[SoundStage!]Max dB with Doug Blackburn
Back Issue Article
April 1999

Two Products that Will Make You Rethink What You Think You Know About Audio

Both of these products are outgrowths of Mike VansEvers’ unique approach to sound. In the 1970s, Mike was the archetypal pro-audio engineer. Wires were wires were wires and audiophiles were idiots for even trying some of the things they tried. In fact, audiophiles were a special class of idiot if they thought the things they tried actually changed the sound in any way. Then one day Mike heard something that changed his life. He heard what a wire sounds like when you put it in backwards. And he did not like what he heard -- at all. It’s always gratifying to have someone "come over" from the dark side from time to time. Those of us who know wires sound different and amps sound different and mechanical resonances change the sound of everything may not know how to explain what we hear, but we know it’s there and we know it’s important. It’s frustrating that supposedly intelligent technical people will dismiss the audibility of these things without even trying to listen for them. So when someone, on his own, discovers the truth, you just want to jump up and cheer.

Since Mike first encountered the audibility of wire directionality, he has been messing with all manner of supposedly impossible stuff and has come up with a wide range of power conditioners, power cords, tuning devices and some stuff he doesn’t even know what to do with yet. He is successfully selling his products not only to us gullible audiophiles, but to gullible pro-audio engineers at studios and to gullible musicians -- all of whom are apparently equally dumb and deaf.

I’ve had one of these two VansEvers products for a long time, but I have been having a terrible time figuring out how to review it, so I’m not going to write a traditional product review. I’m going to explain the product here and let you decide if it is something you want to experiment with. The other VansEvers product has been here only a short period of time, but it is just too terribly cool to keep under wraps.

Let’s start with the long-term visitor, the Pandora power cord. There are four flavors: Pandora, Double Pandora, Pandora Photon and Double Pandora Photon. Mike actually produced the Photon versions after I found the standard Pandoras incredibly interesting, but kind of slow and uninteresting-sounding in my system. The Photon versions are more dynamic with the sparkle and transparency you get from many other high-end power cords. At one point, I had four regular Pandoras and was yearning for something a bit snappier-sounding. I returned them all to Mike and within a few weeks, Photon versions reappeared. Interestingly, the materials used to make Photons and standard Pandoras are identical. The only differences are mechanical tuning techniques used for the two cords. That alone is incredible. The Photons indeed sound significantly "faster," more transparent and more dynamic than the standard cords. If you ever get a chance to hear a broken-in standard and Photon Pandora back to back, you'll experience a tremendous "audio learning experience." To hear these two very different-sounding power cords made from the same wire and plugs is quite mind expanding.

But the real Pandora trick is in the sliding dampers that are on the cords. When you take the Pandora cord out of the box, you find a sliding damper near the IEC plug. If it is a Double Pandora, there are two of these sliding dampers of slightly different sizes. These are non-electrical, non-electronic devices. They are strictly mechanical dampers, nothing more, nothing less. You actually change the sound of the power cord by sliding these dampers up and down the power cord. Place the damper, close to the IEC connector (at the component end) and the midrange is slightly emphasized. As you slide the damper away from the component, the zone of frequencies that are slightly emphasized slides down the frequency range. On certain kinds of music, the effect is almost like a trombone with a very long slide. You can place the "bump" (or "bumps" if the cord is a Double) anyplace you’d like them. Virtually every system has a spot or two where a small bump like this fills in a slight depression.

There is one other tuning point on all of the Pandora cords -- right on the IEC connector. Mike installs an extra-length screw through the body of the connector. On that screw he places two washers and either a steel wing nut or a brass thumbscrew. Both are provided with each cord so the owner can experiment. Leaving either the wing nut or the thumbscrew very loose so that the washers are not restrained gives the top-end sound a bit of a prominence boost. As you tighten the wing nut or thumbscrew, the balance tilts farther and farther from top-end emphasis. Somewhere in the adjustment range, you’ll find a nice even balance to the sound. This is another example of mechanical tuning that ought to be impossible but which is so obvious that nobody who is being honest with you and themselves can deny that it is audible.

