Welcome to another edition of my rantings. Fall is here and the yard work is almost completed, the pool's closed up, and the leaves have been disposed of. So now's the time to get back to our systems and do some tweaking. I'm actually ahead of the game and have a great tweak and some SACD's for you to try, and will end with a discussion of my newest revelations about AC electricity cleanup.
Last month Les Turocsi, a reviewer from another magazine, came for a visit, during which we spent over three enjoyable hours listening to everything from jazz to classical, followed by watching and listening to excerpts from movies. It's so much more fun listening and kibitzing with a fellow audiophile and being able to show off one's system. He also brought along a CD-ROM of excerpts from several recordings he made at a youth festival in his area which were quite good, especially when converted to 5.1 surround as they were Blumlein recording which sound exceptional in this mode. While the players were only teenagers, the performances were very good, and the recordings were excellent. Happily, he left a copy for me and I've listened to it a couple of times since.
We were going to break up at about 8:30, but I wanted to show him what HDTV by satellite is all about, turned on Bravo HD and on came a superb performance of the Verdi Requiem in high definition video with Dolby Digital surround sound. Another nearly two pleasurable hours went by before the end of the performance. It's amazing how great music can draw one in. Thank Les for the visit and music.
Walker Audio Extreme Super Silver
Lloyd got the bright idea of putting the stuff through a cryogenic process to see if it would make any difference. How he got this idea, I'll never know. Many people think cryo'ing interconnects or vacuum tubes are too far out to be believable, although I know from experience it does significantly change the sound produced by the part, usually for the better. But freezing a silver paste with no crystalline structure, except maybe the silver flakes in the cream? What's that supposed to do?
What it does do is improve on an already great tweak. The best test for me, and the best place to apply the treatment is on your phono cartridge's pins and the RCA's from the arm cable to the preamp. The original product actually added 3dB of gain measured using a Radio Shack meter (or should I say it decreased the signal loss by 3dB.) Anyway, the new product actually added a little over another dB of gain (or loss of loss). It also allowed a little more ambiance information through. The second best place was on vacuum tube pins, where the Extreme again decreased what I thought to be tube noise, but turns out to be contact noise between the tube pins and their sockets. Least but still significant is at the AC cords and outlets.
The big negative for anyone who has used the original treatment is getting the older stuff off of the connectors, especially the female side. I used an old T-shirt for the male pins, and pipe cleaners for the female. Water doesn't help but rubbing alcohol does. To me, the improvement was worth the two hours of work and the added cost.
For those who haven't used the original product, go for the new stuff, as it is a significant improvement over the original treatment. At $150 compared to the original's price of $70, the cost differential is nothing compared to the quality improvement you'll get in your system. For those with the original product all over the place; you'll have to decide whether the time invested will be warranted. It was for me.
RCA Living Stereo SACDs
Happily, the producers have not mucked around with the originals, actually leaving most of the original tape hiss hearable, not using any surround gimmickry even though they use the 5.1 channel space for the three front channel tapes, thus leaving most of the feel of the originals. I had several of these years ago on third generation 2 track 15 ips master tapes, already re-equalized from AME to Dolby A, or flat, the origin of which I cannot divulge, which were played back on an original Ampex 350 tape deck. These SACD's far surpass the CD's RCA produced several years ago, and, to my auditory memory, come very close if not better my tapes.
I do not have any of the original 1S shaded dogs of any of the eight SACD discs, covering actually 15 original vinyl discs, but do have later shaded dogs and red seals and the Classic reissues and a couple of Japanese pressings which I played on my Walker turntable with Audionote IO-J cartridge for comparison. While I still prefer the vinyl on most of them for its warmth, the SACD's are probably closer to the original master tapes for sound and background noise. Interestingly, they also didn't change the absolute polarity of the transfers compared to the original tapes, as some of them are in opposite absolute polarity.
Now the best part, each disc costs only $11.99. That's right, less than $12 for super high quality SACD's, each with the equivalent of four sides of vinyl, from the original master tapes, with no mucking up of the sound. Such a deal! In November, they are going to come out with SACD remasterings of the Mercury catalog in the original 2 and 3 track, but will be charging $17.99 each. These will also have the equivalent of two vinyl albums each. While not as great a deal as the RCA's, it's still pretty good. Will let you know if I get my hands on any. Both sets can be picked up at either Elusive Disc or Music Direct.
Sound Application Reference LineStage Power Line Conditioner
Please review these articles for a discussion of AC line noise, what it does to the audio signal, and the various methods for cleaning it up, and Mr. Weil's original product first before continuing on. These original units are still being used by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and the Reference Listening Suite at CBS Studios, where they beat out products from Richard Grey Sound Labs.
