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A tale of Two Tweaks
The path to tweaking a high-end audio system can be a slippery slope. Leaving aside the "placebo affect," whereby we audiophiles hear an improvement because we think we can or should, true differences brought about by tweaks are not always improvements. And, tweaking is addictiveówe can get so caught up in tweaking that eventually it becomes difficult to find and/or recognize the underlying system and its innate sonic signature. Finally, some tweaks are so expensive that it begins to beg the questionówould it not be better to spend the money upgrading the base components?
With this healthy dose of cynicism in mind, I've happened across a couple of tweaks that I not only feel have actually improved the performance of my system, but are inexpensive enough to warrant investigation by even the thriftiest of audiophiles.
The first of these is the Ayre Myrtle Wood Block. Sold most commonly in packs of three for the ridiculously low price (by audiophile standards) of $15, the Ayre Myrtle Wood Blocks are simply thatólittle wood blocks that are employed as isolation supports under components, or, with the optional notches built into them, under power cords, speaker cables and interconnects. Sourced from Cardas, in which guise they are known as the Golden Cuboid, the Ayre Myrtle blocks measure 1.618" by 1" by .618". Each block is made of, you guessed it, Myrtle, a hardwood tree found only in the state of Oregon. The Ayre blocks are distinguished by the "Ayre" logo subtly carved on one side.
Installing the Ayre Myrtle blocks couldn't be easierójust place them under the desired component. Ayre recommends that three blocks be used for optimum stability. I initially tried the Myrtle blocks under my Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier. I placed two at the front left and right corners, and one at the middle rear. I experimented with placement and orientation of the blocks, but they didn't appear to be finicky, as long as I made sure not to place them under the stock feet.
So, did these $15 wood blocks improve the sound of my system? Yes. Of course, the effects weren't revelatory (I would have been disappointed in my system if they were), but there were subtle improvements in a couple of key areas, and like most upgrades, these effects were most notable upon removing them. The first thing I noticed was an improvement in image focus, with a concomitant tightening up of the overall soundstage. This translated into a subtle but tangible improvement in the presence and the palpability of images, such as Poe's vocal on "Trigger Happy Jack" and "Fly Away" from her CD Hello (Atlantic 92605-2). Secondly, with the Myrtle wood blocks under my AX-7e integrated amp, I heard a more transparent quality to the midrange and treble, coupled with a greater sense of clarity and portrayal of detail. The song "Papa Legba" from the Talking Heads release True Stories (Sire 9 25512-2), contains a myriad of percussion instrumentation courtesy of Paulinho da Costa, and with the Myrtle blocks in place, I noted a greater separation between instruments, enabling me to more clearly follow the disparate percussive elements. Likewise, there was a subtle but significant reduction in treble hash, which led to a cleaner reproduction of the cymbals, shakers and chimes.
Are there any negatives to the Ayre Myrtle blocks? For the price, I couldn't discern any sonic compromises or detrimental impacts. However, within the context of my system, the Myrtle blocks did shift the tonal emphasis just ever so slightly to the midrange. I did not find this objectionable, and admittedly the effect was very slight, but in another system, one already voiced to be more forward, the Myrtle blocks could conceivably be too much of a good thing. Also, the Myrtle blocks seemed to be component-dependent. Placed under my SimAudio MOON SuperNova CD player, I could discern very little, if any, effect whatsoever, perhaps because of the innate over-built nature of the SuperNova, or perhaps because it already possesses an effective spiked coupling footer system.
The next tweak I investigated was Precision Audio Products' Cable Elevators +. The Cable Elevators can be purchased singly, but are most frequently sold in sets of eight. Packaging is excellent, with each elevator surrounded by copious amounts of foam in a sturdy cardboard box. Each Cable Elevator is made of porcelain, and is coated with a non-conductive glaze. A low-dielectric neoprene foot ensures stability on both carpeted and hardwood floors. Each Elevator measures 4.75" around and 4.5" tall, and is designed to keep audio cables and AC cords suspended 4" from the floor. While pricier than the Ayre Mrytle blocks, the Cable Elevators are nevertheless quite inexpensive, at $20 per piece, or $159 for a package of eight.
Installing the Cable Elevators is very straightforward. Simply place them under your speaker cables, interconnects or AC power cords at spaced intervals to elevate them from the floor. I installed the Cable Elevators under my speaker cables and spread them out appropriately so that there was no slack or droop to the cables between the Elevators.
Just how do these things work? Precision Audio Products states that keeping cables off the floor and away from other cables and racks reduces static electricity, cable-affecting structural resonances and electromagnetic interference (EMI). They recommend that cables be kept a minimum of 2" from other cables, racks and the floor, with 4" being optimum. For best results, Precision Audio Products recommends cleaning the Cable Elevators periodically, as dust build up on the Elevators can contribute to static electricity.
Listening to my system with the Cable Elevators in place, I heard improvements that, while not night-and-day, were certainly discernable, and ultimately significant enough to more than justify their cost. Playing the title track from Joni Mitchell's Heijra release (Asylum 1087-2), Mitchell's vocals were more immediate, and the noise floor was lowered, leading to increases in resolution and clarity. This overall improvement in articulation allowed me to more clearly follow Jaco Pastorius' mesmeric bass line. And while there was no way to completely salvage the dismal sonics of Clinic's Winchester Cathedral CD (Domino DNO35CD), the increased clarity and separation of instruments made it easier to listen through the mix to the underlying musical message.
Dynamics also benefited from having the Cable Elevators installed. While playing Music Has the Right to Children (Matador OLE 299-2) by Boards of Canada, I was impressed with the improved dynamic expression of my system as the electronic effects exploded out of a jet-black background. Additionally, I noted improvements in treble smoothness and extension, which helped clean up the cymbal work in songs like "Giving to You" and "Hope I Never Find Me There" from Traffic's Heaven Is In Your Mind CD (Island 314 542 824-2).
Just as with the Ayre Myrtle Blocks, however, the improvements in focus, clarity and articulation brought about the Cable Elevators could potentially be a bit overbearing in a system already voiced to the leaner, more detailed side of the spectrum. As always, auditioning is recommended, preferably within the context of your own system, but for me, Precision Audio Products' Cable Elevators+ constitute an unqualified upgrade.
In my quest for continually improved sonics and musical satisfaction, I have always remained somewhat skeptical of tweaks, especially those that appear too good to be true and/or are not grounded in any kind of science fact. However, Ayre's Myrtle Blocks and Precision Audio Products' Cable Elevators subtly but unequivocally improved the sound of my system, imbuing it with greater resolution and musical insight. At their respective price points, they are easily recommended.
Ayre Myrtle Blocks
Ayre Acoustics, Inc.
Precision Audio Products, LLC