Monday, November 27, 2006

Clarifying the situation

I often tell friends and fellow audiophiles that I consider myself to be an open minded skeptic. I approach all new tweaks with a certain amount of skepticism but also with the view that it is possible that they do make a difference. The Bedini Dual Beam Clarifier was no different. Bedini’s contention is that the polymers of the CD hold a static electric charge. These static electric charges on the disc surface make it harder for the laser of a CD player to read the data, forcing the CD player to employ more error correction. Bedini suggests that both sides of the disc be treated for best results.

Before discussing the results a brief discussion on methodology is in order. There are a number of discs in my collection of which I have doubles. I chose discs where both copies had been purchased extremely close together with respect to time and also chose title that had small production runs. Thus minimizing the chance that they came from different production runs, or even entirely different production plants. I listened to them and the better sounding of the two (There always was one.) became the control disc (the one which would not be clarified) this put the Clarifier at a slight disadvantage. Then the worse sounding of the discs would have both sides of the disc clarified. It is well established that when presented with a choice between “A” and “B” people will have a slight natural tendency to chose “B” when things are close. In order to combat this bias I settled on an “A”-”B”-”A” format with “A” being the un clarified disc and “B” being the clarified disc. So that switches could be done as quickly as possible I clarified the “B” disc before starting to play “A.” While “B” was waiting to be played it was set on a ceramic coffee mug data side up, not in the CD case. The reason for this was that I felt that there was a possibility that the plastic in the case might affect the CD adversely, reintroducing the static charge that the Bedini was designed to remove. Ceramic is considered to be a great insulator and was therefore ideal for the task.

The first disc up was Ron Geesin/Roger Waters-”Music From The Body”, a soundtrack for a documentary on the workings of the human body. The last track on the disc, “Give Birth To A Smile” has guest musicians David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason in addition to Roger Waters. This makes it a Pink Floyd track as far as I’m concerned. The clarified CD had more impact to the bass guitar. The sibilance of Roger Waters vocals were also much more natural on the clarified disc. As the song fades out the female back up singers sing the chorus “Give Birth To A Smile.” On the un clarified disc the song ends on the word “birth” whereas on the clarified disc the listener could clearly hear “to.”

Next up was “Candy Coated Valentine” from Robinella and the CC Stringband’s self titled debut. On the non clarified disc the bass sounded thick and congested and the mandolin lacked a certain pluckiness and body. At the end of the number there is also some type of creaking (A chair maybe?) which is completely inaudible on the on the non clarified disc. The clarification process also gave a greater sense of sound staging depth to the performance. In particular the vocals and the instruments had better separation. The clarified disc also had more rhythmic dive in the bass.

The last track on the formal investigation was Robert Plant’s “All The King’s Horses” from his album “Mighty Rearranger” Again sibilance was much more clean on the clarified disc compared to it’s non clarified counterpart. On the non clarified disc an oddity occurs in the chorus when Robert Plant double tracks his vocals in order to sing harmony with himself. For whatever reason his vocals pull very slightly to the left of center. This does not occur on the clarified disc. There were some subtle electric guitar parts that became much easier to follow with the clarified CD. Again on this selection the vocals seem better separated from the instrumentation.

The Bedini consistently increases the separation between the vocals and backing instruments on every CD that I clarified. The Dual Beam also removed unwanted sibilance on all clarified CDs. Cymbals also just sound more metallic and had more shimmer around them, but this was by no means extra brightness. Many CDs that had always sounded a bit bright went through the Clarifier and were better for it. For what ever reason CDs that were from Columbia Record Club benefited disproportionately from being treated. Sheryl Crow’s “Tuesday Night Music Club” is a prime example of the Columbia phenomena . It’s a personal favorite that was sounding a bit flat, compressed, and digital lately. I had been thinking of buying a proper (non record club) copy now that may not be necessary. Whether this was because of some inherent flaw in their manufacturing process or because they are some of the oldest disc in my collection it is impossible to say. Although I may investigate this further in the future.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Absolute Power!

