Advanced Record Cleaning Rev. II
A recipe for building an articulated, weighted and vibrating brush
(The first section of this blog is a reprise of the original Advanced Record Cleaning On The Cheap. Scroll down to the divider to read the new section.)
My good friend Jeff Whitlock got me thinking about the fabulous Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaner. I mean, who wouldn’t love to own one: press a button and it performs a complete cleaning, applying the fluid, brushing, vacuuming and demagnetizing both sides of an LP in 2.5 minutes, automatically! He also mentioned that you can program it for a double cleaning or for an indefinite period of brushing with fluid, and it’s only $6000 - a bargain, if you have that kind of spare change.
I’m not lazy. I mean I don’t mind getting up and down to change LPs, and I don’t mind the cleaning process, EXCEPT, there’s a definite limit to how long I am willing to stand there holding a brush against the LP, so I would end up with far shorter cleaning periods than is optimal.
When you apply fluids to an LP, whether enzyme based or alcohol based there is a period of time required for the fluid to soak, penetrate, and then lift embedded debris out of the grooves. Gentle brushing helps this process along, moving a small wave of fluid ahead of the brush, replenishing the groove at the end of each revolution. You can leave the fluid sitting there, but it will tend to dry out, whereas brushing continually re-wets the grooves. This process can go on for many revolutions, but as I stated, my patience falls far short of the time I think it takes to really clean a record.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to what kind of cleaning device is best. The two main camps are, of course, the traditional ‘apply fluid, brush and vacuum cleaners’ like the VPI, Nitty Gritty etc. and the ultrasonic cleaners that make use of a fluid bath that requires periodic replenishing and or replacement. While a bath seems impressive, a brush pushing a wave of fluid can be considered a kind of bath, just a very shallow one. With a standard record cleaner you use new fluid each time. You’re not using a tank that gets progressively dirtier as time goes on and there’s no need to empty and refill the tank. To be really effective, I think, brush type cleaning needs 20 or more revolutions.
So I got to thinking about how could I rig up something that will brush the records without me having to stand there for 2 - 5 minutes? What if the record is really dirty and needs two kinds of washes plus a rinse? In my book, the rinse does not need to be as long as the washing and brushing. The brushing should have already loosened the debris and the vacuum cycle should have removed what was released, so the rinse cycle is the least of the worries. But having to do two different brushings at 6 to 10 minutes total is more than this mortal can handle. So here’s what I came up with:
One of these can be put together for under $17 in parts. You will need the following: Helping Hands Magnifier Glass Stand with Alligator Clips - https://tinyurl.com/yagbvl6c, some automobile tire weights: https://tinyurl.com/yb5f6b7k, some rubber bands (these serve two purposes, they keep the weights on the base, as the adhesive on the weights doesn’t bond all that well with the pitted surface of the Helping Hands base, and they grab onto the surface of your record cleaner, preventing the unit from sliding. I’m using the wrap that goes on tennis racquets, but anything that will give a little grip is a good idea). Finally you need some of the Last type of record brushes.
O.K. So these aren’t cheap, $38 for ten at The Last Factory, https://tinyurl.com/yx3h3gpd
but your cost for one is $3.80. The auto tire weights aren’t cheap either, but you’ll only be using pennies worth of them. The ones that are left over can be used for all sorts of audio improvements. See my tweak of the Acoustic Revive RR-888 Ultra Low Frequency Generator: https://www.lotusgroupusa.com/blog/tweaking-beyond.
I removed the magnifying glass and one of the alligator clips. I added the auto tire weights to the base to make it more stable, and to the brush as well. On its own, the brush will not seat well and needs the weights to make positive contact with the surface of the LP. You might want to experiment with how much weight you add to the brush. Orient the brush so that is about 10 degrees off of plumb, perpendicular to the grooves and place the base on your cleaning machine. (If your machine does not have room for the base, there are clamp-on versions of the helping hands, or you might otherwise need to improvise.) You should be able to press gently on the articulated arm to flatten the bush against the LP (after you’ve added your fluid). Voila! You now have a cleaning machine that will push fluids around the grooves for as long as you choose without having to stand there holding a brush, feeling stupid and building up tension in your back. You can go and check your email or make coffee, and come back, remove the unit and vacuum up the well-saturated debris. Just don’t forget you left the LP spinning there. It will dry out after not too long a while. Keep a paper towel handy in case some fluid gets squeegeed off the edge and drips on your machine.
Since I clean really dirty LPs with two different fluids followed by a rinse, I purchased a second unit so that I don’t have to clip and unclip the brushes, just lift one out and put the other one in. This setup will clean nearly as well as the Matrix for just the cost of your existing manual machine plus the materials to make your articulated, weighted brush holder. It’s not automatic. You still have to run the vacuum and flip the LP, but the increase in cleaning time accompanied by the fact you don’t have to stand there any more (or at least as much) is well worth the investment.
