Darren Myers has an interesting story. After a stint working as an audio engineer at B&W/Classé, he moved to PS Audio where he was charged with designing a new phono pre-amplifier. His first prototype would focus exclusively on measurements. He piled on the global feedback to drive down distortion figures and produce a unit whose measurement scores were unimpeachable. Job done? Not by a long shot.
When he listened back to what he’d created, Myers found himself less than impressed: the audible results weren’t terrible but neither were they impressive. The sound, according to Myers, seemed to stick to the loudspeakers and the music just didn’t come alive as much as he’d hoped it might. A hole had been punched cleanly through Myers’ (now misplaced) logic that for a piece of audio hardware to sound good it must first measure well.
Furthermore, this first prototype would undoubtedly satisfy those who derive their ‘audiophile’ pleasure from knowing that their chosen gear measures well but it wouldn’t serve those who take their ‘audiophile’ pleasure from listening.
Energised by his sharp lesson at the School of Real-World Product Design – that idealism can often drive engineers into a cul-de-sac – Myers went back to the drawing board to produce a second phono pre-amplifier prototype. This time out he would take a more pragmatic approach by splitting his attention between measurements and listening. The result was a second unit that didn’t measure as impressively as the first but – crucially – sounded better. This would be the design that would ultimately go into production as PS Audio’s Stellar Phono Pre-amplifier (SPP).
In January, Michael Fremer wrote in his Stereophile review of the SPP, “The midrange on this phono preamp is as open, uncongested, transparent, and revealing as that of any phono preamp I’ve heard at any price.” The correlation between better measurements and better sound had faltered once again but the ends had seemingly justified the means: of a product designer not focussing exclusively on the measured performance of his/her work.
In the latest episode of the Darko.Audio podcast, Darren Myers dives deeper into his SPP-development story. Listen below via the embedded Soundcloud player or use Spotify and/or Apple Podcasts to subscribe and be notified as soon as future episodes drop.
This podcast epispode was produced by Nick McCorriston. Music by Ben Pit.