April 1, 2010
Machina Dynamica Clever Little Clock Signature
According to Merriam-Websters
Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, perception is "physical sensation
interpreted in the light of experience." But the problem with a hobby based on
perception is that no ones perception is the same as anothers. We all hear
differently. Some peoples perceptions correspond with those of other people, but the
inevitable differences mean that opinions are formed and lines are drawn in the sand.
Youre either a vinyl guy or a digital guy; youre either solid-state or tubes;
you believe in linear frequency response, or you dont. This hobby has more lines
drawn in the sand than one can imagine, all drawn from different points of perception.
The product reviewed here is the Signature Version of
Machina Dynamicas Clever Little Clock ($299 USD), a device that sits in your
listening room and purportedly changes your perception of what youre hearing. The
device was designed based on the theories of Peter W. Belt, an Englishman responsible for
all sorts of controversial audio-related tweaks that have been written about in various
audiophile publications over the years. Belts theories are based on his belief that
"all audio equipment (regardless of price) underperforms because of factors in its
environment." He also believes that "environments can be fixed easily and often
at modest cost." Geoff Kait of Machina Dynamica first learned of Belts theories
in 1999, when he read an article in SoundStage! about the PWB Rainbow Electret Foil. He
then developed his own take on PWBs theories which hes employed in his Clever
What does it do? Well . . .
The Clever Little Clock (CLC) is called that because it is
a clock. The version sent for review is actually the Casio PQ-15 travel clock, which
retails online for about $20. Earlier versions of the CLC used completely different
clocks; the only reason they were replaced was because the clock manufacturers
discontinued those models. Geoff Kait says that he makes several modifications to the
Casio, including some visible ones.
The rare-earth oxides of neodymium are used to make what
are, currently, the strongest of all permanent magnets. The two neodymium magnets on my
review sample were stuck on metal discs that were coated in tinted ceramic and glued to
the CLC: an orange disc was stuck to the middle of the clocks display, and a red one
to its rear panel. "Im not sure exactly why the magnets work," Kait says,
"and why the specific colors I use for the ceramic magnets work, in the locations
they are used, but it has all been worked out experimentally, [by] trial and error, that
the magnets are integral to how the clock functions." The magnets are treated with a
solution before being placed on the ceramic-coated metal pieces on the clock. In his
latest production runs of the CLC, Kait attaches the magnets with glue to keep them from
accidentally falling off.
The second visible modification is the time. Kait presets
the clock to a time later than the customers local time. This Future Time
(Kaits term) was arrived at experimentally. According to Kait, the CLC wont
work as well if the time it displays is the same as local time, or if its set to
The final visible mod is perhaps the most interesting
because Kaits explanation of it is a bit mystical and hard to grasp. To the
Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries included with the CLC, Kait adds strips of -- not
tape with a sparkly finish, which is what they look like, but actual PWB
"devices." Belts term for these strips of tape is Holographic Foils,
which, Kait told me, have specific applications, one of which is to electrical batteries.
First, Kait said, batteries, like magnets, have positive
and negative poles, which create a corresponding polarizing effect in a room. Kait feels
that humans are unaware of the batteries audible effect in a room. He claims that
not only do the Holographic Foils remove from the room the effects of the CLCs
batteries, they also counteract the problem of morphic field, a concept first
articulated by biologist Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake didnt have hi-fi in mind;
instead his morphic field theory describes the way life forms evolve, adapt, and learn.
Sheldrake felt that "the morphic fields presently organizing the activity
of the nervous system in humans and other creatures, are inherited through morphic
resonance, conveying a collective and instinctive memory among species. Individuals
within a species however, both draw upon and also contribute to the
collective memory of their species." He also felt that this phenomenon explains how
new patterns of animal behavior are spread rapidly over huge distances.
Belt learned of Sheldrakes theory and felt that the
same principles could also describe hearing. He felt that, over time, humans have
developed the ability to naturally block out the harmful sounds created by such things as
the billions of electrical batteries on the planet -- whether those batteries are in your
remote controls, in a toy, in the trash, or even sitting on a shelf or in a drawer.
Because all of these polarizing objects negatively affect the way humans hear, humans
therefore subliminally "perceive" these sounds as threats. Belt feels that we
have developed defense mechanisms to these harmful sounds and are passing along those
mechanisms to generation after generation, without any of us ever being aware of the
harmful sounds. It is these defense mechanisms that negatively affect what we hear coming
from our loudspeakers.
So Peter W. Belt developed various inexpensive products
that, he says, remove the interference of these polarizing objects, with the result that
the listener hears only the music. With Belts and Sheldrakes principles in
mind, Geoff Kait designed the Clever Little Clock.
Description, systems, rooms
The Signature Version
of the Clever Little Clock arrived in my mailbox in an unassuming package. Only 4"H x
3.5"W, it fit neatly into a Victorias Secret perfume box. No manual or
instructions were provided, but if additional information is needed, I found Geoff Kait
very prompt in returning my e-mails. According to Kait, the best location for the CLC is
behind the speakers and 5 above the floor. My mantel is at about that height, so I
was easily able to place the clock.
My review system consisted of a pair of Rockport
Technologies Mira loudspeakers, a Simaudio Moon P5.3 preamplifier, a Classé CA-2200 power
amplifier, and a Bel Canto DAC3 D/A converter. All cables were Analysis Plus, and a
MacBook Pro laptop was my music server, running Amarra Music Player and iTunes so that I
could navigate my music collection.
