A Binaural Video Report: the Sound of PS Audio’s IRS Vs

In the first two parts of our video coverage of Jana Dagdagan's and my visit to PS Audio in Boulder, Colorado, we toured the factory and I interviewed the company's founder Paul McGowan. In this final video, I listen to three of my own recordings played on the legendary IRS V loudspeaker system, driven by PS Audio's BHK 300 monoblocks. I recorded the sound with Sennheiser's "Ambeo" binaural system, which mounts microphones on the outer surfaces of a pair of earbuds, and if you listen along on headphones, you will hear what I heard!

Hope you enjoy it—I did! And if you play it loud, the low bass notes at the end of the Widor organ recording will blow your socks off!

jdpalmer1's picture

I can feel your head being shaken by the bass notes in the Widor piece!

agb's picture

My first reaction, WTF? A recording of a reproduction and I can hear all the images in front as if I were there? Well, I fookin' did hear it, as if I were in Paul's room. Very uncolored, not bass heavy, very linear...and yes, the bass went down low. I still think you need to hear these with top line headphones and a decent DAC tied to your Mac or PC. I used an Chord DAC and the Beyer-Dynamic XELENTO - a fantastic earbud, thank G-d it doesn't use balanced armatures - which are garbage.

Also, John could have notched it up a bit with a better ADC - for example the one in the LG V30, whose DAC alone is far above the garbage Apple puts into the iPhone. But nevertheless, it was a great idea and an astonishing "trick" to transport the listener in McGowans' listening room....amazing really and fun. And congrats John, I enjoyed looking at the back of your head for a half hour. At least you have hair.

rschryer's picture

...the low organ notes hit. Then it seemed like the diaphragms on my $350.00 headphones were going to shudder and rumble until they'd blow up. Scary.

Curious to know how most readers' headphones fare with the low organ notes at the end of this video. (Just beware of exploding diaphragms!)

dalethorn's picture

One of mine was breaking up, and the other was better but not solid. I got a sense of the power in those deepest pedals, but that's about it. Price isn't the only factor in handling that kind of bass - I know some of the $500-$1000 headphones can't quite do it. But those speakers - it seemed like it was effortless for them.

volvic's picture

My psb m4u1's handled it pretty well, a little heavy cone movement before the end but with the last minute finale it handled it pretty well, with just a hint of distortion for a brief moment. Well done JD and JA, thoroughly enjoyed the music.

rschryer's picture

I have the PSB M4U 2s, which I used in active mode, my setting of choice for almost everything I listen to (I find passive mode too dry-sounding). Did not try the low organ notes in passive mode, figuring it wouldn't fare much better under the crushing weight of the organ's 25Hz-16Hz range.

I doubt many headphones could cleanly reproduce those subterranean tones. They may ignore them, but not cleanly reproduce them. My PSBs try to reproduce the sound of those notes, but ultimately can't muster the composure needed to handle such low sound pressure. But I will listen again this evening in passive mode.

volvic's picture

In passive mode, they are new new new, haven't even broken them in yet. No mass distortion save for a little and a bit of cone flapping at one point but was surprised, thought they would be buzzing for the last minute but fared well. This is not to say that it was all cleanly reproduced but nor was it annoying. Might try tonight with my Grados as I hunker down for the Nor'easter.

rschryer's picture

I thought my headphones would fly away! *Ba-da-tish!* (You think I should keep my day job, volvic?)

volvic's picture

You and Fremer can do stand-up, but def'n keep the day job. Seriously though, I wonder because mine are new or just didn't pay that much attention, maybe will try again with the PSB'S.

volvic's picture

With the volume on much louder at 14:58 my new new new PSB M4U1 do indeed distort. I had it on at 70 on the computer at work but with the volume on now at 97 which is much higher than what I normally listen to it does indeed distort. Guess I didn't hear it at a lower level. Time for the purchase of the Oppo headphones?

rschryer's picture

I guess that depends: Are you planning on listening to low-frequency organ music at higher-than-usual volume? If not, you should be good.

volvic's picture

Been enjoying Walcha's Bach box set and Preston's Widor recordings so I know I would enjoy the planar designed Oppo's, but $2,550 in car repairs just made that decision for me. Will get the Oppo's next year.

rschryer's picture

Too bad we're not neighbors; we could have gone half/half on the Oppo's cost and shared custody.

