Fear of tweaks

September 2, 2016
 by Paul McGowan

Change can be tough for me, especially when the means to an end make no sense. Like green pens on CD edges, demagnetizers, magic stones, voodoo dots, resonators aligning the earth to my stereo system.

Ideas presented to me that I cannot make sense of get put on hold. Sometimes indefinitely. Sometimes forever.

I remember the first time this became apparent to me. Harry Weisfeld’s, VPI Brick.

VPI Brick

The VPI “magic Brick” is made from steel laminations stacked together like a transformer and encased in wood. Completely passive, it was the rage for years. Place it atop a preamp, amp, or source, and sound improved. Magic happened. Reviewers swooned. Engineers shook their heads. Me included.

How could I bring myself to bother trying something I did not understand? It was easy enough to avoid, I didn’t have access to one.

And then it happened.

A cruel friend dropped by with two in hand. I had run out of excuses. I wanted nothing more than to expose this hoax for what it is was. Bulls**t.

The needle dropped onto the vinyl—I think it must have been Help Me from Court and Spark. I regained my reference. My arms were folded. At the end of the track I begrudgingly waived my hand for the Brick to be placed on top of the preamp.

You probably guessed the end of the story. Oh my goodness. It worked, and not just a little. The Brick opened up the soundfield, separated the instruments and singer from each other and, best of all, it was repeatable. On; magic happened. Off; we went back to what was.

You’d think after some of these eye openers I’d have changed my ways; become more accepting of change I don’t understand.

But no, I am still resistant to that which makes no sense.

Even when it works.

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48 comments on “Fear of tweaks”

  1. I’m using multiple active devices filtering out HF and magnetic fields of equipment and the room itself. Seems to go in a similar direction as I notice better separation, air, ambiance, resolution and more natural and relaxed timbre, extended top end. I guess the VPI block influences magnetic fields in the equipment it’s placed on?

    As an engineer myself, I also want to understand things. In Hifi I experienced, that theory is one thing, listening the other, may it concern tweaks, vinyl/digital, tubes/ss etc.

    I’m always happy when things happen AND can be explained, as Paul did for USB/bridge or flac/aif/wav.

  2. If removing the top plate of an amp or preamp can improve the sound why shouldn’t a weight changing the plate’s resonance frequency and surface area prone for sound wave attacks the sound too? My problem with most designer’s in the field of HIFI is that they too often are focuses on a very tiny aspect. They have no holistic view of the system a view that should start with a summary of all kind of energies being transformed and interacting in the listening room forming the sound field perceived. They should be aware of the incredible performance of our ears and should know the tiny sound energy that can be heard.

  3. Well if I haven’t gotten everyone (including Paul) pissed off at me, this post should do it.

    Atkinson tells his audience in a panel discussion at Axpona that he heard more bass from a second playing of a Diana Krall recording at Fremer’s house. What did you do Mike? I demagnetized the record. Does Atkinson take the thing into his lab to see if it works? Did he hear a difference due to the demagnetizer or was he just in another spot where the bass was louder? Did the demagnetizer affect the record or damage the magnets in his phonograph cartridge? Does he bother to investigate? No, he just takes it on blind faith that it works.

    Engineers and scientists ask questions. Does something actually happen? What happens? How does it happen? Is it desirable? Is there a cheaper better way to get the same results? Can a $200 equalizer be tweaked to get the same results as a passive crossover network that took a speaker designer a year to tweak for which he charges an extra $50,000 for his so called “research?”

    Audiophiles have short memories too. Last year Dick Diamond told us he had to machine his speaker cones from billets of aluminum with a half million dollar CNC milling machine. Now his best speaker in the world doesn’t have a single aluminum cone. What are you supposed to do with the old one you bought that got such rave reviews from Atkinson’s infomercial endorsement he calls reviews?

    Bottom line JB4, this is why I think audiophiles are naive, gullible, ignorant, and stupid. They’re like the flock who puts the money in the collection plate every week, certain that they will go to heaven. Hey mister priest, got any satisfied customers who died and said they got their money’s worth from you? And when they get tired of one priest, one religion, they go to another one to put their money in another collection plate just as certain that the new guy will get them through the pearly gates as they were when they started with the last one.

    And by the way, to people who know what actual music that rises to the level of a fine art actually sounds like, none of that expensive junk you buy sounds remotely close to the real thing. That’s why people still pay good money to go to live concerts even though they ar trapped in a seat for over an hour exposed to strangers coughing, making other noises, spreading their germs instead of sitting comfortably in their homes listening to recordings.

