Tag Archives: stereo systems

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.

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.

I totally agree with this!!

Truth or preference?

In our search for sonic truth, there comes a point where the stereo systems get so good their “truth” is more about our personal preference.

In fact, personal preferences often trump truth. We know we’ve gotten closer to the truth when it matches what we believe to be the musical truth.

Of course, no one knows what musical truth is. Even if you were present when a recording was made, all you can really know is whether or not you got close to the studio’s monitoring system.

That’s not truth unless you’ve managed to copy everything in the recording chain down to the room itself.

Maybe it makes more sense to suggest that what we’re really after is getting as close as possible to what our personal preferences are.

When my system puts a smile on my face I figure I am closest to achieving sonic truth.

That’s certainly my preference.

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.

Spicy

One of the cures for bland tasting food is to liven it up with the addition of a dash of spice.

In audio, it’s not so easy.  There’s really not anything we can add to the system if we want to liven up the sound. There is, however, something we can subtract.

In my experience, stereo systems presenting themselves as dull or lifeless are more often than not victims of their environment.

An over or under damped room is often the perpetrator and the first place we should turn to—though often we mistakenly lay blame on the stereo equipment.

It’s true that speakers and electronics have individual voices, but often those are not properly supported within the room.

If your system’s too spicy, or not spicy enough, consider first the room. It’s easy enough to add or subtract absorptive materials like furniture, pillows, and the like (and a hell of a lot easier than equipment swaps).

Our instincts often lead us first to equipment swaps but I think it’s valuable to remember the room.

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.

Phono cartridges, microphones, and loudspeakers

We all know that microphones sound different, and not just by a little. And we all know phono cartridges sound different, and not just by a little. And don’t get me going about the differences in loudspeakers!

What all three transducers have in common is the nature of their operation: mechanical.

Our stereo systems are all lorded over by one, two, or all three mechanical contrivances that so greatly affect sound quality.

Fact is, between the differences in microphones, phono cartridges, and loudspeakers it’s impossible to ever suggest there’s a “standard” of performance we could ever rely upon.

It’s no wonder every system sounds so unique.

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.

Subwoofers are very important, even in the best two channel stereo systems. I have two subs in my system and what they do for midrange clarity and imaging is almost hard to believe.

Subwoofer LFE

If you’re running a home theater receiver or surround sound processor it’s often tricky to get the subwoofer settings correct.

Theater processors are almost always different in the way they handle bass frequencies than analog preamplifiers who, unlike SSPs, almost never have separate subwoofer outputs.

Confusion arises between the two because (typical to) an SSP is a built-in subwoofer crossover. What often happens is users mistakenly plug the crossed over SSP output into the subs crossover-controlled input—and now we have two crossovers where we wanted only one.

Which is why so many subs have what called an LFE input (Low Frequency Effects). Basically, the LFE is a direct shot into the subwoofer’s amplifier without going through its crossover. Thus, the crossover in the receiver or SSP controls how high the bass goes and to what degree its roll off should be tailored to.

Subs can seem rather complicated at times. Hope this helps.

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.

Cross breeding

Purity is appreciated when it comes to purpose, water, and immorality. It’s not so great when it comes to a power amplifier’s architecture, where hybrids rule.

For many years, amplifier manufacturers were determined to keep their designs pure: 100% solid-state, all vacuum tubes, nothing but FETs, class D from input to output. Over time we’ve come to grips with why this commitment to design purity is not such a great idea.

Power amplifiers are misnamed and therein lies the problem.

On the surface, they seem simple enough: little signal in, big and powerful signal out.

What’s missing is the recognition that inside a power amplifier we have two completely distinct systems each with very different amplification duties: voltage and power.

The input voltage gain stage takes a small voltage and amplifies it into a big voltage. From beginning to end there is only voltage and no power. If you were to take the output of a power amplifier’s first stage and attempt to drive a loudspeaker you’d be met with silence.

To produce watts we need the second system, the actual power amplifier (where it got its name).

The fact that each of these two stereo systems has such very different functions should be clue enough to understand why a purebred power amplifier’s a bad idea.

The smart designer recognizes the difference between the two systems and applies the best technologies for the job: vacuum tubes and FETs are much better at delivering voltage while bipolars, power MOSFETS, and Class D stages are best at delivering power.

Purity benefits us most when we apply it to where it matters.

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.

Guide books

In all my years of designing, building, and playing around with stereo systems, when it comes to performance the two constants have always been audio equipment choices and setup.

And setup trumps equipment choices. The best equipment poorly setup sounds worse than the best setup of poor equipment.

We have reviews and in-home trials to help us find the best equipment, yet the art of setup requires hands-on experience, knowledge, and skill—a problem in our age of virtual connectivity and pandemic lock-downs.

My modus operandi has always been that of a fixit person. See a problem, find a fix. The first CD players sounded dreadful. We figured out the culprit was its internal D to A converter. We invented a better version and launched the world’s first consumer audio digital to analog converter.

Where once an abundance of experienced setup experts eager to apply their skills and knowledge in customer’s homes haunted local stereo dealers, today we live in very different times.

Which is why I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide and spearheaded the creation of its companion music resource, The Audiophile Reference Music Tracks.

The idea of designing a setup system based on a written guide and a recorded reference disc has long been in my toolbox. It’s taken me 45 years to launch it.

Setting up a stereo system takes skill.

Skill can be learned.

Grab a copy of both The Audiophile’s Guide and its companion Reference Music Tracks today.

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.

Story time

We catalog and explain concepts like careers, hobbies, science, heritage, family, and even our stereo systems as stories.

Stories help us wrap our heads around that which is unknown, complex, or only partially understood.

In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago we believed the Earth was the center of the universe: the blackness of the night sky composed of a solid material called the Firmament, the shining stars as holes in that firmament, their light emanating from a bright physical place atop the firmament. Heaven.

It’s a lovely story and for hundreds of years considered fact.

We get new information and then the story changes.

The height of high fidelity was based around a single loudspeaker setup. Monophonic sound. We told ourselves it sounded like the musicians were in the room.

Then stereo came around and the story changed yet again.

We explain ourselves and the world around us in the form of a story.

We just need to make sure it’s a good one.

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.

Abstinence

“Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.”

Ahh, yes, another wonderful Mark Twain quote.

Some audiophiles are such purists they allow no consort with what they disagree with. Digital shall not touch my analog stereo system! might serve as example.

Yet abstinence is the cousin of extremism.

In stereo systems and in life, extremism pushes so hard in one direction we miss out on everything left out. Imagine, for example, being so obsessed with high-frequency purity that we ignore the bass.

As Mark Twain observed, when it comes to abstaining, it’s often best to abstain from abstaining.