Ignoring the obvious

September 17, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

At first glance, it is not clear to us why an oversized power supply sounds better, or one cable sonically outperforms another. This is because not everything is obvious.

It helps to take some things on faith (at least for the briefest of moments).

Faith for most of us comes only with great difficulty. We first want proof before we’ll let in an idea or a concept that ignores the obvious.

What would happen if we allowed ourselves a touch of faith?

How many of us could let down our guard long enough to try on that new piece of clothing we’re certain won’t look good?

Those of us more willing to experiment with the new are labeled as adventurous. Our counterparts identify as reserved our cautious.

Perhaps it would be easier if instead of using the term faith we choose something a little less challenging.

Like the ability to ignore the obvious if just for long enough to see if it is a good fit.

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42 comments on “Ignoring the obvious”

  1. No problem with faith! I think for most, the meaningful is quite easily distinguishable from misleading marketing.

    What I also think, is, that faith needs at least some occasional accompanying explanation.
    If you would repeatedly talk about black boxes only for a long time (like e.g. „digital lens“) without going any deeper, real faith would have its limitation, the reaction would possibly be rather goodwill instead.

  2. Faith is a belief system that is devoid of proof.

    You know a dishwasher works when you open it up and the plates are shining and smell ‘lemon fresh”. You don’t need to know how it works, for example how many water jets, etc. I suspect most people know whether or not they like the sound coming from their audio systems, without knowing what goes on inside.

    The thing about separates systems is you have to know what each box does. I think that the plug-and-play nature of all-in-one systems is a big factor in their popularity. You don’t need to know anything technical, just listen.

    The audio dealer I go to never talks technical – ever – and almost all of my hifi comes from him. He just invites you to listen to something and decide if you like it or not. I suppose you could call it the Dishwasher Test.

    1. p.s. When I bought my amplifier I compared one model with an update that allegedly included an improved power supply. The updated version sounded better, so I paid for the upgrade. I have no idea whether it was the power supply or anything else. It doesn’t really matter why.

        1. I know, I should have just read the specifications and marketing material and decide that way. What’s going on in Rawalpindi this afternoon? The teams are locked down. Covid? Taliban?

        2. But, aren’t we all in some ways heretics? (In the non religious sense or the religious sense, doesn’t matter). I know I am ( DSD sounds better than Redbook, cables and fuses sound different, etc.). I’m surprised the audio naysayers haven’t burned be at the stake.

          1. I think I’m in front of you in the burning at the stake queue. In fact I think Paul will print me a VIP pass, for the simple reason that I don’t think I’ve ever played a SACD and I dumped DSD after a week or two.

            It turns out the cricket thing was the Taliban. The New Zealanders, currently in Pindi, were worried about security. Imran Khan, former cricketing god and one of my heroes, who I met in a queue in 1987, now Prime Minister of Pakistan with a soft spot for the Taliban and his finger on the nuclear button, tried to reassure the Prime Minister of New Zealand that her team were safe, but apparently she was not convinced. So they are flying back to NZ. I saw the New Zealanders in Birmingham in June and it can be pretty rough there on a Saturday night.

  3. Ha…”lemon fresh”…sounds good.
    Probably the most popular word among dishwasher- and washing machine manufacturers 🙂
    But back to more serious (?) matters : for me buying audio is not necessarily a matter of “faith”.
    It’s about listen what sounds best to my ears. That’s all there is to it.

  4. For most of the listening public it’s exactly as our English mediator says.
    For most of us Audio-nuts(philes) it’s more what our Dutch protagonist says.
    For me, in a nutshell-
    Listen: 1
    Science: 0
    Faith: when there’s a surplus in my bank account 🙂

    My experience with power supplies is that they make
    a helluva sonic difference…not counting ‘D’ class.

  5. “Oversized“? What is the definition of “oversized”? It seems that Paul McGowan is playing again with ambiguous words lacking a clear technical definition being relevant for audibility. Is it a bigger box with better shielding or simply having the bad RFI generating parts more remote from the sensible audio circuits? Is it a higher voltage at the output? Or is it just a bigger transformer? Or a small SMPS with higher peak current? Are there more caps and the supply voltage never drops more than 1% instead of 5% during max. current? I have got good results when removing the internal power supply and putting it into an external box or by replacing it by a clean battery supply. Some 30 years ago my car stereo system when removed from my car was driven by a big bank of caps being charged by a 12 V battery being charged by a solar panel – that was pure green power! This tinkering revealed a lot about noisy standard power supplies.

