Reviewer: Scott Faller - TNT USA
Published: February, 2004
Here's a bunch of gadgets and gizmos that no self respecting audiophile can do without. We all seem to be obsessed with squeezing the last ounce of detail out of our systems, so here's several ways that might help you in your quest.
Here are about five or six tweak type goodies that you may find interesting. They vary in pricing and availability but they are all relatively affordable. I'm not one to spend big bucks on tweaks so these are all under the $100 price range.
Now, how the heck do you gauge the usefulness of a tweak?
Well, a Tweak-O-Meter of course. Lost your copy? No problem, here's another copy for you. The scale reads from one to ten. A one is completely inaudible and a ten is like the next coming. Pretty simple actually. For those of you old timers to TNT-Audio and specifically our discussion forum, this is based loosely on what we used to call the Darryl Scale. This was a scale invented way back when, to further refine our abilities to flame each other publicly.
So here it is, the TNT Tweak-O-Meter Scale ©.
……and please remember as always, YMMV, so don't send me email bombs if you don't agree with my findings. These are just my opinions based on the way a given tweak sounds in my system(s).
Clean your CD's you say? You bet. Ever look at a CD under a bright light? Notice that oily looking film on it? Well, a bunch of what you see is leftover residue from the production process. I used to think that you could clean that stuff off with the typical alcohol based CD type cleansers like you get at Radio Shack. Well, after talking to H. Duane Goldman a.k.a. The Disc Doctor, he subtly told me that those formulations, though work for a general grundge type cleaning, do absolutely nothing (well little anyway) for removing the films and residues from the manufacturing process. In fact Doc says, prolonged use of those type cleaners can cause additional hazing on the readable surface of your CD's and DVD's.
Well, curiosity killed the cat or so they say, so I bought one of The Doc's CD cleaning packages. This setup comes with a few ounces of a specially formulated concoction to remove those films and also provide a very gentle polish for the CD's surface (assuming you choose the polishing method rather than a periodic cleaning). Also included is an extruded rubber applicator similar to his LP Cleaner applicators with a optical grade polishing pads.
Using the kit, you apply only a few precious drops of fluid for the cleaning process. Then you gently clean and polish the CD's surface. When you are done, just rinse the CD with a bit of distilled water and wipe off the excess with a fresh cotton round. Result, pretty stunning actually. If you thought you were getting all of the information from your CD's you are going to be pleasantly surprised by the result of a proper cleaning. Doing an A/B of Keb Mo's debut CD (I have two copies) revealed even more detail after the cleaning. It was like having an additional layer of veils lifted from the source material. I wasn't able to achieve this with the standard Radio Shack type CD cleaners.
Granted, this was done on an extremely revealing system but even on the typical audiophiles system, you will definitely notice the difference. I played the same discs on my smaller system (Korato pre, AKSA amp, Arcam 8se CD, and Elac 108.1 speakers) and the improvement was most noticeable.
This is good for a 7 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale. On a reasonably resolute system it is clearly audible.
Needless to say, anybody that is into vinyl needs some way to get that buildup gunk (vinyl's, oils, dust, dirt and crap in general) off of their precious stylus. After playing just a few records you can get one heck of a buildup of dirt, grunge, nicotine and worn off vinyl on your stylus. Never thought about that before? Maybe it's time you started, especially if you want to get the most out of your vinyl playback.
Well, you can always use an alcohol based solution a stiff brush….NOT. Why? Alcohol (and other solutions) can eat into the glue that holds that tiny, triangular shaped bit on the end of your cantilever. Someday after cleaning your stylus enough with (essentially) a solvent your needle could pop right off. Has it ever happened to me? No, can't say that it has but with a relatively expensive cartridge, last thing I'm going to do is chance it.
The Doc has formulated another concoction that is supposed to be completely adhesive safe AND cleans your stylus at the same time. Just a drop or two on his accompanying brush, a sweep across your stylus and vola, it's all clean again.
One of the real questions is, "Is it audible?". It is, definitely. A big chuck of it depends on how dirty your stylus is. If it's really dirty, it will be really audible. If it's not very dirty, it won't be very audible….well duhhh.
Next question, "Is it worth it?". In my eyes, absolutely. I look at this like an insurance policy, sure I don't hear huge differences at each cleaning because I keep my stylus clean but I look more at the aspect that the product won't degrade the adhesive on the cantilever. That alone is a peace of mind to me.
This is good for a 6 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale. Again, this is more like an insurance policy for me, than it is anything else.
Anybody that is into tubes knows these transparent little globes can make some awful sounds when they start to vibrate. I've got a variety of different tube dampers laying around here but my favorite is the Halo's.
Not only do they tame the vast majority of the vibrations in the glass but they also allow the tube to dissipate heat properly. As you look close at them, rather than being a snug fit around the circumference of the tube, these have only three (or four) contact points with the glass. This allows better airflow and heat dissipation. Result, a cooler running tube.
The sound quality improvements are pretty obvious when you install them. The image becomes noticeably sharper, bass tightens up and you get much more detail from your tubed gear.
These little gems are worth every penny of their already inexpensive costs.
