Forbidden fruit

January 6, 2023
 by Paul McGowan

I am delighted when taboos and rituals are challenged and good things still happen.

Remember how much more enjoyable playing music became when we no longer had to demagnetize or paint green edges on CDs? Or weigh down the tops of our equipment with VPI Bricks? Or paint the tip of our stylus with Last? Or zap our vinyl with a Zerostat?

We were told not to eat the forbidden fruit of simple system enjoyment without first running through the essential rituals and routines.

Did those rituals work? In many cases, they sure seem to, but over time, they became so tiresome that I moved on.

Sometimes it’s better to eat the fruit of simple musical enjoyment and let the quality of your equipment do the work.

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54 comments on “Forbidden fruit”

  1. I don’t go into the quirks of network, server software, interface set up and all the small boxes and cabling, necessary for streaming (that can just be compared to the initial setup of e.g. a vinyl rig), but it needs to be realized, that the current generation(s) don’t seem to be completely satisfied with the simplicity of even just a smartphone and headphones, not to speak of complex streaming setups. The reason why they get into vinyl, besides the physicality of the media and the big cover art, are exactly those kind of rituals you’re happy about, they’re gone 😉

    1. Jazznut, I fully agree. One of the amazing things about attending classical concerts for me has always been those few silent moments when conductor and orchestra pause to be mentally ready to start a performance. And then launch into the performance fully synchronized.

      Similarly, I have always though that cleaning a disc prepares me to be mentally ready to listen.

      1. Those few silent moments are truly magical. Thanks guys for bringing this out. I would’ve never thought about that energy in the air. It’s ‘A Must Experience’.

      1. Wow, you bought it? 6k is a lot for compensating eccentricity of some records, but it’s really fascinating. The only thing I was doubtful about is the fact you have to extend the holes of the LP‘s so it can work and maybe in many cases this wouldn’t have been necessary.

        1. There is only a single record in my archive which is perfectly centered:
          If you remember the tiny movement of the stylus it will become most obvious that a non centered vinyl record will audibly degrade the sound quality.
          Concerning the necessity to expand the hole in some cases: I had to expand the hole for many vinyl records already when I got my ReVox B790 some decades ago because the pin in the middle of the platter was significantly thicker than the pin of my old Dual TT. Every TT I had showed different values for the center pin! Only my laser turntable made no problem here! 🙂

      2. Dude, You got one! Outstanding! Does it do what they claim it does? I have been really thinking about getting one of these.

        For the last week I have been trying to get a WiFi extender, a NAS and an entry level streamer setup and working. So far a lot of effort and no joy.

        It is so much easier to mount and setup a cartridge.

      3. I’ve seen this stabilizer advertised and I could tell that this company means business. While we’re at it, why not purchase their Ionizer. It sure looks like it does the job that a Zerostat only promised because it is so damn hard to use as directed without hearing that ‘click”.

      4. In the days Nakamichi was a high end manufacturer they made a turntable that corrected for disc eccentricities. And it worked. I have only once seen one in the used market and regret I did not buy it

  2. One of the most tiresome, and that word sums up the problem of these rituals, would be the Audio Desk CD Sound Improver. This is a lathe that chamfers the outer edge, playing side of a CD at 45 degrees which you then mark with a black pen. I had the opportunity to buy one recently at half price but I didn’t pursue it. When it was first introduced I did send away a couple of CD’s I had two copies of to be treated, for a nominal charge, so I could listen for myself. I’d say it did work, but not as much as the reviews claimed, and the thought of treating a whole collection this way, well, I just couldn’t face it. The most ridiculous thing was that for CD’s that had a maximum playing time you risked losing the last bit of music by cutting the chamfer. Of course, it would have been totally worth it in the pursuit of better sound, not.

    However, despite the above, I don’t entirely agree with the premise of today’s post. We’re all about better sound here so anything that helps us achieve that has got to be good, kind of. Once again it’s about compromise and us making a choice regarding the amount of effort we are prepared to put in to achieve a given result. Maximum effort equals maximum results.

