Listening #107 Page 2

With "Don't Cry No Tears," from Neil Young's Zuma (LP, Reprise MS 2242), my system sounded less tonally complex with the Kimber Toniks than with my Shindo cables; with the latter in place, it was easier to hear and to appreciate the distinctions among, say, the different drum-kit sounds in different songs. (On this as on so many Neil Young albums, different tracks were produced by different people; in those produced by David Briggs, including the above, the drum sound is somewhat rawer, while the kick drum in other tracks sounds overdamped and thuddy by comparison.) But with a $80 Kimber Tonik taking the place of the $1295 Shindo that normally goes between my preamp and amps, every song on Zuma had all of the considerable force and momentum I expected to hear. Bass depth and bass impact were both superb.

Well-recorded classical fare did more to trip-up the Kimber. Beethoven's Septet in E-flat, Op.20, in an original-instrument recording by members of Collegium Aureum (LP, Harmonia Mundi 1C 065-99 713Q), sounded richer and just plain easier to take with the more expensive interconnect pair in the system—especially that 1790-vintage clarinet, which sounds rather pungent under even the best of circumstances. But, again, the cheap Toniks got the musical gist of the piece, which is more than can be said for some of the goofier cable designs I've heard over the years. The Kimbers offered clarity without brightness, and reasonably good amounts of color, texture, and touch. For $80, that was A-okay with me. Nordost's Flatline speaker cable—still available in its most basic form as something called Flatline-2—today costs a mere $157 per 2m pair. It uses four flat, 1/16"-wide copper conductors per run, evenly spaced from one another and laminated within a clear plastic sheath. Pre-terminated pairs of Flatline-2 are marked for direction, and are available with a variety of connectors; Nordost's standard low-mass, gold-plated bananas suit me fine.

In my Shindo-based system, the new, un-stepped-on Flatline-2s sounded similar to my reference Auditorium 23 speaker cables ($800/2m pair). In fact, the two shared many qualities that are high among my audio priorities, especially their ability to represent believably saturated tonal colors, their apparent lack of dynamic/dramatic compression, and their overall musicality—or, if you prefer, their ability to put forth musical flow and timing without gross temporal distortion.

After reacquainting myself with the Flatline-2, I came to think of the inexpensive Nordost cable as a sort of less sophisticated Auditorium 23 cable. On Analogue Productions' recent—and already indispensable—vinyl reissue of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, performed by Donald Johanos and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Turnabout/Analogue Productions TV 34145S), the differences between the Flatline-2 and Auditorium 23 were down to the latter's greater success at allowing woodwinds—especially that saxophone!—to come forward from the mix during solo lines, and with a bit more physicality and presence. The expensive German cable also allowed instrumental timbres to sound more natural and, where appropriate, more rounded, while the same sounds through the Nordost could be a bit clangy by comparison. Nonetheless, the Nordost cables did the job and left me smiling—and I smiled all the more, knowing they cost less than one-fifth the price of my references!

Again, the idea that resonates for me is that these budget cables are also simple cables. And they got the simple things right: They made music. It's enough to make me wonder if building a complex cable that also sounds good must be about the hardest thing in the world to do. (Maybe that's why they're so expensive?) The Nordost Flatline-2 and the Kimber Tonik failed, in their ways, to let my system deliver all of the sonic and musical nuance I'm used to hearing from it, realization of which confirmed that I wouldn't hesitate for a second to buy my own Shindo, Audio Note, and Auditorium 23 cables all over again. But they were guarantors of music and of basic musical pleasure. They got the plane off the ground.

La-la means I love you
What else does it take to loft said plane—or, as happens more often around here, pull said tractor? Things too many and too strange to say.