volvic's picture

When mechanic quoted that price there went my immediate plans to get the Oppo's and the upgraded SME 10 power supply, I wanted to get for my table. Oh well next year. Used to live in Montreal but no longer, could have done a trial run on sharing the Oppo's then ratcheted it up on shared custody of an Audio deske ;) Sadly no audiophiles in my building.

rschryer's picture

...and an Audiodesk". Let me know if you ever decide to move back. ;-)

volvic's picture

Visit a lot as parents still reside but if fortunes change will let you know. Cheers Happy Listening!

supamark's picture

Schiit Asgard 2 amp and Hifiman HE-500 planar 'phones, they're horribly inefficient and weigh too much but sound wonderful - the amp puts out about 1 Watt class A into my 'phones, and power compression sets in at a reasonably high volume but the 'phones need an amp with 2 to 5 Watts into ~32 Ohms to really sing - they play just loud enough for a well recorded snare to make me blink (which snare drums do in real life). I could feel the lowest bass notes more than hear them, no distortion.

rschryer's picture

I also imagine that, all else being equal, planar (and open-back) headphone technology has a leg up on closed-back design - as per my PSBs - when it comes to radiating the lowest bass notes.

Nice headphone setup, btw, supamark.

supamark's picture

I got the Hifiman headphones for about 1/2 off on closeout (they had just introduced its successor - closeout sales are awesome, new stuff at used prices), and the Schiit stuff is the bomb (also using a Modi 2 Uber DAC) and at great prices by selling direct. The whole setup was well under $1k! It's funny, but the earpad material makes a huge difference on these headphones - the vinyl/pleather earpads have a much darker (kinda muddy imo) sound compared to the velvet pads which sound pretty flat to my ears.

I have found that planars have better/deeper bass than dynamics (sorta the opposite of speakers) along with faster transients.

rschryer's picture

Keep hearing good stuff about it. And if there's one thing I like, it's high performance gear that won't break the bank, mostly because I can afford it. :-)

tonykaz's picture

My system is tuned to go lower but I ran out of guzatz-ta-ha'gen on those grand organ notes and soaring dynamics.

Not long ago, someone was having me for a Demo of their home theater playing a German U-Boat movie with the 'Sound' effects being depth charges going off to the left and right of where I was sitting, it was a fearful experience but it wasn't sustained.

This PS System played Sustained low frequency power beyond anything I ever Sold or owned or anything remotely close to.... phew ! It was like the Musical Result from St.Mary's of Redford's Pipe Organ which played at 10:00 High Mass ( the only reason I wen't to Church despite it being a Mortal Sin to miss a Sunday ), my Mom was the floating Angel Singing Voice if there were any vocal accompaniments.

I was and will watch closely to see how those drivers were handling JA's stuff, I'd figured the woofers would be pulsing in and out ( maybe fatally ) but I couldn't see any movement at all, hmm and how come the picture/art didn't get knocked off the wall? In my Esoteric Audio Salon, the big Theil CS3 demos would knock the glass jars of Shoe polish off the shelves of Gabe's Shoes next door ( along with many other mischiefs from releasing Electorcompaniet Mono Power on the Retail Store's infrastructure ).

The Curtis Mayfield performance is beyond my gear's dynamic abilities. How much dynamic range are we hearing? Phew !!!

JA is talking between tracks yet he isn't yelling in the slightest of showing signs of artillery recoil fatigue, nor does the room sound live even thought it has a Live Front and Dead Rear ( same way we set-up our Esoteric Sound Rooms ).

I'm liking those mid range drivers, they are probably better than any dynamic midrange I've heard or owned.

Scale those IRS Towers down to two for about $7,000 and I'm in! ( and please make them way-smaller ).

Thanks for taking us along.

Tony in Michigan

ps. there is some sort of Audio Industry mystery being revealed by a little $79 Phono Preamp maturing into a Full-On IRS type of Electronic System and how it ( somehow ) facilitated the human labors to benefit a universal human need. How did it and they sustain and excel ? Is PS becoming the Hewlett Packard of Audio?

supamark's picture

how much bass twelve 12" woofers put out! I could literally feel it through my headphones.

supamark's picture

"...even thought it has a Live Front and Dead Rear ( same way we set-up our Esoteric Sound Rooms )..."

