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December 2011
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
A Hannu-Christma-Boxer-Kwanzaa Story
Mini reviews of powerful gift ideas.
Review By Rick Becker

 

  High-end audio is usually a hobby of self-indulgence. It is rare that your significant other or family members would know what you want or need even if they wanted to further your quest for musically induced bliss. And forget that 135 pound amplifier. Santa isn't as young as he used to be and OSHA now has size and weight restrictions as to what he can carry and what will fit down the chimney. Add to that, the Elves are now unionized and inflation is over 8% for 2011 alone! To help you out I've made a list of products that have crossed my listening room during the past year which fall into the category of realistic expectation for gift requests, plus or minus... depending on whether you are still employed. If not, spin the music with what you've got and love the one you're with. Love is the greatest song you can sing. So print out this list and star the items you'd like. Then leave it laying around where that certain someone will stumble upon it and let the magic of Christmas work out the rest. If this methodology fails, take charge of your life again on December 26th. It should go without saying that I highly recommend all of them.

 

Black Analoguer And Disk Analoguer
First come the Black Analoguer and its companion Disk Analoguer, possibly from a company called Chisto. Who knows? They come from my friend Jean-Pierre in Montreal. Two 100ml (3.4 fluid ounce) spray bottles of clear liquid that are essentially liquid DACs for CDs, DVDs, SACD and Blu-Ray discs. You give one spray of the Black Analoguer to the label side and one spray of the Disk Analoguer to the silver side, wiping the spray from the center hole toward the edge of the disc with a special Evolon cloth that is both washable and reusable until the surface is dry. No, it does not convert your silver discs into black LPs, but it sure sounds that way. Shaking the bottles creates tiny soap-like bubbles inside, suggesting a surfactant for whatever the liquid is. The Black Analoguer is probably designed not to dissolve the label — I didn't test this theory.

But if you're wondering if you could get away with just the Disc Analoguer and forego the Black stuff on the label side, I did some comparisons. After listening to the untreated CD I sprayed the Disk Analoguer side only and listened again. There was a substantial improvement with just treating the silver side of the disc. Then I treated the label side with the Black Analoguer and listened again. It does indeed provide more improvement, but not twice as good. The law of diminishing returns sets in. Then I reversed the test with another CD, listening first then treating the label side only. Again, there was a substantial improvement. Then I treated the silver side, and again experienced improvement, but not violating the law of diminishing returns. Thereafter I treated both sides of each CD after sampling songs from the untreated disc. Every time the music became more analog-like, leaving only the benefits of digital to enjoy. Better focus led to greater transparency. The delicate nuances of vocals and the decay of instrumental notes revealed textures where none had been before. Listening was a lot closer to Being There. It was as if each CD had been transformed into an expensive Re-mastered Gold Edition. Or on the hardware side, as if the Calyx DAC I have in for review was magically reincarnated as a Berkley Alpha DAC. That's a difference of $3200, making the return on investment HUGE!  Not bad for a product that basically removes mold release agent, fingerprints and static. (I didn't test for peanut butter and jelly). These bottles will fit into your Christmas stocking very nicely and you will be hard pressed to pull yourself away from the music for Christmas dinner. ($45 each/individually or $78 for the set).

Jean-Pierre tells me Chisto also offers Easy Groove, a great anti-static and cleaning solution for vinyl which might also be worth trying. ($45)

United States Reseller: hwww.highend-electronics.com/chisto.html
Canada Contact: info@edenacoustics.com

 

Audio Sensibility Grounding Devices
Steven Huang painstakingly crafts these little pigtails with ultra-pure fine Litz wire and sells them for very little profit as a way of introducing people to his value oriented cable company. He first encountered the device on the DIY Audio discussion thread years ago, and his initial reaction was "You've got to be kidding! How can something only connected to one terminal even change the sound at all?"

A lot of time was spent to determine the optimum materials and develop the manufacturing process. Steve sent me versions with both RCA connectors and pins to try on my speakers and components. They don't work everywhere in your system, but when they do work it sure puts a smile on your face when you recognize the improvement they bring to the music. They currently reside in the negative binding posts of my speakers, on one of the RCA outputs of my CD player (which is used as a transport only), and in one of the digital inputs of my DAC. However, they really messed up the sound when used on my preamp. It is a trial and error kind of tweak and Steven offers a 45 day trial period which is way more than you will need. I had been using them for several months when Steven asked me to try the new Statement 2.0 version. They were noticeably better on all the same pieces of equipment. They lower the noise floor and reveal more inner detail, but perhaps even more important, they remove what sounds like slightly delayed side reflections. Since they operate on the signal before it leaves the speaker I surmise the Grounding Devices are eliminating some kind of echo or reflection in the circuitry that is ultimately embedded in the signal and otherwise projected from the loudspeakers. Whatever it is, it's gone, and you feel like you're another couple steps closer to the microphone in the recording chain. Note that each addition of a Grounding Device created a cumulative improvement in my system (except in the preamp in my case). I recommend starting with at least the speaker version and one RCA version to try on your various components. Or save Santa the trouble and ask him to bring as many as you think you might need all at once. A final word of caution: after un-wrapping them at Christmas, install them immediately lest they become lost amid the piles of wrapping paper and tossed out by accident.

