Musical Meddling: CD Treatments
Musical Meddling: CD Treatments
|Innovative Audio Products CD Clarity
Furutech RD-2 Disc Demagnetizer and
PC-2 Disc Treatment
4 December 2002
Innovative Audio Products "CD Clarity" Fluid
Along with the receipt of Dave Herren's Cobra Cable, reviewed in my last Musical Meddling column, I received a bottle of fluid for the treatment any optical disc (CD, DVD, SACD, CD-R, LD, etc.), invented by Dave and called "CD Clarity." Dave's products are available via the web at The Audio Difference, based in Portland, Oregon and he may be reached via telephone (503-297-1127) on Fridays and Saturdays from 11-6 p.m. PST.
"CD Clarity" is a translucent, light blue, nontoxic, non-alcohol based fluid that is said to perform a number of important enhancements when applied to the playing surface of any optical disc. Dave states that it cleans discs and coats them with a "dry film protectant" to help shield them from scratches, fingerprints and dirt. He says that it also helps seal and close fine scratches, holes, and imperfections in the disc's polycarbonate coating and it also contains an antistatic agent. "CD Clarity" is therefore said to improve the intensity of the laser beam reaching the disc, to permit a more accurate reading of the information on the disc.
While it is no secret to me that optical surface treatments do work (I've been using them since the late 1980's), what is a pleasant surprise here is that "CD Clarity" is so affordable at just $12 a bottle - plus $3 for shipping. It comes in a self-applicating spray bottle, some 6" tall and 1 ⅝" in diameter, and Dave claims there is enough fluid to treat approximately 400 discs. While I've no idea what is in the concoction, it is effective.
Spraying a fine mist onto an audio CD, then polishing it dry with a clean cotton cloth, proves an easy enough method of application. In a matter of seconds the treatment is complete and ready for audition. I used several duplicate discs, which I have verified sound indistinguishable from each other, that keep on hand for just such evaluations.
After the quick and easy application of "CD Clarity," audio discs played with slightly improved musical focus and resolve, meaning instruments were better delineated and located. There was a bit more continuity to the overall harmonic texture of the disc, making the digital disc sound that much more like an LP. There is a slight warming of mids and reduction of high frequency glare that is always welcomed, especially on contemporary pop recordings. Also noted was a slight reduction in that digital "haze" or "fog" that almost always veils some of the presentation. Finally, there was a slight refinement to bass and midbass articulation that easily aided the rhythmic presentation of the music.
With DVD's, the changes are very similar in the sonic realm, but the video improves slightly as well. Color saturation becomes a bit more vivid, and three-dimensionality, the perceived depth noted in the picture, becomes slightly more pronounced.
Mind you, these are subtle flavor changes, not like changing speakers or source components, but more like the subtle changes noticed in changing a power cable or an interconnect. I am happy to say that, for $15 delivered, it is easily worth its asking price.
Furutech RD-2 Disc Demagnetizer
Furutech has made a name for itself in the Pacific Rim with OEM cables and terminations, and rightly so. Aside from their wonderful cable and cable termination products, they make some software "enhancement" products as well. As Harmonic Technology is now importing many of these products, I was quite pleased to play with two disc treatments.
The RD-2, which sells for $360, boast three Patents (one each in Japan, the US and Taiwan) and will draw inevitable comparison to the Bedini Ultra Clarifier and the newer Ultra Dual Beam Clarifier, which, at $375 retail, is more similarly priced. I have used the former for some years after I first heard what it could do to tame those nasty, shrill sounding aluminum-polycarbonate discs. In essence, the demagnetization process affects CD's by giving the treated CD more natural, open, transparent and, again, more analog sounding attributes. Even a skeptic like our own Jon Gale was impressed by the transformation a brief stint in one of these gizmos could bring about.
The RD-2 is roughly equivalent in size, shape and overall appearance to the Ultra Clarifier, measuring some 7 ½" deep, 6 ¼" wide and about 2 ¼" tall. Beside the color being silvery-gray instead of black, the Furutech has two buttons and an indicator light on the sloping front panel rather than one non-illuminated red button in the recessed tray of the Bedini. To the far right of the RD-2 front panel is a square, red, illuminated power switch. Next to it to the left is a round "erase" button. Finally, in the middle of the sloping front panel, there is a round green LED that comes on when demagnetization is in progress and slowly fades out indicating the treatment has finished.
There is also a bit difference in how they operate. Where the Bedini actually spins the CD placed on its spindle at high rpm's for some 35 seconds or so over the two magnetic fields mounted in its base, the Furutech keeps the disc stationary and uses a high powered ring magnet to saturate the disc for less than 20 seconds. Not only is it a bit faster, but it is dead silent in comparison to the noisy rotating action of the Bedini. Now, that isn't a big deal per se, as you are rarely listening when demagnetizing a disc, but it is a definite plus. Finally, where the Bedini uses a "wall wart" type DC power supply, the Furutech has an AC cord with a molded plug, similar to that used on entry-level Pioneer DVD players.
What is the result of the 18 seconds spent in this classy looking, silent demagnetizer? The treated disc offers much better focus and image specificity, as well as clearer, more delineated instrumental lines. There is an increase in the sense of spaciousness of the recording, accompanied by a sense of the reduction of digital "haze" or "hash." It also affords a degree of reduction of the noise floor. There is a bit more warmth to mids and a slight lessening of the glare often noted on less than perfectly recorded pop works. There is a richer harmonic presentation, easily noted with orchestral works or intimate jazz pieces, that is very welcomed. In addition, probably due in part to the lowering of the noise floor, there is an improvement to the low frequency pitch definition. Overall, these are very desirable improvements that I've found no other way to achieve with standard Red Book CD playback.
