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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
April 2001

The Ultimate Upgrade

Audio shows are an interesting venue for determining the worth of audio products in general. With so many components all in one place, it's easy to get an idea of which ones you would be most interested in hearing -- and perhaps in a system or two other than the ones in which they are playing. A week ago in Montreal, there were a couple of tube amps I would have loved to hear powering the Verity Audio Parsifal speakers, which are always a joy to hear, and although the Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD player was seemingly in use everywhere, I couldn't help but wonder what it would have contributed to the sound in a couple of additional rooms.

Of course, the always-better bug bites audiophiles and holds on, which is why we're always upgrading and tweaking -- or thinking about both. Two of the most prominent add-on devices on display in Montreal were the Aurios MIBs and Symposium Rollerblocks, both meant to sit underneath equipment. Neither product is cheap, but both have their adherents -- along with other isolation/vibration-control goodies. I use Bright Star Big Rock bases and like them, while Doug Blackburn is a great believer in the LaserBase and Nordost Pulsar Points. Doug Schneider uses Pulsar Points too.

But there was one product I heard in Montreal, and at every audio show I've attended, that made an improvement so great it was impossible to ignore. In fact, each time I hear the difference, I'm startled by it and reminded that I need to write about it, so profound is its effect on the overall sound of a system. In Montreal, I heard it the first time in the Nagra room, where Doreen Smith belted out "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" and other standards off her disc A Tribute to Julie London [Fidelio FACD006] and then again in the Audio Aero room via the deft interplay of Milt Jackson and Wynton Kelly on Bags Meets Wes! [DCC GZS-1093].

The product that brought about such musical bliss? The recordings themselves, of course! A really good recording, and both of the ones I mention above qualify, can elevate a system from uninvolving to exalted in only a few seconds. It works every time, and even the most skeptical listeners can hear it. I've since listened to the Doreen Smith CD on my reference system, and I can only reaffirm its magic. It produces great sound that no tweak or component upgrade will be able to pull from lesser recordings.

But the magic doesn't end there. The performances on the A Tribute to Julie London and Bags Meets Wes! are so involving as to make me more interested in the music -- and more entranced in the system on which the recording is played. Closed eyes are a sure sign that an audio system is spinning its web of involvement, but the recording is always at the heart of the matter -- always.

So if you're looking for the ultimate tweak, and a cheap one at that, run out and get some new music, especially the two discs I've already mentioned from audiophile labels Fidelio Audio and DCC. Listen as the sweetness and dynamics of your system increase, and be ready to turn off the lights and close your eyes. And the best thing about this sonic shot in the arm is that it's only a CD away.

...Marc Mickelson

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