PS goes Linear

Prev Next

Our first audition of the prototype Control Center, outside of PS Audio's reference system, was a total flop as I described yesterday. The amp we were trying to drive with our passive "preamplifier" had gain low enough that even with the Control Center's pot turned all the way up there was barely enough level on the system. Clearly this was a problem and one that could only be solved with an active gain stage. Our idea of the passive preamp, its purity of signal and minimalist properties weren't going to cut it for every system. What to do? Of course we could have just thrown a gain stage in the product and called it a preamplifier. I mean, why not? That's what everyone else did. And I mean, everyone else. We were standing alone on this issue and wanting badly to keep the purity, simplicity and open sound we had achieved with this simple solution. Neither of us wanted to give that up, yet we knew the product wasn't a viable one for every system. In fact, it wasn't viable for well over half the systems out there. I designed an output stage for the Control Center and we tried it in the system. Yup, sounded great, bass was better. Bass was actually a lot better. But we'd lost some of the openness of sound we so wanted to keep. But then Stan had an idea. How about a switch? Why not put a switch on the Control Center that would allow those with enough amplifier gain to use the Control Center as a passive box and not suffer the degradation of the gain stage? If you didn't have enough gain, simply flip the switch and now you had plenty. Want to run a long length of interconnect between the Control Center and your power amplifier? Passive preamps suck at this. An active device works quite well. Now our customers would have a choice. We had both a preamp and a Control Center in one box, but it became a preamp only when it was switched to the active gain stage inside. As a passive device, it was still appropriately labeled a Control Center. We needed a more descriptive name and I think it was me that came up with the idea of adding the word "Linear" (describing the gain stage) that got added on. Now it was the Linear Control Center, or LCC for short. Here's a picture of the first one:


On the left side of the LCC note the switch labeled "Gain Defeat". This enabled the user to select the output gain stage or not, making it the world's first switchable passive or active preamplifier. It was a 20dB gain stage which brought a reference phono signal up to 0dB at 1kHz, so we labeled it -20dB and 0dB. Not one customer had the slightest idea what this meant, but my partner was happy for the moment. It didn't take a lot more engineering to add a few more controls. Note the Tape Monitor and the balance control. I think Stan and I argued more over the balance control than anything else in this unit. Stan felt it was worthless and akin to a cancerous wart on the unit. Without question it degraded the sound ever so slightly, because now the signal passed through two pots. He was correct, but I prevailed on this decision feeling that without a balance control we'd sell far fewer units. We both understood almost no one would ever use that control, but it brought peace of mind to many (and absolutely more sales for us). Check out the knobs on the LCC. These were manufactured by a company called Rogan. Look familiar? Yep, they are the exact same knobs Audio Research used on their SP3 preamplifier and many other preamps to follow. We loved the look of Audio Research and wanted to add a touch of expensive class to our $119 LCC. History note: every PS Audio preamplifier made from that point on, till I sold the company in 1990, had the gain defeat switch. In later models it was called StraightWire when in the passive mode, a term picked up by many others including a cable company that took it for its namesake. It's instructive to remember all the decisions we make along the way when we follow a certain path. Those decisions, the motivations behind them, the compromises we make, all define who we are and what we produce for the rest of our lifetimes.
Back to blog
Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

Never miss a post


Related Posts

1 of 2