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Positive Feedback ISSUE 38
july/august 2008


From Clark Johnsen's Diary: The Hottest Tweak in Town
by Clark Johnsen


johnsen_typewriter_web.jpg (4673 bytes)

"Guys, I have the hottest tweak in town!"

We are gathered at Steve Klein's place in New Hampshire (he of Sounds of Silence and the Vibraplane)—Steve, Bill Gaw, Kwame and me. Our association began almost twenty-five years ago when we met at the Listening Studio, defunct now for over eight years, impossible as that seems to any of us. We remain good friends and eager as ever to try new stuff.

For those guys, that mainly means components; what I do is tweaks, or as I am pleased to call them, fine-tuning aids. Just as musicians rosin their bows with favored formulations and punctiliously trim their reeds, so do I attend to certain details of adjustment and application.

Today I bring two new tweaks, both from Xtreme AV, one of which (Liquid Rez) I have reported on already in Lotions Eleven. There's a new rinse fluid called Step 2 Optical Enhancer, and the Xionic Tourmo Gun™.

Beg your pardon? A Xionic Tommy Gun? When I first opened the box it looked to me more like a hair dryer—a very, very large hair dryer—a quotidian appliance not often encountered among the genus audiophile.

Yes, and it gets hot. Real hot! The hottest tweak in town.

But first...

Showdown at the Show

At CES this year, where I always enjoy dismaying the audience with audio parlor tricks, I carry for the first time a Beltist strategy, the Greeting Card. But no ordinary card this, for on it one finds, besides the usual seasonal decorations, a couple of laser-etched insignia. In use one is supposed to remove the card from an envelope and present it to the room, specifically to be put under one foot of some component. That's all.

Well I had my doubts, as one always does. Worse than doubts, fears. Already, for years, my discernment has been derided by a vocal group of know nothings—who know nothing because they can't be bothered to listen. And who think they know everything already! So why bother? (What else could be their rationale?) Their generic response upon confronting anything new, unorthodox and unheard-of (and unheard): That can't be!

It's a wonderful thing, reaction formation. A veritable laff riot to behold. Best of all? When someone who signs himself as PhD manifests it.

So here I am carrying the Belt Greeting Card two weeks after Christmas and wondering if what happens in Vegas really will stay here. Undaunted and offering no comment on its Beltist aspect, I haul it out in a friendly room and await my first public audition.

"First public" I say, because at home the card had remained in a pile of unread mail after my mid-December return from a trip. I was listening to music one night when finally I opened it and, finding this handsome Christmas card from May Belt, set it aside for later perusal. But at the same time I noted an improvement in the system's sound and leaned back to enjoy, leaving the rest of the stack untouched. Only after the work concluded did I read the enclosed letter to learn that here was a bona fide Belt device! And that I had therefore not been (self-)conned into belief because I never knew it was there for a purpose.


Now, in public, I think I hear it. Maybe. Or maybe not. Could go either way. Someone actually phrases it like that, not myself. Someone else says, well it didn't hurt anything. It occurs to me that a busy show is the wrong place for this sort of research and I withdraw the card from further use. Until, that is, upon reaching DeVore Fidelity just after closing hour. John DeVore, a calm young man and attentive listener, is the perfect foil. Not only that, it was in his room three years ago that I (we) first heard the Intelligent Chip, which stirred controversy for its very improbability. Yet we both heard the effect.

So here we are again, this time with an unusual card which I place on the floor after showing it to John and another fellow. John and I take center seats and you know what? I'm pretty sure I can hear it, but mum's the word or I'll get slaughtered on the boards. (That's how they go.) Afterwards John says, "Well it didn't hurt (that phraseology again!) and I think it was better." The man on the sidelines however avers that it was definitely an improvement.


But I'm not convinced. Must be some conjury involved.

Later in San Diego

After the Show I often head to California to hang out for two or three weeks with old friends. Also there are audio get-togethers, several with the Stereo Bobs. In the first instance, there was Bob Hirsch and mine editor Dave Clark and his lady Carol, with whom some day I may write a column called Clark and Clark because ...well, because. I know that Carol at least will be open-minded to a Belt demo as she had written many years ago in AudioMusings about another Belt strategem. But a favorable response to such concepts, I have decided, requires a calm and quiet environment—especially psychic quiet—and we are on our way out to the Stone Brewery in Escondido and highly juiced because Stone's may well be the best brewpub/restaurant in the country. So I defer the experiment.

Later at Bob Prinz's I show the Stereo Bobs the deal here, they nod assent and so onto the floor I toss my little card trick. And thus mos' def for the first time in my sentient experience, the damn thing really works. Prinz was thoroughly astonished. For Hirsch the effect was, in his words later, "as if I became more focused on the sound and music without making a conscious effort to do so. It felt like the saturation level had been turned up a notch or two... and a sfmato effect filter (some refer to this as a veil) had been lifted." [Sfmato, an art term that means "smoky" or "soft-edgeed". / ed.]

