FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 1
CD Tweaks, HDTV and the Audiophile, Shakti Onlines
Local audio enthusiast Brad Judah is extolling a five-step tweaking process for CDs, SACDs, and DVDs. None of the five steps are of his creation, but he has added some refinements. The first step is beveling the outside edges of the disc with the Audio Desk Systeme CD lathe made by Glass Reiner of Germany. First, the data side is beveled. Then, for CDs only, turn the disc over and bevel it. DO NOT BEVEL THE SECOND SIDE OF DVDs. The beveling process has not been around long enough to tell if there are any long-term problems. There has been concern among some audiophiles that it exposes some of the optical surface of the disc to oxidation. Among people who have been doing this for over a year, the only problem that has been reported has been that if the second sides of DVDs are beveled, there can be a problem playing some parts of the disc. This is not an oxidation problem. The main problem with the tweak is the high cost of the lathe, reportedly around $650, with replacement blades over $100. This will probably stop many audiophiles from using it. (Brad Judah is selling the Audio Desk Systeme's CD lathe for $599: Brad Judah, 1344 N. Clark St., Cornelius, OR 97113. Phone: 1-800-514-5136.)
The second tweak is cleaning the playing surface of the disc with a treatment solution. The best one we have found is Esoteric Mist (available from Ben Dolp, 66965 Fryrear Rd., Bend, OR 97701. Phone: 541-383-3196). The solution should be rubbed into the surface of the disc thoroughly before it is wiped off. The wiping off should be done with a soft cotton cloth. This tweak has been around since the early days of CD. Most of the other disc cleaners will probably work.
The third step is to put colored transparent ink on the inner and outer edges of the disc. Through the research of Dave Herron, Brad Judah, Ben Piazza of Shakti Innovations, and myself, the best color seems to be a blue-green shade with a xylene solvent. Unfortunately, the best marker that we have found is no longer made because of xylene concerns. Look for a solvent-base marking pen with a blue-green, transparent color. Non-solvent-base colors do not bond with the surface as well, and rub off. If you cannot find a blue-green pen, one layer of a medium blue and one of a green may be used. A notch should be cut in the marker head, so that it will not slip off the edge when you are coloring it. I first reported on this tweak about nine years ago.
The fourth step is degaussing the disc. The Absolute Sound and Positive Feedback reported this tweak about eight years ago. Brad has added the use of a large, high-strength magnet under the disc to intensify the magnetic field. You put the permanent magnet on a surface and cover it with a soft cotton cloth. Put the disc on the cloth, then run a commercial-strength demagnetizer above the surface of the disc in a circular movement for about thirty seconds. This can be done with cheaper demagnetizers, but they will quickly burn out because of the strong fields produced. If you watch the light reflecting off the disc, you will see the reflective character of the disc change.
The last step has come up fairly recently. In the back of Stereophile, there was an ad for a CD treatment involving a fluorescent light and colored paper. When Brad told me about this tweak I was ready to laugh my head off, but he said he had tried it with just a compact fluorescent light and it seemed to work. Before I tried it at home, I was at Frank Curls listening to the new MSB Ultimate DAC in his magnificent-sounding system, and he demonstrated the process on a number of discs. It improved the sound of each by a fair degree. Brad feels the colored paper may just be a way to charge more for the product. I can say that a plain fluorescent bulb seems to work very well, whether it is done after all the other steps or before. Truly a cheap tweak, give it a try. I have no idea why this works. It needs to be done before each playing for optimum effect.
If you have not done these five things to a disc, you have no idea what is on it. After treatment, discs are more dynamic, more detailed, less veiled, cleaner and clearer. A good CD starts to sound as good as an untreated SACD. The process has saved two DVDs of mine from resale. They were the McGarrigle Sisters The McGarrigle Hour and Sessions at West 54th Volume 1. Before treatment, both discs sounded deadly dull. The sound was so boring that I would quickly lose interest in listening to them. After treatment, The McGarrigle Hour actually became absorbing to listen to. It simply had more life. The Sessions at West 54th became listenable, but still a little dull. Before treatment, Orffs "Fortuna" from Carmina Burana, on a Telarc CD, sounded confused and bloated . After treatment, the whole soundstage was clearer and there was a much better sense of dynamics, pace, and enunciation. This process has worked very well on every disc with which I have tried it.
