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Reviewers: Srajan Ebaen, Marja Vanderloo & Henk Boot
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear; Raysonic CD128; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime
CD Recorder: Olive Symphony with Red Wine Audio battery mod
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual; Melody I2A3
EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby w. optional Omni Harmonizer; WLM Diva Monitor w. Duo 12, Alto 2.2 Mac bass amp and Pre/Passive and Bass Controls
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer; Crystal Cable Ultra loom
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room
Review Component Retail: $825
Taking one for the team. We all know what that means. Being the fall guy or gal where fall doesn't mean autumn. With audio reviewing, accepting an assignment that'll have the online forums go tizz with derisive howls can be exactly that. Marja & Henk volunteered for just such an assignment with their original look at the Nanotech Nespa #1. While not able to conclusively determine exactly how or why the device worked, they most assuredly determined that it did work. Alas, the concept and rationale behind this invention seem so farfetched that the inevitable ridicule duly followed.
What soon followed said ridicule was just as predictable. A few stout souls more interested in personal experience than preconceived judgment bought their own Nespas. They loudly confirmed M&H's assessment. They posted on the forums but often had to resort to cyber kung fu to defend their honor. Then more 'philes followed suit. The wacky but efficacious reality of the device quickly got established. This wore off the novelty of dumping on the Nespa users. The jury for the defense had grown vocal and strong and those who must publicly demonstrate their own narrow-mindedness have since moved on to other tweaks which likewise seem to defy apparent Physics or, more accurately, still elude acceptable explanations.
Let's face it though. Dubious and esoteric can often be just that. It's not as though the self-proclaimed watch dogs for sanity lacked pure motive. It's simply that those interested in results needn't always understand -- or agree with -- how they're achieved. As long as they are, performance-minded 'philes can make hay without knowing the first thing about farming.
Meanwhile, the wheel of audio dharma continued to turn. The Nespa has evolved into the Nespa Pro. Not only do Marja & Henk own one, they have demonstrated it to numerous recording engineers. On their prized 'perfect' recordings. Our two intrepid explorers will tell that tale in the conclusion. Ditto for their ongoing experiments with producing copies from commercial CDs that far transcend the originals and in which the Nanotech device figures prominently.
|In fact, it was precisely their informal e-mails that finally compelled me to procure my own Nespa Pro (thanks to Benelux importer Guy at Aspera Audio for making a unit available). Too many Dutch CD copies line my disc wallet for shows and audiophile visits to not have me convinced of M&H's home-based 'remastering' techniques. One highly appealing aspect behind the Nespa portion of their digital tool box is its once-only application. By exposing the shiny disc to intense light for a predetermined duration from inside a box which could be mistaken for a disc demagnetizer by how similar it looks, the effects are irreversible. Unlike cleaning solutions which must be applied again and again as the discs get smudged; or destaticers which require application each time; the Nespa is a one-time deal. Terminal you might say. What it purports to correct happened to the CD during its manufacture. It's nothing that playback|
|or handling can cause. Once that particular manufacturing defect has been rectified, the CD can't revert. That's why the Nanotech genius -- formerly the owner of Stax -- calls his invention an optical disc finalizer.
What, pray tell, is this manufacturing defect? That's where incontrovertible proof gets fuzzy. One theory goes that during especially high-speed duplication -- the norm for most commercial pressings -- the release agents that are applied to the CD mold stampers end up between substrate and protective surface as inclusions. These microscopic bubbles prevent complete adhesion of layers to purportedly interfere with the laser reader. The Nespa treatment is claimed to somehow "flash evaporate" or "burn off" these inclusion bubbles through the CD's permeable polycarbonate. The end result is audibly better sound through more accurate data retrieval.
|So much for theory. Though apparently esoteric, the Nespa treatment is physical in nature. It changes something permanently. If you're not logically impaired, there'll be protest. Couldn't this treatment eradicate more than it should, to irreparably damage much-loved irreplaceable CDs? That's certainly a reasonable concern. Marja & Henk have performed the lethal-dose test on the Nespa #1. They determined that 10 treatments of 120 flashes each render a CD's TOC unreadable for most players. That's not entirely surprising. After all, staring too long into the sun without eye protection can damage the retina. The Nespas' lux ratings exceed terrestrial sunlight by a vast margin. The notion of overdoing it isn't as farfetched as it could seem. The real impetus for ongoing coverage of this device is to further acknowledge its status and, in our Dutchies' case, to report on the difference between regular [$595] and Pro [$825] Nespas as well as detour into DVDs and implications for visible improvements. (If you read Dutch, their review for Music Emotion has already published - see at right).
|The Pro outputs 3 times the light intensity of the standard Nespa. That's 3 million|
|lux. Sunlight on an average day outputs 100,000 lux max through our atmosphere. A brightly lit office equals 400 lux. From the Wikipedia, we learn that "the difference between the lux and the lumen is that the lux takes into account the area over which the luminous flux is spread. 1000 lumens, concentrated into an area of one square metre, lights up that square metre with an illuminance of 1000 lux. The same 1000 lumens, spread out over ten square metres, produces a dimmer illuminance of only 100 lux. Achieving an illuminance of 500 lux might be possible in a home kitchen with a single fluorescent light fixture with an output of 12000 lumens. To light a factory floor with dozens of times the area of the kitchen would require dozens of such fixtures. Thus, lighting a larger area to the same level of lux requires a greater number of lumens."
