Audiolics! It is early January as I write this, when my fellow reviewers are off
to the Consumer Electronics Show. After one of these mega-shows, it takes me
about three to four years to forget what they're like. I know each of you
probably would give your first-born away to be able to attend one to listen to
or at least handle those products out there beyond your reach either by distance
or finances, but believe me, it's no vacation. First off, Las Vegas, which at
times can be reasonable if one stays away from the gambling and the various
entertainments one is silent about when one returns home, becomes extremely
expensive with hotel rooms skyrocketing in price. Plus, with 125,000 other
individuals filling the surroundings, traffic becomes abominable and most
listening rooms fill with press, distributors and dealers who seem more intent
on talking rather than listening. Good luck to those reviewers attending. May
their days be filled with glorious sound! HAH!
Second point I'd like to bring up today is how the print media are falling further and further behind web available journalism, such as this fine magazine. For instance, I was reading today one of the best of the high end magazines from this month and noted that they are finally discussing computers as sources for high end audio. Of course readers of this column have been informed of the wonders of computer audio since my first article on the subject (as seen here) from 2002, almost 10 years ago. While the two articles were informative, the content has been discussed here several times, and actually more up to date than discussed in the article.
For instance, one of them discussed the fact that we can now download multi-channel high bit rate music from such sites as www.itrax.com , www.2L.com , and www.bso.org . But then they feel that the computer can't play them back and they use a kludge of downloading the music to an SATA drive and playing them back through an OPPO BDP-95 Blu-ray player. While I own one of these, and have reviewed it at this link and feel that it does a superb job, there is a much simpler way of listening to these on your computer.
I have the Boston Symphony Orchestra recordings of the Brahms Requiem and Daphnis and Chloe on both SACD and a digital download from the www.bso.org site, and actually prefer the download played back through my computer and pre-pro than the HDMI DSD output of the OPPO BDP 95. So there you have another fact reported here probably months before the print word.
Great Blu-ray Recordings
Well good news people. It has recently come out on Blu-ray in DTS Master Audio 24/48 sound. And in comparison, the DTS Master Audio beats by a hair the HDDVD recording in Dolby True HD. Thus, it's not the DTS encoding which is the problem, but the recording engineers. So like with every other recording medium of the past, it's the skill or lack thereof of the recording and mastering engineers rather than the medium, which controls the final product. Thank God. Anyway, run, don't walk to your nearest web store and purchase this recording before it sells out.
Tweaks have been off my radar for quite a while for several reasons, one being that they tend to do a minimal improvement in sound compared to equipment change-out, and we reviewers tend to over-praise their effect. I've been stung a few times giving good ratings at first but then realizing that the difference is less than first perceived, or was caused by improved electricity during the review period, or the improvement disappeared as magically as it first appeared. Bob Deutsch had a great editorial on this subject in January's Stereophile, including the fact that many tweaks have no basis in science, may be overpriced relative to the changes produced, and may not produce as much improvement as problems. So I was somewhat reluctant to review them. But, having known Walter for at least 25 years and the quality of his ears, and to save me the trip there with hundreds of pounds of vinyl, I invited him down for a listen.
Now, for the one and only gripe I have about the
Harmonizers! Normally before reviewing a product, I gather as much written
information as possible about it. Unhappily, there's not much available on this
product, and the web site doesn't add much to what's out there. The sum total of
information is that the number of units, and the stones that add to the effect,
is related to the size of the room. There's no mention anywhere in the minimal
literature available on placement, with this either being left to the
imagination of the purchaser or the advice of the seller. Herr Stein came to the
rescue and sent the following diagram.
Walter has made up two kits with either two or
four of the Harmonizers as there is an A and B unit, which complement each
other, plus multiple types of various shaped artificial stones which are placed
around the room as shown above. Each unit is a black cube about 4 inches on a
side with an LED light on the front, and a three way switch and adjustment pot
on the back. The switch is for 1. off, 2. on, 3. on with LED light on. The
adjustment pot changes the strength of the effect, and usually one starts at the
11:00 position and adjust up or down. The units come with wall warts, but the
built-in battery with a full charge is supposed to last for several months
unconnected to the wall. Mine have been on now for four weeks without chargers
and still function.
