Filling a vacuum

April 27, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

When we think up new products sometimes it's because we have a novel idea like the Digital Lens. That's a product/technology that solved a problem most people didn't even know they had.

Then there are the obvious ones like amps and preamps to fill out a system.

But sometimes products come into being to fill a vacuum. And surprising that's why we're committed to building a new category of loudspeaker.

To fill a vacuum.

When our customers ask for loudspeaker recommendations to match their musical tastes we're at a loss of where to send them, which is weird because there are more speaker manufacturers than any other category in our industry. You'd imagine with all that choice there'd be a slam dunk for people who want true full range, high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers.

But there's nothing we know of that fits that bill (though admittedly that's quite a laundry list of requirements).

So, as we've done in the past with AC power and digital audio—and even as far back as our early standalone phono stage—we need to step up to the plate and do it ourselves.

To some, this post will sound like over the top marketing fluff or just plain boastful. Probably is. But to those who have genuinely sought out the aforementioned laundry list in earnest and found themselves settling on the next best choice, this is all too real and a problem worth solving by someone.

Anyone.

I wish we could do it sooner.

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30 comments on “Filling a vacuum”

  1. To a straight wire with gain adherent this may sound crazy, but if the AN3 has adjustable woofer gain and DSP, mid bass coupler level control and rear wall contour, is it a stretch to place one more level control in the signal path in terms of the upper frequencies rendering the speaker system completely tunable and easily adjustable to every listening environment and front-end electronics?

    Just my $.02 ...

      1. My question/suggestion was in regards to the high frequency drivers. Personally, i would leave the midrange signal path as pure as possible.

        One of my shared critiques while listening to recordings of the
        AN3 prototype from Axpona was, “a hot spot, lil forward, spitty and sibilent, white sounding so-to-speak in the upper frequencies” which upon further consideration could be attributed to the rear firing tweeter reflecting off the four RPG diffusers located directly behind the speakers.

        Due to the nature of the AN3 design which utilizes both a forward and rear firing high frequency driver, it would complicate the speaker systems musical performance to place two separate level controls in the signal path. Therefore, the logical conclusion would be to place a single output level control on the rear firing tweeter with an “off” setting that would further contribute to the systems “adjustable depth” or what i referenced as "rear wall contour" fwiw.

        1. Thanks. Yes, the rear tweeter will have its own control to adjust for personal taste and room conditions. As well, the adjustable depth control will allow you to customize the sound to your liking. Finally, there are two other controls, one for the midbass and another for the servo woofer bass.

          Lots of choices to customize the AN3 to fit your room and personal listening tastes.

    1. I was at my audio dealer today, actually spending money, and there are more than enough speakers I could very happily live with. As Paul says, it's a very crowded market with something for everyone. My dealer stocks some USA brands, Wilson and Magico, and I've always been impressed when I've heard Wilson. I use passive speakers that are designed to work well in pretty much any room. If I were forced to change to something different, it would be a fully active system with DSP, because it would seem pointless to have active without DSP. Good luck to PSA, I've no doubt there is a loyal fanbase in the USA, I assume they will be launched at Munich 2020 and it would be interesting to see how they compare to the fairly similar Piega MLS speakers.

      1. Indeed, Piega’s are great speakers. I believe Goldmund was the first Swiss manufacturer to innovate and utilize aluminum technology for loudspeaker enclosures, though they have moved their operations to Monaco.

        A couple of Goldmund’s ex-engineers formed a speaker company about a decade ago called Stenheim who are making quite a bit of noise in the press, exhibiting their full aluminum loudspeaker enclosure technology at trade shows here in the US.

        1. I have Goldmund and Piega dealers both within 45 minutes. Both are very stylish indeed. The Swiss seem to like aluminium, the Goldmund dealer also sells Nagra.
          Piega have been making speakers for over 30 years and I don’t think PSA is filling a vacuum because the MLS range are very similar to what PSA are planning. They have active and passive bass with the same crossover frequencies, dipoles, planar line stage, ribbons, and the aluminium fins make them very easy and flexible to position in a room. All you need is €65000.
          Curiously, I read that Wharfedale made line stage speakers in 1959. They were designed for school halls and the like.

  2. "this post will sound like over the top marketing fluff or just plain boastful"
    Exactly. IMO PSA doesn't need this kind of over the top advertisement bla bla, trying to convince "us" they're the only ones who can make a speaker that "fits the bill".
    Over the years I've heard several speakers that had a sound out of this world, fitting every bill !
    Besides, my speakers are true full range, with high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers.
    So no vacuum to fill for me by PSA or any other company.
    And though "affordable" is very, very relative, most people wouldn't call the upcoming AN3 affordable.
    So, I llke PSA equipment (didn't buy some of it for no reason) but as far as I'm concerned, leave the "bla bla" to other companies.

