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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 22
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An interview with Lee Weiland of Locus Design Group - Another Manufacturer's Perspective on Cryogenics
by Dave Clark

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with various people in the cryo-industry as to the what's and why's of cryoing - more to come!

So what’s the deal with cryogenics?

Cryogenics is defined as: The production of low temperatures or the study of low-temperature phenomena.

Deep cryogenic treatment, or DCT, for purposes of this discussion will refer to cooling, holding and allowing a product to return to ambient temperature over a period of time. All references to DCT in this discussion will refer to the use of liquid Nitrogen, or LN2, as the cryogen. 

DCT has been around for many years and is widely adopted in the industrial sector for treatment of tool steels, knives, etc., as it improves the wear characteristics of these items. Cryogenics is also widely adopted by auto racers—who are always looking for a performance edge over their competition.

For purposes of this discussion, most comments will refer to DCT of audio equipment. DCT as applied to audio is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new application, showing great promise as a tool to enhance ones enjoyment of high performance audio systems.

How did you get into this?

I originally became interested in DCT through auto racing. I found that having my brake rotors undergo DCT dramatically lengthened their lifespan and made them much more resistant to warping. I was impressed to say the least.

So...being an audiophile, my thoughts quickly turned to how this process would affect audio gear, especially AC receptacles, AC ends and AC cabling as I was developing an affordable AC cable at the time. When I heard the difference that DCT made on the cable I was developing, I was hooked!

I worked very closely with a heat treating/cryo shop for quite a while experimenting with different profiles and other variables until I was convinced that there was a substantial benefit derived from the process and then started CryoParts (www.cryo-parts.com) to offer DCT items to other audiophiles, especially those who like to DIY.

I soon tired of not having total control of the process and explaining why and how exactly I wanted my parts processed and purchased a chamber in which to do my own processing. I then spent a great deal of time (and money) experimenting with different profiles (see below), perfecting the process I use to this day. After numerous requests to perform DCT on audiophile's existing cables and the like, I started offering DCT on limited items.

What is your background/history in audio?

I have been a music lover for well over 30 years, having been bitten by the bug at a very early age. When I was still fairly young, I gravitated toward high performance gear on which to enjoy my music obsession. I cannot even remember half of the equipment I have owned through the years ...If memory serves, my first real "high performance" audio system was made up of Phase Linear electronics—does that date me? I have run the gamut from solid state to SE triodes and back again. What a long strange trip it's been. I feel that right now, we are truly in the golden age of audio. And, as things tend to do, it's only going to get better.

I have been involved commercially in the audio industry for 20+ years and have worn many different hats over the years: manufacturer, specialty audio store owner/retailer, reviewer, salesperson, manager of a "big box" electronics retailer, etc.

In all of the years I have been in this crazy industry, the most fun I have had is what I am doing now, as DCT allows audiophiles to improve their systems for a fairly nominal cost. And working closely with the DIY audio community is very inspiring as the joy they receive from their creations is infectious and keeps me interested and developing new products. Plus, the gear that they build is killer!

Can you take us on a step-by-step process on how you cryo something?

During all of the DCT steps, the temperature is monitored and tightly controlled via an industrial computer/controller to prevent any potential problems due to "thermal shock" to the items caused by changes in temperature that are done too rapidly.

For all of the audio items that we perform DCT on, we use our custom developed profile, a set of parameters programmed into the computer/controller that controls all of the below. As I feel out profile is unique in the industry and tailored specifically for audio gear, I will not disclose our exact ramp rates, soak times, temperatures involved, or return to ambient times, I will speak more in generalities that should be consistent throughout the industry.

First off, we carefully load the chamber, wrapping any items that may need extra protection from cosmetic damage. Once the chamber is loaded and sealed, the controller is programmed and allowed to take over and control the entire process, which consists of three steps:

1. Ramp Down - LN2 is allowed to enter the chamber very slowly, with the controller adjusting the flow to allow the items to cool down at a very controlled  rate. The rate of cool down is determined by the material being treated—audio gear should never be subjected to faster than .5-1 degree per minute.