Translated this means that if it were your iris rather than a CD hovering over the flashing light, you'd be permanently blinded. That's why the Xenon bulb will not fire until the lid is closed. If you could figure out how to get your eye in-between, you'd deserve a pirate's patch. The Pro can be set to deliver 30, 60 or 120 flashes per treatment cycle. 30 is the recommended default setting to start with. For an update on Marja & Henk's findings in the optical CD treatment saga, refer to their Photon Cannon article. It turns out that 'surface polishing' of plastics, including polycarbonates, is a well-established side effect of UV exposure, i.e. high-frequency light. Hitachi in fact has performed measurements between UV-treated and untreated CDs and the molecular fusing of the former's surfaces netted recordable changes. And the Xenon bulbs in the Nespas do include the ultraviolet band (as do camera flash lights, the reason museums won't let you use 'em). Because intense UV bombardment -- hence the term photon cannon -- changes the physical surfaces of plastics, this could be part of the Nespa's operation or all of it. We simply don't know.
In use, the Nespa Pro is 1-2-3. Insert your CD on the center spindle just as you would in a jewel case crown, close the lid, press power to green-light the LED, then press the white membrane button one, twice, or thrice for 30, 60 or 120 seconds of exposure. 30 second of Pro is apparently equivalent to 120 seconds of regular Nespa. During treatment, a small indicator next to this membrane duplicates the internal flashing. This is accompanied by small audible pings. They let you know that the Nespa is doing its thing underneath the covers. When the confirmation flashing and pinging stops, your CD or DVD is cooked, molecularly deformed, photonized, surface polished, layer adhered - whatever exactly the case may be. Child's play, n'est ce pas?
|While I have never tried out the regular Nespa, it seems to me that the technology is identical. Only the dosage is less intense, hence recommended treatments take four times as long - if two minutes can be considered long. Unless you live a hurried-enough life to count a 90-second difference per CD critical, the standard Nespa could suit fine and save you a couple of hundred bucks. Which still doesn't settle the question of whether you need either Nespa in the first place.|
|Reader Pat strongly believes you do. "I've owned one now for 4 months and it has made my listening experience that much more enjoyable. I think others would be thankful to seek one for a demo and see how non-fatiguing CDs can truly be once they are Nespa'd."
Good choice of words - non-fatiguing. The Nespa treatment indeed reduces the glare, brittleness and dimensional flatness that bedevil many of the lesser CDs whose music we cherish but which, especially on a dialed system, show up their sonic faults often enough to become distracting.
For the full effect, burning a new CD to get well-formed pits and lands should be considered half of the bad-CD fix. Nespa-ing then completes it. I you want to gild the lily with your favorite lotion or potion, no harm done. But you may consider it unnecessary now.
|The magnitude of improvement varies from CD to CD. The better the disc, the less of an improvement. The most relevant thing is the potential magnitude. After all, the Nespa won't do magic. Nor would any reasonable person expect it. How much? Sounds like time to haggle at a bazaar. The Nespa does more sonic good -- or difference in some cases -- than polishing compounds and demagnetizers on their own. If we assign an arbitrary value of 5 to 10 for Nespa action and compare before/after copies, the cleaners, destaticers and their kind operate in the 1 to 2 range. Making a superior copy at the slowest burn can net improvements all by itself in the Nespa range. In the usual inch-by-inch progress audiophiles make up Mount Olympus in search for the Golden Fleece -- or is that getting fleeced; my legends are mixed up -- the Nespa advance is pretty solid. It doesn't move mountains nor does it transform crappy recordings into xrcds. But it makes 9 out of 10 commercial CDs sound better enough that the per-CD price, if you've got a serious library, becomes a fair return on the investment. Plenty enough to not be upset that at the end of the day, we still don't have the foggiest why this device should work at all. Consider again that the Nespa was developed by the ex-owner of Stax, a firm with a solid reputation for innovation and quality particularly in electrostatic headphones. Our defeat of understanding at the hands of a mysterious black box perhaps becomes just a bit easier to swallow then.