  3. If they will sound how I think they will sound and help listeners in their homes, the marketing fluff this time is even partly moderate 😉

    „visually appealing, small footprint, affordable“ for sure is a matter of taste (part of it might be optimized) and budget...but alone the quality and room acoustic benefits of the ribbon drivers, the quality/effort of the bass fundamental as well as the adjustability of the whole thing to room acoustics in one package for this price should be quite unique. All of this assumed coherence, prat, dynamics and other important characteristics meet the high expectations.

    I don’t get tired to mention: for those who would finally anyway prefer PSA amplification with it, a fully active (BHK) version would be the optimum in sound quality, adjustability and price/performance imo, even if it won’t be possible to integrate tubes into such a package.

  4. Paul,

    If you believe today’s post is a high pressure hard sell, you better turn in your white belt and shoes.

    Worry about being over the top when you start doing YouTube ads with a lion sitting on an AN3.........

  5. I think one of the reasons I come here is that Paul provokes me to think. The thought occurred to me that this is the point where audiophiles (including many engineers in this industry BTW) and I part company big time. To audiophiles a sound system is a collection of elements put together, each having some idealized concept of what it should be and with each element perfection itself the overall result should be perfect when they are assembled. And so each manufacturer strives to achieve the goal of perfection based on his concept of what perfection means for the elements he manufactures. String together perfect elements and you'll get perfect results. Since each element is perfect there is no need to install any adjustments, who would want to adjust away from perfection? But it doesn't seem to work. And so the audio equivalent of the wine maker uses his experience gained through trial and error to get just the right blend of these elements. And this is how I think audiophiles see it.

    I was not taught that way. By the second year I had enough math to start being taught the analysis and synthesis of systems. After all virtually all engineered products can usually be broken down into systems, subsystems, and sub subsystems of subsystems etc. The process starts with analysis, understanding how elements interact to explain the whole. This is necessary before you can synthesize anything because without it you'll have no idea why it does what it does let alone how to get it to do what you want it to. I'm not just talking about audio systems, I'm talking about everything. Only the following year do you start learning how the individual elements work. The scientific basis for them and the math to explain it is still some months away.

    To be an engineer capable of designing systems you have to first define in precise terms what you want the system to do. Incorporated into the performance specifications are the various functions it must be capable of. The variables it will encounter to perform these function. The successful design incorporates features to deal with this aspect of a problem. The understanding of the problem and its elements is based on science. How they are selected and assembled is an art. The performance specifications required are based on this understanding. If the specifications are inaccurate or incomplete to describe the desired function then the design will fail. This is where the so called audio subjectivists fail. Their specifications aren't even close to describing the problem. The analysis of it is badly flawed.

    So what is the objective in the case of high fidelity sound recording and reproduction systems? Within the limits of human hearing the task is to duplicate the sound field heard at one time in one location created by one method at another time in another place created by an entirely different method. This second method will store and retrieve the elements necessary to perform this task. It will encounter such variables as different ways recordings that are to be stored and retrieved are made. This is not just the format of the storage/retrieval element but the way the recording engineer made the recording itself. It will also have to deal with variables in the acoustics of the room where the recording is to be heard. Therefore, systems designed to understand and solve the problem completely and accurately will need to be created, the method of solving the problem will have to be created. and a way to measure all of the relevant parameters of the end result to compare it to the goal including hearing capabilities will need to be created.

    Which of these aspects of the real problem does this industry understand and address? My answer is NONE OF THEM. So if I show some disdain for the products of its efforts which have taken a great deal of time, skill, and cost a great deal of money, now you understand why. Audiophiles and I live in two different universes of problem solving methodology.

    1. Soundmind,
      While I can agree the audio high end industry as a whole may have failed in sound field replication based upon definitions and goals stated decades ago - what matters in today’s terms is what does the “audiophile” (consumer) expect?

      I am under no illusion that the recreation of any given sound environment in any other environment is nearly impossible. So if I enjoy recorded music and sound reproduction then what facsimile or presentation provides the most enjoyment for me in the environment I have?

      You took things very mathematically and logically to a level with your audio system. This was based upon your training and problem solving skills, and yours (or others) stated definitions of what was to be achieved. Not many, if any, others have.

      I like Paul’s definition of which one can assume he and his group are designing to…
      “true full range, high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers.”
      There is nothing in that definition or goal about absolute perfection in sound field reproduction. One can make assumptions on how well his new speakers will soundstage for a “3D holographic” illusion. As you have said earlier magic and illusions are fun.

      On another note I thought the title of today’s post was interesting. “Filling a vacuum” Is there any sound in one?