2. The Soak - After the temperature reaches the target soak temperature, the controller then tightly holds that temperature, by allowing LN2 to enter the chamber periodically, for as long as is specified, at the specified temperature.

Industry standards are between 20-48 hours at -300F to -320Fdepending on the material being treated. Generally, for full benefits to be realized, 20 hours should be considered the minimum time for the soak at temperature.

3. Return to ambient - The chamber is then allowed to return to ambient temperature, all the while carefully monitored and adjusted by the controller to ensure that the temperature does not rise too rapidly.

Are there different ways or methods of cryoing?

Yes, but first an aside—a large misconception is that putting items in your freezer or surrounding them with dry ice is DCT. It is not as the temperature reached by these methods is not low enough to realize the full benefits of DCT. While many report positive results using this method, it is just a glimpse of what true DCT can offer to the audiophile.

There are two major types of cryo treatment available to the industry: dry (vapor) and wet (liquid). I don't wish to get into a discussion of the merits of each, as each is a valid process provided the temperature is controlled precisely throughout the profile and not allowed to descend or ascend too rapidly. Every commercial chamber available uses some sort of computer or industrial control to precisely control temperature, so most all are safe, provided the person programming the controller knows what they are doing.

There are as many methods of DCT as there are cryo houses, and as many claims about how low their temperature goes...again I don't wish to "go there". In my opinion, what really makes the difference in audio gear is the specific profile used to treat the gear—not the specific process used.

Of course, I feel that our process/profile is unique. I have spent a great deal of time (and $$$) experimenting developing a profile that I feel works the best for audio. If you are so inclined, we have more information on our process posted here: http://cryo-freeze.com/products.html, or here: http://cryo-parts.com/company.html.

My advice to those thinking about trying DCT for the first time is to choose a firm which has a great deal of experience treating audio gear as our beloved equipment requires a great deal more love and care than tool steels, for example.

How do they differ with respect to what is happening to the object at hand? That is, is one method better than another with respect to the item being cryoed or the result you are after?

As stated above, my feeling is that is is not the temperature reached (they are all within 20 degrees of each other), or the process used (wet or dry) that matters the most, it is the profile used to treat the audio equipment.

What actually happens to the item when it is cryoed in terms of the material itself?

The benefits of DCT to tool steels and other metals is well known and documented. Essentially, changes occur in the micro structure of metal as a result of deep cryogenic treatment. These desirable changes are why many knife/sword makers and industrial customers use this process as it gives metal a more uniform hardness and greater dimensional stability, due to the conversion of austenite (large unstable particles of carbon carbide, resulting in a large grained lattice structure) to martensite (resulting in a fine grained lattice structure). This conversion also allows a blade or tool to take a better edge and hold that edge much longer.

However, with audio gear, there is not as much research into the changes. It seems—yet again—science has a little catching up to do with what we are hearing. Much is yet to be quantified, but in a nutshell, when Copper, Silver, Brass (or any other metal) used in audio, is formed into cables or AC plugs, the materials develop residual stress. For example, microscopic examination of the Copper in an AC cord would reveal many voids in the crystal lattice structure of the Copper due to these residual stresses. DCT works at the atomic level; as the temperature decreases the atomic bonds start to weaken and the crystal structure of Copper reverts to its original state. The audio or AC signal has a much easier time navigating the conductor after DCT as it doesn't have to deal with these former boundaries that were formerly there due to the voids in the lattice structure.

How does this translate to what we hear?

I can tell you what I and my customers are hearing, on a DCT'ed product:

  • More inner detail, especially in the upper midrange

  • Much smoother presentation—with more detail

  • Blacker backgrounds, "quieter"

  • A more "relaxed" presentation, or a sense of "ease" in the presentation

  • Soundstaging cues are easier to identify due to all of the above

  • Etc...