The LPs I’ve cleaned so far are the cleanest I’ve ever had. I experimented with several of my favorite pressings that had already been cleaned. I listened to one cut and then did a one step brushing plus rinse cycle on each side. A visual inspection comparing a previously cleaned side with a newly cleaned one showed the new cleaning to be much more thorough. It is sparkling and pristine. The old cleaning appears slightly dull and grainy side by side with the new. I don’t think I would have characterized the old cleaning as not fully clean until I had seen the difference. I came back and played the cut again. In every case the presentation was quieter and more transparent than before.
The downside to all of this is that I may have to re-clean all my favorites. Oy!
But wait! There’s more! See below for my instructions on how to supercharge your LP brush project in the second installment, turning it into a true world-class contender for around $60.
In the previous section I described how to build a brush that would stand on its own so that you don’t have to stand there holding it for the number of revolutions required to get the record clean - a process for which I have little patience. My limit is about 6 revolutions before I get antsy and need to leave, but six revolutions does not give the enzymes enough time to do their job. They have to break down what in many cases will be decades long embedded dirt. The advantage of having a brush in place for longer than any reasonable person should be willing to stand there for is undeniable, but is that freestanding brush, on its own, enough to insure the kind of deep cleaning needed to extract all the information hidden in the grooves?
Jeff recently reminded me that you have to agitate the brush to get deep cleaning, but then you are back to standing there holding the damn brush. There had to be a better way. Does manual agitation alone bring you to the promised land? My answer is no it does not. Not after I have heard what I am now hearing. But to backtrack, his reminder was the basis for my latest upgrade to the standing brush system, one that brings your ordinary spinning vacuum cleaner into megabuck performance for around $60 (A little more if you haven’t built your stationary brush yet.)
So what form does this fevered inspiration take and what was the reasoning that got me there? I have been thinking a lot about ultrasonic machines, their pros and cons. One thing is the fact that the cleaning agent is primarily water with perhaps some small amount of enzymes or surfactant added, but on a spinning vacuum type of machine the fluid can be 100% enzymes or other concentrated cleaning liquid. So there has to be an advantage there. How much fluid does the record need to see to clean very deeply. I think the answer is, not all that much really, just enough to decently flood the surface plus enough time to penetrate the dirt and enough agitation to assist. Ultrasonic cleaning is not the only type of sonic cleaning used in industrial processes. There is also just plain sonic cleaning. So what if you could modify your freestanding brush holder to vibrate while spinning? What would that do, and how would you go about making that happen? It turns out that all the technology you need is readily available and costs little. I simply put together pieces that I knew already existed.
You can order a small transducer (Tectonic TEAX19C01-8 19mm Metal Cup Exciter 8 Ohm
Parts Express - https://www.parts-express.com/tectonic-teax19c01-8-19mm-metal-cup-exciter-8-ohm--297-208 - $6.80.). Its purpose is to turn any surface into a “speaker”.
While these devices and the panels that you apply them to will create truly awful sound (It is a novelty to be able to turn your walls into “speakers”), there are other very useful applications such as this one where they can be quite valuable. You will also need a small amplifier such as the Dayton Audio DTA30HP 30W Class D Mini Amplifier (2 x 30W –Parts Express - $38.95, https://www.parts-express.com/dayton-audio-dta30hp-30w-class-d-mini-amplifier-with-headphone-output--300-3812) some wire and a signal generator. I use MultiTone 4+
Signal Generator for Audiobus by Thomas Gruberon the Apple App Store.
You will need to spring for the in app upgrade so that you can use the sawtooth wave. The transducer has an adhesive backing that you stick to the back of the brush. Solder a wire to each tab and attach to the speaker terminals on the amplifier. You can plug your phone into the front of the amp via a 3.5mm terminated cable. When the transducer is properly set up you can spritz the album with the fluid. (I use a liberal amount of Unity Audio Vinyl Wash Pro enzyme formula. This is the best that I have found. It uses an expensive and superior selection of enzymes that, given the chance, will clean extra deeply.) I set the sawtooth wave to 175 hz. I read somewhere that industrial sonic cleaning uses anywhere from 75hz to 175hz.
Be careful not to turn up the volume too high as requiring this tiny speaker with its super tiny xmax to work too hard will cause it to overheat. (For that reason, I do not recommend leaving it unattended until you have figured out the best settings. Similary, I do not recommend using sweeps and ultra high frequencies for the same reason.) I will leave the brush on the record for from 3-5 minutes while I do something else (like write this blog). Then vacuum it up and rinse with Unity Audio Vinyl Rinse Pro. Voila. The proof is in the listening. Don’t forget that new record sleeve. I use compressed air to blow out any dust remaining in the outer sleeve and the original inner sleeve if I am saving it for reference.
(Note that the Clearaudio double Matrix that was the inspiration for this project lists a sonic cleaning option.)
I have noted a significant improvement in removal of surface noise using this method, however, sometimes one such cleaning is not enough. If the surface of the record is blemish-free on close inspection, but there is still a fair amount of surface noise after cleaning, it is either due to ancient debris still remaining in the grooves or something more permanent that no amount of cleaning can cure. Nevertheless, I do find improvements on the second cleaning. The benefits of deep cleaning to be had with this method far outweigh the minimal expense and effort.
