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October 2000
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Cheap Tweaks That Sound Like A MILLION BUCKS!!!
Review by Bruce Kinch

American Science & Surplus

 

  The below article was reprinted, with permission, from the October 1996 issue of Primyl Vinyl Xchange (PVX). PVX is a really cool vinyl/tweak 'zine indeed! Got "turned on" to it years ago and MAN-O-MAN may i humbly suggest ya get a subscription and the back issues too. Below is a very small sampling of the great articles they have. My gratitude goes out to Bruce for allowing it to be reprinted here on the internet. Go on with your bad self brother Bruce!

 

CHEAP TWEAKS
elcome to Cheap Tweaks, wherein we explore that curious urge, seemingly pervasive within the audiophile community, which drives otherwise normal individuals to seek ultimate audio nirvana via the topical application of various gizmos to high performance (and high priced) componentry. To read to the audiophile press, buying a $3000 amplifier simply leads one inexorably towards $500 isolation feet, a $300 dedicated stand, a $200 power cord with a hospital grade plug (no wise remarks here), $225 "electronic stabilizer", $700 power line filter, various $100+ tuning dots-and-discs, etc. -each of which "opens up the sound stage, increases dynamic contrasts and delineates inner voices (or here either), and Lifts a Veil Enabling Previously Unnoticed Detail to Emerge". And yes, by most reports, many of these things actually do work as advertised, and can make the $3000 amp seem sonically competitive with...a $5000 amp?

OK, so this is the kind of thing, even more than painting the edges of CDs green*, that gives audiophilia expensiva a bad name, especially amongst the many collectors who prefer to put their money where the music is (i.e. more records, tapes, and CDs) and who buy their Consumers Reports-approved electronics at Circuit City-on sale. The very idea of a $3000 amplifier is mind-boggling to many; why buy even a $300 amplifier when you can get a top-rated A-V Receiver with all the bells and whistles for $279... Well, because the odds are the $300 amp sounds better, maybe more like the $3000 amp than like the receiver. Once one gets to the point of thinking amplifiers can and do sound different (and you can still get plenty of argument on that alone), then one can begin to wonder if some appropriate tweaking might make even the inexpensive amp sound better. But will a $300 amp with $2000 worth of audiophile tweaks be "sonically competitive" with a $2300 amp? Interesting question. There are quite a few audiophiles out there with 1950's vintage Dynaco, Citation, and similar tube amps with several hundred $$ invested in upgraded tubes, capacitors, resistors, and wire. But, basically, there's not much sense in pricey tweaks for less than kilobuck components. What the real world needs is Cheap Tweaks.

We got 'em. Or more correctly, we found 'em. In this issue of PVX we discuss several products which are more or less the functional equivalents of Genuine Audiophile Accessories costing ten or twenty times as much. At $2-5 each, these are the sorts of things one might invest in and still retain a certain fiscal liquidity sufficient to encourage subscribing to a journal like PVX, for instance. However, they are not advertised in Stereophile, and you can't buy them at your local Stereo Shoppe, let alone Circuit City. You can't even buy them from PVX, but we will tell you where you can.

(Drumroll). Our secret source (even they don't know this) for the ultra cheap in audio chic is a mail-order outfit out of Skokie, IL called American Science & Surplus (847 982-0870, http://www.sciplus.com). Established about 1937, and previously known as JerryCo, they specialize in industrial and military surplus, scientific and lab apparatus, and, uh, well, you know, like, uh, toys? That's right, some of the most cost-effective audio tweaks around started out as stocking stuffers. If you have a problem with that, don't just stop reading. Seek out a neutral observer, perhaps your spouse or significant other, and together engage in a meaningful dialogue which explores the complex psychologicalreverberations arising from the interaction of the phrase "stereo system" and the concept "toys". Feel better now? In fact, the kinds of "toys" that ASS (one cute corporate acronym, eh?) proffers are "science toys", often made of unusual materials and designed to demonstrate scientific phenomena. Mass production, cheap packaging, and not having to advertise in Stereophile means the above-average third-grader can afford them. They also tend to have funny names.

Consider ASS item 39129 "Happy and Unhappy Balls", $3.95. The Happy Ball is standard, high bouncing neoprene. Give it to the cat. The Unhappy Ball is made from "a proprietary compound" (Norsorex) which 
exhibits very high hysteresis (and a low coefficient of restitution), i.e. the molecular structure results in internal friction which retards the natural tendency of rubber to return to its original shape after deformation from shock or vibration. The instructions indicate the Balls actually come from Edmund Scientific (P6-1000), detail the chemical formulation, and suggests you "ask your tudents to think of practical uses...they might surprise you with their creative answers". Like putting them in " plastic table leg tips and placing them under stereo components? How do they compare with the 3 for $55 Audioprism Isobearings, balls of the same size, also made of "a proprietary compound", and equally unhappy to bounce? Decide for yourself.

