It's an elementary enough operation. Gently place the Brick directly on, over or as near as possible to your amp's output transformer. Listen. Move Brick. Repeat. Remove Brick. Listen. Repeat. And so on. Remember here, gentle reader, that the simplicity of this process conceals potential danger and friends don't let friends drink and tweak. Given the sheer tonnage and brute geometry of the db-5, a slight fumble of the fingers could quickly render your priceless NOS tubes as unto dust. Spiritu Sanctum. Amen. At the very least, it could leave a nasty ding in your chassis, floor or the delicate and exquisitely pain-prone bones of your foot.

My first response was "That's nuts. That's not right. Take it off and listen some more." My second response was "I'm nuts. I'm 'not right. Put it back on and listen some more."

And that's pretty much how it continued for hours. Once I reconciled myself to the fact that the damn thing did make a difference, even an obvious difference and a positive one at that, I started to fiddle with precise placement. I tried it a little left, a little right, more toward the front and more towards the rear. Now there's little about any block of wood that would suggest that placing it on top of an audio component would be a cosmetic improvement - and it's not. The only thing to even imply that this is more than a primitive paperweight is the nicely rendered VPI logo script, model designation and patriotic "Made in the USA" screened onto the top panel. But at least what seemed to result in the best sound was a nicely centered, rearward placement where it looked as good as it could ever be expected to. And frankly, the effect of small shifts in placement were subtle enough to perhaps be consigned to a temporarily heightened aural imagination.

What, exactly, did I hear? Not lower, not really deeper but distinctly tighter, just plain smarter bass was the first thing to leap out at me. The next was an unprecedented untangling of the music: This system is frankly not in its element with massed instruments or bombastic musical goings-on in general, but the other effect of the Brick (and unlike the clear improvement of the lower frequencies, the one I had to keep testing over and over) was to open things up and let more complex music breath a bit. It didn't eliminate or "cure" congestion, but like a good antihistamine, it could almost make you think it did.

At this point, I was in no small way gob-smacked and had to fight the urge to log on to AudiogoN and start driving up the already attention-getting prices of these things (I've seen them selling for anything between $40 and $130+ depending on condition, existence of original packaging and the prevailing winds that day).

Instead, I contacted Harry and started my furious note-taking. Which, I may add, is difficult to do as Mr. Weisfeld turns out to be, at least on this subject, a man of few and measured words. It's an approach which illustrates better than anything the complete lack of bullshit he brings to bear on the topic of the db-5.

I asked about what appeared to be a copycat product I had seen advertised in the UK magazines, an item called the Fluxbuster. "Yes, the Fluxbuster was a copy, and Hi Fi News gave me a lifetime subscription for [letting them copy] it." Who says audio manufacturers don't rake in the big payola? Here's to hoping you're claiming the full value of that subscription on your W2, Harry. But why leave the basic formula in the hands of others, especially when I had heard that there were quality issues with the build of British knockoffs? Isn't this thing, at least in the original VPI version, valuable enough a system enhancer to hang in there in the market?

I realize I'm so late to the party that all the glassware is already washed and put away - but why would Harry stop his own production of the Brick? To this, HW provided an answer few would think a high-end hardware manufacturer even capable of. "The cost of making the Bricks", he stated matter-of-factly, "was getting so high I couldn't justify the retail price in my own mind." As Scooby Doo might say, "Rikes!" This from a pillar of an industry not shy about selling what civilians would call an "extension cord" for many thousands of dollars. "I'm glad you could hear a difference", Harry concluded. "Enjoy it. You have the last of a breed." Or do I?

As the days and weeks went by, I developed more and more contacts inside the somewhat gothic world of advanced tweakery. Those contacts led to lengthy phone and email exchanges, the staggered arrival of plain brown paper packages, cautious invitations to secret ceremonies and my being tailed by large black Mercedes sedans with Vatican plates.

Then one day, I heard back from Harry Weisfeld. "By the way", he slipped in all causal-like, "Harry Pearson at TAS has just rediscovered the Bricks and is using them all over his systems." Oh man. So HP's at it again. Siphoning off my brain waves and copping my ideas with the aid of some giant, scary, tube-powered beam cannon aimed at me from the belfry at Sea Cliff. "That's it", I said to Weisfeld. "From now on, I'm wearing a tin foil hat."

"Finally", I hear you thinking, "something that almost amounts to news in this otherwise pointless reverie over a product that's no longer even made". Well, yes. But there's more. Much more. Something that adds up to a bona fide news flash: "Yes", HW went on, responding to a question I had asked dozens of days ago as though we never so much as paused the conversation, "the Brick may go back into limited production. A few hundred units."

You hoid it here first, folks. And no cutting in line, HP - you and your turbaned standard bearers can just wait your turn behind the man wearing the pointy Reynolds-wrap chapeau.

