7 CD-Digital Audio Tweaks for the Newbie Audiophile

My CD audio set up never satisfied me. It was plagued by sibilance, congested midrange, flat imaging and boomy bass. How could I turn around this fatiguing listening experience?

Buying a new boutique CD player (an affordable Marantz CD-5001 or a not so affordable Arcam Full Metal Jacket CD36 upsampling CD player) was too obvious of an irresponsible use of my daughter’s meager college fund. The frugal audiophile (that’s me, by necessity) chisels away small chips of family savings through cheap tweaks (less than $100 flew below my wife’s radar).

How many tweaks could I try before I hit the ceiling of a price of Marantz most affordable CD Player? How many digital audio accessories would turn out to be snake oil? Would the subtle differences and gains be worth the tweaks’ cost and effort?

CD Tweaks I’ve tried

(I really hope their total cost doesn’t add up to a new CD player, you do the math)

In order of effectiveness:

  1. Passive Phase Filter: Taddeo Digital Antidote 2: The passive TDA 2 tames phase errors inherent in a CD signal in the analog realm. It is similar to filters used by Wadia and Pioneer. The Taddeo was a great tweak: it tamed sibilance, defined cymbals and gave a 3D character to piano chords. I’ve lived with the Taddeo for years now, I should remove it to see if I miss it.
  2. Vibration Control Feet: BLACK DIAMOND RACING – BDR MK III CONES (SET OF 3): The BDR cones are sitting under my CD player and I like to think they have improved the sound. The cones can be slid around underneath the player to change the sound—haven’t been too scientific with this. (Corn Remover Blocks (silica) from the foot care aisle in Walgreens make a cheap alternative to the BDRs)
  3. Inline Enhancer: AR – ACOUSTIC RESEARCH – TDS SOUND ENHANCER: The TDS introduced hum into my signal path so I removed it before I could hear any benefits (other than shoving the sound stage in my face, too forward). Now that I’m in a different listening I’ll dig it out of its dusty box and try again.
  4. Burn-in Software: CARDAS – AYRE ACOUSTICS (IBE) BURN-IN CD—I don’t have this exact disc, but I play a similar demagnetize/burn-in disc every month to chase away any gremlins who’ve taken root in the system. The process seems to open up a congested sound, probably my imagination.
  5. Anti-Static: NORDOST – ANTI STATIC SPRAY – ECO-3 (or Endust) and MILTY – ZEROSTAT 3—After spending too much time on the Audio Asylum I believed that spraying and shooting my CDs with anti-static "ions" would clean up the sound. This is a definite hold-over from the vinyl playback school where static is damaging and audible. I never heard a difference between a static ridden or static free compact disc.
  6. Mat: Sound Improvement Disc—A holdover from LP playback, a common tweak is the CD Mat. CD Mats promise damping, stability and blocking laser scattering (like the magic markers below). I tried the SID and couldn’t hear any difference with the mat in place. I returned it.
  7. Magic Markers: I thought a CD-R copy of Elliot Smith’s XO with black Sharpie colored in spindle and outside would tame the harsh sibilance throughout this album—it didn’t. The only time this album has sounded smooth is with the 180g LP played back on my Music Hall MMF-5 turntable (and this only happened once, maybe my VTA is wrong). A pro magic marker (no experience):AUDIOPRISM – CD STOPLIGHT (pair)

None of these tweaks ever gave me the same sensation as a new CD player, preamp or loudspeaker. New equipment is solid; something to believe in. I cannot trust tweaks, especially if I had a DIY hand in their install (I’m wanted in five states for my poor soldering skills).

Tweaks and digital accessories are a subtly expensive way to enhance your listening experience through psycho-acoustics and pseudo science. Every time a new tweak accessory catches my eye I think of a little vile of sand.

A close relative of mine believed in the healing powers of white sand and sea water scooped up from a magical beach in northern Japan. Sand. She bought an ounce of sand for $100. How do you guarantee it’s from that Japanese beach? Couldn’t it just be from a pet store in Boulder, CO?

Spending money feeds your faith and quells your skepticism of an audio tweak’s effectiveness. You can trust your ears, just make sure they’re not full of sand.

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