Do you have the jitters ? You probably do, if you own compact discs.
The deficiencies in the digital medium have been cited by audiophiles, manufacturers and reviewers. Since the advent of the compact disc, the sound quality of CDs, and playback components have improved. However, problems in the sound quality of CD itself still exist.
Robert Harley has written an article about the problem of read errors and jitter, intrinsic to the structure of CDs, and a second article, discussing an expensive solution. “Jitter, Errors and Magic”, Stereophile, May 1, 1990, discusses defects in CDs, a result of the quality of their plastic material and jitter created during the manufacturing process.
A second article by Harley, “The $2000 CD made from Glass”, Absolute Sound, April 6, 2009, discusses an expensive approach, originating in Japan, to deal with the issues raised in the first article.
In addition to the expensive glass CD, there is a much less expensive CD, made of higher quality plastic, also produced in Japan, called the SHM-CD. Its cost is in the $30 to $40 range.
The sound of jitter varies from one CD, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Jitter can manifest itself as digital harshness, congestion, compression of dynamics, veiling, narrowing of the sound stage, etc. The Essence of Music is a product designed to reduce laser read errors, caused by bi-refraction, and the jitter caused by the laser read errors.
There exists empirical confirmation of the effectiveness of this product provided by Jim Aud, of Purist Audio Design. Jim treated a disc using the Essence of Music, and with the aid of a Phillips CD reader, observed a 33 percent reduction in laser read errors. After conducting the initial test, he engaged a number of participants in a blind test, using 8 pairs of CDs—one treated with the Essence of music, the other untreated. All subjects identified the treated disc after each comparison.
[The website mentions: 'During the Purist Audio testing once the test measurements were confirmed, a single blind listening test was conducted with the company’s reference audio test system. Two identical copies of 8 different CDs were played randomly. Participants selected the Essence of Music treated disc every time. Audible improvements noted were additional detail retrieval and an improved spatial presentation.' -- empirical confirmation is not the same as quantative empirical data - Ed]
I will dispense with a technical section, as the website contains technical information necessary for understanding the principles of the product and answers to frequently asked questions. I urge interested readers to visit the company website. I found it an interesting learning experience. Instead, I will provide some information, below, which is not contained on the website, which will be added, following the posting of this review, by the manufacturer, Dr. Robert Spence.
Application and Maintenance of Materials
The Essence of Music is a kit which contains two chemicals each housed in a plastic canister, a number of nitrile finger cots, a number of microfiber cloths, and one blue polishing cloth. Treating a disc begins with spraying the chemical in bottle 1 (which is labeled) with a nitrile finger cot or your finger, gently covering the playing surface and avoiding radial movements. Next, spray the chemical in bottle 2 onto the playing surface. After spraying the second bottle, one will notice a white emulsion. Use the light brown microfiber cloth to remove the emulsion. Then spray the liquid from bottle number 2 onto the playing surface again, and polish the disc using the blue polishing cloth. Allow one minute before ripping or playback.
The finger cots can be used from about 5 to 10 times. Thus, it is advisable to treat more than one CD at a time. Discard the finger cot after use. The microfiber cloth can be used to treat from 5 to 10 discs. You can either discard it or clean it using dishwasher soap and air drying, or placing several in a washing machine, using detergent only, on a gentle cycle, and then placing in a dryer for a short time, or air dry them. The polishing cloth can be used about 25 times and then cleaned, as described above. The finger cots, microfiber cloth and polishing cloth can be purchased directly from the company.
The kit costs $149, and there is enough liquid to treat 400 CDs, which means, each treatment costs $.3725. The treatment is long lasting and seems to be permanent. The product has been available for sale, for about 1 year. So far, 800 have been sold, and, according to the manufacturer, none returned (the product has a 30 day trial period).
All pairs of discs were provided by the manufacturer. One from each pair was treated. Some discs had multiple treatments One of the benefits of this review was the opportunity to encounter unfamiliar music and some recordings of excellent sound quality. I will also admit that most of the music falls outside of the genres of music I normally listen to. Note, the review was conducted like a blind test, in that I was always unaware whether a disc had been treated or untreated. Thus, the order of the discussion, matches the order of listening.
The first disc I auditioned was Legendary Songs of Don Mclean, “American Pie”, EMI 72435 81654.The sound quality of this CD was mediocre. It was probably an early digital recording which had been remastered and then reissued in 2003.
