As you read this, it's probably the beginning of July, a time of the year when most audiophiles are least interested in their systems. I know I'll hopefully be out by the pool more than in my listening room. But as this is being written, it's the end of May, and am still in my experimentation mode.
This past Thursday, I had Clark Johnsen, he of The Wood Effect fame, audio writer for Positive Feedback and tweaker extraordinaire, over for a listening session. Clark has been a high ender since the 70's, and once owned The Listening Studio in Boston, which was more of a meeting place and tweaker's haven than a moneymaking audio store. He was also my first audio guru, and was responsible for dragging me into high-end audio and destroying my pension plan. Many Boston high enders would go to Clark's at least once a week and listen to the latest tweak, buy a used or new audiophile record or two, or the latest tweak, and have his addiction satiated for the next week. Clark, being a man of simple means, and more interested in discovery and explanation, and preferring to be an "Audio Guru" rather than a giant of the capitalist system, seldom sold his equipment for much more than its wholesale value plus a very small profit, unless forced to by the manufacturer, relying more on the rental income from wannabe artists and college kids, living in the excess space he was allotted in his near-waterfront old warehouse, to live on. Such went his life for 20 years until the Boston Development Corporation decided that they could make more money by turning the building into a parking garage, and kicked the Listening Studio out onto the street.
Luckily for Clark, but unluckily for those ardent audiophiles who spent many hours testing equipment, he came into a small inheritance, closed the studio, and decided to become a full-time audio journalist, keeping the Listening Studio name and phone number on his home answering machine, as he was planning on building a new listening studio there. Unhappily, this has not come to fruition. I mention this as a build-up to some insanity I've witnessed at a discussion board. There, Clark, and John Curl, one of the best high end audio engineers, have been splayed out and whipped mercilessly by multiple members for their evaluation of the Golden Sound GSIC Intelligent Chip, which was reviewed in AA Chapter 67. While other high-enders reported no differences in their systems, others, including me, have felt that the chip does do something positive to the retrieval of musical reproduction from all digital discs. This goes against any scientific principles known to others, and me that has set off a firestorm of malevolent verbosity by the hoi poloi on the General board.
Anyway, Clark and John have gone through the classic 16th century type Inquisition that occurs when any new theory or paradigm is propagated, with Clark being banned to the so-called "Outside" board, and John being threatened by several members with their never buying a product he's ever designed. Remember this is the designer of the now legendary JC-1 preamp and Curl Vendetta Phono Stage.
Of course, as with any new paradigm, the most obnoxious naysayers are also the ones who have never tried the thing, are not willing to invest $16 to experiment themselves, and still chastise those who hear a difference as charlatans and quacks. The same thing occurred about ten years ago in medicine when a family physician from Australia suggested that gastric ulcers might be an infectious disease rather than the results of abusing the stomach or stress. The uproar was deafening until a few brave souls did some experimentation and found that it was indeed the H. pylori bacteria causing the problem. Thus the switch from major surgery with removal of part of the stomach to simple antibiotics to cure the ulcer. Some of the naysayers even continued to rail about this paradigm shift even after the cure was proven. I'm sure you can think of other instances over the centuries.
I find the coarse dialog that is being allowed on the Audio Asylum General site to be abhorrent, and cannot understand how this is permitted with two of the best of the high enders are chastised or banished. Anyway, I hope they get some civility back over there (editor's note: will never happen, that site is run by people who... well, it's an Asylum), and others will at least try the Chip for themselves before making judgments. While Clark was here, we tried the chip on several discs, and on each one there was a tightening of the bass, an opening up, and deepening of the soundstage with more hall information coming through. Maybe both of us are crazy or just gullible, but I think the improvement is worth the $1.25 to $1.60 cost per disc. I've already used up three 30-usage chips and will be buying more.
Dakiom Feedback Stabilizer
Being the average adult male, I didn't look at the directions included or go to their web site for information, just plugged the units in between my preamp and power amps. Unhappily, after listening for a couple of hours, there was absolutely no improvement in the sound, and possibly a slight decrease in image clarity and palpability. The same thing occurred when I placed them at the output of my modified Denon 5900 universal disc player. With the cheap look of the things and my findings, I was ready to trash the units, especially since their advertising on the Audiogon site hyped them as the best thing since Fried Dough. Happily for the company, I went to the web site and read their literature. It turns out the units work on equipment using negative feedback, supposedly stabilizing the circuit, and my preamp, Denon 5900, and all other equipment in my system, use absolutely none.
