"...will you suffer me to take this glass in my hand?...If you shall so prefer to choose, a new province of knowledge and new avenues to fame and power shall be laid open to you, here, in this room, upon the instant."
[Robert Louis Stevenson, from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -1886]

In concocting this assignment, I freely accepted -- without being fully conscious of it at the time -- a course that would confront my prejudices and preconceptions on levels pertaining not only to matters audio but issues at times far afield of the listening chair. For I'm confident to wager that a comfortable preponderance of us could be fairly accused of prejudging gear, accessories unquestionably included, using much the same technique a plotting gold digger might apply to sizing up a man via his wristwatch. Here was the guilt-soiled mantle of truth that weighed heavily as I took this candy-jar-cuddly yet -- by strength of its bizarre promise -- still vaguely Jekyllian glass in my hand.

Once roughly conversant in the details of my particular room and equipment, Geoff had suggested starting with the larger bottles, which might be best placed in "two corners" of the listening space; either "front, behind the speakers or rear", final placement to be determined, of course, by listening results. "Placing the larger BP on top of the speakers them-selves is also usually effective," he reminded. I would, for the sake of keeping any observations unadulterated, leave the other bottles out of the room entirely at this stage. The Shakti devices, which I now consider a non-optional part of the base system, would stay in until I added the smaller vials, which at least partially overlap the formers' terrain with their own pretensions to EMI/RFI control.

First up was the Original (largest) version of BP, one each placed on top and in the approximate center of the two speakers. For the reasons stated earlier, I fully expected a change to be observable at this point. But here I should confess that, in addition to being willing to appreciate certain aural confections that don't stay slavishly true to some dry interpretation of musical truth, I'm susceptible to cosmetic influence, too. And the visual impact of those rustic jelly jars on the loudspeakers made it appear as though someone's well-meaning Granny had attempted to domesticate the appearance of my workmanlike rig. This touch of country cupboard Cracker Barrel décor needed only a foundation of lace doilies to be complete and was causing me to clench my jaw, which in turn could compress the Eustachian tube and at that point all bets are off for fair assessment. Yes. As stoic and unbiased judges go, I am an imperfect vessel [but filled to the brim with merriment so we shall let it pass - Ed.].

Just like that dripping faucet or tiny scratch on the faceplate, however, it didn't take long for me to incorporate and even grow indifferent to the pantry-fied presence of the Brilliant Pebbles. Involuntary clenching thus relieved, the sessions could continue.

Initial seatings were devoted to getting over my preconceptions. At first, I didn't distinguish any alteration in the sound whatsoever. We were back with Redbook software and letting Brian Bromberg have at those pebbles with profound low frequency excitations. Here and there I'd perceive something only to abandon the thought as imaginary as I sought without success to repeat the effect. I started to move the jars --in mirror formation -- to different locations on the speaker tops, taking particular care to notice any force this might exert over the soundstage. The only blatant thing I ultimately noted -- with the bottles forward and at about 8PM on the speaker tops -- being a persistent softening, almost approaching a slurring of micro detail, as if the CD player had been suddenly replaced with a lesser one or the speakers, weary of my relentless demands over the past several weeks, had somehow snuck for themselves an ungentlemanly quantity of Bourbon.

Whether it comes down to what I'm able to hear or what I listen for; the size of my room or my speakers' already gratifying grip on 'staging, the Original Brilliant Pebbles brought nothing worth kee-
ping to the proceedings. Which is weird. Because by virtue of what these things are and where they were, it seemed a no-brainer that some tuneful trick would surely unfurl. Then again, the other side of expectations had me not expecting much of anything from a little black disc or a bald wooden box, so there ya go. Following Geoff's instructions, I next tried the pebbles -- still the larger version only -- in the front corners behind the speakers. But it wasn't until I shifted their location to the rear corners that I heard something. I'm not gifted in the übernerd art of frequency calling, so all I can tell you is that on certain treble-centric pings, pops and sizzles, the sound momentarily seemed to be coming not quite from behind but certainly from the hard right or left. When first experienced, this effect was startling enough to get a little butt-hop (tushy twitch?) out of my seated self. Neither as frequent, as obvious nor as lasting in duration as the rear-speaker histrionics featured on the majority of surround recordings, this effect was invariably gone just as quickly as I could perceive it and it actually did a pretty credible job of recreating the occasional, upper-range reflections one might hear in a smaller Jazz club. But here lay a riddle of the most elemental kind.

Could not this same behavior be interpreted as unequivocally undesirable by many audiophiles who, made dyspeptic by these same occasional sneak-attacks of pings and tinkles, would plow time and money into their eradication? So here we are again, gang, with one man's reach-out-and-grab-you dimensionality being another's panicked call to Echobusters™. Personally, even in light of my professed weakness for some of fidelity's flashier possibilities, I opted out.

