[SoundStage!]Synergizing with Greg Weaver
Back Issue Article
May 2000

Expo Montreal -- and Some Validation of Old Tricks

Festival du son et de l'image

March brought the annual Festival du son et de l'image held in Montreal, Canada. This year, apparently due to the size of the event, it was decided to use two hotels -- right across the street from each other -- to house the whole event, the Delta and the Four Points. The Delta, where I also stayed, housed five rooms on the sixth floor showing a myriad of different products, all connected with Harmonic Technology cabling. It was a treat to be invited to represent the product and act as a spokesperson for Jim Wang and Harmonic.

What a nice trip, and what a great reception. Though it is reputed that French is the language of Canada, the denizens of Montreal all seemed as equally at ease with my native tongue as with their own. I could not believe the number of people who were equally conversant in both, from persons you would expect to be comfortably bilingual, like cab drivers and hotel employees, to those who might not be so likely, such as the officials running the show to the exhibitors themselves. I felt especially inadequate. It has been a long time since I have had it so blatantly brought home that I have never taken the time to learn a second language. It reminded me of an old joke: What do you call a person who can speak three languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call someone who can speak two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who can only speak one language? American!

The city was friendly, the cab drivers insane. Listen folks, I’ve been driven by hacks in DC, LA, Chicago and The Big Apple. I’ve got to tell you, none of them compare to the cabbies I saw in Montreal. We landed at about 4:30 in the afternoon, so leaving the airport put us in the thick of the PM drive time. Sheez! I was certain that I would not make it back to work by Monday, as I would most assuredly be held over in Canada as a material witness to a vehicular homicide! Now to be fair, some of the blame must be borne by the pedestrians -- who were doing more jaywalking than I’ve witnessed anywhere.

As we careened down a four-lane thoroughfare, I was completely stunned to see nearly a dozen people cross this highway at various points -- all nowhere near a crosswalk or corner. They just walked across the four lanes of traffic -- left to right and right to left -- as though the traffic were some kind of mundane obstacle course. It was insane! As we drew closer to the Delta, the city streets narrowed, and the number and density of pedestrians grew. They put me in mind of meandering herds of cattle, with no seeming destination, just content to saunter this way and that. None of them seemed to give a whit about the traffic lights -- or the oncoming traffic. At one point, as my driver was doing about 55 km/h and was entering an intersection, I noticed a group of about 12 or 15 pedestrians just shuffling slowly across the crosswalk -- directly ahead of us. One older woman in this ambling flock, gray hair, several shopping bags in one hand and cane in the other, didn’t even flinch as my driver stabbed at the brakes to bleed about 20 km/h and swerved hard to port -- missing this woman by less than a foot and sending me reeling towards the center of the back seat of my cab. Well, to say that I will never think of cab rides the same is an understatement.

Slick gizmos

The show was wonderful. Loads of good music, all type and variety of equipment and hoards of interesting people. A couple of folks attending the show who I really got a chance to speak with were William Stierhout of Quantum Products, and Peter Bizlewicz of Symposium Acoustics.

Bill was showing the new Quantum Symphony Pro, the sturdier sibling to the original Symphony, the unique and very effective AC-power-treatment device detailed by Doug Blackburn this past January. What I heard from this new unit piqued my interest sufficiently to arrange a chance to audition one up close and personal. The Pro uses a much more substantial power supply than the wall wart of the standard Symphony, and is running in quite nicely as I write this. Bill indicated that the Pro offered performance roughly equivalent to two of the standard Symphonies. Some details of my audition will appear here in an upcoming installment, so stay tuned.

Peter’s unique Symposium Acoustics Roller Block isolation system immediately caught my attention -- with both its simple elegance and outstanding performance. Peter has some very sensible ideas about the applications of constrained-layer damping. He likened his use of layering to that of slowly refracting light, a little through the first layer, slightly more through the second, just a bit more through the third, and so on. Besides seeming terribly logical to me, it also seems to be very effective. Peter was kind enough to offer to let me play with several of his energy-absorption devices, so watch for more on that subject in this space soon.