All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear: Whatever is, is right.
[Alexander Pope - 1688 to1744]

Hard-line objectivists have a tough row to hoe. Not only must they depend on the frail solace of science and its even feebler measurements for permission to accept what they might see, hear and feel in their own human experience; they are duty-bound by the pride of reason to reject those experiences that may not be quantifiable within the limits of this year's tools. To set a measurement of our own, let us for the remainder of this writing consider the hard-line objectivist to be one who, after being visited by the gentle spirit of a long-deceased loved one, would put the whole thing off to that night's chili burger. He might have a point. Or he might be dousing the very rays of enlightenment with Rolaids.

One designer and manufacturer of renowned tweak HiFi regalia, arguably the definitive poster products for the whole genre, runs a big enough church to embrace all make and manner of audio-aware consumer, including the most Aczelian of hard-liners.

With a website that fairly bristles with lab tests, meticulous white papers, spectrum analyzer readings, frequency span traces and inde-pendent, third-party verifications stopping just short of dated and signed urine samples, Benjamin Piazza of Shakti Innovations is not one to go quietly into that good night reserved for fringe-fi flakedom.
"I chose the name Shakti for a couple of reasons", said Ben, "one being that I've always been a fan of the recording artists of the same name.

The other is that it's an East-Indian word for energy. And energy is what our products are all about. Intercepting it, dissipating it, managing it to the advantage of the various pieces of electromagnetically charged hardware to which our products are applied." But no good name can go unpunished, at least not in audio. "I think that, because of the name's linkage with Eastern cultures and the mysterious subcontinent, a lot of people assumed right from the beginning that our designs were a bit out there."

That and the little detail that these designs were created to deal with something we can neither see nor feel, and to do it without being plugged in to a component or the wall. Just take what is literally a black box called the Temple of Doomish "Shakti Stone" and set it on, under or near your gear. Whoa. Pass the hookah. "Add what our products do and how they do it to what our company is called and you've got a perfect recipe for misunderstanding. I don't regret the name, not at all. I'm sure it's helped as much as it's sent the wrong message to those who'd probably get the wrong message no matter what we called ourselves. But the proof is in testing - and it's all there, right on the website, for anyone and everyone to examine."

How does this passive block of stuff differ from VPI's passive block of stuff beyond appearance? In several important ways, according to Mr. Piazza. "The Brick is sound, simple and it does what it says it does. Where Shakti differs is the ability to go beyond flux and eddy currents to EMI control. These other products redirect or wick away some spurious energy from the component itself to a degree, but it's still there, hanging in the environment. Our designs actually get rid of that interference by dissipating it completely." And it gets a whole lot more involved than that, kids. But do both Ben and I a favor by turning to the Shakti website for the particulars.

For those of us not so technically disposed as to benefit much from a collection of fifty-dollar words and spectrographs so involved they make John Atkinson's spectral decay plots look like Kindergarten art projects, Benjamin is happy to offer an easier path to credibility through a sort of "Be like Mike" shorthand.

"Our patent (#5,814,761) was issued in the late 90s". So what, you might ask? Well, at least in the US, patents are not granted to incense, incantations or maybes. "And since we began making our products, major recording and mastering studios such as Abbey Road Studio and Pink Floyd's Astoria Studio in London, perhaps the best studios in the world, have permanently installed Shakti units in their facilities. Steve Hoffman Mastering uses our systems extensively, as do Stan Ricker, Paul Stubblebine and Doug Sax. And these guys call me all the time imploring us for more Stones." I asked Ben, given that some of the most discerning, demanding ears in professional sound were stone-cold goners for his work, why Shakti technology hadn't become OEM with at least a few high-end manufacturers?

As transformer covers perhaps, or over critical components on the circuit boards, or even in the form of complete chassis? "A couple of big-ticket cable makers use the On-Lines OEM", he said, "but for hardware makers, I'd say the short answer is that the technology is too expensive." Fair enough. And it doesn't sound to this decidedly non-technical boy reporter like it's the sort of technology that gets any less costly with high-volume manufacture. It is a high detail, tight tolerance process as manufacturing goes, after all. Possibly akin, I find myself thinking, to the white glove assembly of surgical devices. "Some high end brands do recommend the use of our products in their literature", he's quick to point out, but economics dictate stopping short of an Intel Inside approach to Shakti's bespoke science.

As stated from sentence one, there are no new products being covered in this epistle. However, I will make an effort to include background, lore and insights that you won't find everywhere else. Like, for example, the fact that there is no such animal as the "Shakti Stone", at least not from a legal or patent perspective. No, that name, like "Magic Brick", is a product of the street rather than the factory. And how the "Stone" came to be christened is the stuff of audio odysseys, repeated warrior to warrior by the light of 300Bs and KT88s in encampments throughout the Kingdom.

