This town is well known for its outdoorsy and sports-minded people. You can’t flick a booger without hitting a cyclist, they say. Or maybe I’m the only one who says that.
People in the area really bond over shared interests, and one group in particular maintains a fervent, albeit under-the-radar presence: Audiophiles.
Denver may home to the annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (Oct. 2-4 at the Denver Tech Center Marriott), but more than a few of the high-dollar devices you’ll see there are designed and made here in Boulder County.
Over time I hope to shed light on all of these local high-end audio companies. Today we’re starting with Boulder’s own PS Audio, located on Sterling Drive in Boulder, next to Coupe Studios.
In Thursday’s Entertainment edition of the Colorado Daily’s Welcome Back series, I wrote about a small, stylish and simple-yet-mighty home audio amplifier from PS Audio called the Sprout.
Preparing for the article I discovered that a CU graduate was influential in its concept and production. Cool! Scott McGowan, son of Paul McGowan, PS Audio’s founder and CEO, is sales director at PS Audio, and the Sprout is his baby.
I reached out and Scott agreed to answer a few questions over email about his experience at PS Audio, and to talk about the Sprout.
Hey Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk. You come from a very entrepreneurial family, don’t you?
Highly entrepreneurial. My father started PS Audio in 1973. My oldest brother Lon currently owns and operates no fewer than three companies (including Alpine Modern, the newest lifestyle brand of retail stores and cafes in Colorado). Another older brother, Sean, founded Denver Art Society in 2009 which has become the most famous and well-walked art gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District of Denver (non-profit, 100 percent of funds to the artist). My younger brother Rob founded FinArt which designs and fabricates the coolest hand-made furniture in the world, and he and his partner just opened their first restaurant: Bar Fausto, in Denver’s trendy RINO district. In fact, I think I’m the only one with a boss (my Dad).
Is there a “McGowan Method”? Or is the nexus of business and creativity among you a genetic thing?
More than anything, credit belongs with our wonderful, saintly mother. A creative spirit we do possess, but only inasmuch as she nurtured us to believe in ourselves. A “McGowan Method” would consist of following your passion, learning from and respecting your elders, never hogging credit, always accepting blame. We could only hope to achieve her modesty and balance.
You and your brothers went to CU. When you were in school did you know what you wanted to do as a career?
I was an English Major with an emphasis in creative writing, and as I career I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway if at all possible. William Faulkner was my second choice. Over the years I found my love of literature surpassed my love of the actual art of writing. I remain an avid reader.
Tell me about the Sprout. What kind of person did you design it for?
I designed Sprout for me, as selfish as that sounds. Having lived around audio equipment my entire life I am keenly aware of the power of proper musical reproduction. It’s a game-changer. Living with it for so long, I have also seen the frustration and alienation it can cause. Everyone has sneered at that mess of black power cables behind the TV. Everyone has gasped at the number of connectors on an A/V receiver. How many of us have shaken our heads at that remote control with so many buttons? And what about the nomenclature? COAX, SPDIF, AUX, PHONO, TOSLINK, EQ, GAIN, LOADING IMPEDANCE, HT BYPASS, SPEAKER A/B. Give me a break! This can be done better.
What’s your favorite feature on the Sprout?
The chamfered edges on the extruded aluminum. I know, I’m supposed to say it’s all about feature set, like the fact that it plays all the music wirelessly from my phone AND plays my turntable, but with those features locked in and the sound quality undeniable, sometimes I sit with my headphones on and marvel at the perfection of its construction. Conceptually I played a large role in this, but credit is due to our industrial engineer, Bill Abplanalp, who designed the unit without a single visible screw head. Weighing in at 2.8lbs, the machined and bead-blasted aluminum with champagne finish and the walnut top really knock me out.
Sprout’s inception, promotion and roll-out was an interesting process, a little different than what you might be used to seeing with an established company. How and why did you release the idea and how did involving Kickstarter influence the reception?
As our goal was to break into a new, mainstream market, Kickstarter was a valuable means of outreach. Sprout is about the story: Frustration, because your love of music need not require a degree in electrical engineering, nor a matured trust-fund, nor a dedicated listening room. Excitement, because we desire to provide music with the listener in mind. Hope, because we knew we could do it better than anyone else. Kickstarter was a platform for us to express our deepest feelings of the value of concert-quality audio in the home. And it worked! The campaign funded in 61 minutes, and the remaining 30-days, 11-hours we raked in over 800 orders and over $400,000. Our backers—new audiophiles—continue to laud the device as providing everything as promised.
Ben Franklin developed 13 rules with which to guide his future actions, calling it his “Plan.” Is there an entrepreneurial “rule” that you follow and would suggest for interested readers?
If you’re a planner, you can get in trouble when things don’t go to plan. And things never go to plan. If you force it, the current can turn against you quickly. Be patient. The best advice I can give is identify the tenets of your plan that are fundamental and unbreakable (there should be few of these), and never waiver from them. Then partner with the right people and be open to their rich insights. Passion is a good thing—the best of things—but a dispassionate, practical pursuit of your goals is what’s required to achieve them.
Where can someone in the area go to listen to a Sprout?
For a listening experience, come to PS Audio here in Boulder, or visit Crescendo Audio in Wheat Ridge. Or, better yet, take us up on our 30-day audition policy and put Sprout in your home. This is where you need to hear it. Most people who own Sprout start watching a lot less television. Good luck!
Duncan is producer and sound engineer of our newsroom music video studio Second Story Garage, firstname.lastname@example.org.