Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sonic Tonic: A Journey Of 10+ years Becomes A Product

Born of Experience, Friendships & Love Of Music

Being in business for nearly 15 years, you get to meet, and share experience/knowledge with some really great people. Some well known, some relatively unknown. This post is about the birth of a product, I call it Sonic Tonic,  as a culmination of over 10 years working with Mr. Jack Bybee, and a fellow group of like minded music lovers whom I will call my "Tweak Gurus".

 A Bit of Mad Science Too

I owe a great deal to these people. Together through our love of music and what we think it should sound like when reproduced, we  continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with audio through very unconventional means. We are mad scientists, given completely over to the dark side. The experiences we share are available to you, if you decide to trust our experiences, our anecdotal evidence, and our ears.

It's a lot to ask. I know. Hell I'm about as scientific minded as they get when it comes to anything else except audio. That's because my ears and the ears of my colleagues/friends have heard things. Things we can't measure (with conventional tools/methods), things we can't really put into adequate words, but can only hint at with rambling cliches. It's wholly inadequate, but I've found a way to get beyond words, hype, bullshit and the like. I let you put my experiences to the test, try them in your own system on your own time, and see if they are for your ears. It's simple, costs little to do, and cuts through the crap.

Everything Makes A Difference

I have been experimenting with crystals, metals, and other materials in respect to the effect they have on signal transmission and room acoustics. Let me just say that everything, EVERYTHING in your listening room has some effect on the sound of your audio system, and in more ways than you think. Even the air in the room, it all affects performance, and can be altered.

You've seen my experimentation with Copper rods (still ongoing, with more blogging to come...) alongside conventional acoustic treatments within a listening space. This is a fantastic, and inexpensive tweak. The copper brings openness, naturalness and enhances dynamics. Even a well acoustically treated room. That was my first unconventional means of attacking a common problem. inexpensive to try, and I make no money from it. It is simply me sharing something that brings more excitement to the listening experience.
A 1/2" copper rod suspended from my ceiling.

Playing The Field

Then there are the crystal based products. Not necessarily cheap, but that is about to change...

For the crystal based products there are of course Jack B's latest inventions: Room Neutralizers, Quantum Signal Enhancers. Let's not forget the Stein Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research HFT, UEF, Audio Magic P.E.A. and PulseGen technology. All of these use crystals, resonance and either are energized by or produce a "field" that enhances certain aspects of music reproduction. All do something to the sound, or to the listener perhaps, that enhances or at the very least changes the sonics of a system and/or room.

These have all been an inspiration of sorts, and I have listened to them all. I have much respect for these manufacturers. It takes hundreds, even thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to develop a product such as this. That's before one dime is made. Think about that the next time you read or hear someone bashing a manufacturer for egregious pricing in light of parts count and cost. It's the original idea, the research, the time, and money invested beforehand with no guarantee of return.  This needs to be calculated into the MSRP in addition to the material cost of production. Then one has to project how many will be sold (good luck with that in the audio industry) and hopefully come up with a number that will produce a reasonable profit. But I digress....

Rolling My Own

My own experimentation began by placing large crystals of quartz, amethyst, tourmaline and other stones on top of cables, components etc. Most had next to no effect, some made me think there was a good improvement, only to determine later that it made the sound to bright and edgy. Not to mention looking like a crazy person to my family and friends.

I also learned that the process of evaluating the effect of crystals is a difficult process. This is why I also think that Crystal based products get a bad rap sometimes. Their effect takes time to develop, sometimes a few days to stabilize. Removing them from the room does not immediately remove their effect either. It appears the room itself needs time to "discharge" once the crystals are removed. Usually an hour or two.  Up until I learned this I made too many snap judgements. Removing crystals and listening immediately afterward had me thinking that some made no difference. However, returning to the "un-crystallized" room hours later I would notice their absence. This was the cause of many re-evaluations.

After many months and nearly ten thousand dollars (this stuff really adds up over time) I did hit upon something, and I call it Sonic Tonic.  The great thing about it is it doesn't take a lot of material to be effective, therefore 1) it's relatively inexpensive, and 2) it can be made in a small enough form factor to be discreet and versitile.  My initial experiments were in the same blue vial/bottles that are used now. A little Blu Tak on the bottom of the bottle and they adhered to all of the connectors on my power cords. After 100 or so other tests, I was prone to be underwhelmed. This time was different.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Sonic Tonic.

