Greg Weaver

October 1997

[The following article by Greg Weaver discusses the effect of applying green ink to CD edges. Before Greg tells you how to apply the green ink to a CD, SoundStage! wishes to add a disclaimer -- we do not recommend you perform this process on your own CDs. If you choose to try it, please do so at your own peril. Keep in mind that chances are it will never come off and if somehow you or the ink damages the CD or you decide you don't want it on anymore, we don't want to be held responsible. To relate a similar story -- years ago in Stereophile, Sam Tellig wrote about the benefits of using Armour All on CDs. In the following months an uproar began by people claiming that Armour All would physically damage CDs. To my knowledge, nothing was ever proven either way. In fact, the discs I treated with Armour All, 3 years before Sam Tellig ever wrote anything about it, are still fine. Still, there are no guarantees in life that all will be OK. Our point is this - your CDs are your property and we do not want any responsibility for them. Please use YOUR OWN judgement...DAS]

with Greg Weaver

Part IV
Software Treatment Ichi - Complementary Colors

The next several entry’s here will discuss the sonic benefits that can be derived from treating the software (the politically correct term for CD’s and records) rather than hardware. The first several will deal with CD treatment and then, for you analog fiends, I will move on to discuss the treatment of LP’s. Although I’ve been treating LP’s for more than two decades, I first delved into this variety of tweeking CD’s in early 1990, as the first stories about such treatments producing significantly audible improvements to the sound of the Compact Disc surfaced.

It is no secret that for years I was a very vocal member of the "Death Before Digital" camp. From the very first time I heard a CD, I knew why I preferred vinyl. I mean, yeah, CD’s were more convenient, but their sound was so bright, edgy and lean. The treble was piercingly harsh and the bass was flat and one note-ish. Most of these early sonic flaws were attributable to a combination of difficulties like the use of fourteen bit conversion (that’s right campers, 16 bit converters weren’t available when the CD format was decided upon) and the so called "brick wall" filtering at 22 Kilo-Hertz. But they had some nerve calling this "perfect sound forever"! I don’t know if you remember the first generation of players, but if you do, you most likely have similar memories.

Regardless of the causes, most of us who were firmly entrenched in the analog camp simply found it difficult to listen to CD’s. So when any new possibility arose offering the promise of a more musical compact disc, we rushed headlong to try it. Some were pure crap-ola. ‘Nuff said. Others, the ones I will go into in this space over the next few installments, provided varying degrees of significant enhancement. Rays of new hope began to shine on the future of the medium, even if we were at a loss, technically speaking, to explain why the tweek worked. Many in the "objectivist" camp scoffed and jeered us, but we didn’t care. We had at last begun to find a way to get closer to our beloved music with this new medium.

As these methods are no less valid now than when they first began to emerge, and as they rarely are discussed today, I think it is important to share them with those who may have missed them first run. So, buckle in and put aside any skepticism. All I ask is that you keep an open mind. You may scoff at the ideas presented here at first. That is, until you actually investigate them for yourself and experience the results. By the way, some of these musical magick’s are still more or less unexplainable in the strictest of technical terms. The explanations I’ll offer are simply the best theories I’ve heard to this point.

One note of significance before I launch into this months’ tweek. This tweek is considerably more significant with less expensive players. As the quality of your CD playback system increases, the degree of significance exhibited by these treatments will diminish. Take heart those of you out there who are "economically challenged!" This set’s for you!

About the middle of 1990, I started to see ads for something called the "CD Stoplight." I’m sure you’ve seen it in the magazines, the green paint pen for about $20 that you apply to edges of your CD. I admit that I was rather eager to try this out, but not thrilled about spending $20 if it didn’t work. Enter the Staedtler Pen Company.

Staedtler manufactures a wide variety of supplies for artist and graphic designers. One of their marking pens, the Lumocolor 357, came under my scrutiny back in the early winter of 1991. The 357, and its finer pointed, more slim bodied little brother, the 317, is comprised of an undisclosed green dye suspended in isopropyl alcohol. This family of pens was originally developed for use on A/V transparencies according to Staedtler’s Director of Marketing, Jim Chandler. As all of the company’s products, the pens are made in Germany. They are of very high quality and the label proclaims, in three languages no less, that the marker is permanent and waterproof. Both the green colored plug in the barrel end and the green click-tight cap at the opposite end display the marker's color. It costs all of $2.99. I had to know, so home it went with me. I have since used the "CD Stoplight." The following methods of application and the subsequent sonic results are nearly identical with both pens.

Applying the color wasn’t as easy as finding the pen. After a good bit of wrestling and wrangling, I came up with an easy and effective way to apply the color to both the inside and outside edge of the disc. Select any vertical flat surface like the side of a desk or table. Place the disc, labeled side in, against that vertical surface so that about one third of the disc protrudes above the top edge of the selected surface. This way you have a firm support for both your hand AND the disc as you apply the dye. With a steady hand, slowly apply the tip of the marker to the edge of the disc above your working surface. Once you have covered all the surface that is above the top of the table’s edge, you simply rotate the disc so that more of the untreated surface is now accessible. Finish coating this newly exposed surface and continue to rotate the disc until the entire outside edge is treated. See, nothing to it!

