Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
september/october 2013

 

The Top Ten Best High-end Audio Accessories Available - Though Not Necessarily the Most Expensive! (Revised to 2013)
by Robert H. Levi

 

It has been three years since my first list of high-end accessories, and it is time for an update. With two ultra-high-end systems in house, which often replicate the live performance in my listening environment, I am constantly trying new gizmos and gadgets to get more from my listening experience.

But before my new top-ten list begins, it is extremely important for budding audiophiles (and maybe old timers too) to understand that accessories do not compensate for under-achieving high-end gear. Great accessories may take your components to a better place, but there is NO accessory that replaces a top amplifier, neutral cables, or speakers that have top-notch drivers and are built with good musical taste in mind.

All accessories are readily available new or used so no worries. Enough preamble. Here's my Top Ten List.

1. Music Hall Hunt EDA Dual Row Carbon Fiber Record Brush, or London [Decca] Single Row Carbon Fibre Record Brush; any carbon fiber record brush, really.

For only $29.99 or so, these great brushes sweep away dust and other light contaminants from records that will gum up your cartridge. Not a substitute for an occasional VPI wash, they will complement that process and keep your LPs playing as quietly as possible. The Hunt has two rows of fibers and works great… it's been copied by about everyone. Available at most mail order companies.

2. L'Art du Son Record Cleaning CD Treatment

After auditioning a zillion cutting-edge chemical blends from companies worldwide, the L'Art du Son has yet to be eclipsed. Made in Germany, it is amazingly neutral sounding and easy to apply. With very even sonic benefits at all frequencies [very important], a greater sense of aliveness and realism, and a one-step process, it can't be beat on digital media. It's an excellent performer on classical, jazz and rock media, i.e., everything. It comes in an easy spray-on container.

Retail Pricing: about $55 for CD/DVD Fluid

Available at most mail order companies. Don't let some fast talking salesman switch you to another brand.

3. TIE: Marigo Mystery Feet for all Electronic Components and Digital Transports With/Signature Plus Super Natural Feet from Stein Music

Marigo Mystery Feet: A shock and surprise, I think I'd call these lightening in a bottle! Place three of these under a component, transport, amplifier, or DAC, and be prepared to be amazed. If the component could float in space, it would not be any better. Plus, the Mystery feet absorb vibration from the component itself while simultaneously eliminating vibration from the shelf. 

You want more? They are not weight sensitive. 100 pounds or 20 pounds, no matter, same model! The cheaper short set works fine. Place them under the transformers of your amp, if possible. These are unbelievably effective under any transport. These are the best isolation footers at any price. Not for turntables. If you don't have superb racks, get them. Get them even if you do! Bravo Marigo! A new super model is now available which may be superior, but I have not reviewed it yet.

About $759 for a set of three; check http://www.marigoaudio.com/Component_feet.htm for more information.

New from Stein Music, the Signature Plus is made from select woods with gold center pins and special polymers, smaller than the Marigos, and work astoundingly, too. They are not weight-sensitive, and are easy to place and use. They isolate and truly enhance midrange sophistication and nuance. Elegant looking and sounding, they will take your components to the next level in definition and isolation. I love them under tube gear the best, but work well anywhere individual feet are called for. Outstanding!

About $750 for a set of three. Available at Fidelis AV and Tweek Geek.

By the way, check out the other superb accessories from Stein Music which I reviewed in detail for PFO; use the Google search feature on our Archives page to find these.

4. Townshend Audio Seismic Sinks

The new special spring-loaded sink is now available at E.A.R. USA and is a perfect platform for turntables and about any gear I know of. One adjustment and you are done. They run about $700-$900.

The traditional air bladder Sinks from Townshend are available only on EBAY and Audiogon used. There's good news though. If they leak, all are easily fixable in the USA by Dan Meinwald, the importer of all Townshend Audio gear. Usually, only the little valve where you attach the air pump goes bad, and Dan stocks it.

I have two versions of the old Sinks in house. The older Sink has no leveling facilities… which you accomplish with weights. The newer Sink has feet that adjust to level. Both work extremely well. Be mindful that very heavy items may overload the Sink unless you find one of the rare heavy weight versions with double bladders.

New, they ran $500 to about $1000. Used they bring about $200 or so. This is a super bargain. Put one under every component and your turntable. They are a must for tube gear! They sound a bit different from the Marigo Mystery Feet, but neutral overall. The less air you put in, the warmer/richer the sound, though it's still fairly neutral. Fun to work with, I have five Sinks in my big reference system. I use Marigo Mystery Feet in my second reference system which has no turntable.

The advantage of the brand new version, which has unique spring-loaded feet that work even better than the air bladders, is they are set-and-forget. They are just fabulous and vastly superior to all other platforms for isolating components and turntables. Very cost-effective and enhance the all frequencies evenly!

