|This is an old warhorse by now - and I have thousands invested in it - 7 mods so far - here's the story of the latest!
Can't Stop - The Latest Mod
I read about the new mod offered by Warren Gregoire (and others), who has done some VSE mods for me in the past. Although not yet endorsed by VSE, Jim Ellis, Founder of Sonic Perfectionists taught fellow VSE modders Warren Gregoire and Bill Thalmann how to install his "breath of life" mod, which is a grounding and rfi filter scheme applied to the VSE Level 5 mods. For $200 I leapt... Warren said it would be "astounding." Thank god he didn't say "jaw-dropping." Jaw dropping isn't what it used to be. Everything in high end is supposed to be jaw dropping. Why not head-spinning or shoulder-dislocating or tongue whipping? Okay - astounding it is - bring it on.
Three weeks later give or take, Mister FedEx Ground pulls up to the door and disappears into the rear of his van. I figure this is where I get to see him drop the box. But no, this rather wiry guy offloads my 24x24x24, 82 pound box like he does it every day, carries it to the door. We don' need no stinkin' dolly! Stinkin' Dolly - a great blues singer in her day.
And, Now, The Breath of Life, In The Words of The Life Giver, Jim Ellis
"My "Breath of Life mod" (or BOL mod) is merely a refinement, and enhancement to the VSE Level 5 mods. It is not a stand-alone mod that can be implemented without the Level 5 circuitry. The design goal of my BOL mod is to keep as much common-mode RFI noise from reaching the Level 5 circuitry as is possible, as this clearly interferes with its operation.
These mods consist of four basic pieces:
1) New RFI filtering is added the VSE Level 5 power supplies.
2) The grounding arrangement on the Sony CD player's own RFI filtering circuitry is altered.
3) The VSE Level 5's low-pass filtering circuitry is altered slightly.
4) A carefully tuned circuit is added to isolate the Level 5 grounds from the common-mode RFI digital hash that gets generated inside of the Sony's chassis.
The Net result of all of these mods is that when all the sources of RFI are removed, the sound out of the Level 5 circuitry becomes noticeably cleaner, and ever so slightly sweeter. But the sound also undergoes a rather remarkable transformation in terms of "PRAT". The music becomes significantly more "involving", and "lively" on a purely visceral, emotional level. The effect is something that you feel, that makes you want tap your foot, and sometimes even get up and dance when you hear your favorite music (hence the name). In my opinion these changes are not particularly subtle, as even untrained listeners can immediately hear these improvements in my experience.
As I write, this Mod has not yet been officially VSE sanctioned, as Allen Wright needs to evaluate it first. But I believe that when he finally does find the time to try this for himself that my BOL mods are likely to be renamed to "VSE Level 6"."
Thank you ,Jim. I find the most telling word he used EMOTIONAL. Isn't that why we listen to music, to become moved? That's emotion, not logic. Now the big question is this: can you put emotion into a recording that lacks it in the first place? (No, sorry.) I also find his circuit logic appeals to me. In fact, the results mighty closely resemble the NuForce V2 amplifier description and reasoning (over stock.) It calls to me.
Did You Hear That?
I find myself settling back after a very brief warm-up, loading a Hall and Oates CD DO IT FOR LOVE - [U-Watch Records.] For some reason, I never start evaluations with the great sounding CDs. I start average or below, then work my way up. This album always strikes me as almost a two-in-one as it becomes less complex and more rhythmic on the last 6 cuts of 14. The latter part is pretty clean, though there are acoustic guitars, organ, bass, drums, maybe a synthesizer somewhat buried in the mix. But Daryl Hall can sing the paint off a fire hydrant. Post-mod I found this rather commercial (read: compressed) mix to be VERY pure, and it's on the good side of today's average. Other than for the fact there's obvious compression involved, it sounds like the singing could be in the room. Now there's much more side-to-side voodoo too. The center image is more solid, and the sides wrap - depending on the mix - to both sides of me! I know some innocent 'civilian' will ask where the back speakers are!? It's almost spooky.
On Lyle Lovett's MY BABY DON'T TOLERATE [Curb/Lost Highway B001162-2] There's a lot goin' on, especially in the full-on gospel choir of I'm Going To Wait and I'm Going To The Place. Before I drop the nasty, understand that to me some of Lyle's recordings are among the best, in performance AND audio. Not this one. On the two tracks mentioned it reminds me of "dust on the needle." That'd be your analogy. On CUTE AS A BUG there's a brief guitar run that appeared behind me in the left rear corner of the room! What to take away from this one: The BOL mod doesn't do miracles. If there were to be miracles, wouldn't you expect them on a gospel tune?
The CD I know best is probably Steely Dan's GAUCHO [MCA B0000868-36]. This is a hybrid version. I started on the familiar CD mix and pretty quickly decide it's lackluster, despite what I assume is a remastering. S's and other consonants remain muted. And Donald Fagen's voice, an excellent indicator of the quality of a system, isn't as prominent or distinct as I've heard it. (On some systems he seems muted, buried in the mix; on others he's front and center; on some, 'phasey.' I don't know why his voice in particular is so revealing on this CD, but it is. And as the worked long and hard to hot SOTA. GAUCHO is said to have taken place on over 320 reels of 2 inch master tape - and that's just the outtakes.) I switch to the SACD layer and Donald's baaa-aack. Everything as it should be, darn transparent, and the ladies of the chorus as real as a fifteen year old's fantasy with a dirty magazine.
On Philip Bailey's CHINESE WALL [Columbia CK 39542], lost in the dark ages of digital (1984), this lead singer of Earth Wind and Fire solos except for a brief appearance by producer/ drummer Phil Collins on the hit Easy Lover. This CD shouldn't sound as good as it does. Most of the thrill is Philip's amazing voice, but I think the production is also masterful. Ultra fast horn and string stabs punctuate some mighty fine singing. SO do a variety of percussive effects. When I had my horned Klipsches, I found the dynamics of the drum parts outstanding. Sorry to say, it was the horn-effect boost I heard, and I've missed that on every subsequent Klipsch-less play.
As Jim mentions PRAT, I have to say that, on this disc, with his mod in place, I'm getting closer to the dynamics I prefer. It isn't a matter of turning it up either, though the cleaner the audio, the easier it is to want to do that because there's less hash. I try to listen at a consistent 80db (C weighted/fast response peaks) on a Radio Shack sound level meter. Occasionally I'll crank it to 85db peaks, but not for long. I wear ear plugs at overloud movies, while cutting the grass, even at the dentist depending on what he's using. I've discovered that the older you get the longer it takes to rebound from LOUD.
For $200 you can't find anything that makes such a wonderful difference as the BOL mod. Of course your price of entry is the VSE Level 5 mod (close to $3,000.) You should know though that what you hear depends on the source material quality - better gets better. (Worse stays the same.) You might wonder if that means there's some euphonic do-dah at work, and I'd say no. The BOL mod of the VSE Level 5 mod just brings out what's there...
really, really well.