I first listened to the untreated disc. The acoustic guitar was indistinct and located in the background. It was difficult to determine its type—nylon or steel string, as its timbre was poorly rendered. While the piano exhibited a sense of depth, it too was rather inarticulate and Don McClean’s voice was veiled, although the lyrics were identifiable. The soundstage was very narrow, the upright bass was not very extended, and dynamics were compressed.
After treatment, a veil was lifted. I could discern the sound of steel strings. I could also hear the finger movement on the guitar strings. Dynamic range increased, the upright bass was clearer and more extended, and the cymbal was more natural in its timbre. This disc was treated twice.
The next disc, Romancero, features Eric Hansen on nylon string acoustic guitar with percussion and bass accompaniment. I selected “Killing me Softly with his Song” — catalogue number is Neurodisc 04999 250262.
The treated disc revealed a guitar whose balance favored the sound of the strings over the wood body. Plucking of the strings was incisive, but the sound of the nylon strings was a bit thin. Percussion instruments in the foreground sounded very realistic. The acoustic bass was in the background but not fleshed out. This disc had two treatments.
Listening to the untreated disc, I noticed that the nylon strings sounded denser and thicker. The sound overall was fuller and rounder, and all instruments had more weight. The bass sounded larger and more extended, but not as precise. There was a more even balance between the nylon strings and the wood body of the guitar. Although the magnitude of the differences was not very large, they were audible, and the untreated disc sounded more life-like, while the treated disc sounded more focused, detailed, but less full-bodied.
The next two discs are superbly recorded. One features a jazz singer, the other would probably be considered pop.
The first features a female vocalist who has been described by Stephen Holden of the NY Times “as a combination of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan” Her name is Cecile Salvant. Her vocal range and emotional projection reminded me more of Sarah Vaughan than Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald. She has an uncanny ability to inject humor into a song. At times, I found myself laughing. The recording is from a small label, Mack Avenue. I selected track 7,”You Bring Out the Savage in Me”.
The treated disc provided a highly detailed presentation of piano, bass, voice and drum. The upright bass was very controlled, and plucking of strings was very clear. The sound of a cymbal was never harsh, and evinced a natural character, although I detected some problem in the timbre of the high hat. When the upper and lower cymbal made contact the sound was a bit splashy. The two cymbals sounded a bit more like steel than brass. The piano had weight and never sounded thin—a credit to the recording engineer, as a piano is a difficult instrument to reproduce. This disc was treated twice.
The untreated disc was characterized by less detail and less clarity in the articulation of the bass notes. In its place, the instrument sounded fuller and rounder. The drum also sounded fuller, and there was a slight increase in the smoothness of the voice and a greater emphasis upon her lower register. The drum stick sounded more solid and thick, as well. The high hat sounded more like brass than steel. Essentially, there was a shift in the spectral balance after treatment. Her voice was more extended in the treble on the treated disc, and the sound of the metal after being struck by the drum stick seemed higher in frequency.
The second of a pair of excellent sounding discs is an SACD/hybrid sampler from the California based-based Blue Coast Record label. I accessed the hybrid layer. While not the kind of music I would listen to by choice, it is very live-sounding, has a high signal-to-noise ratio, and has a quality I have rarely experienced from a Redbook CD. I will mention that quality shortly. The catalogue number is BCRSA 3012a I selected track 11, “I Found a Heart”. The treated disc had 1 treatment. If you acquire this sampler, you won’t be disappointed.
I first listened to the treated disc. The song commences with a short piano solo. The piano has a natural sound, especially in its upper register, while the acoustic bass in the background sounded deep and articulate. One could hear two acoustic guitars—one with steel strings, the other with nylon. The playing was effortless and had a liquid quality. I think the term originated by Harry Pearson would apply, namely “continuous”. The male voice sounded smooth, even when I increased the volume level. The music seemed to float—the special quality I alluded to, above. It is a quality I hear from live unamplified instruments.
As an untreated disc, I noticed that the piano had more weight, and sounded fuller, but slightly less clear. The nylon strings sounded thicker as well. The sound of the steel strings was smoother without a loss of timbral accuracy. While I commented on the liquidity of the sound of the treated disc, the untreated disc sounded more ‘liquid’.
The sound of the male voice changed. There was greater extension in the lower midrange and slightly less extension in the upper midrange. The bowing of the acoustic bass was less noticeable but the instrument sounded fuller. The sense of “floating”, I mentioned as present on the treated disc increased slightly on the untreated disc. Overall, the music sounded slightly less clear.