Now all that remains is to treat the inside edge of the disc, the spindle hole. This inside edge must also be treated and is fairly easy to do free-hand. Be careful nonetheless, it is easy to stray onto the surface of the disc. Should any marks be made on the business side of the disc, Staedtler makes a "remover" that can be applied to the disc to clear away any unwanted dye. I’ve never needed to use the remover, but it is good to know that it is available if needed. Now completely treated, it was time to light the thing up and listen.

My first choice for the experiment that evening seven years ago was the song "Witch Hunt," from the Rush disc Moving Pictures. Prior to treatment, Geddy Lee’s voice had come from an area about a half a foot in diameter. One of the particulars I use on this track is the location of Neil Peart’s Klavie (kind of a cross between a cow bell and a wood block). It, too, was "cloudy", but reasonably well located about three feet behind the plane of the speakers, about two to three feet left of center and about a foot and a half to two feet off the floor. There is this indiscriminate "percussion sound" that occurs at 2:04 and again at 2:12 into the song that has always fascinated me as I have never been sure what makes the sound or exactly from where it emanates. It was perceptible, but not coherent or succinct.

Wow! After treatment, the differences, though subtle, were readily apparent. One need not strain to hear the sonic improvements. Post Lumocolor, things had become wonderfully alive and spacious. Images were more focused, emanating from much smaller and more defined locations. The stage had become substantially wider, extending easily a foot and a half beyond the width of the speakers rather than stopping just past the outside edge. The chimes that pervade the early movements of the track were better focused. They actually sounded like individual chimes being struck rather than just seeming to be a smear of chime sound, and their location in the depth of the stage was now rock solid and near pin-point. The piece had also become slightly more dynamic, seeming louder at the same volume setting.

The klavie had become very well defined and focused, moving back into the stage fully another foot. It now appeared to be coming from a position that was actually behind my back wall! No longer was its voice a "cloud" in the stage. It had taken a solid location, front to back, left to right and top to bottom. Geddy Lee’s voice was much tighter and better focused, having a distinct location rather than being some amorphous blob amidst the music. The mysterious "percussion sound" was now clearly centered and about three feet off the floor. The tom roll was breathtaking, revealing not only left to right positioning, but front to back queue’s as well.

Back to the present tense. The improvements do not stop at only presentation and soundstage queues. Bass becomes more warm and rounded. Treble losses a bit of its excessive whiteness. The midrange also warms a bit, lending a greater sense of ease and body to vocals, pianos and massed strings. One other very pleasant surprise is the increase of low level resolution. Previously masked noises become clearly the coughs, chair creakings or inadvertent footfalls that they actually are rather than simply being rendered as some unrecognizable noise. This enhanced resolving power allows for more development of both the "space" of and the "air" around the instruments and artists. This provides a better feeling for the acoustic in which the recording was made. This was another attribute long missing with the CD experience. Generally, a pretty effective tweek.

I want to touch on the subject of resolution briefly. I have long believed that as the low level resolution of any music reproduction system increases, musical enjoyment increases proportionally. Psycho-acoustically speaking, if we hear a masked noise, one so obscure that it is unidentifiable, it unavoidably distracts the mind into attempting to identify what it has just heard. This creates a diversion that the subconscious cannot ignore. For instance, if you hear what sounds like "aaaw ooow" in the quiet background of a song, your mind is lead astray from the music as it attempts to figure out what those sounds might be. However, when that same passage is played on a system which can resolve it to be the common sounds "hah choo," simply the sound of someone sneezing, the mind doesn’t give it a second thought. Those sounds register as a sneeze and the mind continues uninterrupted to follow the flow of the music. In essence, when some low level sound is fully resolved to the point at which it can be immediately recognized as what it truly is, a sneeze or what ever, the subconscious is not inevitably lead away from the message of the music and skips past the distraction immediately due to recognition. This is why I place so much emphasis on the low level resolving power of any music system.

In closing, what possible reasons can be found to explain why these phenomena occur with the application of green ink? The best answer I’ve seen to date comes from the work of Peter van Willenswaard and it still is not all encompassing to this writer. He states that stray laser light that is being refracted and traveling horizontally through the disc is normally reflected at the CD’s edge. This edge reflected light somehow distresses the proper signal readout at the photo-diode. Keep in mind that the CD player is an ANALOG retrieval system that depends on the amount of reflected light, as picked up by the optical system.

Tests done on polycarbonate since this theorem was put forth reveal that this treatment basically absorbs most of, if not all, the laser’s light which has been refracted to its edges, both inner and outer. The absorption is apparently so effective because green just happens to be the complement to the laser’s red output. This absorption helps prevent second order harmonics and reflected artifacts from affecting the photo diode in the pick-up assembly. Till next time, when I will be discussing surface treatments, enjoy. Don’t forget to let me know about the results of YOUR experiments!

...Greg Weaver