September 1, 2005
Auric Illuminator Optical Disc Treatment
Sic semper tyrannus!
"Ever thus to tyrants!" Well, to one pipsqueak tyrant: me. I admit to a mindset I have since repudiated, that of knee-jerk scoffer. Little over which audiophiles waxed ecstatic failed to escape my derision. The notion, for example, that an aftermarket power cord could improve a components performance was more than enough to provoke incontinence. Now I buy the damned things. Your reporters conversion is one thing, oddities another. Scammers still range the terrain, as do the sincerely deluded and, thank Euterpe, those whose once-controversial practices and precepts few with ears now belittle.
In other words, fellow enthusiasts, my sneering days are behind me. In audio, to determine what has value, one sits back and listens. Nothings beyond the pale. If Im sent dung beetles marinated in the bile of albino camels and sun-dried under the gaze of the Sphinx, I place the critters where directed, sit back, and listen. In the ringing words of my day-camp director, "Everyone into the pool!" One takes the plunge.
Even in arranged marriages, love can blossom
No sooner than it appeared was the compact disc heaped with scorn. Despite its swift acceptance elsewhere, up here in Audiophilia, listeners bitched, moaned, grumped, and groaned. Careers have been built on disparaging the medium. Of all the suggested ameliorations, marking a CDs inner and outer edges with green ink struck pocket-protector types as further evidence of hobbyist idiocy, another solution in search of a problem. Perhaps. The turntable of a superb CD player, the Wadia 861se, is edged in a green band. The manufacturer makes no untoward fuss over its presence. Its there, within, addressing whatever.
The goods, are they good?
The Auric Illuminator Optical Disc Treatment kit contains a permanent black-felt marker, a clear gel in a plastic applicator, 14 buffing pads, a disc-inking template, and instructions. So much for green. The marker-and-gel treatment is recommended for all optical discs except hybrid SACDs manufactured by Sonopress. The user is instructed to blacken the discs outer and inner rims. As a "very effective" option, one positions the template on a disc in its case and inks the clear hub as well as, in freehand, whats left of the discs clear circumference. After applying the quick-drying ink, one buffs a few drops of the gel on both sides of the disc. And one is ready to hum along.
Seeing double is sometimes recommended
When a tweak youre evaluating requires indelible marking, its best to have a duplicate on hand. Naxos in error sent me two copies of their release of Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 [Naxos 8.557396], performed by the Maggini Quartet. A label commissioning the composition of string quartets puts a novel turn on a tradition dating back centuries to church, aristocracy, and haute bourgeoisie. (There are four Naxos Quartets.) The production is first rate. I gave one of the discs the ink-and-gel treatment, "very effective" option included, and left the other alone.
To ensure as best I could that I wasnt imagining what I heard, I went back and forth about two dozen times, playing one track, the second quartets Allegro. Time after time the treated discs strings sounded warmer and richer in texture. Early in the comparisons, I suspected that my imagination was running interference. "This really cant be happening." But it was. I continued to compare that one track until I was reasonably certain that my ears were operating independent of expectation.
Standing at the brink
Years ago, a famously enthusiastic and likewise contentious audio nabob grabbed a CD Id brought to his place and, before I could retrieve it, edged the thing with green ink. Hed a point to prove that I couldnt hear, but thats another story. Its a rare disc, one of a set of music by a crazy Italian duke, Giacinto Scelsi, who contributed substantially to Europes avant-garde. Even today, I cant help wincing at those scruffy green rings.
I mention lAffaire encre vert merely to observe that, one, the Auric Illuminator treatment is a whole lot more effective, and that, two, as a discophile, I value a recordings as-issued appearance. On the one hand, the audiophiles craving for better sound knows no impediment. On the other, art will out. The LP has it all over the CD in terms of sleeve-design opportunities. Conversely, the CDs label side has proven a fertile field for graphics. Im not convinced as I write these remarks that Ill be blacking my collections transparent areas with opaque ink. If my reluctance strikes you as fussy, by all means, give the Auric Illuminator a shot. As Ive proved to my own satisfaction, it works.
Perhaps total opacity is something the folks who make optical discs need to look into. If blacking-out is as effective as my limited test suggests, it ought to occur as an aspect of manufacture. The gels application would remain the users responsibility.
Auric Illuminator Optical Disc Treatment
Ultra Audio is part of the SoundStage! Network.