I have bought the Panasonic TU-HDS20B HDTV receiver, and I am very happy with the picture on my Mitsubishi HD1080 55-inch, widescreen, HDTV-ready monitor. With a good signal, the picture is better than theater quality. However, the news from HDTV-land for audiophiles is not good. HDTV receivers are being made mainly for the receiver or all-in-one system market. The Panasonics digital outputs go only into Dolby Digital or DTS digital inputs. You can hook the digital output to a standard DAC and get better sound as long as there is no Dolby Digital or DTS signal. If these signals are fed through a standard DAC, some pretty bad, possibly system-destroying sound can come though the system. I can find no way to turn off these outputs. The analog outputs seem only to be of good-quality-receiver sound. Most audiophiles would like at least one output to the TV and one to the stereo. My player has only one analog output that works all the time, and another that works only when a standard NTSC resolution is picked for video. To record in regular or Super VHS, the output must be turned to the lower NTSC setting. This is needed for the recorder, but it would be nice if you could watch a higher-definition signal on the TV at the same time.
Most of the HDTV sources available are from local over-the-air TV stations. Unfortunately, I have found that digital signals are even more finicky than analog signals for reception. I only know of two high-definition channels on satellite, Channel 199 and 509 (HBO) on Direct TV. Channel 199 runs a HD loop at times. Many of ABC and CBS prime time shows are broadcast in HDTV, where available. I must admit that even the regular digital TV signals broadcast by almost all local TV stations are usually superior to the regular analog. A problem with digital TV is that the signal will not let you digitally change the picture to fill the screen the way it can with an analog signal. This means that you have bars on each side of the picture on TV broadcasts. The bars are not good for your screen, and keep me from watching too many standard-aspect shows in the digital format. One thing that bothers me about the newer surround-sound formats is that they make it nearly impossible to avoid running your main channels through a processor. I liked running Dolby surround separately from my front channel for better sound.
One thing that significantly improved the sound of my HDTV receiver was putting Shakti Onlines on the two main chips (read the aM Shakti Online review). I received numerous pairs of the Shakti Onlines for evaluation. I was looking forward to this, because I like the Shakti Stones so much. The Onlines are small black oblong blocks, 3 x 5/8inches, with Velcro on the bottom. There is also a self-gluing Velcro strip, which you attach to the cable, then use it to attach the Online. They come in sets of two, for about $99. The Onlines can be used on speaker cables, interconnects, digital cables, power chords and digital chips. Some placement experimentation is needed to get optimal improvement. I suggest using masking tape to temporarily apply them.
I tried them out by adding one (or one pair) at a time. Each time I did this there was an improvement in the sound. Then I decided it was time to bring my friend Marv over. We started by playing my system without any Onlines, then we put one on each speaker cable. The improvement was substantial. I then put one on the amplifier power chord. Again there was a similar improvement. I then added one to the preamp power chord. Another significant improvement. I then put one on each interconnect from the preamp to the amp. Marvs first comment was, "Is that the same cut?" I assured him it was. At that point Marv said that he thought it could not keep getting better, so I added a pair to the interconnects between the Sony S-9000 and the preamp. After about fifteen seconds of listening he looked over at me, smiled, and said "Then again, I could be wrong." Yet another major improvement. I finally placed one on the S-9000 power chord and yes, you guessed it, another improvement.
The improvements we heard after each Online addition were airier highs, a more palatable midrange, and better, tighter bass. More clarity and better imaging were also noted. The music was simply more involving. If a blindfolded audiophile was told he would be listening to two different components, the second of which, unknown to him, was the same component with Onlines being used, he would probably feel that the second component was worth hundreds or even thousands more than the first. I took a spare pair over to Frank Curls house to try, and it only took him about thirty seconds to determine he wanted them. They transformed his system. It would now be hard for me to listen to mine without them.
I tried a pair on the video cables between my TV and the HDTV receiver, and the signal change was enough to cause the TV to reset its picture. I noted subtle improvements in background picture noise and higher color saturation. It is hard to test television pictures because they can not be repeated before and after each change. I tried the Onlines on other video cables, again with subtle improvements. The one thing in the video system that did make a big difference was putting them on the digital chips in the HDTV receiver. The improvement in sound was substantial and there was some improvement in the picture.
Big improvements in sound were also realized when Onlines were used on the DAC chips in my MSB and Sony S-9000. They made big differences in my system even though it was already heavily tweaked. The first place I would use them would be the power cords. You get two levels of improvement per pair. I would then add them in this order: speaker cables, preamp-to-amp interconnects, source-to-preamp interconnect. Adding an additional Online to a wire that already has one brings about a small improvement. It is even reported that putting an Online on the electronic ignition chip in your car will make the motor run smoother and give better gas mileage.
DVD Alert: The Welcome Back, Emerson, Lake and Palmer DVD really is a stinker. The cover makes you think you are going to be listening to a bunch of ELP songs. I could stand the poor-quality older video clips, but when they cut off a song after a minute, or talk over the song, it really makes me feel cheated.