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Auric Illuminator, Audio Systeme Desk, and more!
It seems like every day or so (okay, thats a slight exaggeration) someone comes out with another CD surface treatment. The market is awash with sprays, creams, and gels of all possible formulas. We have been graced here with several to review: Auric Illuminator, CD Clarity, and Digital Juice (more on this one and Walker Audio's VIVID soon). Just to complicate matters, weve also received the Audio Systeme Desk device.
Auric Illuminator ($39.95 as a kit, www.audience-av.com) is a slightly thick, bluish cream that is applied to both sides of the disc with the supplied polishing cloths. In addition, a black pen (not the same as the one that comes with the Audio Systeme Desk) is applied to the outer and inner edges of the CD. According to the manufacturer, Auric Illuminator, "Will help your disc player to retrieve all the available data on your discs at the right time. Auric Illuminator allows the laser pickup to track the disc more accurately. It also improves discrimination of the exact end and the exact beginning of the reflective and non-reflective areas on the track." Nice and creamy with a slight "alcohol" odor.
CD Clarity is also applied on both sides of the CD. Though no cloth was included, I used those from Auric to good effect. CD Clarity claims to reduce or eliminate static charges that result in "reduced background noise, and improved focus and soundstage! Digital harshness will be reduced. The sound will be more natural, and musically more correct." No odor, but the solution is blue and watery like a window cleaner.
Another spray, Digital Juice Spatial Enhancer, is said to improve the spatial effects heard within the soundstage. Smells and feels like furniture polish. More to follow later as this is evolving.
The Audio Systeme Desk ($495, at www.fatwyre.com) allows you to "true" the outer edge of a CD at a specified angle. You place a CD facing up on the platter, clamp it securely, turn on the motor, and slowly move the arm toward the CD. The arm is limited in its arc, so will only cut so far. Its a bit messy and noisy, but fairly foolproof in execution. The unit comes with a black pen, and while the CD is still spinning, you can easily paint the beveled edge by holding the pen to the beveled edge. This is much easier then doing this while you turn the CD in your hand. I have on an occasion run the pen across a CDs surface! Yikes!
To add even more complexity, one can combine edge-cutting with any of the sprays, and can use a green pen or a black pen. No, make that a green, a blue-green, and one of several black pens. The green pen is the one from Audio Prism, CD Stoplight. The blue-green pen, which was supplied with the CD Clarity, I found too messy and WAY too toxic in odor. It is also not readily available, as it is in short supply, and is not normally included with the CD Clarity. Word has it that this is the color to go with, so perhaps another time.
Clearly there were too many possibilities for any single reviewer to deal with, so we arrived the decision to limit the number of treatments, and to deal with them collectively. I had seven CDRs burned with the same three tracks (one jazz, one rock, and one classical selection), set one aside as a control, and (with one exception) treated each remaining disc with only a single manufacturers recommended procedure. The only remaining task was to lure enough reviewers to the same place at the same time to accomplish the collective listening, so I announced a barbeque at my house, and told the group that in order to eat they would have to evaluate the differences they perceived in the seven discs. Give me your notes and then you get your food!
Only I knew which discs were which, so this was a single blind test. Six listeners took part, in addition to myself. (I did not comment, nor did I take notes.) The discs were treated as follows:
Disc 1: Beveled with the supplied black pen on outer edge.
Disc 2: Auric Illuminator with supplied black pen on outer edge.
Disc 3: Beveled with Audio Prism (green) pen on outer edge.
Disc 4: Beveled with no pen.
Disc 5: CD Clarity only.
Disc 6: Digital Juice only.
Disc 7: Control, no treatment.
Each track of each disc was played until the group felt that they had a grasp on its sound, although cut 2 was eliminated after three playings, as several listeners objected to listening to rock music. The discs were played in the above order, except that the group decided it should hear the control disc as a reference, so that one was played first. All volume and other settings remained consistent. All discs were burned on the same brand of blanks with a Pioneer PDR509 CD recorder. We tried to be as scientific as we could! The results:
CONTROL DISC (No treatment)
Person A: (No comment.)
Person B: OK. Slightly thin. Bass not especially deep. Slight grain.
Voice slightly nasal on track 2. Winds slightly shrill on 3.
Person C: Very natural, glare on trumpet, weak bass. CD bright and shrill. Good articulation.
Person D: Cut 1, good resolution on brass. Cut 2, thin voice, questionable recording. Cut 3, good imaging, detail, no harshness.
Person E: Cut 1, trumpet a little recessed when playing with other instruments. Not much bass punch. Cut 2, obnoxious music, untrained voices, not much impact. Cut 3, I prefer more aggressive sound.
Person F: (No comment.)
DISC 1 (Beveled with black pen on outer edge
Person A: Cut 1, less differentiation, more congealed, instruments less clearly delineated. More like a recording timbrally, more bite on horns, bass a little more plummy. Cut 2, better bass, more forward sounding, harmonically less organized. Cut 3, more locked-in. Constricted, fuller bass, not sure if there is more pace or not.
Person B: Sweeter, smoother, less thin, bass perhaps deeper, room more audible on cut 2, voice less nasal, background quieter (especially noticeable on 3).
Person C: Smoother trumpet, deeper and tighter bass, more natural percussion (air). More listenable, rough edges mostly removed.
