Furutech PC-2 CD cleaner/treatment
Record Research Labs "Shine Ola" CD cleaner.
For those of us who have gone through the "usual" suspects in CD treatments, such as Walker Audio Vivid, Audience Auric Illuminator, Furutech RD-2 demagnetizer, Bedini Ultra Clarifier, CD stoplight, and others, well this review is about a couple of lesser-known suspects.
All of the above have ups and downs. None universally improves the sound on all CD's. Like anything in life, there are trade-offs. Until now, I've been picking and choosing one or a combo of treatment for a given CD, depending on how the CD is recorded/mastered. Pretty much the only treatment I use on EVERY CD these days is the good old CD stoplight green pen, which probably makes the least degree of improvement, but most importantly, doesn't seem to make any CD sound worse.
I used to use Walker Vivid on CD's that needed some smoothing, but stopped using it mainly b/c it takes some effort to buff it perfectly and b/c it is irreversible.
Record Research Labs ShineOla is very easy to use. You spray a few times on the CD data side, and wipe clean the clear fluid. Takes 10 seconds max. Actually, the procedure is same for Furutech PC-2 spray as well.
ShineOla and PC-2 both sound very similar used on its own. So similar that I don't know if I could tell them apart in A-B sessions. They smooth out the low-treble/upper-midrange area ever-so-slightly, making CD's that are a bit "hot" in this area or edgy in general more relaxing and mellifluous. Female focals, trumpets, for instance become more effortless and listenable.
They also seem to even out the digital lumps over the entire frequency range. Peaks in treble or bass become less obvious after treatment, resulting in less distractions from the music. It's sort of similar to when you compare the CD layer to SACD layer, which tends to sound less lumpy and more "open." Because the midrange peakiness improves, soundstage does become less forward with voices, again reminiscent of SACD layer. Imagine a nicely blended mashed potatoe vs. one that is REALLY blended smooth.
And NO, these treatments do NOT turn redbook into SACD sound, as the degree of change is not as large. It's just the Type of change I'm trying to explain, for those who have heard it A-B'ing redbook and SACD.
And here's the rub. SACD can sound clearly superior if the redbook version is so-so. However, if the redbook version is recorded very well, some people have preferred it to the SACD version. I believe this is b/c the redbook version tends to have more present/forward midrange, which can make for more exciting sound, IF the treble/bass is recorded well enough not to intrude.
The same downside applies to PC-2 and ShineOla. I still prefer to leave a well-recorded redbook CD untreated, since my personal preferences call for a forward, present, exciting midrange, as long as treble is not ragged and distracting. Many folks here will prefer a more laid-back, softer sound, and who's to disagree with them?
Another thing to mention is that even though PC-2 and ShineOla sound similar used on its own, using one then using the other on the same disc together makes for sound I find more to my liking. It does not seem to matter whether you use PC-2 or ShineOla first. I don't know why. But using both treatments in tandem, one achieves a little more density/meat to the midranges. Not in low-midrange/upper-bass, but upper-mid to mid-midrange seems to gain more texture and density, without changing frequency response. For my less-than-perfect CD's (most!), I now use this tandem, which works so well, that I haven't used my Furutech RD-2 demagnetizer or Bedini UltraClarifier in a long while.
For those who think I'm crazy at this point, well, that's probably warranted. I exaggerated some descriptions, but I'm talking about maybe 5-10% improvement subjectively for not-perfect CD's. Worthwhile for me personally, but it may not be worthwhile for you or your system.
Luckily, both are priced in $25-35 range, so if you get a chance to try them, lemme know how they work out for you.
P.S. If someone wants to ask, "Why go through all this hassel for lousy redbook and not just change to high-res?" My answer is, the VAST majority of music that moves me STILL only exists on redbook