Let me know if you try it and what you discover so that I can pass any new info on to others. You can post on my blog page where this article is archived (a slightly different version: https://www.lotusgroupusa.com/blog/advanced-record-cleaning-on-the-cheap) or email me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
Shaken and Stirred
How often are you shaken to the core by what you are hearing? How often is your preconception of what the ultimate might sound like shattered by the actuality?
You might think from some of my previous rantings that that is a common occurrence around here. But actually no. Not on this level. I will have to dig deep to describe what our latest addition is doing. What is humbling in this process is that we are not adding anything, rather we are attempting to remove that which we are not able to perceive until it is gone. We try not to self-censor before we start a new project. We try to allow our imagination to explore the farthest reaches of what is possible, not rejecting ideas that seem impractical. The whole venture is impractical from the start, but you knew that already.
Today I began reading a rant from a respected engineer who was leaving an online group because he could no longer countenance conversation that included "non-scientific” claims of any kind. It was pages long, too long for me to read to the end, and to be entirely fair to him he presented important and cogent scientific information. Look, I get it. To an engineer why should a connector matter when it comes to transmission of electricity. Either it does so safely and properly or it does not. From that perspective he is entirely right. I am not going to argue with him whether cables matter or not, whether all of these upgrades are worthwhile or not.
I am not interested in being right. I am interested in being moved. I want to feel like I can walk up to Johnny Hartman and thank him for all the beauty he brought into the world. I want to see John Coltrane standing there in his quiet dignity. I want to hear the last wisp of Hillary Hahn’s bow and feel the internal volume of Giovanni Hidalgo’s conga as its sound fills the stage. I want to see La Scala arrayed before me as the engineer in the recording session heard it in his headphones sixty years ago. I want to be able to understand from the sound why he placed the microphones where he did. That is why I am willing to go to crazy lengths to get there. For this we have to make our own roadmap as we are in uncharted territory. Arguing the merits of such a pursuit is for someone else. We don’t have the time. We do it because we are compelled by each little thing that brings us a step closer - following the carrot on that stick for as long as we are blessed with the ability to do so.
Elsewhere I have written, “Everything influences everything. There is no such thing as a vacuum, even in a vacuum. Signal does not travel through conductors like water through a hose; rather, signal in its relationship with the conductor unleashes a host of primary, secondary and tertiary interactions in both the conductor, the dielectric materials and the space surrounding the cable (or component) where it will interact with the fields surrounding other components and cables.
Cables generate their own autoimmune disease whereby stray signal may re-enter the signal path out of phase. Shields couple magnetically with conductors and each other. Materials interact triboelectrically, and generate static by the very fact that everything is always in motion and that charge imbalances are unavoidable. Nothing is at rest, even at rest. Noise permeates the ether, high frequency signals and pulses abound and conductors and traces are excellent antennas. In case you hadn’t noticed, the universe is conspiring to smear signal. Whew, I need to take a breath.”
We live in a sea of noise, now more than ever and tomorrow more than today. This is the march of “progress”. The way we know empirically that there is ultra-high frequency noise present is when we are able to diminish it using various techniques. Its absence is audible for reasons discussed previously, but is palpable nevertheless. One should never assume that signal in any location in a system is impervious to noise. This is why when people ask me which device is most important I always answer, “All of them.”
Our flagship stand-alone Super Enhanced Ground Plane Box, the Emerald, with its massive multilayered pure silver plate and Duelund cast silver capacitor has great potential to disarm noise throughout the system. It took a little time, however, to discover the best means of absorbing and delivering that noise to it to be dissipated as heat - which turned out not to be connecting the chassis of the component to it but by connecting the collector plates that we have invented that are designed to go on top of the component. Connecting the collector plates to the Emerald has been eye opening. We could certainly place them underneath the component, but it was important in this instance that the collector plate function as a vibration sink as well. To this end we have designed the PranaWire Annapurna Collector Platform. With the Annapurna, Everest and Meru Collector Platforms and our top mount Chakradar, K2 and Crown Chakra collector plates we have created a complete ecology of noise reduction that surrounds the system’s equipment top and bottom and brings its performance into entirely new territory. (Since this was first published we have tried taking a full sized platform and inverting it on top of the preamplifier with a set of fo.Q Hem-25 footer in between and the results were amazing.)
The top is of thick, heavily damped polished brass and composite material. Inside is our Super Enhanced Collector Plate that is connected electrically to the top. The internal collector plate is surrounded by powerful noise absorbing materials. There is a binding post that connects the platform to the Emerald via a cable. The whole thing weighs approximately 60 lbs. The Brass top and the internal Collector Plate function in concert to draw vast amounts of noise away from the component, while the massive tuned brass top plate decisively shunts vibrational energy away from the component. (We recommend the use of fo.Q HEM-25 footers between the Collector/Platform and the component for enhanced performance.)
Meru Collector Platform
The Meru is the flagship model Collector Platform with an oversized pure silver Super Enhanced Collector and massive brass and composite material top plates. Each will be built to custom specification and can be built for turntables or any component.
