Welcome to another meeting of our help group for the insatiable tweaker. It's the beginning of February as I write this, prime time for listening and tweaking, especially up here in New Hampshire. We'll be discussing CD tweaks today, with an update on a cleaning and disc-burning product mentioned in previous articles, and a new one that seems to work in synergy with it.
Yesterday, I had a great time visiting Maurice Schmir, a fellow physician and audiophile, who retired early a couple of years ago, and decided to go into the high-end audio business. He lives about 40 miles from me in Maine, and, as discussed in AA Chapter 61, we had met previously and listened to his new speaker line, the EBEN by Raidho, of Denmark. Since then, reviewers at various shows have raved about the speakers. Other than being an all-around great guy, Maurice has great ears and knows how to demo his equipment. He has teamed up with Joe Fratus, of Art Audio, whose tube amps he uses, along with Electrocompaniet CD player, Pass Labs preamp, and Nordost top of the line cable.
Using his EBEN X-3 speakers, which have a redesigned crossover from what they had last year, the sound was phenomenal. Their biggest strength is their ultra-fast tweeter that extended the highs beyond my hearing abilities. The company claims that they are almost indestructible, being able to put out 140dB in their frequency range before distortion and meltdown. That's 10dB louder than a jet engine at take-off from a few feet away. Hard to believe, and not easily provable, without damaging every window in the house. It is used throughout their whole speaker line, the difference between the lowest and highest priced speaker being the number of other drivers, which are also made in-house.
Their mid-range and imaging easily match the best that I've heard and the bass is tight and clean, varying in depth only by the number of drivers used. The cabinets are gorgeous, meticulously built, and although very high for their cross-section, are very stable, resting on a large plate on two sets of bearings, the lowest set as part of a conical structure. Of course this type of quality, especially with the low dollar vs. Euro exchange rate comes at a price, with the middle of the line X-3 listing for $15,800 plus shipping, but worth it compared for other speakers in its price range. Wish I could afford a set of seven of them for my system, but then I'd also have to buy new amps to match them. Oh well!
Back in AA Chapter 72 & 74, we discussed the RealityCheckCD Audiophile Grade Duplicator RCCD-AG 2.2 and its sister product, the ClearDisc & ClearBit Cleaning Solution, from George Louis original developer of Finyl, the first CD optical cleaner. He has added a third solution, which he's named RealDisc to his armamentarium.
Happily, the new solution does add some further improvement to CD playback, primarily with increased retrieval of LSB information. Unhappily, it adds a third step to the process. If one has previously cleaned the disc with some other product, one cleans off both sides of the disc using the ClearDisc for which I use Charmin Ultra toilet paper. This minimizes the risk of scratching the disc and the anal orifice. Then wait one minute, then prep both of the disc's sides with the new RealDisc using a shammy provided by George, waits one minute again, then does a final cleaning of both sides with the Clearbit solution using the second shammy provided. If one is really anal, or wishes to follow George's directions, one should do each step twice. If it is a new disc from the factory one can skip the Cleardisc step.
Remember, one has to also do the inner and outer edges of the disc for optimal results. If one is also using his disc duplicator one should do both the original and the copy disc. Is the addition of the cost and aggravation of using the new solution at $59 per bottle worth it? Only you can decide, but it is now used on every 5-inch disc in my media room including DVD's, SACD's and DVD-A's. It does have the advantage that I've been able to stop using the Bedini Ultraclarifier as these solutions seem to also demagnetize the disc.
NESPA Pro Optical Disc Finalizer
Produced by Nanotech Systems, of Tokyo, it is a well-made heavy metal box similar in size to a Bedini Clarifier, with a top, disc clamp on a rotating motor, and a white strobe light similar to a camera flash. The original unit did a certain number of flashes, with the newer Pro unit having a much stronger flasher at 3,000,000 lux with the ability to flash either 30, 60 or 120 times per cycle. They recommend trying the 30 flashes first to see if there is any improvement and then moving on to the higher numbers to see if there is further improvement. The one thing they don't mention is how many flashes it might take to start a degradation process. As the light is very strong, the unit will not function until the top is closed, but I'm sure some dingbat could find a way to overcome this safety measure and burn his retina out. The unit supposedly will work on all forms of 5-inch disc including DVD's.
As with all tweaks they have a theory as to how it works based on the fact that all discs are made in a vessel where either the reflecting metal or dye is sputtered onto the disc in an Argon atmosphere rather than a vacuum. Thus they feel that some of the gas can collect between the plastic and reflective surface, thus decreasing the laser's ability to read where the pits end and the pit surface lies. Thus the laser may get a second reflection off of the plastic surface. The light is supposed to burn off the argon or dissipate it in some way, maybe into the pit area. This sounds a little crazy to me as I would think that a powerful light beam would heat both the metal or dye substrate and in turn the Argon gas, making the substrate pull away from the disc surface even more, but then I'm not a physicist. Maybe Steve or somebody from the company will comment on this. I would think it more likely that the light might force the film against the substrate and bind them, or possibly make the edges of the pits sharper to maximize the reading ability of the laser.
Anyway, whatever it does, works. About 50 discs have been processed here, both with and without prior treatment with George Louis' solutions, and in each case, there has been a marked improvement in playback. Again, there is increased pickup of low-level information, but instead of just improving the low level information; it also seems to increase both the dynamics and the sound level. Discs actually sound somewhat louder at the same playback levels, something I've never heard before. The 60-pulse amount seems to work the most consistently. Several discs have been done at the 120 level, but there has been no discernable increase or decrease in the effect to my ears. I have not experimented with higher levels as my Scot blood won't let me consciously try to ruin a perfectly good disc, but maybe I'll try that in the future. Steve Klein suggests that the people from the company at the last CES stated that the disc can be zapped any number of time and the disc will not degrade, but it will not improve on the sound.
One disturbing thing I've heard on the web is that the light bulb may give out after a certain number of burns. Steve states that if the bulb burns out during the warranty time, that they will replace the unit for the cost of the postage. DVD's also show a marked improvement not only in the sound, especially on DTS and Dolby 5.1 playback but also in the video, which one sees as an increased clarity and higher color saturation. There is even an improvement in SACD and DVD-A playback, although not to the extent of CD's.
Finally, we've gotten to the point where there are more tweaks for digital than vinyl playback, and it has become more of a pain in the butt to maximize digital than analog playback. Happily, several treatments done in the past to discs have fallen into disuse here. The Bedini Clarifier no longer seems to make a difference when George Louis' fluids are used, and the Audiodesk System disc lathe actually seems to degrade the sound over just cleaning the rim of the discs with the fluids. The NESPA certainly adds another level of accuracy to digital playback and is definitely worth the price of $595 for the original unit or $825 for the Professional one.