A Reviewer Builds His Reference
Reviews of The VPI HW-27 'Typhoon' LP Cleaning Machine; Millennium Silentor LP Center Weight, M-LP and M-CD Damping Mats; AUDIOTOP Vinyl, Digital and Connect Cleaning Products; Furutech DeStat and DeMag; Audio Excellence AZ audiodharma Anniversary Edition Cable Cooker
(World Premiere); and Synergistic Research Acoustic ART (Analog Room Treatment) System
Review By Wayne Donnelly
Click here to e-mail reviewer.
have come to the final chapter of this trip down Audio Memory Lane. In
Part 1 (at
this link ) I narrated my transition from
California to Chicago and a very different listening environment, and
reviewed the core preamplifier and amplifiers. Part 2 (at
this link) addressed infrastructure: signal connectivity, component
isolation and vibration control, and power conditioning. In this
"tweak chapter" I review the accessories that have contributed
so importantly to bringing my system to its present and, I believe,
remarkably fine level of performance.
I thought a lot about how to organize the 11 individual
products covered here, which include multiples from some manufacturers. I
decided to organize the reviews by application rather than by
manufacturer. The individual products are grouped into three categories:
LP enhancements, digital enhancements, and system-wide enhancements.
Until recently, the oldest weapon in my
audio arsenal still in use was my venerable VPI HW-16, the original VPI LP
cleaning machine, which I purchased in the mid-70s. The 16, which still
works just fine today (and will shortly be passed to a friend who
purchases a lot of 25ข LPs from a local Catholic charity) is a bare-bones
manual machine. Raise the hinged lid, place the LP on the foam mat and
screw down the tightening nut, turn on the (unidirectional) motor, squirt
on some cleaning fluid from a separate bottle, clean the grooves with a
separate brush (sometimes easy, sometimes requiring a fair amount of
back-and-forth scrubbing), close the lid and flip on the vacuum suction
for three revolutions of the platter. The vacuum suction is attached to
the lid, and the vacuumed-up cleaning fluid is blown out the rear of the
machine as vapor.
Subsequent models from VPI offered refinements:
pump-driven cleaning fluid reservoirs, drip trays to catch vacuumed-up
fluid, and bi-directional platter rotation. And now we have the
easy-to-use HW-27 'Typhoon,' delivering twice the suction power of
its HW-17 predecessor while running 6dB quieter.
The Typhoon is a sturdily built machine with a
sheet-metal chassis, and can be used for extended sessions without
stressing the motors. The platter sports a cork mat, and a screw-down
clamp affixes the LP firmly to the mat during vacuuming. Two pivoting arms
one for distributing fluid and scrubbing the grooves, the other for
vacuuming the LP dry are easily swiveled over the LP and away again as
needed. A hose is provided to drain the drip tray when cleaning several
records in a session. On the front panel, left to right, are a TABLE
toggle that in the up position rotates the motor clockwise at 18 rpm and
reverses the direction in the down position; a PUMP button that sends
fluid through the cleaning brush to the LP surface; and a VACUUM toggle.
The Typhoon's clear acrylic dust cover lifts off during use.
After decades of using the HW-16, I really like the
convenient features of the Typhoon. The bidirectional platter rotation is
very handy, especially for older and dirtier LPs, and the automated pump
function is most welcome. This high performance and convenience do come at
a price: the Typhoon costs $2000.
But for anyone with a serious and sizable record
collection mine is over 6000 LPs and a revealing audio system, a
good cleaning machine would seem to be a necessity. It is for me. I've
been buying records for about half a century, and some of them, after
decades of use (and sometimes less than careful handling in my younger,
pre-audiophile days), would be virtually unplayable on my present system
if I couldn't get all that crud off them. But it isn't only beat-up old
records that make the machine so valuable. Even brand-new LPs have some
detritus down in the grooves from the manufacturing cycle. Cleaning a
brand-new LP before playing it not only allows the record to sound its
best, but delays the onset of little tics and pops and also slows
In the relatively short time I have had the Typhoon, it
has much improved the playability of a number of LPs that I had already
run through the HW-16. That additional sucking power is powerful indeed.
An automotive metaphor: going from my old HW-16 to the Typhoon is sort of
like stepping out of an old Chevy and into a Bentley. They both get you
where you want to go, but the experience of getting there is completely
different. The Typhoon was this year's birthday present to myself. Thanks,
VPI's cleaning fluid works very well. But for a while
now I have been using AUDIOTOP Vinyl1 cleaning fluid, which I discuss in
the next section.
Vinyl Cleaning Fluids
Cleaning products from this Swiss company
are imported by Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports. They are pretty pricey
for this product category, but they deliver valuable benefits. I'll
discuss their Digital and Connect products below, but first come the Vinyl
products. Vinyl1 is a cleaning fluid for use in machines such as the
Typhoon. Vinyl2 is a relaxant/lubricant to be applied to newly cleaned
LPs. AUDIOTOP Stylus is surprise! a stylus cleaner. The
three products may be purchased as a kit or individually.
Let us take them one by one. Vinyl1 Is said to be an
especially effective cleaning fluid for use in machines, and my experience
suggests that it indeed performs very well better than the years-old
jug of VPI cleaning fluid I've been using with the HW-16. More than once I
have gone back and re-cleaned LPs that had previously been cleaned with
the VPI fluid, and found that the LP became quieter.
The one thing that irritates me about Vinyl1 is its
container. The one-liter bottle has a wide spout covered with plastic,
with a pinhole through which the fluid dispenses. VPI cleaning machines
have a very small opening for filling the fluid reservoir. I own a couple
of small kitchen funnels, but not small enough to fit into the VPI filler
hole. Trying to line up the dispenser with the filler hole ain't easy
especially for a visually impaired guy and I wound up spilling a fair
amount of this pricey fluid. I also had a visitor with keen eyes and
steady hands try it, and damned if he didn't spill a bunch of fluid too.
