with Greg Weaver
Software Treatment Ni - Hyper-Shiny
As Doug Schneider so vehemently mentioned in the opening disclaimer to last months Complementary Colors, there was a huge brouhaha over the long term effects of treating the business side of you CDs with Armor-All. It had been one of the staple methods for repairing scratches on un-playble discs. Also, whispered quietly among the "analog rules" dissenters, was the assertion that, not only did it effectively repair the disc to playability, it actually IMPROVED the sound quality of this less than perfect medium. My attempts to "fix" permanently damaged discs had led me to experiment with a variety of chemical Band-Aids including Armor-All, Son-Of-A-Gun, Turtle Wax, and Rain-X, all with varying degree of results. Later, I experimented with Finyl - the CD Solution, Audio Alchemys Clear Bit and most recently with Dr. Duane Goldmans Miracle CD Cleaner. The latter is more of a cleaner than a "treatment," but still paves the way to, forgive the pun, clearer playback. But the whole thing came to a head in the late winter of 1990.
It was February 1990 in an alleged dialogue between Sam Tellig and his audio-phobe pal Lars (Lars Fredell, currently on the Fi Masthead) that popularized the whole thing. Next thing I knew, every body was trying it. Then, the other shoe dropped. After just a few short months of the frenzy, the Armor-All treatment was officially discouraged. Armor-All, it seemed, would cloud the discs play surface after just a brief time. The main concern here was that, with time, Armor-All may permanently fog the disc, rendering it forever un-playable. Once the damage was done to the polycarbonate of the disc it was said to be irreversible, thereby destroying "perfect sound forever." If you were to treat all of your discs, and this predilection for ruin was true, it would represent the destruction of a sizable investment! Methods for "de-treatment" were published, all in an effort to avoid accountability. As Doug stated, nothing conclusive was ever proven.
It all started for me one evening at work in 1988. Brian, a member of my sales team, asked me if I had heard the difference Armor-All made to a CD. I said, "Yes, it made un-playable discs play again." He said, "No, I mean have you heard the difference." When I admitted that I had not even thought about it, he very animatedly went to work to set up a demo to exhibit them to me. It seemed he just happened to have a small, "personal sized" applicator bottle in his pocket.
We first opened two identical model players (Harman Kardon HD 7300s) and tested them both to verify they were working up to spec to determine that they were indistinguishable from one another. We then opened two copies of Donald Fagens The Nightfly and auditioned them on the same machine. This was to verify that they had no distinguishable pressing flaws and that they, too, sounded identical on the same machine. Brian then treated one of the discs and inserted them both into their respective machines while I was out of the room. Upon my return, Brian played each disc repeated in each of the two disc players many times (entirely at Brians discrimination). Not only did I repeatedly choose the same disc as sonically better, but I was consistently preferring the treated disc in each sampling. After about 12 tries, we dragged in an unsuspecting passer-by and forced them to choose one or the other. After describing what to listen for, this innocent on-looker also consistently picked the treated disc, regardless of which machine was used, in every test. That was more than enough to convince me.
After all the hub-bub, I settled on Rain-X - The Invisible Windshield Wiper. It was cost effective and seemed (NOTICE I SAID SEEMED - NOT GUARANTEED) to have no long term side effects. I bought a 7 oz. bottle in 1989 and still have some left. At the time, we were all at a loss to explain why this made such a distinctive difference. I mean, ones and zeros are ones and zeros, aren't they? The best we could do was assume that the chemical "filled in" some tiny surface imperfections in the disc and somehow allowed for less error correction to come into play.
Rain-X treatment is super easy. Pick up some Rain-X at the discount department or automotive supply store. While in the discount department store, stop by the cosmetics department and pick up some cotton balls or the more lint free cotton pads. Squirt a small amount of Rain-X on the cotton ball or pad, but dont soak it. Apply the moistened cotton applicator to the disc in radial motions, from the center to the edge, making sure it is moistened completely. Give it a few minutes to "haze." When done, use a clean 100% cotton cloth to "polish" the disc, again, using radial motions. I cut up an old sweat shirt and use the fleece side with wonderful results. When completely dry, throw the disc down and light up that laser!