  6. “Your faith was strong, but you wanted proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya”

    More later when my cognitive functions are working better.

    Or not.

    And so to bed.

  7. A touch of faith (belief), or at least a good educated guess, is now becoming more necessary as things turn to a more on-line selling model in the audio world, especially in the US.

    The other choice being the measurements only model.

    The power supply is the heart and soul of anything audio…. The cleaner it is and its ability to drive its intended load are what’s most important. The physical size and or weight are not in themselves indicative of a well thought out and clean noise free design.

  8. When I stopped judging things (before even trying them), it’s reward was getting foreward big time in my audio experiments and tweaking. Yes decent audio capacitors in equiptment do matter big time. It alowed me to voice my equiptment, and get the synergie between the components i was looking for. Yes oversized fast recovery diodes in a preamp reduce the noisefloor. And yes, a very oversized toroidal transformer, with fast recovery diodes, and nichicon KG buffercaps where the cherry on top of my already very modified cd player.
    Lot’s of negative comments on forum from people who saying this is snakeoil.
    I’m very glad to have found Paul’s channel on YT. It alowed me to trust myself to think outside the box. No matter what people or “specialists” say. They where wrong, and I’m rewarded with a awesome really “live” sounding system with great synergy between the components…
    Thanks Paul, and some other great people (danny richie, xraytony etc), in the hifi comunity…

  9. Faith in the blind upgrade path. It’s all we’ve got.
    Two colleagues whose systems I have heard bought PSAudio Powerplant 3 and liked it. On faith I bought one. Glad I did.

  10. This is only tangentially relevant but perusing the Russ Andrews ( a venerable British accessories and cable company ) catalogue last night I found them touting their new “revolutionary” “balanced” power supply unit in which they apply the principles of balanced cables to your hifi juice. A snip at nearly £3,000.
    Seems to me more than a bit of faith required before investing in that, but maybe I am being unduly cynical.

    1. Not snake oil not at all.
      Prof Malcolm Hawksford is a guru of gurus in electrical engineering in audio. He publishes in Hifi News.
      I believe you may have his 1;1 isolation transformer. Only valid if it’s really chunky. And it is.

  11. Reading all of this, reminds me of something that happened a little more then 4 years ago.
    I asked my brother to drive me from my house in Lake City to House Of Stereo in Jacksonville to pick up my Jolida JD1000-P all tube power amp.
    I wondered for a moment why it took two men to bring that amp out of the store, to put it in to the back of my brother’s car.
    When we finely got the amp to my house, I quickly discovered why it took two men to put that amp in the back of my brother’s car.
    Long story short, that amp has some serious wait on it.
    The biggest part of that wate, is its power transformer.
    The wait of that transformer, is 30 LBS according to Mr. Allen.
    The output transformers, ways 25LBS each.
    But, the amp has more then what it needs for power reserves!
    Go figure this one!

  12. I find that faith can be a very tricky word to use unless you’re talking about religion or the faith that a Dog has in their Pet Parents. I tend to use the word believe or belief rather than faith although if it’s used in the proper context it may be proper, just not for me.

  13. Seems I am not alone in feeling applying the word “faith” to the selection of audio equipment a little pretentious.

    Come on, we were not talking about becoming a Buddhist or taking an unproven cancer drug. We’re talking about selecting audio equipment.

    Instead of using the word ‘faith’, how about the phrase “ less risk averse“, or the less MBA lingo “just take a chance”.

    For decisions that are not life-changing, the process of “trial and error” is not a bad way to go. It gets us out of our rut of beliefs, and gives us the opportunity to grow. If we waste a few bucks in the process, nobody dies, and no religious wars are started.

    Unless there is an electrocution hazard with a bigger power supply that Paul isn’t telling us about?

    1. Maybe we’re reading too much into this single word. Faith does not necessarily refer to religion. As a simple noun, faith means complete trust or confidence in someone or something. You can have faith in me that if I tell you something it will happen (well, most of the time 🙂 )

      Faith is simply a means of believing in something. I have faith that my Tesla will kick ass on just about any car that wants to race me “off the line”. I have faith that my new Van Moof bicycle’s (amazing, awesome) front wheel won’t fall off when I am going 20 miles an hour. Etc.