    The VPI Brick though. Not really a ritual. It might not look great perched on your equipment but you just put it there and leave it, job done. I hardly dare admit it, but as this is a safe environment 😉 I’m currently experimenting with a couple of 1kg doorstop’s. Nicely finished in black they look like a couple of oversized valve covers and for what they cost, a very cheap way to potentially improve the sound. However, I’ve yet to discuss this with my wife.

    1. Would you be kind enough to post the link to this block. I would appreciate taking a look at a picture of it. Right now I have two VPI Magic Bricks sitting on top of my tube amplifier transformers.

  3. Paul, that’s akin to asking a Catholic to stop genuflecting, or playing with
    their Rosary beads, or splashing Holy water around, or lighting up incense
    or going to confessional…or for a Jew to forgo the rules of the Sabbath
    or for a Muslim to ignore the four pillars of Islam or for a Hindu… oh,
    I think I might be labouring the point just a bit now.

    Some folks just love their long-time rituals, like cleaning & tweaking
    & moving & adjusting & futzing.

    The ‘Green Paint’ on the edges of my CDs was a once only proposition.
    I painted them over a weekend & thirty-five years on it’s still there, with
    no touch-ups necessary…that was some high-grade adhesive paint!
    My DECCA record brush was retired back in ’87.
    The VPI ‘Brick’ was on-sold back in ’97.

    The only ritual that I do now is to gently dust the CD & the upward facing
    section of the CD drawer tray with a ‘Blusher Brush’ just before I play said CD.
    This is to minimise any dust &/or lose particulate from settling on the laser
    lens inside my SACD player.

  4. I think the point missed here is that for today’s streaming systems the work has to be done before the hifi is installed – essentially a good and robust wifi system with wired access points. If you want to use wired ethernet, run a separate ethernet cable for that purpose. This may be easy, difficult or impossible. Personally, I channeled two cables into the brickwork during renovations. So all the paraphernalia that Jazznut suggests becomes unnecessary – I don’t even need an ethernet switch. I use a media converter because one of the lines is fibre, but with CAT even that would be unnecessary. There is a feed line in the trunking, so the cable can be replaced if needed. The only tweak needed is a battery power supply to the media converter so it is not directly connected to the mains (so all is galvanically isolated). No rituals are required.

    I wet clean all records after I buy them, very rarely do I need to clean them again. My only “ritual” is to clean the stylus. I have a 100ml bottle with record cleaning fluid, I put a couple of drops on a Q-tip and drop the stylus on it before play. It takes a few seconds. I get my cartridges inspected every 2 or 3 years. Compared to before I had a wet cleaning machine, this process has reduced stylus wear by two thirds. Rather than being a ritual, it’s good care that saves me money.

    The problem is more the manufacturers. Some records arrive clean with no static (e.g. Craft) and really don’t need washing, others you almost have to rip off the sleeve.

    I use a Loricraft cleaner, but had I the choice now I’d probably use a Degritter. I’ve become a Loricraft expert user, but I prefer idiot-proof devices and the Degritter looks very simple (but a lot slower). A big plus for these machines is that they can restore unplayable old vinyl to tip-top condition, which makes buying used vinyl a whole new ball-game.

    1. I use an iPad as my Roon Wireless Endpoint. Is there a noticeable difference between hardwiring your endpoint and having a wireless one? I never thought about hardwiring.

        1. Thanks for getting back to me John. I just as soon would stream with my end point attached to a cable then wireless but there is a freedom see using my iPad as my wireless endpoint. This particular iPad is dedicated to streaming Music. I have no need to use it for it for any other purpose at this point. I retired it several years ago and now brought it back to life and gave it purpose.

      1. Like probably many Roon users, I use a phone as a Roon wireless endpoint when listening to headphones: iPhone -> Chord Mojo2 -> ears. Otherwise, the iPhone is just a controller, not an endpoint.

        My wired main system is Innuos -> Devialet via usb, but I can also do Roon -> Devialet wireless as all Devialet are Roon Ready. I don’t have a problem with either, both are excellent.