I'm still looking for a teeny little funnel that will fit into the filler
hole on the Typhoon. But let me suggest to those chemical geniuses in
Switzerland that they could eliminate the issue by simply using a cap with
a flip-up spout, as VPI does with their fluid. How about it, meinen Herren?
Vinyl2 is the key product in this series. Deep cleaning
of the grooves with Vinyl1 and, I suspect, the latest VPI fluid as
well seems to leach out some of the lubricants in the vinyl. I find
that on many newly cleaned LPs, especially those with very quiet passages,
although gross noises and tics are reduced or eliminated, there is often a
slight rise in what I call "groove noise." Vinyl2 is designed to
"relax" and re-lubricate the vinyl. And it works. Playing a
newly cleaned LP before and after the application of Vinyl2, the
"after" sound is improved, and groove noise much reduced. I have
even, on occasion when in a hurry, done a quick swipe with Vinyl2 without
first going through a machine cycle and the record still sounded
surprisingly clean and quiet.
Vinyl2 comes with a thin applicator pad wide enough to
cover the grooves of an LP. After cleaning an LP on a machine, add a
little Vinyl2 to the pad and lightly press the pad onto the rotating
record for a full revolution. This stuff is very volatile, so letting the
LP rotate a couple more times leaves the surface dry and ready to play.
AUDIOTOP Stylus, as is typical for such products, has a
screw-off cap with a stiff wand terminated in a fine brush for
back-to-front cleaning of the stylus. If I could read German I might be
better able to describe the claimed virtues of this product. But I'll say
simply that it does a good job of cleaning my stylus. I can't say that I
notice any sonic improvement over the stylus-cleaning efficacy of my other
couple of stylus cleaners that work the same way.
Silentor Center Weight
And M-LP Carbon Fiber Platter Mat
Millennium is their name, and carbon
fiber is their game. These products are also from Aaudio Imports. I
decided to try them after being jazzed by Millenium's carbon fiber M-CD
damper. But I was pretty skeptical that they would make much of a
difference on my fully tricked-out VPI Aries 3, which has the Super
Platter upgrade as well as the VPI center and periphery clamps. But wrong
Let us start with the center weight. Comparing the
Millenium Silentor ($349) with the VPI, both are beautifully machined
hunks of stainless steel, differently shaped but roughly equivalent in
mass. The VPI clamp has two damping rubber bands around the low
circumference. The Silentor has a thin carbon fiber layer on the bottom
where it contacts the LP label, which covers eight holes filled with
crushed quartz for improved damping. A rubber O-ring fits over the spindle
for additional damping. (It makes a cute little 'pop' sound when the clamp
is lifted off.)
Comparing the two center weights is easy. I start with
the VPI clamp, and after listening for a while lift the stylus, replace
the VPI with the Silentor and resume play. The difference is not large,
but is easily discernible. With the Silentor clamp, bass is tighter and in
most cases not always deeper. In the midrange and upper octaves I
perceive improved focus, especially on piano, and gains in image
specificity. I won't claim that I could walk into the room with a record
playing and identify which center clamp was in use. But in A-B comparisons
the differences are easily audible, and to me worthwhile.
Millennium's M-LP-Mat ($349), only 3 mm thick, has two
surfaces: the carbon fiber side is backed with a thin fabric that feels
like velvet. The mat can be used with either side contacting the record.
As you might expect, with the fabric side up the sound is slightly softer
and warmer, with leading-edge transients less sharply defined than with
the carbon fiber side up. I tried it both ways, and preferred the
livelier, more dynamic and detailed presentation with the carbon fiber contacting
The comparison methodology was similar to what I
described with the clamps, except that I had to remove the LP in order to
place the mat. The first few times I did this, I also raised the arm
slightly to maintain the same VTA although the 3 mm difference is not
critical with my JMW 10.5i arm and Dynavector XV-1s cartridge, which is
less fussy about VTA than many moving coils. After a while I stopped
making that adjustment, and I couldn't hear any problems related to the
small VTA alteration.
The M-LP-Mat comes with a small lightweight puck, about
an inch in diameter and also faced with carbon fiber where it contacts the
record. Apparently it's for use with sprung turntables such as Linn or
Thorens, for which the Silentor would be too massive. I think I'll send it
to a friend who is still using a B&O 4002 linear-tracking table, and
see what it does for him.
With the mat's fabric side up, there is little
difference in sound from just using the VPI Super Platter alone and
what difference I perceive favors the platter without the mat. But with
the carbon fiber side up and the Silentor clamp in place, there is enough
improvement to warrant keeping these goodies.
The CD era was already a few years old
when I reluctantly took the plunge. I didn't really like the sound, which
remained generally hard, cold and glary for several more years, but as
more and more labels abandoned the LP it became a matter of CD or nothing
for a lot of music I wanted to hear. I feared we were entering the age of
"Crappy Sound Forever."
Given the state of digital audio in those early years,
it was no surprise to find CD tweaks becoming a significant segment of the
audio marketplace. Remember Armor All? Or the little rubber damping bands
we used to put around the edges of the discs? For a long time, it seemed
to me that just about anything
you did to a CD was likely to make it at least a little more listenable.
I'm not sure I could even remember at this point every spray treatment and
damping disc I've tried over the last 20 years although most of them
were at least somewhat beneficial.
