The Fifth Element #14 Page 2

And here are six CDs of unusual artistic quality that are not Christmas-themed.

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, etc.; Sir John Barbirolli (Angel Classics 67264): The Tallis Fantasia is that rarity, a work that is immediately accessible but of immense staying power. Barbirolli's 1963 stereo version is not the lushest recording job, but it more than makes up for that in conviction and logical inevitability.

Poulenc: Ballet Music; Charles Dutoit, Pascal Rogé (PolyGram 452 937): Les Biches and other charming but bittersweet scores are collected in idiomatic performances and great sound.

Alasdair Fraser & Paul Machlis: Skyedance (Culburnie CUL 101D): Traditional Scottish tunes played by The MacHeifetz himself, accompanied by atmospheric piano that doesn't get in the way.

The Art of Nathan Milstein (Angel Classics 64830): Although this five-disc collection unaccountably lacks even one of the Goldmark Concerto performances that for many are the best explication of Milstein's artistry, you should buy it anyway. A veritable encyclopedia of musical ideas, and a dictionary of violinistic communication. There were giants in the earth in those days.

Mozart: Opera Arias; Kiri Te Kanawa (Philips 11148): Captured in her prime, erstwhile plaid-skirt wearer Te Kanawa demonstrates the rich, luxuriant tone production that caused her fans to act more like worshippers. Great camisole action on the cover, too. And a saucy smirk. Okay, I'm obsessing.

Canteloube: Songs of the Auvergne; Frederica von Stade (Sony 63063): Languid and sun-ripened, these classic interpretations are even more attractive at Sony's super-budget price point. A touchstone CD.

I can't resist also recommending as a gift the Superbit DVD of the classic sci-fi movie The Fifth Element (Columbia 07574). Apart from having an eminently borrowable name, and the fact that it rounds the total up to the symbolic number of 12 items, this DVD features Milla Jovovich's remarkable flesh tones and soundtrack music that holds up to repeated hearings.

As an object lesson, watch the early scenes (in which Leeloo escapes from the lab and flees the police) first with the sound turned off, then with the sound back on, to realize the extent to which the vaguely North African music heightens the sense of action. The opera sequence with the alien Diva is, of course, near-universal demo material. The Superbit version is one increment crisper in picture quality than the normal one. Some PG-13 violence and gore, but the film does not take itself very seriously.

A small but powerful stocking-stuffer is a container of Caig Pro Gold wipes, for cleaning electrical connections. The wipes are available from Markertek, as are all variety of brushes and other products to make connection maintenance, if not a snap, then less of a frustration. You'll feel like a pro!

To go beyond contact cleaning to contact enhancement, one's high-octane options are a bit limited compared to those of yesteryear. Into the breach strides that Titan among Mahlerians, Jerry Bruck, triumphantly bearing aloft a 5ml bottle of Stabilant 22 (footnote 1). Stabilant 22 is an initially nonconductive complex block polymer liquid that, under the influence of electricity in a contact (but not otherwise), becomes conductive. Furthermore, it does not cross-link to form sludge. Pretty nifty!

Jerry has established to his satisfaction that thin-film oxidation in contacts such as microphone connectors (and, one can assume, RCA plugs and jacks) changes the waveform near its zero crossing point. His website explains it thusly:

"As an alternating current signal voltage passes through the zero voltage state, current ceases to flow (we're assuming a purely resistive load here); if a thin film contamination is present, current may not start to flow again until sufficient voltage has built up across the contaminant so as to break it down. The result is a small notch in the signal, which in sound is not dissimilar to the notch distortion of a class-B power amplifier. The characteristic sound ranges from a 'grainy' quality up to harsh 'glassy brilliant' coloration."

Huedathunquet! Remarkable thing, Jerry is a bit of a "megabuck cable agnostic," in that he believes that a well-made professional cable (such as Canare) is sufficient, but he's a demon on contact maintenance and hygiene (as well as on power-line conditioning). Quite the reverse from most audiophiles. Hmmmm.

There is a school of thought that some of the "improvement" people hear when replacing their three-year-old cables with the latest and greatest is more properly attributable to the cleaning action of undoing and redoing the connections, and little else. (Another theory is that the performance of the older cable has steadily deteriorated, owing to the gas-permeability of its insulation and consequent oxidization of its conductors, but we don't have time to carve up that figgy pudding right now.)

In any event, wire goods are often the longtime love-despair relationship in an audiophile's life. My first word of advice is always this, though few seem to take it: Concern yourself with room acoustics before all else. But improving room acoustics requires some degree of study and diligence, and might involve changing aspects of the room's décor. Far easier to spend a pile on stuff that plugs in back there. Oh well. I tried.

Footnote 1: Why do I want to call it Soylent 22?