If one of each is being used, the A goes in the front of the room and the B in the back, with the A unit being placed center front and the B center back. If two of each are used the A's go front left and back right, and the B's front right and back left. If three each, then left center right front and back, about ear height. The stones are placed in various positions around the room.
Walter came with his assistant, Arthur, and they spent about a half hour listening to my system, which had just been treated to a cleanup of my electrical system by Mr. Mroz, mentioned last month, which is still breaking in. It turned out that Walter had had both his studio and home system treated by Tim, and thus was familiar with its results. They placed the stones and the Harmonizers around the room where they would work best. I sat in the listening chair, closed my eyes, and listened to a 24-bit/88kHz download of one of the soprano solos on Cantate Domino, an audiophile disc if there ever was one, which has superb sonics with ambiance recovery of the cathedral, it being recorded on analog tape. The soundstage could be heard filling the media room from the front wall to the listening position and from sidewall to sidewall, with a nebulous height disappearing about four to five feet above my head, about the best I'd heard from my system.
Then they turned on the four units, and the side and front walls disappeared, with the room suddenly becoming several feet wider and deeper, extending through the front wall to my back yard. In addition, one could almost hear the roof of the cathedral become a solid object, and the hall ambiance extending for about four feet behind me before disappearing. It was almost as if I had turned on a Dolby or DTS decoder and added surround channels, except the ambiance information that was on the recording was being presented as the microphones had picked it up. The air in the room produced by the recording became thicker, as if more information was being produced from the recording, similar to cleaning up the AC. Most important, the voice took on an analog-like solidity and three-dimensionality not heard previously heard from digital. When they turned off the units, everything slowly collapsed over a few minutes to where it had originally been.
Now for the one minor problem (since most of us
don't listen to the following)! While well recorded music using minimal
microphone placement have added realism, poorly engineered multi-mike recordings
with the pickups placed right on or above each instrument, sound just like that
with each instrument in its own space.
Over the past few weeks I've tried leaving the
units off, but after a short time they get turned on again. The effect is
instant, but seems to build over about a half hour and does remain in effect for
a few minutes after they're turned off, almost as if the air molecules keep
vibrating. Thus, there's really no way of doing a-b comparisons with anyone not
familiar with your system. Guess I'll be hitting my pension plan reserves again
to pay for these things. Being of the scientific bent, I just wish I knew what
was causing the effect, but then no-one understood gravity until Newton got hit
on the head with that apple, and even Einstein didn't believe in quantum
mechanics, so I guess I'll accept what my ears are hearing.
Manufacturer CThe effect of Harmonizers starts slowly and needs
about 15 minutes to stabilize. When you leave them
switched on having the lights off to save batteries (they will last about two
years then, and you may temporarily check their condition by switching the light
As the effect of the Harmonizers also goes down
slowly when switched off, it is essential to remove the Harmonizers completely
out of the room, and not only switch them off to get back to the previous state.
Still when being put out of the room a rest of their effect will need some time
to settle down again.
The Blue Magic Diamonds are a further development
of the Black Magic Diamonds. Here we have increased effectiveness by a factor of
three. Blue Magic Diamonds can be used in place of Black Magic Diamonds for a
more realistic effect. Again, the Blue Magic Diamonds are made of carbon-filled
epoxy resin with nine active elements in an exactly balanced ratio. Used
independently, they are capable of achieving an excellent result.
In German language a bad atmosphere with tensions between people in a room is described as “dickeLuft”, which directly translates means “thick air”, and I believe everybody may easily understand this meaning. Besides parameters like temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, oxygen concentration and dust loading the air may also have other properties that are only insufficiently be able to be described by classical physics, however are obvious. Customers using the Stein Music Harmonizer system frequently report about that these affect the atmosphere in their room in a very positive way.