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March 2004
Enjoy the Music.com Review MagazineAudiolics Anonymous Chapter 54
Gurus
Article By Bill Gaw

 Turntable

  This month I would like to discuss a topic to which we can all relate: our need for Gurus. By this, I do not mean an Indian swami selling Transcendental Meditation or snake oil, but mentors: i.e., teachers that guide and inspire us, especially with our audio hobby. I am sure each of you has had at least one individual whose given freely of their time and knowledge and pushed you to improve your ability to get to the Absolute Sound. Without them, we would probably all be happy with mid-fi systems. I have been very lucky, as I've had four in my 57-year odyssey through music and high-end audio.

The first was my music director from grammar through high school; a flautist named Faust Fiore from Fall River, Massachusetts. He started me off on trumpet in fifth grade then suggested I switch to French Horn in eighth grade. This allowed me to be the first horn in the high school orchestra and band with the Fall River Symphony Orchestra. It instilled in me the love of classical music. He was also smart enough to realize that I would never be a good enough horn player to succeed at it, so never pushed me into a music career. Thus I was able to become a physician, allowing me to earn sufficient funds to be able to support my audiophile hobby or retire early. Guess which won out?

The second was my first high-end audio guru, Clark Johnsen. I first met Clark at his Listening Studio in 1982, as he was the New England dealer for VMPS loudspeakers. He guided me on my first high-end purchases, taught me how and what to listen for in each component, that everything counts in high end audio and the necessity for listening to music in the proper absolute polarity. Over the years I have probably learned more from him than any other teacher and am truly grateful for his time and efforts.

The third on my list was Sal Demicco, of Distech. Sal was primarily a wire man, being one of the first to come out with specialty AC cords followed by interconnect and loudspeaker wire. He taught me what to listen for with wire and also taught me that more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. I will never forget the story he told me about when he first started in the business.

At his first CES he tried selling his new interconnect, but couldn't get any dealers as they felt the price he was charging for the quality of his wire was too low for them to make a profit. So the next year he changed the color of the wire, suggested a price twice as high and sold quite a bit. The next year he doubled up on the wire, charged four times as much and sold significantly more. He even confided that he could hear very little difference but he gave the dealers what they wanted. Sadly, when he was at his peak on the last day of the last CES in Chicago he collapsed and died after having his most successful show ever.

So what did he teach me? Never believe the hype on any high end equipment. Listen and judge for yourself.

Finally, we come to the main reason for this column, my present Guru Extraordinaire Lloyd Walker of Walker Audio. Several years ago I was in the market for a new turntable, as I had done about as much tweaking on my Merrill as I could think of and was looking for a new challenge. Desired a super high-end unit that would satisfy and last me for a lifetime but did not want to spend a huge amount of money due to my Scottish heritage. I happened upon an advertisement in the Audiomart magazine to sell one of Lloyd's Proscenium units for 1/4 of its then list price from a dealer who was having some financial problems at the time. I jumped at it and have not looked back since. The Merrill was a good table, but the Walker is a great one, and may be the best available. While it was in excellent condition, it was one of his original units (I have recently found out that it may have been the first one he had sold) so I gave him a call about updates.

 

Well, that first phone call certainly was interesting. Lloyd may love audio, but he loves to talk about it. After about an hour of fact filled discussion about high-end in general, and his turntable in particular (and I wasn't even a reviewer then, just a lowly high ender) I ordered several updates for the unit. That is when this lasting relationship began. Since then, we have talked at least once a month and each conversation has left me with more insight into our hobby. Much of this I have plagiarized for this column, and over the years have reviewed most of his products including his Proscenium Gold Turntable, Valid Points Tuning kit and Ultimate Motor Drive, Velocitor Power Line Enhancer, High Definition Links, Vivid CD/DVD Enhancer, Silent Source, and Omega Mikro Cords that he sells as he feels they are the best cords he's heard.

 

In September 2003 I volunteered to bring my snowbird mother to her winter escape in Florida and was going to be passing through Pennsylvania. Had updated my Walker Proscenium Turntable as much as I could from a distance and had for two years been contemplating sending it back to him for a complete update to the newest specs. Shipping a 275 lbs. turntable through FEDEX or UPS was undesirable. Thus I decided to bring it down to him and he graciously offered to return it to me for setup in my house when it was done. Spent a wonderful evening being the guest of him and his wife Felicia, and listening to his excellent system.

