Tweaker's Delight: The ML-206 Musicalizer

Ortho Spectrum Counter Electromotive Force Absorption Speaker Filter

Clement Perry, Greg Petan, Leon Rivkin, Alvester Garnett & Greg Weaver

14 April 2002

Specifications

Left-right channel use/2-piece set
Usable for screw type terminal and banana plug
Output cable attached
Dimensions: 4 ½" (W) × 2" (H) × 5 ½" (D) mm
Weight: 850g
Counter Electromotive Force Absorption Speaker Filter.

Price: $579
USA Dealer: Oliver Solomon
Delve Audio
10 Andrea Drive
North Caldwell, NJ 07006
Phone: 973.812.6717
Web: www.delveaudio.com
Email: DelveAudio@aol.com

Distortion, in the audiophile world, is a filthy 10-letter word. It rides my system's current like a kid on a skateboard gaining momentum at every opportunity. AC line filters, conditioners, regenerators and purifiers do plenty, but do not defeat it completely. This makes the job torturous if not impossible. "That's because distortion doesn't originate entirely from poor or dirty or AC lines, crisscrossed polarity, improperly grounded cables or airborne vibrations generated from your components. It occurs the moment your component receives an electrical impulse. Period," says Mr. Yoshihiko Akiba, Chief Counsel of Noise Reduction at Infra Noise Company Ltd., and designer of the infamous AR2000. Irrespective of tweaking time vested, price or complexity - distortion finds a way into our much-loved systems. This is a hard reality that I doubted until Mr. Akiba's newest product arrived at my doorstep for review.

Mr. Akiba's Infra Noise Company Ltd. has, surprisingly, done it again. This time, however, the name is even stranger than the Ortho Spectrum Analogue Reconstructor AR2000. How fast can you say Ortho Spectrum Counter Electromotive Force Absorption Speaker Filter without biting your tongue? Mr. Akiba nicknamed it the ML-206 Musicalizer for short. Thank the Lord.

What the heck is Counter Electromotive Force Absorption anyway?

Counter Electromotive Force, according to Mr. Akiba, stimulates the voice coil on your loudspeakers to vibrate unwanted electromotive force (EMF) back into your amplifier. Mr. Akiba says this causes an entirely different sort of distortion that can also be reflected back to the original signal, causing major interference. Mr. Akiba's White Paper states, in part:

"…this type noise, due to the counter electromotive force, and complicated high frequency noise, possess characteristics related to the original music signal that can easily slip into the vibration plane like the ghost image on a television, blurring the generated sound waves. There are no exceptions. Even for speaker models without voice coil using condensers, there is the transformer used for matching the impedance. The coils of the transformer will generate the same counter electromotive force effect as the voice coils as well as causing high frequency resonance, giving the same sound wave blurred effects. Infra-noise has developed a filter to remove the signals that are causing the blurred sound effect with no side effect to the music signals."

The ML-206 Musicalizer is a passive (patent pending) device that operates between one's amplifier and loudspeaker (ala Jack Bybee products), albeit in a cost-effective plastic package, replete with complimentary words like perfect - imperfect, rational - irrational, purity - impurity, written in both English and Italian adorning its lid. The ML-206 pre-empts the use of an aftermarket AC cord and interconnects by virtue of its application for which I am thankful. The ML-206 measures a mere 5 ½ inches deep, 4 ½ inches wide and 2 inches tall, with a weight about 2 pounds, with real wood veneered faceplate to finish off what otherwise appears efficiently made. The ML206 uses a standard pair of five-way binding posts at its input while a pair of pigtails measuring close to twelve inches in length, made exclusively by Ortho Spectrum are provided at its output. The thought that a product this undersized can perform as claimed, without knowing what Counter Electromotive Force Absorption does, only made me grin with anticipation. I'm told it is all that's essential in ridding one's system of menacing counter electromotive forces. At a US retail price of $579, it will be interesting to see how close the ML-206 comes in performance to its costlier and respected sibling the AR2000. Tweakaholics of the free world join hands!

The ML-206 is a snap to use. Connecting them between the output terminals of the Bel Canto EVo 2002 mono power amps and the speaker input terminals of my Talon Khorus X loudspeakers was a two-minute procedure. Further up the chain of command rests the Electrocompaniet 24/192 CD player plugged right into my ole' reliable Tact 2.2 Room Correction/Preamplifier. All cabling is by way of Robert Lee and his amazing Single Crystal product line while Analysis Plus AC cords power the EVo's. All incoming AC irritants are exorcised via two Shunyata Research Hydra AC Line Distribution Centers.

