Masters of Audio: Interview with Paul McGowan of PS Audio

We are excited to bring you the first post in our "Masters of Audio" interview series. This will be a series of dynamic conversations with some of the legendary leaders and visionaries of the audio industry. Whether you are a seasoned audiophile or a newbie, these are the people you want to hear and learn from!

For the past 45 years, Paul McGowan of PS Audio has established himself as a revered leader in the audio industry. Few in the industry have pursued high quality sound with such vigor. Even fewer have continued to push the technological envelope year after year, item after item, marking every PS Audio product with originality. Most of all, his openness and accessibility have been distinguished markers for many audiophiles who count Paul as a mentor & teacher.

The Music Room has cultivated a special relationship with Paul and PS Audio over the years. Not only are we proud to be an authorized dealer for the full line of PS Audio's innovative new products, but we are also honored to be a strategic partner behind their popular Trade-In program. For more information about this program, click HERE.

TMR: Do you remember the moment you became interested in audio?

Paul: Yes, that was back when I was quite young. My father had built his own HiFi system and I found that fascinating. I also loved the music of that day, Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Sam Butera and the Witnesses. Amazing music and I played those albums over and over again endlessly. Not many years after that, I built my own HiFi from parts left over from my father’s exploits.

TMR: What was your first “high-end” system comprised of?

Paul: I am not sure I would call it “high end” but, back then, I was pretty proud of it. I had a pair of Phased Array loudspeakers, a Kenwood integrated amplifier (which I later upgraded to a Dynaco), an AR turntable, and a phono preamp of my own design.

TMR: When you look back at the story of PS Audio, what is most surprising to you?

Paul: That we succeeded the transition of pirate entrepreneurs and firefighters into a respectable company that runs more like a well oiled machine than a haphazard jumble of engineers. Many, many of my fellow audio company heads never made the transition from scruffy start up to an actual company because the disciplines are so different. For example, I am not good at running an organization. That takes skills I do not possess. One has to be steady, organized, purposeful, and patient. I am just about the opposite, always ready (anxious actually) to jump into the next project with both feet. If things are going smoothly I am bored. If there are no problems to solve I am lost. Thankfully I was able to see this and realize those are very different skill sets. Our president, Jim Laib, could no more design a product or even envision a new one than the man in there moon. However, I could no more run a well oiled organization like ours than that same lunar man. No, it’s different skill sets.

TMR: What’s one potentially catastrophic obstacle that you overcame with PS Audio in the past, and how are the lessons from that influencing your next project?

Paul: We came so close to bankruptcy so many times it became almost part of the culture. I just could not get through my head the difference between cash and profits. I was running PS Audio as if it were a mom and pop store: if I spent less than I brought in then there must be a profit and, if there’s a profit, there should be cash. Understanding the falsehood of that was the first big breakthrough for me.

TMR: If you could boil the essence of the PS Audio brand down to one unique quality or characteristic, what would it be? Why is that important to you?

Paul: Customer centric. More than any company I know of, we are laser focused on our end users. We’ll stand on our head, eat a bug, do whatever it takes to make and keep our customers happy. When we design and ship a product, it has to fit into the PS mold of high-performance, high-value, exceptional engineering, and no bullshit. But, once out the door the job is just beginning. Where most companies in our industry consider their customers to be their dealers, and the end users to be the customers of the dealer, we just cannot think like that. Dealers are valued intermediaries between the end user and PS Audio.

TMR: We’re PS Audio dealers and we love the new products. But used gear is our passion as you know, and we see a LOT of used PS Audio gear come through from decades gone by. Can you tell us about the PS Audio “museum”?

Paul: We’re very open to customers showing up at our doorstep and asking for a tour. We typically host two or more tours every day of the week. It’s a fun place to see where and how our products are designed and built, and then have a chance to hear the Infinity IRSV. Awesome fun. Along the way is our museum. Here, we have on display our 40 years of products and it’s a real hoot to see them all from day one to the present.

TMR: If you had to grab one piece from the PS Audio “museum” in an emergency, which one would you run out of the building with and why?

Paul: The original phono stage, the ones Stan and I hand built that started the company.

TMR: Why is music important to you?

Paul: It speaks a different language and communicates with me and others in a way that reaches right into your soul and touches you. The connection to music seems universal, but in my case it can spark deep emotions.

TMR: We understand that PS Audio just relocated to a new HQ. What possibilities does this open up for the future of the company?

Paul: We’ve gone from our home of 12,000 feet to one of 30,000 feet. This gives us the ability to increase our engineering staff by twice, design and build loudspeakers, and open a recording studio and mastering lab. One of the long term goals of the company has always been to provide an end to end solution for our customers. Within a few month’s time we will have lived that dream when Octave Record’s first recording is launched, then later that same year, play it back on a 100% PS Audio system.

TMR: How do you see PS Audio leading and shaping the future of the audio industry?

Paul: The audio industry is changing and needs a steady anchor. We’d like to be that anchor and the voice of reason. We work hard at reaching out to what we refer to as our HiFi Family and building community. Our products represent sanity and common sense in an ever-increasing raise to either the bottom or the top. When a speaker manufacturer recently unveiled their $650,000 speakers we were appalled. That’s absurd. We’d like to help bring music to people around the world and to do so without violating our value standards, ethics, and penchant for high-performance in service of music.

TMR: What current project are you most excited about working on when you wake up in the morning?

Paul: Our new transport and phono stage for sure, but perhaps what best gets my juices flowing is our upcoming music server, Octave. I believe that can change the world in ways people have yet to see.

*If you want to hear more about Paul and his life story, check out his recently published book, 99%True