Everest Speaker Collector Platform
The PranaWire Everest Speaker Collector Platform uses a massive brass and composite top plate and will hold over 1000 lbs. Each will be built to the customer's specification.
In the coming months we will be designing some more affordable derivatives of these where we hope to capture a great percentage of the performance for less cost. Stay tuned.
A word About My Use Of The Term "Compression"
When I am talking about compression in a system, I am not referring to the method of controlling loudness on a recording in the studio, I am talking anything which inhibits the full blossoming of the sound as it actually exists in the source whether bits or grooves. The experience of hearing a system with vanishingly low "compression" as I describe below is somewhat akin to a 70's light show. The sound appears from nowhere and grows to a particular shape and volume with its own constantly evolving colors, highlights and shadows. It grows to its largest natural intensity and then recedes and disappears. The orchestra, then, is seen as a fountain of bursting, ever changing colors and shapes that fill three dimensional space, and, like the tip of a gentle wave across the sand, each individual sound reaches its natural high point before receding without any interference from the other sounds. The entire system breathes like never before. The sense of intimacy, pace, rhythm, texture, unfettered dynamics and emotion is unlike anything previously experienced. This is what I mean by lack of compression.
Listening Notes, Jan. 17th, 2020 - Customer's System
My customer's system consists of Wilson Alexx speakers, SMc Custom amplifiers and Preamplifier, dCS DAC, Clock and upsampler, Aurender 20+ Server with Pranawire Nirvana and Sukhavati cables throughout with three PranaWire Sovereign Linebackers and one PranaWire Cloud9 Power Conditioner, and other tweeks too numerous to mention.
There are a handful of systems where I have heard this vanishing level of compression, they include my own reference system and this customer’s, both with the PranaWire Emerald Super Enhanced Ground plane and the Annapurna Collector/Platform in place. Let me say from the outset that this listening session was among the peak listening events of my life! The notes should be taken in the context that all comments are on the very things that are different and better, increased or enhanced. This system now has vanishingly low dynamic compression from micro to macro dynamics. The images are not as large as in our reference system, but the quality is beyond reproach. I have heard this same digital front end dozens of times, but now the way it presents, from the softest whisper to the loudest crescendo, is more deeply satisfying than anything I have ever heard. This digital based system rivals the best analog I have heard and in some significant ways surpasses it. I can only speculate as to why, with the Annapurna under the pre-amplifier that this should be so, but it is the case.
Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E flat major. Rolf Smedvig: When the space between musicians is clarified to this extent the sense of ensemble is deeply reinforced. You can feel the power of the interaction between the musicians along with their interaction with hall and audience. The delicacy of Smedvig's trumpet outshines any previous hearing by many miles. It is larger, silkier more richly sonorous and expresses more subtle shadings of tones.
La Sonnambula, Bellini, Southerland and Pavorati: You can’t assume that glare is a fault of the recording. Glare is often seen as a highlight at a particular frequency or range, but when the system is able to handle it, as in this case with the introduction of the Annapurna, that highlight is unpacked, becoming a further enhancement and clarification of the information that is reaching your ears, such as the precise distances between musicians, and and a new freshness and immediacy of the voices. This results in a much deeper emotional connection with the performance.
Concerto for Flute Harp and Orchestra in C major, Mozart K299, Jean Francois Paillard: burnished and floating, everything is richer causing the listener to sit up and give his complete and undivided attention. Zero harshness, yet notes that naturally want to sear and pierce do so with absolute musicality. You’ve never heard the recorded plucking of a harp until you have heard this. Breathtaking!
Kendra Shank ‘Left Alone’: Utter realism. Uncanny tightness and roundness of bass. Her vibrato floats in the air like ribbons on a gentle breeze. More present and full that at any previous listening.
Piano Concerto 24 Mozart, Piotr Anderszewski: Never have I heard such perfect resonance from an orchestra. This is conveyed by the sheer beauty of each section and instrument. From the softest pillow-like pianissimo to intensely musical swells, each sound caresses the ears. This is deeply pleasurable.
La Traviata, Di Sprezzo Se Stresso Rende Anna Mongolia, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill: How to describe such an organic whole? The orchestra is one beast with myriad colors and highlights. The chorus is utterly coherent from ppp to fff. Utterly free of glare. At their loudest the sense of the hall is not obscured like before. Harmonies take on more focus with greater connection to the intense emotions from the singers. Zero compression. Zero. At the ending: The timpani lends its weight in its precise location on the stage. Part of a whole and distinct at the same time. Astonishing.
Don Giovanni :. This shows how nimble an orchestra can be. Staging is uncanny. Violins: utter delicacy with an edge. They nest at the top of the orchestra with woodwinds and horns layered perfectly below. Vocal interjections are startling. The space of the venue is in the room in a way it has never been. Vocal counterpoint floats in three dimensions. Fabulous weight. Zero compression. Layering in this sense can be seen as something new altogether.
Don Giovani 2: Delicious horns. Baritones from heaven. angry sopranos - phenomenal. Everything is (phenomenal) actually! The soprano shout - are you kidding me?
