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

Synergizing Update

The more things change…

Over the three years since the first "Synergizing" column appeared at SoundStage!, in June of 1997, many things have changed -- namely model numbers, parts suppliers and options. What I want to do here is reprise several of my DIY and construction articles and update them with new or supplementary information. For the true adventurer, I have also included a list of DIY resource sites.

Ferrites

Appearing in May of 1998, the Ferrite-ing out RFI article has generated a good deal of response. Most of the correspondences I have received on this piece of late have to do with outdated part numbers from Digi-Key listed in the original article.

The current equivalents to the Steward Clamp-On Ferrites I originally used are also 199-ohm units, roughly 1.6" (40.49 mm) long, by .62" (15.75 mm) in diameter, with a .355" (9.02 mm) tunnel. In white, the current part number is 240-2065-ND, and in black, it is 240-2066-ND. In either flavor, ten clamp-on cylinder ferrites will set you back all of $17.26 cash American. They are found in the bottom-right corner of page 309 in the current Digi-Key catalog (number Q003) and can be ordered online at the above hyperlink. These would seem to be the identical size, shape and impedance to the units I used for my original work, but the brand is not specified anywhere. Ferrites with smaller outside cylindrical dimensions, yet with larger tunnel sizes (for thicker cords) and of higher impedance (both 209 and 234 ohms), are available for slightly more money.

I had one reader who asked if these devices would work on the power cords of video equipment (TVs, VCRs and DVD players) and cassette decks. After trying these applications for himself, he reported to me that with his TV and VCR, he found the picture somewhat distorted. The color blue seemed to dominate the others. He also said that in using one on the power cord of his cassette recorder, he noted that the treble became less clear. I cannot verify or debate his information on his cassette recorder. However, given my love of film and the pervasiveness of home theater, I have to report my completely contrary findings on use with televisions, DVD players and digital television tuners.

On my NEC monitor, Pioneer DV-525 DVD player and General Instrument's SFT-2 Dolby Digital television receiver, placing such ferrites on the power cords, and on the DVD player and digital TV receiver units, on the video-out composite and S-VHS cables, brought marked improvement. The nature of the improvement came both in the reduction of random noise in the picture and in a heightening of both dimensionality and saturation. Our technical editor, Doug Blackburn, is quick to point out that the positive attributes noted with the addition of these ferrites may be due as much to their effects on the cables' resonance as with their RFI and EMI taming. I can’t say for sure, but the fact is that they work, and they cost a pittance in doing so.

Home-brew record-cleaning fluid

Many readers have written to express their happiness and success with my home-brew recipe for record-cleaning fluid that first appeared in April of 1998 in Software Treatment San Revisited. The principal obstacle with the recipe now is that one of the primary ingredients, the Lysol disinfectant product known and sold as Direct, is no longer available. To that end, I am sorry to say that I have not found a successful surfactant-type substitute. I will continue the search, but in the meantime, I would suggest that those who wish to brew their own record cleaner revert back to my 15-year-old, tried-and-true, war-horse recipe.

The formulation is as follows. Start with a gallon of distilled, not spring or drinking, water that sells for less than three-quarters of a buck in grocery chains here in the Midwest. While you are there, grab a bottle of Windex, blue or clear, for less than three dollars, if you don’t already have a bottle in your cleaning arsenal. Pick up a quart of isopropyl alcohol (91-92% pure) at your local drug store for under two bucks. You can use the considerably more pure anhydrous alcohol, available from some druggists and specialty medical-supply stores, but as most of the impurities in the lower-priced isopropyl consist of water anyway, it might be counter productive. It will certainly significantly elevate the cost, as the higher purity translates into a much higher retail price. Finally, you will need to stop by your local photo-supply store and acquire a bottle of Kodak Photo-Flo. A four-ounce bottle should only set you back about five bucks and will likely last the rest of your record-cleaning days.

Some have cautioned against the use of Photo-Flo as a wetting agent in record-cleaning formulae, suggesting that it may cause damage. All I can say is that I have been using it since the early '80s and don’t have a single damaged record to show for it in all those years’ frequent and repeated cleanings with any of my own concoctions. Obviously, you should only use this fluid at your own risk. Neither SoundStage! nor I will be held responsible for any damage arising out of the use of this recipe.

Prepare a bowl by washing and then drying it thoroughly. Pour about 1/4 of the gallon of distilled water into that freshly cleaned bowl. Pour the about 2/3 to 4/5 of the quart of alcohol into the distilled water. The ratio we want to achieve is about 5 to 1 water to alcohol, with no more than about 20% of the solution being alcohol. Add one teaspoon of Windex and ten drops of Photo-Flo. Top off the gallon with the distilled water originally poured into the clean bowl. You now have a gallon of fluid that costs less than three bucks and, except for the alcohol, the mixings for dozens more!

I would also ask you to consider that at least 50% of the success in cleaning your records must be attributed to the cleaning brush, which is a necessity for wet-record cleaning. You can purchase very good specialty brushes from Dr. Duane Goldman, maker of the wonderful Disc Doctor's Miracle Record Cleaner, for about $35. These are without doubt the very best record-cleaning brushes I have ever seen available. You can build a much less costly and very effective brush by following the instructions in my original home brew article. If you have developed a wet-record-cleaning brush you find to be very good, please write to me with its construction. I will pass it along in a future column and give credit to the inventor.

Home-brew interconnects

By far one of my most successful construction articles has been the "An Under $20 Killer Home Brew Interconnect," which appeared in April of 1998. I have gotten hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from DIYers all over the globe, all espousing the wonders and sonic joy of this easy-to-fabricate and ridiculously affordable DIY interconnect. Below is one such letter, which essentially reflects the sentiments of all the responses.

