Music Sciences O2 Blocker
by Marc Mickelson
Lets say that youve found your ideal set of audio components -- and spent a lot of money buying them. Musical bliss is a constant occurrence, and reviews, sadly, no longer hold your interest. Your worries are over, right? Well, that depends on how concerned you are with keeping your gear in its best operating condition. You can clean external connectors and jacks, but over time wires, solder joints, and switches inside your equipment oxidize, and so the signal does not pass through the web of internal circuitry like it used to.
What can you do? Move to the desert where the lack of humidity and salt air will slow the aging process, or consider Music Sciences O2 Blocker, a product that aims at preserving your precious audio equipment by fighting the oxidation process with mil-spec vapor corrosion inhibitors (VCIs). Military and space agencies use VCIs, as do companies such as Motorola, Boeing, Shell and Ford -- among many others -- to protect vital electronic circuitry. The VCIs are present in "emitters" (foam pads, tablets, covers), so called because they slowly emit a light vapor coating of the VCIs. The resulting protective film is far lighter than a normal layer of dust, but able to protect all affected parts, including the insides of mechanical switches, attenuators, and the like.
Music Sciences packages its own proprietary mixture of VCIs (for you chemistry buffs, a blend of Amine Carboxylates about as toxic as table salt) in various forms, each of which is suitable for treating all kinds of audio gear or storage media. The non-aerosol spray is useful for cleaning and treating RCA connectors, speaker-cable lugs, banana plugs, even the contact pins of vacuum tubes. The foam pads and tablets treat the insides of equipment by releasing the VCIs slowly but completely over a period of years. Music Sciences also manufactures plastic archival bags with the VCI mixture embedded in them for storage of CDs, DVDs and DATs.
Using O2 Blocker spray is straightforward -- lightly coat the surface you want to treat and let the excess evaporate. You can also use it as a cleaning solution with pipe cleaners and Q-Tips. The 1"-square foam pads and antacid-sized tablets require that you access the insides of your audio equipment, after which you affix a few pads or tablets (the pads have one adhesive side, while the tablets require double-sided tape) to the inside walls and replace the cover. Over time, the light vapor action of the VCIs will fill the internal cavity and penetrate cracks and crevices. This treatment is said to last from two to five years, during which time your equipment will be protected from the effects of oxidation and after which you can just reinsert the pads or tablets again. The bags house your discs or tapes, case and all. I cant say that Ive had problems with any of my CDs, some of which Ive owned for over 16 years, and the DVD is probably too new for us to know what its useful life span might be. But I can understand why tapes need protection, and perhaps the VCIs in O2 Blocker storage bags give it better than simply storing the tapes out of humidity and sunlight.
Does O2 Blocker work? Well, given that oxidation to audio equipment occurs gradually over weeks, months, years, I would have to have superhuman sonic memory to know that the equipment that Ive treated with O2 Blocker hasnt gotten any worse. So I did what anybody would -- I devised an experiment. I took three pairs of equally shiny pennies from 1997 and 1998 (two years so that sample variation would be somewhat diminished), treated one pair with O2 Blocker spray, one with the O2 Blocker pads (I kept the pennies in the silver baggie that the six-pack of pads comes in for six weeks) and left one untreated. I then put all three pairs in dishwasher-cleaned margarine dishes, and to accelerate the process, put the dishes outside -- from early December through March -- and let the humidity roller coaster of an upper-Midwest winter do its work.
If my photography skills were adequate, youd see the results (and not vague blobs on the whitish background of my bathroom floor). The spray-treated pennies were nearly as clean as when they were treated -- uniformly shiny, albeit a little less dazzling than when I put them out in the cold. The foam-pad-treated pennies showed signs of tarnish, but were still relatively new-looking. This could be predicted given that the pennies werent continuously treated, as internal parts would be with the pads affixed inside the chassis of the component and its lid on. The untreated pennies were very tarnished and grungy -- sort of brown-gray in color.
How and why the spray works is easy to understand -- it directly contacts the metal surface. The effectiveness of the pads, on the other hand, is less obvious. They merely rest in the vicinity of the parts to be treated. However, there is some kind of proof that they distribute what theyre saturated with -- the smell they give off. After I affixed the pads in my Lamm L1 linestage and ML1 amplifiers, each time I entered my listening room, I was greeted with the faint but noticeable maple-syrup odor that the pads produce, especially after the gear had heated up. I grew to enjoy it. It gave me the satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something to protect my equipment.
The claims for O2 Blocker dont stop at simple protection, however. Music Sciences asserts that treating your equipment with O2 Blocker will actually make it sound better. They reason that the VCIs work not on the metal itself, but on the ions that float around the metal, changing their polarity to neither a positive nor negative charge. In this non-polarized environment, electrons flow more freely, improving the transfer of the musical signal and thus the overall sound. I wasnt able to test this theory by treating one component and leaving another identical unit untreated. Cleaning dirty interconnects and speaker cables with O2 Blocker spray will certainly improve sound, however.
O2 Blocker is an essential part of my high-end system -- unseen but not unappreciated. It cost about $15 to treat my mono amps and preamp -- theyre big and require three squares each -- and I considered it an investment in good sound for a long time. I dont know what the designers of my equipment would think of using O2 Blocker to preserve it, but after seeing how the stuff protected pennies left outside, Im a believer. Any piece of equipment I plan on keeping will get O2 Blocked, the only exceptions being those like my Wadia transport and Timbre DAC, neither of which I can open. However, if they ever go back to the manufacturer for updates or a tune-up, Ill be sending some O2 Blocker pads along for the technician to insert. Highly recommended.
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