ONLINE - ISSUE 4
A Trio of CD "Enhancers"
Since the inception of the CD, there have been many attempts to improve the ability of the laser to read the 1s and 0s on the discs surface. There are many companies making treatments, all claiming improved sound. Some have been of dubious value (remember the Amour-All fiasco?), and others have created a loyal following (www.positive-feedback.com/Issue1/auric.htm). I will deal here with three products that can do wonders for your CD playback, with no apparent tradeoffs.
First up is Vivid by Walker Audio. Vivid (either $70 or $45 depending on size) has been out for a while, and we are not the first to report on this CD treatment. Walker Audio refers to Vivid as an "enhancer." To quote from their literature, "Vivid is called an enhancer because it does much more than clean the disks. It contains a cleaning agent, optical enhancer and de-static properties." Using a cleaning agent is a no-brainer, as we all get fingerprints and gunk on our CDs. Improving the ability of the laser to read the disc via an optical enhancer also works for me as I would assume we would want the player to get as much information off the disc as possible. One would think that requiring a player to correct for more errors than fewer errors would not sound as good or perhaps as musical. There has been a fair amount of speculation about this issue as error correction does require a fair degree of interpretation as to what should come next. One would think that it is possible to interpret wrong or at the very least close, but still off a bit as to what really is on the disc. I can see though, engineers saying that the amount of error correction or interpretation is a moot point when one looks at the bigger picture of what is read correctly. You aint going to notice unless it is a major skip or data drop-out, so go get a life! Anyhow, this is one of those instances where perhaps having less may be better than having more.
As to reducing the static, this is not new. There are several products out there that are designed to do just that the CDi Blue Statmat for one (www.positive-feedback.com/Issue2/carymods.htm), the Marigo Audio mat for another (see below), as well as various other objects that we have used for many year for LPs. Yes, LPs! Remember them? Remember using the Zerostat gun from Discwasher? It is back in another form for reducing static charges that build up in a spinning CD. "Oh," you say? Well to quote from the Ringmat site as to how the CDi Blue mat works, "CDs revolve at high speed in a dry, closed environment with relatively high temperatures. This causes a build-up of electrostatic fields which can distort the phase of the signal from the CD to the speakers. Such phase anomalies result in a degradation of the sound quality. STATMAT addresses this problem by evening out the low-voltage 'hot spots', ensuring that the reproduction is as true as possible to the original recording. "STATMAT is coated with a unique pattern of specially formulated conductive inks which level out the electrostatic fields around the CD, ensuring that the signal recreated by the digital circuitry is phase-correct before it is sent to the speakers. Therefore, as the signal suffers no phase distortion, the resultant sound is more vibrant, with an improved sense of timing and rhythm, clearer intonation and enhanced imaging."
Now if the Statmat works to solve this, why couldnt a solution be applied to do the same thing? Or at least to add more to the pot, attacking the problem from two directions? Make sense to me.
Applying the Vivid enhancer is a bit messy and time consuming, as one first needs to shake the rather thick, beige solution, squeeze out a few drops, gently rub these around the disc, and, after it dries a bit, buff to a fine shine. Naturally, one needs to use the appropriate cloths (included), and wipe from the center to the edges, avoiding the natural inclination to wipe in a circular manner. One is left with a very shiny and clean disc that is awash with color. I couldnt tell if it was less statically charged, as I live near the ocean, and it is never that dry here. However, I tried the old "raise the hair on your arm test," and discs treated with Vivid had less effect than those not treated.
Music from discs "enhanced" by Vivid was simply more vivid than before. The music came from a darker background, with less noise, and as such was more energized, with more detail, articulation, and musical enjoyment. I would not say that there were any tonal shifts, though the treble had a bit more life and clarity. On DVDs, the sharper images and brighter colors were real eye-openers. DVDs gained a look that was reminiscent of film. Movies were much more involving and realistic. This is a no-brainer. Buy some.
Next up is a new company with another aptly titled product, Digital Juice. Coming from New Tsunami, Digital Juice is a milky white solution that is easily sprayed onto and then wiped off a CD or DVD. It was by far the easier treatment to use. Digital Juice comes with two cloths, one for spreading the solution and one for polishing. New Tsunami makes no claims about static charges, but they do suggest that Digital Juice is formulated to reduce diffraction and reflections, allowing the laser to read all that the disc contains. Sounds good to me get the information off the discs with as little harm as possible, less correction or interpretation.
The differences between treated and untreated discs were rather interesting. I say interesting, because at first there seemed to be little change sonically to the disc. What did happen though is that there's a change muscially to the discs! That is, CDs just sounded better than before, but in a way that is more of a musical nature than one of sonics. Which I would assume we are all after!
I heard a greater sense of warmth and naturalness from treated discs. CDs were less thin and edgy, possessing more of that analog-like quality that makes just about any analog rig kick the crap out of a comparable CD player. On the other hand, I did not really hear more information or detail. The treated CDs just sounded better than before, in a musical way. Was there greater clarity, less edge? I was too busy enjoying the music to care. This is also a no-brainer.
Last up is the Orpheus Crossbow CD mat from Marigo Audio Labs. This mat is rather stiff, yet thin, and has cutouts on its surface. No doubt these are key factors in its design. Knowing how Marigo is with resonances, I would expect the mat to address this issue, although I suspect that there are other issues being dealt with as well. This mat is considerably stiffer than the CDi Blue Statmat, and is easier to use. I never had any problems centering the Crossbow mat, unlike the thinner Statmat, which can be easily moved off-center upon closing the drawer. Audible differences were easily detected using the Crossbow mat, a greater sense of ambience being the most obvious. Images took on a greater sense of dimensionality, with more air and a strong sense of the life-like tangibility that separates a recorded event from a live one. Not that I was ever tricked into thinking that I was listening to a live event, but music had a new sense of fun and involvement that was missing before the mat came into the system. It was almost spooky how the mat opened up the sound.
Using the mat allows discs to have less of that "digititus" that has been the bane of CDs since the beginning. Music is much more natural. I do hear much the same results with the CDi Blue mat, so its your choice. Both are recommended, though the Orpheus is easier to use and more durable.
I do find using either the Vivid or the Digital Juice along with the mat to be the way to go. Which solution to use is the crux of the matter, as each has its inherent strengths. One treatment may be better than the other for specific discs. The Vivid requires a bit more time and effort to use than the Digital Juice, but to me that is not nearly as important as the audible benefits that each can bring to the table. Which one works for you, only you can decide.
Walker Audio www.walkeraudio.com
New Tsunami www.digitaljuice-av.com
Marigo Audio Labs www.marigoaudio.com