There was an immediate change. A lowering of the noise floor and an increase in the purity of the music at all frequencies. Sometimes it might start off a little bright, but after 24-48 hours, things would settle down. With more time came more benefits as well. Dynamics, micro and macro seemed to improve and have more jump factor. Really complex harmonic musical passages were more intellegible. For instance, a complex acoustic bass that before sounded like one note being played actually turned out to be 2 notes being played simultaneously. The same goes for the highs. There was more clarity in complex passages or instruments playing chords. Be it guitar or piano or voices.

And the warmth, texture and richness that were now apparent in guitar, piano and vocals was outstanding, mezmerizing, and just super fun to listen to. I did not expect this from a little blue bottle.

It's hard to express magnitudes in audio these days. The entire industry is a crowded street bazaar with everyone trying to use ever more colorful hyperbole in order to rise above the noise of the crowd. Sad, but it's where we are.

In light of that, I offer you this. I have been the Tweek Geek for nearly 15 years, and working with audio and tweaks for twice that long. This tweak ranks right up there with the offerings from Bybee, Stein, Synergistic and Audio Magic. I know first hand that it synergizes with every one of those manufacturers' products, and adds something to the performance that none of them do. I am also confident that Sonic Tonic can improve ANY system at ANY level of expense or tweakery.
A Bottle of Sonic Tonic on an XLR connector. 
I not only say that, I stand behind it. I want you to try Sonic Tonic. Simply purchase a set or two on line and if you don't like it within 30 days, I will refund you in full and pay your return shipping. There is absolutely no risk to you.
I especially liked the Tonic on Power cord connectors. Perhaps because of the
high em fields usually found in these areas.

Perhaps the best part. The price. $99 for a set of four bottles. That's enough to do 2 power cords, a stereo set of interconnects or set of single wire speaker cables. I could have easily charged twice that and it would still be a great value. I did this because I want to have a reputation for producing products that are a great value. I am also  really convinced you will buy more, and when I come out with my line of cables that are "Sonic Tonic Enhanced" you will find those a great value too.


It's Not Just Me

Finally, one of my beta testers who actually wrote back to me after having the Tonic in his system for about 5 days writes:

The sound is much more revealing due to the lowered noise floor.  When distortion is reduced, the inner details are readily heard.  And, a bonus, the volume sounds louder even though I am using the same volume setting as before!  
Vocals are greatly improved.  The intelligibility of lyrics is much better  -  vocals sound more natural.  
Electric guitar is filled with greater textures and beauty  -  more purity, less glare.  Some climactic passages are downright majestic!
I am hearing detail in the bass (which is prodigious) that I didn't know existed.  What fun!  
The highs have this nice "sparkle" that I find pleasurable (and natural to their instrument  -  cymbals, bells,chimes).
The Sonic Tonic renders complex musical passages easy to follow.  Quite a feat.
Orchestral music is more lifelike and emotionally impactful.  Very satisfying indeed.
I now have an "endless soundstage."  No walls  -  just sound beyond my room's limits.  Who knew?

Conclusion

So there you have it, a product that promises a lot, doesn't cost much to try, AND is guaranteed to produce  results or your money back.  Properly placed in your audio syste, Sonic Tonic is the little blue bottle that will arouse your senses and heighten your listening pleasure, guaranteed.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

NEW TWEAK ALERT: Bybee internal Quantum Signal Enhancers

Jack B. continues his creative streak with his latest product, the iQSE

iQSE's. What are they?

The Bybee Internal Quantum Signal Enhancer (iQSE) is a small 4" w x 2" d x 1/2" h passive device housed in wood. The units that were sent to me were prototypes, and not quite as pretty, they were plastic. They are meant to be installed inside the chassis of an audio component bringing it closer to the energy fields generated by the internal circuitry. There is no soldering, or any type of electrical connection required. It adheres to the inside of the component via double sided tape.  Since it is passive, it works on any range of voltages, and in any component where it can fit.
The prototype iQSE installed on the underside of my DAC lid.

How Do they work?

Like it's sibling the Quantum Signal Enhancer, the iQSE is activated by surrounding electromagnetic energy. Once activated, the electric and magnetic fields effect the polarity (spin) of all electrons and protons in close proximity; affecting their oscillation by making them more aligned with each other.  This reaction creates an effect that makes the transfer or sharing of electrons between atoms more streamlined and efficient.  The results are a stunningly enhanced purity and energy of a video or audio signal.

