Tag Archives: woofer

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.

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)

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.

Subwoofer history

In one of my Ask Paul video questions, I was asked how far back subwoofers go in 2-channel audio. The community member had only become aware of subs as they related to home theater.

Of course, many readers of Paul’s Post know subs date back much further than home theater.

From Wikipedia: In September 1964, Raymon Dones received the first patent for a subwoofer specifically designed to augment the low-frequency range of modern stereo systems (US patent 3150739). Able to reproduce distortion-free low frequencies down to 15 Hz, a specific objective of Dones’s invention was to provide portable sound enclosures capable of high fidelity reproduction of low-frequency sound waves without giving an audible indication of the direction from which they emanated. Dones’s loudspeaker was marketed in the US under the trade name “The Octavium” from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. The Octavium was utilized by several recording artists of that era, most notably the Grateful Dead.

Two years later, in 1966, my former partner in Genesis Technologies and the co-founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, along with his airline pilot friend, Carry Christie, launched the second and perhaps most important subwoofer of its time, the Infinity Servo woofer, based on an 18″ Cerwin Vega driver.

My experience with a subwoofer began a few years later when I was first introduced to a true high-end audio system. There, in the living room of local audiophile Norm Little, was serial numbers 1 and 2 of aerospace engineer Eugene J. “Gene” Czerwinski’s creation, a pair of 18″ Cerwin-Vega subwoofers capable of producing 130 dB at 30 Hz, an astonishing level during its time (or any time).

I suppose I have never gotten over the experience of hearing for the first time, all there is in the recordings, including subsonics.

Until you hear it all, you’re not going to know what true high-end audio really is.

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.

Janszen

In yesterday’s post, I reminisced about my first experience with a subwoofer. And boy, not just any subwoofer. Lucky for me, I got a taste of the mighty Cerwin-Vega 18s, then the biggest, baddest subwoofer yet made. In fact, even today there aren’t many that can match what those beasts were capable of producing.

What I failed to mention that was sitting directly atop those woofer boxes was another breakthrough product, the world’s first “full-range” electrostatic loudspeakers, double stacked JansZen 1-30 4-panel arrays. Here’s a picture of those bad boys sitting atop a pair of ARs.

Arthur Janszen founded Janszen in the mid 1950s and I don’t know much about him other than to relay what my former partner and founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, told me. That Art was a physicist (as was Arnie) that had to stoop to the level of engineer to get his work done. Indeed, it was said somewhat tongue in cheek but I suspect deep down Arnie had just a wee bit of contempt for anyone not studied in the arts of physics.

What an amazing experience I had that first day of being exposed to a true high-end audio system. I suppose it had on me a lifelong impact that to this day has set the course of my life.

It’s perhaps good to remember that every time we have the privilege of showing for the first time our systems to newbies, it may be an event that sparks their passion for a lifetime yet to come.

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.

Rumble

In the volumes of email I receive I get some great questions. Mark, in San Jose California, was asking why phono preamplifiers no longer offer switchable rumble filters.

I think it’s a great question. I remember years ago when nearly every phono preamplifier had a switchable rumble filter and I also remember hating it. Every time I clicked that filter all the bottom end of the recording seemed to vanish along with the unwanted woofer movement. Those high-pass filters of the day were pretty aggressive.

PS Audio has been building phono preamplifiers since our inception in 1974 and we have never offered a switchable rumble filter. However, every one of those preamplifiers had built-in rumble filters and that, Mark, is the most likely answer to your question.

By building in a fairly aggressive filter we can keep its frequency low enough so as not to negatively affect sound quality. We do this with a multi-pole high pass filter that has the dual role of keeping any small DC issues from occurring and, at the same time, eliminating rumble without impacting bass.

I am going to guess that what’s actually different is not the lack of rumble filters, but the lack of switches to toggle them on or off.

 

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.

On a carousel

Remember the old Hollie’s hit, On a Carousel? They were one of my favorite groups and, when Graham Nash left the Hollies to join Steven Stills and David Crosby, I was at first bummed but later fell in love with CS&N.

Being on a carousel, or as we Yanks might call it, a merry-go-round, can be frustrating. It sometimes takes a lot of energy to get off the rut we find ourselves in and make a change, but change is typically better than going round and round without forward motion.