So what were these remarkable differences? To my ear, the most notable was a welcomed tightening of the bass. Ive always held that CD bass, especially that delivered from one bit converters, is less taut and controlled than, dare I say it, vinyl. Rain-X created a marked improvement in the lowest registers, recreating them with much greater perceived speed and removing most of the "muddiness" I had come to expect from the format.
Another unexplainable difference is an apparent increase in volume. This may be due to an increase in dynamics, both macro and micro, but it is unmistakable. The treated disc sounded louder than the untreated, seeming to open up dynamically. This is a nice effect as it allows for a bit more low level detail and room acoustic to "shine" through (see my statement about the importance of this factor in last months' installment).
Soundstaging and imaging benefit significantly from this treatment as well. It effectively allows for a better ability to "locate" the position of instruments and voices though out the sonic landscape. Images exhibited a much higher degree of specificity and the stage widened noticeably. It has a pronounced effect on "locking" the phantom image, particularly of percussion instruments such as klavie, wood blocks, cymbals, shakers and chimes. Every thing had become wonderfully alive and spacious.
There is an overall "warming" from the upper mid-bass through the upper treble. Less of the "shred" and "whiteness" from extreme treble is exhibited. There is more reality to cellos and double bass. Pianos exhibit less of the "plinky" character and sound more full bodied in timbre, as do brass and woodwinds. In all, a very pleasant character change.
One other more subtle change was the lessening of sibilance. In some cases, and with some systems (ones which do not tend to over-exaggerate this effect), you may have to pay strict attention to perceive this. It has been noticeable on every system Ive tried with a treated disc.
Once again, Id like to point out that this tweek is more significant with less expensive players, but still yields exquisite results with state-of-the-art equipment. As the quality of your CD playback system increases, the degree of significance exhibited by these treatments will diminish slightly. Here is another one specially for the "economically challenged!"
Let me know what you discover!
My flirtations with Armor All as a CD treatment came purely for practical reasons. It was in the late 80s and U2s The Joshua Tree was becoming ever more popular, solidifying Bono and the boys in pop-rock god status. However, as the world listened more and more, I was listening less and less. My Joshua Tree had started life out of its jewel box in fine working order. I played it a lot. Then slowly, and for no apparent reason, the CD began to skip intermittently. Skips gave way to mis-loads, and pretty soon getting past track 2 proved impossible. Visual inspection of the disc gave no clues to its demise. I even tried cleaning it under a tap with some light soap with no effect. Subsequently, it laid unplayed on my CD rack for six months.
It was when I was drinking beer at an outdoor restaurant and telling this tale of my unplayable CD that my friend Dave piped up with, "use Armor All on it." Six of us looked suspiciously at Dave with raised eyebrows. We were all audiophiles and, therefore, were known for entertaining stupid ideas, but this was as dumb a comment as we had heard that day. Besides, Dave was a vinyl disciple, a CD player hadnt ever come within earshot of his listening room. Dave reassured us that digiphiles had assured him that Armor All was indeed the "cats ass" for CD treatment. Nobody took him seriously except for me.
I went home that night, took the Armor All of the glove compartment, and applied it to The Joshua Tree. I figured that even if it ruined the disc I had nothing to lose because it was unplayable anyway. Being a novice in the application of the treatment, I used a Kleenex to buff it. This, I found, was not a good idea because of the amount of lint it left behind. I used my shirt to wipe the excess lint that the Kleenex left behind. I was very skeptical because the disc, now treated, looked cloudy! "How the hell is this gonna play?" I thought. Still, I loaded it in my player and lo and behold, it played until track 4 before the skipping started again. I whipped the disc out, reapplied the Armor All, fetched a soft cotton cloth and buffed like crazy. Track 6 was now attainable. One more quick and final buffing and I was able to play it until the end! The disc played perfectly for six more months until I heard it skip again. I did a single application of Armor All at that time and today, October, 21, 1997, the disc plays flawlessly. Its still a little cloudy, but it works! Does it sound any better? Better than not at all is all that I can say.