Listening

My first tests with the iQSE was with my Aqua La Voce S2 DAC. This is Aqua's entry level NOS ladder DAC. It has the classic Aqua Hifi sound with musicality, warmth and richness. Albeit without the resolution of it's more expensive siblings the La Scala and Formula DACs.  It is extremely impressive for a $3000 DAC. It is a fantastic dac with a very easy to listen to, forgiving nature. Anyone streaming mainly Redbook CD, Tidal, or lower resolution forms of music needs to hear the La Voce S2. Anyhow, back to installing the iQSE. I opened the lid, and adhered the iQSE to the inside of the DAC, between the power transformer and circuit boards. I chose this location because my EM (electromagnetism) meter had the highest reading in this location. It was probably one of the easiest tweak installations I have ever performed on the inside of a component. Simply sticking it in place with double sided tape was all I had to do. No soldering or wiring up of anything.
As the lid on the La Voce Closes, the iQSE is nearest the point of highest measured EM.

My expectations were that it would have a similar effect to Jack's new wooden Quantum Signal Enhancers, with slightly more clarity, improved dynamics and resolution. Probably worth the $150 or so dollars spent.

I was so wrong...

The installation of the iQSE was more like a $1000 upgrade. As significant in my book as adding the far more expensive Bybee SE AC purifiers inside. Yet still different in many ways from what the Purifiers do.  There was a huge leap forward in the analog-like musical flow and ease, an increase in 3 dimensionality, and an impressive increase in dynamics. This was huge. Way beyond the asking price. I liken the effect to adding the Stein Harmonizer Blue Suns to a room, only this was completely hidden inside the component. I had to try this on my AcousticImagery Atsah 500 amplifiers, and last, inside my Dark Matter power conditioner.

First the amplifiers. It was a tight fit, but I managed to install the iQSE's inside each amp without blocking ventilation or sitting atop a warm IC.  The improvement was much like the DAC, with a more analog-like ease and flow, greater dynamic attack, longer decays and improved dimensionality. This was an indespensable tweak for all things digital, and class D.

Last was my power conditioner. I placed the iQSE right on top of where the Bybee SE AC Purifiers were sitting. Again things became deeper, wider, expanding beyond the walls and wrapping around my listening chair. Textures, and subtleties that make the music sound less electronic and more life-like were more present.

Intimate recordings in small venues had a "They are here" type of feeling to them while larger, more ambient venues gave one the feeling or "you are there".

Pairing with the Bybee SE Quantum Purifiers for AC

Being so impressed with the addition of the iQSE's to my La Voce DAC, I wanted to see how adding the Bybee SE AC Purifiers might work out. There was plenty of room inside the DAC to accomodate the Bybee Purifiers, and in about 20 minutes they were installed on the hot and neutral of the incoming AC.
Bybee SE AC Purifiers installed on the incoming AC (lower left corner).

I already had a glimpse into how successful this would be from placing the iQSE inside the Dark Matter power conditioner. I was very optimistic about how this would work out inside the Aqua DAC

Adding the SE Purifiers brought additional liquidity top to bottom, along with the characteristic layering definition of the mids and highs. The highs were clearer yet, and smoother. Ambient information and decays were easier to hear, more natural and hung in the air beautifully.  For about $1000 parts and labor, I elevated the performance of the La Voce to the realm of the La Scala. Not quite the same sonic characteristics, but very close in listening satisfaction. I could live with this modded DAC for a long time.

Conclusion

I could see the iQSE becoming an essential tweak for any audio component. With every component I installed them in, the iQSE made the background quieter, enhanced clarity, dynamics and 3 dimensionality. With digital and class D components, any hint of digital grain, edge, artificiality was gone. In it's place was a sense of wholeness, flow, and analog like naturalness. At $150 each, they are simply a no-brainer. They are unseen, but not unheard little audio gems. The iQSE is, without any doubt, Jack Bybees greatest creation yet.

One could stop at the iQSE and be extremely happy. For those who want to take things further down the Bybee rabbit hole, I highly recommend the SE AC purifiers installed on the incoming AC. We are happy to install the Purifiers and iQSE's in an optimized location inside your audio component. Contact us for details and pricing.

This one is easy. Five tinfoil hats. Keep 'em coming Jack!





Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sbooster for Auralic Aries: Yes.

Image credit to Positive FeedBack Online 

Replacing the external linear power supply on my AURALiC Aries was not exactly high on my list of priorities. The AURALiC LPS was no slouch in my mind, and I have been very happy with the sound of the Aries since it's inception. But could I do better?

Mark Gurvey of Source Systems had been encouraging me for quite some time to try the SBooster power suppy on my Aries, and  I finally caved in after hearing what it could do for a Lumin D1 Streamer/DAC.

