Fine Tunes #28

The subject of audiophile-grade AC outlets, which I have been discussing in previous Fine Tunes" columns is more contentious than I'd ever imagined. In August's episode of "Fine Tunes," I forwarded you an e-mail from audio worthy Glen Bartholomew, who waxed poetic about the inexpensive and therefore (he felt) oft-overlooked hospital-grade devices from Leviton. He found the Levitons to be the equals of, if not better than, the Hubbell, Bryant, and Eagle units I'd previously recommended.

But computer-facilities engineer Chris Leck ( "demurs," as JA is fond of noting in "Recommended Components." "In your July 2000 'Fine Tunes,' you mentioned Leviton duplex outlets," Mr. Leck e-mailed. "A reader faxed you with an opinion that Hubbell and Bryant products were too expensive for budget-conscious audiophiles. My experience runs counter to this; in the world of high-performance audio, virtually all hospital-grade outlets are low-priced. At my local Home Depot, a Leviton Pro Grade NEMA 5-15 15A/125V isolated-ground hospital-grade duplex receptacle (sorry, no stock numbers) costs $7.90. The equivalent Bryant Tech-Spec outlet runs $9.84.

"The Leviton model has a much less robust ground terminal and was not up to the task. I twisted one off trying to use the outlet with 10-gauge Romex! The Bryant outlet installed fine without incident or damage, even though both outlets are specified for use with 10-gauge wire. In my opinion, both are quite inexpensive, but in my application, the Leviton model is unacceptable. I took them back to Home Depot and traded them for the more robust Bryant outlets for a few cents more. Even though I got a refund, they caused extra work and trips to the store—not a good value, in my opinion. Who cares about spending an extra buck or so on a good power outlet? Anyway, most folks need only one or two. The point is, folks who have boutique AC cords certainly shouldn't care about saving a buck on the outlet."

Lloyd Smith ( is another Stereophile reader with a "Fine Tunes" on his mind. He, too, had read July's installment, in which I mentioned spraying your audiophile shelves with automotive damping compound—a tweak I originally found at an entertaining Italian audiophile site run by Dr. Lucio Cadeddu.

"This website has a tweak that will make you laugh, but it works!" Lloyd e-mailed. "Go into your local drugstore and ask for a foot-beauty stone. You know, the kind that removes hard skin. Run it under the tap, divide it into cubes with a knife, then place them under the footers of your gear. Use a coin and Blu-Tak if you've got pointy feet." (He means the equipment.) "I have a Roksan Xerxes turntable sitting on a wood floor on a Target stand with a heavy sandbox/Vibrapod/plywood-sheet combo beneath. First I played a record, then placed three little white cubes of this stuff under the feet, thinking I really ought to get a life. I mean, I'm not even having a glass of wine. I didn't expect it to be anything except maybe different.

"Oh no! This is another whole level better! Jaw-dropping improvement across the board, with an incredible sense of flow and ease. Now I can't get enough of my vinyl again! I assume this will work for Regas and such. It costs $5 Canadian, which must be nearly $1 US, eh? It made an incredible improvement in musicality. Give it a try. I didn't use it under my CD player, as I have the inner-tube/sandbagging going on there and like that so much I'm not touching it! I wonder if this would work under speakers?"

Ah, audiophiles. We are such...scaly creatures!

As long as I'm reaching into the tweak grab-bag, here's another peachy if somewhat messy idea, posted by on "If you don't need to swap wires to the speakers/amp often, a really good alternative is available through Parts Express or MCM Electronics (can't recall which, and don't have the catalogs nearby). They sell a tube of conductive, silver-bearing, grease. (They also sell a cheaper version with carbon for conduction, but the silver is inexpensive and is a bit more conductive. It didn't seem worth it to play with the carbon-impregnated stuff; messier, too.)

"Put a heavy coat of this on stripped, twisted copper wire, insert it into the binding posts, and tighten securely. The grease keeps the copper from oxidizing, doesn't degrade conductivity, and makes the connections last almost forever without degradation. Only drawback is that the gray silver stuff is a mess if you get it on your clothes or on the rug, and the carbon black stuff is worse. But it's a cheap and effective thing to do. In setups where I know I'll usually swap things around now and then, I use it with banana plugs where the wire enters the plug. Also use it anywhere, especially outside or in cars in humid conditions to make for secure, reliable connections of bare wire. I'm amazed some high-end catalog or distributor hasn't bought this stuff up, jacked up the price tenfold, and given it out in a little wooden box with a special grease spoon or brush to apply it!"

I found the Parts Express website much faster and easier to navigate, with brief descriptions and images of each product. The array of contact cleaners and chemical enhancers (ahem) was mind-altering—er, -boggling. Simply click on "Chemical Products" and choose a category. MCM, on the other hand, wants you to register. There, after clicking "Service Aids," then "Tech Aids," then "Chemicals," I was presented with a list of products and prices but no descriptions.

If you can't find enough material to keep you and your system spotlessly clean, I'll eat my shorts!