This is Your Brain on ML-206

Ya' know, some mods are subtle and others are like a two-by-four upside the head. I think the ML-206 is a combination of both. Its introduction to my system was like a subtle tap upside my head…with a two-by-four! A summary of CD's I listened to over the next 48 hours told me more about the improvements the ML-206 wrought in my system than I would have EVER thought imaginable from such a diminutive device. I thought the Talon X was one of the most transparent and dynamic loudspeakers I've heard, especially when matched to the EVo amplifiers via my 8-foot Acoustic Zen Hologram cables. Through the ML-206's, however, they sounded like someone went over the window of my soundstage with a squeegee dipped in Windex. This marked improvement in clarity let me in on some exciting musical insights. Delicate intricacies surrounding the musical ebb and flow includes timbre, micro and macro dynamism, was all portrayed with a harmonic truthfulness I had not realized previously.

John Rutter's Requiem [Reference Recording RR-57CD], a disc I know quite intimately, uncovered organ notes that were formally buried like hidden treasure. Whenever Bill "The Brass Ear" Brassington visits, he loves to play "Zapateado", a phenomenally well-recorded track on the Pepe Romero CD entitled Flamenco [Philips 422-069]. I've listened to this disc so much that I've grown tired of hearing Pepe tap dancing across my soundstage at breakneck speed. But it really shows off a system's speed, decay and dynamics, which both Bill and I are very fond of, and it really serves its purpose when products like the ML-206 arrive for in-depth evaluations such as this.

On this visit, needless to say, Pepe came out of his carrying case. To our amazement, the listening experience through the ML-206's was one equivalent to having your lenses adjusted. The ML-206's brought more to the table in the critical areas we audiophiles would normally pay a kings ransom for. The depth of stage improved both laterally and front to back, providing a greater sense of space and detail in and around this recording. Ambient cues came through revealing how much larger and reverberant the venue the recording was actually made in was. Images, through an obvious abundance of newfound clarity, became more clear-cut, yet had more analogue-like edgings surrounding the instruments instead of the cardboard cutout images digital is infamous for. No easy feat. For the first time I heard MUCH more heel-to-toe differentiation than the normal heel-to-heel work heard beforehand (Both Bill and I got up and tried to illustrate with our own nifty heel-to-toe shoe work. Unfortunately, not only did we not come close, but we were both gasping for air in less than a minute). The ML-206 serves as a true reminder to how much closer we inch toward the real thing.

Another ear opener is Patricia Barber's Café Blue [Premonition 737-2]. This is truly a love/hate disc because while it is immensely musical, I've heard it in virtually every room I've visited since the '97 CES. Nevertheless, as often as I've heard these songs, I've never been so into the sound as I find myself now. Track eleven, entitled "Nardis," is a monster of a recording that no respectable audiophile should be without and its lethal drum solo is a system torture test. Again, on a disc that I can almost recite from memory, I heard bass intonations that were as delicate as silk. Barber's octopus-like-armed drummer Mark Walker's soft brush strokes on his snare, floor tom-tom, and ride cymbals were, when they needed to be, as powerful as TNT or as delicate as a Kleenex tissue. Walker's rhythmic precision and dexterity proved more homogeneous, especially when he soloed, on this recording. Most memorable were the cymbals crashing quite loudly without that stressed, metallic or distorted sound that's easy to get when you hit metal this hard. This proved to me, perhaps more than any other song, how much improved the system sounded with the ML-206's. I guess there's something to be said about playing a song to death, eh? There existed a "rightness" that I've not encountered before that speaks as highly of the record label (Premonition), as it does the ML-206's.

Dozens of discs played over the ensuing months haven't dampened my enthusiasm. If anything, it confirms that the Ortho Spectrum ML-206 Musicalizer is for real and ready for prime time. There's nothing redundant in the ML-206 either. I don't know of another manufacturer that claims the same performance (Greg Petan uses them after his MIT OracleV2 speaker cables) using anything similar. Personally, I feel it betters the AR2000 in two critical areas: price to performance and simplicity. Who would've thought anyone could get this level of improvement by merely placing a black box on the end of his or her respective speaker cables (except MIT and Transparent) at $579? The folks at Infra Noise Ltd. hit the ball out of the park on this one. Realistically, however, I doubt the ML-206 is going to float everyone's boat. One of our staff writers passed on making comments because he thought the ML-206 diminished his system's performance. I believe that no one product is going to work in everyone's system. Moreover, I haven't seen a product that has, regardless of its cost. At a US retail price of $579.00. If the ML-206 performs as synergistically for you as it does here in my setup, you'll thank me. To be extra sure though, I've decided to take the ML-206's to different reviewers with varying tastes and components. I find this is always the best way to really gauge any one product. Their reports follow.