I thought the original unit had completely cleaned up my electricity. Then he sent me his XE-12S model, of which I still own two, one for audio and one for video. These units actually improved significantly on what the CF-XE units did, scrubbing out further dirt from the supposed pristine electricity our local electric company supplies. Finally, combining them with my Walker Audio Velocitors, which seem to work synergistically with the Sound Application units, gave me great sound most of the time.
I had been very happy with my sound since then, although at times I could still hear some ac gremlins. Then Mr. Weil called over a year ago stating that he had made some improvements again, would send one and have Dave Elrod also send one of his high end power cords to use with the unit. About two weeks later I got the cord, but no unit. So I waited about three months with Dave's cord sitting in my music room doing not much as it had a 20-Amp IEC plug. I tried getting Mr. Weil, but couldn't reach him. Then I called Dave, and he told me that James had come down with a mysterious malady, which had knocked him off of his feet.
To make a long story short, it turned out that James had been suffering from a severe allergic reaction to aspergillus, a very toxic mold, which had invaded his house that had caused multiple medical problems. After several months of not being able to work, which had a silver lining as it allowed him to rethink his circuits, he finally became well enough to start production of his newest line conditioner, the Linestage. Unhappily, he couldn't afford at the time to send me one for review, as he needed to sell each unit made to make up for his long illness. As a reviewer, I never pay for a unit prior to the review, as I don't want the accommodation price to affect my objectivity.
Happily, a fellow audiophile, Steve Klein of Sounds of Silence, had received two of them for sale and invited me over for a listen. Steve has a super system as he is also the Kondo distributor in the US, and I am very familiar with its sound. Unhappily for my wallet, the Linestage made such an improvement in the sound there that I decided I'd have to get one for review. By now, James was back on his feet, and had an extra unit he could send me on loan.
So what has he done differently from the previous iterations of his conditioner? First, he rethought the wiring, thus eliminating several feet. Second, he changed to some silver foil caps made for him. Third, he began using a new cold welding process, and changed the shape of the dies to decrease the stresses placed on the crystal lattice of the wire connections. I'm sure he's also done other things he won't discuss, but I'll see if he'll spill some more information with a discussion at the end of the article.
Until I placed this unit in my system, I thought I had completely beaten away the electrical grunge that comes along with the ac current entering my system. I was happy with the sound, maybe actually ecstatic, finally able to listen for the past several months without worrying where my next audio fix would come from. How could my system possibly sound any better? Of course I've felt that way before, but like a Buddhist priest, keep finding ways of coming that one step closer to Nirvana. And each step reveals new sounds and feelings previously not have thought possible in music reproduction.
Well I'm here to say that the Reference Linestage has significantly improved on James' other products, and, in combination with the Walker Velocitors, has brought me to a higher level of enjoyment with my system. Without the Walker, and in comparison to his previous model, the noise floor is appreciably lower, the soundstage is more palpable, each instrument is tighter and less diffuse, especially with digital, and bass has tightened, compared to his XE-12S.
Interestingly, while analog is also improved, the change isn't as significant as with the digits. I guess numbers are more affected by line noise than waves. I could be happy forever with the Reference Linestage alone, but adding the Velocitor generates more solidity to the image and removes some digital stridency that is still present in my system with the Reference Linestage alone.
Could I live with just the Velocitor, or with the XE-12S, or, perish the thought, without any of these products. Probably, but it would be very difficult to go back. Once one had heard what one's system sounds like with the Reference Linestage and the Velocitor in the system, one can't go back. The sound is truly addicting. The Reference Linestage is staying, and a check has been sent to Mr. Weil within three hours of putting the new unit into the system. Some products just can't leave my music room once heard. Oh well, maybe I'll be able to retire some day. At $4200, the same price as the original, it's an excellent value.
Now I have a problem. I gave James' original product my Product of the Year award two years ago, and even suggested it might be the product of the century. So what accolade should I give this unit? Guess I'll have to be more careful in the future with my huzzahs. He's also mentioned that he's developed a special high frequency unit for controlling ac noise for video. I may get one down the road once my bank account recovers from this purchase.
Reply from James Weil:
I have again lowered the overall total capacitance, as I have done with every new design iteration since 1990.
The ideal line conditioner has zero inductance and zero capacitance. Now this is a bit difficult to achieve and still have any noise attenuation. We have removed 2/3's of the internal wiring and eliminated spurious electromagnetic field interactions and are using inductionless wire so inductance is not an issue with Sound Application designs.
My XE-L (video / digital device) was my inspiration for my XE-240, which is Sound Application's universal worldwide power line conditioner. The XE-240 is enjoying brisk sales in the Far East. These devices have the same bandwidth as the Reference Line Stage but the noise reduction is accomplished via different mechanisms.