      Faith has zero to do with religion when used in this way.

  14. Some things are easy since we understand them well. Except for price, all things being easy a larger power supply is better. But even though we know something about cables there’s much we don’t know plus how a certain combination of electrical characteristics will work with your speakers and system is complex and must be tried out. Too bad, ideally you need to try lots of different cables to be assured while the power supply you can decide from a distance and probably only need to double check in your system.

  15. After reading some magazines I’m still not sure what powercable I should buy for my amplifier 🙁
    I’m looking for that lemon-fresh sound 🙂
    Hmm…it’s probably best to run a double-blind-faith test to cut the knot.
    Or take a leap of faith and buy one from the hardware store.

  16. I believe there is a typo in the post. I think it is meant to read “reserved OR cautious”.

    I would describe what Paul is asking about here is how willing are you to take a chance. For me it al comes down to money. I am not willing to buy something that cost $50K without testing it first. I might, however, be willing to take a chance and buy something for $50 without testing it.

  17. Some people have faith that there is no God. Others have faith that there is a God (and the only way to heaven is through his Son Jesus Christ).

    Everyone has faith.

      1. If George Michael truly rides an old Brit BSA motorcycle, as his leather jacket indicates in his performance, he truly is a man of faith. He must have to say a prayer every time he goes out on a ride, that his BSA will start, and bring him home.

  18. Concerning science: is there a piece of wire which acts only as a “cable” meaning letting electrons flow without (!) any side-effects. No! A wire in combination with AC acts as antenna for both sender and receiver of electromagnetic fields. Thus if your audio system is perfectly shielded from receiving 60 or 50 Hz, bingo. And if your power cable has no plugs and socket you also avoid any common problems with bad contact surfaces and resistances. And what about reflections of EM-waves and the cable’s end? Ever heard of terminating impedance for antenna cables? Ever measured the polarity near a power cables changing with the orientation of the plug in the wall socket?

    1. Excellent comment! Even the best speaker cables can be thought of as an infinite number of inductors in series and an infinite number of capacitors in parallel with the drivers. A wire is never “just a wire” and even shielded digital lines can have problems given the right circumstances.

    2. This is interesting. I will comment primarily on the power cords, the ones from the wall to the equipment. It is interesting that these last 4 or 5 feet are so prone to all sorts of interference. Not the ones in the wall, those last 4 or 5 feet. Maybe they should make power cords with sheetrock as insulation.

      But they don’t matter for reasons that Paul has explained many times. He states that he thinks that power supplies are very important in equipment. Their role is to provide sufficient DC to the amplification and/or DAC sections, and to filter and clean the AC as it is transformed to DC.

      Two recent tests show that Paul is completely right. In one test, they measured the wave before and after with a relatively old model regenerator. And the wave coming out was clearly much cleaner than the one going in. The regenerator did exactly what Paul has claimed. It made for a better wave.

      The second test was measuring the output of two DACs using wall voltage, the regenerator and then modifying the input power in very significant ways. Adding huge distortion and other aspects. One of the DACs was completely immune to any input changes. The performance was identical showing that the well designed power supply did its job perfectly. The second one, chosen because it was known as a rather less that stellar piece, had some minor issues with the extremes of voltage variation.

      This clearly shows that Paul’s focus on power supplies matters. So, it doesn’t matter what you get into it, a well designed one will provide the appropriate filtered DC to the other parts. It also shows that if you want to have “clean” voltage, even if it doesn’t change one bit the performance of your equipment, but you would feel better doing it, then the regenerator does provide cleaner voltage. An expensive way, but it is your money.

      For speaker wires or interconnects, you need very poorly designed amplifiers and weird wire constructions to have a possibly minor effect on the sound. Just extreme outliers.

      This is tongue in cheek, but fun:

  19. I’m not an electrician or in electrical engineering, however I’ve done some research on the basics of those fields, which allowed me to take more stock and assurance that Paul’s P3 Stellar Power Plant would make a significant sonic improvement. I took quite a chance, especially the P3 being a fairly expensive piece of equipment. In the end being either a heretic or a faith seeker I was right to do what I did and so was Paul about his research and informative videos about AC power Regeneration.

    Taking chances is fun. Next leap of faith I might take is the Dan Clark Audio Stealth headphones. 🙂
    The proprietary tech used (AMTS) Acoustic Meta Material Tuning System sounds like a winner.

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