For details, check out Dan Meinwald's site at http://www.ear-usa.com/townshendsinks.htm

5. VPI HW-16.5 Record Washing Machine

In production for 30 years, I've owned two and have one now. Fabulous performance! You can wash and dry an LP in three minutes flat. The key is to get the fluid off the record quickly, and the 16.5 does the trick. I could not live without the unit. I have played with LP washing machines at nearly 10 times the cost with no sonic rewards. They are mostly just quieter, but who cares! A winner in any language! They were the best deal in the 20th Century and are the best deal in the 21st Century! The 16.5 is the least you can spend for a superb LP washing machine and the most you may need to spend, ever. A must own if you have a record collection and you care about how they sound. Even new vinyl needs to be washed to sound its best! A masterpiece from VPI! Yes, you could spend $4000 for the newest German LP cleaner that uses sound waves, but the gap between these units is convincingly narrowed by using the Record Time Fluid in the VPI.

Retail: $550  http://www.vpiindustries.com/static.php?page=Cleaning_Machines

6. Record Time Record Cleaning Fluid from Musical Surroundings

This new killer one step fluid is perfect for 99% of the record washing machines around. It is an enzyme fluid, just one step, and does not separate over time. Perfection. The best!

It quiets records to the max and cleans like crazy. For old or new LPs, it is my new favorite. It is superior and more effective than fluids from Mobile Fidelity or VPI or L'Art du Son!

Everyone stocks it. Only $40 per big bottle.

7. Aesthetix ABCD-1 Cartridge Demagnetizer

The only moving coil demag made in America; it works great. Battery-powered and lightweight, it is easy and fun to use. A blast or two on your treasured cartridge cleans the sonic picture restoring the cartridge to like-new sound. Single-ended only, I love what it does to my MCs. Just plug the RCA leads from your tonearm cable to the back RCA connectors on the Aesthetix, and push a button. Works much better than the Cardas LP treatment and is much faster. I love the fact that you don't have a wall wart to worry about. Thank you Jim White!

From the Aesthetix website: "The ABCD-1 neutralizes the unwanted magnetic charge of the moving coil, restoring full performance in a matter of minutes. Demagnetizing your moving coil cartridge with the Aesthetix ABCD-1 every 1 - 2 weeks will prolong the life of your phono cartridge, increasing your enjoyment and appreciation of the music."

Retail: $200.  http://www.aesthetix.net/demagnitizer.php

8. Dark Field Cable Elevators from Shunyata Research

The Dark Field Cable Elevators cost $350 and come in a set of 12. They are very stable and hold all kinds of cables and power cords without any slippage or wobbling. I elevated my entire system of cables with one box of lifters. They replaced my home-brew modified plastic cup setup that was effective, but required tape to hold the cables in place. The Dark Field elevators are set and forget.

As Shunyata claims, they sound quieter in my high definition system than just elevating the cables off the carpet. I heard a definite improvement in quietude, a significant improvement in depth, and an increase in overall system definition. They look great, too, and are very easy to work with. I even heard an improvement in my subwoofer's performance by elevating the Rel's powercord with the Dark Field! They were a solid overall sonic improvement over my home brew lifters. A must-own! A mini version is also available, but I like the larger lifters best.

http://www.shunyata.com/Content/products-DarkField.html

9. TIE: Improved Power Wing XP from Audio Excellence AZ with Oyaide Gold Receptacles and Bybees; and the New Power Broker Power Conditioner from WyWires with Bybee Filters.

Heaven knows I've tried numerous other power conditioners in my system and in other high-end systems searching for the perfect, least compressing, most musical device at any price. I am not going to name names, but even at 2.5 times the price of the fully tricked out Power Wing XP or Power Broker, you will not accomplish more. Plus, all of them I've auditioned subtly lean down the overall sound, strip out to some degree musical nuance, and are often noisy.

If you have new top notch wiring in your home with dedicated lines to your listening room, you may not need any added device. That said, if you use either of these, you will most often gain blacker blacks, smoother highs, better musical contrasts and an occasional glimpse of real instruments in real space right in your listening room. They never compress dynamics and never limit.

Both are available with Bybee filters and both look and perform great in your system.

Contact: http://www.audioexcellenceaz.com/powerwing.htm for Power Wing Models and pricing.

Contact: http://www.wywires.com/ for Power Broker Models and Pricing

Please see Michael Wechsberg's Review on the Power Broker in PFO (Issue 68 at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue68/wywires.htm).

10. From Stein Music, the DE2 and DE3 Demagnetizers for LPs and All digital Media.

They are THE BEST currently in the world for demagging anything. If I could get my wife to hold still, I would try it on her! The smaller DE2 does a fantastic job on all 5 inch media, and the DE3 is a big gorgeous piece and accommodates LPs, too. The DE3 allows demagging in the LP sleeve as it has no center spindle to get in the way. Compared to either Furutech model, the Steins offer a smoother, more elegant midrange on both CDs and LPs. It is not subtle I assure you. I was shocked when I compared the units!! The Stein units look like Mercedes did the construction and are a bit expensive, but WOW!

Available from Fidelis AV and Tweek Geek.

DE2 about $650

DE3 about $3700

For more information, see http://www.steinmusic.com.

In Conclusion

I utilize each and every one of these accessories every time I listen to music. I have yet to consistently hear or audition any accessories at any price that truly exceed the performance of those on my top ten favorite's list. You certainly may spend much more on certain exotic accessories, but you are probably just gilding the lily. This list is your shortcut to audio perfection, and you should seek out each and every one of them to try.

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