Welcome to the second installment of my column concerning perfectionist audio tweaks, that gray area where there often seems to be questionable ROI, but where carefully chosen and implemented, can absolutely allow a high end audio system to perform at its very best. As before, here are some tweaks and system improvements that I have first hand experience with, and some that I don't, but were recommended by reliable sources or seem interesting enough to take note of. As always, Caveat Emptor!
The Auric Illuminator is a compact disc cleansing and treating product made by Audience LLC. Audience is a very highly respected maker of high end cables, capacitors, and now speakers and electronics. I have been using it for three years now. No crazy snake oil here. The kit consists of a clear gel that Audience says does a superb job of cleaning the reflective coating of a compact disc. The other part of the equation is a specially made black marker used around the entire circumference of the edge of the disc. The tip is ridged so there is no slippage, and the entire disc can be marked with one continuous action. Audience says this is done to specifically take stray laser and light reflections out of the equation. Does it work? You bet. First of all, I have had skipping discs that did not respond to normal cleaning attempts. and one application of the Illuminator gel and I was good to go. I also believe the black pen marking improved overall tracking accuracy. The Auric Illuminator costs approximately $49 and is good for up to 400 discs. It is available from Audience dealers and from various e-tailers. http://www.audience-av.com/main.php
Tube "rolling" is considered the domain of more obsessive audiophiles who prefer to substitute the stock tubes in tube electronics. These folks are in search of nirvana in the form of very expensive and hard to find NOS (New Old Stock) tubes that often have mythical virtues assigned to them by aficionados. I actually decided to replace the tubes that came with my Audio Research gear because I felt the Electro Harmonix tubes that were supplied were a bit on the "soft" side. I was turned on to SED (Svetlana Electron Devices) tubes, out of Russia, which would give me a bit more high end sparkle and bass definition. Bingo. It was a great move. Specifically, I am talking about SED "Winged C" 6550C power tube. They average around $35 per tube and should give you at least 2000 hours. Personally, I recommend ordering from Upscale Audio, http://www.upscaleaudio.com , run by Kevin Deal, the "Tube Guru", the Tube Depot, http://www.tubedepot.com , or the Tube Store, http://thetubestore.com . I also retubed my preamp with some GE military new old stock tubes. That is less of a sure thing than replacing power tubes, but in my case, it worked out great. The sellers I listed above all provide good advice as well.
Harmonic Resolution Systems:
HRS makes very interesting looking platforms, stands, and various isolation devices. They are located in Buffalo, NY. Their MXR and SXR stands are very stylish and are loaded with proprietary technology that addresses airborne and structural vibration that can degrade performance. I strongly suggest checking out their web site for an explanation of their design philosophy. Their Nimbus isolation feet are very cool and been very positively reviewed. They also make damping plates of varying mass and size to situate on top of a component chassis. For those Vinyl people, they make a record weight called the Analog Disk. HRS has a national dealer network. http://www.avisolation.com/
Timbernation is a very cool direct to consumer high end audio furniture run by artisans that use various woods including Maple and Walnut to craft custom platforms, racks, and speaker stands. There are tons of customer pictures as well to give you a good idea of what they can do. There are also some cool pictures of their wood shop. I am strongly considering ordering a nice, hefty maple platform for my CD player. They also make cutting boards and desks as well. They are currently offering free shipping. www.timbernation.com
Combak, a longstanding Japanese manufacturer of the Harmonix line I mentioned in my last column, is celebrating their 20th anniversary by releasing many new products. The first one is the special edition TU-666M BeauTone Million tuning feet. BeauTone is the succession of the Harmonix flagship Model TU-1000 and according to Harmonix, will enhance the performance of elite components and electronics. The Combak Harmonix TU-666M BeauTone Million tuning feet uses specially selected wood with metal a band. Each one is 50mm in diameter, 33mm high and are available in a set of four. http://www.combak.net
Cable Pro Noistetrapper.
One of the favorite tweaks in my system is the Cable Pro Noise Trapper Integrity 8 outlet power strip. There are 8 hospital grade outlets in a Star ground configuration. Outlets are direct parallel wired with 12 AWG solid copper conductors for equal power distribution, A detachable shielded power cord is supplied, but you can easily elevate the performance of this great strip with a good after market power cord. http://www.thecablepro.com/
Speaking of power cords, my new favorite power cord is the Element Cable Element Cord, a 10 AWG, beautifully made cord starting at $59! You may have seen my review of the Element Cable Apollo speaker cable and the Silver Serenade interconnects. I did not review the Element Cord, but I bought for my self one out of curiosity and was blown away. It is available with a few connector options and in custom lengths. A "can't go wrong" purchase. www.elementcable.com