      1. I think people took Paul's use of the word vacuum too literally. I think he was speaking figuratively of a need in the market for something that isn't offered yet and he intends to fill that need. So the vacuum is just a metaphor for an empty space in the line of products the market offers.

        While it is true that precise replication of a sound field would only be possible in a special laboratory using special recordings and detailed measurements we don't make yet, there are qualities to live music that are the results of dimensions of sound that have been lost in the recording process that have not been addressed. It is the flawed understanding that lacks knowledge of these dimension that have not been addressed. We now know that most of the sound you hear live is the result of reflections, 90 percent or more at a live musical performance. Yet the understanding, generating, and control of these reflections which affects every aspect of the subjective qualities that sounds have has been entirely ignored. There's no secret about what I do. I study sound reflections, how to understand them, how to model them, how to measure them, how to construct them, how to control them, and how these variables affect what you subjectively hear. Because all of this is lacking, at best your sound system could only be 10% accurate. When I started I thought if I could just get about one tenth of the missing 90 percent I'd double the accuracy of what I could at best get. I was amazed that I could do much better than that. So I've been experimenting with this for 45 years. It's a lot more fun and not an entirely passive activity as audiophiles' hobby is. The people in this industry are stuck in a safe mental rut they are familiar with. IMO they've about reached the limit of what they can do in that rut. In fact they don't even know they're in a rut because it is so deep the way they dug it and it is so familiar it's their entire world.

        1. I took Paul's "vacuum" to mean 1) the same thing that comes to mind when someone asks me in the local library, where I volunteer, for a book suggestion or my favorite book, and 2) he hasn't had any suggestion to offer that he knows well enough to feel confident about.

  6. Paul,

    As an extension to this question, along with your previous video; what we hear from our equipment is significantly influenced by not only the interaction of the pieces in our systems, but even more so by our somewhat unique room environments, as well.

    I understand the aversion to ‘tone controls’, however I’d state that the volume control has a big impact upon the balance or lack thereof between the lows, mids, and highs. And as such, from what we hear (not necessarily ‘seen’ by electrical measurement tools) the volume control- like it or not- acts as a tone control, and our systems could benefit from an ‘attenuation control’ to manage its negative affects i.e. via a loudness control. I’d suggest that an implementation should provide adjustment for both ends of the frequency spectrum (vs a one size fits all on or off setting from a factory) so that our room environments can be taken into consideration. Importantly not to add tone, but to attenuate the imbalances created by our selection of gain/volume.

  7. "true full range, high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers"

    You forgot easy to drive. If you want to build a be all, end all speaker, then it needs to work well with the vast majority of amplifiers. Soundmind's point about the audio chain needing to work well as a system is well taken. Back in the mid to late 70's I heard stories of an Infinity speaker that caused some amplifiers to go up in smoke due to a 2 ohm impedance dip. Not something that I would have wanted no matter how good it sounded, as it would limit choices of amplifiers.

    I am not suggesting that the AN3 might be hard to drive due to a difficult impedance curve. Just that a truly good speaker should not be difficult to drive.

    1. This is not an endorsement or criticism of AN3, just a technical fact based on what we know so far. The most difficult drivers, the woofers, and the next most difficult drivers, the lower midrange or what Paul calls the midbass coupler will have their own amplifiers. Therefore the midrange and tweeter will be the only load an external amplifier will have to contend with and that should be a walk in the park for any amplifier unless there is something truly bizarre about them or the crossover network. Very unlikely. What's more they will be very efficient which means not much amplifier power will be needed to play them at very loud levels without distortion or strain. So in this design, I don't expect any problems of this type to occur. Again, I'm making no judgments about this particular speaker but what I said above applies to everyone in the industry.

      Notice I said nothing about Paul's new speaker or anything else he manufactured in my posting above. As his friend I wish him well with his new product and hope it is a great market success. I don't care how he advertises it. Right now he seems in the enthusiastic mode which I wish I still had. But as an engineer and scientist my technical objections still apply as it does to all of his competition. I'm sure whatever it is it will be very high quality and a fine value for its type.

    2. I think it was more like a 1.6 ohm impedance dip and I believe it was on more than a few models- and I have had some (RS 2.5’s, RS III’s, Kappa 9’s, etc). The famous Watkins dual voice coil woofers (One of my car enthusiast pal’s always referring to them as Watkins Glen woofers-lol).

  8. Does the term "Digital Lens" have anything in common with Bob Carver's "Digital Time Lens" which was incorporated in his CD players in the 1990's, of which I have one, (TL-3300)?

  9. "But sometimes products come into being to fill a vacuum. And surprising that’s why we’re committed to building a new category of the loudspeaker. To fill a vacuum."

    Would it not be impossible to propagate sound waves in a vacuum?