Next is ASS item 89436 "Sticky Balls" (Who thinks these names up?), 4 for $2.50. 1.75" hemispheres of "Memory Gel", a tacky polymer substance both icky and effective at damping vibration. Excellent under turntables subject to acoustic feedback (use as many as necessary). For greater load bearing, stick two together in a 1/2" section of 1.5" I.D. tubing, which results in something comparable to the Deflex Foculpod tacky polymer damping foot (3 for $35).

For vibration-draining "cones" order ASS 23133 "Rascal Top", 3 for $2.25. Hollow steel, 1.25"dia x 2", elegantly turned out, paint' em or they'll rust. Fill with Mortite, or if your speakers are threaded for spikes, embed bolt in Bondo. (We used nylon bolts and put the cones in 35mm film cans for filling). Much higher WAF than spikes, much cheaper than commercial "toes and feet" ($10-50 apiece).

But enough toys. ASS 20465 "Ribbon Cable Shielding" is just that: a vinyl/copper cable wrap, 4-3/4" x 8 ft, designed to shield cable from EMI/RF, complete with double-stick tape and embedded copper grounding wires. Slit in half for audio cables, or overlap short lengths 
to reduce inter-component interference. At $2.50, a fraction of the cost of Audiophile "Cable Jackets" ($50-150).

Ever curious about those $1000 audiophile "passive pre-amps"-basically a stepped attenuator in a box? ASS 24524 Decade Resistor Kit provides the rotary switches, metal film precision axial lead resistors, and a schematic, for $6.50. Of course you need two for stereo, jacks and a box. Nothing Vishay about this bargain.

The back side of your components a rat's nest of jumbled wires? ASS 4138 has 25 Voltrex D-clips for $2.50, your basic little adhesive backed cable clamps. They also have a variety of sizes and flavors of plastic mesh tubing used to sleeve interconnects and speaker cables-page 12 of catalog #92-@.10-.25/ft. Worried that the MDF shelf under your turntable is too resonant? ASS 23932 is a 19"x 22"x 1/4" adhesive foam rubber pad, $3. Stick it to the bottom of the shelf, or for that matter, to any metal or plastic component enclosure that clangs when you tap it. ASS 23935 is a thinner, more flexible foam, 10"x 10 feet, a true bargain at a mere $2.

Wish you had a VPI, Nitty-Gritty, or Keith Monks vacuum record cleaner instead of that cheesy little Discwasher thing? ASS 25959 is a 8 Amp fan cooled vacuum motor, $12.50. We hope to have a DIY plan for this sucker ready for an upcoming PVX article, but why wait? Design your own and send in a description. A free subscription for the best design under $50.

The latest in high-end audio isolation systems are supported by air and/or silicone filled "bladders", in the $100 to $1700 range. (We'd also love to give a free subscription to PVX to the lady who wrote Stereophile suggesting the inflatable ring designed for hemorrhoid 
sufferers did wonders under her CD player. Please write!). ASS 23704 is an 11x14 inflatable pillow, actually 2 for $2.00. Similar, double walled bladders are ASS 22868 (13x15, 4 for $1) and 22871 (16x18, 3 for $1). I do know the Well-Tempered/Transparent Audio folks will 
sell their silicone damping fluid direct, or you might check with your local plastic surgeon. Put them under a piece of MDF, or marble, or acrylic, or...?

American Science & Surplus sends out a new catalog each month, and most of the items rotate and re-appear. Many of the above were in #92, but #93 had mostly rubber animals, tools, and lab stuff. You never know what will show up. The point of this whole exercise, we feel, is that tweaking doesn't have to be either esoteric or expensive to be effective. Are these low rent replicas as good as the high ticket items they resemble? If not, are they half as good for one tenth the price? Will they do until you can afford the real thing? If a $2 tweak improves the sound, can you stand not knowing what something actually designed for the purpose can do for $20, or $200, or even $2000? There are many other sources of useful tweaks out there, cheap and not so. The Tweakers Roundtable exists to seek them out and let you know what's what. Your job is to let us know about the tweaks you've found work... or don't!

* Presumably, painting the inner and outer edges of a CD reduces the scattering of the laser beam (by absorbing the particular laser wavelength) which reads the pits on the disc, thus improving the datastream accuracy, reducing error correction, etc. It works well enough that some audiophiles paint the entire topside of the disc green-a few go so far as to paint the entire inside of the transport mech-anism. The Official Audiophile Versions are paint pens which go in the $15-20 range. We've found that the UNIPOSCA #PC-5M pen is "remarkably similar", and is usually available through art supply stores for $2. We get ours at Charrettes in Cambridge. They do work, but no, they don't make CD's sound as good as vinyl...

Bruce Kinch
Editor, Primyl Vinyl Exchange
"Old records never die...they seek their vinyl resting place"

 

Company Information
American Science & Surplus
Voice: (847) 982-0870
Website: www.sciplus.com

 

Other places you may wanna try (thanks Todd for the info!):

Fair Radio Sales Co.
1016 E. Eureka St.
Lima, Ohio 45802

voice: (419) 223-2196 / 227-6573
fax: (419) 227-1313

 

C and H
2176 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107

Voice: (213) 681-4925 / (818) 796-2628

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gryphon Audio

 

 

 

     
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