Digital audio has gotten a great deal better, of course,
as we learned more about dealing with jitter, adjusted recording
methodologies, and developed higher-resolution formats. It now seems
inevitable that these shiny little discs will fade into the sunset before
too much longer, as hi-rez downloads and Internet-based on-demand hi-rezplayback
become more commonplace. But in the meantime, there are still myriad
tweaks to improve the sound of discs. Here are two of the best I've found:
M-CD Carbon Fiber Disc Damper
Like the LP mat, Millennium's M-CD damper
is only 3 mm thick (with no fabric backing). That thinness makes it
suitable for use in virtually any transport, top- or front-loading. I
first heard about it when an audio buddy raved about how much it had
helped his Metronome player. For a couple of years I had been using the
Marigo damping disc, a lightweight device made of treated (with what I
don't know) stiff paper. But the improvement with the Millennium was
immediately apparent, and most exciting. With every disc, regardless of
musical genre or age of the recording, the M-CD damper improved the sound.
Deeper and more precise bass was most immediately noticeable, but it
didn't take long to perceive a more organized and coherent spatial
presentation and more beautiful tonality on voices and instruments
and, importantly, a wider, less compressed dynamic range.
This thing has benefits beyond simple disc playback.
Because it is so thin, I can use it when ripping a disc onto my iMac and
burning CDs from the computer. For instance, I ripped the Ivan Fischer
Mahler Fourth a wonderful-sounding SACD that was one of my 2009 Blue
Note Award choices onto the iMac, and burned a Redbook (16/44) CD of
Comparative playback over my Modwright/Denon player was
fascinating. I had previously ripped and burned the same performance
before receiving the Millennium damper, and had found that the copy I
burned from the iMac, though Red Book rather than SACD, was very
close in sound to the the SACD layer of the original disc . With the new
Millennium-aided copy, or when playing the performance from the iMac
through a USB DAC, there were only fairly inconsequential differences
between the original and the ripped or burned versions except that
here and there I thought the copies sounded a little better! HIGHLY
recommended but let me emphasize that for ripping/burning discs, I've
used it only on my iMac. For any other computer, proceed at your own risk.
This CD/DVD cleaner/polisher ($99) comes
in a small pump-spray bottle, and is simple as can be to use. Two or three
pumps to cover the data side of the disc, and a quick wipe-down with a
soft tissue or napkin, center to periphery around the disc, and the disc
is ready to play. (The instructions suggest a double application for best
results, but I find that a careful single application produces great sonic
benefits that do not seem materially improved by a second round. I'm
reminded of those old shampoo ads that called for two wash and rinse
cycles. Once is enough, I think.)
What are the results? Well, all of the usual audio
checklist virtues: significantly better overall transparency, reductions
in "digital glare," even on the oldest not-too-good-sounding
CDs. Small but valuable gains in soundstaging, with a greater sense of the
sound being detached from the speakers. (That is a virtue with my Analysis
speakers anyway, but the Digital further enhances that quality.) Low-level
detail is enhanced, in a natural, non-spotlighted way. Most importantly,
the music simply sounds less "canned" livelier, more
immediate, more involving the kind of instinctive gut-level response
that I have experienced more typically with analog than with digital
It works great with DVDs as well. Even with my poor
eyesight, it is easy to see the better color saturation, improved contrast
and deeper blacks coming through my Oppoblu-ray player to my 60-inch Sony
$99 for this little bottle seems a bit steep. But a
bottle goes a long way, especially if you treat your discs one application
at a time. I've already been through a couple of bottles, but each one
lasted months, and I play a lot of discs. Given the sonic improvements
clearly better than any other spray-on CD treatment I have ever used
AUDIOTOP Digital is worth the money. In tandem with my Auto Desk CD lathe,
this nifty spray is now an essential part of my preparation to play any
little silver disc.
This enterprising Japanese company makes
a number of interesting accessories as well as a broad range of cable
products. The DeStat ($360) is a hand-held battery-powered device that
eliminates static charges by blowing a gentle stream of positively and
negatively charged charged ions. Traditionally the greatest use for static
eliminators has been with LPs, but static can be a problem not only with
media CD and DVD discs as well as LPs but also with cables and
hardware components. The DeStat is designed to let you zap static charges
comprehensively throughout your system and media collection.
Plowing through a box of miscellaneous stuff that hadn't
been opened since I moved to Chicago, I recently unearthed my old
Discwasher Zerostat gun. Audiophiles of a certain age will probably
remember this cute little pistol-shaped piezo-electric generator. I used
it for years, but never on anything but LPs (it predates the CD). It still
does a fair job of static reduction and sold for a small fraction the
DeStat's price but only a couple of comparative tests established that
the DeStat is far superior in clearing static from LPs, and it is good for
much more than that.
Much of the DeStat's effectiveness comes from the
airstream it produces. With LPs, the DeStat not only eliminates static,
but also blows away surface dust. I no longer use any pad or brush to
clear dust from the grooves a process that as often as not used to
create static, even with supposedly static-eliminating carbon fiber
bristles. And the DeStat also works well for CDs and DVDs, reducing aural
and visual "haze" and allowing some previously veiled detail to
emerge. Moreover, I got a very pleasant surprise when I opened the drawer
on my font-loading Modwright/Denon player and aimed the airstream from the
DeStat into the opening for about 20 seconds. Replaying the same disc
(Patricia Barber's The Cole
Porter Mix) I'd heard just before, it sounded slightly warmer
and more natural. I now do that little maintenance tweak every couple of
I have also found that, especially in combination with
the Furutech DeMag (discussed below), the DeStat audibly contributed to a
lowering of my system's noise floor and improved focus after destaticizing
all of my cables. Static can be even more of a bitch than I used to
realize, and I am glad to have this very effective tool for combating it.
The DeMag ($1,980) is a hefty piece of
gear with a kind of retro/futuro look. It's easy to imagine Commander Data
hunched over it in the science lab of the Enterprise. It's also, as I
gather from a cursory look at past commentary, a product that has stirred
considerable passion among supporters and detractors.
