Welcome to April's meeting of the club for insatiable tweakers. Hopefully at least some of you are getting to see the first signs of Spring. Unhappily here in New Hampshire as this is being written there's still significant snow on the ground with nary a hint of warm weather. Guess that's good for the audiophile as there are fewer distractions from our hobby.
First I'd like to apologize to my readers for some misleading information presented to you in a couple of previous articles related to the RealityCheckCD Audiophile Grade Duplicator RCCD-AG 2.2 which was discussed in AA Chapter 72,74 &77. It has come to my attention that the owner of the company and the process has not been completely on the up and up with his description of the CD copier he has been selling. It has been stated on the web, and I have heard by direct communication from one of the individuals involved, that the CD duplicator, while an excellent product, has in no way been modded to improve its disc processing, and can be had on the web for around $250, significantly less than the price quoted by Reality Check.
I should have known that something wasn't Kosher when I found that he was selling his special CD-R discs for over twice what they could be purchased for at several web sites. Then word got out that maybe his special copying machine with a special built in process for adjusting the way data was recorded on the disc wasn't so special after all, as there was no software tweak added.
Saying that, this still does not take away from the fact that the process and the company's disc cleaning fluids do make a significant sonic improvement in CD playback, and that Mr. Louis did spend great time and effort and surely significant funds in producing the best fluid, discovering the best CD-R medium for disc reproduction, and perfecting his process. His product does work as advertised.
My feeling is that he could find no other way of recouping his costs but to assign a name to the process, and adding some magic to the duplicator so that it could be sold at a markup. Unhappily for him, the truth came out and this has blackened not only his reputation, but also the willingness of the public to try out his chemicals. More importantly, this has given ammunition to those naysayers on the web who deride any tweak as snake oil and thus make it more difficult for tweakers to advance the art of audio reproduction. Anyway, the solutions do work as advertised as do the discs he sells, and the CD duplicator does an excellent job at CD reproduction even if it doesn't have some special built-in software, so they are still highly recommended if you cannot find the duplicator at a lower price.
Anyway, this whole discussion may become moot as Clark Johnsen came over for a listening session last night and, as always, brought over a couple of new tweaks for review. One, from the Intron Co. of China, is an apparatus that improves on the function of the GSIC chip by doing the process directly to the disc over a debit-like card. While the process looks like sorcery, there is, like with the chip, a definite improvement in information retrieval from the disc. I'd love to know what science or magic is being done here.
There was also a new CD polishing fluid, named Nanotech 8500CD, which worked significantly better than the Reality Check fluids to improve both CD and SACD playback. It supposedly coats the disc with a silver suspension to fill in the micro-scratches. It can be obtained within the Unites States at Sounds of Silence.
Now that that's off my chest, let's discuss a product that's helped to solve the greatest problem associated with sound reproduction in the home,; i.e., electrical line noise. If you've been a reader of this column over the years you've noted my many attempts at trying to clean up the garbage that enters our systems through the AC cords. There are probably more products out there to combat this problem now than different speakers, and that's quite a few. These vary from wall receptacles to specialized AC cords to silver pastes to improve transmission across the plugs, to transformers, parallel shunt devices, inductor-capacitor systems to filter out noise riding on the 60 Hz wave, and even systems run on batteries or AC-DC-AC converters to produce perfect sine waves. There is as much snake oil out there as helpful product.
Over the years, I've spent a fortune trying to eliminate the gremlins coming over the line which produce background noise, hum, hiss, curtains in front of the soundstage, high frequency distortion, that we all take for granted, but which are worse the more revealing our systems are. It has driven me crazy trying to listen through this garbage at 8 pm and having to go to bed just as the system seems to open up at midnight and produce its best sound. Surely, each of you has heard this magical change in your systems and wondered why.
