Welcome to our November meeting for insatiable tweakers. It's been three weeks since my return from CEDIA as I write this and am still feeling the negative symptoms of the flight and show. Unhappily, I've developed a problem called Vestibular Migraine, where certain stimuli — especially food additives such as caffeine, alcohol and motion — cause severe dizziness to the point where all I can do for several days is lie flat in bed and pray for recovery. It's sort of like a massive case of seasickness or Meniere's Disease, but, thankfully without the hearing changes that lead to deafness that normally goes along with the latter. My guess is the combination of the altitude and long flight set it off this time, so most likely going to Denver for shows will be off my list of fun things to do. Too bad as the Rocky Mountain Show is next week as I write this and would have loved to attend. Oh well.
As a follow-up to my column from CEDIA 2006 show report, our fearless editor Steven R. Rochlin received a comment on my report from Rich Maez, Director of North American Sales and Marketing for Boulder Amplifiers of Boulder Colorado, which should be available at this month's Letters section. Rich and I started an email discussion of the relative merits of shows, and CEDIA in particular, and thought it would be appropriate to present his arguments so my readers could get the dealer's side of the story. You may want to read my CEDIA article first to get the gist of what he's saying.
CEDIA is a weird show as it caters, somewhat like "the zoo" at CES, to the lowest common denominator for the most part yet attendance is actually pretty good with regard to folks like us and the retailers who are interested in our kind of stuff. You have to remember that the vast majority of people can't fit a pair of our 2050 monoblocks and a pair of X-2 Alexandrias in a 1900 square foot home in old San Francisco or New York, even if they can afford it. For those folks, the majority of options presented at CEDIA is their best bet, and thus the Aerials, the Wilsons, the Thiels, the Boulders, the Krells, the Sumikos, etc., are all working with products for those who are either movie buffs instead of music lovers or simply don't have the space. On the other hand, there are those manufacturers who always cater to the lowest common denominator crowd and brought out attention-grabbing monsters and “how loud will it play regardless of sound quality” products. There have been companies like this since the audio industry began, although there was some of the worst sound I've ever heard demonstrated. Period. At CEDIA, CES, or anywhere. And it always drew a crowd, simply because of volume and size. I think they did a much bigger disservice to those who appreciate good sound than anything CEDIA as an organization has ever done.
I was visited by a great number of dealers, installers, and installer/dealers who, while making a good living doing install work, are music focused at home or for their customers who can appreciate it. Most everyone seems to be in agreement that it does no good to hold out and cater to only audiophiles and thus go out of business by ignoring the people interested in another form of home entertainment. You can do what's necessary in order to stay afloat and use that business success to floor the truly fun stuff, too. We picked up two dealers with that business model, and are likely going to get two more as soon as I get a chance to visit them. While I love the idea of an audio only store (my movie watching is limited to kids' movies because of a three-year-old who loves the stuff), the guys who can do it successfully and extremely well are few and far between. If there were plenty of them nationwide, I'd do everything I could to get into all of those stores. But because they're rare, we have to figure out a way to make us feasible with the others who are out there, too. In order to provide high-performance audio gear to those who love and appreciate it, we first have to stay in business and be successful.
Again, my argument was not with the brave souls from the high end who exhibited at CEDIA, but what appeared to be the majority opinion there that audio was nowhere near as important to the home theater experience as the video. Second, their feeling that a home theater sound should be optimized for movie watching rather than music listening, and third, that the esthetics of the room (read: Wife Acceptance Factor) are more important than optimizing the sound. I've found that if a room is properly set up to obtain the best that it can offer in music reproduction, then the movie soundtracks will sound equally as awesome. Unhappily a great sounding room must have room correction paraphernalia that often don't go along with what an interior decorator would consider to be haute couture, and speakers can't be hidden in walls or behind movie screens without deleterious effects. Also, there appears to be much more profit to be made by making a room look like a miniature movie theater rather than optimizing it for sound.
The most interesting comment to be taken out of Rich's e-mail in my opinion is the necessity for high-end audio dealers to have to go into home theater to survive. There were several letters in this month's Absolute Sound relating to the fact that many high-end dealers are folding up the tent or going into the lower common denominator equipment. This has also been occurring in my area, with the nearest high-end shop being Fidelis in Derry, N.H. over 50 miles from here and the next ones west of Boston. Here's hoping that the audiophile will be able to develop another way of auditioning equipment or the end will be near for high end sound reproduction, especially unless we support our dealers by buying from them rather than from the web, especially if we've spent their time and effort listening to equipment. Otherwise next time you may have to buy something "sound unheard."
