Somewhere on the 5th floor, around the corner and through the woods on the way to Grandma’s house, I discovered a lovely woman distributing CD Clarity, a water-based, non-toxic spray said to clean, protect, and restore CDs and DVDs. ("Reduce background noise, improve tracking and enhance musical balance, while cleaning and protecting discs from future scratches," says the label). Developed by the late Dave Herren of Oregon, CD Clarity joins an assortment of highly touted treatments, some of which include products from Walker Audio, Jena Labs, Audiotop, Classic Records, and Optrix. Add to that batch Nordost’s Eco3 static inhibitor, which can be sprayed on the label side of CDs.
John Atkinson was one busy camper at RMAF. In addition to blogging the show and moderating Saturday afternoon's information-packed, standing room only Computer Audio Panel, John presented four hour-long seminars entitled PC AudioSqueezing the Music Till the Bits Squeak, playing all his music examples from his MacBook laptop via a Metric Halo FireWire interface. The setting was Evergreen E, the large, excellent-sounding exhibit (Sony and JBL speakers, Mark Levinson amplification, EMM Labs preamp and digital source components, Kimber kables) assembled by Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable.
Sergey Sorokin, who deserves kudos as Russia’s first high-end manufacturer, arrived at the Marriott Denver Tech Center from Moscow a day before other exhibitors to ensure that his set-up was as close to ideal as the room allowed. Nonetheless, as John Atkinson and I learned upon listening, one of his Israeli-sourced, hand-wound transformers was damaged in transit, and insisted on humming/buzzing along with the music. Despite the unexpected accompaniment, the voice of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Handel (Avie SACD) exhibited absolutely gorgeous tonalities. The great artist’s hushed sounds, even through the transformer noise, were something special. The period instrument orchestra’s bass foundation was also solid and superbly rendered.
Stage III Concepts, a Pasadena-based company whose products are distributed by Brian Ackerman of AAudio Imports, has released four newly re-engineered, top-of-the-line cables. All are part of the A.S.P. Reference series (Absolute Signal Purity), and are entirely handmade (including connectors) by Luis de la Fuente. Connectors are made of ceramic with a mixture of special resins to minimize crosstalk between pins, and the entire housing composed of carbon-fiber and epoxy resin. The wire itself is silver-palladium alloy. The A.S.P. Reference interconnect and speaker cable also sport a vacuum dielectric.
On display were the Zyklop power cord ($6000/1.5m), Gryphon interconnect ($5800/1m pair RCA, $6300/1m pair XLR), and Mantikor speaker cable ($13,200/2m pair). Besides digital and phono cables and speaker jumpers, the company sells hook-up wire for components in a variety of gauges. The least expensive, 22 AWG ($66/1.5m) is followed by 17 and 15 AWG ($280/1.5m).
Asked about the cable’s sonic properties, Ackerman replied, “It has no sound at all. It’s probably the closest thing I’ve heard to having no wire. It’s virtually invisible, like a direct connection.”
I expect there’s a movie industry connection to the name of this cable company, whose new Kraken flagship power cable goes for $8400/1.5m. With internal wiring a silver-palladium alloy, the housing is a combination of carbon-fiber and epoxy resin. Even the ceramic plug is a composite, complete with pins that are a silver-copper alloy with palladium coating. They also look as good as you’d expect for cable that is 100% handmade in Pasadena.
Bless Len Miller of Soundstring Cable Technologies for providing me with a solid presentation of John Travolta's "Stayin' Alive." As my pace increased as I attempted to cover four floors in three days, this music became a mantra of sorts.
Thirteen years after the Maryland-based company’s founding, Stealth Audio Cables stand out for their unique geometry. According to R&D Director Serguei I. Timachev, the cables go from thicker to thinner to assist impedance matching in analog transmission. Handmade, including the connectors, prices range, to use interconnects as an example, from the “amorphous wire in Helium, VanCross geometry of Sakra v12 ($12,000/1m pair) to the pure 99.99% solid-core Gold Signal of PGS rev08 ($1000/1m pair).
The Stein Music Harmonizers (approx. $1100 each; distributor Walter Swanborn of Fidelis AV is putting together package deals that include Stein’s Harmonizer accessories) are one of those mysterious sound-improving devices that are hard to explain to those who have not heard them. They certainly impressed Sam Tellig, who recently discussed them in his monthly Stereophile column.
They’ve also impressed me greatly. A set of four Stein Harmonizers has been residing in my reference system in Oakland for several months, bringing me much pleasure. To these ears, when set up correctly, they have a far from subtle effect on three-dimensionality, transparency, and realism. They take me one step closer to the real thing, making what comes out of my speakers sound less like hi-fi and more like music.
I was delighted to spend some time at T.H.E. Show with the Harmonizers’ designer, Holger Stein of Germany. Stein was showing the newest version of the Harmonizers, which were five years in the making.
The latest Harmonizers have a three-position switch on the rear. Those positions are (1) on with light, (2) on without light to preserve battery life for up to two years, and (3) off, to save energy when the system is not playing. Besides that, they function identically to their predecessor (which I have).
So how does the Stein Harmonizer work? Best to quote directly from Stein. Since, for him, English is a second language, I’ve given him an assist in the editing department:
Midway through Axpona, Norbert Mundorf, maker of the fabled Mundorf capacitors, flew in from Germany to bring the Steinmusic Harmonizer H2a and H2b to the Jaton room. Although I had already blogged the room, I happened to be in the right place to learn what was going on.