[SoundStage!]Paradise with James Saxon
Back Issue Article
April 1999

'Pods and Stuff

If a critic of the human condition, say Andy Rooney of Sixty Minutes, were to visit Casa Saxon, he might have a field day. First of all, he would spy a number of unopened boxes, prompting the avuncular question, "Why don’t you open the boxes, Jim, and have a go at the contents?" To which I might reply, "Because, Andy, it’s none of your damn business."

Actually, I would honor Mr. Rooney, one of my favorite television personalities, with a civil response. For instance, I would explain that the boxes stacked in the broom closet contain virtual surround-sound devices purchased as a result of wishful thinking. A year ago, I heard a high-tech demonstration in which the pocka-pocka noise of helicopters overhead emanated from a single pair of loudspeakers. The idea that two channels could decode multichannel information inflamed me. Abhorring the idea of installing more speakers and wires in my or anyone else’s living room, I saw in psycho-acoustic manipulation the answer to a prayer. An Internet search indicated a number of companies offered surround-sound simulators. Prices for these breakthrough products were quite low compared to the cost of loudspeakers, cables, and installation time. With high hopes, I ordered samples from four different manufacturers.

As they arrived at la casa, I noticed the boxes showed photos of toys inside. Being intimidated by toys as a result of a deprived childhood, I gave one of the devices, a Spatial Actualizer, to my computer wizard to try. Boris’ report was discouraging. Seems computer stores already sell better and cheaper devices for video games, music at the workstation, etc. As far as substituting for a multichannel sound system, no way, Jose, was Boris’ verdict. I then asked whether he would purchase the sample unit, assuming cost were no object. Boris declined all price incentives. I made him keep the unit anyway, but could never figure out what to do with the rest of the virtual toys. Thus, the Tripwire Multi-Sound, the Voice of Vulcan, and the Stentor Field Blaster wound up in the broom closet. Because I never sweep or mop floors, I seldom have occasion to remember $800 misspent seeking multichannel sound without pain. I consider this a Pyrrhic victory.

Other unopened boxes include:

  • CD Labeler Kit, with which I can someday make professional-looking CD-jewel-box inserts. "Someday" appears to be months away, given my many other hobby demands.

  • Tube Echo Suppressers, which successfully tie up $350 of hard-earned cash. The suppressers are thick metal circles that when glued to the tops of small signal tubes reduce microphonic noise. Unfortunately, since purchasing the TRS, my enthusiasm for microphonic reduction has abated. I am hopeful this predicament will reverse itself in the future.

  • Joey’s Contact Enhancer in Liquid or Gel form (two dozen units). I don’t know who Joey is, but he has enjoyed for several years the use of my 225 bucks. Having read about the benefits of clean contacts, I was overjoyed at the low prices Joey offered for a product that competes with CAIG and other recognized manufacturers. Little did I know that no one in Paradise gives a whit about clean contacts, not even I. The box of Joey’s Contact Enhancer is as tight as the day it was mailed.

  • Recorded music. This is tragic. I buy compact discs in bunches, then wait to play them until my system is just right. Since my system is never "just right," unopened CDs gather like snow drifts in Minneapolis. The most noticeable stack of discs is on the window sill in my office under a thickening layer of dust. I discourage Monica the maid from moving or cleaning the pile because any day now, the system is going to click into place. I will then peel off the wrappers and play new discs for weeks on end. The downside to this arrangement is forgetting what I own. Consequently, I have multiple copies of certain music, particularly audiophile re-releases of blues recordings never listened to in the first place.

  • Room-tuning devices. One cannot fail to notice the storage room full of boxes containing objects of various shapes and sizes that are supposed to be attached to the walls of the listening room. After ordering various "room-tuners," I got cold feet about installing them. Because of the nature of the anti-seismic construction of our walls, I dread drilling holes in concrete, knowing that eventually the holes will have to be filled and painted. This seems like a lot of work and expense to me. For a nominal additional investment ($1862 to be exact) I have been able to substitute the free-standing Shun Mook Spatial Sextet, which tames room anomalies and broadens the soundstage. As a side benefit, the unopened boxes of tuning devices damp echoes and standing waves in the storage room. Maybe one day I’ll install a stereo system back there. The room is already treated.