The original Brilliant Pebbles

Point of order: The makers of Brilliant Pebbles specify the corner placement of this product ideally when used on top of or even inside bass/corner traps, items I don't own. It is entirely conceivable that such use could help balance a potentially over-damped room when the bottles are placed front and/or back in tandem with such devices, so if you suspect your own sound is coming off a bit too anechoic for the greater good, you may just want to pebble-up and hear what happens. As usual, it's all about yinning your yang or vice versa - and you'd do well to remember I've been trained by the high priests of such matters.

The smaller bottles would prove to be a pebble of a different color. First of all, these things are fun to play around with. They're compact enough to fit just about wherever the fancy strikes you to drop them and mild enough a visual statement to allow such abandon. "Experiment" Geoff Kait had exhorted, so experiment I did, kicking off with a speaker-top placement of the Minis. Here I moved the pawns about the chessboard as I had with the larger Originals, this time holding fast when the mid-sized Minis were in the forward/far right position (interestingly, the same location where the Totem Beaks, those runaway phase plugs, are nearly always photographed).

My notes suggest an apparent and not unpleasant brightening of tone that managed to avoid big brother's smudging of the lens while spreading the stage to a minor and thus still credible degree. Sliding the Mini bottles back toward the rear of the enclosures had the effect of moving the vocal and other middle frequencies back deeper into the soundstage; a pretty neat gag. I didn't desire this outcome, but discovering it did a lot to help me figure out what I did want and how I might get there. In the end, the Minis were returned front/right and were implicated in what I would come to think of as a bit of sonic novelty. But at least we were encountering some grist for the mill where Brilliant Pebbles were concerned. They did something.

I recalled at this point Machina Dynamica's assertion that the smallest of the bottles, the Mikro, was particularly synergistic with Quantum's field-effect line conditioners. I don't currently use AC conditioning by Quantum or anyone else, and haven't since installing dedicated, isolated-ground lines. But I do happen to utilize a Quantum ElectroClear "wall wart" with the captive cord of my phono stage, so on that a Mikro would go. And since there was no stopping me now, the second Mikro was plunked atop the amp dead center amid the four tubes. With my extreme version of nearsightedness, from even a modest distance this looked almost like a fifth tube, only of a variety of such daintiness it made me wonder how big (or rather how small) modern electron tubes would be by now had glass technology continued uninterrupted in production and consumer demand. Worshippers of the crystal phallus' that are the more colossal valves out there might take note and count their blessings for the transistor invasion after all.

There I go, wandering off the path again. Group meeting!

How about a quick tally for those having trouble keeping up, myself included? We now have one Mini on each loudspeaker, a Mikro on the Quantum Electroclear plug and a second Mikro atop the amp with -- I should definitely mention -- the Originals still in the room, now pushed forward of the rear corners and coming to rest approximately 1/3 of the way along the sidewalls (a change of venue that mitigated the fitful, faux surround but seemed to do little else... I'm still "experimenting" with these babies as per Baron Van Kait's advice). After a while, the amp placement resulted in an apparent spotlighting of macro detail and the smallest boost of the upper mids that almost threatened but managed to avoid the raspy hardness the Mpingo disc had contributed in the same location. I think I liked it, although I'd stop short of describing the result as an unequivocal improvement. This, like almost every effect I've encountered along Tweakdom's porous border, was a matter of taste.
Sub-miniature "cold water" anti-phallus tubes

I removed the Minis from their speaker-top perches and put first one, then two on the top plate of the CDP. Here I would encounter a situation where two was too many, adding what could almost be thought of as a see-through layer of mild static to the sound; but where the presence of one was frankly not detectable at all. In either case, the CD player's chassis, touted as basically a sure thing for placement by this manufacturer (as it had been by Shun Mook and Shakti, as well) did not seem to allow this product to provide the right stuff or enough of it. As before, I couldn't help but wonder if the robust copper shielding of this particular player was, in doing its job, preventing the majority of these tweaks from doing theirs - a cousin in circumstance, perhaps, to Shun Mook's stated dislike for contemporary, heavily vibe-proofed turntables which, they claim, do not allow their products to perform at their best or, in some cases, at all. Hummm. Will the steady advancement of hardware technology and/or cost-no-object construction techniques eventually relegate tweaking to the musty volumes of audio history? Or, as the anti-tweako forces are fond of chanting: If your equipment is good enough, tweaks will prove unnecessary?


"The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
[William Shakespeare - from Julius Cæsar. Act I. Sc. 2.]

