Welcome to our May meeting of Audiolics Anonymous. Since last month's tome I've received several interesting letters that I thought I'd answer here as they bring up subjects that are of value to all of us.
First is from Keneth Miglionico:
SACDs can have three different programs; 6 channel, 2 channel SACD and 2 channel CD. Each SACD should say somewhere on the back cover what may be found on the disc. Unhappily, some don't and some are misleading. The SACD player will automatically pick the most appropriate track depending on the machine. If you have a 6 channel machine but wish to listen to the 2 channel SACD or the CD track, you can override the machine either through the remote or the front of the player. I have tried playing only the front left and right tracks on a 5.1 SACD and indeed, there is considerable information lost compared to the 2 track version, as most of the ambiance information has been removed.
This letter started me thinking as to what may happen in the next two years to audio reproduction as the two new HD-DVD standards come into play. It is my understanding that there is room on the high-density discs not only for high definition video, but also for 8 channels of 24-bit/96kHz and also192kHz audio without compression. The problem at this point is that the two organizations, while finalizing the video side, have not thought out what they could do with the audio. Just imagine being able to have a high definition video of the Boston Symphony playing the Berlioz Symphony Fantastique in 7.1channel 24-bit/96kHz uncompressed audio using a Calrec microphone with an overhead channel.
Problem is, the idiots have concentrated only on the video side. They did the same thing when DVD came out, without a high definition audio standard, and no combination machines were available. Thus we all had to have a DVD-Video player plus DVD-Audio and SACD players before the combination players finally solved the problem. Let's hope they think this out and do the audio right at the start.
The second letter was from Stan Ricker, one of the greatest vinyl engineers of our time in answer to my column last month:
I'm glad you wrote about being up close to where the music making's taking place!!!!!!! I've been telling folks this for YEARS; it's one of the biggest perks of conducting, which I also have done for years… I've been saying forever -- "concert hall realism -- what a CROCK OF CRAP"!!! This is why the Bob Fine/Mercury Recordings were so successful; how the H@ll can you go wrong, up close and personal with a stage full of great players, and 3 mic's and the best technology of the time to cover all??????
Keep pushing this UP CLOSE CONCEPT, and just maybe more people will catch on to the beauty of acoustic music making again. And yes, yaay for you pounding the schools' reduction in music and the arts; tell my cousin Harry Thayer, if he's on the school board or whatever, to put some more $$$$GREENBEANS in the music-education pot!!!!!!!
Thanks for the kind comments Stan. I agree that the concept of the "Absolute Sound" is iffy at best as there are so many variables in the recording process. The truest sounding recordings for the average audiophile would be equivalent to what one can hear in the second or third row center of the hall, second only to what the conductor can hear. By far, the best two channel recordings, that people buy copies of over and over, were the two and three mic's recordings of the golden era, whether they were done by RCA, Mercury, or London. Once they got into multi-mike, sound reproduction went down the tubes, pardon the expression. Interestingly these older simple-mike recordings also make for the truest reproduction in derived surround.
Likewise, the truest SACD and DVD-Audio recordings I've heard to date, have also been done with minimal mic'ing, meaning 5 or 6 microphones in a tight surround configuration. The Calrec mike would seem to me to be the ideal, but I'm not a recording engineer. If I had the opportunity, I'd build a system of five microphones, preferably omnis, in a left and right front and left and right back and a upward configuration, with Sonex or some other sound absorbing material between them, spaced about the distance apart of the size of an average head. I'd string it above the orchestra on a pulley system similar to what they use for the moveable cameras over football games with freedom of movement in all directions and play around with it until reproduction on a surround speaker system in the engineering room was perfect. How about trying that next time Stan and letting me know the results?
Velocitor S AC Power Enhancement System
The third letter was from John Zellers, and made for a perfect way to start the discussion of my product of the month:
I have the original Velocitor and understand that you have upgraded yours to the S version. Can you describe somewhat specifically the difference you hear with the S? And how much better you think the improvement is? Thanks very much Bill. Steve Klein tells me he thinks the Sound Application is better, but I owned one in the past and thought the Velocitor was better. As you know, audio is a merry-go-round much of the time. Any feedback you can give me about the S versus the "standard" Velocitor would be much appreciated.