Testament version (for loudspeakers)
18 AWG bare OCC copper wire: $30/pair
Gold-plated copper spade version: $35/pair
Gold-plated copper banana plug version: $35/pair

Statement version (for loudspeakers)

Statement version (for components) 
Gold plated copper RCA cap: $45/single

 

Audio Sensibility Statement Interconnects
There are balanced, copper wire. After my review of the Audio Sensibility Statement Digital cable ($219/1.5m) Steven Huang offered to loan me a pair of Statement Balanced (XLR) interconnects with PCOCC copper conductors in a polypropylene dielectric and a PCOCC braided copper shield for the ground connection. Like most of his products, these cables are cryogenically treated as well as terminated with premium Furutech connectors that have been modified with machined stainless steel couplers. They are very well thought out and very well made, exhibiting a flexibility that makes them easy to work with. While not an apple to apples comparison, they handily surpassed my Kharma commercial grade single ended interconnects. At $359 per 1m pair, the Statement is an extremely good value. More recently, he has introduced a version with silver conductors at $499 per 1m pair. If you're connecting components in the $2000+ range (each), the copper cables should be on your radar. I can't speak for the silver version, never having heard them, but Audio Sensibility is rapidly achieving a reputation for substance, value and performance in my book.

 

Synergistic Research MIG Footers
After my review of the Synergistic Research PowerCell 4 power conditioner and Tesla SE T3 Active Power Cord,I was invited to review more of their products. Since I have been interested vibration control devices — particularly footers — and reviewed many of the major players, I asked them for a set of their new MiG Mechanical Interface Grounding devices. They insisted on sending me enough to isolate most of my system. Being familiar with their Acoustic Art system of unconventional room tuning devices the bell shape form of these hefty footers brought a knowing smile to my face. I didn't expect them to surpass the combination of Boston Audio TuneBlocks with SoundDeadSteel Isofeet that have been my long term reference but I was very pleasantly surprised at the increased focus and the greater sense of spatiality the MIGs brought to the music. The resulting bloom and liquidity was addictive and music evoked greater emotional response as I listened. I felt like I was falling in love with music all over again. The MIGs come in two sizes for lightweight and heavyweight components. They recommended placing two cups with round end up and one cup with round end down for more ambient soundstage, and just the opposite for more pinpoint sound — so you have some flexibility with them. Another neat thing about them is with the round end down the footer balances on its nose which greatly facilitated setting a component on them as well as adjusting the positioning beneath the component. The qualitative effect of using only one set of MiG footers (under the DAC) was very similar to the results I heard with their Acoustic Art system, only much more prominent, making the MIGs a much better value. Adding more sets of MiGs to my tube monoblocks, tube preamp and even its separate power supply continued to enhance the music, though with diminishing returns. A set of three MiGs is $150. The set of three Big MiGs is $200. But read on before making a selection

 

Nordost Sort Kones
Just when I thought I had found a new ultimate footer, my friend Tom told me he had just bought a set of Nordost AC Sort Kone footers and asked if I would like to try them. I had seen the Nordost footers at the Montreal show, but was kind of put off by the high price of their top two models, so they slipped off my radar screen. Big mistake. The Sort Kones come in four varieties of the same design, just using different materials.

With one set of AC Sort Kones under my DAC (and MiGs under everything else) I was very impressed with the even tighter focus. The soundstage had a very solid and continuous feel to it. Because of the configuration of my room and speaker placement I always have a wide and deep soundstage, but the Sort Kones took the sharp focus right out to the extremes in width and depth. Yet they were subtly different than the MiG footers. The Sort Kones are to be placed “Point Up” and are therefore easy to use, like MiGs. Acoustically, however, the Sort Kones give the music a presentation as if recorded in a studio session with every microphone perfectly placed. Focus and transparency are both improved and you feel like you've moved up a step or two on the recording chain. The MiGs, on the other hand, make you feel more like the recording was done “live” at a performance in a real venue, rather than a recording studio. The sound is not quite as perfect with the MiGs, which I found to be more forgiving of difficult recordings and more soothing if I was stressed out.  The MiGs give a more visceral connection to the music, while the Sort Kones appeal more to the intellectual or cognitive appreciation of the music. And this is terrific because now we have two excellent products that will help us tweak our various components in different ways to achieve our individual preferences. Both footers are outstanding and the differences I've mentioned here are small in comparison to the benefits each brings to the music. If you're the kind of person who just sets his components on a shelf and lets the music fly, you have no idea of what you're missing. Santa will give you the gift of enlightenment, no matter which one he brings. Beyond that, I'm wondering what the Bronze and Titanium versions of the Sort Kones might bring to the dance.

AS (Aluminum with Steel coupling bearing) $65ea
AC (Aluminum with Ceramic coupling bearing) $80ea
BC (Bronze with Ceramic coupling bearing) $135ea
TC (Titanium with Ceramic coupling bearing) $350ea

 

Black Cat Veloce 75 Ohm Digital Cable
Everybody and his therapist have already sung the praises of this cable but that doesn't negate its inclusion on this list — especially considering the resurgence of interest in DACs. Chris Sommovigo was in the process of reconfiguring his website when I requested a review sample for my digital cable comparison so it arrived too late for inclusion. Basically, it is everything everyone says about it. It is a terrific value at $123 for a 1.23 meter true 75 Ohm cable that comes with adaptors to convert to RCA or BNC as your current and future DACs require. Having reviewed most of Chris' affordable digital cables, going way back, I can say once again there is a noticeable improvement in his entry level offering. Is it worth the upgrade if you own a previous version? If you've found a good home for your current cable, certainly. Is it the final word in digital cables? It didn't displace my current reference cable that cost almost a hundred dollars more, and I've reviewed better than what I use, but the Veloce sure shortens the list in its price range. Moreover, I respect people who live within their means and don't create bubbles that burst upon the rest of us.

 

Finally, a humble bow to the people who bought new and used cables from The Cable Company this past August. A portion of those sales went to a worthy cause in the fight against world hunger. The Cable Company, in conjunction with participating manufacturers raised $30,839 which with some creative leveraging with third party matching funds ballooned to $370,073. This marks the 16th year of their generous effort.

Hope you had a grateful Thanksgiving last week and find joy in the holiday season. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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