The "Pandora Effect" is mind-blowing. If everything we know about audio and physics is true, what the Pandora cords do to the sound of your audio system should be impossible. Since the Pandora Effect is 100% repeatable and 100% audible by anyone who takes the time to hear it, the only conclusion is that what we know is incomplete. Mike set up a heck of a demo at the last CES. You walk up to a little setup on a table with a CD player and an integrated amp. There are headphones connected to the amp so there are no outside influences like room effects or loudspeaker tricks that can be involved. You then listen to some music you like while you slide the Pandora dampers up and down the cord. People stand there slack-jawed at what they have heard; they are unable to speak because the thoughts about what they know and how this should be impossible collide in their brains. This demo changed the lives of many people -- just by teaching them something new about audio, something that broke the "laws" they thought they knew but brought them closer to the truth at the same time.

I encourage you to try a Pandora power cord in your system -- if for no other reason than to hear the laws broken for yourself. It is quite a stupefying experience. The Pandora and Pandora Photon cords sound quite different. The standard cords give you a smooth, laid-back presentation. The Photon versions are a bit more dynamic and snappy. When I first tried the Pandoras, as I mentioned earlier, I though that four of them slowed down my system quite a lot. Initially, I thought the Photon versions were ideal. However, some more system tuning (described below) changed my opinion. The standard Pandora cords are fine for many systems. The Photon cords are only needed when the system is just a tad on the soggy side after everything is tuned well. Don’t assume you need a Photon cord -- in fact, right now, I find a mix of Pandoras sounds better in my system than having all of one type. Also realize that you may not need more than one standard Pandora, while one Double Pandora may even be too much for some systems. The standard, Double and Photons all exist to give you choices and matching capabilities. You may find that a standard and Double Pandora are perfect for you, while your buddy finds two standard Photons are perfect in his system. The best way to determine which Pandoras are best for your system is through auditioning them. During the auditioning process, it helps tremendously to find the proper positions for the sliding dampers if you have an assistant who can move the dampers while you listen. This is most revealing and the fastest way I know of to zero in on the best locations for the dampers. You can do the same thing alone, but it takes longer.

OK, Johnny, show us what’s behind door number two!

Item two is the VansEvers Spatial Lens and Window system. In fact, this product was conceived right before my very eyes. Mike VansEvers was visiting and we were messing with various small wood tuning blocks. Just for the record, most of the tuning blocks are approximately 2" long, 1" wide and 3/4" thick. Smaller sizes affect higher frequencies more and larger sizes affect lower frequencies more. There is no hard-and-fast rule about tuning with wood blocks. Different kinds of wood sound different, different sizes sound different, and different locations produce different tuning results. Prior to Mike’s visit I had been experimenting with wood blocks for almost a year and had been learning what some of the woods sound like. But there had been so many system changes that, prior to Mike’s visit, I had cleaned up everything and put all the wood blocks and other tuning materials away as I re-organized the entire system. When Mike arrived, I had an overly bright and aggressive-sounding system with very little sense of depth. As expected, the wood tuning blocks we began placing on various components warmed the sound substantially.

Because of many on-going home-theater–product evaluations, I have been living with a monitor between the main speakers and about two inches behind them. As Mike was up and walking around with a bag full of tuning blocks, I suggested placing one on top of the monitor, right in the center. Mike paused in his tracks for a second, then looked at me, then rummaged though the bag of wood blocks and came up with a small cube of lignum vitae, a heavy and waxy black wood. He placed that right in the middle of the monitor and sat back down next to me to have a listen. I hit the play button, listened for maybe 10 seconds, and paused it and turned to Mike and said "Isn’t that spatial?" Mike turned with a big grin on his face.

When it only takes ten seconds to notice that something very significant has happened, you have to believe that you may only be scratching the surface. Mike began stacking different sizes of
lignum vitae, one on top of the other. Each newer, larger block brought more and more of the enhanced spatial character to the sound. We ended up with a pyramid of five different-size lignum vitae blocks on the monitor. We tried the same trick with some other kinds of wood and came away completely unimpressed; only the lignum vitae did the spatial thing to that degree. So Mike left me with one pyramid of lignum vitae and returned to Florida to further develop this new turn of events in wood block tuning to see just how much he could wring out of it.

Well, Mike apparently hit the sonic jackpot to such an extent that he’s offering an entire product that he’s calling the Spatial Lens and Window system. For now, the product sells for $2500. The problem Mike has now is that each room and system seem to require a slightly different combination of woods (lignum vitae plus other hardwoods). Since there is not a single combination that can be packaged up with easy to use placement instructions, Mike decided to create the product in such a way that he takes all the guesswork out of it. For your $2500, you get: (1) four of Mike’s towers, which support the stacks of wood blocks, (2) whatever blocks are needed to tune your room, and (3) Mike in your home to perform the installation by selecting the right combination of blocks and placing the four towers in the best spots. Mike will bring more towers and blocks and show you what more sounds like, and you can decide if you want to add more (at extra cost).

