If I slather a gel over the surface of an optical disc or coat the edges of that same disc with an opaque black marker will the reproduced sound of the treated disc be “enhanced” or even different than an untreated disc? That’s the question that confronts me. And so given the push back from the maker of the Essence-of-Music, $150 treatment package that is available to audiophile, I finally decided to put it to the test. Unfortunately, Dr. Robert Spence, the developer of the Essence product, was unwilling to send me one of his products for testing so I had to resort to a very similar and very positively reviewed product made by Audience. It is called the “Auric Illuminator” and it claims to enhance the fidelity and optical readability of the digital information encoded in the bumps on an optical disc. John McDonald and principal of Audience (who BTW makes very high quality cables and speakers…I have them in my studio!), sent me the Auric Illuminator a while back for my evaluation.
There are two steps involved with the Auric Illuminator (from their website):
“The first step reduces ambient light and infrared light in the disc material. The Auric Illuminator light absorbing pen is used to blacken the inside and outside edges of the CD. (The outside rim and the inside of the center hole). This improves the signal to noise ratio of the reflected signal allowing for more accurate timing of the retrieved data.
The second step involves the application of Auric Illuminator gel. This unique product improves the optics by allowing laser light to enter and leave the disc with less reflection or scattering. This allows the pickup to “see” a stronger, more sharply defined signal resulting in fewer data retrieval errors.”
This is not a cleaning process…which might be able to improve the readability of an older or scratched disc…the Auric and Essence products are for fidelity enhancement. In order to do that, they would have to alter the bitstream that is read by the optical pickup and that is ultimately reproduced by the DAC.
The Auric site explains how it does its magic:
“Auric Illuminator gel also lowers the disc surface electrical charge. The surface of an untreated disc will build up a static charge while spinning against the air. The static charge builds up until the voltage becomes quite high and then discharges into the air or surrounding surfaces. The charge/discharge cycle causes the disc to microscopically tilt or wobble…[you can go to Auric Illuminator to read the rest].
The explanation pseudoscience, technical nonsense. If all of that bad stuff is happening inside your optical pickup, then the bits and timing that a good quality DAC gets will contain so many errors that the sound will suffer. However, if the bits from an untreated disc and the bits from a treated disc turn out to be identical, what does that say about the “necessity” of treating your disc with the Auric gel? It means that there is nothing to be gained by spending $50 or $150 on surface treatments (or any other inside the disc drawer audiophile tweaks).]
So here’s what I did. I took two brand new copies of my High Resolution Audio Experience DVD-Audio sampler and ripped the bits from a treated and untreated disc to my laptop hard drive using DVD Audio Extractor. I pulled the Mosaic track by Laurence Juber, which was recorded at 96 kHz/24-bits and mixed in stereo (this track won the CEA Demmy Award for “Best High Resolution Track” in 2002).
Figure 1 – An illustration showing phase cancellation when equal and opposite phase signals are added together…the result is nothing [Click to enlarge]
I imported both WAV files into my Sonic Soundblade mastering application (which is THE standard for digital mastering…av very professional tool) and routed both stereo programs to a single digital output bus. They played together perfectly. Then I reversed the phase on the Auric treated soundfile and hit the play button again. The output bus completely disappeared! I listened to the entire 4 minutes listening at a loud level in headphones for any signal…there was nothing.
Figure 2 – The waveforms of the standard and Auric streams in Sonic Soundblade [Click to enlarge].
These means that the two datastreams were absolutely identical. Any two identical signals will completely cancel each other when one is phase reversed. So how can the developers of Auric or the similar Essence product…or anyone who writes glowing reviews about these products…say that the treatments do anything? The string of ones and zeros from both discs were moved from the disc to the hard drive and both files contained exactly the same string of bits. The Benchmark DAC2 played the same string of bits back…and the fidelity of the recording was not modified or enhanced at all.
So in my opinion, I’ve shown unambiguously that the Auric product is bunk…and I suspect that the results would be the same for the Essence product and any other disc treatment (de-ionizers, etc) accessories.
I know that some of you will continue to believe and provide testimonials about your experiences or the experiences of your wives. The facts say otherwise. As one reader wrote and told me…it’s a debate that can’t be won. It’s an issue of faith vs. reason. I choose reason.