Premium Luxury Audio Fall Foliage Tweakfest 2022
spring of truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the
darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst
Well, audio tweaks are not exactly history-altering inventions like the printing press, but as one lesser-known Napoleon points out:
"If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great
Thus, my annual Tweakfest of small, but significant products, has drifted into fall, just in time for the November issue and foreshadowing the Holiday Gift Guide.
2. Bybee Technologies Clarifiers on Subwoofers
3. Massif Audio Design Record Weight and Cable Risers
4. Synergistic Research MiG 3.0 Footers
5. Synergistic Research Carbon Tuning Discs
Synergistic Research Purple Duplex Outlet
In the past, I've had the opportunity to review Synergistic Research's Black and Orange duplex outlets, comparing them with another "audiophile grade" duplex (about $50) as well as a spec (or commercial) grade 20-Ampere outlet (typically about $3 to $7) and even a standard wall outlet (less than $1) on a traditional house circuit. For the spec grade and higher, I've used a four-outlet junction box on the end of a dedicated 20A Romex line. Had I known then what I know now, I would have installed a 30A Romex dedicated line for very little extra cost, but that's another story. And speaking of another story, I also have a JPS Labs 30A In-Wall dedicated line with a four-outlet head on it that, sadly, does not permit the interchange of duplex outlets, though it does offer a tight connection.
The Orange duplex proved to be a very healthy step above the Black duplex, as you would expect. I've never come across a "new, improved" version of a previous product from Synergistic Research that wasn't better. Going from Black to Orange had been a perceptually greater improvement than going from another company's $50 audiophile-grade duplex to the Synergistic Black. Going from the Orange to the Purple was another significant improvement that was easily recognized. It was not quite as impressive as going from a Synergistic Orange fuse to a Purple fuse in a source component, but easily within the realm of "highly recommended", particularly if you are replacing a duplex outlet of lesser quality than the Orange.
Given that the Purple duplex will likely be placed between your AC mains line and a power conditioner, the cost and benefit per component are minimal. Everything plugged into your power conditioner will then benefit from the Purple duplex. The fact that I've seen numerous Orange duplexes for sale on US Audiomart possibly confirms my assessment. But I suggest that you keep your Orange duplex and use it as a secondary set of outlets in a 4-outlet box such as I'm doing, or rotate it into a second system or dedicated video rig. The Orange is still a very good duplex outlet in the grand scheme of duplex outlets.
What I Heard
Switching back in the other direction to the Purple duplex, however, was a real 'Wow!' experience with more of the 'being there' that I so highly treasure. There is no going back to the Orange for me, given the Purple also delivered greater dynamics, a blacker background, and a little more prominent bass.
In my Synergistic Research Tweakfest in May of 2020 I criticized the build quality of the Mexican-made unit and the difficulty of installation due to the design. The Purple spec-grade duplex is sourced from Eaton and the build quality and ease of installation are superior to the Orange. Of course, the Purple goes way beyond the typical spec grade with the most current version of Ted Denney's special UEF treatment used on the SRX cables and Purple fuses. The Purple also uses a floating ground design to isolate noise from the junction box. Note that my listening was done with the Synergistic Research UEF Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover which I have previously reviewed and found to be very effective as well. Just take care not to over-tighten this cover or you will nullify some of its damping characteristics and not realize its full potential.
So, I give the new Purple Duplex a resounding "Yes!" My only disappointment was that it was not purple in color, but merely designated 'purple' by a purple triangle. Asking Eaton to supply a relatively small batch of purple plastic outlets for the relatively minuscule community of high-end audio enthusiasts would likely result in a round of raucous laughter. As I said above, it is highly recommended.
Bybee Technologies Clarifiers
The problem with the Tekton S12 is they are not your ordinary subwoofers. They each have a pair of Peerless 12" drivers from Denmark, coaxially aligned, with the front driver mounted on an open baffle and the rear driver in a sealed box. These came into being in the early days when Eric Alexander was making a couple of open baffle speaker designs with an upward-firing full-range driver mounted in a box behind the full-range driver on the open baffle. The idea being the driver mounted in the closed box would relieve some of the resistance during the negative thrust of the open baffle driver, and reduce the drag during the forward thrust, making for a faster-sounding speaker. I suspect this unusual subwoofer design didn't sell well.
I reviewed the Tekton OB 4.5 open baffle monitor – it was their first-ever review and thought it was a very good-sounding speaker. I later combined the OB 4.5 with the subs to produce an even finer-sounding, more full-range speaker. The downside of my exercise here was that I might need four Bybee Clarifiers. The guys at Bybee were as curious as I was so it was 'game on.'