Inside the AURLiC LPS. Nice. (Image Credit to PFO)
Mark sent me the SBooster BOTW P&P Eco 15v with the Ultra option. MSRP $550. The SBooster is physically larger than the AURALiC, and contains quite a bit more circuitry. A two stage mains filter, and a ground choke for noise reduction of the incoming AC before it reaches the large toroidal transformer.
SBooster even states that the power supplies are also very efficient. Consuming only a little more than a switch mode supply of the same voltage rating. Nice, but how does it sound?  We're getting there.
Inside the SBooster.

The Ultra option is a $100 add-on active filter that attaches to the end of the SBooster's DC cable. It further reduces noise and ripple to "negligable levels". You need to order the proper voltage Ultra for your SBooster, as they do have voltage rated versions.
I had the 15 volt version for the Aries. It attached firmly to the DC out cable on the SBooster, all that was left now was to select the proper sized termination to fit the Aries from several that were included in the packaging. 

Listening

Wow. What a difference! The Sbooster was fuller, richer, quieter, had better bass and just sounded more correct. I had always complained that Tidal streaming, even though it was lossless, still did not sound as good as the same 16/44 FLAC file streaming from my server. It was thinner, more bleached out sounding. With the SBooster powering my Aries I did not hear that "bleached out" quality as much. This made listening to Tidal immensely more enjoyable.

For the local files, including high resolution all the way up to DSD sounded significantly clearer, smoother richer and just way more involving.  Why did I wait so long to try this?

The SBooster really allows the Aries to reach a higher level of performance. EVERYTHING is better and more involving. That is saying something, because the Aries on it's own was a superb streamer. I agree completely with Dave Clark's thorough assessment of the Aries, and the LPS
"...No, the stock Aries with its power supply rocks, but for sure it can be elevated to compete with the way bigger, badder boys by spending more money on a better NAS and so on—tweak it. And certainly by adding the SBooster… yeah baby, now we are clearly hanging with the really, really cool people at school."
Bottom line: If you own an Aries, buy the Sbooster. 'nuff said..




Monday, December 19, 2016

The Copper Saga Continues: Getting More With Less.


It's sub zero in Denver today, and I am no way going outside for anything. Even the dogs don't linger outside. They go out, do their business, and run right back in. This is the perfect day to experiment and publish more findings on my copper room treatments.

I've actually not stopped experimenting, and learning about copper and it's effects on the room. Much like the Frank Tchang's and Synergistic Researches acoustic resonators, copper seems to have an effect on the way one's speakers work in the room. The simplest way I can put it is this: Even with conventional acoustic treatments placed very carefully, the audio system seems to fight with the room. One can literally sense this as congestion, veiling and pressure. You can "hear" the room that the system is in.  One can make the speakers disappear with judicious placement, but making the room disappear is another matter altogether.

With somewhat careful placement of differing sizes, gauges and configurations of copper, the room seems to depressurize and let go of the music at all frequencies. You can hear it and feel when you listen to recordings with a good sense of space (artificial or real). One is more convincingly transported to the venue, right in the middle of the stage at times. Clarity is improved without increasing brightness, decays go on forever, dynamics improve, extremely low level detail emerges, and all is done with a naturalness that appears to the listener as a more "real" sound.

What Have I learned?

So what has changed since my last posting? Quite a bit has changed, and I have learned quite a bit as well.  Let me cover what I have learned first.

There is no one size fits all 
As much as I tried to simplify implementation, there is just no one size wire/rod, one length or concrete placement that works for everything. Here are the variations I have worked with:

- Copper rod: Size (awg) matters. Don't even mess with wire thinner than 6 awg. Wire thinner than that tends to over emphasize high frequencies, and gets ugly pretty quickly. The thicker the wire/rod, the lower the frequencies it works on. I have used up to 1/2" thick copper rod with wonderful results, and have larger diameter on the way. I have heard positive effects as low as 250hz with the larger rods. 2 18" segments do wonders for midbass/lower midrange issues in a room.
1/2" copper rod in a cedar block. Placed to the side and
behind the plane of the speakers. These are VERY
powerful!
The 1/2" diameter 18" tall copper rods are extremely powerful. I have kept them near the floor, near the level of the midbass drivers. They seem to be able to manipulate the soundstage, pulling it towards their location. They also add body / texture to vocals, and tighten up midbass.  I have 2 more rods coming, they are slightly larger at  .625" in diameter. I plan on placing the next two behind and outside my listening position. About where I have 2 of the 4 Harmonizers. It should be interesting...