The attributes offered to DVD playback are equally impressive. While the audio effects were very similar to those noted with CD, allowing for more intelligible dialog and more focused surround effects, color saturation is noticeably better, edges better defined, blacks more intense, and there is a much more lifelike rendering of space and depth. It is not unlike switching from a composite video cable to a high quality, component video cable.
Now, to be fair, the Bedini provides similar improvements. To the same degree, you may well ask? That is hard to say, as the degree of enhancement varies from disc to disc. But, the effects of the Furutech seem to last longer than those of the Bedini, which seem to dissipate somewhere about half way through playing the treated CD and long before the finish of a DVD viewing. In my listening, the advantages offered by treatment in the RD-2 lasted for the better part of most audio discs I played. I was able to test this impression by listening to a disc the whole way through, and then retreating the disc and listening to the last cut again right away. Under these test conditions, there was no significant difference when using the RD-2, but it was easily noticeable with the Bedini that retreatment after a full disc had played made a difference. With DVD, the effects were not as long lasting, presumably because of the significantly longer playing time. Moreover, along with its seemingly greater staying power, don't forget that the Furutech is silent in its operation.
So, am I saying that $360 cheap for this kind of subtle but obvious improvement? No, but the results achieved with the RD-2 (or the Bedini, for that matter) cannot be duplicated by any other method in my experience. While fluid treatment is very good, it does not approach the benefits of magnetic treatment. At the risk of using a rather broad analogy, magnetic treatment takes away a greater degree of the harshness and sterility that CD playback has long been noted for, in essence giving it more of the richness and spaciousness of a good LP playback rig. With DVD playback, you get much more of the "feel" of film in its richness of color and depth. The level of broadband clarification, resolve and harmonic flavor that magnetic treatment offers to the optical disc formats is well worth the investment to my ear/eye.
For you objectivists out there who prefer to measure than listen, Furutech provided me with some empirical data that showed numerically lower error rates after treatment. It is my hope that they will publish this data to a website in the near future. If and when they do so, I will share that URL with you.
Furutech PC-2 Disc Treatment
Slightly smaller in size than the "CD Clarity" bottle, measuring some 5 ½" tall and just ⅞" in diameter, the PC-2 fluid is also supplied in its own spray applicator bottle. Mine came packaged with a 7" by 5½" purple "micro-fiber" cloth, very much like those now handed out at optical centers to clean your new plastic lenses, and sells for $32.00. No mention of the actual volume of fluid included in the bottle or approximately how many discs may be treated is made, but the fluid is said to be "an appropriate combination of enzymes and ions," and a purely "natural" product. Further, they say that it is "totally free of pollution causing materials including interface active agents, and chemical skin irritants, this product is both environmental friendly and extremely safe to use." Yet further down on the label it says, "Please rinse with plenty of water when get in contact with eyes." That doesn't sound good, does it? Oh, and it also seems to double as a stain remover if one can believe the rest of the information on package, where it goes on to state, "Simply spray this product directly on the stain and wipe with a clean cloth." I love the vagueness of translation, don't you?
Treatment is identical to that with the "CD Clarity," or most other spray fluids for that matter, and is accomplished in seconds. Like the less expensive "CD Clarity," there is a notable increase in focus and specificity, more harmonic texture, increased warmth with vocals and strings and enhanced bass and midbass resolution.
However, there is a bit more. The use of PC-2 also allows a greater sense of dynamic contrasts. There is also a heightened distinctness of the space of the recording and the venue itself. The music seems to emanate from a quieter, darker background, which is a hallmark of the better fluid treatments I've examined, such as the pricey but exceptional Millennium Q-151 treatment fluid. There is a greater sense of instrumental individuality, perhaps an indication that PC-2 offers a bit more resolution than some of the other fluid treatments, which yields more of an instruments individual musical contribution as well as a more distinct indication as to its physical location within the recording. Regardless, the effects are highly desirable, and among some of the best I've noted with any of the specific fluid treatments I've examined, including Finyl, Clear-Bit, the Disc Doctors Miracle CD Cleaner, In-Sight, the Auric Illuminator fluid, M.A.C.'s Compact Disc Magic and Rain-X, to name just a few.
Now, if you've come to the obvious conclusion that combining magnetic, fluid and other treatments is the way to go, give yourself a gold star for the course and take the rest of the day off. The synergy apparent when combining the effects of the Furutech RD-2 and PC-2 or "CD Clarity," while still somewhat subtle when compared to something like a loudspeaker upgrade, is nonetheless a very musical improvement. Moreover, don't be afraid to include further treatment with things like your favorite marking pens and or a dynamic balancing mat to further enhance optical disc playback. In fact, it is the application of the combination of such treatments over the past years that has both allowed me a much heightened enjoyment of the medium and saved me from spending the requisite bucks on SACD hard- and software. Those of you who have been deluding yourself that bits are bits and that these kinds of treatments couldn't possibly make a difference have no idea what you've been missing. Quite honestly, Red Book CD's can be made to sound remarkably involving given the combination of tweaks like these and the remarkably high level of performance now readily available from this era's generation of quality and affordable CD playback machines.
In case you dozed off during all of the above ranting, I can strongly recommend all of these products. Though the "CD Clarity" doesn't offer quite the level of enhancement of the more expensive Furutech PC-2 fluid, for its remarkably humble asking price, you owe it to yourself to see just how easy it is to make all those shiny little devils sound or look so much better. I've said it before; these types of treatments should be considered "necessories," not accessories. Happy listening!
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