September 2013 PS Audio Newsletter

  • Floods in Boulder
  • NPC’s ship out the door
  • Using the NPC
  • Comparing LP’s to CD sound
  • Moved to tears
  • AGB is back!
  • A bit more Britten
  • George Duke

By now most all of you have heard of the devastating floods in Colorado, the worst of which hit outlying areas close to Boulder but not actually in Boulder. Don’t get me wrong it was scary enough in Boulder with the sirens blaring and announcements of impending doom going all night. Here’s a picture I took the day after the worst that hit Boulder roared through. This used to be the athletic field at Boulder High School.

Certainly our hearts go out to those much worse affected than we were, many lost their homes, 8 lost their lives. It was tough going.

Here at PS we were spared the worst of it although our building is smack dab in the middle of a floodplain which thankfully didn’t overflow its banks. We did discover a number of leaks in our roof, but nothing some new carpet won’t fix. Thanks for all the kind notes of concern sent to us and the help many of you offered through generous donations to flood victims.

NPC’s ship out the door

As promised, the NuWave Phono Converters have started to ship and that means Dave Paananen (our Director of Engineering) and I are up to our elbows in testing and listening to them. I am extremely happy with the end product, it sounds great and works perfectly.

The NPC, for those of you just reading about it, is really two products in one: a high-end analog phono stage and A/D Converter in one compact chassis. With this unit you can use it as you would any analog phono stage, plugging its RCA or XLR analog outputs right into your preamplifier to play LP’s. Or, it’s easy enough to play your LP’s through your DAC or computer as well.

The NPC outputs high resolution PCM, DSD and pure analog. No, there’s no DAC inside. The analog chain is completely isolated from the digital chain. It really is two products in one chassis.

And it isn’t just for vinyl LP’s either. Have a tuner? Tape recorder? Favorite phono stage? No problem, just plug ‘er in to the NPC’s inputs and you can listen to any analog source right through your DAC or record onto your computer through USB. If you want more information on this cool new high-end device from us, click here.

You can also download the extensive owner’s manual as well by clicking here.

Using the NPC

Using the NPC is a new challenge in some respects, old hat in others. For example, if you want to simply plugin your turntable, connect the outputs to your preamplifier, it’s about as easy a setup as you can get. Just plug it in, set the cartridge load, set the gain for the phono cartridge and start enjoying your vinyl.

But if you’re like me, you’re going to want to immediately see how the analog out compares to the digital out and that’s exactly what I want to write about.

The first thing I do is take the balanced XLR output of the NPC and plug it into input 2 on my preamplifier. Input 1 of my preamp already has the XLR balanced outputs from the PerfectWave DAC that I use daily.

Of course the next step is to setup the turntable and cartridge. In my setup in Music Room One I have the Clear Audio Master Solution turntable and arm with a Lyra moving coil cartridge. After plugging the RCA’s from the Clear Audio into the NPC’s phono inputs, it’s then a simple matter to set the NPC’s rear panel cartridge load setting to 100 Ohms (which I prefer on the Lyra over its recommended 200 Ohms).

Next I go to the front panel display of the NPC and finish the setup. For gain, the Lyra seems to work best with 69dB, perfect for a 0.6mv cartridge. Next, I want to set the digital output sample rate and bit depth. Because I do not have anything to play back DSD just yet, I am going to choose PCM. I set this to my favorite, 96kHz/24 bit (it can go as high as 192kHz but I prefer 96 – read all about it in the Owner’s Manual if you want). I connect the I2S output of the NPC through an HDMI cable to the PWD and I am ready to start auditioning. You could also connect it through the coax digital output to your DAC if you want.

Comparing LP vs. CD sound

Using the pure analog output of the NPC as my reference, I put on a few cuts. I really like the Mofi version of Willie Nelson’s Stardust for starters. Willie’s voice is easy to know when you get it right. Halfway through the track I click the preamp over to input 2 and listen to the output of the PWD. There’s about a 1dB drop in level I adjust for and then kick back and listen. Is it identical? No, not quite, but amazingly close. There’s a slight sense of soundstage loss and his acoustic guitar hasn’t exactly the same ring to its upper harmonics, but I am surprised and delighted just how close this is. I mean, we’re splitting hairs here. I’d give it a 95% which, given I am listening to the IRS system in Music Room One, is really quite remarkable. The IRS system in Music Room One is one of the most resolving systems I have ever heard, so the fact that the two outputs sound so close is really gratifying.