So where could the unit be used? The site says they are made for low priced equipment to "turn a $200 amplifier into a $2000 one", so the unit went into my office where I have a Koss E-90 set of superb electrostatic earphones plugged into a 20 year old Sony ST-5055 FM-AM Tuner. How's that for an experimental combination. A mediocre source at best played through a pair of the best headphones available using inexpensive Radio Shack interconnects. Happily for Dakiom and this review, there was a distinct improvement. Music became somewhat more musical and involving. Even Rush Limbaugh sounded better <grin>. While not making the tuner into a Fanfare or Magnum Dynalab, the unit certainly gave enough of an improvement for its price that I could give it a conditional recommendation for that second lower fi system in the bedroom or home theater. How it would function with high-end equipment using negative feedback, others will have to experiment on.
I emailed the review as written above to Khang Dao at DakiOm for comment, and got a phone call back a day or so later asking if I could possibly try the unit on my high end system using a low end player with negative feedback. As I didn't have one available, and they and I both wanted the review to be as fair and complete as possible, they sent an unmodified Pioneer mid-priced Universal Player, which arrived a few days later.
First thing noticed was that the Pioneer reversed absolute polarity for all channels compared to the rest of the sources in my system. Also, although it is a relatively inexpensive unit, the CD and SACD sound was very pleasing, although not in a league with my Parts Connexion modified Denon 5900, lacking in clarity, with some high end grittiness, looser bass, and a sound field that doesn't quite gel; good for its price compared to units just a couple of years old, but not up to audiophile standards.
As I have double copies of several CD's, and a six channel DakiOm unit, it was fairly easy to compare instantaneously differences between the Denon and Pioneer with and without the DakiOm, adding the unit between the output of the Pioneer and Denon and my Alan Wright silver foil interconnects feeding directly to my EAD preamp with remote switching for instantaneous differences. Interestingly, the experiment did prove to me that negative feedback, at least with the units tested, and does degrade sound.
As above, with the DakiOm in place, there was a slight degradation in the sound coming out of the Denon, as that unit's front channels have no negative feedback. But it did bring the output of the Pioneer significantly closer to the Denon's. Most interesting was the comparison in sound stages. The differences reminded me of phono reproduction, with the Pioneer sounding like a moving magnet, or an inexpensive moving coil with maladjusted VTA or azimuth, giving a foreshortened and narrowed field. The Pioneer with the DakiOm had the feel of a well-adjusted moderately priced moving coil, with the soundstage wider and deeper and somewhat cleaner and less gritty. The Denon alone was closer to an expensive well-aligned moving coil with a very wide and deep soundstage, with ambience and air filling the space between the instruments. Please don't get me wrong: My phono setup still sounds more natural and alive than any of the above, even the Denon playing SACD, but at least digital is getting closer and in some ways better than analog. Of course, the phono system did cost somewhere north of $35,000.
Whether they would be interested in coming out with a unit with better parts and wiring or offer it as a kit to be built into the outputs of high end equipment with negative feedback at a higher price, maybe Mr. Dao will discuss in a follow-up. While I would have no use for it, there is high-end equipment out there that does use negative feedback that may be improved upon. Two channel RCA units cost $99, two-channel XL cost $139 and six channel single ended units cost $169. While I don't think it will turn a $200 into a $2000 amplifier, it does improve mid-if equipment more than its price would signify.
They also have units that are to be used with amplifier outputs to speakers and car stereos, but I haven't tried them so cannot say how they would function. Anyway, they have a money-back guarantee, shipping is included in the price, and you've probably spent more on a set of banana plugs. I emailed this added review to Mr. Dao, and he came back with further follow-up questions, which appears at the bottom of this article.
Gefen HDTV Extreme DVI Cable
Being a Phile, I wasn't satisfied, as this seemed to be a kludge, and started looking at fiber optic cable, which can have runs of several hundred feet without loss of signal. Unhappily, fiber optic with its need for electrical to light to electrical conversion, was extremely expensive, costing about $500 to 600 at the cheapest for my run. Enter Gefen, maker of my extender and switching modules. They came out with their HDTV Extreme fibre optic based DVI cable, allowing one to run up to 330 feet of 1080P signal without degradation. A 50-foot run costs $479, which while more expensive than copper, would allow me to also get rid of the extender box. They actually sent a 60-foot run. Whether they didn't have a 50 footer in stock, or they heard I was a reviewer for a high-end magazine, is uncertain, but it certainly did allow me to see the difference over copper.
Since placement, there have been absolutely no dropout, sparklies, etc., with a 1080P video picture that on the best off the air and HD Net broadcasts is almost three dimensional. And we won't discuss the effect on so-called "late night" entertainment. Let's just say one has no problem distinguishing scars produced by anatomical adjustments. If you have a DVI cable run of 40 feet or more which may require a cable amplifier, I would certainly recommend going with the Gefen fibreoptic. Below that, copper would be my preference due to cost.