    This week I saw one of the dumbest things I’ve seen in recent memory, a $150,000 BMW hybrid gas/electric car that can go up to 120 miles on both fuels without a recharge if you don’t use the air conditioner. Did I take them up on the opportunity to drive it? No, I couldn’t have cared less. I only went to see it because I have to figure out how to install the charging station.

    Yesterday, accolades from my general manager for solving several tough problems. Gee I’m in a good mood. Seeya. Gotta go to work. There are a lot more problems I need to figure out and fix. Audio systems that work aren’t among them. Been there, done that over 40 years ago. I’m my own move on dot org.

    PO’s at me yet? No? I’ll figure it out. Maybe next time.

    1. In order to exclude any effects not being simultaneously controlled for any test with stereo systems powered and contaminated by EM waves the listener should sit in a Faraday cage mounted in an anechoic chamber at least. Step by step one could ad controlled effects as defined reflections or RF and EMI. I never heard of such an approach! 🙂

    2. I spend a $ on a lottery ticket each week in memory of my dear mother who always used to say:
      “Turn the music down!” One of the guys at the C-store who sells me my tickets is an entry level audiophile. If I win the Big One we’ll log on to Audiogon and buy him some nice gear he can use here on earth while we wait our turn to check out the Heaven theory. Peace be with you, Soundmind.

    3. So you complain about everything from engineers, audiophiles, Christians, concerts, cars and germs. Then tell us how your GM praised you for a good job done. Seems to me you have other issues you need to deal with. Please share your smarter than everybody else thoughts and attitudes somewhere else. Nothing you contributed here is worthy of being published in this blog.
      And by the way, whether or not I go to heaven doesn’t depend on how much money I give to the church.

      1. Ahem! Ahem! Psst. Psst. I hate to be the one to break it to you but…………THERE IS NO HEAVEN, THE WHOLE THING IS A FRAUD! You don’t think so? Prove it.

    4. “There are a lot more problems I need to figure out and fix. Audio systems that work aren’t among them. Been there, done that over 40 years ago. I’m my own move on dot org.”

      …and yet, your unmet psychological needs appear to drive you to post here for those either too religious or lacking the mental capacity to agree with you. My wife has a saying that I love regarding Quixotic causes, “Not my circus, not my monkey.” As always, you bring an enlightened factual content to the post commentary but occasionally your message is obfuscated by opinons that may be contextually irrelevant.

  4. I, too, am skeptical about many audiophile tweaks, Paul. I grew up building Heathlits, and I have an FCC General Class amateur radio license, so I used to know a little bit about basic electronics, RF and grounding theory. Even today I am more comfortable than most audiophiles with basic electronics jargon and a soldering iron and a voltmeter.

    This slightly (and, admittedly, now very stale) technical background makes me skeptical of a lot of tweaks. I am skeptical when the tweak seems to make no obvious electrical sense (e.g., an artificial ground created by a wire stuck into a box of dirt sitting on the floor; a Radio Shack digital clock plugged into an outlet in the listening room).

    Nonetheless I remain firmly in the subjectivist camp, and I am open-minded about audiophile tweaks. If my ears tell me that my stereo system is better able to recreate the sound of an original musical event because I have plugged into an outlet in my listening room a thin twig of special woo-woo wood found only in a remote jungle in the Amazon and which has been carefully soaked in sound-good oil and then blessed by a decorated tribal chief with golden ears, then I am all for it!

    Out of the three Synergistic Research tweaks demonstrated in an A/B comparison in the Magico room at T.H.E. Show in Irvine this year, I heard no difference with two of the three tweaks (one of which was dots of some material sitting on the tops of the speakers and the other was a long thing affixed to the wall, if I remember correctly), and I heard a significant and positive difference with the third tweak (“Black Boxes,” which function allegedly like tuning forks to absorb excess low-frequency standing waves).

    Several of my audiophiles friends and industry friends swear my Shun Mooks. I have never tried them but I will one day. Until then I tell my friends: “Don’t Mook me!”

    Ron Resnick
    Mono and Stereo – Senior Contributing Writer
    WhatsBestForum.com – Co-owner

    1. You should try them. Shun Mook Mpingo discs on my walls and on stands have transformed my room. Have used them for the last 20+ years. Without them, the sound stage collapses !

  5. Famous quote from September 1956:

    A friend was visiting in the home of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, the famous atom scientist.

    As they were talking, the friend kept glancing at a horseshoe hanging over the door. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he demanded:

    “Niels, it can’t possibly be that you, a brilliant scientist, believe that foolish horseshoe superstition! ? !”

    “Of course not,” replied the scientist. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.”

