideThe Stereo offers a detailed step-by-step setup guide for getting the most out of your 2-channel audio system. Following my instructions, there’s no doubt your system will take a leap forward in performance.

But, here’s the thing. My setup methods are different still than experts McGrath and Hunter. And so, yes, once set up, music and its image on the soundstage will be different yet again.

I think the point of this post is to point out just how much difference setup makes.

It’s easy to imagine otherwise.


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 psychological than real, people would probably not know the difference between speaker wire lengths in a blind test. However, as Audiophiles, we are neurotic group, so a no go.

I think interconnects are as important as speaker cables, but as long as low inductance on speaker cables and low capacitance on interconnects, things should be good, without spending a fortune.

Audiophile cabling can be a crazy thing.

Same length cables

One of the often asked questions concerns speaker cable lengths. Should they be identical?

For some reason, we rarely ask the same question about interconnects. Interconnects feel like a pair and I have never seen anyone use them otherwise. But, speaker cables? All the time I see differing lengths of speaker cables.

I succumbed to this oddness at several points in my long audio journey, and each time I found myself squirming in the listening chair, uncomfortable in the knowledge one speaker was different than the other.

Here’s the thing. Of all the analog interconnects in your system, speaker cables have the most impact on sound quality. The interactions between speaker and power amplifier are complex, forming a type of network that impacts the audio. So, while it might feel wrong to have to coil up the speaker cables for one speaker, while the other channel sits in a proper straight-line connection between amp and speaker, you’re better off with two equal lengths.

Where cables are concerned, symmetrical lengths rule the day.


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.

Power calculations

One of the most common questions I cannot answer is about matching power amps to Power Plants. It seems such an obvious question and you’d think the answer would be straight forward. But, you’d be incorrect.

The problem with matching power amps to Power Plants happens because we don’t have the complete story. What we’re missing are the speakers and your listening habits. An M1200 monoblock pair is capable of delivering massive amounts of power to speakers, yet in many cases, the pair can be powered with the smallest of our Power Plants, the P3. It all depends on what the amplifiers are being asked to do.

The easiest way to visualize what’s happening is to view the power amp/speaker as a pair. A power-hungry speaker will demand the same amount of wattage from any amp regardless of that amplifier’s rating. And conversely, even power-hungry speakers take less when not being played loudly.

I don’t mean to make this difficult. I bring this up merely to point out that what we might view as a straight forward calculation is, in fact, a bit more involved. If you’re confused, it’s always worth a call to us.

Here’s an easy rule of thumb you can use. If your power amplifier is a standard bias class AB or class D amplifier, and your speaker’s sensitivity hovers close to the 90dB/Watt/meter, then, on average, you’re likely not pushing much more than 100 watts even on peaks. Thus, any of our Power Plants would work just fine for you.

Just remember, amps and speakers should be thought of as pairs.


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 an article written by Scot Hull from Part Time Audiophile that I totally agree with.

See www.parttimeaudiophile.com. It is always an enjoyable read.

One of my favorite hi-fi arguments involves stack-ranking your spend. That is, how should we spend our hard-earned money when assembling a high-end stereo system? What is the most important component? Is it the speaker? Is it the amplifier? Is it the turntable phono cable? In any of these debates, there will invariably be someone who says something like “the most important component in any audio system is THE ROOM.” Once this version of Goodwin’s Law plays out, there will be a lot of nodding and wise stroking of facial hair.

But what if it’s not true?

There is some sense to the notion, to be fair. We tend to build hi-fi systems in this particular “possible universe” and not others, so yes, chances are quite good that there will be a room involved. And yes, it’s true — rooms can dramatically impact the sound quality of any system. Room nodes, cancellations, reflections — all that (and a whole lot more) can contribute to a truly epic, or horrific, experience. For those keeping track, this is one of ten thousand reasons why it pays to make friends with your local area audio dealer.

But with that said, it’s pretty easy to overstate this. Common wisdom says that huge loudspeakers should never be crammed into small spaces. That low ceilings, or a narrow front-wall, or irregular side walls can “kill” the sound. That you need to “fit” your system to your space and never the other way around. That a goldilocks sprinkling of room treatments is the key “acceptable” sound.