Besides sealed packages, Andy Rooney might notice an optical illusion at Casa Saxon. Anything with a power cord attached to it appears to hover over its mounting surface. This is because I am addicted to using miniature flying saucers called Vibrapods. There are at least a thousand Vibrapods in la casa; some are in plain view, most of them slaving away out of sight. People in California adorn their homes with angels; my fetish is Vibrapods. Squishy pucks measuring 2 1/2 inches in diameter, Vibrapods are vibration/isolation devices for which I enjoy finding new applications. In the listening room, ‘Pods support the digital processor, the preamplifier, two line conditioners, a surge protector, a couple of harmonic enhancement devices, several power cords, a pair of loudspeakers, and the portable de-humidifier. This is just the beginning.

In the bedroom, Vibrapods can be found under the television, the VCR, the clock radio (where they soften the fatalistic sound of flipping numerals), and the reading lamp. Why under a lamp? You’d be surprised at the amount of grunge and grain contained in most artificial light. Halogen bulbs are the worst offenders. Vibrapods smooth the transfer of photons, permitting light waves to lap more gently against one’s eyeballs. With the aid of No.2 Pods, I can read longer into the night with less fatigue. This is making me very smart.

Around the office, Vibrapods produce better fax images, reduce computer-screen flicker, and alleviate mechanical jitter from the compact-disc copier. A major side benefit of ‘Pods in the office is they allow me to scan dollar bills with lifelike fidelity. I am getting secretly rich using Vibrapods. Please don’t ask me to e-mail you scanned money. If I do it for one, I’ll have to do it for everybody.

Strangely enough, Vibrapods have had a wonderful effect in the kitchen. My cantankerous microwave oven outperforms itself when damped with No. 3 ‘Pods. Before, leftovers were always cold in the center. Now, they warm through in the same amount of time. Another appliance that works better is the coffeemaker. Mr. Coffee loves No. 1 Vibrapods. A cup of java at Casa Saxon is the elixir of life. However, the biggest surprise is the Osterizer. One of my pet complaints was that the blender bruised the tequila. I am happy to report this is no longer the case. Propped up on two No. 1s and a No. 2, the blender mixes booze, juice and ice with a consistency unsurpassed by human hands. I have written a poem about this effect and asked Jimmy Buffet to set it to music. He has declined.

Finally, (and don’t try this at home unless you have a powerful assistant like Monica the maid), I have placed a dozen heavy-duty No. 5 ‘Pods under the refrigerator. The late Mr. Westinghouse would turn over in his grave if he only knew. The effects of isolating the "reefer" from its surroundings are dramatic. Floor-borne vibration is a thing of the past. More importantly, electrical spikes that occur when the compressor comes on have been reduced to tiny blips. Instead of cringing in the listening room as someone hold’s the refrigerator door open, I now leave the door ajar all afternoon and compressor be damned. The ‘Pods can take it and so can I. Buying ice at the store is a small price to pay for electromechanical defiance.

Our Andy Rooney might ask other questions about features unique to Le Shack Saxon, such as: (1) Why are ladies silk underpants in the accessory box? Answer: Certain components perform better when draped in silk. (2) Why are so many beer cans on the music table? Answer: The cans contain liquid at various levels and serve as simple Helmholtz resonators. (3) Why are there 37 plaid shirts hanging in the closet? Answer: Dead men don’t wear plaid. But, of course, Andy Rooney would never visit my home. If he did, I’d ask him why he is always so excitable. Is it because of the ticking clock on Sixty Minutes? He should damp the thing with a few ‘Pods.

...James Saxon


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