Being unsure about how the front baffle came off the subs, I left them intact and first added a Clarifier to each open baffle driver. It was a tight fit. There was barely enough room to get my hand in there and barely enough clearance between the Clarifier and the woofer cone behind it. Only when I played some very deep organ music at a loud level did I sense the rear driver was slapping up against the Clarifier. The bass tightened up a bit but the improvement wasn't as enthralling as when I added the very first Clarifier to the Kharma woofers of my main speakers. I was hoping for more.
The prospect of adding a clarifier to the drivers in the sealed box was a bit daunting. Not knowing how the cantilevered front baffle was designed, I had to gamble and back out the six hex-headed bolts. They were large wood screws that went about two inches deep into pre-drilled holes in the dowels that supported the front baffle. I had to carefully tap the back side of the front baffle as the dowels were also countersunk into that baffle. Fortunately, it came apart without damaging anything. At that point, it was just a matter of unscrewing the driver and carefully breaking the seal it had made with the box. I left the top screw backed out just a little so the driver would not drop out of the cabinet. These guys are heavy, but I was able to slide my hand behind it and place the Clarifier against the back of the driver without removing it completely.
With the front baffle and driver facing the floor (but raised a bit above it so it would not be damaged), I was able to play the subs as if they were a typical single-driver unit. I draped a folded-up bath rug over the downward-facing drivers to minimize their contribution. Here again, there was only a modest tightening of the lowest two octaves on the initial impression. I rationalized that the combined improvement of the front and rear drivers would get me where I wanted to be so I reinstalled the front baffle and resumed listening with a Clarifier on each of the four drivers.
Yes, there was an improvement with all four drivers in action, but I was not blown away by the initial impression. I originally had the subs dialed in so they seamlessly merged with the Kharma floorstanders and that seamlessness remained. It was only after I had listened to a lot of music that I concluded that yes, there was more timbre in the Chinese drums and a more tightly defined growl in the cellos and stand-up bass. There was also a greater sense of the room tone or the recording venue. But it was also clear to me that I had not turned a $650 subwoofer into a top series JL Audio or REL subwoofer.
I was very impressed with the Tekton S12 back in 2009, but subwoofers have come a long way in the past thirteen years, and my rig has come a long way since then, too. Overall, I was pleased with the improvement the Bybee Clarifiers brought to the Tekton subs, but I'll have to try some higher-grade subs to learn if there is more to be gained in the deep bass with the addition of Bybee Clarifiers. My results here should not keep you from trying the Bybee Clarifiers on the woofers and midranges of your main speakers, as I achieved very impressive results there, as have others who took my advice and tried them. You could also first try the Clarifier on your subwoofer and if it wasn't satisfactory, you could relocate them to the woofer of your main speaker where I'm quite sure you will be very pleased.
Massif Record Weight and Massif Cable Risers
My first encounter with the Massif Record Weight was in the Sonic Artistry room at TAVES in 2017. With roots in the furniture industry and an appreciation of fine woodworking, I liked it a lot but thought it could be improved, ergonomically. Trevor worked with Jonathan Bedov at Sonic Artistry to refine it further using Jonathan's Tech Das turntable as a test bed. The results are not just astonishingly beautiful, but sublimely tactile. The slightly pinched "Marilyn Monroe" waistline imparts a near subconscious sense of security, dashing any fear of dropping it onto expensive vacuum tubes or inhibiting any desire of placing it on the spindle, even with the turntable in motion. It looks rich, it feels rich, and it is a pleasure to use.
Lest I forget, the second time I heard the Massif Record Weight was in Jeff Catalano's High Water Sound room at Axpona earlier this year. A short listening session with Jeff easily earned this room one of my "Best Rooms" awards at that show.
While it is offered in a lightweight version (about 280 grams), the standard weight is around 330 grams. We're only talking about a two-ounce difference, and Trevor says testing indicates the standard weight generally works better. The actual species seems to make more difference than the exact weight. He selects the species for their tonal quality and while he prefers attractive wood species, it is not his primary concern. That said, customers sometimes request a species that complements their wood tonearm or even their wood-bodied cartridge – typically ebony, snakewood, and cocobolo.
During the pandemic, he acquired some mpingo, about which he said, "I thought it was better than ebony, cocobolo, Lignum vitae, and basically everything else…. The sweet spot, at least for mpingo, is around 300-345 grams." The review sample he sent me was mpingo with a ziricote top, weighing 318 grams, which is a special edition because of his limited supply of the dark, dense ziricote. The special edition sells for $995. The feedback he's been receiving from customers on this combo has been very encouraging.
What I Heard
In the review, I also tried the Musiko with a variety of record weights and concluded:
Bernard [Li, the designer] says he prefers it without any record weight. The important thing to draw from this [review] is first, the record weight can make a significant difference. Second, your preference may vary. And third, heavier seems to damp more but it will be a trade-off of air and bloom for increased resolution.
