|In the high-octane Jackie Chan romp Rush Hour, motor-mouth Chris Tucker momentarily finds himself outnumbered by Chinese. Not missing a beat, the hilarious black comedian quips: "Hey, I'm cool, I'm Blackinese". Certain keen-eared inmates on AudioAsylum have long since gone blackinese as well. While making the kind of ordinary home-brew CD compilations such as yours truly takes to tradeshows, they had noticed how black CDRs sounded better than green or gold ones.
|Still, I hadn't really paid enough attention. Living in Taos, the local Walmart is the only walk-in recording software outlet. Its house brand happens to be Maxell. For the last four years and on my Marantz CDR630 then, I've burned to Maxell 700MB 80-minute blanks. Convenience and relative rarity of burning sessions conspired against investigating the subject further. My recent visit to tweakaholic Jerry Ramsey of Audio Magic -- chronicled in our May industry features -- was the second reminder that, perhaps, I should finally get with the program. I had brought my customary 12-pack of "have music, will travel" pouch. One of the compilations in particular appealed to Jerry. Could he copy it while we were listening to another? Watching him peel off a blank from his 50-spindle, he quipped how I surely knew that black CDRs sounded significantly better. Of course I was hip to that. What am I, an imperfect German? While he wasn't looking, a furtive glance at the spindle revealed the Memorex brand. I quickly flipped the top one over. It sure was black - far less scintillating, rainbow-y and refractive than any of the flashy green discs I was used to. I made a silent mental note - must remember Memorex. Memorex. Memory. X like x-rated. Memorex. Got it?
Gimme five, Tucker - before I kick yo skinny black ass back to Chinola.
Still, it took three strikes for my bells to eventually toll. As luck would have it, reader Kevin Teixeira believed I deserved to see the black light. He kindly mailed a blank Memorex from his Intel office in San Jose. Thus stripped of any further excuses to celebrate complacency -- and seeing that I wanted to burn a latest-greatest copy for the San Francisco show anyways -- I finally kicked into gear. Burning a parallel copy onto one of my green Maxells (from the originals, not the black copy), I quickly had all the essentials for an A/B. Regardless of outcome, I'd be clueless as to why. Our friends at the Asylum likely have already figured that out. I hadn't followed any of the pertinent threads to see the results. I saw no reason now to borrow from somebody else's research. All I wanted to know was - could I hear a difference. If so, was black really mo betta?
Concentrating on three tracks -- Natasha Atlas "Like the Last Drop" from her new Something Dangerous, for vocals and ambient trickery [Mantra 1035]; Tomatito's amazing "La Vacilona" dance with George Benson on our award-winning Paseo de los Castaños, for transients and timbre [Emarcy 014 313-2]; and Al Di Meola's "Double Concerto" from The Grande Passion [Telarc 83481], for its hybrid symphonic complexity and soundstaging.
Verdict? Short and to the quick. There were differences. They were noticeable. They didn't occur in the frequency domain but rather, behaved in similar fashion to how the Furutech RD-2 disc demagnetizer and Walker Audio Vivid operate. I enjoyed better low-level retrieval which manifested as more profound soundstage depth - as though drawn with a finer-tipped brush. Cleaner lines, greater detail, more awareness of spatial phenomena. On all tracks, this altered the semi-spherical shape of the far stage to expand sideways and behind the speaker, quite literally as though additional lights aimed for the far corners had been switched on. This enhancement of apparent size -- less so in the lateral domain, more pronounced in the outer depth dimension -- made things sound a little bigger. Not bigger as in taller performers or greater loudness, but bigger as in enhanced data intensity.
Specifically on the ambient Natasha track, subtle phase shift effects implemented to manipulate sounds on the stage became more pronounced. On Tomatito's Flamenco/Smooth Jazz hybrid, a certain edge was buffed out - albeit without the concomitant softening effect the recently reviewed Musicalizer inductors introduced. This edge had more to do with glare and brittleness than transient speed. As a result, the music exhibited less of what we often hear referred to as digital bite. Al Di Meola's ode to the great Astor Piazzolla -- very well recorded and hence very dynamic -- perhaps benefitted the most, with the volatile interplay between the Toronto Symphony and the soloists more intelligible, occurring on a slightly larger scale, the many protagonists more focused and numbered.
Which copy afforded these improvements? The one from the black market. Did the light-absorptive black substrate cause less laser scatter, less distracting reflections, fewer triggers of error correction interpolation? Sounds as plausible as any other half-baked amateur theory. Unlike such wobbly explanations, however, the sonic advances, while subtle, were without question. Considering that these black Memorex blanks are no more expensive than their shiny gold or green brethren, it certainly won't cost the curious adventurer to duplicate the experiment. And should you hear what I and apparently numerous other able-eared music lovers already experience, this would count as one of the cheapest tweaks I've ever heard of. With a tip o' the olde hat to the inmates, Jerry Ramsey and Kevin Teixeira, I'm gonna burn through my greenies in a hurry. Now if I could just dance and talk cool. I'd copy Chris Tucker and turn into a bona fide Blackinese myself. As it is with our hopeless Anglo case, the CDs will have to do. Go, Memorex, go.