Okay. Maybe that overstates things a bit, but it is an interesting story that just so happens to lead directly into what may be an even more interesting story. The official name of Piazza's flagship product is the "Shakti Electromagnetic Stabilizer®". It's engraved right there on the doohickey itself. What it is is a finely balanced array of three different trap circuits (microwave, RF and electric field) that are arranged in a complimentary pattern to absorb the broadest spectrum of electromagnetic interference (EMI). This delicate internal anatomy is covered and protected by a chassis made from a higher-tech form of poured concrete (aka cultured stone) that is specially pigmented and further treated for anti-static properties.

It was none other than the notorious Dr. Clark Johnson, writing in Positive Feedback as early as 1994, who first crowned the Stone the "Stone". Benjamin was so impressed with Clark's apparent gift for lasting, commercially catchy appellations he recently asked him to try his hand at naming Shakti's newest product (the room-tuning Hallograph® devices, not covered in this edition). Alas, Johnson choked and Ben ultimately landed on the clever homonym of "Hall" (as in concert sound) and "holographic" (as in Princess Leya's frantic appeal to Obiwan Kenobi).

But the Clark Johnson/Shakti association takes a rather more intriguing turn. Johnson, smitten by the results he was achieving using Piazza's then brand-new inventions, had arranged for listening panels to be held in his sound room. This room was notable for the presence of a curtain that blocked the electronic racks from the listeners' prying eyes. As the mad doctor swapped Shakti devices in and out of the system, the differences were reportedly so clear and immediate that one member of the esteemed panel rose to his feet and exclaimed, "this Shakti guy must have found a pile of parts strewn in the desert from a downed Stealth bomber!" Unbeknownst to this excitable fellow, this was not the first time the peace-loving EMI stabilizer and the futuristic bird of prey had been compared.

Over the course of doing due diligence for his patent application, Piazza had stumbled across scientific papers pertaining to an eerily similar innovation. Its holder? The Department of Defense. Intended usage? Something called Stealth technology. "My patent attorney would have had a heart attack", says Ben. As luck is sometimes of the good variety, Piazza soon found the paperwork for another, Japanese patent application involving similar technology intended for dissimilar application in microwave towers, the date and filing of which providing a buffer between Ben's ideas and the Ray-Banned, wire-wearing spooks of Area 57.

Just how close is close in this instance? Well, Ben could tell you. But his lawyer would have to kill you.

The only Shakti product I had ever tried over the years had been a single pair of On-Lines, miniature versions of the Stone minus the EMF filter stage, meant to be affixed to interconnects, speaker cable or AC cords. Like my prophetic encounter with the VPI Brick, I had purchased the Shakti On-Lines as more of an experimental lark than anything. But most unlike my experience with the Brick -- and I had to be straight with Ben -- the On-Lines had struck me as having no discernable effect at all.

Go ahead, tough guy. You tell a hardworking, intelligent and infectiously enthusiastic inventor that his product failed to rock your world and find out what the phrase uncomfortable pause is all about. But Ben was not so easily unbalanced. Politely grilling me about how I used the On-Lines, where and in what sort of system, it wasn't long before he had a few perfectly reasonable theories about what may have been to blame for my disappointment. Besides, as both converts and detractors alike are quick to point out -- each for their own reasons -- Shakti products work synergistically to the degree that, broadly speaking, the more of them installed in a system, the better. And a single pair of wee little On-Lines, smothered in the spaghetti of cable behind a home theater processor was a pretty unsporting proposition to say the least. But by this time, a shipment had been dispatched from Shakti central and I would soon be able to give the products their due.

Oh, super. A fat package containing a small retail fortune in what are probably the most hotly debated items in audio is on its way to chez Bosh. And I'll be expected to weigh in at length on the experience. Not only in public which a multi-nation army of nattering nabobs are only too willing to do under the cloak of anonymity on all the message boards, but on the record and from a bully pulpit. Where are those Rolaids I mentioned earlier?

I decided to take the opportunity to ask Ben a question that had long dogged me whenever pondering the more imponderable tweaks, and was about to really taunt me when that crate arrived: Did he feel, not with Shakti per se (shimmy, step), but with certain tweaks in general (shuffle, hop), that there was any degree of emotional blackmail at work? I mean, the not-so-subtle implication being that, if you can't hear the difference, it's because (1) you're a cloth-eared cretin or (2) your system sucks?

I've been working with people, individually and en masse, for a long time. I'm a pretty good, pretty fast read. And Ben's reaction to that question was one that told me that not only had he never much considered that angle, but he might never have heard it proposed before. "No, I don't think so", he said at last. "Assuming a system that's even reasonably resolving -- not even necessarily super high end -- the effects of our products are not at all difficult to appreciate." Ahem. I guess we'll (gulp) find out. And soon. Because I now hold in my hands, two days earlier than Ben had predicted, a box of rocks. A shipment of stones. The stealth pudding to be proven.