The audible benefits of degaussing CDs have been
understood for a long time. I've previously gotten worthwhile results with
the original little hand-held Bedini, and after misplacing that, with a
bulk tape demagnetizer. So I was perfectly ready to believe that the DeMag
would be effective in degaussing CDs and DVDs.
But Furutech makes other claims for the DeMag as
well they should for an accessory that costs nearly two grand. The company
has published data to support its assertions that degaussing vinyl LPs
also yields sonic benefits, as does treating the cables in a system.
The case for degaussing digital discs is based on the
fact that there are magnetizable impurities in the composition of the
discs, as well as in the inks used for printing the label sides. OK, I'll
buy that and as I've already said, demagnetizing digital discs is
generally accepted as a good thing to do. The DeMag allows you to degauss
quickly and powerfully up to five discs at once on its large work surface.
Frequently these days I take a few minutes to plan a "program"
of CDs I plan to listen to in a session, and do a little prep first. If
the chosen discs have not already had some of these processes, I apply the
AUDIOTOP Digital (I mark them for future reference) , trim the discs on my
Audio Desk lathe (still one of the finest tweaks around), degauss them on
the DeMag, and then hit each disc with the DeStat before loading it into
my player with the Millennium M-CD mat and enjoying the fruits of my
labors. Sounds a bit tedious, I know, but the whole sequence takes about
15 minutes, and the resulting sweet sounds are well worth the trouble.
But, does degaussing LPs really make a difference?
Furutech says that the black dye that makes LPs black, and (again) the
label inks contain metallic impurities that can become magnetized and
adversely affect the sound of the record. I was pretty skeptical about
this claim, but ready to check it out. Here my testing methodology was
first to thoroughly clean the LP on the VPI Typhoon and "relax"
the vinyl with AUDIOTOP Vinyl2. After using the DeStat, I play the record,
listening attentively, then remove it, treat it with the DeMag and play it
The first recording I used for this was the Classic
Records single-sided 45 rpm LPs of the Reiner/Chicago Respighi Pines
of Rome. This dazzling orchestral feast has everything you need
from a sonic standpoint: a dynamic range from ppp
to fff, and a glorious riot
of orchestral color. Conclusion? Post-DeMag, this already
glorious-sounding recording was even more glorious-sounding. Not a
night-and-day difference, but the Chicago strings now had a slightly
silkier sheen and the brass a bit more bite, and I could now hear more
breath and color in the woodwind solos. I repeated the experiment with a
number of other familiar LPs, and I would say I heard clear improvements
with about 80 percent of them.
What about degaussing cables? My JPS Aluminata
interconnects are not the most flexible, but with the help of a couple of
heavy books I was able to coil them over the work surface of the DeMag. I
couldn't do the JPS speaker cables too stiff. But I was able to do all
of my Bybee power cords. After treating all of those cables, I also zapped
them with the DeStat before reinstalling and listening. Under those
circumstances no quick A-B comparison is possible. But I know intimately
the sound of this system, and I could hear that its already excellently
low noise floor had been slightly improved.
I must say I found all of these experiments intriguing,
and I yearn to add the DeMag to my audio arsenal. It does a better job of
degaussing digital discs than anything I have previously used. It has made
smaller but valuable improvements in my analog listening. And I can
certainly see myself repeating the cable degaussing process every couple
of months. But the darned thing costs significant money. I don't begrudge
the price; the obvious build quality can't be cheap to achieve, and the
DeMag is a fair value. As of this writing, I'm still trying to decide
whether to further deplete my battered exchequer or, regretfully, pack up
the DeMag and return it to Furutech. Check the component listings in my
reviewer's bio next month and you'll know the answer.
The full kit Connect1 first stage
cleaner (30 mL, $99), Connect2 second stage cleaner (30 mL, $99), Connect3
contact enhancer (10 mL, $179), a pack of Q-tips and a set of tools
(various-sized brushes, files, etc.) retails for $377. Individual
bottles of the three active elements may be purchased at the prices listed
above for each. This stuff is more expensive by magnitudes than any other
contact cleaners I have ever used. But it is also by far the most
effective such product I have encountered.
In effect this is a super-detailing kit for your audio
system. It is to be used on all contact surfaces, from the most obvious
component jacks and terminals, cable plugs and spades/bananas down to
power plugs and wall outlets, and even tube pins and sockets. Clearly, if
you have a complex system you are in for a few hours of work.
Connect1 is the heady-duty cleaner. Connect2 completes
the cleaning process (and, BTW, is extremely volatile, so keep the bottle
capped between wetting the tools). Connect3 acts as a shield against oxide
re-building on the surfaces, and improves electrical contact and transfer
across all of the junctions.
I purchased this product nearly 5 years ago when I was
still living in California. But I never used it until recently, primarily
because with my impaired eyesight it wouldn't have been possible to do
fine work such as tube sockets accurately and without wasting too much of
the precious fluids. But a couple of months ago a generous friend who
had just done his own system and been dazzled by the results
volunteered to help me get the job done. Thanks, George!
My system was not terribly "dirty." Most of
the cables are less than a year old, and I am not a smoker. I also have
little environmental pollution, as my Chicago Loop location would be so
noisy with open windows that I leave them closed and rely on air
conditioning in hot weather. We were able to effect the complete job
economically, so I have plenty of each fluid left for another cleaning a
year or two down the road. That lessens the sting of the price.
But even if this cleaning had used up everything, I
would've had no worries after hearing the result. The myriad improvements
far more natural realism of voices and instruments, a larger but more
precise soundstage, stunningly improved dynamics, and an even lower system
noise floor were greater in magnitude than any single component
upgrade I can recall. All of that for less than 400 bucks is a hell of a
value! Any audiophile who really wants to get maximum performance should
spend the money and take the time.