For a collection of products whose base physicality led me to presume and prepare for fallout, good or bad, less subtle in nature than the incrementalism offered by some other tweaks of the passive sort, the Brilliant Pebbles in practice dished up effects that were probably the most diaphanous of the lot thus far. Just keep in mind that when in the Tweaklight Zone, we are most often waltzing on the heads of pins and the mere act of describing any sonic change has the unavoidable consequence of adding vulgar tangibility to even the most ghostlike of outcomes.

Geoff Kait of Machina Dynamica was better prepared for such an outcome than was I. "The bottles, in some locations, take a while to become 'active', so to speak; therefore, one should be a bit careful when attempting to A-B them", Kait had warned. "For example, when placing a Mikro on a Quantum line purifier, it takes about an hour for the effects to show up. And after removing the bottle from the line purifier it takes about an hour for the effect to go away". Then he repeated a proclamation from our earliest contacts; "Don't know why". Me neither. But by this point, the various bottles had lived in what seemed to be their most promising locations for nearly two weeks, and I'd have to assume they had all born whatever fruit they could muster by now. It would perhaps be most instructive, as it so often is, to remove the BPs from the system one at a time (sigh) and listen for any flags that might drop or rise in so doing.

Ultimately, I decided that the speaker-top placement(s) produced an artifact, a party trick rather than a consistent improvement that serviced well the majority of my music. The top-o-CD player location was unmissed once it was removed. In considering why the opposite was true of the Shakti Stone (which makes similar EMI/RFI control claims), I decided it might be something like herbal supplements versus the controlled substances of the American Pharma-cological Association: The natural path may yield some gentle, even positive effect. But you'd better rely on somewhat more formal science if you want your symptom's ass kicked. The "keepers" would turn out to be the Electroclear wall-wart and amp-top usages, both Mikros. The Electroclear station at least presented no negatives and I could talk myself into missing it when removed without much effort. But here I must quote the tweak's inventor as I confess "don't know why". On the amp, the Mikro seemed to cast a delicate spell reminiscent of the Mpingo disc's work when rested on the control knobs - the former (the BP) being more slanted toward the analytical; the latter proffering an equally unflashy but silkier, rounder result.

"BP does require a bit of experimentation, although a lot has been learned about them in a year and a half by my customers and me", Mr. Kait said. "Certain locations are usually no-brainers." But some locations seem to be room and/or system dependent. So what's true for the goose is true -- in accelerated tweakery anyway -- for the gander [the classical Duck Fuck recipe calling for 4 parts Tanqueray Gin, 1 part Stolichnaya Vodka and fill 'er up with beer - Ed.].

Geoff said his customer foundation for the Brilliant Pebbles covers a wide geographic area including Europe, Asia and that zany New Zealand, with a comfortable plurality of users reporting positive, even wildly positive results (comments and customer reviews can be reviewed on the MD website). Some Pebbles owners, Kait points out, even report a "recharging" of the bottles' effectiveness when occasionally exposed to direct sunlight. To this searcher, that's the sort of thing that spells the difference between an open mind and an open account at the local woo-hoo ward, so even I have my outer limits. Aww, what the heck. The pebbles themselves are the product of nature as is sunlight. And there be stranger things of heaven and earth awaiting explanation, to be sure. But at least Geoff has a sense of humor about the whole thing, even pointing me to a broad bit of satire by Bill Brooks archived on Soundstage! well worth checking out for the hilarious photos alone.

Asked what wisdom he might, as a pioneer at the hemorrhaging edge, impart for the fascination and instruction of our readership, Geoff replied with just the sort of insight that could serve as a guide for this entire effort: "The best advice I can give to audiophiles is not to jump to conclusions too quickly and to let the chips fall where they may, regardless of whether the observed results conflict with what might be commonly held to be incontrovertible". Having on occasion said much the same to a presiding Judge or two, I can vouch for both the sentiment and sincerity of that counsel. "In retrospect", Kait concluded when he explores the manifold possibilities of tweaking's whispered promise, "the stranger the better seems to be the order of the day, as things commonly accepted as "good for sound" have not panned out, at least not for me".

Well, you know what they say about pioneers. They either get rich or get shot. And so far it would appear that every tweak alchemist on my call list is shielded from the slings and arrows of the unconvertible unwashed by the full metal jacket of a dedicated, free spending fan base. The world, fellow traveler, is wide. And those of us in the predominantly capitalist hemispheres get to vote on all such matters with our checkbooks as well as our ears.

So where in the wide world do we venture next? In our coming and final installment I hope to revisit some products I may have failed to fully appreciate first time 'round; to perhaps relate the experience of a more fully tricked-out Shun Mook system and dare to dance with a Singaporean sound supercharger that makes it look like an après-cocktails Liz Taylor blew chunks on your CD player: The infamous GEM Tweak. Until our next rendezvous in the untamed wilds, follow the rabbit, break that Lithium in half and stay -- as they say amid the well-greased windmills of Tweakville -- tuned.

Manufacturer's website