A favorite jazz pianist I have not listened to for a long time is Benny Green. Thus, I was pleased to receive the recording The Benny Green Trio Live at the Village Vanguard, Blue Note CDP 7 98171. I selected track 8, “Down by the Riverside”. The treated disc had 3 treatments.
I first heard the untreated disc. Untreated, the piano had a lot of weight and it seemed that Benny Green was exerting a lot of pressure on the keys. I heard a tambourine in the background. It was indistinct, and poorly defined. The cymbal sounded full and exhibited decay. When the cymbal was struck hard by the drum stick, it did not break up or sound aggressive. The upright bass exhibited a balance between the plucking of the strings and its wood body. Overall, there was a slight softening of transients, a slight loss of detail and a slight veil.
After treatment, the tambourine moved closer to the foreground, was more fleshed out, fuller sounding, extended in the treble, and one could hear the sound of the skin. The sound of the metal discs was clearer and cleaner, as well. While the piano had slightly less weight, the individual notes became more distinct. It sounded like the pianist exerted a lighter touch on the keys. The upright bass was more controlled, but there was more emphasis upon the sound of the strings than the wood body.
The last selection featured complex material—the sound of an orchestra.
It was Respighi’s “Feste Romane”, interpreted by Eduardo Mata, conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, from a Dorian box set, Dallas Symphony Orchestra—the Eduardo Mata Years., disc number 6, track 8, “the Pines at Villa Borghese”, Dorian DSL 92109.
I first listened to the untreated disc. Initially, my impression was that of a recording having a balanced frequency response, no lack in dynamics, depth and layering. I found the brass section full-bodied, accompanied by bells located toward the rear of the orchestra, and a tympanum having realistic impact. The instruments spanned about three fourths of the rear wall behind the speakers. The trumpets exhibited no edge or sharpness. I also noticed a trumpet solo, near the rear of the orchestra. Overall, I observed a credible sense of spacing from a recorded orchestra.
I next listened to the treated disc, which had one treatment. Immediately, I heard greater decay time for the bells, a fuller sounding brass section, and a tympanum having greater impact and extension. I also perceived the sound of the skin, which I did not hear on the untreated disc. Finally, the trumpet solo seemed to be located further toward the back of the orchestra than it did on the untreated disc. All of this occurred with greater treble extension and a more full bodied sound of the orchestra.
The Essence of Music is a product which reduces the imperfections in the poly carbonate material, namely, bi-refraction—laser read errors and accruing jitter. In addition to defects in the plastic, there is another source of jitter, which is created during the manufacturing process and resides on the data layer. Jitter can be perceived as additive or subtractive colorations. Since the nature of jitter—its quality and quantity, inherent in the CD, is an unknown variable, from an owner’s perspective, it is not surprising that the outcome of disc treatment, will vary.
If the jitter is subtractive in nature, treatment with the Essence of Music should increase resolution. If the jitter is additive in nature, treatment could reduce harshness, create a more balanced frequency response and a more full-bodied sound.
The effects of applying the Essence of Music to the playing surface of 6 CDs, which have been noted above, include, increased resolution, increased dynamic range, greater depth, an increase in fullness in the sound of instruments, and changes in instrumental texture. When jitter is manifested as euphonic coloration(s), its reduction may or may not be consistent with personal taste.
The Essence of Music is a cost effective way to counteract imperfections at the source and therefore reduce some inaccuracy in the sound of a stereo system.
The Essence of Music CD Treatment
Source: Manufacturer loan
Amplifier: VTL Deluxe 120s
CD Player: Vincent CD-S7
Speakers: Quad 57 and Magnepan 1.6s
Interconnect cable: High Fidelity cables CT-1, and Harmonic Technology Melody Link Mark III
Speaker Cable: High Fidelity Cables CT-1, and Ear to Ear
Power cords: Distech, Ear to Ear, Emotiva, and MAC Burley
Power products: PS Audio Juice Bar, Balanced Power Technology power strip, PS Audio Noise Harvesters, Enacom noise filters, Alan Mayer Line filters, Quantum line filters, and PS Audio Power Base
Room Treatment: Room Tunes, Echo Tunes, and egg crate mattresses
Anti-resonant devices: Sound Fusion Sound Boosters, Sorbethane feet, lead weights, ERS paper and Herbie’s Audio disc dtsbilizers, and a VPI brick