Dr. AIX's POSTS — 01 October 2013

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I’ve gotten some private emails attesting to the value of this or that audiophile accessory. I’m not here to argue about how you spend your money, but I absolutely stand by my post yesterday and the fact that there is absolutely nothing you can smear on your discs, wave over them or put in physical contact with them that will make any difference in the transference of the ones and zeros from the disc to the pickup of your player. Audiophile accessories will not alter the fidelity of the player’s output one bit(excuse the pun).

It’s all about money and the misguided belief that there is some sort of alchemy that will enhance the fidelity of your collection of optical discs. Even the oracle of audiophiledom, Harry Pearson has entered the discussion with the following quote on the Mapleshade website:

“You’ll get better defined bass, particularly in the bottom two octaves. You may not have noticed the mirage-like blurring endemic to CD’s before, but you will soon after, which is why these fluids are so sonically addictive. One thing I can tell you for certain: there’s no going back to an untreated disc once you hear what [Optrix] can do!”

It sounds like he’s talking about some sort of analog signal path instead of CD tonic. I might be able to get behind the idea that clean contacts and isolated power supplies can improve the sound of a recording. But not when it comes to a digital disc playing in an optical drive. Does anyone ever tell you what the special sauce is doing to allow you to get rid of the “mirage-like blurring endemic to CDs?” Not really.

Here’s what I got from the science guy at one of these accessory companies. I’m paraphrasing because the nonsense coming out of his mouth was so ridiculous that I almost starting laughing on the phone. He said that there is inconsistent reflectivity coming back to the optical pickup when an optical disc is spinning at such high speeds. The gunk that is smoothed onto the surface of the disc helps to dull the reflectivity resulting in a more consistent flow of photons from the pickup back to the reader. The alignment of the reconstructed digital information is therefore more consistent and produces across the board improvements in low lever detail and harmonic accuracy.

Here’s a simple question. Can you tell when someone turns the lights on and off in your bedroom late at night? If you answered yes, then you understand how an optical disc player’s pickup works. If I start beating a drum at a regular pulse and give you the task to write a one or a zero depending on whether you see that the lights are on or off at each pulse…then you are acting as an optical pickup reading digital words. If you put on a set of sunglasses, do you think you could still write down the on and offs accurately? Sure. But did the lowered reflectivity make the ones and zeros on the page any different. Absolutely not.

I guess this is what is so fun about the whole hobby of being an audiophile. There must be a secret contest among the makers of these products to see who can get the most money for the most idiotic product. There are certainly a lot of contenders.

Lest you think I haven’t tried these products, I can assure you that I have. My neighbor is Ben from Shakti Systems and I’ve encountered his products and many others over the years. Not once have I used an enhancement product on my recordings of on the CDs in my collection and had the vendor or myself be able to tell any difference.

Let’s get real about fidelity and stop chasing the goal of turning lead into gold once and for all.

By the way, I know Pierre from Mapleshade. I had dinner with him and one of his employees at the CAF in 2012. He’s a very interesting guy and a very talented engineer. Pierre is one of the very best practitioners in the “black art” of analog tape recording. He’s sort of like Cookie Marenco or T. Bone Burnett in this regard. They have absolute faith in the sonic qualities of analog tape or at least they prefer the “color” of tape for their productions. I have no argument with that.

At the CAF show, I gave Pierre some of my high-resolution audio discs. All I can tell you is both Pierre and his assistant were knocked out. Their comments were very complimentary. He told me it was the first time he had heard recordings from another record label that he would consider adding to his own catalog. I was very impressed.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(3) Readers Comments

  1. Dear Dr AIX

    I have enjoyed you posts and have them all saved. Thanks I must respectfully disagree totally with your last post. In HAS there are several strong camps on either side of the CD tweak beliefs and minds are seldom changed on the subject. That’s OK, kind of funny but OK. Like most I suppose, I believe I have great hearing, a great system and great room acoustics. I’m always happy to have people hear the difference in my home. In my system, untreated CD’s sound so lifeless compared to treated ones I would not enjoy the music near as much. Lessening of CD’s vibration, static electricity, RF, unwanted laser reflections, and increasing clarity of the laser path thru plastic Have given me a much more intimate, dynamic, lifelike listening experience. I have heard the same in many 6 figure systems using these tweaks as have many of my learned audio friends.

    I’m not attempting or expecting to change your beliefs or anyone intrenched in that camp. Although I have studied audio reproduction extensively for decades, I go with the sound I like to hear. THE MATH: I am happy with tweaks + you are happy without = we both are happy.

    Cheers
    DD

  2. David, I appreciate your providing a counter argument and respect that you enjoy the sound of your discs and system when subjected to some of the tweaks discussed in the post. And I certainly understand that changing opinions with regards to this stuff is next to impossible.

    If I could put my left brain in the equation and point out that CD vibration, static electricity, RF (radio frequencies?), unwanted laser reflections etc. play not role scientifically on the successful identification of a one or zero from the disc. If a bit is read successfully as a one vs. a zero in spite of all of the things you mentioned, then it accumulates in a buffer inside your player to be presented to the DAC.

    I would be very interested to see if these “problems” can be solved on one of my optical discs. I’d be happy to send you a DVD or Blu-ray sampler and see if you experience any difference between the untreated and treated sound.

    Thanks again.

  3. Hi DD, do you find that playing a file ripped from a treated CD sounds better than playing a file ripped from an untreated CD? Or is the sound only different when playing direct from disc? If the two ripped files sound identical, then you don’t need to treat your CDs, just rip them instead!

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