Synergistic validation

One other item that I saw there -- and had been wanting to compare to my now 11-year-old home brew -- was the Auric Illuminator system. Priced at $40 USD, the Auric Illuminator gives you two one-ounce bottles of polish/cleaner, a black marking pen and a whole bunch of lint-free wipes, all for the expressed purpose of enhancing the sonic performance of the compact disc. After some applications, I can indeed verify everything reported about the system here at SoundStage!, but I have to wonder why it took so long to figure out!

About 1989, I had settled on the use of a system of treatments that, to me, brought the whole nasty digital experience much closer to the sound of analog. I had adopted a green permanent marker made by Staedtler in lieu of the more costly CD Stop Light. Though Armor-All truly made discs sound less "digital," the scare of possible irreparable disc damage through its use led me to try Rain-X, the invisible windshield wiper, with exceptional results. I had originally published a piece about their use, both separately and in combination, back in January of 1991 in my short-lived magazine venture. I also wrote about them here in Synergizing, in October and November of 1997.

The latest experiment began innocently enough. Tin Ear had stopped by to question all the benefits I had been bragging about since I moved the speakers a bit further apart and just a tad back in my listening room. I asked him if he would mind being a participant in an experiment. It had suddenly dawned on me that when I had first developed these CD treatments, he had lived in Atlanta and had never heard them demo’ed. With a bit of incredulity in his eye, he nonetheless agreed to the test. I selected the newly re-mastered release of A Decade of Steely Dan [MCA 11553]. After reacquainting ourselves with the sound of two cuts, it was time to treat the disc.

He watched me apply a few drops of Rain-X to the disc, swirl it around with a clean cotton cloth, then let it dry to a light haze. I then polished the haze to a high luster with the cloth and uncapped the Staedtler Lumicolor 357 marking pen. First, I applied the wide tip of the marker to the inside edge of the hole in the center of the disc. Once that had dried, just a matter of seconds, I turned the tip to the outside edge of the disc, coating it completely as well.

In less than two minutes the disc was back in its tray spinning away. Less than five seconds into the sampled cut, Tin Ear, with his eyes wide and mouth hung open, turned to me and uttered, "Oh my God!"

After treatment, the differences were readily apparent. You need not strain to hear the sonic improvements. Post treatment, the first thing Tin Ear remarked on was that everything had become wonderfully alive and spacious. Images were more focused, emanating from much smaller and more defined locations. The stage had become substantially wider and more focused. The treated disc also sounded slightly louder, seeming to open up dynamically.

The improvements do not stop at only presentation and soundstage cues. Bass becomes more warm and round. This treatment creates a marked improvement in the lowest registers, re-creating them with much greater perceived speed and removing most of the muddiness I have come to expect from the CD format. Treble loses a good deal of its excessive whiteness. The midrange also warms a bit, lending a greater sense of ease and body to vocals, pianos and massed strings. One other very pleasant surprise is the increase of low-level resolution. This enhanced resolving power allows for more development of both the space of and the air around the instruments and artists. This provides a better feeling for the acoustic in which the recording was made.

And just as Doug Blackburn reported in his detailed look at the Auric Illuminator system, all these benefits and more apply to DVD. Beside the roughly equivalent sonic enhancements, colors are more vibrant, details more pronounced and depth of field better revealed. This treatment clearly offers a pronounced audio and video enhancement to the DVD, making the home-theater experience considerably more enjoyable and cinema-like.

Tin Ear was totally amazed that such a large and musical change had been wrought with this simple and affordable treatment. The Staedtler pen sells for about $2.50, and a 3.5-ounce bottle of Rain-X goes for less than two. I can't say how many discs this will treat, but consider this: I’m still using the original pen I bought in 1989!

It does surprise me that it took so long for someone to package some products together for improving CD sound with an instruction set, but you Synergizers have known about all this for years. Good for you -- and enjoy!

...Greg Weaver
gregw@soundstage.com   

 

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