  6. There are little things we can do and that can be detected by acceptably trained ear, such as reversing the polarity of the AC voltage feeding a pre-amp etc. The human ear with its limitations compared with other animals, is still an incredible instrument.

    Enid Lumley, perhaps the most sensitive audio-reviewer has written for TAS, noticed, makes a long, long time, putting a VPI-5 dB over the transformer of her Dynaco-Van Alstine Double 400, changed for good; the sound quality to which she had been accustomed, ever since.

    Decades later, TAS published a photo of H. P. listening to an ultra expensive power amplifier with a dB-5 on it, which is supposed not to need this kind of “gizmo”. This was shortly before his departure.

    After I have experienced with the first VPI: dB-5 on a C.J. tube pre-amplifier, I followed the recommendation of Enid, at that time, putting three over, and 3 below transformers of my Premier 1 (Mod level. E).

    I have a total of twelve dB-5 distributed in different electronic devices including Xovers and DACs do not know why but my antijitters and DACs are most in need.

    In my Halo A23 (with toroidal transformer) the effect of dB-5 it is not so obvious.

    In Copper you can see a modern version of VPI: dB-5.

    There are things that can not be explained.

  7. I use a simple tweek that I won’t even mention, because most of the time you get slammed. It costs about $8 to try it on a component. I have had several audiophile friends come over. In blind tests, they can tell right away. I’m convinced it has something to do with the scattering of electromagnetic fields around power cable connection points. I myself would have discounted it, had my friend not come over and blind tested me on my own system. We are eternal sceptics.

  8. I found the Brick counterproductive, but that could have been due to flimsy component chassis

    Having tried many iso devices over the decades, including the very expensive Stillpoints with Risers.

    The 2 devices that did the most were/are Black Ravolis and Machina Dynamic Springs, which are relatively affordable products that work extremely well

  9. A couple of generalizations, I have found the simplest of electronics to be relatively immune from tweaks. For example my single ended triode amplifiers do not lend themselves to improvements in sound from anti-resonance devices or other Magic Brick-like tweaks. My CD player on the other hand seems to benefit from various anti-resonant tweaks. When it comes to deciding whether a tweak has merit I employ the ear cup test. Cup your hands behind your ears and you will hear a mildly altered sound field. If I do not hear that much difference in sound I do not bother with the tweak. I too used to own a Magic Brick and could not discern any change in sound. And my AG Trios are quite revealing of different electronics and cables.

    1. This is brilliant! If your ears are used to the same sound, your brain is searching for the slightest deviation, and will hear one whether it is there or not. I know of cases where rooms full of audiophiles heard a change when the A/B mechanisms was disabled.

      Changing the baseline sound to something new changes expectations.

  10. Akiko Audio ‘tuning sticks’ are the best tweaks this man has ever used. I love what they do in my system. I would start with a Triple AC Enhancer first… plugged into the outlet that feeds your system… or your power conditioner. There is a trail period on all the sticks if you are not as impressed as I am with the benefits these devices do for system synergy. Me thinks though…you will like what you hear. Lots of reviews online…

    Caution though. Don’t over do the sticks in your system. To many can be a detriment as opposed to an improvment.

    No affiliation.. Just a happy customer.

    1. Shouldn’t one at first have all interconnects fixed thus they do not swing or vibrate in the sound pressure field – including fixing the plugs? I use ordinary putty dope for all plugs!

  11. I too heard the audible improvement. I bought the bricks. I did not buy the explanation given though. In my opinion they work by dampening chasis vibration. May be absorbing RFI and EMI who knows. Thank goodness I was not impressionable enough to fall for the Dots and similar things. There is a lot of voodoo in audio because most audiophiles are easily impressed in the early stages because they are trusting. As they become more experienced they become harder to fool. Still mistakes provide for hearty laughs later. Enjoy. Regards.

  12. I have heard changes from many “impossible” tweeks, but was rarely able to say which way was better. I am extremely skeptical of improvements in “imaging” and “separation” because I hear obviously fake imaging on every recording with panning and mixing, which includes every Joni Mitchell album ever.

    I believe you heard a difference, but let me guess: the preamp in question has an aluminum case. This would explain a difference, but not an improvement. This suggests that the recording was flawed and your ears tired of the flaw, so just like Chinese water torture, any change in the flaw is welcomed.

  13. “Oh my goodness. It worked, and not just a little. The Brick opened up the soundfield, separated the instruments and singer from each other and, best of all, it was repeatable. On; magic happened. Off; we went back to what was.”

