Part IV: Here our weary explorer stands at the very precipice of radical ideation and decides there's no place like home - well, more or less.

In the cases of the VPI Brick, the Shakti paraphernalia and the Shun Mook "system", this writer put his paycheck where his perceptions were and cheerfully made the items full-time members of his audio system. Where the Brilliant Pebbles are concerned, I was able to grasp the usually insubstantial differences brought about by their application but ultimately found I could live without them (however, I should note that I'm still experimenting with the various sizes of BP with my turntable and inside my tuner).

In fact, since I began this survey of the hobby's more fetishistic offerings, the following changes/additions have taken place:
  • Shun Mook: There are seven Mpingo Discs placed throughout the system; four Mini Valve Resonators atop the signal tubes of both the amp and the phono stage; an Original Cable Jacket wrapped around the wall outlet connection of one household telephone, grounded to a nearby AC outlet.
  • Shakti: Two 'stones' have been incorporated, one living atop the transformers of the amp and the other placed directly above the transport of the CDP (and I wish I had at least three more); Onlines affixed to the wall and component ends of the amp's power cord, at the midway points of the speaker cables and inside the phono stage directly on top of the transformer.
  • The VPI db5 -- my years-late discovery which started all this -- is still in residence, now displaced by the Stone from the amp to the phono stage (where it might be encouraging a bit too much bass, but I've been in a Rock mood lately, anyway).

All this tuning has wrought a more meticulous yet interestingly more untreated sound and a somewhat wider spread with a less strictly delineated sweet spot. Heck, now almost two people can hear the system at its best at the same time.

But something happened the other day to bring back my memory of the first tweak I ever tried, reinforcing my long- standing impression that here was a most easily detectable, most profoundly impactful act of system tuning that also had that rarest of distinctions of being free: Good ol' mass weighting.

To make one of my characteristically long stories short, I recently added a small 1/3" thick tile of soapstone to the bottom layer of my home-brewed turntable support, then a heavier, 2" thick block of cast stone to the top layer, directly under the plinth itself and centered below the platter. The jump in resolution, blackness and sheer dynamic impact could be readily identified by your most disinterested non-audiophile friend. Simply put, by adding mass and balance to the already well-decoupled support, there was realized an improvement of such undeniable grunt that most of the tweaking apparati that had come before blanched a deathly pale by comparison. And it was accomplished with left- over building materials - of course that fact alone probably makes it the most expensive equipment of the lot but that's another tale.

Beer lifting, water-filled bottles multi-tasking as classy flower vases and mass-loading devices - audio's a heaven for creative solutions...
Naturally for these same reasons, any negative effects brought on by adding (or removing) mass are just as clearly discernable. But the point is, there's no mumbo sinnuendo, no leaning into each note in search of any effect good or bad. In this instance, did it merely point out that the TT support was imperfect to begin with? Sure. But were it not for an apparently robust belief that even the finest gear we employ is less than perfect out-of-the-box, there would be no flourishing aftermarket industry in cones, spikes, weights, discs, pucks, beads, clamps, knobs, lifters, pads, feet, shelves, slabs and dots.

It was this sudden return to a position of pragmatism that left me ill-prepared for the package that, after several weeks of promises and fading patience, finally arrived from faraway
Singapore. "Cool stamps," said Mrs. Bosh. Yeah. So no matter what, I figured it shouldn't be a total loss.

Naught venture, naught have.
Thomas Tusser ([ca.1515-1580] -

Inside lurked what just might be the most infamous tweaking accoutrement since Enid Lumley's soup plates: Cesar the Amber Tweak, also known as Amber Tweak 2 of the GEM Tweak family of fine products (which includes the smaller and slightly less elaborate Pavane) brought to you by 1388 Technology, Ltd.

I will lift the table of contents directly from the enclosed instruction sheet. The Cesar Amber tweak consists of:

  • An amulet made up of 3 large Tibetan amber beads and 12 pieces of yellow abacus crystal arranged in 3 sections.
  • 3 pieces of pink crystal balls.
  • 3 pieces of Hematite balls (metallic colored).
  • 1 piece clear crystal ball
  • 2 pieces of disc shaped amber in cognac color (dark brown) and I piece of disc shaped amber in butterscotch color (yellow) acting as base support
  • I set of necklace made up of 1 medium Tibetan amber bead, 2 1-inch amber pipe beads, 18 pieces of yellow abacus crystal, 6 yellow amber beads, 3 small dark brown amber beads, 6 small agate beads and 6 small amethyst beads.
  • 1 piece of 30mm amber bead - the "Cesar".

Got all that? Now before you start pondering what possible value a clinking mound of costume jewelry might have, recall that had you been in the right place at the right time, a similar cache might had yielded -- if not the entire island of Manhattan -- at least a goodly slice of the upper Eastside and portions of the Bronx. But what value this glittering gizmo might bring to music appreciation is what you're really wondering. And that's what I was sworn to determine. As I surveyed the brain-teasing, finger-fumbling pieces of Cesar, I was reminded of a question I had muttered toward heaven long ago as the war drums grew incessantly louder and the Zulu pressed ever closer around our small and bloodied detachment: How do I get myself into this shit?

When I first contacted Joe Lee, proprietor and chief designer of 1388 Technology, I was taken aback to learn that his GEM Tweaks had been discontinued, at least temporarily. "Both Pavane and Cesar were selling very well two years ago when they were first launched. However, very soon the source of one of the major components -- the Tibetan large brown Amber -- dried up and today, I am still seeking the same species for similar type of amber to replace it but thus far have failed. I got hold of various samples but they just didn't give the same sonic performance as the original Tibetan amber. This is really unfortunate."

Say what you will, Mr. Lee's sincerity cannot be fairly doubted if he's willing to stop selling a product -- and attempts to order still come in regularly -- just because a certain flavor of amber has become unavailable. Of course, this disappointment of consumer desires could be avoided if there was any mention of this discontinued status on the web page. But who am I to be so formal? "I am still trying other sources (for the right amber)," he continued. "Production may resume tomorrow or never. I can't tell."

While we both weighed the wisdom of including an unavailable product in this survey, that certainly hadn't stopped me where the db5 was concerned. Plus, the GEM Tweak does represent the outer, hair-splicing edge of tweakery's terrible swift sword. Happily, Joe had one remaining set of Cesar he was willing to lend me for trial. "You'll be stunned!" he assured me. Heck, I was already stunned just looking at the pictures.