Greg Petan Offers a Second Opinion…

I do not tweak. I used to tweak, but not anymore. It all came down to this: Hard and pointy tweaks made my sound harder and pointier. Soft and mushy tweaks made my sound softer and mushier. Not exactly the most scientific analysis, but the whole process just got so boring and predictable. (I do employ after market power cords, but I haven't paid them much attention for years).

So when our publisher Clement Perry gave me a call and began to extol the virtues of these things called, now get this, "The Musicalizer," I thought Clement was, to use a boxing term, leading with his chin. "Greg, you have got to get these things in your system," he insisted. As this conversation was over the phone, I was allowed ample eye-rolling latitude and offered the obligatory "really, you don't say, uh-huh, uh- huh, uh-huh." You know, that same kind of interest your friends feign as you enthusiastically describe the startling genius of your toddlers newfound ability to hit himself on the head with a wooden spoon.

So, on an unseasonably warm February afternoon, Clement paid me a long overdue visit (ironically, our first get together had been set for the early evening of 11 September 2001). There were no footers, pods or platforms; not a single spike in sight as far as the eye could see. Just well designed and carefully matched components, served straight up, in a nice, large room.

As you probably know from Clement's review, the Musicalizer interfaces between the ends of your speaker wire and the binding posts of your speakers. Quite frankly, they aren't terribly sexy, even though they have a nice Zen-inspired graphic adorned top-plate. With a mediocre level of build quality, and I'm being generous, the possibility of these things mucking up my sound seemed overwhelming, especially when I considered that they were to be sandwiched between components of such quality as the MIT OracleV2 speaker wire and the Talon Khorus X speakers.

After a round of sounds sans the Musicalizer (I still giggle a little every time I hear the name), scorching rock jams from Joe Satriani's Engines of Creation, a share of contemplative jazz from Tommy Flannigans Sea Changes and an intellectually stimulating pass at Greig's Piano Concerto, I could tell Clement was impressed. "Let's put them in," I suggested.

Visions of Lambs being lead to slaughter raced through my mind. "Put on that first track from that Satriani guy again," Clement wryly suggested. In went the ML-206 Musicalizers, and with a gentle nudge of the Linn Sondek CD12's gleaming chrome transport, an audiophile humbling was upon me like a pit bull on a poodle.

There was no aural squinting needed to experience the transformation. From top to bottom, especially the bottom in my system, the sound was glorious, and it was no slouch before, mind you. More texture and faster, cleaner transients. While hardly subtle, the effect is difficult to describe - no, make that time consuming to describe, since the changes touch on every aspect of the sound.

As this is a follow up to Clements full impressions, I will only elaborate on the effect the ML-206 had on the bass performance in my system. A layer of muck and constriction that I hadn't known was down there was removed. Power, articulation, and color were all unleashed, and unleashed with a vengeance. The room shuddered while the notes bloomed and decayed with utter liquidity. Impact and extension never got in the way of the musical (-lizer's) flow. Disc after disc with bass rich music went on and the system effortlessly hammered it out. It was an awesome experience

Yes I still snicker when I say "Musicalizer," but now for entirely different reasons. These things work -- and in a big way. I guess their present appearance is acceptable, given their overall sonic strengths, but I would like to see a re-tooling of the fit and finish.

I could to go on. Perhaps I will follow up on the ML-206 Musicalizer's effect on other amp/loudspeaker and speaker wire combos. But my son just squirted milk through his nose. Isn't he the coolest? Just so brilliant! I see big, BIG things in his future!


Leon Rivkin Tells His Experience...

A couple of months back, my trusted audiophile sidekick, Dennis Parham, called me extolling the virtues of Clement's system. I made a mental note to send Dennis some Valium. Not because Clement's system doesn't sound good; it does. But c'mon, nothing sounds that good.

In literally something like half an hour, I received a similarly overly ecstatic call from Bill "The Brass Ear" Brassington saying basically the exact same thing about Clement's system. Everybody was raving about it. By the time I spoke to Clement personally, I was pretty sure someone was trying to pull some prank on me. You see, Clement let me in on a little secret that he believes improved his system to sound so outstanding; the ML-206 Musicalizer from Ortho Spectrum. I told him I wanted to hear them in my system first, especially since he is such a good friend and colleague. I reasoned that I could do an independent evaluation in my system, which I am much more familiar with, and he agreed.