    Did you ever think to cut one open and see what was inside of it? Did you ever measure what your sound system was doing with and without the brick? I’d look for a change in the frequency response first. That’s what makes the most difference in sound. If that was it could you duplicate the effect with an equalizer?

    No curiosity. Not the least inquisitive.

    “Steven you were there. You heard it.”
    John Atkinson

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5VKvkd7WRc

    What a crock.

    So Paul, did you put a brick on the BHK amplifier? Maybe that would have made the Hypex amplifier work. The missing element. The silver bullet. 😀

    1. I didn’t have to cut one open because I knew what was inside. Even a heavy red brick helps the sound when placed on top of a piece of gear like the BHK, though steel plates help more.

      Tomorrow, the story of the VPi brick’s history and discovery.

      I am sure this will stand Soundminded’s hair on end.

    2. There is so much muck in the audiophile business one could hardly believe.
      I just wanted to tell you about a demo done by a salesman of all that rubbish in one of our local high-end shops.
      He was presenting all that magig stuff of Shakti.
      They did their own Magic Bricks, and stones and a “wonderful” thing called “The Hallograph”.
      The audience was about a dozen people all more or less interested in high-end audio.
      While the salesman tried to convince us about the improvements his devices can give, there were only two who thought they’ve heard how the stones and the “Hallograph” bettered the sound.
      All the other quitted the demo with a shrug.
      Then came the all convincing argument – “… but Harry Pearson and John Valin of TAS as well as the guys from Stereophile liked our products and recommend them.
      Ah Ya!
      That is really an argument you cannot brush away.
      If all these Godfathers of audiophile music reproduction recommend the Shakti products and I hear not only no improvement but no change at all then something must be wrong with my ears
      I’ve to admit that thirty-five years ago I used the db-5 VPI Bricks on the transformers of my ARC D-79 amp.
      I could tell another story of a salesman who sold these miracle tools called HFTs by another company whose devices are also recommended by the reviewers but i better stop here.
      Regards

    1. If planar speakers or open baffle speakers or horn speakers were simply the best, why are there still boxed speakers? The reason might be that the acoustic result of any HIFI system is that far from the HIFI ideal that you are always comparing systems with more or less faults and heavy shortcomings (colorations and distortions). Everybody thus is his own distortion manager! Electric guitar player highly esteem the distortions of their guitar amp!

    1. Both positively and negatively. What do tubes do but happy distortion (from a technical point of view)? We pick gear whose distortions we like or can live with. Then when a tweak cleans up something, it is potentially better. This is not the same as saying, “remove all distortion and it will be best”.

  14. I was just in Prague where there was this butt ugly communications tower. Apparently it was originally built by the USSR to jam western radio programs, and did not work well. What happened was a very large steel bridge near it absorbed much of its transmission power. The solution was to make the bridge an active jammer too. It may not just be the weight of the VPI brick.

  15. Audible Impossible Tweaks

    In an earlier discussion of tweaks I pointed out that you actually heard a difference in sound when you tested a tweak because you moved your head. Reflected sounds and the outputs from two or more speakers all add and subtract to produce a different frequency response at every different position in your room. In my studio, if I move my head just 1 inch from the sweet spot, I can detect an audible difference. When I move my head 12 inches, the change in sound is big.

    It is frustrating that I have been unable to persuade anyone to try a valid test on a tweak. They seem to be completely brainwashed in favor of tweaks, or maybe they are afraid of the truth that they wasted money on cables, tweaks, and some high-end audio equipment. Paul said he had made valid tests in earlier years that did not agree with my claim. I say: make new tests carefully and specifically for finding out whether I am right or wrong. How about everyone else?

    More details are at http://burwenbobcat.com/wordpress/tweaks-that-cannot-work-are-audible-how-is-that-possible/

    1. The biggest sound improvement I got from tweaking was gained by exchanging footers and power cables – not by room treatment. Improvements that are quite impossible as every expert in electronics told me. However there are a lot of tweaks that are based on biassing listeners by creating expectations. If an uninformed (!) listener perceives a different sound or someone asks for increasing the volume to levels he couldn’t accept before then the tweak obviously had an effect!

    2. Well, I think you may have a point Dick and following your advice in the past I have tried just that – though my head wasn’t in a vice, I was careful not to move it as best I could and have someone else make the change. Results were the same.

    3. As far as I know all physical laws are based on simplifying assumptions. Thus first you have to check the validity of these assumptions. And as everybody knows from the maths behind weather forecast the results cannot be but rough approximations depending heavily on the accuracy of the boundary and initial conditions and the degree of discretisation. There is more than the textbook equations tell!