          1. No worries. In the early days of wifi it was too flaky, so Sonos used a Bridge, broadcasting on its own band separate from the domestic wifi. Devialet took it further with Devialet Air, that broadcast from Windows or Mac OSX at up to 24/192, exceeding the airplay limit of 16/44. It worked very well and many people still use it, but you need a dedicated device. Shut the device and the music stops. Of course Airplay and Spotify are the most popular routes, but some audiophiles just think wifi is bad. I think it’s out-of-date thinking.

  5. “Audiophiles” generally seem to want to make things harder than they are. I guess I’m not one. I turn the stuff on and it sound glorious. Other than a swipe of the record cleaning brush, no muss, no fuss.

    1. Secret guy… Did you ever own a rangefinder or TTL camera either analog or digital? If you did, did you try to insure that your lens or filter was scrupulously clean? I understand that I have OCD but only when it comes to certain of the passions that I enjoy. I’d even swing live chicken around over my head if that would make a positive difference.

      1. Ha, reminded me of this.
        A blind man and his guide dog walk into a shop.
        After a few moments he starts swinging the dog round above his head.
        The shopkeeper, horrified, asks him what on earth does he thinks he’s doing?
        He replies, “It’s okay, I’m just having a look round.”

        1. Ha ha ha ha ha… Very good Richtea.

          The reason I made that remark was when I was younger, I was dating a very beautiful Hispanic young lady from Puerto Rico who took me to Santeria gathering where the high priest swung the chicken round and round over his head. There were so many gift offerings laid out in the apartment floor and people dressed in such colorful garb yet it was really CRAZY!

      2. Swinging the Chicken!
        I have not heard that process being used in many years-
        Thats something I recall my gradnparents talking about who were from Eastern Europe!
        The process, when translated from Yiddish to English is “beating the devil or removing the devil” from the person-
        Perchance I can use this over my current internet service since its awful and unrelaible!

        1. My experience was a long time ago Larry. It certainly was quite the experience for me.

          Did you ever read the short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster”? Go on and take a shot Exorcising the Devil with your ISP. They are but a few of the Devils that are trying to make us their disciples.

  6. There are rituals and then there is SOP. As intelligent humans we are expected to be able to discern the difference.

    If you play vinyl ( I do ) and do not use a record brush before you play the vinyl you will get ticks and clicks from the dust on the vinyl. Thus, SOP is use a record brush.

    Here in the northeast the most common form of winter heating is baseboard heating. It produces a very dry heat and lowers the humidity in the room to the point were static electricity is common. If you play vinyl in the NE in the winter and you do not use a Zerostat you will get load pops when you play the vinyl. Thus, SOP in the winter is use a Zerostat.

    1. Wet cleaning removes static completely so there is nothing to attract dust and no need to use a record brush. I never use one.

      Q-tips are multi-purpose for cleaning styli and ears. I’ve never tried cleaning my ears with a Q-tip dipped in L’Art du Son.

    1. Are you kidding? I definitely have a ritual regarding ear cleansing because I still have occasional clogged eustachian tubes. Sometimes the SPL while I am listening to music can bring on this clog. That’s when I open my jaw, shake my head and pull on my ear lobes to try to do everything I can to unclog my ear canals.

    1. Love your handle conundrum!.

      I know you’re joking but since my mind can be “Thick as a Brick” (this one’s for you Martin) or do you need a repair or a new turntable?

        1. Mine seems fine as well and it’s over 25 years old. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. After all, I’ve already made a lot of improvements to my original SOTA Sapphire.

  7. Suggesting Audiophiles not to sweat the fine tuning small stuff of their systems and just enjoy the music is kind of …..Cool, but Crazy (hey, it could work)!!

  8. I sold my VPI turntable with the fussy big buck cartridge, the expensive phono preamp, the VPI record cleaner, and my collection of hundreds of vinyl records. Hooked up a Bluesound streamer with an Ethernet cable to my modem and a hard drive containing my music. I now access music on my iphone or ipad. I couldn’t be happier.