This is good for a 8 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale.
Now for something completely different. Wayne from Bolder Cable tossed this one at me and said "Here, try this out." back at MAF. The Grunge Buster CD Mat is this thin mat that gets placed on the label side of your CD, then inserted into your deck to be played as usual.
The results of this are really interesting. There is absolutely no doubt in anybodies mind that something has changed in the sound. When you listen, the soundstage takes a solid step if not two backwards. The Ssss's and Chhh's are definitely smoothed a bit. Some of the edge is taken off of recordings.
Is this something that you would want to use on quality recordings? It's doubtful BUT, is it something that you would use on marginal recordings? Absolutely. Mine hangs right next to my Tjoeb so I can slip it on anytime.
Is it worth the money? Absolutely, just take a look at the cost. Heck, it's less than the cost of a new CD. Best part is, it works. Whether you like the results will really depend on the recording and your personal tastes. How does it work? I don't have a clue. I'll leave that one for the discussion boards.
This is good for a 8 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale. You might not think it should be rated this high but it definately makes a difference.
Here is the most expensive of our tweaks in this article. When you think about it, $99 isn't all that much when you consider how much we have invested in our systems. Look at it this way, the cost of these are the same as about five or six new CD's or two to three audiophile pieces of vinyl.
Isolation (or decoupling), direct coupling, both of these methods are heavily debated as to which is the best. Personally, I have my own opinions and they vary depending on the type of gear you are treating. I'll save that conversation for a future article and just look at the performance of the Daruma's.
The Daruma's are essentially a steel ball bearing sandwiched between two larger aluminum discs. Nothing too exotic, just simple and effective engineering.
Back at MAF, Brian of Venus Hi-Fi and a group of us tried them under all kinds of stuff to varying results (good and, well not so good). The things we had really good luck with were primarily pre-amps, amps, CD players, DAC's and items like that. We actually had pretty interesting results placing them under small speakers. Now be careful. I really wouldn't recommend this because anything these get placed under gets really, really wobbly. The Daruma's don't have any horizontal or vertical restraints so anything top heavy could come toppling over.
I personally tried them under all my gear (except my speakers). I noticed a distinct improvement in the sound. Literally everything got tighter and cleaner, the image, the soundstage, bass……everything. Certain pieces of gear benefited more than others. I'm not sure I can explain the physics of how these work adequately, so I'm not even going to try. I'll leave that one for the manufacturer. Here's their link.
Bottom line, the Daruma's have found a permanent home in my system. Right now they are under my pre. I plan on getting a couple more pairs for my pre-amp power suppy and my 2a3 amp, they work that good.
This is good for a solid 8 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale. They really do work well (at least in my system).
Here we have another isolation (coupling) product except this one is slightly less flashy and less expensive. The Sound Care Spikes are a different design from the Daruma's. The Soundcare Spikes are a steel spike that rests on a machined piece of zinc/mild steel. This entire assembly is then housed in a hard plastic casing to prevent the scratching and gouging of your ultra-expensive equipment racks.
These are slightly shorter in height than the Daruma's which may or may not be an advantage for your gear and racks. On some of my gear I had to remove the manufacturers feet to use them. No big deal overall, just a slight bit more work.
The results were similar to the Daruma's, though not quite as good for some reason. Here we are talking about minute differences but they are clearly audible on a revealing system.
Bottom line is, they work. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider these also.
This is good for a 6 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale. They don't do quite as good a job at isolation but they aren't bad either. For a complete TNT review of these spikes, click here
Here we have one of my favorite tweaks. I don't think a single piece of gear has come into my house that doesn't receive at least some of this stuff. Rope caulk has long been known for it's damping properties. Heck, I started using this way back in the 1970's on the underside of those cheap turntables to not only add mass but dampen the ringing of the platters and plinth's.
My uses have expanded to using a dab on the tops of capacitors and opamps. I use it on the stamped metal baskets of speakers and the insides of cheap (and heavy) metal housings of almost any gear. I dampen CD mechanisms, I use it to seal my raw speaker drivers to the front baffle of a speaker enclosure, heck I use it for almost everything. It's literally indispensable for me. Nearly everything I use it on sounds better after it's applied. The effectiveness varies from piece to piece but basically the sound tightens up quite a bit. Bass is better defined, the image and soundstage get sharper. Pretty much everything you would expect from a tweak type gizmo.
A word of caution though. Don't get this stuff too close to super-hot equipment like tube gear. It tends to get squishy. I'd be afraid it might melt and get all over everything. It might not, but I've not had the nerve to test it. Next, keep it away from any live circuits. Although I doubt it's conductive, I'd sure hate to see you roast a piece of gear because of careless placement.
And a final word. The inside of our gear contains lethal voltages (amongst other nasties). If you are a novice to electricity, don't attempt any of these type (or any other) mods. We'd like you make it back to read next weeks articles.
Other than that, try it everywhere. It's cheap and it works really well.
This is good for about a 7 on the Tweak-O-Meter Scale. I use the heck out of this stuff.
© Copyright 2004 Scott Faller - www.tnt-audio.com