On a good Nespa sample -- i.e. with a CD on the high side of possible improvements -- there's more body and less grain, more space and less two-dimensional compression; as though the noise floor dropped. Detail gets less irritating. For copies, the time to Nespa is after burning, not to the blank. Treating the blank makes no difference. Going beyond 30 seconds on the Pro seems to do little good at best and potentially goes retrograde. The whatever-it-does seems to happen during the first round. Consider me sold. Unlike the assorted sprays and demag treatments which, frankly, I'm getting too lazy to do each time I load a CD, the Nespa routine -- just once, marked as such with a little peel-off dot from the stationary store on the jewel case -- is painless by comparison. Ergo, it's something I'll actually benefit from. That's different than certain tweaks where the idea of doing it is cooler than actually doing it.
Add Marja & Henk: When comparing the Nespa #1 and Nespa Pro, native Dutchies like us first look at the price. Like it or not, living in a country that celebrates the cheese slicer as one of its national symbols makes you prudent and not wasteful with money or cheese. In Europe, the #1 sells for €499 and the Pro for €699. Manufacturer Nanotech states that the Xenon flashbulb is good for 800 treatments in the #1 whereas the 3 times stronger bulb in the Pro should treat 2000 shiny discs before giving up its ghost. It is not explicitly stated but we assume that this figure of 2000 refers to 30-second treatments. Longer treatments will wear the bulb out faster. So Nespa'ing an optical disc with the #1 costs € 0.62 and € 0.35 with the Pro. No doubt the Pro wins the economics class. When the bulb runs out, the whole Nespa should be shipped to Japan for replacement. According to Nanotech, replacing and calibrating can only be done by them. [I tried to 'break into' my personal unit for a look-see but couldn't figure out how to do it without risking damage - Ed.].
Treating a disc with either of the Nespas creates a permanent change. From the above financial calculation, it's clear that treating all the discs in a substantial collection gets quite expensive let alone tiresome. With several thousand CDs at hand, we'd need a handful of Nespa Pros. No, treating selected discs as we go along is the way. In our household, only the most emotionally evolved performances get earmarked for Nespa exposure.
Since any disc selected for enlightenment is special to us, another question looms. Should we risk treating the original or flash a copy? It happened to us that some discs after one or repeat Nespa treatments could no longer be read, period, or only on certain players. It seems that some CD players have more tolerance for treated discs than others. But who would want to run the risk of destroying a cherished and perhaps irreplaceable CD? Making a copy with EAC set to slowest burn to a good blank is the answer. Now treat that copy with Nespa and you're beyond the pearly gates.
Making a copy to treat offers another safeguard. Although almost all discs sound different after being exposed to the intense light, not all of them sound necessary better. The same holds true for discs that received consecutive treatments. The effects are cumulative. You can overdo things.
After making copies as part of our in-house MO to optimize RedBook playback, we arrive at the actual Nespa treatment. We had the opportunity to compare both Nespa units. We burned three copies of the same album and treated one on the Nespa #1, the other on the Pro. The third untreated copy was used as reference. The Nespa #1 flashes approximately 120 times with a dose of 1.000.000 lumen. The Pro's lowest setting flashes 30 times at 3.000.000 lumen. There is a distinct difference in the amount of bombarding photons hitting the discs. Is it audible? Yes it is. The Pro-treated disc sounded way better even though 30.000.000 less lumen were delivered. Details were clearer, hence the amount of noise on the disc was less. Our reference copy came nowhere near yet sounded better than the original.
To get a more balanced view on the difference, we took two other freshly burned CDRs and treated one 3 times on the Nespa #1 and the other once at the Pro's 120 setting. Mathematically, both discs were exposed to the same 360.000.000 lumens. After the treatment , we concluded that the #1 sounded a bit edgier, a little sharper as though detail was somewhat overemphasized. The Pro disc meanwhile was a little lifeless, dull or, as some would call it, warm.
What to think of these results? We burned three copies of another album and repeated the triple #1 and extended Pro flashing. Same conclusion. The #1 version was harsh where the Pro version lacked same sparkle. The third disc which was only an EAC'd copy sounded flat and lifeless by comparison to either flashed disc.
During this time we received for review the Furutech DeMag, the big flying saucer all-media demagnetizer. Thus why not zap the already mangled discs on the DeMag and give 'em another whirl? The #1 treated CDR was degaussed on both sides. From the first tone, the glare and sharpness were gone. This sounded great now - balanced, full of detail and without stress. Then the Pro disc went on the DeMag. The audible result was poor. That numbness, that lack of sparkle remained.
Now we degaussed all the other CDRs used in the Nespa trial and discovered something surprising. After degaussing, the first duo of discs that got the 120 times one million lumen treatment sounded almost like the 30 times three million lumen Pro treated disc. Almost - the Pro version had a little more ease to it. Out of the Pro-treated stack, our favorites were the ones Nespa'd at 30 strokes.