Four weeks later he arrived with his associate Fred Law and my updated table, spending the next three days maximizing its playback potential... and I do mean maximizing. When they were done I had the equivalent of a brand new turntable producing some of the best analog I have ever heard. With my Kondo IO-J cartridge going through my Alan Wright phono pre-amplifiers, information that had been previously buried in the grooves was revealed. 

The biggest improvement was in retrieval of the low level information, which defines the environment of the recording area. While before I could hear the space between the individuals, now the supposed dead area was filled with air. And this feeling on the best two mike recordings filled out to beyond my listening position. This was especially evident after an application of Lloyd's new tweak, discussed below. Had previously only heard this with early generation master tapes from some of the biggest studios I had obtained years ago. Thus analog had, once again, definitely leap-frogged the best SACD reproduction I'd obtained to date.

 

Except for some out-of-round recordings, pitch was as steady as with digital. Bass was tight and deep and tuneful while the midrange and highs were about as life-like as I have heard. The best recordings sounded like the best second generation master tapes from the best recording studios, and the few Direct-to-Disc recordings I still have were equivalent to first generation tapes.

On several recordings, such as an original RCA shaded dog and the Classics recording remastering of Witches Brew, there is a high frequency stridor type resonance which epitomizes what was wrong with early solid-state recordings. Lloyd has found that if one adjusts the amount of damping of his arm that it can be eliminated, and indeed my new turntable does it. This was the first time that I could fully appreciate this recording.

Is his turntable difficult and time consuming to set up optimally? Compared to some others, yes. Unhappily he who is not cognizant of this unit's possibilities probably could tweak it for years without achieving its maximum. Happily, Lloyd will deliver and set up each turntable sold if you guarantee his plane ticket. Also, like all of his other products, he gives a money-back guarantee if you do not like what you hear. I have likened him to Lucifer in the past both for his money-back guarantee that he never has to honor. Only problem is the price. If you have to ask, don't bother. But if you want to get the best analog playback possible, there is no better table than Lloyd's. I had another $13,000 turntable in for review in November, and while it had a defect and needed to be sent back to the factory, I could certainly hear that the Walker so far outclassed it so that it was in a different league.

The reason that I am dedicating this month's column to him is not because of the wonderful job he did upgrading the turntable, or because of the many products I have received and reviewed in the past (or because of the knowledge he's given me freely), but for what I think is a truly revolutionary product that he has developed.

On the last day he was here, he asked if he could try a new tweak he was developing. He did tell me it was a contact enhancer that it would stick to everything and it may be a little difficult to remove, but he guaranteed I would like it. The material acts as a bridging agent between the male and female contacts to maximize passage of electricity through the gap. Have never been steered wrong by him before so I said go ahead. He applied a silver cream to all of the male pins on my AC cords, interconnects and loudspeaker wire. 

Now I am not usually a 'Type A' personality, but am faithful to my routine of cleaning as many contacts as possible on a regular basis with Caig Pro Gold and have in the past tried other agents to bridge the gap between the contacts. All have done something which could be heard if one listened very closely, but none of which lead to a major change.

But about three seconds after starting the first recording I realized that this is a contact enhancer that does not just work as described, but is the best by a tremendous margin; better than any I have ever heard and beats any tweak ever tried. I believe even Keith Richards with his hearing aids would notice. Naturally begged for some more so he left me his only sample and three weeks later sent me some of the final version. So what is this miracle product?

 

Walker Audio Super Silver Treatment (SST)

Walker Audio Super Silver Treatment (SST)He is taking ultra-pure thin, long crystal silver flakes and embedding it in an organic fluid picked for its dielectric properties and sound value (so says Lloyd). It is not a contact cleaner so one should clean all contacts as well as possible prior to application. One should apply it fairly liberally so the entire surface of the contact is smoothly coated, and the contact gap will be completely filled, but be careful to put it only on the metal and not the dielectric. If you do, it will cause a short. With AC, if there is only a small area of bridging, there will be a little poof of smoke and everything is okay. If a thick bridge, then expect a nice AC short. With interconnects, the short will just lead to no signal. With speaker connections, you may short out the amp, but don't see this as probable as most speaker connectors are a good distance apart. I had this problem with some very small Lemo UHF connectors that Alan Wright uses on his preamp, and it took me a while to figure it out.