"Built your shipping-tape, enamel-coated, gold-plated, silver-solder interconnects. UN-FU*&^NG BELIEVABLE. I had CANARE twisted on my tube rig and then switched to the postage-tape jobs. New layers of sonic subtlety hit me at first. Better soundstaging. I can hear orchestral strings MUCH CLEARER! Bass was solid as a rock. I can smell the skin on the drums, baby! I mean this was an extreme difference. OUT go the Canrares! They really suck, and I thought they were very good. Now I'll try the silver wire." Name withheld by request.

My original source for the solid-silver wire used was the New York jewelry-supply firm, Myron Toback, Inc. (212-398-8300). An e-mail from one reader informed me that Toback claims that since the first article appeared, "the demand has been 'crazy' for this wire." The same reader determined the purity of this silver wire to be 0.9995%. He also mentioned that, upon close examination with a magnifier, this 30-gauge wire (.010") was not uniform in diameter. While this may not be the best silver wire available, it is exceedingly good for the asking price, as all who have tried it have remarked.

While on the subject of wire gauge, I want to clarify one point. I have received more questions about the gauge of wire used in this assembly than any other aspect of this construction. Invariably I am asked if it wouldn’t be more beneficial to use a larger-gauge (smaller AWG number) of wire rather than the smaller 30 gauge recommended. Using a smaller-gauge wire for this construction maximizes the positive attributes of skin effect while minimizing the magnetic interaction between conductors. Using a larger-gauge conductor reduces attributes such as soundstaging, dynamics, truth of timbre, and it slurs the lower frequencies in comparison. Let me state finally and for the record that in this endeavor, SMALLER IS BETTER!

I freely admit to getting the idea of using smaller-gauge wire from one of the two principals of Omega Mikro Cables and the founder and recording engineer of Mapleshade Productions, Pierre Sprey. Pierre uses (and markets) interconnects that measure just one-half a thousandth of an inch (.0005 inch)! If you’ve ever heard any of the Mapleshade recordings, all of which utilize such cables in their production, you’d be hard-pressed to argue with his logic.

Others have written concerning the "contamination" of the raw wire by using a lubricant to assist its insertion into the Teflon sleeve. You are not contaminating the wire with the use of a lubricant. In fact, the use of something like virgin olive oil or Caig Pro Gold actually helps prevent oxidation of the otherwise unprotected silver conductor over time. Not using a lubricant and trying to feed the conductor into the narrow Teflon tubing will yield kinks, which are much more contaminant and detrimental to the signal. It is acceptable to use a larger inside diameter Teflon tube than the one I have originally recommended, as the greater 'space' around the conductors will be air -- the best dialectic there is.

Researching further, I have come up with other sources for silver -- and even gold -- wire, some raw and some pre-coated with Teflon insulation. These are included in the resource list at the end of this column. While the use of pre-coated conductors will both significantly elevate the budget and cut down on construction time, it will likely only provide a slight increase in overall performance. Though slightly better performance should be realized with the use of some of these other conductors, the cost will greatly outdistance the increase in performance. I want to be clear that the highest performance-to-cost ratio can still be achieved with the Toback wire.

Many of you are true experimenters and have forayed off the trails I have blazed to find your own unique and successful solutions. Here is a letter from one such experimenter, who found his own source of construction materials.

"I read your article on silver interconnects and being a rabid DIYer, I had to give it a try. So I found some 99.999% silver wire via Rio Grande. This is a jewelry supplier, and I bought 250 ft at 5 cents/ft. Then I bought some Alphawire Teflon tubing (part # tft-200-30) at about $30 for 100/ft." Name withheld by request.

Resources

Below is a list of resource sites with hyperlinks. Some offer many different varieties, materials and gauges of wire for experimenters, and some offer all manner of construction parts such as capacitors, inductors, diodes, and resistors and other accessories like the ferrites and cable terminations. These are sites I have found most useful in my own DIY projects. If you have any favorites, be sure to write me so that I may share them with our like-minded brethren.

http://www.bainbridge.net/percyaudio/. Bainbridge is a supplier of electronic parts for audio hobbyists. Here is their online catalog of parts, viewable with Adobe Acrobat Reader in Portable Document Format.

http://www.belden.com/products/catalog/index.htm. Belden is the largest cable manufacturer on earth. Happy hunting!

http://www.a-msystems.com/physiology/products/wire/coatedsilverwire.asp. This is a tremendous source of a variety of gauges of Teflon-coated silver, gold and platinum wire for projects.

http://www.homegrownaudio.com/wire.htm. Yet another source of wire.

http://www.wpiinc.com/WPI_Web/Lab_supplies/Precision_Metal_Wire.html. Precious metals and specialty wire, including a unique and pricey all-carbon version.

http://home.pacbell.net/emoonie/. An all-purpose link with affordable parts and wire for the DIY-prone hobbyist.

http://www.digikey.com/. Digi-Key Electronics.

http://www.i-mcm.com/welcome.jhtml. MCM Electronics.

http://www.mouser.com/. Mouser Electronics.

http://www.partsconnection.on.ca/. The Parts Connection. Pricey but superb quality parts for upgrades and DIY projects.

http://www.jenving.se/tables.htm. A table outlining AWG wire gauges and metric equivalents -- with imperial conversion formulae.

Keep on Synergizing….

...Greg Weaver
gregw@soundstage.com

 

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