The best way to hear what cryo can do is try it, or buy two identical products (AC receptacles for example), one cryo'd and one not, and compare. I could wax poetic for many pages about how cryo affects the sound, but what's important is what the end user hears, not what I say! Please, if you are so inclined, visit our testimonial page here: www.cryo-parts.com/testimonial1

Can any of this measured?

Sure, with the most sensitive audio measuring devices known to man—your ears!

Seriously, as more interest is generated as to the effects DCT has on audio gear I am sure that the results will be quantified. It can certainly be measured with tool steels, it is only a matter of time before a someone takes on the project and provides comprehensive measurements of the effects to audio gear.

Snake-oil or science?

Science, we just cannot fully explain it yet.

If one had asked me years ago if I would be offering power cables and AC accessories, and especially cryo'd power cables, I'd have asked to have a drink of whatever they were having. However, if one keeps an open mind and realizes that some things cannot be fully explained with our current understanding of science and that sometimes things that sound crazy actually do make a dramatic difference, they are in for a treat.

Where do you see the greatest benefit with respect to what is cryoed? Cables, electronics, etc.?

I have heard a dramatic improvement in almost all audio products we have treated.

Beneficial changes occur in AC plugs, AC receptacles, most cabling and most connectors. Blank and pre-recorded CDs and DVDs, damping devices, and PCBs are also showing promise. Shelving, audio racks, speaker cones, etc. ...well you get the idea. We are only touching the tip of the iceberg at the current time.

Is there a limit to what can be cryoed? What I mean is, are the things that will not survive a freeze or perhaps have little if any benefit?

At the super low temperatures involved in DCT, anything can happen. Very, very, few items come through with damage, but one choosing to DCT their gear should realize that there always a chance something unforeseen could happen. That being said, for the most part DCT is a very safe process if performed by a reputable cryo treater.

Some adhesives and elastomers will fail under cryo, especially those used in speaker manufacturing. The cone will sometimes separate from the surround, especially on drivers with metal cones. Sometimes the adhesive that holds the voice coil in place will fail as well.

Some cables that have certain materials (steel beads or liquid are two that come to mind)surrounding/damping the conductors would not be good candidates. Cables constructed with conventional materials generally come through fantastically well.

We have found that certain passive parts do not survive 100% of the time, electrolytic capacitors, some film caps and MOVs, in particular.

Also, if one ever elects to have a complete component cryo'd, please loosen all screws to lessen that chance of cracking any plastic piece of the casing. The expansion and contraction rates of dis-similar materials in close proximity can sometimes cause problems.

Again, it is important that anyone wishing to have their audio gear undergo DCT uses a reputable shop, asks a lot of questions and goes into the process with their eyes wide open. Only then can one decide if the risk and potential reward are worth the gamble.

At this time, we are not performing DCT on complete audio components due to not having the time as most of our loads are filled with parts for CryoParts, other manufacturers we perform DCT for, or our customers peripheral audio items.

Are there any potential drawbacks to cryoing?

One does have to break in the device that has undergone DCT, even if it was broken in before cryo. Cryo does seem to add a few hours to "normal" break in time. Other than that, we aren't aware of any at the present time.

Is this long term or does something require a visit to the chamber after some time?

As currently understood, DCT is a one time, permanent process.

Where do you see the future of cryoing?

We are only scratching the surface of what DCT can do for the audio industry.

I look for many manufacturers, over the next few years, to incorporate DCT into their finished products as once the benefits are heard, you can't go back. As more audiophiles and manufacturers are exposed to the difference that DCT can make, I look for DCT to become much more mainstream and an expected part of the manufacturing process.

Thank you!

Lee Weiland

Locus Design Group
www.locus-design.com
www.cryo-parts.com
www.cryo-freeze.com

Part 1 - An interview with Craig Goff of Kryophysics

Part 2 - An interview with Charles Beresford of Cryogenics International

 

 

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