Tentative steps

August 6, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Our first steps are the most difficult. We're in unfamiliar territory. Our brains haven't yet caught up with our feet.

Case in point, I've been immersing myself in learning the Pyramix DSD workstation. Every new step is my first and each seems mind-boggling until it's clear and obvious. I tiptoe in and march out with a confident smile once understanding has been reached.

Is that your pattern too?

Thinking back on my life's journey I can see how at each junction I tiptoed in (stumbled actually), eventually finding solid footing.

Consider those first steps as they apply to the idea of cables.

Some 45 years ago Mike Moffat, then a repair guy at a California stereo retailer (and now co-owner of Schiit Audio), floored Stan and me with a demonstration on a set of Quad speakers between zip cord and Cobra Cable. Those first steps into the whirlwind that followed were mind-numbing.

Consider that up until Mike's revelation that cables mattered we were 100% focused on the idea that everything in the sonic chain could be controlled through circuit manipulation. Suddenly that was no longer true. Colorations and congestion in the audio presentation that we were convinced were electronic shortcomings turned out to be interface problems between the amplifier's output and the speaker's input.

It was with tentative steps that we began relooking at our design assumptions, testing and listening to them all with the recently learned knowledge of how important the interface was.

I can only imagine how this must apply to many of us. We get a new shred of information that counters what we have long taken as gospel. If we're brave, curious, or simply feeling adventurous we take a tender step forward into the unknown.

That new cable. That new amplifier. That new SACD recording.

Tiptoe in and it opens the door for you to confidently march forward.

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19 comments on “Tentative steps”

  1. Bye bye Georgie Girl...
    Vale Judith Durham (1943-2022)
    'The Seekers' was one of the few bands to knock The Beatles off the top of the charts back in the '60s.

    When I have to learn new things I find it advantageous to write it all down in my own words (after it has filtered through my brain) in an exercise book that then becomes my manual.

    For me, in audio, it's easy.
    If it sounds better, then it's worth investigating & changing my existing views & if not, then not.

    1. Sad to learn about Judith Durham’s passing. ‘The Seekers’, the favourite of sixties mum’s and dad’s everywhere. So the carnival really is over. That was one of my dad’s favourites along with Zager and Evans “In the Year 2525” which I always thought a bit odd for my dad. It really struck me one day that I was getting older when I realised that I actually liked some of music he did, Matt Monroe in particular. I drew the line with David Whitfield though. Interested parties might like to try “Cara Mia”. https://youtu.be/LE9pRwVYo5k
      I also realise I’m getting older when I post reminiscences like this.

  2. The first steps in any new technology are painful, requiring patience and endurance. Take digital sampling, for example. In the 1990s I got into making my own digital stereo pipe organ samples using at that time the very expensive commercially available digital samplers with limited memory. I would record organ pipes from initial attack through enough seconds to get a decent loop. Then I would analyze the complex waves on the oscilloscope to find the loop sections that would sound natural without clicks and pops. It could be maddening when the pipe had complex harmonics...very difficult to impossible to get smooth transitions with short samples. And playable CD-quality samples took lots of RAM, very expensive in those days. I built an organ console with a full AGO pedalboard and friends were amazed at my digital sampled pipe organ, playable real time. Eventually as digital samples of pipe organs became commercially available, I stopped making my own samples. But just knowing how to make them makes me appreciate what is available today all that much more. It's satisfying to know first hand how they do that.

  3. Do different XLR cables (from pre-amp to monoblocks) make a difference too? Mine are Van Damme, made properly. Would I hear a difference if I went to Audioquest, for instance, or would I be throwing money away?

    1. They could, but it could also be worse. I went down the rabbit hole of various high price interconnects. I ended up using Kimber PBJs, not because they are less expensive, because I found them them to be clean and neutral.

      Through the years, I have found component changes to make the real difference, and decided to make the interconnects a fixed/neutral variable. However, that’s my personal preference. Several of my audio buddies are the opposite. They come over to listen with half a dozen different interconnects in tow they want to hear.

    2. Oh yeah! Just do you research and make sure that you can borrow a pair to demo how they will sound in your system. I went from all RCA to XLR on all of my source to preamp equipment except for my tonearm/cartridge and an one more pair connecting the preamp to amp and the results were astounding. I wound up purchasing cables that were not that expensive but were compared to the same manufacturer’s second from top tier (27 times more) very expensive XLR’s and lost very little in the sound quality between these two models. My research led me to Jonathan Valin’s review and that clinched it for me so I ordered demo cables that were already broken in and it was close to a real a jaw-dropping experience. Then I purchased the same model speaker cables, (obviously not XLR) and that changed the entire complexion of my system to the level where I have not regretted these purchases for one single moment.

      I’d say try it you may like it.

  4. When I get into something new, I always first figure out what the fundamentals are. Even the most complex things have some basic/foundational principles that must be understood, with other aspects that build on them. I try to first figure out what those key things are, and master them.

    Those foundational things have profound outcomes, most always effecting seemingly unrelated aspects. The most common mistake I see (from sports to business) is diving into details before being rooted in the fundamentals.

    One of my favorite Einstein quotes is “If you can’t explain it SIMPLY, you don’t understand it well enough.”. It’s rooted in understanding the core principles, the ensuing details resulting from those fundamentals. You can spend forever chasing down details that are ultimately simple/principle results of those core principles.

    1. I’d imagine one of the reasons for that is because it’s relatively easy to swap cables and the like but more difficult to make changes in the listening room where many parameters may be fixed. Obviously I’m thinking here about major in room alterations which have the potential to be disruptive to the harmony of the household 🙁 rather than just moving equipment a few inches.

  5. I find that if I venture in on my own I tend to do better with new things than if they are forced on me. I was an early adopter of SACD and I have never looked back. On the other hand, I have no interest in having a cell phone, having apps, streaming, having my TV and car connected to the internet, wifi, or blue tooth. I tend to keep my cars and TV's ten, fifteen or twenty years. When I replace them it is impossible to grasp how much then non-basic things have changed. I'm being forced to get a smart phone because more and more things cant be done if you do not have a smart phone. I hate it.

  6. I have had many enlightening experiences with cables (mainly headphone and power cords), DACS and of course amplifiers.
    I am so grateful for the journey and definitely the progression cause my god it is so real. The little things make the difference, especially clean power.

    My journey is not done, however I am insanely happy and satisfied with some of my latest toys.

  7. I dumped zip chords in the 80's and went with silver plated copper with teflon jacket... One of the perks working in engineering for a hi-tech land mobile manufacturer of UHF radios was access to "exotic" materials.
    My preamp connectors were custom made SMA using a four leaf beryllium copper center contact. All metal surfaces 30 micro inch hard gold plate (vs gold flash). Indeed it was exhilarating when I "pushed the throttle". Love those moments. Today its pinpointing when and where to find mushrooms...

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