Tag Archives: stereo system

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 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.

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.

Sonic conspiracy

When I hear the word conspiracy my mind immediately jumps to a negative pole: nasty people with evil intent conspiring to take over the world like Pinky and the Brain.

But there are probably more good conspiracies than bad. Take for example Terri’s tomato garden.

This year in Boulder we’ve had weather patterns conspiring in a very good way to grow tomatoes. Wet, hot, lots of sun. If the squirrels and bears are busy enjoying the equally bountiful apple crop, leaving the tomatoes unscathed, we might have a bumper crop.

Good conspiracies extend beyond tomatoes and apples. Just think about those exceptional moments when the right track of music played on a perfect stereo system conspire to make sonic magic. Those are the conspiracies we enjoy most, the ones we get excited about and share with our community.

The happy blending of audio cable and kit, fuse and cord, tube and preamp. All conspiring to help our systems come alive.

I think I’ll conspire to make some music this afternoon.

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.

Presumed excellence

I don’t suppose that after all these years I should be surprised when a presumed expert shows off a stereo system that sounds dreadful.

It happens more than it should.

How many times have I walked into a HiFi showroom and did an immediate 180?

Far too many times.

And it’s not just audio where presumed experts get it wrong. Doctors, lawyers, professors, experts.

None are without fault and sometimes embarrassingly so.

An expert is someone who gets it right, time and again. It has nothing to do with credentials.

It’s ok for you to be an expert.

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.

Miracle cures

While standing in the supermarket checkout line I couldn’t help but notice the splashy magazine headline.

“Lose 13″ off your waist in 1 week”.

The only way in 1 week to lose 13 inches off your waist is through surgery, something the magazine editors were not promoting.

Most all of us are in one way or another searching for a miracle. Perhaps it’s the external power supply that will change everything, or that one cable that will forever bring life to the system.

Certainly, there can be miracle products and it’s good to keep a watchful eye open.

In my experience, it’s more likely that a miraculous sounding stereo system is the result of hard work and good decisions.

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.

Syrup on pancakes

In the 1990s, the idea of an AC power conditioner feeding a stereo system was about the same as adding syrup to pancakes: a nice but unnecessary sweetener.

Few people thought of power conditioners, and later AC regenerators, as being essential elements in a high-end audio chain. In fact, even as late as the early 2000s, most audio systems didn’t pay any attention to the quality of AC power feeding gear or the benefits of protection from surges and spikes.

Today, we’ve come to accept the idea that everything we hear in our systems starts out as raw AC—and the better and safer that source the closer we can get to the music we wish to reproduce in the home.

It takes a long time for a new concept to get accepted into the fold. Just think back to when no one batted an eye at using lamp cord for speaker cables.

I still like maple syrup on my pancakes, but instead of an afterthought or something nice to have, I find it an essential ingredient.

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.

Temples of sound

For a small handful, it is possible to build temples of sound—a dedicated purpose-built room.

They are rare.

More of us convert existing space into dedicated listening areas that we revere as our sound temples, but the vast majority simply plop down our stereo systems in the living room or den and do what we can to coexist with the needs of everyday living.

In my 45 plus years of immersion into the art of home audio reproduction, I have seen very few stand-alone temples of sound. And of those, fewer still that bettered what I have so many times heard in the more common confines of everyday rooms.

It occurs to me that when we invest so heavily in building from scratch that perfect room we lose some of the gutsy compromises one must make in order to maximize that which we have to work with.

Perhaps it’s like artists who do their best work when they’re unknown and struggling.

It’s often the challenge of making do with what you have that churns out masterpieces.

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.

Touching souls

When we listen to music we’re hoping for a connection.

Does it touch our soul?

We all have experienced that connection to music. Sometimes it happens at a concert, other times it’s totally random: in the car, somebody whistling a tune, or on your high-end audio system.

The better my stereo system sounds the closer I get to connecting the inner me with the music.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow measure that level of connection?

Alas, we need to rely upon our emotions both for connection and measurement.