'Anniversary Edition' Cable Cooker
This invaluable device is designed,
manufactured and marketed by Alan Kafton of Audio Excellence AZ. The
Anniversary Edition is $999 direct. It provides the EFS (Extended
Frequency Sweep) circuit, full cryogenic treatment of all connectors,
switches, internal wiring and circuit board, and the use of Cardas ACBP
speaker binding posts. Two lower-priced models, lacking the Cardas terminals, are also available: the Standard PlusCryo is $789; the 2.5 Pro
is $879. Contact Alan Kafton for details.
I reviewed and purchased the Cable Cooker 2.5 Pro in
2004, and gave it a Blue Note award. Since then it has served me and a
number of fellow questors for great sound very well. This year I had
that model upgraded to the Anniversary Edition, for what seems a
reasonable cost. The EFS upgrade and full cryogenic treatment for
connectors, switches, internal wiring and circuit board are $175.
Removal and replacement of the old speaker terminals with cryogenically
treated Cardas ACBP binding posts and a few other items, including a
no-longer-needed internal cooling fan are another $175. Those upgrades are
available to all 2.5 Cooker owners. Call or e-mail for details on
shipping, timing, etc.
The Cooker works by generating an output signal
comprising high voltage, high current and a swept square wave (the EFS).
All of those elements condition the conductors and dielectric materials.
The circuit in my original 2.5 Pro generated a sweep from 40 Hz-18.5 KHz.
The EFS circuit now used in all Cookers spans 0 DC to 40 kHz. This new
sweep more than doubles the previous range to improve burn-in
effectiveness, especially on the low end of the spectrum.
Each new Cable Cooker comes with a universal switching
power supply, good for any wall voltage from 90-260 VAC. No other power
supply should be used. Since it has the same power supply as previous
models, the steady-state high-voltage and high-current portions of the
output signal have not changed. Those specifications have always
been based on the output capacity of the power supply, which is rated 12V
and 2.5 Amperes. Yet the burn-in cycle of the Anniversary Edition Cooker
proved faster and more efficient than I had experienced with the 2.5 Pro.
Why would that be?
I have no doubt that the comprehensive cryogenic
treatment of all critical components also contributes to the unit's
efficacy. (I have had numerous opportunities to confirm that cryo
treatments are very useful in increasing the efficiency of electrical
circuits in audio equipment.) I applaud the change to cryo'd Cardas
speaker terminals; the old ones got the job done, but were annoying to
Also standard are three pairs of barrel connectors for
daisy-chaining RCA interconnects, and a set of adapters for cooking power
cables (they plug into the speaker terminals with banana plugs). Various
other accessories are available, including extension connectors for
daisy-chaining multiple power cords and speaker cables, cooking non-US AC
plugs, and even for cooking tonearm wires and phono cables. More on that
last adapter below.
I find that the Anniversary Edition accomplishes burning
in various cables roughly twice as fast as the 2.5 Cooker did. For
instance, my JPS Aluminata interconnects last year needed five or six days
to reach peak performance. Power cables tended to take about the same
time, as did heavy-duty premium speaker cables. I had a chance to do an
interesting experiment comparing my old and new Cookers this past summer.
Just before sending in my 2.5 Pro Cooker for the Anniversary upgrade, I
received two new Bybee power cables. I cooked one of them for five days
before sending off the Cooker, but did not cook the other one. While my
Cooker was having surgery in Arizona, I alternated those two power cables
with my VTL preamp. No surprise there the cooked cable sounded much
better. After receiving the Anniversary Cooker, I cooked the formerly
uncooked power cord for three days, and then repeated the alternation on
my preamp. The Anniversary-cooked cable now sounded better to about
the same level of magnitude than the cable that had been cooked prior
to the Anniversary upgrade. So, naturally, I re-cooked that one for a
couple of days, after which I heard sonic parity between the two.
I made this observation back in 2004, but it's important
to make the point again. High-quality, substantially built audio cables
are very difficult to burn in simply by using them in a system. Power
cords and speaker cables may get fairly well burned in eventually,
since higher voltage and current run through them during use, but it takes
much longer than most people
realize. I assert that interconnects, and especially tonearm wiring and
phono cables, will never
reach their full performance potential simply from use in a system.
I am particularly bemused when I read cable reviews that
say something like, "I put the new cables into my system and let them
play for a week or two to settle in before doing any critical
listening." I got news for you, folks. There might be some
change in the sound of the cables after a week or two, but by no means is
the cable's full sonic potential being evaluated in such a circumstance.
Back in 2004 most of the cables in my system had been there between one
and two years. I pulled them all out and cooked them in stages: ICs
first, then speaker, and finally power and when I reinstalled each
group, the improvement was dramatic at each stage. I did the same thing
this time around. Same result.
I particularly want to emphasize the need for targeted
burn-in for anyone who still plays vinyl. Think for a moment about the low
voltage and current infinitesimal, in fact, with low-output moving
coils generated by phono cartridges. Without additional burn-in, your
tonearm wires and phono cables are never
going to burn in completely, and you are never going to hear the best
possible sound from your records. Fortunately, there is a Cable Cooker
accessory to solve this problem.
The phono adapter is a cryo'd four-foot interconnect
with an RCA plug on one end and a DIN plug on the other. The RCA plug
connects to the Cooker's output and the DIN plug connects to the cartridge
leads after you have carefully detached them from the cartridge. A Velcro
strap at that end allows you to anchor the adapter cable securely to your
tonearm and not strain or break those very delicate cartridge leads. The
RCA plugs at the end of your phono cable plug into the input jacks on the
Cooker. In most cases this burn-in will take 48 to 72 hours.
I went through that procedure back in 2004, and I had
wanted to do it again last year after acquiring my VPI Aries 3 turntable.