It took more than three weeks for the Counter EMF filters to arrive, and upon first glance, I was sure Clement, Dennis and Bill were pulling a fast one on me. The small plastic boxes, with what looked like cheap binding posts and some 16-gauge wire, couldn't possibly improve the sound of my system to the degree both Dennis and Bill described. If looks were any indication, they should make it worse. Over the years, as my system has grown in sophistication, I began to steer away from magical black boxes designed to go in the signal path. But Clement was adamant about me trying them out, so in they went.

Needless to say, the degree of the improvement they brought was dependent on the quality of the system they were used in. As I have five different systems, I tried them throughout. In my bedroom and office systems, for example, the degree of improvement was on the level of a component upgrade. In my reference system, the improvements were noted but were not as enormous. Yet even in my reference system, this was a most significant tweak. One thing remained consistent as I tried the ML-206's with each system; the music became more liquid and less constrained, the noise level dropped and everything became more coherent. I didn't notice any significant drawbacks. The only drawback, if this can be considered one, was noticed in my bedroom system. After the reintroduction of the Kora Cosmos Reference Amps I had noticed that there was a slight reduction in front to back depth of the soundstage. I'm guessing this could have been a psycho-acoustical affect due to a better-defined lateral spread from left to right. This opening of soundstage width became extended well beyond the loudspeaker boundaries and may account for this sense of a foreshortened soundstage. This observation was more then outweighed by the numerous improvements the Musicalizer provides.

If you use solid-state amps, like my GamuT, or a medium price tube system, then the Musicalizer filters are a must. If you have top-flight tube amps, like my VAC references or Koras', they're still worth a try. I ended up buying 4 pair and, as soon as I get my finances approval, I 'm going to order three more sets for my home theater. This component easily makes my Stereo Times Most Wanted Component Tweak of the Year!


Alvester Garnette emails His Thoughts…

Perry, Perry, Perry. Ok, I'm going to try to be calm about this, but I just put these things in about 30 minutes ago and it appears to be getting better with each passing second. Surprisingly, I've been able to hear the different spectrums sequentially improve as I've continued to listen. Within the first 5 minutes, the highs became a bit more pronounced, and within 10 minutes, they clarified themselves. From there on it seemed like improvements were made in a descending fashion throughout the musical spectrum. Next the upper midrange improved, then the mids and tenor range stepped up a notch in detail. I'm hearing an effortlessness to my system that I can't ever recall experiencing. I'm waiting on the bass now but at 40 minutes and counting, that's improving too.

I'm listening to The Vermeer Quartet's performance of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 7 in F major, op 59,1 [Teldec 4509-91495-2], and the presentation is the most fluid and musical I've ever heard after inserting the ML-206's. From top to bottom, it's as if Beethoven's intent is being revealed to me in a brand new and clearer way. I have to believe this tweak, or dare I say component, is allowing me to get deeper inside the music and KEEP me there because of the removal of fatigue inducing distortion. It has become a great deal easier to hear ALL of the lines in this masterpiece, both individually and as a whole.

It scares me to become so excited in such a short time, but a harshness and thin veil has been removed from my system. As I listen also to Herbie Hancock's "Triangle" off of his Inventions And Dimensions CD [Blue Note CDP 7 84147 2], I'm being seduced by a liquid, finely detailed piano sound unlike any I've ever heard from this disc. What I first thought was a recessed and veiled cymbal sound is offering more harmonics and tangibility, while at the same time, staying true to Rudy Van Gelder's minimal microphone placement on the drums. Nothing sounds tilted up or out of proportion.

So far I'm very impressed. For the sake of thoroughness, I'm still going to give them some time before I come to a complete and final conclusion.

The Second Day…

By happenstance I had recorded and listened to the DAT tape of a jam session I had conducted in my Brooklyn loft on the day prior to putting the Ortho Spectrums in. The recording was made with a TCD 100 Sony portable DAT machine fed by Core Sound's Binaural Microphone Set through the Sony SBM-1 Super Bit Mapping module. The microphones were positioned for a non-binaural stereo recording. Having listened to the recording of me and my friends before putting the Ortho Spectrums in is proving to be a boon in demonstrating what these things can do. Now my recording presents a cymbal sound that is the closest to the real thing I've ever heard in my system. Prior to their introduction, my cymbals had sounded thin and wispy, but now they are full bodied with a presence and intensity that allows me to forget about the electronics and just get down to why I like being an audiophile - listening.