John Zellers Concord, NH
Lloyd Walker, of Walker Audio called about 5 weeks ago, and mentioned that he had upgraded his Velocitor by rewiring, biasing the detector coil and doing several other things he didn't want to divulge, and asked if I'd like to try it. So over the next three weeks, I sent in all four of my units for an update.
Please review my previous articles, AA Chapter 44 & 51 about the original unit and its first update. I sent one unit in at a time as I could still run my system reasonably well with three. Also, if there was no improvement then less money would have been wasted. Knowing Lloyd's previous products, I should have just sent in all four and gone on vacation for a week. The turnaround time was eight days, the first unit was placed in the system running the low wattage equipment while the second unit was sent out. This continued until all four units were done. Obviously, Lloyd's update must have been worth the $150 price.
It was and is. If you've followed my past articles you know what horrible electrical problems I've had and the various things I've done to correct it. This latest update to the Velocitor has removed line noise to a much greater extent than the last one. I was very happy with the sound being produced to the point where I truly believed I had solved my electrical problems. But the new updates have significantly lowered the noise floor, taking out a continuous low-level hiss that floated along with the signal. Its removal not only has lowered the background noise, but also has removed a slight high frequency accentuation on loud passages.
There must be an infinite number of gauzy curtains being reproduced along with the music, because another couple has disappeared. The sound stage has opened up further deepened, and the individual musicians have taken on more body. The biggest improvement here is on height information. Please don't chime in here that an audio system with speakers on one plain cannot reproduce height. Come on over and listen to my system. On a well recorded simply mic'ed stereo recording, the music shell now extends overhead almost to my listening position.
On multi-track SACD and DVD-Audio the sound field is more uniform with significantly more background information coming through. On the Lang-Lang London recording the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, one now is sitting in the audience with the coughs, seat noise etc., coming through loud and clear. While some audiophiles would consider this to be a distraction, to me, it makes the experience more alive. When was the last time you went to a concert in an anechoic chamber?
Video also is markedly improved. With my Electrohome 9500LC projector running at 1080P on a ten foot screen, the brightness and contrast controls can be set 4 notches lower for the same light output, and the image is more three dimensional and saturated. Enough said.
As is my custom, I sent this article to the various producers for their comments, and Lloyd called back to ask if I would be willing to try the new Velocitor alone after removing the Sound Application Reference Line Stage I've had in my system for cleaning up the electricity. I thought he was crazy, as in past iterations of both products, they worked synergistically. But it was easy enough to remove the Line Stage and run the Velocitors directly from the wall. Amazingly, while there may have been a slight increase in AC noise when one placed an ear against a horn, the gain in musicality made up for it multi-fold. A slight grain disappeared and was replaced with a much more free flowing live-sounding image. Was I amazed? You bet.
On the other hand, Steve Klein (owner of Sounds Of Silence) prefers the Sound Application unit in his system, thus proving that each system and the electric grid it feeds off of, probably has different problems that need different solutions. For me, the Velocitor S is the way to go. Anyway, if you have a Velocitor already, the $150 plus shipping per unit is a steal. The $2995 cost for the new updated unit, while expensive, will get you one hell of a lot of musical and video enjoyment. I've got four for my system, and it's money well spent.
Golden Sound GSIC Intelligent Chip
Steve Rochlin, our fearless leader, sent me an e-mail about 6 weeks ago asking if I'd like to review this product. A quick email back explained that if it was free, I'd try anything that wouldn't blow up my system. Alan Chang, of Golden Sound, the distributor, quickly sent my two of their GSIC 10 units to try.
Then I got an email from Clark Johnsen, tweaker extraordinaire, suggesting that I try it. At that point he failed to mention to me that he had written an article praising it's effectiveness. What he didn't mention was the firestorm that was raging at a discussion board, and that he'd practically been drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered and banished from the sight for suggesting that it was indeed effective in improving digital reproduction. I reviewed all of the comments and was surprised at their sometimes-vitriolic nature, almost as if this chip is the work of the devil, or the worst of hucksterism. He had first gotten the chip from Allen Chang, owner of Golden Sound, at the CES. Was naturally very skeptical but John Curl and Geoff Kait both praised it, so he went from room to room and claims many heard a difference. Finally, Steve wrote a satiric put-down on a chip is last month's April 1st edition of this rag , where I'd swear he's making fun of a similar product. Thus, with trepidation, I began this review.
