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Positive Feedback ISSUE 52
november/december 2010

audiodiscourse

 

The Top Ten Best High-end Audio Accessories of All Time Though Not Necessarily the Most Expensive!
by Robert H. Levi

 

After 50 years immersed in this splendid audio hobby, you learn a bit about what works and what doesn't. With two ultra high-end systems in house which often replicate the live performance in my listening environment, it would be unfair of me not to divulge my favorite essential accessories that put the icing on the audio cake!

But before my list begins, it is extremely important for budding audiophiles and maybe old timers too, to understand that accessories do not compensate for under achieving high-end gear. Great accessories may take your components to a better place, but there is NO accessory that replaces a top amplifier, neutral cables, or speakers that have top notch drivers and are built with good musical taste in mind.

All accessories are readily available new or used so no worries. Enough preamble. Here's my Top Ten List.

1. Music Hall Hunt EDA Dual Row Carbon Fiber record Brush or London (Decca) Single Row Carbon Fiber Record Brush

For only $29.99, these great brushes sweep away dust and other light contaminants from records that will gum up your cartridge. Not a substitute for an occasional VPI wash, they will complement that process and keep your LPs playing as quietly as possible. The Hunt has two rows of fibers and works great… it's been copied by about everyone, but why not get the original and the best? Available at most mail order companies.

2. L'Art du Son Record Cleaning Fluid and CD Treatment

After auditioning a zillion cutting edge chemical blends from companies worldwide, the L'Art du Son has yet to be eclipsed. Made in Germany, it is amazingly neutral sounding and easy to apply. With very even sonic benefits at all frequencies (very important), a greater sense of aliveness and realism, and a one step process, it can't be beat on digital media or LP (different formulations). Works great with VPI washing machines, but must be applied after a good shake of its container. Therefore, it's not a good idea to place it in any fluid reservoir on the machine. Excellent performer on classical, jazz and rock media, i.e. everything. Comes in a concentrate that makes at least a gallon of fluid!

Retail Pricing: $45 for LP Fluid $55 for CD/DVD Fluid

Available at most mail order companies. Don't let some fast talking salesman switch you to another brand.

3. Marigo Mystery Feet for all Electronic Components and Digital Transports

A shock and surprise, I think I'd call these lightening in a bottle! Place three of these under a component, transport, amplifier, or DAC, and be prepared to be amazed. If the component could float in space, it would not be any better. Plus, the Mystery feet absorb vibration from the component itself while simultaneously eliminating vibration from the shelf.

You want more? They are not weight sensitive. 100 pounds or 20 pounds, no matter, same model! The cheaper short set works fine. Place them under the transformers of your amp if possible. Unbelievably effective under any transport. These are the best isolation footers at any price. Not for turntables. If you don't have superb racks, get them. Get them even if you do! Pucks, aw shucks! Bravo Marigo!

$759 for a set of three. http://www.marigoaudio.com/Component_feet.htm

4. Townshend Audio Seismic Sinks

The traditional air bladder Sinks from Townshend are available only on EBAY and Audiogon used. There's good news though. If they leak, all are easily fixable in the USA by Dan Meinwald, the importer of all Townshend Audio gear. Usually, only the little valve where you attach the air pump goes bad and Dan stocks it.

I have two versions in house. The older Sink has no leveling facilities…which you accomplish with weights. The newer Sink has feet that adjust to level. Both work extremely well. Be mindful that very heavy items may overload the Sink unless you find one of the rare heavy weight versions with double bladders.

New, they ran $500 to about $1000. Used they bring about $300 or so. This is a super bargain. Put one under every component and your turntable. They are a must for tube gear! They sound a bit different from the Marigo Mystery Feet, but neutral overall. The less air you put in, the warmer/richer the sound though it's still quite neutral. Fun to work with, I have 5 Sinks in my big reference system. I use Marigo Mystery Feet in my second reference system which has no turntable.