That degaussing the #1 flashed discs made such a difference is no doubt due to the most poignant difference between the Nanotech units. Where the Pro holds the disc in a simple tension clamp, the #1 uses a magnetic puck like regular top loaders do. From a manufacturer's point of view, the latter is more expensive. More parts are involved. And the strong magnet on the disc has an audibly negative effect which isn't a good rap for a 'purifier' of any kind.
Next up was a comparison between the #1 treated discs. What was the effect on our MAM-E Golds when flashed 3 times in a row as opposed to a single flash session? To our ears, the disc that had 'only' 120 flashes sounded better than the triple-dosed one. It appears that there is a fine line between enough and too much. Where the #1 is straight forward in its use, the Pro has the option for 30, 60 or 120 flashes. What is the best setting?
Here's another variable. We used MAM-E CDRs throughout the tests. From a previous comparison project, we've settled on this brand and type of CDR as the best sounding blank. It appears that measurements of C1, C2 and such errors have no audible influences on various blanks as long as there are no massive real data errors. Next to the bits-is-bits part of perfectly read-in and burned copies, there's sound quality. Here the combination of burn quality, dyes, purity of substrate, reflectivity of the mirror layer and the writing laser's intensity setting are all key. With all these factors at hand, there is a relation to the amount of flashes a disc receives in the final Nespa process. With our workflow and hardware, the Pro at its lowest 30 setting sounds best.
This finding has implications for treating pressed commercial CDs. As the quality of the polycarbonate substrate is unknown just as is the bonding quality to the mirror layer -- just to name a few parameters -- what should the light intensity setting be? As the treatment is cumulative and irreversible, caution is the word. Personally, we stick to copying, then treating CDs.
Beside CDs, there are SACD, DVD-A and DVD-V optical media. Our preferred MO of treating copies doesn't work here. Proprietary and Digital Rights Management coding for audio discs prevent even their legal owners from making copies for personal pleasure. For us that's no big deal. Music we like is hardly ever available on SACD or DVD-A. One of the most creative applications of SACD features on Todd Garfinkle's MA on SACD disc of which we had two copies. Todd used both layers to store a massive amount of music samples from his label so there is different music on the SACD layer in DSD than there is on the PCM-encoded CD layer. This provided a good chance to give one disc a flash treatment. Because we only had two copies, the setting of the Pro was for 30 flashes. Comparing both discs later on our modest Philips DVP 5500S revealed that even the super-marked format has flaws the Nespa could improve. These changes were most clear-cut in the upper treble region of the DSD layer. Here the treated disc sounded somewhat rounder, the edges subtly smoothed over. For the PCM layer the same changes applied as for regular CDs..
We cannot play back DVD-A but we own quite a few movie DVDs in our video corner. While the image emerges from a basic big Sony wide screen television, the audio portion of the setup is beyond par. As an appetizer, we served up the wonderful movie Le fabuleux destin d'Amalie Poulain. This absurd and tragicomic vehicle for Audrey Tautou has a color scheme that is highly manipulated for accent. The director gives each scene an ambient color that underscores the dialogue or situation. Before the Nespa treatment, colors were 'nice'. Afterwards, colors became talkative as though they had a life of their own. The Nespa effects on this DVD were stunning. Because we had no clue what to expect, we'd set the Pro for 60 flashes. In the sound department, our 2.0 setup gained in intelligibility, a great thing when you don't like subtitles. Because the Nespa cleans up all manner of noise, another DVD became the entrée - Lord of the Rings. This movie has so much going on that watching it on even a bigger TV screen can be quite tiresome on your eyes. In the movie theatre, your eyes can wander over a large area but on a TV screen, all is compacted. After one of the discs was Nespa'd, the image was far more relaxing to view. Where blacks had been sort of dark grey before, they were much darker now. Instead of an expected increase in brilliance, the treated disc displayed a more even tonality, albeit with more detail. After a second 60 flashes, the image was even better. Blacks now were truly pitch black. What the effect of Nespa might be when high-resolution projectors are involved is beyond our scope to explore but it is likely to be substantial.
With the massive soundtrack of this epic movie, the Nespa performed another good deed. Our self-amplified Avantgarde Solos can put out an almost overwhelming sound pressure and with the sound effects of this film, they did, with rolling thunderously large air movements while violins were silky and sweet.
Comparing the two versions of Nanotech's Nespa technology favors the Pro both for its economics and versatility. The financial step up from €499 to €699 just for a different bulb and clamping solution might seem substantial but the extra € 200 will treat some 1200 extra discs (at €0.16 a piece) if you're a big-time audio collector. Video buffs will be happy with the extra light power to modify their films even though the Xenon bulb will also wear out faster. On the other hand, a film DVD has far more playing time than an audio CD. Lastly, the Pro doesn't make a disc demagnetizer an absolutely mandatory follow up as the standard Nespa does in our experience. So the Pro gets our vote.