Electrical noise invades our electronic gear not just from large external sources. Our own audio gear too knows how to emit noise. For convenience, most of us place our hifi gear in close proximity and for good measure add a computer to it all. Yes, streaming is hot. Give us a hug. Whilst it unlocks musical libraries of a size never possible before, the use of computers also introduces uncanny amounts of additional electrical noise. Next to the more or less obvious sources of radio-frequency noise like the CPU and its clock and the monitor's clock on the graphics board, there is also the keyboard with its own little clock. Mind you, all these clocks spit out square waves in the megahertz region. A nice characteristic of square waves is a generous amount of harmonics. When is the last time you’ve seen a nicely shielded metal keyboard? Best not to think about what all these high-frequency emissions do to the office worker who sits day-in day-out at a computer staring at a flickering screen.

One of the accessories—or tweaks for that matter—which we’ve encountered that really works is the Akiko tuning stick. This modest carbon-clad cigar with its proprietary mix of various crystals attaches by way of a Velcro strip to a cable; or is outfitted with a wire that ends in an RCA or XLR or power plug. All the wired tuning sticks are electrically attached only to ground, either the equipment’s ground via the outer sleeve of the RCA plug, the XLR’s ground pin or the protective ground of the power plug. There is no easier demonstration of the Akiko tuning stick’s efficacy than to plug and unplug the stick suited for power lines from a power distributor feeding multiple components. The effect is instantaneous and compound. Edges get modestly rounded as all sharpness is removed. The sound gets more ‘analog’ especially with streaming content. However, the Akiko effect is cumulative. Adding a second stick enhances the effect.

This multiplier action of more and more Akiko tuning sticks is nice for the Dutch company’s accounting department but customers do eventually run out of AC outlets in their power distribution blocks. Akiko’s Marc van Berlo thus received many request for a larger more potent AC tuning stick. Though it would have been easy to just double or triple the size of the original, that’s not how the Akiko cookie crumbled. Instead the company entered another phase of R&D not unlike the previous one which had resulted in the original tuning sticks.

Now the goal became to identify new materials which had a stronger capability to trap EMI/RFI noise, hence produce better sound. As it happens, one of Marc’s personal fascinations are the workings of natural materials relative to sound enhancements. The area of research thus focused on the physical properties of materials that are exploited already in the realm of electricity. Think semiconductors where all manner of materials are applied to manipulate electrons in desirable ways. So Marc started with a list of materials popular in the semiconductor industry. Perhaps there was one element that would be suitable for his newer bigger stick. Using natural materials does not automatically imply that such materials are always safe to use. Antimony (Sb) for example offers nice qualities but is not really safe to work with. At the Akiko laboratory many materials were tested and found wanting for the intended task. Shungite, a material with a positive reputation in the alternative health movement for electro smog removal, didn’t work at all. So the search continued. Some material required only 3 grams where others needed 100 grams to create the same results. Marc was looking for the most powerful one.