    Sampurna Das, studied at Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering, saying:

    "Sound propagates by causing the particles in the medium to vibrate. A vibrating source transfers the vibrations to the surrounding medium, which can be solid, liquid or gaseous. The resulting vibrations create varying pressure regions by compressing and decompressing the particles in the medium, and through this process of compression and decompression, sound waves propagate through the medium. During the propagation of sound, the particles of the medium receive these vibrations and transfer them to the surrounding particles, allowing sound to travel.
    In a vacuum, there are no particles that can transfer and carry vibrations, so sound cannot travel. The most well-known example of a near-vacuum is outer space. Technically space is not entirely empty, and there are gaseous particles in space through which sound can propagate. However, these interstellar gases are much less dense than the earth's atmosphere, meaning that there are fewer particles per unit of volume in space. So although the sound is propagated through space, human ears are not sensitive enough to detect it. Thus, people consider space to be soundless."
    --www.quora.com/What-happens-to-sound-waves-in-vacuum-when-it-cannot-propagate

  10. "true full range, high resolution, easy setup, adjustable depth, extended dynamic range, musically breathtaking, visually appealing, small footprint, affordable loudspeakers"

    I just need a definition or description of what is meant by "adjustable depth"

    The rest I understand and of course I have my own expectations of what they should be.

  11. Sounds like Paul''s taking a run at cracking the engineering formula of fast/quality/cheap, choose two... Only to the Nth degree. I wonder if people would accept a trade off of the minor qualities... Ugly as sin instead of a big footprint.
    There are few people in the industry capable of even beginning such a task, much less well funded and the time to spend. Paul fits well into that group. I'm looking seriously at his Sprout, even if I have to task one per speaker to get enough power for my choices in speakers.

  12. A perfect speaker which will please everyone, impossible. Speaker designers are human and rely on subjective tuning so one speaker cannot please everyone. Add to this the fact that everyone's choice differs universal acceptance of one speaker is impossible try hard as one may. Remember years wasted trying to make solid state to sound as good or better than tubes with no success and finally going back to tubes. If cost had not been the deciding factor ( really very good transformers are quit expensive and so are tubes ) tubes in the output stage would have resulted in definitely significantly better sound e.g. take the metallic shimmering, forceful sound of cymbals with tubes as compared to the papery, flat sound of cymbals with solid state. But one must never give up. Keep trying who knows some day reality may dawn. In the meantime hybrids are the the best compromise and helped with imaginative publicity are selling well. Regards.

  13. All this "big talk." And, I am still waiting to hear about the PSA bookshelf speakers.
    I listen nearfield. Phase coherence is what I find gives the most satisfying sound when up close.

    No word yet? Remember, it was little David that slew the giant.

    1. Little speakers? What about AN3, AN2 and AN1 speakers, phono amp, Octave server, TSS DAC, DMP replacement, I'm losing track of the promised products. An integrated amplifier, preferably with a DAC inside, would probably be popular. I read that at Expona there were a lot of integrated units from the more top end manufacturers.

  14. There are many really good speakers out there that fit many different rooms and many different budgets. The same with audio electronics. You don't need to break the bank to get musically satisfying sound. The biggest mistake people make is buying the wrong gear for the amount of money in their budget. Knowing how to get the most bang for your buck is important and requires research. The used market is also a good place to begin for those on a tight budget.

    Buy something new and you will almost always take a big hit when you want to sell it which is why it's important when a company has a good trade in policy for your old equipment. When I buy something used I almost always get my money back when I sell it and sometimes even make money off the sale.

  15. The reason nobody has done it IS "the laundry list". Loudspeakers are all under-specified wrt to human hearing, because human hearing metrics went awry 85 years ago. When the designers are not even addressing important pscyho-acoustic and musical acoustics problems, they keep stumbling around in the dark looking for the flooby dust to explain why some speakers sound much better than others despite similar measurements.

    I am working in the pro world, which you would expect to develop some rational set of criteria. They are not even questioning the dominant paradigm - their ears are so broken in to the sound of PA, monitors, headphones and stereo recordings that they can't recognize more realistic music. Their environment is totally void of the absolute reference. The audio and venue electro-acoustics world is so inconsistently skewed that they don't believe their ears, trusting the measurements instead.

    Even my favorite performance hall acousticians, Jaffe Holden, can't hear or at least can't explain why some of their halls sound better than others that measure the same (they have criteria involving the spectral curve of RT60 and the room volume).

    John Meyer et al have developed a real dynamic criteria, MNoise, by measuring live performances. The answer is that tweeter power, volume and speed specifications are low by 18dB wrt REAL music - recordings have all compressed and equalized these peaks out because the engineers learned that consumer systems AND STUDIO MONITORS distort on real transients, hitting XMax, Pd and slew limits. NEWS FLASH: 1" domes don't work, and horns have other problems.

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