I’ve been trying to get a good photo of the Spatial Lens and Window system, but it just isn’t very photogenic at computer-monitor resolution. Mike even sent a nice photo with a pretty background, but I just couldn’t get a usable scan if it. So you’ll have to settle for this little drawing I made. The towers have wood bases that are fairly compact. The single black support rises straight up from one edge of the base.

The outboard towers seem to control the envelopment and the outer
one-third of the soundstage. The central towers tend to control the
spaciousness and center image. Mike does envision some day being able
to offer a self-installed kit. But he figures he needs quite a few
more installations under his belt before he can come up with a set
that will do 90% to 95% of what he can do in person every time someone
tries it without Mike present.

Mike knows that $2500 for room tuning is a lot of money, but he reminds people that going with any of the big-name room-treatment-companies’ suggestions for a serious room treatment program will cost substantially more than $2500 and you won’t get a personal visit from the manufacturer in that deal.

Even so, there are a lot of people who may want to experiment with this tuning stuff on their own. Mike encourages you to find sources for lignum vitae and other hardwoods and experiment to your heart’s content. Every different size and shape of wood sounds different. There are no hard and fast rules about what to use and not to use. Wood blocks sound different than wood cylinders which sound different than wood trapezoids. Thin 1/4" "tuning chips" sound a lot different than a 3/4" x 1" x 6" stick of the same wood. Put the blocks on your TV or make your own stands. Again, there are no rules here. Have a good time with this and know that when you get it right, you will freak yourself out. You will have achieved something that should be impossible, but which is obviously not impossible -- and not subtle either.

Gauging size

Just a Little Note...

Knowing that a certain segment of the audiophile public loves a good conspiracy, SoundStage! would like our readers to know that there is no commercial connection between dB and Mike VansEvers. If there were a connection, dB would not be writing for SoundStage! or we would have edited his column to make it look like Mike VansEvers never visited dB's listening room -- to remove any appearance of association between dB and the Spatial Lens and Window system. We are publishing the article as submitted simply because there is no reason to change it. The true story is more interesting that any sanitized version we could dream up anyway.

...Marc Mickelson

Just how big are the Pandora Effect and the Spatial Lens and Window Effect? The Pandora Effect is easy to hear -- most everybody and anybody can and will hear it whether they want to or not and whether they think such things are impossible or not. I would not call it huge, though. The Spatial Lens and Window effect is borderline huge -- primarily because it does something you just can’t do with other tweaks. Nothing I have done to my system in 20+ years has ever improved the sense of space as much as ONE pyramid of Mike’s lignum vitae blocks on top of my monitor. Remember that Mike’s standard configuration is FOUR towers and sets of blocks. This apparently dwarfs what I’m listening to right now, and I’m already giddy over the sound of this single pyramid of wood. Some of you may wonder what a quartet of Mpingo tuning stands with three ebony Mpingos on each stand sounds like compared to the standard four towers of Mike’s Spatial Lens and Window system. I’ve never actually heard a quartet, but I have heard six Mpingo stands in two different systems. Neither time did I come away thinking I’d heard anything remotely as significant as a single pyramid on my monitor. The Mpingo stands do work -- don’t misunderstand me about that. The degree of what they do just happens to be far smaller than what one of Mike’s pyramids is presently doing in my system. My Mpingo experiences may be tempered by them not taking place in my room and system though. But I’ve heard what my one pyramid of blocks does in two other systems, and I heard the same large degree of change and the owners of those systems tried every trick they knew to get me to leave the pyramid with them.

There you have it, two products that will forever change what you think you know about what changes the sound of audio systems. They made me think a lot harder about what’s going on inside audio systems and rooms. I think you will find both of these products useful, entertaining and one of the best ways to blow people’s minds that you could ever hope to own!

...Doug Blackburn

Prices for Pandora power cords: $300 USD for the standard Pandora, $450 USD for the Double Pandora. Prices for Photon Pandora power cords are still to be being determined. For more information on VansEvers products, visit www.vansevers.com.


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