I wish you could see the smile on my face while hearing the energy of my cymbals being reproduced with such lifelike clarity while, at the same time, hearing an increase in harmonic subtlety. The differences between each cymbal's character are now more easily distinguished.

The acoustic bass of Mathew Parrish and tenor sax of Jerome Sabbagh are placed beautifully in the soundstage with all the dynamics intact just as I remember them from our playing the day before. With the Spectrums, what was before a comparatively bleached tenor saxophone is now presented with a midrange warmth that imparts a previously unrealized believability to my system, while also negating some noise and distortion.

I'm also doing what I call my "out of the room" listening test (the LIAR test, Listening In Another Room: Editor). I like to go out of my listening room to wander my loft and go about everyday life while my system is still playing to note if the music is resolved in a lifelike fashion.

I had at one time achieved this effect only in the midrange by utilizing the TDS Passive Audiophile but at the cost of a loss of clarity particularly in the bass and a distortion in the harmonic detail of the highs resulting in blurring of the cymbals. After many months using the TDS I decided to remove and device and forego the midrange warmth for the sake of rhythmic clarity and neutrality. At long last I now have the midrange clarity, warmth and naturalness with an improvement in transparency through out the entire audio spectrum. While listening in the bedroom from the other side of my apartment, a good 50 feet away, I hear what sounds like live music. I can't think of a much higher complement.

Now saxophones, piano, brass and voice are all resolved with a palpability that makes me want to call up all of my musician friends for a listen. I say this not from an audiophile "listen to this gimmick" perspective but first and foremost from a music lover's and musician's point of view.

Perry had given me a brief overview on the technical details behind this device but I can only speculate on what these things are doing technically. I do know that with the Ortho Spectrum it sounds like I have an upgraded amp and speaker combo giving me the most believable, grain free and beautifully rendered music I've ever heard reproduced from my system. With audible improvements this remarkable I'm not letting go of these things.


Last But Not Least, Greg Weaver Adds His Two Hundredths of a dollar…

These unassuming tiny boxes came to me with no explanation of what they were or how they worked. I was not really ready to introduce them into my system mix right away, as I had just gotten a new pair of speakers in for review, the Buggtussel Lemniscus, and I needed to familiarize myself with their inherent sound before I started playing muckraker.

Well, I have to say, my first impressions were less than overwhelming. I now contribute that to the rather complex set up I was running at the time. I was biamping in a normal configuration, running the woofers with one amp and the mids and tweeters with another. As I only had one set of ML-206's to apply, after checking out my assumption with Oliver at Delve Audio, he agreed that they should go on the M/T modules. Well, after two weeks of listening with them in place, taking them out brought a shock.

While they were in I had noted a bit, and I mean just enough to notice, better localization of instruments, especially to the rear extreme right an left of the stage and slightly - ever so slightly - more body and bloom to the mids and low mids. But I felt I was loosing some involvement. Taking them out revealed that they had a minor but negative impact on inner detail, resolution and micro dynamics. Removing them revealed a miniscule loss of bloom to cellos, pianos, basses, etc, but the sparkle came back in the form of transparency, detail and micro dynamic shadings. Keep in mind that I had ONLY one set hooked to the mid/tweet speaker inputs, and had several different complex and highly active amplifier/speaker cable/speaker circuits in the same music reproduction chain. Not an easy system in which to predict how something like this Counter EMF Absorption Speaker Filter will react, eh? What to do?

Toni Decker of Spectron solved my dilemma. I'd been waiting for the new Musician II Class D Stereo Power Amplifier from Spectron since CES. Well, I recently got the call that it was on its way, and once it showed up, it allowed me a much less complex and fickle system set up. Time to try the ML-206's again.

Wow! What a difference in this configuration. Most significant to me was the added spatial detail that this little gizmo afforded. More depth, width, and even height, as well as better focus and much improved layering of images! The second thing that was most apparent and welcomed was an overall clarification of the presentation, reminiscent of that provided by using the Bedini Ultra Clarifier on a CD. I also noted what seemed like manifest itself as faster rise times from the bass through the upper midrange regions, allowing better resolution of bass lines, drum strikes, complex passages, etc. These little guys may look like a joke, but I assure you, they can be something special.

It is important to note, as Clement so rightfully points out, that not all components work the same way in every system, as evidenced by my first discouraging attempts. With the fairly affordable pricing, what have you got to loose? You will likely find these little guys to be winners as we all did. Enjoy.