I understand there is a new version on the drawing board which has unique spring loaded feet that work even better than the air bladders and are set and forget. I hope they are available soon. Meanwhile, search the used market and pick up your Townshend Seismic Sink. They are just fabulous and vastly superior to all other platforms for isolating components and turntables.

http://www.ear-usa.com/townshendsinks.htm

5. VPI HW-16.5 Record Washing Machine

In production for 30 years, I've owned two and have one now. Fabulous performance! You can wash and dry an LP in three minutes flat. The key is to get the fluid off the record quickly and the 16.5 does the trick. I could not live without the unit. I have played with LP washing machines at nearly 10 times the cost with no sonic rewards. They are mostly just quieter, but who cares! A winner in any language! They were the best deal in the 20th Century and are the best deal in the 21st Century! The 16.5 is the least you can spend for a superb LP washing machine and the most you may need to spend, ever. A must own if you have a record collection and you care about how they sound. Even new vinyl needs to be washed to sound its best! A masterpiece from VPI!

Retail: $550 http://www.vpiindustries.com/static.php?page=Cleaning_Machines

6. DeMag From Furutech (LP and CD/SACD/DVD/DVDA/DVDV/BluRay/LD/cable demagnetization device)

The DeMag from Furutech is expensive, but does it all! I recommend you peruse the Furutech website for a description of how the DeMag functions from a technical perspective. Of all the great tweaks I know of or used to make silver disks sound more like vinyl ones, the DeMag from Furutech is the very best yet devised. Of all the great enhancements for LPs including a thorough wash, the DeMag takes LP performance to a new level of perfection not attained by any other device known to me. Ditto CDRs and DVDVs. Plus, it's fast! A 16 second blast on each side of the disc, does the job!

Other brands of demag devices made here or in Japan are not as effective as the DeMag from Furutech. I know. I tried them all!

I tried treating cables as recommended though I can't say I really heard a difference. It's tough to compare quickly enough to tell. However, LPs and digital media are a horse of a different color!

If you are an audiophile of the very highest caliber and a seeker of absolute musical perfection, the DeMag is not just recommended, it is a required tool.

Retail Price: $2150 http://www.furutech.com/a2008/product2.asp?prodNo=242

7. Aesthetix ABCD-1 Cartridge Demagnetizer

The only moving coil demag made in America, it works great. Battery powered and light weight, it is easy and fun to use. A blast or two on your treasured cartridge cleans the sonic picture restoring the cartridge to like-new sound. Single ended only, I love what it does to my MCs. Just plug the RCA leads from your tonearm cable to the back RCA connectors on the Aesthetix, and push a button. Works much better than the Cardas LP treatment and is much faster. I love you don't have a wall wart to worry about. Thank you Jim White!

From the Aesthtix website: "The ABCD-1 neutralizes the unwanted magnetic charge of the moving coil, restoring full performance in a matter of minutes. Demagnetizing your moving coil cartridge with the Aesthetix ABCD-1 every 1 - 2 weeks will prolong the life of your phono cartridge, increasing your enjoyment and appreciation of the music."

Retail: $200 http://www.aesthetix.net/demagnitizer.php

8. Dark Field Cable Elevators from Shunyata Research

The Dark Field Cable Elevators cost $350 and come in a set of 12. They are very stable and hold all kinds of cables and power cords without any slippage or wobbling. I elevated my entire system of cables with one box of lifters. They replaced my home brew modified plastic cup setup that was effective, but required tape to hold the cables in place. The Dark Field elevators are set and forget.

As Shunyata claims, they sound quieter in my high definition system than just elevating the cables off the carpet. I heard a definite improvement in quietude, a significant improvement in depth, and an increase in overall system definition. They look great, too, and are very easy to work with. I even heard an improvement in my subwoofer's performance by elevating the Rel's power cord with the Dark Field! They were a solid overall sonic improvement over my home brew lifters. A must own! A mini version is also available, but I like the larger lifters best.

http://www.shunyata.com/Content/products-DarkField.html

9. Power Wing XP from Audio Excellence AZ with Oyaide Gold Receptacles

Heaven knows I've tried numerous other power conditioners in my system and in other high-end systems searching for the perfect, least compressing, most musical device at any price. I am not going to name names, but even at 2.5 times the price of the fully tricked out Power Wing XP, you will not accomplish more. Some of the top priced units don't even have surge protection! Plus, all of them I've auditioned subtly lean down the overall sound, strip out to some degree musical nuance, and are often noisy.