I finally got around to changing out the power cords on my DAC, Transport, Preamp, Amp, and Power conditioner. I went with the Transparent Power Link Plus. For a brief moment I tried to kid myself that I’d be happy with the High Performance Power Link cords also from Transparent. This was mostly because they were less than half the price, but the performance gap between the PLP’s and the HPPL’s is undeniable.

The breaking in of power cords seems to occur much faster than interconnects and speaker cable. Perhaps a major contributing factor is that I leave all the components in the system on at all times. Out of the box with zero break-in they edged out the stock cords. After about three hours the difference was more audible than that. After a number of days of beak in it began to sound as if there was a bottle neck in the sound of my system. The obvious culprit was the new power cords. Quickly a theory emerged that the power cords on the amp and power conditioner must be breaking in faster than the cords used on the other components because they had so much more electricity flowing through them. So I removed those two cords and switched them with the cords on the DAC and Transport. The system’s performance improved in some areas and slightly worsened in others for a net gain. After a night of the power cords that had previously been hooked up to the DAC and Transport being burned in on the Power Conditioner and the Amp it was a different story. The new level of accuracy of timbre that the system is exhibiting is startling.

Preliminary results indicate an elimination of a certain hardness that could inhabit the midrange of female vocals. Bass has more tonality and more body, yet is still tight and articulate. Cymbals have taken on a more metallic quality and the subtle differences between different cymbals are much more easily recognized. Gone is the slightly whitish coloration that had overlaid them in the past. There is an increase in sound staging width and depth as well.

Also impressive is the change in stringed instruments, particularly acoustic guitars, hollow body electric guitars, and mandolins. Differences between different electric guitars have become even more obvious. The sound of the body of the instruments is much more integrated with the sound of the strings. A lowering of the noise floor also creates the impression that notes hang in space a little longer. Violin bows sound as if they are being drawn across the strings more slowly and lovingly. For whatever reason this upgrade also made the sweet spot for the Logans much larger, I have no explanation for that one.

An increase in the micro dynamics of vocal performance has made listening to female vocalists beguiling. It’s got me grabbing for Tori Amos, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Merchant albums. On my copy of Robinella and the CC Stringband when she flubs a line during “Marie Laveaux” the smile that creeps onto her face is very audible in her voice and is just plain sexy!

The CLS’s disappearing act is impressive under normal conditions, now it’s just plain unnerving. Left/Right imaging is way outside of the speakers when that information is present on the recording. What would happen if I replaced the Martin Logan’s power cords? I don’t want to think about it. The CLS’s aren’t the end goal so spending money on power cords would be silly, or would it? Somebody stop me!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Radio FREE Chicago!

Tonight I caught one of WFMT’s live from the studio concerts. The performance was from a trio consisting of piano, flute, and violin. This interlude convinced me of two things. One, I haven’t been listening to enough classical music lately. Two, I need to stop being lazy and seek out live performances. One measure of inspired live music is worth more than an hour of Pro-tools perfection. I continue to be amazed by the sound quality that our current FM standard is capable of if the broadcaster cares and the person receiving the signal has a good antenna and tuner. I continue to be in love with the Tandberg 3011A. This reminds me that I should listen to the recording that I made off of WXRT that consists of performances from David Gilmour and Roger Waters solo tours. I listened to it at the time of the broadcast and recorded it because I continue to be obsessed with all things concerning “The Floyd." Perhaps at some point I’ll do a shoot out between the Tandberg 3011A and the Sansui TU-217 that currently resides in my bedroom system.

Speaking of Sansui recently I discovered this site that lovingly covers the company’s golden era. It provides high resolution scans of many of the pieces of sales literature that the company produced for it’s products. Also featured on the site are high quality photos for many components. It also provides schematics for many of the products free of charge, which is quite admirable. Anything that demonstrates passion for excellence in audio reproduction is always heartwarming to see.