Fine Tunes #47

Sometimes tweaks take on a life of their own. Take the one of using Armor All to keep speaker surrounds from drying out, which you can read all about in the November 2001 "Fine Tunes No.41" I recently got another e-mail on the subject from Dan Mazza at Arizona Hi-Fi, who agrees with Mark Gdovin's objections to using Armor All. (Read Mark's comments on the entire issue in the readers' letters linked to "Fine Tunes No.41.").)

Dan has been, he informs, a member of an auto-racing crew for more than 25 years (for which I salute him), and has done some racing himself. He seems very aware of the problems with Armor All so well explicated by Mark, and also points out that, as time goes on, Armor All emits a gas. (So do I, but that's another story.) One common result of this outgassing, he says, is the light milky coating you may have seen on the inside of your windshield (assuming you use Armor All on your dashboard).

Okay, damned again...but, Dan says, you can use a simple old auto-detailing trick for preventing speaker surrounds from drying out: vegetable oil! "A light application about every six months or so should do the trick." Seems right on the money. (Seems, okay? I'm not putting anything on my JMlab Utopias' driver surrounds!) "Keep up the good work!" Dan enthusiastically ended his missive. Thanks, Dan—with great pleasure.

Now for some more equipment-footering ideas to supplement the many "Fine Tunes" we've spent mulling over this ticklish problem. If you're not of a mind to pull out the scissors and tape and start doing things for yourself, I have a few commercial items that couldn't hurt.

First, hie thee to thy nearest full-service Bright Star dealer and ask him to fix you up with a set of IsoNodes. (Nothing to do with your nose, and I don't have a cold.) These are packs of small, black "high-tech polymer" half-spheres that "simultaneously act as a solid and a liquid to absorb harmful vibration," according to the Bright Star literature. And they're "Fine Tunes" cheap. Four of the larger size—a packet of which Barry Kohan, Mr. Bright Star, tossed me at CES—cost $19.95. Each is 1¼" in diameter by ¾" tall, four of which are good for 42 lbs of equipment. The small IsoNodes are ¾" by 3/8" tall and work fine for components weighing up to 30 lbs.

I tried the IsoNodes under the Rotel RCD-971 CD player I sometimes use with my headphone system when writing reviews, and liked what they did. AudioPrism IsoBearings are better but cost a lot more. Feeding a HeadRoom BlockHead dual-mono headphone amp (review in the works), the Rotel sounded cleaner with the 'Nodes in place, with better-defined bass, a more pellucid midrange, and sweeter highs. (For the BlockHead review I'll be using the heavier and fully differential Balanced Audio Technology D5SE CD player.) In my book, IsoNodes are a no-brainer. Buy three packs and use three footers each under four components!

More inexpensive footers come to us from Uncle Jerry Raskin, aka The Needle Doctor. They're called Molly Toes, after his daughter, and they're a "Fine Tunes"-friendly six bucks for a blister pack of eight. The set Jerry gave me at CES had four in gold, four in a sort of gray, black, and white faux marble. They even come with little round protectors for your fine foinicha.

I replaced the IsoNodes under the Rotel 971 with the Mollys and liked what they did, too. First, I noticed that the bass was a hair tighter than that produced with the 'Nodes. The midrange was perhaps a bit less cushy, although I could have been hearing more of what was on the CD. And the highs, too, were perhaps a touch less sweet overall than with the 'Nodes. It all depends on your tastes and system, of course.

But the Molly Toe and IsoNode footers are relatively cheap, even for those starting out in the World of Tweakdom. At the worst, you can give them to your nephew—he'll probably wear them through his ears or navel.

Speaking of CD tweaks...The Needle Doctor sells Disc Guards at $9.99 for 10: "Improves CD/DVD/Media Quality! Stabilizes Disc in Player! Reduces Disc Vibration! Makes Handling Easier! Raises Disc Off Any Surface!" Jerry actually talks like that! Every statement ends in an exclamation point! Really!

The Disc Guard is a green band that you stretch around the outer perimeter of your CD or DVD—be sure to slip the disc into the Guard's inner notch and tap it down tight. I used something like this regularly in the early 1990s to defeat early digititus. Those bands, from Sumiko and Allsop, were black, but green is probably better—according to most tweakers, green best absorbs the stray laser light bouncing around inside a player.

I tried the Disc Guards, and they worked very well. I didn't use them with the super-expensive Accuphase DP-100 transport, but they certainly were worth it with the Rotel 971, especially at a buck each. The result was an added smoothness evident across the audible frequency range. And in some cases, ladies and germs, that's just what the "Fine Tunes" Doctor ordered.