    4. Geez Dick, I just read the two Audio articles on your system. I’m still trying to decide if you are a genius or batshit crazy. I keep thinking, imagine how good it could sound with 34 BHK amps and better tweeters. I hope you have upgraded your tts over the years. Very impressive overall. I think all of those settings would make me a little crazy. I have to say, I have never seen anything like it. Anyone who reads this, go check out Dick’s websites. It is worth your time to see it.

      Paul, did you notice the cover from 1995? Your dac and the Legacy amp I still use. If it would have been the Lambda, I’ve got that too. Still in daily use. The drawer is now opened manually, but I like the sound better than my Oppo 83se used as a transport.

    5. Wow Dick, you seem to be a real genius!

      You might have a problem I don’t have and where Internet helps probably:
      “How can I preserve my knowledge in a meaningful way for others and the future” and “who’s able to cherish this setup and developments in future”

      Great to read here from a person like you (and some other medium to higher grade geniuses;-)!

    6. I don’t do tweaks. I design sound fields. They are adjustable. They take EVERYTHING into account. Not only do they take the listening room into account, in the version for home use the listening room becomes an integral part of the design.

      There’s only one person here who has heard these fields and he won’t talk about it much because their underlying theory are based on sound physical principles and mathematical equations that belie practically everything this industry cherishes as the gospel truth. To admit that would be commercial suicide for him. However, he did admit that even the best efforts that he and his friends produced after a lifetime of experience have resulted in “curses, canned music” compared to what you’d hear in a place like the New York Metropolitan House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. But don’t be too harsh on audiophiles. They’re not a particularly clever lot even when they mean well.

      I don’t single out audiophiles for ridicule of their ignorance. I’ll go after anyone. I save my biggest guns for physicists. And to think I might have become one myself. They can tell you what will happen but in truth when it comes right down to it they can’t tell you how or why. They are absolutely clueless. Not only that, every one of them I ever met was a nut case.

      1. So, what’s the underlying reasons for your arrogance? No friends as a child? Abandoned at birth? Bullied relentlessly by the cool kids? Why the need to prove how smart you are? Why all the hostility?

        This song came to mind, but if you have a sweet side, you keep it well hidden. At first I found you irritating, now I think there is some deep psychological issues, you need to address. It must be very hard to be you, I hope it’s not too late to get the help you desperately need. Good luck with that.

        This song is for you:
        https://g.co/kgs/KQhD4u

      2. [@Soundmind]

        Me poor wretch!
        I don’t know anything about anything.
        I’m a physicist – even worse I’m a theoretical physicist.
        I’m quite good in crunching numbers and solving equations most of you haven’t ever heard about, but I’ve neither a glimpse why I do it nor what it is good for.
        Very seldom the experimental physicists get their idea why the results of their tests are as they are from the knowledge of us poor theorists. Even rarer the engineers base their developements on what the experimental physicists have found out.
        Yes – the engineers are the true genies! 😀
        So at least I’ll die as clueless as I’ve been born.
        So much lifetime without any sense!

        Regards

        1. “I’m a physicist – even worse I’m a theoretical physicist.
          I’m quite good in crunching numbers and solving equations most of you haven’t ever heard about, but I’ve neither a glimpse why I do it nor what it is good for.”

          Hey, me, too! I once solved an equation that took up an entire page, it was a satellite link budget equation with all of the terms including cosmic background noise.

          Geoff Kait
          Machina Dynamica
          We do artificial atoms right

  16. Just to address the green pen referred to in the OP. The green pen makes some sense since the CD laser is around 780 nm in wavelength, putting it just barely into the invisible near infrared portion of the spectrum. However, the laser beam is not monochromatic but has a bandwidth of around 100 or 200 nanometers in width. Thus, a portion of the laser light that is scattered around inside the transport is red. The red portion of the scattered laser light is absorbed by green or turquoise green so that errors can be reduced by even a small amount of green or turquoise inside the transport. My product Codename Turquoise for example colors the tray turquoise. Now, you might ask, what about the rest of the scattered laser light, the part that is invisible? The part above say 700 nm up to around 850 nm. That portion is invisible and not subject to being affected by color. Only the part of the spectrum that represents color can be affected by colors, for example red is absorbed by the color green (red’s complement) (or turquoise). But how can we reduce the errors caused by invisible light getting into the detector? Well, actually now we can. And there is only one product that can absorb invisible near infrared light. Dark Matter is a CD label spray that turns into a thin film when dry. Dark Matter can be used alone or in conjunction with a green pen or Codename Turquoise.

    Geoff Kait
    Machina Dynamica
    We do artificial atoms right

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