I remember well when I was first hooked on electrostatic speakers. Man, I was on an electrostatic merry-go-round and for years no one could get me off of it. It had all started with my first listen to a pair of Quads. Holy crap! The transparency and window-like qualities of those speakers were magical. The fact they were extremely directional, had no bass, no volume, nor dynamics didn’t phase me in the least. I was hooked. If they didn’t have what I wanted, I could just go bigger.

Jim Stricker’s Acoustat electrostatic loudspeakers were my next acquisition and they solved the loudness problem because of their enormous size. Still, they had the head-in-a-vice directionality problem, no bass nor dynamics—but volume, clarity, and transparency were abundant. I even tried to add a subwoofer to these tall panels but back then, the subs were awful: slow, sluggish, and did not blend.

For me, the electrostatic merry-go-round was slowing down but it hadn’t yet stopped. After meeting Martin Logan founder, Gayle Sanders, I had to give it one more spin. Gayle’s electrostats were big, curved, and augmented with a built-in dynamic woofer. Nirvana! They could play loud, they had a bigger sweet spot, and by God, they had bass from that subwoofer. Still no dynamics. Still had to hold my head in a vice when listening, but….

Then the merry-go-round stopped and I stepped off into the magic of planars and lightning-fast dynamic woofers compliments of both Magnepan and Infinity.

I haven’t gotten back on the electrostatic carousel since. But, this isn’t a post about electrostats. It’s a post about being stuck on carousels.

If you’re stuck on a merry-go-round and everything you try doesn’t get you where you’d hope to be, consider hitting the emergency stop button and regaining your balance.

It’s better to go forward than in circles.

 

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.

Thrill seeking

Now that PS Audio engineer Chris Brunhaver has rebuilt the Infinity IRS woofer sections in Music Room II, tracks of music that once overloaded the room or underwhelmed the listener are back on the table.

Tracks like Deeper by Pete Belasco, When the Party’s Over by Billy Eilish, or Handel’s Organ Concerto Number 3 suddenly make more sense.

Before the woofer change, there was plenty of deep bass but it was more an effect sound than a real live note. Now, the system sends chills up your spine when those notes move both you and the room.

In fact, one of the joys of an upgrade to your audio or video system is the opening of new musical opportunities. If it’s better bass, you start looking through your library for tracks that demonstrate the new prowess. If a new tweeter or speakers with airy extended highs, you search for more thrills in that music.

If you want a few thrills and chills to challenge your system, and have Qobuz, you can access what we listen to by going here.

Have fun and give my apologies to the neighbors.

 

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.

A very good explanation of bass!

Thud

Isn’t it interesting that bass slam and quality comes not from woofers but instead from above?

Here’s what I mean by that. If you take a 3-way system like the IRSV, where the middle frequency drivers reproduce frequencies down to 100Hz, what you find is that bass impact and speed is determined not by the woofer towers, but rather the midrange drivers. Which is why we can accurately evaluate the bass performance of a power amplifier without that amplifier powering the woofers.

This applies not just to big systems like the IRSV. Just about any 3 or 4-way system will work the same way. Listen only to the woofers while music is playing and what you hear on a plucked bass note is little more than a dull thud. There’s no slam or impact to that sloppy thud because the frequencies that give the feeling of speed are much higher than the lower notes.

You can also listen just to the output of a subwoofer and get the same result: whoomp, whoomp, thud, thud.

It’s the upper ranges of bass that give us the impression of a fast woofer.

 

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.

Opinions and experiences

I am not a fan of passive radiators in full-range speaker cabinets. In every instance, I was underwhelmed with the sound of their bass and blamed the common denominator, the passive radiator.

A passive radiator is a woofer without a motor. Just picture your favorite woofer cone and that’s how a passive radiator typically looks. Were you to take it out of the box you’d note its lack of magnet and its light weight. Radiators act as tuned ports, lowering the speaker’s bass frequency cutoff to below what just its active woofer can produce.

My opinion of passive radiators has been negative for years.

Our opinions are formed by our experiences. If every beet we eat makes our stomach turn just a little then we declare our dislike of beets. Likewise, if every passive radiator we hear is muddy and ill defined we reject anything resembling it.