But my phono adapter cable had gotten lost in the move to Chicago, and I
never got around to getting a new one. So I had one included with the
return of the Anniversary Edition Cooker and did it recently. At that
point I had been using the VPI for over a year but guess what? I was
already jazzed about mu analog sound, but after cooking the tonearm and
phono wires, I finally know what gorgeous sounds my Dynavector XV-1s is
really capable of. The cartridge had broken in quite well in about a month
of use, but as I rediscovered, the rest of the phono circuit had not.
(BTW, the phono adapter can also be used to burn in any phono cable that
connects to the tonearm with a DIN plug. This allows someone who changes
phono cables or is spooked by the notion of messing with cartridge
leads to burn in the new cables without going through the tonearm
Remember the friend who came over to help me with the
AUDIOTOP Connect cleaning process? He recently bought a new Graham Phantom
arm, and loves it. When I told him he needed to cook his new tonearm and
phono cables, he was apprehensive that the cooking process might be
harmful, and even called Bob Graham to make sure it was OK to cook those
wires. He also had new Argento interconnects, speaker and power cables. He
is now one happy audiophile, and has apologized for doubting my assurance
that cooking his cables was the right thing to do.
I've considered the implications of re-conditioning
cables that were previously cooked, and hearing new improvements
afterwards. It seems to me that a periodic re-cooking should be an ongoing
part of system maintenance just like contact cleaning, demagnetizing
and destaticizing. I asked Alan Kafton about this, and he replied:
"This 'recharging' is part and parcel of owning a Cable Cooker... it
is not just for brand-new cables, as some not familiar with the process
seem to think. I have found that all cables retrograde in
performance over time, hence their increased performance after a
re-conditioning on the Cooker. If this retrograde state were not the
case, then we would only be required to condition the cables once, and be
done with it. Long experience and thousands of recharges have proven
I do want to address briefly the concern that many
audiophiles have about the danger of "overcooking" and possibly
damaging their cables. It is possible to overcook cables. Alan Kafton
recommends what he calls "cooking and listening" tests doing
interim checks by re-installing the cables for evaluation at regular
intervals, until no further improvement is heard, or, possibly, the sound
has not just stopped improving but possibly regressed. But even if the
cables are overcooked, they will take from a few hours to a few days to
settle back to optimum performance, depending on how much they were
overcooked. The Cable Cooker will not permanently damage any cable.
So, who needs this device? I would say that any serious
audiophile using quality cabling needs to at least use
it. I can see that dropping a grand might give many people pause. But in
the context of an ambitious audio system and high-quality cabling for
instance, my system's cables retail for, cumulatively, about $20K
another thousand to take full advantage of their quality and maintain
optimal performance over time seems like a reasonable investment. It makes
sense to me that an audio club or just a group of hobbyist friends can go
in together and share a Cooker, thus spreading the financial pain. Whrn I
asked Alan about this, he replied, "I've always thought so as well,
but over the last ten years, this has rarely happened. 99 percent of
Cooker owners are individuals (other than dealers and cable
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first
Cable Cooker prototype, hence the Anniversary Edition designation.
Congratulations, Alan it's a fine product, and I would not like to be
Acoustic ART (Analogue Room Treatment) System
If you have reached the end of this
review marathon, congratulations on your stamina. I elected to close this
series of articles with this review for two reasons. First, the Acoustic
ART system was the last among all of these products to take a place in my
listening room. Secondly, it is also the most controversial product in the
whole series. In case you haven't been paying attention to the pro and con
scuttlebutt running through various blogs and chat rooms, I'll begin by
quoting the intro from the Synergistic website:
The inspiration for
the Acoustic ART system came to our lead designer Ted Denney four years
ago while sailing the South Pacific. During his sabbatical, Ted visited
Buddhist Temples and observed how Tibetan Prayer bowls altered temple
acoustics. These singing bowls affected a sudden shift in acoustics
whenever they were activated, and when additional bowls of varying tone
were also activated, the acoustics continued to change. Ted reasoned that
a system of resonating bowls could be developed to discreetly treat room
acoustics without the need for large unsightly tuning
However, it wasnt until after Ted returned to the
mainland and developed his Tesla Series cables that he revisited the idea
of treating room acoustics with resonating bowls. We began our research by
studying Helmholtz resonators, which have been used for over a century to
tune low frequencies in an acoustic environment. We worked to modify
Helmholtz resonator principles to incorporate the full spectrum of sound -
not just low frequencies. We found we could tune music with a system of
resonators working together in harmony at key acoustic pressure points.
Further research led to several patents-pending. The first deals with the
use of magnets to contour activation and decay properties of the Vibratron
and Magnetron Satellite resonators. The second includes a new resonator
shape called the Vibratron that radiates in a 360 degree pattern over a
scientifically-arrived-at frequency range. The third utilizes a unique
dispersion baffle to precisely control how the Bass Station resonator
affects a room's low frequency acoustics. Later we discovered that using
spikes to mechanically couple the Bass Station to a room further enhances
control of low frequencies (the Bass Station's Stilettos). Next began a
painstaking process to find resonator material with the correct mass that
would operate at mathematically-arrived-at frequencies with target decay
patterns. The acumination of these scientific principals sets the Acoustic
ART (Analogue Room Treatment) System apart from all other room tuning
Find all this a bit confusing? I'll see if I can clarify
things a bit as we go. First, a brief recounting of how this very
interesting room-tuning system landed in my listening room.
I had read and heard quite a few conflicting reactions
to the Acoustic ART system since mid-2008. It sounded intriguing, but I
was preoccupied with other concerns through that year and the first part
of 2009. My interest was reawakened when a dealer friend who has often
alerted me to good-sounding components and tweaks began raving that the
Acoustic ART was by far the best passive acoustic listening room treatment
he had ever experienced. That piqued my curiosity, and I got more
interested when he explained that the dazzling sonic improvements were
accomplished by deploying a few small carbon-steel bowls around the room.
