Welcome to my new column covering perfectionist audio tweaks. This can be the realm of the wild, weird, and wacky, but also of legitimate sound improving products that can take a high-end system to its utmost potential. Some tweaks are certainly a bit of snake oil, preying on audiophiles with too much time and money on their hands. But there are many finely engineered, superbly crafted tweaks that absolutely work as described.
Unfortunately, a high end audio system has to battle its environment while trying to provide listening pleasure for its owner. Variables like airborne resonance, internal chassis resonance, EMI and RFI interference, and countless other problems can detract from the listening experience. Below are a variety of tweaks I have first hand experience with, and a few tips I have gotten from knowledgeable audiophiles who have little time to waste with products that don’t fix the audio problems being addressed here.
Shakti Innovations Shakti Stone:
The Shakti Stone from Shakti Innovations (Link) is a tweak I have become a big believer in. I was very, very skeptical about how a black rectangular object about the size of a paperback book could improve the sound. Shakti claims the Stone absorbs stray Electro Magnetic Interference that emanates from your components. After hearing about it from an audiophile friend who swore by it, I decided to demo one from my local dealer. Thankfully, it pays to have an open mind.
The Shakti Stone amazed me when placed on my CD player near the power supply. The sound became more delicate, bass went deeper, high frequencies were cleaner and there was a big reduction in any digital glare. The difference was not subtle. Much to my dismay; I was now about to be out $199. I saw a few postings online about people who say they had success using it in their breaker box too. But I got the biggest bang for my buck at the source.
Audio Additives 3M Damping Sheets
When it comes to damping equipment chassis vibrations, the Audio Additives 3M Damping Sheets may be the cheapest solution around; the least expensive that I have seen anyway. According to Music Direct, “Each Damping Sheet consists of a self-adhesive stainless steel sheet backed by a blue proprietary 3M damping material. This proprietary process allows the Damping Sheet to create a constrained layer damping effect which instantly reduces chassis vibration, greatly improving sound quality and lowering the noise floor of any component.”
It’s recommend that the first place to use a Damping Sheet is to adhere one to the inside top panel of a component. This is because most gear, the top panel is thin sheet metal that resonates with any airborne vibration. Damping this resonance greatly improves both resolution and tonality. They can also be cut to size based on your components. Obviously, use common sense; don't block vents or place Damping Sheets inside any device that runs too hot to touch. The Damping Sheets start at $4.99 each. (Link)
Sound Anchor Stands
I have always had decent speaker stands, but never invested in high quality stands until recently. I decided to buy stands for my Harbeth Compact 7’s from Sound Anchors, a 26 year old company based in Palm Bay, FL. They do custom lengths and the stands are specifically built to work with your speaker type. They are acoustically dead and mine weighed in at approximately 50 pounds each. I ordered the stands at 26 inches high, so the tweeters would be just about at my ear level.
Within minutes of installing them, a new level of performance in the areas of imaging, bass definition, and soundstage depth was reached. I was quite pleased. Not only that, they are attractive and blend into any décor. The stands cost me about $500. You can see the entire Sound Anchors catalog here: (Link)
Symposium Acoustics has been around for a number of years and is one of the most highly respected makers of resonance control products for high end audio components. They make well engineered racks, shelves, and, my favorite, the Rollerblocks and Rollerbock Jr. I own one set of the Rollerblocks 2+, and two sets of the Rollerblock Jr. The products work on the principal of energy drainage. They provide resonance an escape route; opposed to having it recirculate.
This was another tweak I was hesitant to spend money on, but at the same time I felt I was hearing the effects of transient smearing of high frequencies, as my room is rather small, and a bit live. I ordered the Rollerblock Jr, which is sold with as a set of three, with the Grade 10 Tungsten Ball upgrade. When installed under my CD player, the difference was pretty stunning. Everything sounded more relaxed, natural, and less aggressive; a huge improvement. I also use a set of Rollerblock Jrs under my power amplifier. That has clearly helped tame tube resonance. The entire Symposium catalog is available online and there are many reviews available as well. (Link)
Odds & Ends:
A few more tweaks worth seeking out for those who enjoy more esoteric fare. All of this stuff came through the grapevine from some very knowledgeable folks. First up is Yamamoto Soundcraft, out of Japan. See this link for their interesting and attractive resonance control blocks and more: (Link). They also make hand crafted tube amplifiers and speakers.
Magnan is a highly regarded cable company with a nice page of recommended tweaks, see here: (Link). One of my favorite websites is that of the Combak Corporation, also out of Japan. (Link). Their Harmonix line of tuning devices are universally praised, although they are quite pricey. Lastly, the Marigo Audio VTS Tuning Dots by Marigo Audio out Portland, OR, are probably the coolest and most mysterious tweak I have not heard yet. Check them out here: (Link ).