The Soundeck record clamp I had preferred, made from aluminum with a constrained layer of viscoelastic polymer, weighs 264 grams, roughly only two ounces lighter than the Massif. Four of the five weights I tried were predominantly metal and the fifth was half-metal. We say "Everything matters" in High-End audio and different materials have different sonic signatures. So I kept listening with the Massif weight.
A few years ago I heard the fabled Shun Mook record clamp made from a very dense ebony root that has been dug from swamps in Africa. These century-old roots are rare and expensive. (I found one marketed on the internet for $5600.) At the TAVES show, I was treated to an A-B-A-B comparison, with and without the Shun Mook weight. It's not every day I get to hear a $5600 record weight, so the impression stuck with me that despite the good qualities of the Shun Mook, it presented a somewhat dark sonic signature with a flavor of wood. I would guess that it felt 50% heavier than the Massif. And like the Massif, it improved the resolution of the music.
The Massif weight did not jump out at me in an "Oh, Wow!" kind of way. I went back and forth, with and without it. Eventually, I locked onto greater resolution in the treble, particularly cymbals and strings, and also in the bass where it removed some of the bloom and replaced it with the sound of real strings from a stand-up bass. The next characteristic to come into cognitive recognition was the integration of the music into a continuous presentation. I was no longer listening to disparate instruments, but hearing compositions as a unified whole. The music was speaking with one emotional voice to me. And finally, I recognized a slight improvement in transparency without imparting a sonic signature of the wood itself. There might have been a slight increase in dynamics, but there was no difference in tonal color or tonal balance. The music was just more there in the room with me.
In comparing the Massif weight with the Soundeck weight, the big difference was the middle factor mentioned above – there was an organic wholeness to the music with the Massif that took it out of the realm of electronic components and put it into the realm of the recorded musical performance. The music didn't escape the limitations of vinyl records, but it made those limitations a lot easier to neglect.
Trevor commented that "Lately I'm getting such good comments on them like it somehow seems to get better the more they use them. Fremer implied it, and a few customers have said it." What went on for me, and perhaps others was that I had to learn to listen at a new, higher level. I can't imagine that mpingo wood needs to 'burn in" like a capacitor. I had to improve my listening skills. Once I learned to recognize the contribution it makes, each new record brought a smile to my face.
This is not an inexpensive tweak, but in the context of an expensive turntable or a serious commitment to vinyl, it is not outrageous. You would have to spend at least as much, if not more, to get such an improvement from stepping up to the next level phono cartridge. And the mpingo wood is not likely to wear out like a diamond stylus. Such an exclusive tweak will likely be a consideration only for those with expensive turntables. I'm very impressed, not only with the sonic benefits but with the pride of ownership this finely crafted instrument will bring to its owners.
Keep an eye out for the Massif Record Weight at the Capital AudioFest, November 11th through 13th, where you might see one in Jeff Catalano's High Water Sound Room again. The standard reference weight is $895 and the lighter cocobolo one is $595. Trevor also has some ultra-exotics that he says "definitely sound different."
Massif Audio Design Cable Risers
It's also been six years since I've mentioned his cable risers in the Holiday Gift Guide. He doesn't do a lot of these, but this category has expanded in recent years as wealthier audiophiles have become increasingly concerned with the presentation their listening rooms make. These blocks of wood, often with exotic species, are reasonably heavy and retain large cables. You may also experience a slight sonic contribution by keeping your cables away from static on your floors. Visually, they make your cables more prominent in the room, thus discouraging clueless visitors from stepping on them. They are priced from $500 to $1000 for a set of eight, depending upon the available wood species. If you're into wood and plants I think you will find these make an elegant contribution to your décor. Call for availability.
Synergistic Research MiG 3.0 Footers
The other major benefit of the MiG footers, including the SX, is the ability to tune the resolution from more pinpoint (two facing down and one facing up) to more ambient (two facing up and one facing down). (Tape their little diagram to the wall behind your rack to remind you.) I use them in the ambient mode under my tuner where I listen to ambient music on Hearts of Space to recreate the solar system right in my neighborhood. And under my transport, LampizatOr DAC and Coincident tube line stage, I use them to increase resolution in the pinpoint mode.
In earlier reviews of two versions of excellent (and elegant) Codia Acoustic Design equipment racks I sometimes felt the MiG footers were redundant, but I've come to appreciate the improved resolution they bring to the party. Perhaps an upgrade of the Synergistic cable loom made the contribution of the MiGs more perceptible. It doesn't hurt to go back and re-check your previous findings after you've made a major upgrade to a new component.
The Codia racks can very likely be seen at the Capital AudioFest room of High Water Sound with Jeffrey Catalano, the US distributor. Not only are they very effective, but they are also very elegant and can be configured with different wood and metal finishes. They can also be found on the website of Charisma Audio, the Canadian distributor.
Vanilla, Blackberry, Neapolitan, Or Spumoni?
