Industry Insights

A Digital World... Through the Lens of Analog Audio Engineer

I place calls to anywhere in the world from a video screen in my pocket that also happens to take pictures, book a flight, play music wirelessly to little thingies stuck in my ear, play movies, talks to me (and I to it), tells me where to drive my car, reminds me of my next meeting, and controls my entertainment system. And that just scratches the surface: augmented reality, banking, games, social media are available as well.

It’s instructive to remember that not more than a few decades ago the only way to listen to recorded music was through the scrape of a needle or the twist of a tuner knob: telephones had wires, televisions had antennas, maps were a constant struggle to fold.

The very first software project our company PS Audio tackled was a blinking front panel LED. I remember scratching my head how to make the thing pulse on and off as the preamp warmed up—and how to trigger it to burn steadily when ready. I finally chose the most ancient of devices, a 555 timer, an IC still in wide use today. Developed in 1972 by Signetics Corporation, this handy little device was a programmable timer that my hardware skills were compatible with. Instead of code, I programmed the device with more familiar elements: a resistor and capacitor. It was a challenge I enjoyed and the IVH preamplifier was the first recipient of my LED blinking circuit. It was a proud moment for me.

Today, our engineers type changes into equipment not with capacitors and resistors but with words and symbols pounded out on a keyboard—a skill I understand in concept but not in practice. It is truly a digital world and few stereo devices are without at least digital front panel controls.

And, while us old dog analog hardware engineers may be fewer in numbers, we can still show them code whippersnappers a thing ‘er two! Truth is, both disciplines are essential for high-end audio and its reproduction of high-performance audio. It may be a digital world, but don’t discount the importance of analog.

Paul McGowan

Paul McGowan

Paul McGowan is the co-founder of PS Audio and has been designing, building and enjoying high end audio since 1974. He lives in Boulder Colorado with his wife Terri and his four sons. His current big project, other than playing with stereos, is writing a book series called the Carbon Chronicles. Book One, the Lost Chronicle, is a work in progress. You can view his efforts at

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