ONLINE - ISSUE 14
More on the Walker SST Contact Enhancer
Photo and image processing by David W. Robinson
Lloyd Walker and I met up in one of the GTT Audio rooms at the HE2004 show this past May. Some excellent tunes were spinning off his Proscenium Gold Signature table and the room was packed. This was one of my favorite rooms at the show.
As I was walking out, Lloyd pulled me aside and whispered, "Psssst, want to try some good stuff?" Well, maybe that's not verbatim, but you get the gist. That's how I got my sample of his Super Silver Treatment.
Contact enhancers have been around a long time. Way before audiophiles discovered them, they've been standard items in the electrical trade. They're made from different kinds of conductive material suspended in a fluid or emulsion substrate. Depending on the conductive material, you get differing sonic results. That makes them fertile ground for audiophiles, who love nothing more than splitting hairs over minutiae.
Lloyd sampled a range of contact enhancers and, being a competitive type, began his quest for a way to go them one better. The SST R & D cycle encompassed months of testing over 20 kinds of carrier fluid (dielectric) and 23 different kinds of silver. Along the way Lloyd made some discoveries, like machined and flaked silver sounded better than silver powder. It also costs more. These costs began to add up, but there was no turning back. That's why a small 0.5 ounce bottle costs $70.
A telephone conversation with Lloyd did much to illuminate the how and why of contact enhancers. With his background in the aerospace technology industry, he knew very well what happens when current has to traverse a non-continuous conductor material. Non-continuous describes any break or fissure which the current must cross. A rhodium-plated spade tightened onto a gold-plated WBT binding post is good connection, but there's still a little gap, not to mention the dissimilarity of the metals, and this always produces a spike. You can watch what happens to the signal when a spike passes through on a professional scope. The better metal conductors produce smaller spikes and less deterioration of the signal, but even if you press two pieces of the same metal together, there'll be a gap. Contact enhancers bridge this gap and reduce the size of the spike.
I was a little apprehensive about putting a fluid conductor on anything. I once did this to some tube pins on an amplifier and lost the left channel. I also wasn't keen on applying something that would change the character of one of my reference wires or components. After a few days, I steeled my nerves and applied the SST to both sides of a single-ended digital cable, the safest spot I could think of. You need only apply a tiny amount, as directed, just enough to see the target metal dull down. First impression was a lighter tonal balance, with enhanced definition and smoothness, and less edge. Sounds like a description of silver, no? Smooth, elegant and a slightly raised tonal balance.
I muted the pre-amp and let a disc play for about 2 hours because, like everything else, there's a burn-in period. Then I resumed listening. Now it didn't sound like silver at all. Could it be the volume control had to be turned down a bit? It was louder.
All right, let's go for it. I got bold and SSTed the von Gaylord Audio (formerly known as Legend Audio Design) two box prototype DAC and some of the pre-amp's wires. This time the immediate effect was more mid-range through lower-bass overtone energy.
I let the system burn-in and then put on The Body Acoustic (Chesky 90368 02742). Pianist and composer David Chesky assembled four stellar collaborators to form the Body Acoustic Band. While the tunes have differing rhythms and structure, they all use the ancient call and response device. And, like all the recent Chesky CDs I've sampled, this is an artifact-free, natural sounding recording. I could tell it was good, even though it sounded kind of flat and didn't engage me. The CD was transformed. After applying the SST, it was revealed for the gem it truly is. I could swear Randy Brecker's trumpet, hanging out over the left speaker, was now more detached and free from the cabinet. It seems to float in a space above, behind and a little closer to the center than before. There's a pronounced cushion of air and reverberation supporting it. Its treble extension is about the same, but it's smoother. Dynamics got juiced. The result is a nice combination of smoothness and power in the trumpet. The piano occupies the same acoustic space as the trumpet and images slightly to its right and lower to the ground. David Chesky's acoustic piano playing on this CD always seemed appropriate if a bit murky, difficult to hear, lurking somewhere in the background at too low a volume. Now I perceive his contribution, laying down the chord structures throughout.
The congas and the bass are together in a different air capsule in the center, and can be heard simultaneously together and separately. These two instruments double up for most of the CD, laying down the rhythm and beat. It used to be quite difficult to tell who was playing what, as they blended together most of the time. When it's their turn, these two guys let rip one hell-of-a conversation, especially now that Andy Gonzalez's bass has acquired better pitch and definition. The double bass also engages the bass clarinet in a memorable duet on Bronxville (track 3). The bass clarinet is on its own, hard right. Lot's of interesting call and response is going on, but it's clear that the star of the show is really Giovanni Hidalgo's superb performance on the conga drums.
Today, audio-grade enhancers are considered mainstream and are made by several companies, including Mapleshade and CAIG. Prices and results vary. One exotic type from Japan, which uses shark oil, is said to be terrific. It retails somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 per small bottle!
While I haven't tried these, I can tell you the Walker Super Silver Treatment added potent gains in clarity and smoothness. Treble energy was toned down a bit, but there was no reduction in treble bloom, extension and sparkle. The soundstage got wider and there was more distance between instruments. More air, too. Things got quieter.
BTW: Treating your phono will give you the biggest bang. The ratio of the miniscule phono signal to the spike induced distortion makes the distortion loom bigger by comparison and more audible. Finally, use of the SST is not limited to audio. The effects of treating the connections on your TV are reputed to make regular cable look like HDTV!
Super Silver Treatment garners my solid recommendation.