Fine Tunes #44
Oh, the shame, the humiliation of it all. My family! My friends! My job! (Not necessarily in that order...)
If you point your browser to "Fine Tunes #41," you'll find posted for perusal, free of charge, my November 2001 column. If you then click on "Letters" at the bottom of the page, you'll find additional correspondence sent in about keeping cats from munching your speaker cables (also covered in that month's column), and rather pointed thoughts on the Armor All tweak for rubber surrounds for speaker drivers (ditto).
First, the cats. Rob Iacullo (email@example.com, Team Amiga) thought the Armor All a fine idea and promised to try it soon. While he was at it, he suggested brushing Tabasco sauce onto the speaker cables. "The cats will never go near them again. My friend said it works great. And you don't have to wait until you have emptied rolls of toilet paper." Thanks, Rob, but now you have to empty a bottle of Tabasco sauce! [sizzle] Rob credits the trick to a vet, so there's a guy who should know.
C. Diesner (Edezzner@aol.com), whose cats liked to dine on Monster Cable, had another brilliant idea. "One day, while at the auto sound installer, I noticed the convoluted tubing that they use for wire runs." He got 12' of this 5/8"-diameter tubing gratis, and sheathed his speaker cables with it. "The cats could munch no more, as the tubing was bigger than their mouths. My cables also looked much more expensive than they actually were, so that was good for the ego. (Bigger sound?) I have seen the tubing for sale at various auto-parts stores for maybe a buck a foot, so it's cheap enough to try." Well, it's certainly cheap enough for "Fine Tunes"!
But there's a darker side to all this tweaking—Mark Gdovin (firstname.lastname@example.org) thinks the Armor All treatment for speaker surrounds is a possible recipe for long-term disaster. He had a chat with his brother, "a Professional Engineer-certified Mechanical Engineer, specializing in materials."
I suggest you browse the Stereophile Archives URL mentioned above to read the whole thing, but Mark's brother summed it up thus: "In other words, once you use [Armor All] you are essentially 'addicted' to it in that you have to keep reapplying it in order to retain the flexibility. Otherwise, you have essentially induced a chemical sort of 'osteoporosis' to the [polymer's] 'spine' of carbon; breakage and/or reduced flexibility is the result."
I am so ashamed! But I did warn you that I hadn't tried that particular tweak. So do the Armor All spritz only if you can keep on spritzing away...or else!
I also win the second Tweaker from Hell award, thanks to Jim Bosha (Jim_Bosha@campbell-mithun.com), for the "magic" Silver Conductive Grease for super connections, which I mentioned way back in July 2001. It was hard to get hold of a tube of the stuff; reader David Zappardon (email@example.com), inquisitive fella that he is, came up with the correct URL for website orders.
Big problem, however. Jim writes, "Silver Conductive Grease is a seductive product name for any tweaker, the hi-fi equivalent of 'Strawberry Flavored Massage Oil' or, even more pointedly, 'Sex Wax.' However, I must warn you and your readership about using this product, as a little dab'll do ya on interconnects and speaker cables." Everyone in the office thought there was an earthquake hitting New York; it was just me, turning red and vibratin' in my chair.
"After all," writes Jim, "something liquid and conductive sealing the slightest gaps in any electrical contact sounds like the missing link to any good anal-retentive audiophile. Well, Tweak fluid, as we all know, was debunked as a bad idea: a dust and corrosion 'attractant' that had a lot of people, including professional sound studios, replacing entire banks of RCA jacks."
So Jim got a tube of the Silver Conductive Grease. "There was nothing on the product packaging to suggest it was ever intended for such use, but the same is true for hockey pucks when used as component feet—so that just serves to make it another tweaker's rush." Hockey pucks. He's a riot.
"I went ahead and put a wee dram of the gunk on every RCA jack. I got off easy. In the 5.1 system that I had Greased up, only three out of five interconnects that run between my power amp and preamp shorted. Happily, I can report that my components were robust enough to protect themselves. And I must confess, it was a learning experience—I hadn't known it was possible to toast a cable to quite that extent. One thing the packaging makes no bones about is the highly conductive nature of the grease. They ain't kidding.
"A good friend who happens to be a professional sound engineer almost killed me. A sparkling, squeaky-clean input is the ideal to aim for, he reminded me. And gunk, goo, grease, or glop of any kind should be avoided like poison, 'silver' content or no."
Jim did point out that the Silver Conductive Grease is intended for industrial switch plates and so on, parts that require free movement and high conductivity. "In other words," he wrote, "Silver Conductive Grease doesn't kill hi-fi gear. Audiophiles who have purchased Silver Conductive Grease kill hi-fi gear."
[Gulp] I never got hold of a tube, and I guess I'm lucky I didn't. Consider me wiser and more cautious now. In fact, in addition to apologizing to all of you for passing on a questionable tweak, I'll only pass on the tweaks I've tried for myself, tweaks that are similar to tweaks I've done or to commercial products that are successful in the marketplace, or suggestions that really make sense, like cut in half tennis balls used as footers. And may we all tweak our way to the Golden Gates!"
We received the following letter in response:
I would like to offer an opposing viewpoint to Jonathan Scull's February 2002 "Fine Tunes" column. I have used the silver conductive grease he mentions on virtually all of my audio and video connections, and I have never had a single short. Every connection has been improved. The most significant improvements have been to the video and digital connections, perhaps due to the higher frequencies involved.
I use a small artist paintbrush and paint the most accessible parts of the connectors. That would be the outer collar on female RCA and the inner pin on the male. I have tried a number of Jonathan;s tweaks so far, and this one offers the most improvement I've heard. Keep those tweaks coming!—firstname.lastname@example.org