That's the opposite of how professional designed recording studio control rooms are set up. front is dead (with main monitors mounted in the wall) and back end live (mostly with diffusion, and a couple flat paneal "Haas kickers" pointing back at the listening position) and no parallel walls. I don't think it's as popular as it was in the 80's and 90's.

I found the sound a little too live on the Mayfield song but those speakers really do voices well (bass too).

drblank's picture

First off, I heard some flutter echo when they were talking. Secondly, that room is much too small for that much low frequency energy. As far as diffusion, recording studio control rooms have the Live/Dead because it's a different type of listening. So, they have diffusion on the back wall and mostly absorption on the front and even side walls. Also, people have to make sure the room is large enough for the size and amount of LF speakers. Those speakers are just much too big for that size room and I'm sure there are plenty of room mode issues. Plus, he hardly has much absorption for even controlling side wall reflections.

I thought each track was not clearly defined, too much room sound.

I just think that room is just poorly designed, not big enough for that size of a speaker system. Too bad too. Oh well.

supamark's picture

most rooms are too small for that much bass... they probably go *down* to 11 - 11Hz!

I'm here all week ladies and gentlemen, be sure to tip your waitstaff.

dalethorn's picture

Seems to me if you wanted solid bass to 16.35 hz ('C'), you would need at least one room dimemsion of 35 feet or greater, very solid walls, and no large openings.

barw41tst's picture

This is the very 1st time my grado's frightened me on the bass notes. All that being said I enjoyed the 1st track immensely.

hollowman's picture

JA: So how did that PS Audio experience compare to other rooms (or your own home's room )?

jimtavegia's picture

Natural, smooth, accurate...what more could one want.

Ortofan's picture

... Cantus piece wore off several show reports ago - at least for me. For the future, do you have any piano recordings to insert in the playlist?

On another note, did PS ever determine the source of the spurious 270kHz oscillation that was present in one of the BHK evaluation sample amps?

supamark's picture

It allows the listener to have a reference point across multiple videos. Also, JA probably doesn't have a lot of master recordings lying about to which he has the legal right to publish on the interwebs (as he has previously stated).

If he hadn't used the Cantus recording, I wouldn't have been able to tell just how differently the Infinitys image than regular boxes.

JoeinNC's picture

I’m sure my system and my headphones are not of the same caliber as those belonging to most Stereophile readers, so maybe my standards aren’t as high. But I’m impressed by the sound quality of these Binaural Reports, considering the modest gear used to make them. Fun stuff. Thanks.

Anton's picture

Thanks for that great listening session!

I have heard other pairs of those speakers and have found, to my ear, over time, that upper mid and treble detail from those IRS ribbons have been notably surpassed in the past decade. Did they give you the impression of getting all the detail from the recordings that you were hoping for?

hollowman's picture

... you should've scheduled a concomitant visit at YG Acoustics. They claim to have "The Best Loudspeakers on Earth. Period." I'm sure they have pretty good listening room, too.

tonykaz's picture

They might've visited YG, I certainly would've.


The PS Audio Trip was about Electronics and that NEW Power Plant P20, wasn't it ?

I'm happy to hear the 35 year old IRS 5s thru my Sennheisers but I'd rather have a close look at those AN Loudspeakers and their drivers. I've been waiting all these years, I can wait a while longer.

Tony in Michigan

Supperconductor's picture

Recording some live music this way? This was "interesting" but I'd rather listen to binaural recordings of music, not systems.

dalethorn's picture

I've been looking around to do some of that myself since I bought that recording headset, but after a few experiments I found that recording live music is much different - it needs the venue set up and noise suppression and other things I don't have experience in.

supamark's picture

The Ambeo mics are omnidirectional, which affects "placement" (in this case, where your head is). Omni mics will pick up a LOT more ambient sound than your ears/brain system will register at a given location. When I recorded classical music, omni's were the only mics I ever put up on stage with the performers (then a bit further back around the lip of the stage Blumlein pairs, then crossed cardiod were farthest from the stage - no, not all at once and I never used ORTF or mid-side techniques).

With acoustic music, you'll need to get pretty close to the stage (first few rows of symphony or small hall, within about 5 to 10 feet of the stage in a small club). You'll need to experiment to learn how the mics "hear".