Beethoven 5th, Chailly, 3rd & 4th movements: Speechless. There are no words to convey the beauty and the grandeur, absolutely staggering - perhaps the peak moment of my listening life! All this from one Annapurna in the system. We are building more for the customer and one for the reference system. Stay tuned.
Rightness cannot be gauged as an outward phenomenon. What I mean by that is that the multiple feedback systems that comprise our awareness easily let us know when things are on the right track. In Tai Chi practice when we are engaged with our opponent, the energy we receive from him flows through us into the floor, is compressed and then uncoils outward back into him through our point of contact. Allowing the full natural trajectory of the movement insures the appropriateness of the response. In the most advanced forms this practice goes back-and-forth like a long, thrilling tennis rally. When the movement is executed as a perfect response there is a feeling of elation borne out of the effortlessness of it all. This sense of rightness is an internal phenomenon. It is not something that can be imposed from without. It must be felt.
In the same manner, the rightness of a Hifi system is gauged by our own personal, physical relationship with it. The system is playing us. When there is no truncation of the roundness (or saw-toothy-ness), decay and direction of a recorded event, we enter into a relationship of ease, which gives rise to feelings of awe, wonder and elation. And, like the “long boxing” of Tai Chi masters, this phenomenon only occurs at the very highest levels. There are no shortcuts to mastery.
Here, a new balance has been achieved, the result of every single step we have taken on the way. Our job is to continually polish, applying principles we have learned and uncovered. Knowing that the system is at its very highest level of evolution in this moment, I see the steps that still need to be taken. And, as I have said on many occasions, I can never know in advance what the sound of the next breakthrough will be as it is always a venture into the unknown. But each time I experience something I have never heard before, I can recognize its rightness instantly.
Today marks another breakthrough in my understanding of the Granada loudspeaker and its ability to show us every last thing that is behind it. It is an actively crossed over, open baffle loudspeaker with real time DSP crossover and room calibration functions. Having taken it to many shows and having set it up in many circumstances I have been able to understand that the character of a given cabinet and set of drivers is very largely variable, and that slight changes to the crossover network can emphasize one side or another revealing a rainbow of equally valid variations in demeanor (and some not so valid).
As I have discussed before, I view calibration as an art, but it is only recently that I have learned to execute it myself, and while my initial attempts at refining the calibration were on the right track, there has still been some distance to cover. Behind each new step is a voice telling me where we need to go next, be it the insertion of a footer or the application of TA102 to electrolytic capacitors (see my previous blog, 'Mishap Equals Opportunity') or to an adjustment of the calibration. I’m sure this is just the sum total of years of experience, but it feels like I don’t know how I know what I know. I just do.
What precipitated today’s certainty for the need to re-calibrate was the insertion into the system of a Linebacker Sovereign that we have just completed building for a customer. While we do have two prototype Linebacker XEs in the system, I’ve never had the opportunity until now, to listen to a Sovereign here. Each time we completed building one in the past it had to be immediately shipped off to the customer. (I have, of course, auditioned them in my customers’ systems). This new level of clarity was simply stunning, and once again the system spoke to me. I have been aware for quite some time that adjustments were in order; however, it became an urgent matter upon hearing this newest breakthrough.
With the re-calibration the system snapped into balance in such a way as to nearly give me whiplash. Recovering from the shock I saw a room filled with treasure. Individual and massed sounds fairly leapt into the room, each part shining like a diamond, each event quenching a deep thirst.
Once the Sovereign is shipped, there is no question that we have to bite the bullet and build at least one, if not two for here.
The PranaWire Method
This system in its entirety is the manifestation of a way of thinking that can be rightly called ‘The PranaWire Method’. New products are on the way that are part of the ecology we are developing in our attempt to refine every possible aspect of our reference system, our laboratory. This includes but is not limited to, new cables, power conditioning (both at the wall outlet and at the entrance to each piece of equipment), our Super enhanced Ground Plane Boxes, collectors and noise collecting/vibration absorbing platforms. These last three when connected together form a network of noise absorbing and shunting devices that substantially shield each piece of equipment, working in concert to keep them as free from environmental noise as possible. I include the Granada and G2 loudspeakers as central to our efforts, but customers with other speakers will nevertheless reap profound benefits if they opt to employ any or all of the peripheral equipment we provide.
Shown below is our latest creation, the Cloud9, purely passive power conditioner. This was a heroic undertaking. It uses massively oversized Bocchino Elektra outlets (choice of either two or three) and the equally massive Bocchino Mariner10 IEC inlet, pure silver internal wiring and pure silver oversized Super Enhanced Ground Plane with Duelund Cast Silver Capacitor tuning. The box is 18.75” X 11.5” X 11.5” and weighs approximately 60 lbs. A smaller, more affordable version, the Apsara, is in the works and will be available in 2020.
We conceive of, design and build devices that can become part of the arsenal that you may wish to employ in your own personal assault on the upper end. I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Please get in touch. Thank you.