You want my own description? Try me later. OK, just this: The music took on a more relaxed and involving character.

Meanwhile... (but what's the connection?)

Brian Kyle of Xtreme AV has been researching the effects of tourmaline crystals on audio media. (See appendix for the full story.) These crystals, of various descrip and source, but said to produce negative ions (I know, I know...), must be heated for discharge—hence their being embedded in a hair dryer, which also serves to disperse them over a larger surface. The device is alleged to benefit LPs, CDs and DVDs. Anyway the audio portions of the DVD. Blu-rays too!

My first trials were on DVDs, which normally I treat with the Walker Talisman—it's so easy! And sometimes, depending, I'll also apply a fluid of some sort. Brian recommends those steps be conducted first, then the tourmaline force applied. As many would, I suspect, I proceeded straight to the tourmaline. And you know what? I'll never not use it again whenever I care about fidelity. It's the biggest single improvement in sound off DVDs I've ever experienced. As to picture improvements, I'm not so certain.

I played portions of Pink Floyd The Wall for a non-audiophile friend, before and after, and he was (properly) impressed. Not only does the sound become more full-bodied and natural, but it projects into the room with greater ease and grace. And it evolves from a semi-undifferentiated sonic mass into specific localities, from a mere recording into near reality. Aided and abetted of course by visual cues, but still.

Application is just a bit tedious however: A 20-second warm-up must precede two 20-second treatments, one per side. (These durations I take from instructions, not having varied the routine myself yet.) Worse, this must be done before every play.

But that's not so bad, really: A one-minute sacrifice of time for (believe me) vastly, interestingly better sound. A sound, without edge.

Tourmaline? Negative ions? Are we in Beltist country here, where no scientific (as they say) territory has been marked? Or is the phenomenon susceptible to conventional explanation? Because if so, many more people will venture to try it than otherwise, sad to say. Nevertheless, I do see an overlap. In her fascinating series of articles  recently for Positive Feedback Online, May Belt refers often to the Acoustic Revive RR-77 device which according to numerous testimonials produces a beneficial yet unmeasurable effect. But how? It treats nothing but the environment! May likens this phenomenon to many of the Belt devices.

Here's our difficulty. The RR-77 produces low-frequency emanations. What if these are somehow mysteriously affecting the recorded media, not the person? Alternatively, what if the Tourmo Gun's negative ion output is affecting the person, and not the media? ‘Tis a puzzlement. We shall have to see. But somethin's happenin' here and Mr. Jones, you don't know what it is, do you?

And perhaps I should leave my LP and CD determinations until there are witnesses?

So here we are today.

Oh, just one more question.

What is it about CD, introduced to the public as "perfect", that makes it so susceptible to these weird ameliorations? After twenty-five years academics, designers and critics alike have developed not even a tentative rationale for the processes involved. Even worse, several years ago a plateau may have been reached in digital player design (forgetting for the moment, computer audio). In Pro Audio Review for July 2006, Norm Relich at the Purdue University Calumet Physics Labs writes:

Also, the audio chips used in electronic devices can affect the ambience and the transients… The dreadful Signetics 5532 chip which engineers still use actually eliminates ambience and has horrible transients on real music, although not on test benches…

It is amazing that 20 years later, we can only make a handful of CD players that properly convey the information on the disc.


Thus we have our ion guns. Our fluids. Our mats, our carvers, our inks, our Chips. Inexplicably effective, all.

Is this not a spectacle of pure intellectual incompetence, coupled with exaggerated claims for performance? Or, not incompetence. Rather, pretension. Intellectual pretension. And not exaggerated claims either, but baseless claims.

Nor has the cheering section ever slackened. Consider a lengthy article in Popular Science for July, 2008, entitled WHICH OFFERS BETTER AUDIO QUALITY, VINYL OR DIGITAL RECORDINGS?

Sorry, vinyl aficionados, but CDs most accurately capture the clarity of musical perfor­mances. If you look at the grooves of a standard long-play record, or LP, through a microscope, you'll see that each is filled with what look like roll­ing hills. These are, in fact, an extremely close replication of the shape of the sound waves from the musician's instrument. But because the needle that carves the groove is shaped slightly different than the needle that reads it, the LP will never sound exactly like the original performance. (Not to mention that changes in temperature and humidity warp vinyl over time.)…

The mathematical data encoded on a CD, however, is a nearly exact representa­tion of the original sound…

Even so, some audiophiles claim to hear a natural sound, vaguely described as "musical warmth," when listening to vinyl. What they're hearing, says Stanley Lipshitz, who studies electro-acoustics and digital-signal processing in the Audio Research Group at the University of Waterloo in Canada, is most likely the deficiencies of the record player. Sound waves from the speakers and the needle's rise-and-fall passage over the grooves cause the LP to vibrate. The needle picks up these extra vibrations and adds them to the music, creating the "fullness" that's asso­ciated with LPs. "Some people mistake this defect for a virtue," Lipshitz says.