Take, for example, the Acoustic Revive RR-77 ($595), which its manufacturer describes as a pulse generator intended to restore and reinforce the natural Schumann Resonance (fundamental frequency: 7.83Hz) that exists in the cavity between Earth and its ionosphere, and in the presence of which all life on Earth has evolved and adapted over the eons. In so doing, Acoustic Revive hopes that the RR-77 will enhance the experience of listening to music, recorded or not. The RR-77 is powered with a detachable 12V wall wart, and its single circuit board, the traces on which appear to have been inspired by the maze inside the gatefold sleeve of the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, contains two zener diodes, seven capacitors, twelve resistors, one variable resistor, and an eight-legged integrated circuit painted flat black.

That's not all. The inner surfaces of its plastic case, as well as the case's base, have been painted—with gum Arabic, I think, or something very like it—in various apparently purposeful designs. On the inside of the case is a star of David and a Japanese character of meaning unknown (to me). On the inner surface of the base is a mandala-like wheel, and four identical characters that resemble the K in the Kellogg's logo.

A few years ago, I purchased on eBay a pre-owned Gallagher guitar, the headplate of which was decorated, in pearl inlay, with a crescent moon and a silhouette of a polar bear. Not only was the headplate inlay not my reason for buying the guitar—I bought it because it was a 12-fret mahogany dreadnought with a Florentine cutaway, which seemed like a good idea at the time—but I came to dislike it rather intensely, and I left the instrument in its case for a number of months before selling it myself, also on eBay. (I made a small profit, as one often does with such things.) In the auction listing I described the decoration as merely "a picture of a bear," and was chastised by a few other eBay-ers for not being sensitive to the fact that the design was, indeed, a Native American fetish. I was still glad to be rid of it.

The point being: I'm happy for you if you recognize the designs inside the RM-77 or if you understand their significance, singly or in combination. But please don't feel obligated to share.

The Acoustic Revive RR-77 was sent to me by Yoshi Hontani of MuSon Project of Osaka, Japan, at the behest of a good audio friend here in the US. I've used it on and off for several months, and didn't look inside the thing until the day before I returned it to its owners. I'm not sure whether or how that knowledge might have colored my findings—I was a bit put off by the discovery of the symbols, and by my subsequent involuntary musings about whether there's an intended significance to the choice of twelve resistors—but during every day I used it, there wasn't the slightest question in my mind that the RR-77 had an effect, whether on the sound in my room or on my perception of that sound (footnote 1). The effect was slight, noncumulative (it didn't increase over time), and immediate: The instant I worked its switch, I heard the music in my room appear bigger—especially in terms of height—and altogether more spacious. Turning off the RR-77's switch made the music shrink in on itself a little. Every time. (I should add that the friend who recommended it to me in the first place swears that the effect is more pronounced when the RR-77 is used with a higher-quality power supply than the one it's shipped with.

I tried a sort of half-blind test (joke intended) here at home, doing all the wrong things and a few of the right ones. I sat my 13-year-old daughter down in my listening seat while an LP of simple acoustic guitar music was playing, and told her: "Occasionally, during the next 15 minutes, I'm going to do something that may or may not make the music sound bigger or smaller. I won't tell you when it happens, but I want you to raise your hand if you hear the music change in that manner." Then I stepped to the side of the room, slipped the RR-77 inside my shirt so that Julia could neither hear the switch work nor see its pale blue pilot light (ah, science!), and went to it. She heard the change almost every time I worked the switch. But, as irony would have it, she described the sound as "smaller" when the switch was on, "bigger" when it was off. What are these schools teaching our kids?

Some of you will be interested in the Acoustic Revive RR-77 and some of you will relegate it—and anyone who recommends it—to La-La Land. Nothing I say is likely to change that one iota. Thus I can say only that I'm confident that this product does something. If you're at all curious, and if you can find a dealer who will offer it with a money-back guarantee, you really ought to try one for yourself.

Footnote 1: Pedantically speaking, the audio-frequency vibrations of the air in an audiophile's room can't be described as "sound" unless there is someone present to perceive it. So while Art's distinction between the two appears tautological, the English language don't have a single word that means "sound when there is no-one present to perceive it as such."—Ed.
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