Out, out, damned spot...

A local adaption of a TNT Hi-Fi article.

I've heard about the Nordost Eco Spray and I've been aware of the various 'cleaning fluids' sold by computer stores at Funan but I've never seriously considered them. Of course, it took boredom and an article from the usually reliable folks at TNT hi-fi to pique my curiousity. Also, the promise of something 'cheap and good' :)

Basically, static electricity is supposed to be a bad thing... but we're in humid Singapore, not Las Vegas. For theories as to why static could possibly affect the sound, you can check out Nordost's website regarding their Eco spray and Ringmat regarding their CD statmat. I'm not concerned about theory, as long as I can hear it A/B :)

Anyway, the point is to get a cleaning spray with antistatic cleaning properties and to try it on the label side of CDs and cables. Of course, the brands they suggest are local to Italy. On my usual wanderings around Funan Centre I noted a variety of cleaning sprays on sale. I decided to purchase a can of Kensington Dust Guardian with the promising label "Anti Static Cleaner for Electronic Equipment". Safe for use with electronic equipment? Thats what I want :) Its $9.90 at PK computer for a 191ml can (the same can costs $12.90 at South Asia). Footnote: Soul of Music sells an Anti-Static Spray for $11.90 from Caig (makers of Pro-Gold)

First off, don't forget that you don't spray it onto the surface. You spray it onto a cloth and use the cloth to wipe over the surface (this is also the same for cleaning camera and projector optics with lens cleaning fluids by the way)

Function No.1 : Cleaning :)
Hey, unlike other audiophile tweaks, this product actually has a useful function. You can actually use it as a cleaner. Well, you can use Bedini Ultra Clarifiers as paper weights but. Personally, I think that'll be my main use for it. My target rack has glass shelves. Soon, I should be needing another rack for home theatre equipment and once DVD-audio comes out (please... let there be 96/24 outputs so that we can do decoding away from the video circuitry...) Back to the point, use it to clean your glass shelves and even your cables. Looking closely at the large surface area of my Blue Heavens, I notice dust gathering on the cables. Using the cleaner, I can remove static and dust at the same time. If you don't remove static, dust will just stick to it again (look at a direct view TV screen). Also, a quick wipe on those nasty heatsink fins (large surface area for heat dissipation=more surface area for dust to land on).

Function No.2: Sonic Improvements?
I tried to detect whether there was any change in sound after I cleaned off the dust from the outer jacket of my cables but I don't think there was.

As for wiping the label side of the CDs, the results were interesting. But first methodology. A-B-A testing is not possible, so to maximise the results of A-B testing, what I do is to take a track, in this case, Trisha Yearwood's theme from Con-Air song, play that first minute several times until I don't hear any differences (also, in between repeat listening, leave a time gap similar to the amount of time you need to apply the stuff) -- When you listen to a track (even a familiar track) for the 1st time in a session, and then a 2nd time, you might notice things in the 2nd playing that you didn't in the 1st; so, you gotta do this until you remember everything.

Basically, I did hear a very slight increase in air with greater 'breathiness' in vocals. (when I heard it, it seemed like a significant change, however, upon more critical listening, I determined that the change was relatively slight, but a change none the less. Also, I would say that the change was for the better. The air was greater but not harsh in any way. Another impression was of better highs. As for upper-mids and others, I couldn't really hear any difference. I treated only a few CDs that were non-US presses (too precious :)) : Trisha Yearwood's Songbook, Toris Amos' Under the Pink, and a DG Grieg Songs disc featuring Barbara Bonney.

If you're going to try it, listen to a track where there is a lot of air and where the vocals are closely miked. Listen closely to the higher frequencies.

Other notes:

  • I've no idea how long the effect lasts.
  • The difference is not that big that I'm going to reach over and wipe my CDs every time I want to listen to them. I'll think I'll use to mainly to clean stuff and occasionally wipe CDs when I'm bored :)
  • If you want to wipe the CD, I don't see why you can't use pure rubbing alcohol to do so?
  • I have no idea whether wiping CDs with alcohol damages them :) Maybe if you rub too hard...
  • The natural thing would be to think: 'get a Statmat' then I won't have to spray each time etc. I wonder. Anyone lend me a Statmat to try out? :)


Well, people actually read my articles :) Thank you to all of you guys who offered to lend me a Statmat to try out. I eventually borrowed a Statmat (Mk 2, no less) from Leslie whose workplace is also near mine. Having heard a small but discernible improvement using the antistatic spray, I had great hopes for the Statmat.

Oh yeah, for those that don't know what a Statmat is, a Statmat is a flimsy plastic sheet the shape of your CD with holes in it. It goes on top on the label side of the CD and you slot the CD into your player. It has garnered glowing reviews from various audio reviewers and even from the non-commercial TNT hi-fi.

On my preliminary listening using my XA7ES CD player, which utilises a metal stabilizer, I couldn't tell any difference A/B. Oops. Going through more and more CDs I obtained various 'impressions' about the Statmat which I can't really pin down and I probably would not be able to identify in an A/B test. These differences, if existent, are along the lines of a slightly greater reverberant space. The strongest impressions of this effect was from Dan Seals, In a Quiet Room and Anne-Sophie Mutter's Carmen Fantasie from DG. On a lot of other discs, I couldn't hear anything at all. Oh yeah, plowing through several discs, I was reminded how great New York Voices' Songs of Paul Simon was, even though I don't have a HDCD player.

Further Tests with my Panasonic DVD Player
Well, time to plug in my Panasonic A310 DVD player with my Sony EP9ES as the DAC. Going through several discs, I have to say that I did get a stronger impression that the sound was changed. The Pansonic/EP9ES combo sounds rather rough, forward, with basically no soundstaging. With the Statmat, I had the impression of a more coherent, less confused sound. But still, the difference was so small that I cannot say that I can reliably hear it in A/B tests.

One on One against the Antistatic Spray
Hmm, does this mean I was also imagining things with the Antistatic spray? On several discs, after I couldn't hear any difference with the Statmat, I removed the Statmat and sprayed on the antistatic spray. Interestingly, I could hear the 'usual' increase in air (refer to the spray article above for exact details).

Sadly, it doesn't really work for me.

This suggests:

  • The Statmat is CD player or system dependent.
  • The Statmat is humidity dependent (commercial strength airconditioning does lower humidity a lot)
  • My hearing is no good :)

I'm not saying that the Statmat doesn't work, but as for all tweaks, try before you buy. Leslie says hes going to do more listening. I also got some e-mails from others indicating that there was not much difference on their systems as well (thanks for the feedback guys :))