Mishap Equals Opportunity
Mishaps can end up providing unexpected opportunity. Last week I managed to blow a fuse in my amplifier. Since the fuse is in line in the interior of the amp, I had to open it up. When I glanced inside I noticed just how many electrolytic capacitors were staring me in the face with their circles of shiny metal exposed on top. The thought crossed my mind, “What would happen if I put a circle of fo.Q TA-102 on each one?” Looking more closely, I counted eight large, four medium and two smaller caps. There were more that were smaller even. I decided to treat just the 14 larger ones. I have a set of circular punches that I bought on Amazon for about $22. I used them to punch out three different sizes of circles of TA-102 and stuck them on the top of each one.
As I have stated in previous newsletters, each new improvement builds upon the contributions of those that went before. However, a system has got to be at some significant level of resolution for you to begin to realize the enormity of what would otherwise be seemingly small changes. In the past I have written about the ‘myth of diminishing returns’ (my term), as it is quite clear to me (reinforced by these latest changes) that as the level of resolution improves, each new upgrade can leverage more and more improvement than the previous ones. To put it another way, it is both cumulative and multiplicative.
So what were some of the changes that I noticed as a result of adding the TA-102 circles to the amplifier? This is a little difficult to describe but I’ll try: I think quite often when we talk about detail in reproduced music we are focusing somewhat on transients leading edges and such, which are of course of supreme importance, but there is also the continuous internal vibration that is the essential character of the instrument itself. The more apparent this internal vibration is, the more the instrument sounds like itself. This is from my original listening notes:
"I can’t think of another upgrade that has made such a blazing step forward. Snap, punch, focus on the original inner vibration of each instrument... swing and pace... utter clarity. Just nuts"
That was yesterday. Today I decided to do the same procedure on the accessible electrolytics in my AirTight preamplifier. Five of them were axial so it wasn’t possible to put a circle on top, and as they were on their sides I simply put a strip of TA-102 lengthwise on each one. There were also two large standing caps with their tops exposed. I put circles on these.
Again, everything I said preceeding my description of the upgrade on the amplifier applies to this newer upgrade. Upgrades at this level are not just multipliers. They can even have an exponential effect, and that is exactly what happened from the treatment to the preamp. Now it feels like each individual sound, each individual instrument has had its own personal polishing. Whether large or small, it falls into place like a drop of water into a calm lake. It has the lightness and playfulness of stones skipping across that lake. It just caresses your ears. So If I told you I had upgraded from the $8,000 preamp to the $25,000 model you would have believed me, not knowing that the upgrade was just a few dollars worth of material.
This latest change has made me think that even when we are deeply grooving to the sound of a system, there still can be an unconscious tension inherent in the process - perhaps our brain is trying to fill in some subtle bits that it computes to be missing - a process operating in the background that is soaking up bandwidth that you are unaware of until something like this happens to shake your world. In this case it is a kind of bloom, a kind of fullness to the most delicate sounds that is new to me. This in turn has allowed me to completely let go and just bathe in sound.
Remember when people pealed the plastic covers off of electrolytic capacitors? Some very esoteric builders still do. The rationale is either that there is a vibrational interaction between the cover and the body of the cap, or there is some kind of triboelectric interaction or both. What this tells you is that in their natural state, electrolytic capacitors are contributing by the very nature of their construction to the veiling of the sound. We can deduce from the success of using TA-102 that that contribution is at least, in a significant part, vibrational in nature. I would encourage any manufacturer who uses electrolytic capacitors in their construction to explore the use of fo.Q TA-102 and TA-32 damping material on each and every one, and every hobbyist to uncover their components and apply this essential material. There is no downside to this, only phenomenal improvements to be had for a few dollars.
This is something that anyone can afford to try.
Each package consist of two sheets approximately 6" x 8”. Both sheets have adhesive backing. One sheet is scored into strips and the other is left solid.
Next up: The Phono Stage - To be continued...
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The Rule of Twos
When customers ask me about burn in times for PranaWire Cables. I tell them my rule of twos:
the most significant changes seem to happen after two hours, then two days, then two weeks and finally two months. Is this hard and fast? Not really, since I have never had a timer on to gauge these things exactly, but the approximation is useful and seems to be borne out by a recent email from my customer, A.M.
"It is now been five months since I received the Nataraja cables and I thought I should report on how I have found them. They have been in the system approximately 34 days. … I don't know the actual playing time but I would guess it is something like 600 + hours.
… I am very impressed. It took a couple of days for the sound to open up and since then it's never been anything but good. It has taken a long time however for everything to come together. The bass in particular took 450 hours (perhaps 350 hours actual) to become focused with extension, weight, scale and texture coming together… Since then bass quality has gone up another level every hundred hours or so and it appears to be still evolving. This has had a beneficial effect on the whole frequency range. The center of gravity seems a little lower and everything somehow seems more solid and powerful. I have had to turn the volume knob down 3-4 clicks to achieve an equivalent volume. The sound is tonally richer without any apparent loss of clarity or darkening.
“the soundstage noticeably increased in depth and height to be positively cavernous on some recordings and with a stronger sense of musicians being in the room.”
