And if roughly three Franklins for this rocky contraption sounds like plenty enough, how about half-a-thou for a wooden knob? The Postcards From The Edge series could never be considered even arguably complete without at the very least some mention of the Silver Rock Signature for those intent on polishing their audio knobs [upper]. I have not auditioned this puppy nor do I plan to, but I am a fan of wooden knobs for reasons aesthetic as well as sonic and my rather less costly source for such thingamajigs is Scott Simms' Thingamaknobs [lower].

Back to Singapore's golden-eared audio apostate. Mr. Lee is nothing if not a busy fellow. During later portions of our interviews, Lee became increasingly difficult to reach as he was in the studio supervising the first album to use his own re-mastering method, the "FINEDISC Technique". Lord knows we don't have enough 'enhanced audio' mastering options these days (personally, I want HDCD to become the digital standard and the rest of y'all can just bite me). Now to matters at hand, it is time to render unto Cesar.

"What is that thing?"
- Steve Martin | Saturday Night Live -

As alluded to earlier, putting this pile of semi-precious baubles together is anything but undemanding. In fact it is, as an old associate
used to say of our most fruitless endeavors, "like trying to piss marbles up a glass wall." But it can be done and, once assembled, is reasonably stable for a structure that makes a house of cards seem Brooklyn Bridge-sturdy by comparison. Certainly its looks cannot escape comment. Imagine something the approximate diameter of a CD and the height of a particularly well-iced cupcake with the overall visual texture of a molecular model (say Boron) fashioned in idyll-hours by a New Orleans prostitute of the mid-1800s.

Still tracking? Cool.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I must say that adorned with Cesar, the phono stage looked a bit embarrassed, like a dog forced to wear a Santa hat [left]. Fact is, I can't imagine two people less likely to get along than Joe Lee and AVA's Frank Van Alstine, but here was Joe's garish handwork resting on Frank's unrepentantly unpretentious job box of a T-6 hybrid phono stage. Maybe I'll send that old witch burner Van Alstine a photo just to yank his religiously un-tweaked chain a little.

The db5 had been living for several weeks on the T-6 so after warm up, I spun one full disc with the db5 in place, then the same album with it removed, noting differences as they became apparent. Matching my original conceptions, the phono presentation sans Brick was markedly lighter in the lows and less forceful in transient attack.

And now that I was reacquainted with the sound of the analog path with no tweak in place, I could set to work assembling Cesar. Two hours later -- large patches of my hair and brain missing as well as one smaller finger which I had bitten clean off in frustration -- it was time to listen to some amber. Some damn amber. Some damn Tibetan amber. Boo yah.

On the platter yet again was Micatone's Is You Is [Sonar Kollektiv SK004LP], an opium- scented post-modern take on smoky room/after-hours-club Jazz and an ideal recording to plumb the spectrum. I'm gonna tell you one more time: Buy this great triple-disc vinyl pressing now. If you don't like it, I'll wash your car and take out your garbage for a week. Then I'll stuff a rancid potato from the garbage into your car's tail pipe and leave because you clearly have no taste and must be punished.

Following my Brick-on/Brick-off reorientation errobics class, I walked away for several hours of break time. The biggest pain in the neck(lace) was that A/B/A comparisons were patently impossible. So I'd have to listen for an extended period with Cesar in command, then reverse into an opinion once I removed it. Truth is, with tweaks of any kind, I find that's often the most reliable method anyway.

First impressions were primarily of hearing the absence of the Brick rather than any presence of the GEM Tweak. The lower end had receded to a marked degree which in turn had the effect of added emphasis on the upper spread. However, it should be noted that this was the same tonal shift encountered when I returned the stage to its unadorned, untweaked original state. If anything, Cesar seemed to be contributing an extra shimmer just short of an unpleasant ringy-ness at the highest frequencies my Fostex drivers are able to muster. It must be said, also, that at this point I was concentrating in so concentrated a fashion hoping to detect anything that I probably would have been able to hear a mouse break wind in the basement. I realized it was going to take an unusually extended period of sensory detective work to find the heart, if any, of this particular doohickey.