Person D: Cut 1, clearer sax, trumpet, soundstage. Cut 2, no comment.
Cut 3, again clearer woodwinds, percussion.
Person E: Cut 1, seemed a little louder overall, trumpet a little more piercing, (previously) good bass had more thumpiness, good. Cut 2, drum has more energy, voices still suck. Cut 3, more texture to clarinet, percussion more realistic.
Person F: Cut 1, sounded slow, pace was off, as if under a drug-induced stupor. (Cut 2, no comment.) Cut 3, a slight but irritating harshness has been detected. Prefer the control.
DISC 2 (Auric Illuminator)
Person A: Cut 1, louder than disc 1, more spatially open, instrumentally distinguishable, still harmonic brass bite but a bit softer, closer to live than 1. Cut 2, bass less plummy than 1, guitars more guitar-like, screechy and yowly vocals a bit polished and obscured. Cut 3, instruments distinguished, greater clarity, good choice for instruments.
Person B: Bass possibly a bit deeper than disc 2 but nowhere near as sweet. Still quite thin, but some improvement. Voice still nasal on track 2.
Person C: Less of everything that disc 1 offers. Slight improvement over control.
Person D: Cut 1, harmonically better. Cut 2, snappier, sounds louder.
Cut 3, pace.
Person E: Cut 1, slightly softer presentation than disc 1, lower double bass notes well defined. Cut 2, too obnoxious to audition, these guys should be flipping burgers. Cut 3, need more assertive sound.
Person F: Cut 1, the tempo has been restored. Otherwise no significant difference. Cut 2, cool. Kick drum and bass line are slightly better defined. A touch more impact, very slight. Cut 3, no significant difference.
DISC 3 (Beveled with green pen on outer edge)
Person A: Cut 1, sweeter, less instrumental differentiation spatially, transients subdued, more compressed, brass less bright, harmonically pleasant. Cut 3, good sense of rhythm and movement, less bass than disc 1 and maybe 2.
Person B: Better than disc 2, but still thin (cut 1). Cut 3 perhaps not better than disc 2.
Person C: Overall, very comparable to disc 2.
Person D: Smoother, more laid back, less distinct.
Person E: Cut 1, nice blending of instruments, very cohesive sonics.
Cut 3, good sensation of lower percussion effects, well blended.
Person F: Cut 1, nada. Cut 2, voted out, I was the only dissenting opinion. Cut 3, nothing.
DISC 4 (Beveled)
Person A: Cut 1, good bass transients, less horn bite, good tone, soft brass bite. Cut 3, less differentiation of macrodynamics, better horn bite here.
Person B: Not bad, but disc 1 still best. Most of the shrillness is gone, but still not as smooth as 1.
Person C: Smooth presentation, good air.
Person D: Cut 1, harmonically light, good trunpet. Cut 3, fair separation.
Person E: Cut 1, snare drum has nice snap. Cut 3, nothing to say.
Person F: Cut 1, I find nothing musically significant about this CD at all. Note: by this time I found my ability to be concerned with this to have stopped.
DISC 5 (CD Clarity)
Person A: Cut 1, softer attack, good macrodynamics, tone less exceptional, more light weight. Cut 2, no comment. Cut 3, good rhythm, less attack in horns.
Person B: No shrillness, but the sound is a bit flat and instruments are less differentiated.
Person C: Very smooth presentation, lots of air, good dynamics, bass is softer, however.
Person D: Cut 1 good, rich, good pace. Cut 3, decay not good.
Person E: Cut 1, a little understated in the bass. Cut 3, good clarity on percussion.
Person F: n/r
DISC 6 (Digital Juice)
Person A: Cut 1, louder, deeper bass, second-best brass bright, good tone, faster, more open. Cut 3, open, rhythm good, good attack.
Person B: Not bad, better than disc 5. Shrillness is gone and instruments are nicely delineated, but still not as smooth as disc 1.
Person C: Similar to control, no big improvement detected.
Person D: Cut 1 fair, good clarity. Cut 3, decay best.
Person E: Cut 1, trumpet a little more prominent than some of the other discs. Cut 3, flute flutter tonguing seems clear, trumpet passage nicely prominent.
Person F: (No comment.)
Before the treatments of the discs were revealed, the participants were asked to name their favorite. The results: three out of six expressed a clear preference for Disc 1, the one beveled on the Audio Desk Systeme and treated with its accompanying black pen, while Disc 2, the Auric disc were their second choice. Two other listeners preferred Disc 2 with Disc 1 being close behind. And one had no clear preference. Perhaps the best would be to combined the twoAudio Desk Systeme and the Auric Illuminator since they tended to be the favorites.
Can it be concluded from this that the Audio Systeme Desk and Auric Illuminator are the "best" of these treatments for CDs? Perhaps, since the listeners who preferred their effects were more assertive in their preferences, and they did rate as the top two. The only general conclusion that can be taken away from our experiment is that, as in all things audio, you cant please everyone. No big surprise in an arena in which subjectivity rules.
Although the barbeque was fired up and ready to go, we did spend a little time discussing our collective experience. The consensus was that it became very difficult to discern subtle differences between one disc and another after only a very short time, and that this was something that should be remembered in any situation in which sonic comparisons are being made.