This is all very sensible advice. It’s also a bit misleading, as anyone who has ever seen the listening room of a high-end audio reviewer will readily tell you.

Or anyone who has visited a high-end audio show.

Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio — for one notable example — is famous for his incredible-sounding loudspeakers AND for his off-center speaker setups. Going from room to room at an audio show, you’ll see room after room of very traditional, mathematically-plotted speaker setups — and then you’ll come to a Joseph Audio room and start scratching your head, and perhaps begin wondering if someone took their medication that morning. You then sit, your bemusement gives way to wonder, and you stop thinking about math, and “the most important component”, and start grooving to some world-class sound.

Would that system sound better in a better room? Maybe — okay, probably. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot sound amazing in your room, shitty though that room may be. Take a Vinnie Rossi demo, with some great big loudspeakers from Harbeth, the 40.2 Anniversary Edition. Big speakers, big sound, great-big-bass. And in Vinnie’s far-from-ideal-world hotel-room setup, those speakers sounded incredible. Yes, most of that has to do with Vinnie’s amazing audio electronics. But a lot has to do with the fact that the speakers have been pulled from the walls and are less than 5′ from your ears — best headphones EVER.

The point? Don’t give up because your room is suboptimal — almost all of them are — and chances are very high that you can and will still get amazing 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.

Feels wrong

I remember how proud I was upon learning the trick of screwing a stubborn lid onto a jar. Though it feels wrong, my father counseled, you first unscrew the lid until the threads are aligned, then turn the opposite direction and tighten ‘er down.

There’s plenty we do that’s seemingly incorrect to get things right: increasing the length of the audio chain with a preamplifier to improve sound quality. Or adding another speaker cable in parallel with an existing one to get tonality in line. Or powering small speakers with big amplifiers so as not to limit dynamics.

Doing what feels wrong to get things right is the inflection point where experience trumps intuition.

When we know enough to pull ourselves out of the rigors of standard practices and leap into the chaotic, we can confidently say we’ve arrived. And that’s a great feeling in whatever endeavor we hope to succeed at.

The circle of experience and knowledge is actually a spiral that is never in the same place at the same time, yet repeats itself in slightly different form as we each share what knowledge and wisdom we’ve accumulated over the years.

It made me feel good when years later I was able to return my father’s lesson. As I watched his face scrunch up as he tried in vain to open a stuck jar lid, I shared my own experience. I turned the jar upside down and demonstrated how a stuck lid needs only a couple of sharp bangs on the countertop to free itself for the turning.

As audiophiles, we have knowledge about music and its reproduction that not many others do. If we can share that wisdom and experience, we lift up those around us.

Just as music was always intended to be shared, so it is with our knowledge. It might feel wrong to speak up in the presence of bad sound, but I’d lean in the opposite direction.

There are few gifts better shared than properly reproduced music and the knowledge required to achieve it in our homes.


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.

Short vs. long

If we have a choice (and we almost always do), we’d prefer short speaker cables to long interconnects. This because passing unimpeded music down a speaker cable into the complex load of a speaker is far more of a challenge than sending music between two low-level sources or controllers.

Sources and controllers are almost always easy loads. Low impedance out and higher impedance in. The signal size isn’t too big and properly designed equipment and cables have an easier time making it from point A to point B without too much trouble.

That’s hardly the case when delivering high powered, high voltage signals to speakers. Here, the challenge of passing music unimpeded is magnified by 30 times in the voltage realm and thousands of times in the current world. To make matters worse, speakers are finicky, demanding clients. Their impedance is all over the map. To get music to sound right we must deliver both voltage and current without distortion or modification.

As a rule of thumb, it’s good to arrange your system around this idea of short speaker cables. When we’re at shows it’s not a problem because we want the audience to see our equipment while the music’s playing, so all cables are short. But, near the speakers is not sonically the best place for sources and controllers, but hey! it’s a show and we’re here to get people into the equipment. At home, we’d like to keep our sources as far from the speakers as we can.

When it comes to speaker cables, short’s the ticket.