Jazz, Pop, Classical and the Japanese pressings of the Beatles I had recently snagged at New York's HE Show all seemed to display characters similar to that described above. With one addition: I could be convinced by an energetic salesman that the soundstage had taken on a more dimensional, deeper-breathing aspect. But by this point nearly two weeks since putting Cesar in play (and it had only collapsed twice so far), I was in Joe's room. The room I warned Joe to stay out of. That place where the real has impassioned intercourse with the imagined and flatulent mice boogie beneath the floorboards with every drop of the stylus.

Then, as one does in the Room, I got me to thinking. The impression I had gotten from Joe -- as in an impression beyond mere words -- was that while phono stage placement of this tweak was "okay", it wasn't quite optimal. How about if the necklace that forms Cesar's outer diameter was arranged more as an oval rather than a circle? Then it just might be able to balance on my amp's transformer cover. I made the decision to reserve a day where I would keep my cups of coffee under the fifteen count and set to work relocating this imperially christened if not empirically verified design. But if one of those heavy crystal globs rolled off the tranny and smashed any of my precious Old Stock tubes, I'd be on the next flight to Singapore with ambitions of getting all Kung Fu on Joe Lee's backside - even though such a mishap wouldn't be his fault. (As the previously detailed tailpipe potato threat already made clear, I am a petty and vindictive person).

"Let us hear the damn conclusion of this whole sordid matter."
- Ecclesiastes xii. 13, unauthorized Bosh translation -

Well, I managed to set it up on the amp after only two failures and got busy spinning the same material I had used when Cesar was adorning the phono amp. I'll keep this simple: Everything -- including the cocktail glass that dinner guest had the effrontery to set on top of your speaker -- everything has some effect on the sound. The effect proffered by the GEM Tweak, be it placed on phono stage or amp, was a marginally but noticeably deeper and airier stage, this being far more about front-to-back than side-to-side. With this tweak employed, there was also a de-emphasis of the lower octaves and the most curious perception of more space around instruments while at the same time of a subtle masking of finer detail. For example, on "She said it was destiny" on Richard Thompson's The Old Kit Bag [Diverse Records DIV 004DLP], I was somehow more aware of the physical presence of the female backing vocalist while technically hearing less of her. Figure that one out. I sure tried.

As always here in Tweaksville, YMMV. But for me (and I'm prepared to have my cloth ears boxed in effigy on Singapore's High Street), the GEM Tweak simply didn't bring the drop-over-dead sonic epiphany promised in the promotional copy. And for any product to be this much of a raging pain in the central nervous system to set up and keep that way, it would have to be The Next Big Thing on many levels for me to consider writing a check. I'm also tempted to suspect that my system -- and especially my loudspeakers -- already excel in the same areas Cesar appears to goose up; so what may well help liberate the music in a stuffier system became a case of gilding the lily in my room (that said, I opted not to add trials with my multichannel HT system as I spend so little time using that rig for music it would be like attempting to audition a tweak on someone else's gear).

So the answer to the question "Did it do anything?" is a clear and confident "Yes." But a little slab of soapstone under my turntable did even more and that, praise be, came fully assembled. Joe Lee is an earnest and industrious guy who loves what he does and I'm sure that with his system and those of his friends, Cesar rules. Who knows; it may even be your cup of amber, crystal and Hematite. And I know it would look fabulous balanced on the head of a Prince Charles spaniel.

"So the matter's over; and come what will come, I am satisfied."
- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra [1547-1616] - from Don Quixote -

This brings our quest to the edge to a close. We have met bricks, stones, pebbles and gems. I have not returned with the Grail but did pick up a bunch of other neat stuff. And even those products that have ultimately failed to impress me have at the very least taught me to mind my manners when exposed to seemingly outrageous suggestions. Because today's eccentric connoisseurship is pretty much always tomorrow's quantifiable science - and the unavoidable charlatans to be found in this and every human endeavor never get the girl.

I'm plumb tweaked-out, folks. Think I may just wander downstairs and listen to some music for a change...

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