Thanks for the comments Rich.
Walker Audio Talisman
Well here's another tweak from tweakmaster Lloyd Walker, owner of Walker Audio the mention of which will probably get me admitted to the Shyster Hall of Fame. For several years now, he's been producing various tweaks for his marvelous Proscenium Gold Turntable, plus his SST contact treatment, Valid Points and Velocitor, etc., all of which this column has reviewed. Most of them would be considered to fall into the category of snake oil or even devil induced magic (Lloyd's telephone number does begin with 666 after all) by the non-believers. Now he's come up with what I consider to be the most improbable (and possibly magical appearing and sounding) of all. At first I had some trepidation in even mentioning my findings, but luckily another reviewer has written about something along the same lines.
The Talisman is a rectangular block of what I think is a powerful magnet surrounded on four sides by the labeling and on the working side by a coarse felt pad. What one does is rapidly move it over and around any disc in a circular rotating fashion. The moving magnetic field of the Talisman supposedly acts to dissipate static electricity from both digital and vinyl platters, thus freeing the read mechanisms from perturbations secondary to the static electric field's rotation.
In case anybody doesn't believe that this is a problem since digital discs do not have any magnetic substance, please remember that both these and vinyl have static charges that produce a so-called para-magnetic field when rotated. While vinyl tends to have a greater static buildup and should cause a greater field, remember that the strength of the field also depends on the speed of rotation. Thus, digital discs, while having a lower static charge, also produce a fairly strong magnetic field when spun at their high velocities. This field also varies over the surface area of the disc as static charges are not uniformly spread out on the discs. The pickup mechanisms for both digital and vinyl have metal parts and in the case of vinyl, magnets in the cartridge, which react to these fields in motion effects, which change the reading of the grooves or pits. Also, these fields may in turn magnetize any iron metal parts over time. This reaction is stronger to any further fields, and with cartridges, in inappropriate ways with its own magnets. Thus the need to demagnetize moving magnet cartridges.
Many other products have been on the market to prevent this effect for both vinyl and digital, including various spray destaticizers, the Zerostat gun, the Bedini Ultraclarifier and the latest separate Furutech units for digital and vinyl. The Talisman is the first I believe to have an effect on both digital and vinyl. Plus, it also can be used to destaticize the transport tray and turntable platter at the same time. Just don't go anywhere near your cartridge or you may affect its magnets in a negative fashion.
With guests in the room its great to give a demo, as it appears that one is using a magic wand over the disc. Maybe I should use Mickey's costume from the Sorcerer's Apprentice when demonstrating its effect. The looks on their faces, especially with digital, when you stand in front of them, wave the wand and replay the disc are precious. Like with most agents that improve the reading of the disc, there is a smoothing of the sound, tightening of the bass and reduction of the high frequency stridency that 16-bit/44kHz digital is notorious for. The effect is somewhat more than one achieves using disc cleaning solutions, but both appear to be complementary as cleaning, especially with Lloyd's Ultravivid solution, followed by the Talisman tends to multiply the improvement.
Compared to my Bedini Ultraclarifier, the effect is significantly greater with the Talisman. There have also been a couple of discussions on the web from individuals who feel the effect is significantly better than what can be obtained with the Furutech unit, but I can't confirm this. Plus, they can only be used on either vinyl or digital and not on the platters. Interestingly, there is also an improvement in vinyl playback, with a decrease in pops and other noise on playback. On the other hand, when lifting the vinyl from the platter after playback there is still a static discharge so I'm not sure how the unit does its trick with records. (Possibly by smoothing out the relative amount of static charges on the surface of the disc?) Maybe Lloyd will comment on this. Again I worn you, do not approach the cartridge with the Talisman. Please!
Anyway, at $199 per unit, it's a reasonably priced tweak for its affect, especially since it works on digital discs, vinyl, turntable platters and digital player mechanisms. I'm sure some of the cheapskates out there will try various magnets to see if they can get the same effect, but Lloyd claims he uses magnets in a certain configuration, which maximizes the effect. Again, hopefully he'll talk about this.
And now a few words from Lucif... I mean Lloyd:
Our thanks to Dr. Bill Gaw for taking the time to review and report on the Talisman. Here are some tips for using it. Always discharge yourself to ground first. Touching a component's metal case will usually work. For a greater effect on LP's, treat the platter before putting on the LP. Hold the LP in your hand and treat both front and back. Then place the LP on the platter and treat both together. The Talisman destatics, does a mild demag and magnetically treats LP's and CD's. It took over a year to get the magnetic fields correct. Exactly how it works is proprietary; what is important is that you will enjoy your music more.