Reply From Dakiom
Thank you for sending us the updated review and for agreeing to experiment with the low-cost Pioneer universal player. We are pleased that you hear significant improvement with the pioneer player and even with the 20-year-old tuner, using our Feedback Stabilizers. We would like to respond to a few points raised in your review and bring up some related discussion issues.
1. Could you include in the review, that the Pioneer unit you tested is Model DV-563A with MSRP $249. (Side Note: It had a street price of $120 at Best Buy and Circuit City). If you could also include in the review the MSRP of your reference modded Denon 5900, that would establish the price scale of the equipment being compared. ($3200).
2. You make a very interesting phono analogy of the sound quality of the Pioneer with Stabilizer vs the modded Denon 5900. We would appreciate if your review could also include a few descriptive sentences on how the Feedback Stabilizer specifically improved the DV-563A over its stock sound quality. For example, how it affected the clarity, bass, rhythm, emotion, amount of listening fatigue, etc. (No, not enough time.)
3. At the end of your review, you express some (healthy) skepticism by writing "While I donít think it will turn a $200 into a $2000 amplifier...". Given that you were not able to try our amplifier stabilizer, we feel this statement is unsupported by evaluation (therefore we prefer that you omit it). (This comment was a statement on a claim from their web site) Indeed, if you consider that the Pioneer DV563A had a street price at Best Buy/Circuit City of just $120 (we paid $107 for the unit sent to you) while the modded Denon 5900 is in the $4500 range, this is about a 40x price multiple. Since the Pioneer did get "significantly closer to the Denonís", our products can plausibly close the 10X price gap between a $200 and $2000 amplifier in some cases.
4. For the tuner listening test, you mention that our products improved the sound "While not making the tuner into a Fanfare or Magnum Dynalab..." We just want to clarify the point that our products can only improve the sound of the audio output stage in the Sony tuner.(Obviously Understood. ) It cannot improve the performance of the RF circuitry in the tuner, which is critical to a tuner's sound quality. Therefore we prefer that you remove or clarify this comment because some people reading this section may underestimate the effectiveness of the stabilizer if they don't take into account that the Sony's RF circuitry was low-cost, which we do not claim to improve.
5. Although there is sometimes a perception that Dakiom Feedback Stabilizers are made for low or mid-fi systems, they also work very well for high-end audiophile equipment (using negative feedback). On our website are over 100 reviews with many people using very high-end equipment from Wadia, Krell, Mark Levinson, Threshold, Tube Research Lab, and many others. (Not reviews, but statements from users.)
We also had a couple of questions:
A) Would you please also inform us of the name of the CD's and SACD's that you used to test our HR203?(THE FOLLOWING DOUBLE DISCS WERE USED:
SLATKIN-THE PLANETS & PICTURES AT EXHIBITION, CLASSIC DAD1027
SKROWACZEWSKI- BOLERO, LA VALSE,PAVANE, MFSL UDSACD4002
RAVEL-WORKS FOR ORCHESTRA, CLASSIC DAD1025
GROFE-GRAND CANYON, MISSISSIPPIS SUITE, MERCURY D103885
STRAVINSKY-PETROUCHKA,FIREBIRD, JARVI, CINCINNATTI, TELARC SACD60587
TURINA DANZAS FANTASTICAS, DEBUSSY IBERIA. LOPEZ-COBOS,CINCINNATTI, TELARC SACD60574
B) When you play stereo mode using our HR203, did you plug the stabilizer into only the stereo channels or did you always plug all six of our HR203 plugs into the 5.1 channels outputs of the Denon and Pioneer units? (Only the stereo outputs fed directly to the bypassed inputs of the EAD.)
Overall we wish to thank you and Enjoy the Music.comô for trying our products and for being open minded to new audio products and ideas. If you wish to further explore our feedback stabilizers in your system, we notice that your EAD Theatermaster 8800 pre-pro has balanced XLR outputs. If you use these balanced pre-pro outputs to drive your amplifiers, our X203 feedback stabilizer may be able to help you improve its sound quality. The X203 is a 2-channel XLR terminated Feedback Stabilizer. Assuming your pre-pro's outputs use negative feedback, you should hear an improvement in sound quality. If you are interested in evaluating the X203, we would be happy to send you three units to cover a full 5.1 set of pre-pro outputs. Again thank you very much for the opportunity to have our products reviewed. If you have any question or comments, please feel free to contact us.
Khang Dao DakiOm