I had been interested in fine-tuning my basically good listening room, but
had been resisting sticking a bunch of unsightly honkin' big
asbestos/cardboard/fabric cylinders and rectangles into it. My listening
room's major shortcoming has been a moderate loss of deep bass due to the
two big (25 sq. ft.) windows on the exterior wall behind my speakers. It's
also my living room, and while it's not going to warrant a spread in Architectural
Digest, it's an attractive space, and I had resisted uglifying
it for the sake of what I thought might be only subtle sonic improvements.
So I called Synergistic honcho Ted Denney to see if he'd
like me to review the Acoustic ART system. He agreed, on the condition
that he come out and install the system personally. That sounded good to
me; after all, the system was unlike anything I had ever worked with, and
there wasn't a lot of time to get it done and ready to be reviewed here.
We agreed that I would come to the Synergistic room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest to hear the system demonstrated and decide on a schedule for
Ted's visit. I found the show demo impressive there was an easily
heard difference with the system in place or removed (which takes only a
minute or so) and late one recent Saturday afternoon Ted flew into
Chicago and we got to work (after first whipping off to my favorite Greek
restaurant for a little sustenance).
A complete Acoustic ART system comprises the following:
($1500) is the largest and costliest piece. Two metallic hemispheres are
joined on either side of a thin round silver plate to form a sphere that,
with the silver plate protruding at its "equator" evokes the
planet Saturn and its rings. A set of small gold and silver magnets stuck
to the top of the sphere serve to tune the device's resonances. It is
placed on or near the wall behind the speakers, typically at a height
above the tweeters. Other placements may be used, and Synergistic also
offers an adjustable-height stand as an option.
The Bass Station ($750)
is a smaller bowl-shaped piece that sits on a small wooden stand with
sharp stiletto points for floor coupling and a small wood baffle that
faces the speakers and obscures the view of the esonator bowl. It is
typically placed directly below the Vibratron, on the floor 3-6 inches
from the wall.
There are two different kinds of satellites. The Gravatron
($500) Is typically placed on the wall behind the listening seat, 2/3 to
3/4 up the height from the floor. It can also be used on the wall behind the
speakers, either to complement or replace the Vibratron (if budget
considerations so dictate). The Magnetron
($300) satellites typically go on the room's side walls, at or near the
first reflection point from the loudspeakers, and above the height of the
When Ted Denney and I were planning his installation
visit, and I was describing my listening room and system, Ted suggested
that it might be good to also have a set of Shakti Hallographs in the room.
(The Hallographs, which I reviewed and purchased years ago, were also a
target of much derision when they came out. But they did wonders for my
old, somewhat problematical listening room in California, and were still
useful though less dramatically so in my current room. I was most
curious to see how Ted planned to integrate the Hallographs with the
Acoustic ART components. I also wanted to find out if Ted's little
resonating bowls would work in a system that was substantially different
from what he was accustomed to working with. For one thing, my speakers
are seven feet tall in a room with nine-foot ceilings, and there is a
one-foot-thick ductwork channel behind the speakers, leaving precious
little space "above the tweeters" for the Vibratron. Secondly,
my dipole planar/ribbon Analysis Amphitryonns, with their six-foot-long
ribbons, are more line-source than point-source transducers; the ribbons
do not have nearly as much sidewall reflection as cone or dome midranges
and tweeters. And the dipole planar base panels do not load the room to
the same degree as box speaker woofers.
Ted was undaunted by those challenges. After listening
to my system for a while, he was ready to get to work. We decided early on
that in this environment we would use the Acoustic ART pieces without the
Hallographs. Out they went. We also decided that the rule of thumb about
placing resonators above the tweeters could be ignored here.
After about an hour of placing and listening, replacing
and re-listening, here's the configuration we arrived at:
The Vibratron is wall-mounted (actually, window
frame-mounted) and centered between the speakers on the exterior wall
about 5.5-feet off the floor. One Bass Station is on the floor directly
below the Vibratron, and a second Bass Station is on the floor near the
wall behind my listening couch. The Gravaron is on that same wall, just
above the kitchen pass-through window nearly 8 feet off the floor. We
deployed four Magnetrons: two on the wall behind the speakers near the
back corners, about 6 feet off the floor, and one on each side wall, also
about 6 feet off the floor.
Initial listening after this exercise started with a
couple of female vocal recordings: Patricia Barber's The
Cole Porter Mix (a standby for me these days) and K.D. Lang's Ingenue,
which has a couple of tracks I have always found valuable in audio
evaluations. We liked the new tonal balance right away, but were less
satisfied with the sound field. The focus on both recordings had pushed
forward, locating the singers a bit in front of the plane of the speakers,
which was not the case prior to installing the Acoustic ART components.
To address that, we eliminated most of the 20-degree
toe-in of the speakers, reducing it to about 5 degrees. Voilเ! Now the
sound field was completely different. The forwardness was gone, and the
soundstage was now focused slightly behind the plane of the speakers,
closer in that respect to what it had been originally. The sense of
layered depth in orchestral recordings, the depth extending well
beyond the wall behind the speakers was better-developed than I had
previously heard it. The soundstage also had greater width, and there was
a greater sense of "wrap around," with reverberant content more
fully "populating" the room. (I'm not sure I can describe this
phenomenon precisely, but what I was hearing now was much closer to what I
hear in Symphony Center when I go to the CSO.) At that point we decided to
get a good night's sleep and fine tune the system Sunday morning.