The standard MiG is still a valid product, getting you around halfway to the full benefit of the MiG 3.0, as its price would suggest. The MiG 3.0 with its Purple UEF device attached inside brought a longer sustain to notes and a fuller midrange and upper bass. It also improved the resolution bringing a more natural and relaxed feeling to the music along with more micro-detail. Springsteen's "57 Channels" sounded about the same, but the Chinese drum cut had more timber. The sustained organ notes on "Steamroller Blues" were smoother and the cymbals in the drum kit were more resolved. James Taylor on piano sounded more like a real piano in this live recording.
Next, I put the MiG SX under the Lampizator DAC and there was an easily recognizable improvement all around: more transparency, more inner detail, more presence, more timber in the drums in "57 Channels" and more drum-in-the-chest from the Chinese drums, and much more realistic cymbals in "Steamroller Blues". Importantly, the bloom of the music was less synthetic or electric in nature.
Leaving the MiG SX under the DAC, I added the set of the MiG 3.0 in place of the original MiG footers under the vintage Sony ES CD player I use as a transport. The music was better all the way around, but in particular, I noticed a wider soundstage, more presence in the music, and blacker background. The striking of a high key on the piano at a stillpoint in "Steamroller Blues" which is always attention-grabbing, had a sparkle unlike ever before. Putting your best footers at the source is usually most effective and if you already own some lesser sets of MiGs you can simply move them further downstream in your rig. As I suggested earlier, they will not wear out or become obsolete.
I then replaced a set of MiG 2.0 under the Coincident preamp with a second set of MiG 3.0. This move brought even more presence, tighter drums (particularly on "57 Channels"), and even better cymbals, as well as more believable crowd cheering and applause. It also brought greater depth to the soundscape.
Finally, I took a step down and replaced the top-of-the-line MiG SX under the DAC with the third set of MiG 3.0. Surprisingly, I didn't miss anything. Sure, there were some minor differences, but the overall engagement and enjoyment of the music did not suffer. This surprised me because I experienced such an improvement when I put the MiG SX under the Lampizator with its relatively thin chassis. It seems that adding the MiG 3.0 even further upstream under the transport as well as downstream under preamp balanced out the equation.
Given that you can buy three sets of MiG 3.0 for the price of a set of MiG SX, this seems like a real win for the more common men among us, myself included. For those with deep pockets and components milled from billet aluminum, you may very well relish the SX. Of course, your components and the surfaces they rest on are likely different than mine, so the improvements you perceive may differ as well, but overall I think your results will be positive and I give them a very high recommendation.
Apples, Peaches, Or Oranges?
A comparison would require an abusive amount of work for a formal review. But let me point out this much. I think the Purple Fuse makes the biggest difference, given that it is directly in the path and closest to the electronic music signal. But it also is vulnerable to destruction if you live in an area with poor electric service or are vulnerable to lightning. Each fuse services only one component and some components require more than one fuse. Additionally, if you upgrade a component, it may require a different size or fuse value.
The Purple Duplex is very good, too. And it can serve to benefit your entire system if you plug your power conditioner or high-quality power strip into it.
The MiG 3.0 will service only one component, but it can be rotated easily to other components as your system evolves. It can tune the sound of your music, plus, under normal usage, it seems indestructible.
Three great winners with a 30-Day return policy. All you have to lose is the cost of return shipping. And most likely, you won't. This is a great company and they will be venturing east to Capital AudioFest in November. Their presentations have typically been one of the "Best Rooms" at any show that I have seen them.
Synergistic Research Carbon Tuning Discs
The Tuning Discs are trickle-down SX technology from the Atmosphere SX series cables and incorporate the UEF technology that is said to work in combination with the carbon fiber material in the discs. Synergistic also suggests you use both Gold and Purple to enhance the music and the sense of space for which they are so well known.
Personally, when the Gold was added to the balanced cables coming out of the LampizatOr tube DAC, I experienced more transparency, tighter bass, more dynamics, a richer tonal quality, more resolution, and more engagement with the music. The Purple did all that, too, but was even more impressive with increased transparency, greater dynamics, and even greater resolution. In particular, there was more transparency and energy in the treble with the Purple. Of course, your gear is likely different from mine, so you will likely experience somewhat different results.
Play with them on your cables and even on your components to tune your rig to your liking. A little dab of cream-colored BluTak will harmlessly affix it to almost any surface. But don't go crazy and overdo it on everything in your rig. Most likely you will achieve great results at the front end and/or at your speaker cables. For those skeptical about spending more money on cables, these will very likely be a crack in the dam of your resistance. If these discs do for other cable brands what they do for the Foundation, Ted Denney is either giving away the farm or he's cunning like a fox.
Tweakfest 2022 Roundup
May your holidays be filled with music!
Specifications And Manufacturers
Massif Audio Design
Synergistic Research Inc.