If you have new top notch wiring in your home with dedicated lines to your listening room, you may not need any added device. That said, if you use the Power Wing XP, you will most often gain blacker blacks, smoother highs, better musical contrasts and an occasional glimpse of real instruments in real space right in your listening room. It never compresses dynamics and never limits. Plus, it has excellent surge protection on board.

From Audio Excellence AZ:

The internal circuitry, very low impedance, non-current-limiting design, is completely hand-fabricated, taking advantage of traditional transmission line theory and field effect theory. This design reduces and controls the EMF (and interaction) of the buss bars and solid-core copper conductors... they are spaced in a very particular way. Further, the overall circuit design and parts choice was optimized by PSpice computer modeling. For instance, certain components in the filtering circuits were specifically placed to reduce frequency-specific electrical resonance. Each duplex receptacle is electrically isolated and filtered from the other. Therefore, digital and video equipment can benefit from electrical isolation while plugged into the same chassis as analog equipment, avoiding the otherwise necessary expense of a duplicate conditioner. The noise-canceling design covers an extremely wide bandwidth of more than 1 gigahertz, additionally addressing certain air-borne electrical noise issues that further contaminate our audio & video systems.

As a matter of practical use, ultra-high power amplifiers and even subwoofers can be plugged into the Power Wing without current limitation or sonic detriment. And another World Power standard... the entire circuitry (including the Oyaide outlets, Carlingswitch™ magnetic circuit breaker, and Furutech 15-amp IEC inlet) has been deep-cryo treated twice, and certified by Cryogenics International.

The Power Wing XP is sold customer-direct, without dealer markup, for $2850. This includes any combination of Oyaide SWO receptacles. Oyaide Ultimo R-1's are a $45 up charge (each). The Power Wing offers a limited lifetime warranty to the original purchaser.

I love mine and have utilized the Power Wing XP for 7 years without any problems. Since it has a detachable power cord, you will surely enhance its performance when you change to a superior power cord like the superb Kubala-Sosna Elation AC Cable I use. Fantastic fit and finish, too. Audio Excellence AZ offers reasonably priced upgrades as they make improvements.

Contact: http://www.audioexcellenceaz.com/powerwing.htm

10. Acoustic Science Corp. (ASC) SoundPanels

Acoustic Science Corp. (ASC) has been making excellent panels for sound diffusion and absorption for quite a while. The models I like are the SoundPanels and SoundPlanks (framed SoundPanels.) Both work the same and cost $89 each. They eliminate slap echo, the number one problem in rooms preventing great imaging and a linear sound field. I also use the large 22 inch round bass trap, $470, in the front corner of the room opposite my sub-woofer. The bass trap eliminates a bass bulge around 30-50Hz. Nice.

They are beautiful, too. Available in numerous cloth finishes, you just hang them on the wall or lean them vertically on shelves. You will need about 6-9 panels placed vertically as follows: one in front center, one in all four corners, two on each side wall spaced evenly. If the room is larger, add a few more. Use an excellent neutral acoustic jazz CD or the like and place the panels by ear. In my 13 x 25 room with 12 foot ceiling, I use 11. Less and I get a touch of blurring. More and I get some roll-off in the highs.

They operate over a broad frequency range from about 100Hz to 10kHz. The effect of using them is more dramatic than you think, so listen! I know of no other manufacturer producing as easy to use and as predictable a panel. Once you decide where they work best, you will forget they are there even when changing gear and speakers. Much better than active electronic sound shaping systems I assure you. The ASC panels are a must for all top audiophiles who have separate listening rooms and want the very best imaging.

http://www.asc-hifi.com/sound-panel.htm

In Conclusion

I utilize each and every one of these accessories every time I listen to music. Though I review about 30 components/speakers/accessories per year and audition many more, I am yet to consistently hear or audition any accessories at any price that truly exceed the performance of those on my top ten favorite's list. You certainly may spend much more on certain exotic accessories, but you are probably just gilding the lily. This list is your short cut to audio perfection!

 

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