While many companies have tried to combat the AC gremlins, few have truly succeeded. AC cords can help but only to a certain extent. They primarily work by giving sufficient shielding to block out most airborne RF noise, and through their geometry acting as first order crossovers to block signals somewhere above 60Hz. Secondarily, they may be constructed in such a way to decrease movement between the conductors due to outside vibrations which modulate the sine wave, and be built of special copper, silver, gold etc., alloys to maximize the transfer of the electricity without producing electrical noise.
One of the companies which has succeeded admirably with this is Nordost Corporation. They have been around for at least 20 years now, as I bought some of their original rather inexpensive flat speaker cable in bulk way back then and experimented with it before I got into high-end wires. Then they got into the high-end business and have been producing some of the best but most expensive wire out there.
They got together with Isotek, a company out of England to produce the Thor, a 6 outlet AC power distribution unit with circuitry to isolate each outlet from the other, QRT circuitry to decrease electron noise, and circuitry to decrease AC line noise. I had first heard about the unit from an article in Absolute Sound but its asking price of $3200 limited my willingness at the time to try it out as experimentation was being done with much less expensive alternatives, reviewed in AA Chapter 76 & 77. Then during a visit to a fellow audiophile, Maurice Schmir, he demoed the unit in his system. The difference with and without it was significant enough that an order was placed for one.
The construction is excellent with a brushed silver metal cabinet, IEC plug input, and six tight fitting 15 Amp AC output plugs. One can also get it with either English or European AC plugs and set up for either 50/60 Hz and/or 120/240-Volt systems. There is also a grounding plug on the back for those systems with grounding problems. The unit does have to be grounded using the third prong on the electrical cable to function, which may produce hum in some systems. Internal wiring is their top of the line Valhalla, and they do recommend using at least one Valhalla AC cable to connect the box to the wall. As money is a little tight now (just bought a new Infiniti M-35. Superb car with the best electrical gadgets I've seen in a stock automobile. Why is it that nobody writes into the auto magazines complaining about how expensive they are or why does one need all the extra doodads when a Yugo would be sufficient like they do with audio) a Silent Source 50 Ampre cable was hot wired to the junction box in my room instead.
The unit replaced the Exact Power units that were discussed in AA Chapter 76, with three of the outlets feeding Walker Audio Velocitors. It's been in my system for two weeks now, and the changes in both sound and video reproduction have been well worth its cost. At first the system sounded slow and thick with boomy bass that made me wonder what was going on. But as with most high end products, after several days, the system opened up and has sounded its best ever. Like the Exact Power unit, the system is dead silent without the normal electrical noise we take for granted. When the mikes turn on a CD or SACD, the room suddenly becomes pressurized, transporting the listener to the venue. The bass has tightened up and even CD's have become more listenable. Video is also markedly improved, with the scan lines at 1920x1080 on my Electrohome 9500 LC projector can be visualized individually if one is close enough to the screen.
Interestingly, when the Exact Power units are placed back in the system, there is a further slight improvement in the noise reduction, but the high frequencies are not as crystal clear as with the Thor alone. I'm still fighting with which way is preferable, but at present I'm running all of the video off of one of the Exact units running out of the Thor, and using the other one in the same fashion to isolate the long AC run to the surround electronics in the back of the room.
Compared to the Exact Power unit alone, the Thor is a significant step forward, but at a price three times as great. One thing I can tell you is that it is the best unit that I've had in my system by far for cleaning up the AC, and does beat several other units out there that cost significantly more.
Maurice also visited last night and brought over one of the Nordost Valhalla AC Cables for me to try out. Unhappily for my budget, there was another gain in noise reduction and resolution using the cable into the Thor. Happily I was able to resist immediately buying the cable, as the money wasn't available. Unhappily, Maurice, being an above average salesman, suggested leaving the cable for a week's tryout. Considering that it costs 5 times the amount of the Silent Source AC cord at $3000, I have not succumbed to temptation yet, but who knows how long that will last. You know how the Audiophilia Nervosa psychiatric disorder can wreak havoc on the checkbook.