  9. A lifetime of alterations to build the soundroom, to the point of sit, pour, feet up, listen. Truly rewarding but I think I missed the getting there experimentation curiosity phase. But didn’t miss the connect, disconnect, lift, move, connect, plug plug plug…and the time gap between comparative listens. Enter headphones. Most sessions are sit in the massage chair & listen, but some (ok, Several) are a few select tracks, 8 pair, 4 amps, and some with two or three different cables. Do the combination math…. One track paused a dozen times, try this, try that, it on tube, SS, hybrid… Ok, how bout THIS track, that cable…it might be several hours of not hearing a single song played through front to back without a pause or change. Is this enjoyable?
    Sh1tchya!! Immensely gratifying.
    Different ones for different recordings, different styles, moods or the particular ears d’jour. The best most favoured headphone tends to change. Quite often.
    It’s kinda like the home version of going to the old audio store demo rooms.

    The ‘does this sound better’ obsession disease can never be cured because the experimentation journey is as fun as the ‘I made it’ apex.

    I actually told myself, once I found the best sounding headphones, I’d sell the others.
    And we laughed and we laughed….

    Can you imagine if marriage rules applied to our audio journey? There it is, you picked one. You bought it. One stereo. The same rig. For the rest..of.. your.. life. Woofers getting a bit loose and losing their compliance? Midrange starting to sound all too shrill? Too bad buster, you signed a receipt Bub!! Talk about forbidden fruit. “Don’t think I didn’t notice – your wandering ears were ALL over Bob’s system the ENTIRE party!!” You’d get home & turn on your hifi and spend two hours twiddling, fighting, eventually talking nice & begging with it wondering why you were getting no sound…

    “Hello, my name is Jeff and I’m a chronic audio cheater. It’s been two days since I heard a two way. ”
    “Hiii Jeeeff…”

  10. I remember seeing the vinyl demagnetizer at CES and laughing at it. Now you tell me there was a CD demagnetizer too? And people actually bought them? A fool and his money are soon parted!

  11. Zerostat.

    When it’s dry and cold here, I often have to manually separate my mat from the album.
    I’m getting one finally, after 45 years of playing vinyl.

    “Tipping Sacred Cows” is definitely a favorite hobby of mine and also the name of a nice book by Betsy Chasse.

  12. This, after I’ve nearly cornered the market with my 5 Zerostats!? Oh well, guess I’ll just have to continue using them:-) albeit, just one in each room:-))

  13. We (hopefully) brush our teeth twice a day, blow the buggers out of our nose, clean the wax out of our ears and comb or brush our hair. Or does the quality of our bodies obviate the need for all that? Why not take fastidious care of our audio discs? It can still be “all about the music.” LOL

  14. I wonder for all you CD aficionados out there if any of you heard of the S.I.D.

    Basically it is a green plastic mat that is quite thin and it is rested on top of your CD when placed in the drawer.

    Supposedly this S.I.D helps limit reflections and the laser lens can scan the data better, this improving the sound.
    Does it make a difference? Absolutely not, but I still use it anyway. Lol.

    I am sure we’ve all bought into stuff like that, but for 20$ I was happy to try it.

    1. Hi Nick,
      ‘Monster Cable’ brand made something called a ‘DISCUS’ – “High
      Resolution Compact Disc Stabilizer”, back in the late ’80s.
      A ‘CD shaped’ 0.5mm thick round slice of aluminium with the appropriate
      hole in the middle that sat exactly on top of your CD as you placed it on
      the CD drawer tray.
      The idea was that it gave much greater stability to the spinning CD, thus
      easier for the laser & pick-up to do its thang & therefore, better sound.
      Did it make a difference?
      Who knows, but for AU$20 I was willing to buy one because logically,
      at the time, it made sense.
      And the ‘Green Pen’ in 1989 was only AU$10…so I thought, “What the
      hell, why not” 😀

      1. Oh I had a feeling I wasn’t alone here!
        Yeah we share the same psychology on this.

        I mean the way things are explained sometimes while tapping into a bit of scientific rationale it makes things of this nature a compelling buy.

        I don’t regret buying the Sound Improvement Disc (S.I.D)
        I take assurances in my rituals and with my blusher suggested by some friend of mine. 🙂

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