- Copper Sheet: I hung 2 - 1/16" thick x 4" wide x 24" long pieces on the wall behind my speakers, and about 2 feet apart. It helped focus the center image, and created an expansive soundstage across the entire back wall. I have a feeling they might work well on side walls  too. I will be experimenting with that in the future.

- Copper cups: The Sertodo Copper cups, specifically the shot glass, and the 12 oz cup, work well. The shot glasses are the ambiance makers. Good at ear/tweeter level and in corners, or first reflection points. The larger cup I tend to put centered on the wall behind my speakers, but can go out in the room as well.

- Letting it ring vs. damping: I use a combination, but can tell you that when you let the copper ring, as in hang or stand a copper rod up so that most of it is not touching anything, you increase the chances of accentuating certain frequencies and getting narrower coverage of a room. Meaning you can only have so much copper freestanding and free-resonating before it gets out of balance sonically. That may mean you have more spotlit areas of your room, rather than a diffuse coverage. A little goes a long way.

Where We Are At Right Now

I titled this section "Where We Are At Right Now" because this is an ongoing journey. It was a good stopping point today because I am getting better sound than I was with the freestanding copper rods. I only use the large 1/2" copper rods now. I found that using smaller sections of copper rod, and attaching them to the walls and ceiling made significant improvements over copper rods placed about the room, plus it didn't take up floor space. 

Random Placement & The Rear Wall
It started when I removed all the copper in the room, and began randomly placing 6" sections of copper over each wall in the listening room.  After listening for awhile and determining it was worth pursuing, I started removing pieces of copper to determine which ones were more effectively placed.  I found that the upper left & right quadrants of the walls behind the speakers benefitted most from this. I also found after further experimentation that I could use even shorter segments of copper.
The right corner behind the speakers. Note the
sunburst patter of copper on the wall directly
behind the speakers. Note also the copper rod
sitting atop a Stein Harmonizer.

This made the soundstage clearer, and with more width and depth behind the speakers. The center image focus was still in tact, as were instruments placed to the left and right of the soundstage. Detail improved greatly as well. Height is a factor in placing these small bits of copper. Placed at tweeter height or above seems to enhance the soundstage, placing them at woofer height seemed to warm up the sound, but narrow the soundstage. The takeaway: Height and amount of copper are important. If the sound starts getting bright or hollow sounding, back off the amount of copper placed at tweeter/ear level and higher. To warm things up, a few pieces of copper placed along the side walls at woofer height can add warmth and more midrange richness too.

The Ceiling
I then took to the ceiling. In my listening room there is a drop in the ceiling of about 1 foot where the system sits. It drops from 8 to 7 feet right over my listening area, and I can hear it affecting the sound, particularly the image height. 
Note the pieces of copper placed on the low section of my  ceiling. This is the
area where the system and speakers reside. The 1" pieces of .1875" copper rod
cover this entire area of the ceiling.

To attack this issue I staggered 1" pieces of .1875" OFC copper rod and secured them to the ceiling with Loctite Fun-Tak (the hardware store version of Blu-Tak). I covered the entire ceiling in my experiment, and that is the way it remains for now. It definitely helped to restore image height, but also added more depth and detail to the sound. While the sound was now filling the space, with the speakers and the room "disappearing", the image stopped about where my listening position was. It makes sense because my listening chair sits about 4 feet outside of the "low ceiling" zone, and there was no copper placed to the sides or behind me yet.

The Ceiling, Part 2
Taking lessons from what I learned on the low ceiling, and the wall behind the speakers, I decided to try using the "sunburst" pattern of copper pieces that I used so successfully on the wall behind the speakers on areas of the higher ceiling. I placed three sunbursts on the ceiling behind my listening position. One to the left, one centered behind me, and one off to the right.
Not The "sunburst" of copper pieces on the ceiling. 
Why the Ceiling and not the wall behind my speakers? My room is rather long, and the rear wall is too far back (rougly 20 feet) for the copper to have as dramatic an effect. I opted to place three sunbursts about 6 feet behind my listening position. 

After placing the sunbursts on the ceiling, Image height was further enhanced, as was the "wrap around" effect of ambience.  I was immersed in sound, and it was good.

Where Will This Go?

My next experiments will go to heavier copper rod, more copper sheet, and perhaps even to copper plate. From what I have learned recently, I think more mass and a shape with more surface area may have a greater effect. I think a lot of magic is yet to be discovered. Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reference Tweak Alert: Bybee Active Room Neutralizers

A single Bybee Active Room Neutralizer (ARN)

Does Jack B. Sleep?

