Published in Febuary 2021: Paul McGowan at PS Audio “Do Bigger Audio Transformers Sound Better?” featuring Paul McGowan, Released by PS Audio.
Below are the Top Five ways to improve your music production sound using audio transformers. If you haven’t had a chance to hear what audio transformers sound like, you can hear an example on the Bandcamp audio player below.
01. Sampling & Recording: For sampling and recording, transformers optimize the connection between the source and the destination. Most samplers and drum machines today are digital computers using software to deliver DAW capability. As a matter of fact, a lot of today’s samplers and drum machines are USB and/or MIDI controllers that leverage computers to make music. The Akai MPC X, MPC One and Native Instruments Maschine are perfect examples of this. Users claim these new machines sound sterile compared to the 90’s era machines. Using an audio transformer on the input and/or output of your DAW, sampler or drum machine is a great way to improve the sound quality, analog flavor and size of your recordings. This is true for most types of audio signals.
02. Tracking & Mixing: After you get the sequences and tracks arranged the way you want them, it’s time to print the tracks and mix down your songs. Stereo groups, DAW tracks, analog tape recorders, digital multitrack recorders, stereo tracking units… All of these can benefit from the use of audio transformers placed in the signal path. As the mixed tracks pass through the electromagnetic medium, sounds are glued together in an ear pleasing way. Adding to the cohesiveness of the sonic components within the mix. By using audio transformers in combination with passive summing boxes like the SB2-EN, routing audio groups through the passive transformers and summing boxes, then back to a stereo mix bus (out-of-the-box), the sonic quality and size of audio recordings can be significantly improved, in comparison to “in-the-box” software only mixing. This technique has become popular in the last 5 years or so.
03. Summing & Mastering: The same principles apply in regard to summing and mastering. If you add audio transformers to the signal path, the result will be improved sonic quality, added analog flavor and size. Kick drum and bass frequencies will stand out in a way that is very pleasing to the ear, due to low end phase shift. Many professional studio and mastering engineers such as Bernie Grundman, have been using audio-transformers for mastering in the music industry for several decades now. They will sometimes use an audio transformer with a 1:2 step-up ratio to achieve enhanced low frequency response. Step up transformers have a side benefit of adding a subtle bass boost to the audio signal, similar to a shelving equalizer. You can hear this in the audio demo below.
04. Analog Flavor & Sonic Image Size: Audio transformers impart analog flavor to audio signals, adding harmonics and warmth to our digital recordings. The analog flavor that is imparted to the audio signal is a function of the size and material the core is made from. The larger the transformer core, the larger the potential for increased sonic image of the audio. Vintage audio transformers are typically constructed from iron and/or steel, and deliver warm sounding harmonics to the audio signal, due to the lower permeability of the core material. Modern transformer core materials are constructed from alloys containing nickel, delivering a much cleaner transparent audio signal, due to higher core permeability. Today core materials are chosen to provide a balance between sonic flavor and clarity.
05. Impedance Matching & Galvanic Isolation: Audio transformers allow maximum power transfer between the output and input devices, due to impedance matching of the input and output circuits. Because the audio signal is converted to an electromagnetic signal, there are no physical connections between devices, this is called galvanic isolation. This eliminates potential ground loops between audio units and optimizes current flow for a clean audio signal within the system. Also eliminating noise and 60Hz hum, due to multiple system ground connections created via audio cables. Transformers allow you to run long cables i.e. from the deejay setup across the room, to the sampler, without signal degradation or noise.