Or so says Popular Science, at the same time racking up several grammatical errors.

You see how these people behave? Should any means for improvement of digital audio defy their arithmetic orthodoxy, said means is summarily discarded, the verdict sealed with disdain and even spite.

Back again to today, if I may

Steve Klein's system, like Kwame's, has always sounded good to me and the two share several aspects: Beauhorns with Lowther DX4 drivers, Audionote Japan (Kondo) electronics, Simon Yorke turntables set on Vibraplanes. (Bill's, not dissimilar, is larger and differently branded but equally wonderful and equally useful for these ongoing experiments.) Only in the digital department do they much vary. But no matter, as today we are doing vinyl.

Steve and Kwame both have the new Simon Yorke S-10 turntable system and are very eager to have Bill and me hear it, as they believe this model represents a major improvement. And indeed that does seem to be the case, as we give it our first spin. Mind you, I only visit every few weeks but with a pretty good sonic memory I've never found it hard to hear differences over the term.

And indeed the system is singing.

Because one wishes to enjoy oneself by hearing it at its best, first thing I do is haul out the Xionic Tourmo blaster, drop into a crouch and aim it around the room. To my chagrin no one cringes, so we take the record off and give it the treatment. Loaded back on the turntable (a little digital jargon there), the change is readily apparent.

A second record confirms that assessment.

A third record however yields less improvement and several questions.

But the fourth... omigosh, the fourth! No one has the slightest reservation in any regard. Here is a mighty tweak. The hottest!

Then Bill draws our attention to the new AudioSmile supertweeters, standalone units that cut in above 13KHz and which Steve has placed on top of the Beauhorns at the front edges. Bill suggests they be repositioned to coincide with the main driver plane, and what do you know? This simple maneuver alters the response sufficiently that we all hear a finer presentation of the voices, especially in the center. Not better sound per se, but firmer construction of the image.

Then Bill turns to Steve's battery drive for the Simon Yorke and observes that a decent capacitor on it would improve the supply and hence the sound. Steve fetches one from the basement, hooks it in, and voila! We had known already what AC cords can do for the sound of turntables, but this came as something of a surprise.

It has been a day of triumphs at modest cost. OK, the new Simon Yorke is a $19,000 investment, but the Xionic Tourmo Gun is only $209 (and works on CDs and DVDs too, and allegedly never exhausts its charge), the cap needn't be expensive and the tweeter realignment was free. Free!

Unfortunately, free is not a saleable commodity, so people tend to ignore it. Look at Absolute Polarity: "Better sound for free", I have always said. For all the good that ever did. People would rather pay; it lets them feel they're actually getting something.

They only don't want to pay "too much".

Xtreme AV or

Simon Yorke, Beauhorn, Kondo

AudioSmile supertweeters

Belt Electronics


[From interviews with Brian Kyle]

Bryan first noted the tourmaline phenomenon as a dealer for the Acoustic Revive line, specifically the RIO-5 Tourmaline Negative Ion Generator. He realized the RIO-5 was a "WOW" type product—not merely a tweak or an accessory, but a necessity for optimal audio and video playback. So he began development of his own tourmaline negative-ion-generating device to best the RIO-5.

He hit the experimental trail in earnest—hoping also to avoid the $595 sticker shock of the RIO-5. First he came up with the idea of using tourmaline paper sleeves activated by a hair dryer. Test results were extremely positive for both CDs and LPs, confirmed by five beta testers. But unfortunately, minimum order issues made it cost-prohibitive to bring tourmaline sleeves to market.

In conversations with one beta tester, it developed that perhaps using some type of tourmaline ceramic balls inside the hair dryer could yield results similar to the sleeves. He built the first prototype three days later using the balls borrowed from his own RIO-5, and thus was born the Xionic Tourmo Gun™. But not all tourmaline balls are created equal; they sound completely different from different suppliers. He tested six different balls from three separate makers and evolved a proprietary blend for optimal sound. Brian chose a wire basket to house the balls to achieve two design goals: Ease of manufacture and best-value price, to allow more people to enjoy the benefits of negative ion treatment.

Brian states that surface cleaning and "demagnetization" are also of benefit, but the Xionic step should be the last. Again, I have not experimented here. Would it kill you to be helpful? Just share the results with us, please.

And finally, since composing the article I have found that the gun works as beautifully on CDs as on other media; I just wish it could help writers sound better too!

By the way, Brian is looking for dealers.