It would seem that he doesn't. Perhaps, like our president-elect, he survives on very little sleep. All I know is with the prodigious amount of tweaks that he produces, he can't have much time for sleep. For every one tweak that actually makes it to market, dozens are tested and tossed. Jack has been developing cutting edge, often controversial (to those who never hear his products, but authoritatively pontificate on forums) tweaks longer than I have been the Tweek Geek.  I met him in 2000 and was "converted" when I tried a set of his Purifiers on my Legacy Audio speakers. I remember the moment. It was jaw-droppingly good sound like I had never experienced before. I had good equipment, B&K, Legacy audio, Kimber Kable, but the Bybee Purifiers were the icing on the cake. I was so excited about them I had to tell everyone, so on to the forums I went. Wow, that was another experience I won't forget, but don't care to discuss because it's irrelevant, and Jason Victor Serinus' most recent Stereophile article covers the topic in a positive, very well worded way.

The Active Room Neutralizer

The Active Room Neutralizer (ARN) is a white rectangular shape about 2" wide, by 6" long and 1/2" thick. A thin, 10 foot long white AC cord  eminates from the bottom and is terminated with pretty standard 2 prong AC plug. Inside the plastic cover is a proprietary blend of materials that when activated by AC, resonate with the air molecules in the room, enabling the transmission of sound without the usual time misalignment of frequencies. They work well with other room treatments such as the Steinmusic Harmonizers, Shakti Hallographs and Stillpoints Apertures.

The instructions say to attach them to a wall with blu-tak or similar adhesive. They need to be around 5 feet off of the ground. Where you place them in your listening room depends on how many you have. Experimentation is always key. 

Break in is also key. Although you will hear something almost immediately, they will continue to improve over several days. Give them at least 48 hours of being installed and plugged in before evaluating, and another 48 before rendering judgement.
ARN Installed on a wall using blu-tak.

Listening

I knew it would take awhile for the ARN's to acclimate/break in to the new listening space, so I unboxed them the afternoon they arrived, plugged one into the wall behind the speakers, and the other into a position behind my listening seat. Being the holidays, there were plenty of activities to occupy me for the next 48 hours, so it was easy not to "peek" at the results.

Two days later, we came home late from one of our holiday activities, and I went downstairs to unwind a bit while listening to some music. Unwind I did. So much so I fell asleep! Usually a good sign that the system was not suffering any ill effects from the newly installed tweaks. Alas, the critical listening would have to wait until tomorrow morning. 

With the next morning, I headed to the listening room, with coffee, pad, and pen. Below are a few tracks I listened to while evaluating the ARN's.

Patrick O'Hearn, I Could Live Here - Slow Time: This opens up with some bongo drums lightly played in an acoustically ambiant space, with a backing synth track. It's good for checking soundstage. A piano starts playing single keys, adding to the sense of ambiance. About 2 minutes into the track the bass line comes in low, giving a great feeling for bass depth of the system. The tune swirls around the room, behind the listener and enveloping one in the space of the recording. With the Active Room Neutralizers in the system, I forgot about the room I was listening in, and felt transported to the actual venue. I had also picked up on some small details within the track. Synth lines that floated around the room, very low level but more noticeable with the ARN in place. This was a familiar effect that occured over most recordings.

Jennifer Warnes, Ballad of the Runaway Horse, (Unknown version): This opens up with an acoustic bass and jennifer's vocals in an ambient space. I listen to the acoustic bass for the artist's fingers plucking the strings, for the tone of the instrument, and for the sense of space it resides in. I look for the naturalness of tone and texture in the bass and Jennifer's voice. I look for the layering in the vocal harmonies by the accompanying singers. There is also some interesting playing by a cello in the background at a very low level. Only a very resolving system can get every nuance of the cello. With the ARN's in place I felt like I was in the recording space, not my room. There was a sense of naturalness that lent to a very realistic portrayal of the bass, cello and voices. The low level information was more evident than without the ARN's in place, the tone and textures were simply amazing. The best I have heard my system sound.

Trentmoeller, Evil Dub, The Last Resort: Recorded in Q Sound, it offers up a huge, wrap-around 3-Dimensional sound on a well set up system. The bass is deep, pulsing and nuanced. Believe it or not, the little bleeps and blips on the song can either sound flat, or have a bit of decay on them, depending on the resolution of your system. With the ARN's in place the decay was clear, as were many other fine details in the mix.

Stop Swimming, Porcupine Tree, Porcupine Tree: A Haunting, sad song that is fairly well recorded. The song opens with drums that are dynamic with a sense of space around them. It continues with piano, solo vocals synth and a bit of orchestral backup. It draws you in, and relaxes you at the same time.
ARN peeking out from behind a Stillpoints Aperture

Tradeoffs?

