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One tweak that I have found to be effective and yet low cost is CD disc enhancement. Two such products that have been reviewed favourably by various Hi-Fi magazines are:

a) Auric Illuminator by Audience

b) Statmat CDi Blue by Ringmat

Being fortunate to have tried both products extensively in my system (headphone based, of course); I thought it might be good to give my views and comparison of the two for those interested readers.

Firstly the Auric Illuminator, which consists of a plain looking black felt tip marker pen and a bottle of blue gel. The black pen is used to blacken the inside and outside edges of the CDs. This by itself is an effective improvement. In fact, I challenge you to try it yourself at home using any permanent black marker pen with a broad tip. I tried this myself on a couple of CDs initially and found a distinct improvement, leading to a cleaner and clearer sound. There seems to be quieter background, which then allows you to discern more clearly subtle musical information. This then convince me to get the Auric Illuminator. The blue gel is said to improve the ability of the laser lens to read and also reduce static on the disc. I found that the gel does add another level of improvement over discs which have been previously marked by the black pen. For $39.95, you can treat up to 300 CDs. This is definitely one of the most cost efective tweaks you can add to your system. I have used this product now for over 3 months and I have yet to find a CD that does not have a discernable improvement in sound, once treated.

Onto the Statmet CDi Blue. This cost about $45. It consists of two thin polypropylene sheets sandwiching a polyster substrate. The intent here is reduce static hotspots on the disk and prevent static buildup. You place the Statmat over the top of your CD in a certain aligment. The Statmat is fairly thin and I believe should fit most CD players with a drawer loading mechanism. It is somewhat fragile and can wrinkle fairly easily, so one should handle with some care. The other problem is that it is easy to leave fingerprints. When this gets excessive, the Statmat tends to stick to the CDs. I found it most effective on older CDs that have not been played a while, i.e. those that perhaps have more "static charges" buildup on the disks. You can hear more detail from the disks. The effect stays with the disks even if played subsequently without Statmat although the level of improvement is not as marked as with Statmat.

What happens if you use the Statmat on disks treated with the Auric Illuminator ? Ths results are not consistent. On some disks, I seem to hear more body and weight especially towards bass. Without Statmat but treated with Auric Illuminator, the sound is leaner but also quicker. So, it depends on the disk and music. Sometimes, I prefer to add the Statmat and sometimes not. But so far, I have stuck to treating my CDs with the Auric Illuminator first. I have over 600 Cds in my collection, so I have yet to go through even half of my collection but I hope to get them treated over time.

Overall, I would rate the Auric Illuminator over the Statamet CDi Blue. Although initially you will have to spend more time treating the disks, this is a once only process. Aligning the Statmat each time to the CD while minimizing fingerprints can be a bit of chore sometimes. Sonically, the improvements from the Auric Illuminator is significant to be easily discern and I dare say better than the Statmat CDi Blue by itself. I happen to have 2 copies of Dave Brubeck's Time Out album. I find that with the Auric Illuminator, Joe Morello's cymbals have a crisper and cleaner sound on the Auric Illuminator by itself than with the Statmat CDi Blue by itself.

In summary, these tweaks do work, in my humble opinion. Try blacking out the edges with a standard marker pen and judge for yourself. I rate this the cheapest and quickest improvement to your CD based system.

My system:

Musical Fidelity X-Ray CD player with AFA Zeus power cable
Sennheiser HD-600 and HD-580 headphones
Musical Fidelity X-Cans V2 headphone amplifier with Musical Fidelity X-PSU power supply and with PS Audio MiniLab power cable
Interconnects : Van De Hul D102MkIII or Alpha Goertz Micro-Purl Silver
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet (Standard) power conditioner with AudioQuest AC-15 power cable