So what does the SST do? It is basically like soldering the contacts together with the best silver solder, but with the ability to disconnect, which supposedly can be done several times before it has to be reapplied. It completely fills the gap and coats the contacts so no oxygen can get into the joint. Thus the surface of the silver may oxidize but the contact should remain pure. I do not know how long it lasts, though had it on since Lloyd was here it October 2003 and haven't done my monthly cleaning due to the lack of hearing any degradation in the sound.

The effect is immediate, but interestingly there is a significant improvement over the next three to four days. My guess is the silver crystals align in the gap. The stuff works best on the lowest voltage applications. Thus, it does help clean up the AC coming into the equipment, it also seems to tighten up the control of the amplifier on the loudspeakers giving tighter bass and faster transient attacks. On interconnects it works to improve the mid range and increase very low dB information such as hall sound. The largest effect in my system was in three places.

First, and greatest effect was on the connections between the phono cartridge and pre-amplifier. I use a Kondo IO-J cartridge, which only has a 0.15 mv. output. Even with my very quiet Wright phono stage with 70dB gain I get some hiss on analog playback. With the SST applied to the cartridge pins and the interconnect leading into the pre-amplifier; I actually obtained about 3dB more signal. This was a measured result using a Radio Shack meter. Thus I could turn down the pre-amplifier 3dB and still get the same volume, which obviously eliminated most of the hiss. Plus there was a significant increases in low volume information... much more so than the effect on the AC and interconnects.

To corroborate this, I brought the treatment to Kwami Ofori Asante's house with Steve Klein of Sounds of Silence present, four of the best ears I know and the same effect occurred there; a 3dB gain in effective output of the cartridge and a tremendous increase in spatial information. We even did a little accidental experimentation. We were comparing two different AC cords for the amplifiers, an Omega Mikro and another high-end unit we will leave nameless. Mine trounced theirs until I let them know that I had treated it with the SST. After treatment of theirs, while mine still sounded somewhat better, theirs came much closer. Thus, the SST proved itself again.

Third best place was on video connections, especially the coax from the antenna to the receiver. Signal strength off both regular over the air (OTA) and satellite registered higher, with less snow on distant OTA reception. The video connections, including RGB, component and S-video were crisper and brighter, such that I had to turn down the brightness control on my projector by 4 units out of 100. Colors were also more saturated and the image was more three-dimensional.

Second best, and for most of us probably the most important, was on the tube pins for my pre-amplifiers and amplifiers. I was reluctant as had used a previous treatment on them years ago and after about a month the pre-amplifiers became very noisy. The material had dried on the pins and started acting as an intermittent resistance, thereby significantly increasing the noise from the unit and took me well over an hour to get it off. But Lloyd guaranteed that he had been using it on his tubes, including the amplifier output tubes for quite a while with no degradation. So each pin got treated.

You will not believe this, but all (and I mean all) noticeable tube hiss disappeared. The pre-amplifiers have to be turned up to their maximum to hear any hiss at the 108dB efficient speakers. So maybe tube hiss is not inherent to the tubes themselves, but the need for the signal to traverse the pin gaps. The effect is amazing.

So what are the drawbacks of the treatment? With the entire system SST'd, it is dead silent in my room now except for the fan noise from my Crown Macro Reference amplifier, HTPC and projector (which were barely audible before) and now are driving me to distraction. That is how quiet the system has become. Second, this stuff will discolor all black equipment cabinets' silver and will not come off with rubbing. You can use cooking oil (of all things) to remove it, but then you have to get the oil off. So be careful when applying the stuff near equipment. Otherwise, can't find any reason not to try it.

So what does it cost for this miracle tweak? All of $70. Of course when you get it you will wonder why it was so expensive for a bit of material about as large as 2 M&M's (with a brush for application, of course), but that amount will be sufficient to do most systems with quite a bit remaining to use on connectors that get disconnected frequently. I guarantee you will not be sending it back for the refund that Lloyd offers. You can get it directly from Walker Audio and Music Direct.

 

Walker Audio
Voice: (610) 666-6087
Fax: (610) 666-5057
Website: www.walkeraudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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