I have heard tweaks that produce a holographic effect at the expense of losing image focus, this is not one of those tweaks. It creates a huge sense of width, depth and holography without the loss of image focus. I can literally find no tradeoffs with the Active Room Neutralizers. At least for my sonic tastes and in my system. Everything is clearer, more natural, more spacious with microdynamics, textures and low level resolution.

Conclusion

This relatively simple looking device has rocked my world, and being the "Tweek Geek" that is saying quite a lot. I am surrounded by tweaks and have been for nearly 14 years now. For at least 7 of those 14 years, the Stein Harmonizer system has been my absolute reference, desert island (provided there is AC) tweak. Whenever a new customer would ask "what is the best tweak you offer" I always replied "Hands down, the Stein Harmonizer system". Now I have to qualify statement in light of the stellar performance of the Active Room Neutralizers. If you don't have a minimum of $2k to plunk down on a Stein Harmonizer system, the Active Room Neutralizers are absolutely the best tweak I have to offer and have heaard in quite some time.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wireworld Hits A Home Run With Cat 8 Ethernet


I've never really heard a sonic difference in Ethernet cable. That being said, my experiments with ethernet cables has been using only what came packaged with products, having some made up off of a spool of Cat5 or 6, and buying some inexpensive ethernet cables from the local megamart. I've wrapped them in Stillpoints ERS, used Shakti On-Lines, still no audible differences.

I recently received a shipment of Wireworld's new Starlight Cat 8 ethernet cable and decided to give it a try in a few key places within my network.

CAT7 vs. CAT 8

Starlight Ethernet is the first production cable that meets the proposed requirements for Category 8 networks. The proposed standard for Category 8 networks will extend speeds to the staggering rate of 40 Gigabits per second.

The current standard is CAT7. Category 7 cabling was created to satisfy the demands of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Even though most media networks now run below that speed, cables that support higher speeds have been found to improve the quality of audio and video streaming.

One of the reasons why CAT7 cables do not meet the proposed CAT8 specifications is that they allow too much crosstalk (mixing) between the four signal channels. To control crosstalk, conventional CAT7 cables use four twisted pairs of conductors with one foil shield on each pair. An overall two-layer shield reduces outside  interference. The problem with twisting is that it makes lengths of the conductors uneven, which causes timing errors called skew.

To support the higher data rate transfer speeds of CAT8 the Starlight 8 ethernet cable incorporates Wireworld’s patent-pending Tite-Shield™ Technology. Wireworld's Tite-Shield technology isolates the four channels with a three-layer shield on each conductor pair. Those shields are so effective that twisting is no longer needed and conductor length differences are eliminated.

Starlight’s unique flat design provides greater physical separation between the four conductor pairs to provide lower crosstalk, supporting higher transmission speeds than conventional designs. The cable also utilizes Wireworld’s proprietary Composilex® 2 insulation to minimize triboelectric noise. The refined transmission properties afforded by these technologies ensure uncompromised performance in the next generation of streaming applications.

Why Do Ethernet Cables Matter In Streaming Audio?

A fantastic question, and one that I have been asking for awhile. Many argue that ethernet cables cannot possibly make a difference, and they are half correct. If using what is called TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) for sending data over a network, then it is very difficult for an ethernet cable to make a difference because the packets of information sent via TCP are guaranteed to be received in order. TCP is all about this reliability — packets sent with TCP are tracked so no data is lost or corrupted in transit. Unfortunately, audio streaming to your DAC or streamer is not sent this way. It is sent via UDP.

UDP stands for User Datagram Protocol. This is how streaming audio and video are sent. — a datagram is the same thing as a packet of information. The UDP protocol works similarly to TCP, but it throws all of the error-checking out in favor of speed. All the back-and-forth communication and deliverability guarantees of TCP slow things down.

When using UDP, packets are just sent to the recipient. The sender won’t wait to make sure the recipient received the packet — it will just continue sending the next series of packets. If you’re the recipient (streamer) and you miss some UDP packets, too bad — you can’t ask for those packets again.

If you experience just a minor packet-loss, the video or audio may be distorted for a moment as the video continues to play without the missing data. We've all seen what poor UDP does to a video signal. That's what it can do to your audio signal as well.

Now that we have all of that out of the way, let's get to the review.