The chip is from the Orient, probably from China, but I'm not sure. There is one good for 10 discs for $16, with one chip in it and a three-chip 30-disc unit for $40. I do have to admit that there would appear to be some magic involved. The tweak is a chip of some sort that is in a red plastic carrier shaped like photo SD card, which is in a clear plastic carrier. The chip is placed on the metal top of the digital player that is then run for several seconds, and then removed. For it to be effective, the laser must be on while the disc is spinning, thus one cannot use, for instance, a Bedini Clarifier. The chip is then moved away from the machine and one is supposed to place a mark on it to let one know when it is discharged, which would only be apparent if the disc sounds the same afterward.
My credulity was stretched with these directions for several reasons. First the unit must be removed from the thin plastic protective carrier to function, but whatever it does works through the metal plate on the disc player. Second, it will supposedly not discharge when placed over a previously exposed disc, but they do recommend not leaving it on the player, as it will discharge if left over a CD that is playing. Third, it supposedly works on laser discs, but laser discs carry the video as an analog wave form, and only the audio as a PCM or Dolby Digital signal. Also, even though the laser discs are considerably larger than a CD, supposedly only one charge will be used up with both.
The science involved?? Supposedly a "Quantum Dot" made of "artificial atoms" which reacts with the laser to change the pits on the disc in some way. Hey, I'm a physician who had trouble with PSSC physics and calculus, so what do I know. Only that skepticism had set in strong and I was ready to just dump the chips supplied and sleep in blissful ignorance. But my tweakiness got the better of me, my system was sounding phenomenal, couldn't get any better, so why not give the chip a fair deal.
On went one of my original test discs, the Opus 1 Tiden Bar Gar that has been polished, Bedinied, lathed, etc., and listened. Sounded phenomenal, almost as good as my vinyl original. Then I took the chip out of its container, put it on top of my Denon universal player, hit the play button and ran it for five seconds, removed the chip, and listened.
Was there any difference? Not as far as I could tell. The disc sounded the same as previously. Oh well, another supposed pseudo-scientific tweak had bit the dust, I thought, as I turned on DirecTV for Deadwood for the next hour. At the end, since the disc was still in the machine, on it went. Wonder of wonders, there was an improvement. How? The sound was smoother, more analog in nature. Instruments and voices were more three dimensional and smooth, more natural. But I've heard the same effect before, secondary to electricity changes in the evening, thanks to the local power company.
Next up was Cantate Domino of which I have two identical copies that have had all of the tweaks done at the same time. One got treated, and again there was no early discernible effect, but after about thirty minutes, the treated disc sounded more analog and much more enjoyable. Still not believing what I was hearing, over the next three nights, I used up the 2 chips on CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audios, and DVD-Videos. In each case there was an improvement in the sound and the video, giving a much more enjoyable presentation to both the audio and video.
So here I am, standing naked before you, telling you that this chip, with no scientific explanation behind it, sounding like the worst snake oil imaginable, did and does make a difference on all digital discs I've tried. Laser discs have not been tried yet as I still feel there's a possibility that a chip may be used up on the larger surface area of the disc. I hate reporting it because I know I'm going to lose credibility in the eyes of many of my readers, but all new discoveries that go against known science tend to put the experimenter in disrepute. Some have reported that his group didn't hear any difference, but John Curl and Clark Johnsen (two reputable high enders) did. Interestingly, from reading Clark's review, the change was quick, but in my system it took minutes to take effect. Maybe the difference relates to laser strength, thickness of the cabinet, or what phase of the Moon it is.
Anyway, while the improvement is significant in my system, it is not as striking as that with the Velocitor. Each must be weighed on a cost-value basis like any other piece of equipment. On a scale of 0 to 5, with five being highly significant, the Velocitor was a 4.666, (see my previous review for the unusual number) and the GSIC a 2. On the other hand the Velocitor is very expensive, and the chips relatively cheap costing about a buck a disc. Anyway, three of the 30 use chips have been bought and paid for by me. I put my money where my mouth is, which is unusual for a Scottsman, So let's hear it from all of the stupid Asylum inmates who've never tried the thing but scream about its ineffectiveness. Who knows, maybe this gadget has finally solved the Unified Force Theory Einstein couldn't.