The fine tuning didn't take long. Ted made a few small
placement adjustments on the Magnetrons, and after some more listening to
confirm that things were where we wanted them, affixed the satellites
"permanently" which meant putting Velcro patches on the wall
locations to replace the BlueTak we had used initially. After that, we had
about an hour to listen to a variety of recordings before Ted headed to
As of this writing, I've been listening to my Acoustic
ART-conditioned room with ever-increasing pleasure. The slight bass
deficiency has been remedied to my satisfaction. The bass is still quick
and tight, as it has always been in this room. But now I've gained at
least a half-octave of extension and slightly greater amplitude. Vocal and
instrumental color, previously very good, is now notably better,
regardless of the musical genre. Spatially, the room is quite different
and much closer to the kind of ambience I hear in live performance.
Let me talk a little more about that last point. I have
had before-and-after experience with acoustic restorations in two concert
halls. During my California years, San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall
underwent a major acoustic upgrade. Prior to the changes it was a tonally
well balanced venue, but seriously deficient in bass response and dynamics.
Afterwards, those deficiencies were largely remedied and Davies became a
much more satisfying location for symphonic listening.
When I lived in Chicago during the 1970s, Orchestra Hall
where all those great RCA Reiner recordings had been made, had
suffered terribly from misguided alterations to the auditorium, mostly for
the sake of air-conditioning improvements. That gorgeous Chicago sound on
those Reiner recordings, with the powerful low-frequency foundation and
broad dynamic scale, was gone; the hall's sound had lost its foundation
and become more muddled. For that reason, most of the recordings under Sir
George Solti and Carlo Maria Giulini were made not in Orchestra Hall but
in other venues. During the 25 years between my leaving Chicago and coming
back, Orchestra Hall went through a huge renovation and expansion that
improved the acoustics significantly, as well as expanding the stage and
adding Terrace seating around the orchestra that had not previously been
there. At that point Orchestra Hall was also renamed Symphony Center,
though it will always be Orchestra Hall to me. I'm not sure the renovated
auditorium is as good as the original, but it is far better than what I
heard during the 1970s
Why, you may wonder, am I bringing this up? Look out
metaphor coming. I go to that hall about 70 times a year. In its present
condition, it's a very good concert hall for symphonic, chamber, solo and
various non-classical programs. But it's not quite a great,
world-class hall, in the sense of Boston's Symphony Hall or the
Amsterdam Concertgebouw (the most beautifully balanced symphonic venue I
have ever heard). Before the Acoustic ART system was installed, I'd make
an analogy between my listening room playing recorded music and my live
venue good, but not quite great. With the Acoustic ART system in
place, its quality for listening to audio has moved a lot closer to the
level of a Boston or Amsterdam in acoustic quality. And that, as Martha
Stewart might say, is a good thing.
All of this improvement comes at a price, of course, and
in my case the price is higher than usual. My two extra Magnetrons and one
extra Bass Station take the retail price of my installation up to $4700.
That is a lot of money for a
tweak. But I don't regard the Acoustic ART as a tweak. It's a
transformational upgrade to my audio listening. The magnitude of change it
has delivered is more significant than I can imagine resulting from any
similar expenditure in new hardware components or cables.
The prices of the Acoustic ART are what seem to bend a
lot of people out of shape about it. I've seen this kind of reaction many
times in the past. Around 15 years ago, when I first encountered and soon
embraced Jack Bybee's quantum purification technology, the Internet was
filled with self-appointed iconoclasts bent on exposing Jack's inventions
as fraudulent. There are still Bybee naysayers, but most of that nonsense
has quieted down as his technology has proved itself. But there are still
plenty of complaints about the prices of his devices as well.
I've noted over the years that many audiophiles tend to
be willing to spend big for big stuff. A few thousand for a preamp or an
amplifier? OK. But high prices for little lightweight accessories?
Outrageous! Add to that, there seem to be lots of audiophiles out there
who don't think manufacturers are entitled to make a profit. A Jack Bybee
or a Ted Denney, breaking new ground in audio technology, is investing
considerable sums in research, failed prototypes, etc., and they are
entitled to make a profit for the game-changing innovations they bring to
The other category of negative commentary I've seen on
Acoustic ART is plain old derision. Something like, "are you kidding
me? That's ridiculous!" I notice that almost all the most vitriolic
responses to Acoustic ART as with Bybee technology years ago comes
from people who have not actually heard the product in question, but
simply 'know' that it can't possibly work. Such comments also typically
attack the character and honesty of the "snake oil" designer.
I've always felt that one of my advantages as an audio
reviewer is that I am not a trained engineer. When confronted with a new
concept, an unusual product, I don't reject it out of hand because I
didn't study it in engineering school. I try to approach anything new with
an open mind and judge it by what I hear. That's what I've done here.
I am very happy to have cleared up my
backlog of unreviewed products from the last couple of personally
troubling years, and again I apologize to the manufacturers who had to
wait this long to have their products receive my long-overdue evaluations.
I hope that our readers have found this series of interest not only
for the individual reviews, but to get a sense of how a serious
reference-level system evolves over time.
A word about this final installment. It has covered 11
different accessory products, and each one of them has gotten a thumbs up.
I can easily imagine a reader reacting to this sequence and wondering,
"did Donnelly really experience the kind of improvements he describes
11 different times?" More than once in my reviewing career I've tried
something new and had to decide if the differences I heard were truly and
unequivocally improvements, or did they just sound different?
I am confident that all of these products deliver genuine improvements
that enhance my home listening experience. And I ask you to remember that
while all of these reviews came out together, the evaluations and
acquisition decisions happened over a period of 3+ years. Thanks for
staying the course through this three-part series. There's lots of good
new stuff in the pipeline, so stay tuned!
Manufacturer / Distributor Links
AUDIOTOP & Millennium: www.AAudioImports.com
Audio Excellence AZ: www.AudioExcellenceaz.com
Synergistic Research: www.SynergisticResearch.com