That is until we taste a beet we like or hear a radiator done right.

Our speaker genius, Chris Brunhaver, has opened my eyes and ears to the delights of a properly designed passive radiator. And what’s fascinating to me is that it doesn’t even look like a woofer. In Chris’ design a piece of heavy material, like wood, is the cone and it’s held in place with a carefully engineered surround material. Together, they form a tuned circuit that is sonically invisible in the same way a proper subwoofer extends the apparent bass of the main speaker without pointing to itself.

Little woofers can have big, tight, low frequencies with a properly designed radiator.

The point of this post is more about how experiences form opinions and less about radiators.

When we have the opportunity to extend our knowledge and venture out into the unknown, we often return with new opinions that are to our benefit.

I just love being wrong.

 

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.

Building beasts

Building speakers is way different than electronics. For one thing, loudspeakers can be handcrafted and designed from scratch, where electronics require cobbling together off-the-shelf parts. No one in our industry is likely to invent new semiconductor physics and apply it to hand made transistors.

The opportunity to design and fabricate every single bit of a product and technology is really stimulating. When senior engineer Chris Brunhaver joined the PS Engineering Team his first task was to wipe the AN3 slate clean and start over. Why? Well, the simple answer is because we’re obsessed engineering nerds and he could. But I owe you a more detailed answer.

Take for example the 12″ servo woofer used in the AN3. In the prototypes we demonstrated at Axpona the maximum linear excursion of that woofer was less than what the 700 watt amplifier driving it could output. This required us to place carefully crafted dynamic limiters on the amp and its servo system so we wouldn’t exceed the woofer’s limits. Sure, it output prodigious bass, but we knew the system was capable of so much more. Scouring the multitude of catalogs from the world’s biggest driver manufacturers didn’t help. Finding that perfect combination of suspension, excursion, BL, voice coil capabilities, and so on proved fruitless.

There was no perfect woofer for our specific application, and why should there be? Driver manufacturers don’t build woofers with us in mind. They make the best general purpose drivers they know how to.

Then, Chris joined our engineering team. The first thing he did was put pen to paper and sketched out a massive new woofer that would not only handle every last watt the power amplifier could dish out but do so within a linear range. The resulting beast is breathtaking. Have a look at the frames being assembled as I write this.

Holy crap this thing is a monster! But, it’s our monster designed specifically for its intended purpose. Every bit of it—from the spider, suspension, cone material and dust cap to the way the lead wires are hand-sewn into the spider’s fabric so they don’t rattle—this beast is perfect for our application. Nothing else in the off-the-shelf-world can compete.

More to follow, but I wanted to share my excitement with you.

We’ll be demonstrating the next round of AN3 prototypes at the upcoming RMAF at the beginning of September.

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.

Not that long ago

While looking at a replacement woofer for a friend of mine, I noticed its huge magnet and metal encasing shield. Ah yes, I thought, the magnetic shield that was all the rage a few years ago.

That shield was needed to protect cathode ray tubes from TV’s which use magnetic steering to position their controlling electron beams. Those electron beams had to be pointed at precise locations to light up different colored phosphors.

Ray tubes! What Buck Rogers technology was this?

Of course, I am referring to the old style television tube known as the CRT: small glowing tubes that grew in color range and size over their 75-year reign. The largest commercially available model was about 45 inches and weighed several hundred pounds. Larger TVs were technically possible but not marketable as the depth, weight, and cost made them difficult to sell. A 50-inch TV would require a 38-inch picture tube and even larger casing, making it near impossible for the TV to fit inside a standard door (let alone be hefted by mere mortals).

CRT televisions were finally phased out as late as the 2000s and replaced by plasmas, LCDs, OLEDs, LEDs, etc. The newer technologies are insensitive to magnetic fields, and thus, the need for magnetically shielded speaker drivers has vanished in little more than the blink of a technological eye.

Still, does any technology sound more high tech and futuristic as a fricking Ray Tube?

Buck would probably shed a tear for the passing of ray tubes into the boring of Light Emitting Diodes, so too would his contemporaries: Flash Gordon, Jack Swift, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Speed Spaulding, and John Carter.