My Network

Currently, the modem that connects to the internet resides upstairs in the opposite corner of the house from my listening room. There is a long run of Cat 7 ethernet connecting the modem directly to a switch in my basement workshop. From that switch, I run an ethernet cable to a wall jack which is then connected to another wall jack in my listening room. It's a 15-20 foot run. From the wall jack in my listening room another ethernet cable connects directly to my AURALiC Aries streamer. A more visual representation looks like this:

Cable modem ----> Switch in the basement ----> Wall jack in shop ---> Wall plate in listening room ----> Streamer

I was able to put the Wireworld cable in two locations, so it looked like this:

Cable modem ----> Switch in the basement >>CAT 8>> Wall jack in shop ---> Wall plate in listening room >>CAT 8>> Streamer

Before we get to the listening and results, let's take a look at why ethernet cables matter when streaming audio.

Listening

With the Wireworld Cat 8 cables in place, I began to listen to some familiar tracks.

Track 1 - Ballad of the Runaway Horse, Jennifer Warnes
The vocal textures were more lifelike, and the plucking of the string bass had more....Pluck. I would call it microdynamics.

Track 2 - Roadhouses & Automobiles, Chris Jones
Chris has a big voice, and the vocal textures with the Wireworld in place were deeper, which lent itself to a better sense of realism. The subtle sounds of crickets in the background were a little more noticeable, and the decay/reverb on the background singers seemed to hang in the air a little longer.

Track 3 - Trentmoller - Evil Dub
I use this track to listen for low bass reach, as well as the 3 dimensionality and high frequency smoothness/deliniation. The album is actually recorded in Q-Sound, and has some very interesting 3D effects if your speakers are set up properly. The sounds can quite literally be projected from behind you. The bass was strong and the tings, pops and other effects were very 3d with good attack. About 1:15 into the song the symbols come in quickly. I listen for speed, emphasis, and attack. Most of the time the attack can sound spitty when done wrong. The highs here remained smooth, fast and with good microdynamics.

Track 4 - Muddy Waters - My Home Is In The Delta
A great demo track. Despite the simplicity of the recording, there is a lot going on here, and a lot to listen for. The Subtle movements on the guitar for one, the incredible dynamics of Muddy's voice captured on the recording, and the ambience/reverb. Listening at moderate levels can be immersive, and it was with the Wireworld Cat8 in place. Again reverb and decay seemed to hang in the air longer and ambient cues were abundant.

Overall, two things were immediately apparent. The possible lowering of the noise floor and lower distortion in the high frequencies. What I mean by that is that I heard more low level information. Air, space and texture seemed to improve and be more realistic. The highs were more defined, delineated but withought being exaggerated or brought to the forefront of the musical presentation. It sounded cleaner, and clearer.

Upon further listening, my previous impressions were confirmed. Regarding texture for instance, an acoustic guitar had a more wooden tone to it. When fingers strummed strings, and glided acrossed frets is was more like the live sound of hearing fingers strumming strings and moving up and down the neck of the guitar. The same went for double bass. Vocals also had more emotion due to hearing more of the microinflection. The enunciation of lyrics was clearer as well.

Conclusion

The Wireworld Starlight Cat 8 ethernet cable is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to help lower noise and distortion your streaming audio. Whether it be from your own music library or from the internet, you simply get more information with the Starlight ethernet cable in place. Even if you cannot do an end to end run of Starlight ethernet, every little bit seemed to help. In my system I was able to replace 2 runs of standard issue Cat5 and it made a significant difference.

I give it 3.5 tinfoil hats!


Friday, November 4, 2016

Learning More About The Equi=Core


I and some audiophile colleagues have been experimenting a bit more with the Equi=Core balanced power transformers in a power cord and have a few new insights. The Equi=Core is one of the best values in a power product we have come across in quite some time. I personally use an Equi=Core 300 on my AURALiC Vega with amazing results.

1. Plug it straight into the wall - I've tried it plugged in to a few power conditioners vs. straight into the wall. The Equi=Core prefers the wall.

2. The most cost Effective tweak may be to just swap out the ends - We have been experimenting with a few different terminations and rhodium plated copper ends that we use to terminate our power cords seem to offer a smoother high frequency response than the stock ends.
These Ends work very well with the Equi=Core. Offering a nice
improvement to the already excellent sound. Email us for more info.

3. You HAVE to put one on your music server/Audio PC/NAS - Aside from the DAC, this is a most significant improvement. It significantly lowers the noise floor, providing for a deeper soundstage and more detail coming through. We use an Equi=Core 300 on a power strip that feeds balanced AC to our server, external hard drive, and router.

We haven't found a better performing power product near this price point. If you are shopping for a power cord, power strip, or conditioner you absolutely need to try an Equi=Core before buying anything else.