The Nataraja cables have a similar sonic signature to what I described about the Vajras – spacious (the soundstage noticeably increased in depth and height to be positively cavernous on some recordings and with a stronger sense of musicians being in the room) resolved, dynamic and utterly beautiful. In particular the sound is noticeably more dynamic. The impact of the Nataraja cables is like introducing a good preamplifier with increased drive and in room presence, tighter timing and a more full-bodied sound. Classic rock has been a bit of revelation, rediscovering old Wishbone Ash records, Cowboy Junkies, Dylan, Humble Pie, Rolling Stones, Flaming Grovies, JJ Cale, Robin Trower …. and Miles’ electric Jazz J
Compared to the system with just the Vajras, the sound with the Nataraja ICs has more of everything. The sound is significantly better, which is what I had hoped for, but how much better is surprising. As I've said, the cables still seem to be evolving and there was a noticeable improvement in SQ between 700 and 800 hours (nominal). Last night I was glued to my seat for eight hours totally absorbed in the music. I'm still feeling the afterglow. There is another 26 days before the two month mark is reached so I will be interested to hear what further improvement there is still to come.
You have made me very happy. Thank you so much!!!"
Bold and italics are mine.
There is a very simple explanation for why this topic is so important. It comes via my technician when I asked him why he thought the PranaWire Linebacker was so effective. Earlier I wrote that when he measured its effectiveness he was expecting to find no greater than 10db or perhaps, at the extreme, 15db of reduction. What we found instead was that the attenuation we were able to measure was at the noise floor of the measuring equipment. In other words we were only able to measure to 60db of attenuation before the noise generated by the equipment itself masked further results. Though measuring equipment with higher resolution exists, and I would be very happy to see those results, I am content with being able to say that the attenuation is at minimum 60db.
If you are familiar with how a piano is tuned you will understand immediately, but for those who do not, let me digress into what is happening with “just” verses “tempered” intonation which will have bearing on my explanation:
The intervals in just intonation are derived from the physics of a string. When you allow your finger to lightly touch a string at exact fractional distances between the bridge and the nut you will hear different tones. The table below explains:
So we can see from this chart that the octave, fifth, third, minor third, natural second, minor seventh and major seventh are all derived from the natural harmonics of the string.
Thepoint is that there is a physical basis for the derivation of each note based on the actual subdivisions of a vibrating string. This is what happens naturally on any single string of an instrument whether on a Bosendorfer or a one string Indian Ektar. When viewing a video of a vibrating string in slow motion, you can actually see these nodes at work.
The tempered scale was invented for the purpose of creating the ability to transpose from any of the twelve keys into any of the others while maintaining exact proportional relationships. In order to accomplish this the naturally derived scales had to be slightly and precisely detuned.
When two strings on an instrument that are out of range of each other are gradually brought closer together in intonation there is a threshold of closeness where they will begin to interact by creating a rapid beat. As they are brought closer and closer to the center of the pitch the beat slows until, at zero, the beating disappears altogether. When tuning the intervals on a piano, the technician listens for and counts the beats per minute (generated by detuning) to determine the precise intervals that create a proper tempered scale.
So what happens when two frequencies in the megahertz range are within beating distance? They behave in exactly the same manner as two strings. The periodicity of the beating generates a fundamental that occurs within hearing range. Noise is a cloud of frequencies. As a result there are myriad frequencies interacting, generating a myriad of audible fundamentals. High frequency generated noise can and does impinge on the circuitry within a given component affecting the manner in which signal is delivered to the next component and so on. It impinges from without (other components, cables, home wiring, phones, wi-fi etc.) and also as self generated noise from within. The attempt to generate signal has as a by product this "dark matter" called noise. A system comes into being in an environment already rife with noise, and the complexity of interactions within it and its environment are likely beyond our current means of measuring except in the broadest sense.
When we remove high frequency noise from a system, audible veils are removed. Therefore, the absorption and dissipation of high frequency noise is a topic that should be of paramount concern to all who design components and those who seek to put them together into a coherent whole.
As the aspect changes, new colors come into view, their modulating sheen endlessly fascinating. Millions of points of light define object and space. The air is carved into deeply solid shapes and volumes. Airbrushed arabesques fly through splashes and riots and clouds of color. A crack of thunder rents the sky as rain falls on the living room floor. Horns caress and cajole the ears. I am wonderstruck.
You may think, “I want what that guy is smoking!” And, if you are thinking, “I want to hear what that guy is hearing!” you’d be on the right track. (Not that there’s anything amiss with the former.)
This conversation has been about what happens when a system is well and truly treated with all things that facilitate its ultimate performance, when nothing has been held back, no stone unturned. In that context, when you arrive at a certain plateau, smaller and smaller upgrades yield larger and as yet unimagined vistas.
So here’s an interesting conundrum: I have an important person coming to visit, I have just performed one of two planned “minor” tweeks, the first of which has sent me into orbit. In fact, I’m so deep into the process of absorbing the effects of this one that I have decided to postpone putting in the next, even though it will without question propel the system further. Is this a mistake? Let me just say that the fullness of the current experience is so breathtaking that it is hard to imagine what could be better, but, as I have recorded here in this sequence of blogs, these breakthroughs continue unabated.
