ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

June 1, 2004

Dirty Windows and Dissatisfaction

Dissatisfaction with one’s sound system perhaps operates at a subliminal level and may simply require tweaks -- those parts of an audio system that are not electronics, source components or speakers -- to shed their light in unexplored corners. And, in my experience, always in one direction: at noise. The less, the better. It’s that old, overworked analogy: Work at cleaning the window and perhaps your scrawny, wart-bespattered midrange may suddenly present itself as the sonic equivalent of a ravishing centerfold. (Did you know that the last Playboy centerfold with a staple-perforated navel was Miss September, 1985? I got that from the Weekly World News, where I also learned that the Japanese are breeding an army of Godzillas for another surprise attack on the US and that animal activists are demanding an end to the manufacture of silver bullets for the purpose of killing werewolves.)

I’m reluctant to evaluate tweaks one against another with respect to which has proved the more useful. (And this is an editorial, not an omnibus product report.) In judging whether a particular tweak is effective, I put it into the system, form an early opinion, and at some distant moment remove it. If, on removal, my early opinion holds, which to say, if I hear a difference for the worse, back it goes. And remains. Tweaks A, B, C and D become totality E, and it’s E we listen to.

The tweaks I’ve so far tried to good effect: aspects of quantum technology from CryoTweaks, BybeeInside, Quantum Technology and Harmonix Reimyo; also from Harmonix, a pair of Studio Master power cords; from Walker Audio, UHD Links and SST contact enhancer; from Silent Running Audio, a Tremor/Less isolation platform, along with VR-series platforms, all under the electronics; from GutWire, NotePad isolation pads, which I’ll be discussing in a cable report I’m working on. I mention all this only to explain why I removed a pair of Walker UHD Links in my evaluation of Harmonix power cords. I was concerned that I might have introduced redundancies that did more harm than good. Not so. So far, all tweaks in place, I appear to have done nothing to degrade the basic system.

In addressing noise -- EMF, RFI, microphonics and whatever other gremlins exist -- I’m reasonably confident that I’ve come that much closer to what my basic components are capable of doing. I cannot provide a technical explanation of why this is so, nor, for example, can I explain why one power cord differs from another. Enough that I find their designers’ claims reasonable. One’s politics can color his attitudes. Those of us who list to port are by nature distrustful of private enterprise and the profit motive. Incredulity is part of the game. Audio purveyors have been improving on the laws of the physical universe pretty much from hi-fi’s inception. He who believes what he reads in the ads is leading with his chin. It’s enough that one hears purveyors’ claims panning out.

I’m happy with my basic electronics. They’re well-designed, well-made pieces. Nowhere in the pamphlets accompanying the CD player and amps does one discover mention of acoustic isolation platforms, aftermarket power cords or external line conditioning as helpful adjuncts. (The Mark Levinson No.33H mono amplifier -- the power cord of which is fixed in place -- performs its own voltage-stage conditioning.) Does there exist a manual stating that Component X will sound better externally tweaked? Not having seen all that many, I cannot say. I do know that some pieces come without power cords, the assumption being that anyone with the good sense to acquire a Wonder-Whatever will of course be providing his own power cord -- e.g., my line conditioner, for which, ultimately, I acquired the Harmonix power cords designed specifically for Reimyo’s ALS line. The higher the audiophile climbs, the more on his own. Indeed, but where are we, exactly?

Well, let’s say for provocative example that the audiophile is attracted to tubed electronics for what he perceives as their sweeter highs, superior midrange liquidity and cozier low end. Perhaps, rather than taking on the care, feeding and distortion of quaint, high-maintenance basics, he’d be better off investigating the source of his malaise with his system as it stands. In other words, the solitary seeker could do worse than tackle subliminal noise before he disqualifies whatever of the basics that seem to disappoint. It may or may not be beautiful on the other side of the window, but it’s easier to decide if the window is clean.

...Mike Silverton

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