For live amplified music (like a rock band in a club, or jazz) you'll want to get as close to the stage as you can with it still sounding good without the mics in your ears (so, you can hear the instruments *and* vocals clearly and the stage and PA sound has "blended") then move a step closer. <- that should be the starting point for experimentation and each club will be a bit different. Don't stand back at the soundboard, the mics will pick up mostly reflected sound and it will sound mushy and indistinct.

The biggest issue is that none of us are Inspector Gadget and cannot ratchet our heads up above the crowd... :(

dalethorn's picture

The last simple test I did was to stand about 10 feet from a guitarist and cup my hands somewhat behind my ears to screen out the room sound. It's not convenient or scientific, but you do get instant feedback because the headset is feeding your ears at the same time.

tonykaz's picture

Jazz at the Pawnshop was recorded Live with a little Nagra and some table Mics., wasn't it?

Tony in Michigan

supamark's picture

Had never even heard of it until you mentioned it (not big into jazz). Listened to a couple cuts on YouTube and my biggest takeaway is that the alto sax/clarinet is way too loud. Not sure why this would be considered an "audiophile" recording (and the performance is pretty meh so that fits with most "audiophile" track I've heard lol). Then again, I never thought "Brothers in Arms" was anything special sonically (good performances though).

The Nagra's a really good field recorder, have used them (old school 70's/80's era Nagras) a few times. It sounds like the mics were pretty close to the stage, and were probably directional (I'd guess cardioid pattern).

Just googled the recording notes, definitely not "table mics" - they used Neumann U47 (cardioid) tube mics - the U47fet (non-tube) version sells for about $4k each new, used tube U47's in good shape fetch far more. The Telefunken U47 tube mic is about $9k new (it's a reissue). That explains the lifted high end (very popular rock/pop vocal mic due to presence region boost, Sinatra used it too). Also recorded using ORTF technique (a stereo micing technique) with mics about 6 feet up and close to the stage. There's also several spot mics used (all high quality mics) but the ORTF pair of U47's seems to be the main mics.

Second post on this forum thread goes into detail:

tonykaz's picture

I didn't know any of that. hmmm

We loved Jazz at the Pawnshop in my Esoteric Audio Demos, I still love it. I think it's a Standard for all of us.

You Pro people are a different breed, I only have to consider my moods when thinking of music.

More accurately, I think of recorded music as a form of Dopamine release. Super Systems ( like that IRS ) are kinda a drug overdose for me. My Sennheisers are just about right in their smoothness, frequency range and their dynamic capabilities. More of everything ( like the Big Stax headphones ) are too much "High" for my nervous system.

I'm looking for a Vanilla Music System but I want the best Vanilla I can find.

Tony in Michigan

supamark's picture

I can usually avoid thinking about the recording process (except the occasional "how'd he get that effect") and focus on the performance. Unfortunately, I have an annoyingly high threshold for performance quality (which makes recording crappy bands a real chore lol).

I find crappy recordings easier to listen to on not real great equipment because it hides a lot of flaws with its own (and it's a lot harder to critique the recording itself when you can't really hear half of what they did).

I also play (drums, several stringed instruments), and always found it annoying to record musicians that I thought weren't as good as me. The best I recorded (guitarists Tolo Marton and Evan Johns for example) had an effortless quality about their playing - no thinking about it. Thinking about what you're playing tends to kill the music, and it's easy to hear.

Oh, and the analog tape vs. digital as well as tube vs. transistor debates are still going strong in the pro audio world. They also prefer class A and discrete circuits (instead of IC's) pretty universally. Recording engineers and audiophiles are cut from pretty much the same cloth.

HifiHenry's picture

Apart from quite neat headphones I'm using an augmented audio pillow (HUMU) that really lets me feel the deep tones. With this one the sound has to be more than 50% of the volume in order to really feel it, though. https://www.soundandvision.com/content/humu-augmented-audio-cushion-vibration-sensation
Great recordings - the last one is my favorite for sure.

hollowman's picture

Check out this video from the AVShowrooms vlog:


(music demo at end)

ralphgonz's picture

John, the unreleased Portland State Chamber Choir recording you made -- it is so lovely! Is there any way I can obtain a copy?

Ralph Gonzalez
(listening on 20 year old Sennheiser HD-580 through Audio Alchemy HPA v1.0 class A headphone amp)