This tweek comes to me by way of a good customer in D.C. who has gone further with his cartridge than I have dared. Not that I am unwilling to investigate, it’s just, like I say, I need time.
So what is this tweek? See the photo just below.
My good friend Jeff Whitlock got me thinking about the fabulous Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaner. I mean, who wouldn’t love to own one: press a button and it performs a complete cleaning, vacuuming and demagnetizing of both sides of an LP in 2.5 minutes, automatically! He also mentioned that you can program it for a double cleaning or for an indefinite period of brushing with fluid, and it’s only $6000 - a bargain, if you have that kind of spare change.
I’m not lazy. I mean I don’t mind getting up and down to change LPs, and I don’t mind the cleaning process, EXCEPT, there’s a definite limit to how long I can stand there holding a brush against the LP, so I end up with far shorter cleaning periods than is optimal.
Formal vs. Informal
Recently a reviewer, whom I respect, had this to say about another reviewer’s comments on our reference system, “But I have some impression that under informal circumstances, audio people can get excited and come to debatable conclusions.” This is a fair enough comment, (To be clear, he has not heard the system, but is rather commenting from afar.) however, it got me thinking about the methodologies of inquiry that are commonly accepted practice and the weight that is given to them. It’s not that I think the typical review cycle of: listen to baseline system, insert new item, listen and repeat, and in some more rare instances, measure the device, is wrong, but rather, is that any more valid than say, visiting a room at an audio show and granting it a ‘best of show’ award?
The effect of any given tweak on your system will be directly proportional to its level of resolution. What may yield a negligible effect on one system will have a profound effect on another. Elsewhere I have commented on "The Myth of Diminishing Returns": Common wisdom holds that there is a point beyond which continued effort and expenditure begins to yield less and less. I have demonstrated to my entire satisfaction that this is just not the case. In fact, I hold the reverse to be true: As the system becomes more and more resolving, it yields ever-greater gains with ever-smaller upgrades (not to mention the benefits of major ones). And the good news is that those gains are cumulative so that the next tweak builds with greater efficiency upon the last and so on.
The Acoustic Revive RR-888 is a case in point. On its own it can contribute important improvements to the behavior of a system. It is now common knowledge that its effects can be improved with a robust linear outboard power supply such as the King Rex unit. It has also been demonstrated that using more than one in a system can further increase the overall effect. How and why it works is a topic for another day, but the key point is that it is a device that does not need to be plugged into the same circuit as the system and nothing from the system plugs into it. People have experimented with placement around their rooms and discovered what works best for them. Since the RR-888 needs to be a minimum of 4.5 feet off of the floor, in our case, the only option is on top of the refrigerator, which is behind the listening position on the right side.
We started out with just one unit in place with the King Rex. The improvement was unmistakable. At a certain point I had to find out what a second RR-888 would do, and since I had another King Rex unit available, up they went - again there was a definite uptick in performance. The effect of these two upgrades seemed to be in the realm of greater density of information and an overall increase in clarity.
Months went by, and given that my mind is always presenting me with new and interesting options based on past experience and available materials, I came up with the notion to add weight to the RR-888. If you've ever held one in your hand you know that it is feather light. You might think, "Where's the beef?" if you hadn't experienced what it can do. A given principle in tweaking is that isolation and added weight are generally a good thing. Since the RR-888 has a hump in its top, I thought the way to do this was to cut a sheet of fo.Q SH-22E 2mm thick damping material to size and load the top of it with weights that are used to balance car wheels. Placing this "weighted blanket" on top delivered a significant improvement along the same lines as previously described.
Now remember that we are tweaking a device sits on top of the fridge, unconnected to the system on a separate circuit that puts out a very short burst of signal at a frequency of 7.83Hz. You might well ask what I am smoking. (Call me for an answer to that!)
Most recently we received an order for some Acoustic Revive HQ-4 Hickory wood cube isolators:
And again, the wheels begin to turn. Why not use these to further isolate the RR-888? It would be a good opportunity to test them. For good measure I chose to add the fo.Q SB2025 small platforms underneath the King Rex Supply:
Here is the entire arrangement:
Unpacked - A Hidden Garden of Delights
Since I did not do this incrementally, I cannot yet comment on the effect of each individual part, but the effect of this arrangement was staggering. Frankly, when I started, I didn't expect any improvement at all. I mean, how far can you take things, right? Wrong. See "Myth of Diminishing Returns" above.
Let me put this in context: The sound was stellar before I began. It was only in retrospect that I was able to realize that the higher frequency impulses had been compressed: What seemed like single-point-in-time events became something else: If you've ever used audio editing software you know that you can zoom in on the waveform. This was similar in that the event seems to have been magnified. What was a point before now had a beginning, a development and an end. You could now witness the full "landscape" of the event. All sense of being impinged upon was gone and replaced with wonderment. It was (and is) akin to discovering a new hidden garden of delights.