I now switch over to Holst The Planets to get a bigger perspective on the two. This time I start with the output of the PWD and get a good measure on the track Jupiter. It sounds amazing on the IRS and I find it hard to imagine it can get any better when I switch to the pure analog. I switch and, yes, it’s ever so slightly better but going back and forth quickly the differences are tiny indeed.

Why this is so interesting

What’s amazing to me is how well a PCM copy of a pure analog playback can be. In recent Paul’s Posts we’ve been covering a lot of ground on how this is possible. How CD’s of the same recording generally sound nowhere near as good as the LP version, yet you can make a digital copy of the LP and it sounds essentially identical.

If you’re interested in these topics or following along with the controversies of PCM vs. DSD, then I would encourage you to signup for my Paul’s Post series and get a daily dose to start your morning off right. Easy to signup, even easier to unsubscribe.

Moved to tears

The New York Times has a great article on an audio project that has been bringing guests to tears.

““The Forty Part Motet,” an 11-minute immersion in a tapestry of voice, each thread as vivid as the whole fabric. A sacred composition of Renaissance England is rendered by the multimedia artist Janet Cardiff through 40 speakers — one for each voice in the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, which performed the piece in 2000. What started as one microphone per singer is now a choir of black high-fidelity speakers arrayed in an oval, eight groupings of soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.”

I have often thought the only real way to bring realistic audio into the home is to have each instrument, each performer separately miked and played back through their own speaker. And now someone’s done it and the results, I understand, are bringing tears and wonderment to those listening to the 11 minute piece. My thanks to reader Jerold Block for bringing this to my attention.

If you have a news item you think our readers would enjoy, send it along to me and I’ll take care of it for you.

AGB is back!

 

For those of you that have been long time readers of TAS (The Absolute Sound) you may remember one of the more colorful writers of years ago, AGB or Andrew Benjamin. Andrew and I have been pen pals for quite some time. He’s as colorful a character as they come and not shy on opinions either.

I’ve invited him to post his thoughts about audio on our online magazine PS Tracks and he’s there in full living controversial color calling himself the Audio Hitman. If you’re interested in what he has to say, click here and you can read the 5 articles he’s posted already.

I will caution you that he’s not to be read by those looking for non-controversial opinions. AGB’s are strong, often conflicting with what you might believe, but that’s why I like publishing him. Enjoy at your discretion.

A bit more Britten

“By all accounts,Mstislav Rostropovich(1927–2007) was a force of nature. It wasn’t just his cello playing, although he may have been the greatest cellist of the latter 20th century. It wasn’t just his conducting, although he became one of the great interpreters of Russian music, a welcome presence with any of the world’s A-list orchestras. It wasn’t his pianism or his creative work either, even though on many occasions he served, with skill and energy, as his wifeGalina Vishnevskaya’spiano accompanist. His compositional studies—with Shostakovich and others—led to his commissioning over a hundred new works for cello from other living composers.

Not least among Rostropovich’s many achievements was the remarkable artistic and personal bond he forged with Ben Britten.”

So starts Laurence Schenbeck’s terrific and insightful article on Benjamin Britten. This is a terriifc read and one I encourage you to enjoy. Clickhere to read the entire article and hear the hand selected pieces Dr. Schenbeck has chosen for you.

George Duke

We were all saddened to learn that legendary jazz keyboardist, George Duke, passed away on August 5, 2013.

“George was an amazing musician who both crossed and fused multiple musical genres with ease. He was at the forefront of the use of the synthesizer in jazz, the progressive rock movement with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, the fusion movement and the smooth jazz movement. He performed with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, played keyboards on Michael Jackson’s multi-platinum album , “Off the Wall” in 1979 and had 2 huge Top 40 hits, “Reach for It” (which featured what I believe is the longest bass solo in Top 40 history) and “Sweet Baby” ( co-written with bass phenomena Stanley Clarke).”

Keith Copeland, our resident jazz expert, shares with us the music and a bit of history of this amazing musician. Click here to read about and hear the great George Duke.

Till October

Next month we’ll be showing at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I’ve arranged for an awesome pair of custom loudspeakers from my friend Albert Von Schweikert to grace the room and our friends at Audioquest are wiring the system, along with PS power cables and gear. We’ll be playing both vinyl and digital audio and I look forward to seeing you at the show. Should be a good one!

Hope you’ll join us.

Paul McGowan

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