A separate listening session was conducted in the Music
Vault of editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz, using a system comprising Rockport Technologies
Arrakis speakers, Classé Omega Omicron Mono monoblocks or a Boulder 2060 power amplifier,
another Bel Canto DAC3, and Shunyata Research cables. In both his and my rooms, Jeff and I
conducted both blind and sighted listening tests of the CLC. Though the results were the
same in both systems, my descriptions below are from the notes I took in my room with my
What it sounds like . . . sort of . . .
To give ourselves well-established reference points, Jeff
and I began by listening to three familiar tracks without the Clever Little Clock
in the system, or even in the house. Then, after wed refamiliarized ourselves with
each track, we positioned the CLC and listened to the same three tracks again, at the same
Because Machina Dynamica claims on their website that
"You will hear less distortion, more information, a deeper, more coherent soundstage
and more air," Id picked a recording that already provides goodly amounts of
these qualities, just to see if they could be improved on: "Motion Picture
Soundtrack," from Radioheads Grammy-winning album Kid A (CD, Capitol
29684). It begins with the slow, plodding sounds of an organ, but that wasnt my
focus with this track. The sounds of the performers feet depressing the pedals in
the background are a great indication of the audio systems ability to reproduce the
non-musical sounds of the instrument. These small details are also farther back in the
soundstage and off to the left. I heard no difference with the CLC in my system.
Then we played one of Jeffs favorites, "Tall
Trees in Georgia," from Eva Cassidys Live at Blues Alley (CD, Blix
Street 10046). A good audio system will re-create the air and ambience of the recording
venue, a small jazz club, throughout the soundstage, as well as show off the systems
own upper midrange. Early on, someone in the audience strikes a glass with an eating
utensil, creating a well-defined tink that, through some systems, sounds somewhat
dull, and masked by audience noise. However, neither Jeffs nor my own system has any
problem providing the desired result. Also, this live recording has a bit of microphone
hiss that systems of lower resolution improperly mask. With the CLC in the room, the
results were exactly the same as with the Radiohead track: There was no difference in the
sounds of the struck glass, the microphone noise, or of Cassidys voice.
Last was Mino Cinelus "Soon I Will Be
Home," from his eponymous CD (Verve 546403). We chose this track for the complicated
nature of the fun arrangement: a thumping bass line, punchy bongos, cleanly recorded
strings, and a chanted vocal -- altogether, a tough task for an audio system to properly
scale. The low bass in this recording tests the quickness and articulation of a system,
and provides a good gauge of pace. Once again, we heard no differences with the CLC in the
Then we tried some blind tests: One of us would leave the
house with the clock. When that person returned, the listener would not know whether or
not hed brought the clock back with him, so the listener had no idea if he was then
listening to the system with the CLC or without it. While conducting this lengthy blind
test -- and wasting a lot of the HVAC systems heat by constantly opening and closing
the front door -- neither Jeff nor I could accurately determine by listening whether or
not the CLC was in the room. Every time we thought wed discerned some telling
characteristic, wed turn out to be wrong. It was like flipping a coin and calling it
in the air -- we had a 50/50 chance of being right.
What does it all mean?
I was disappointed that the Signature Version of the Clever
Little Clock didnt work for Jeff and me. But why didnt it work? We
discussed this at length, and came up with the following.
First, from a reasonable thinkers standpoint, is the
question most readers of this review will ask themselves: Why would stickers on a
pair of batteries, a preset Future Time, and a couple of rare-earth magnets on a $20
digital clock, make your audio system sound better? Machina Dynamica provides no
scientific data supporting the claims they make for their product; instead, they present
such concepts as morphic field and Future Time. While those theories are interesting, they
make little scientific sense to me.
How do I explain the Clever Little Clock as a product that
some audiophiles have reported has made improvements in their audio system? Before the
music starts, might someone believe that there will be a difference, and because of
this belief, the differences become discernible? If so, then the question is, did the
listener hear actual improvements, or did they hear something they wanted to
hear -- something that doesnt exist in an unbiased reality?
Geoff Kait provided as much help as he could, but finally
conceded that the "results can vary from system to system and person to person as
well as recording to recording. I think someone whos very familiar with his system
and used to evaluating tweaks would, generally speaking, be better able to key in to
whats going on with the Clock sonically."
Throughout the process, I tried to remain open to the
principles Kait believes in, but in the end, I dont share his beliefs. Geoff Kait
seems to believe that his product works.
Machina Dynamica offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for
the Clever Little Clock. If this sort of tweak sounds interesting to you, you have little
to lose. But the Clever Little Clock didnt work for me.
. . . Randall Smith
Machina Dynamica Clever Little Clock Signature
Price: $299 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
8003 Chanute Place #10
Falls Church, VA.22042
Phone: (703) 560-3018
Machina Dynamica responds:
Machina Dynamica introduced the Clever Little Clock five
years ago. Until very recently, we did not provide any details of the Clock's operation.
We acknowledged that the Clock was developed using techniques and products of PWB
Electronics in Leeds, England, but that was as far as we went. At the end of 2009, with
the help of May Belt of PWB Electronics, I developed an explanation of how the Clever
Little Clock works. This explanation is provided on our website at: www.machinadynamica.com/machina42.htm