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Reviewers: Marja & Henk
Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC, Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player; Eera DL2 [in for review], Tentlabs DIY CDP [in for review]
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system], modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Moscode 401HR; Trends Audio TA-10
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Audio Note AN/Jsp silver-wired
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC’ CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable; Virtual Dynamics Revelation power cords [in for review], Harmonic Technology Intelligent Woofer, Intelligent Tweeter & Pro AC11 [in for review]
Power line conditioning: Omtec PowerControllers
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotech Nespa #1; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2003 and XP; wood, brass and aluminum cones and pyramids; Xitel surround processor; Manley Skipjack; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks
Room treatment: Acoustic System Resonators; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Review component retail: $ 400

In a reply to our Intelligent Chip rediscovery that was described here, we received an e-mail from MachinaDynamica's Geoff Kait. He offered us the latest installment in the 'Intelligent' series -- the Intelligent Box or IB -- for testing. We gladly accepted since we are still keen on understanding the exact workings of any light treatment on optical discs which in virtually all cases enhances sound quality. The regrettable recent demise of the Nespa's original inventor with whom we had an ongoing dialogue stopped our investigations short before getting his complete answer.

So when the package from MachinaDynamica arrived, we had another chance to literally shed some more light on the subject. From the package we retrieved a sculpted wooden box and a smaller package wrapped in tinfoil. The box, assembled from an attractive variety of woods, measures around 2.5 x 15 x 7 cm (9 x 6 x 2.8 inches). Looking at the front of the IB, we see a black acrylic part fitted with a slot screwed to the middle of the fascia. The top of the IB has a white switch and a control light mounted to the left side. Next to these controls is a large recess made of the same black acrylic used for the front and clearly intended to hold the CD to be treated. No further external features are present - or it has to be the louvered bottom.

Inside the IB things get a bit more interesting. The top acrylic plate can be slid away easily on two spring-loaded ball bearings to open the box. Here we find the power source in the form of a 9-Volt battery and the top of the slot coming from the fascia. In order to ready the IB for use, we connected the battery to the connector next to it. The wires from the battery connect to the light on one end, then disappear under the slotted plate on the other. The plate holds two rails, the right one shorter than the left.

So far no sign of magic or any intelligence in this Intelligent Box. Time for some screwdriver action. Two screws hold the acrylic slot inlay and once removed, the part can easily be retracted from the enclosure. Under this acrylic part sits a laser diode like a lonely space invader. When we hit the button, the laser lit up with a red light. So the innards look simple. However, there is more to the Intelligent Box.

From the tin foil wrapper came a sort of credit card. The front stated Intelligent Card, "is for cd sacd upgrade" and holds a serial number. One corner has a cut-off scissor marking. On the back is a row of 10 shiny dots and the manufacturer's name, J.S. Audio Video Laboratories, a name that leads to a large electronics company in Guangzhou, China. Now these dots on the card looked familiar. In the Intelligent Chip, a product now defunct and superseded by the IB, you could find either 1 or 3 of these little shiny metal dots. Each of the dots was 'valid' for 10 treatments and then wore out. This rendered the chips capable for 10 or 30 CD treatments depending on chip potency. With the credit card's 10 dots, this means at least 100 CDs.

Before using the Intelligent Box with the credit card, the card needs to be 'activated'. This sounds funny and is quite silly. Remember how we found two rails of different lengths on the credit card slot? Well, in order to slide the card in fully, we needed to cut off one corner of the plastic card. Only then will it slide in completely and sit in the middle of the box right above the laser LED. The shorter rail will otherwise stop the card short. After cutting off the corner, the card slid in as intended.

In a accompanying e-mail, Geoff Kait warned us to keep the credit card away from unintended light sources - any unwanted light source that is. Therefore the card was wrapped in tin foil. For the same purpose, the Intelligent Chip back then was kept in a plastic container.

With the card in the slot, we put one of a stack of three freshly burned CDRs (MAM-E brand) on the acrylic top of the Intelligent Box. There's no clamp, the disc to be treated just rests on top. One very short push, a mere tap on the button, should do. There's no timer switch or even a click switch, just a make-or-break contact button. Push it and you make the contact, release it and the contact is lost. While holding the switch, the control light next to it lights up and so the laser LED will, too.

So the laser is fired briefly by pushing the button. Light and thus photons are emitted and hit the dots on the credit card through the black acrylic above the laser. In turn, one or more -- or all, who knows -- of the dots will get excited and emit a load of photons. These somehow will reach the optic disc above, again through a piece of black acrylic. Once they hit the optical disc, its polycarbonate is structurally altered in such a way that the noise floor is lowered when playing the disc. From MachinaDynamica's website we quote (and what is explained here for the Intelligent Chip is equally valid for the Intelligent Card):

The metals ID'd by the electron microscope suggest the tiny metal discs inside the Intelligent Chip might be quantum dot arrays for the following reasons: (1) the manufacturer indicates the IC contains "quantum material;" (2) all of the metals ID'd at the lab except for Niobium are used in fabricating the metal layer of compact discs due to their very high index of reflectivity for infrared light. Highly reflective metals are used as cladding for Q-dot arrays to promote greater photon emission by trapping the photons longer, allowing the photon chain reaction to continue longer. Photons are emitted from the edge of the array. (3) The Q-dot array would allow production of programmable Intelligent Chips - i.e., specific photon wavelength.

So, what exactly are quantum dots and how in tarnation could they possibly improve the sound of a compact disc? Quantum dots are "nanometer-scale" metal crystals originally developed in the '80s for optoelectronic applications. The core of a quantum dot comprises only several hundred to several thousand atoms of a semiconductor material such as Cadmium Selenide (CdSe) or Indium Arsenide (InAs) in which "electron-hole pairs" can be created and confined. The Q-dot container (shell) is a different semiconductor material - say, Zinc Sulfide (ZnS) or Aluminum Gallium Arsenide (AlGaAs). Q-dots and Q-dot arrays can be fabricated with many combinations of pure metals/metal alloys.

When the electron-hole pairs in the Q-dot core are excited by laser light, they radiate photons (fluoresce). Energy is transferred between absorbed laser photons and the electron-hole pairs. Thermodynamic equilibrium is restored (as electron-hole pairs return to their ground states) via the emission of coherent light in a brilliant photonic bomb - analogous to the radiation of neutrons in an atomic bomb. Each photon emitted by an electron-hole pair causes 2 more photons to be emitted, and so forth, in rapid succession - literally a chain reaction of photons. The ratio of the number of radiated photons to the number of absorbed photons is called the Quantum Yield. Highly reflective metals/alloys in the cladding improve confinement of the electron-hole pairs by momentarily delaying photon emission from the metal disc, boosting Quantum Yield.

Basically, the Intelligent Box is an easier way to enhance discs than the Intelligent Chip was. In order to get the best results, the Intelligent Chip had to be opened and the piece of plastic holding the dots be placed inside the CD player's tray or bay together with the disc. Then the disc had to be played for 2 seconds. Depending on the type of CD player, this exercise could be easy or sheer impossibility. By creating the Intelligent Box, the whole procedure has been moved off-line outside a CD player and become more precise. Also, 100 discs can be treated before the cards needs replacing. But does it work as well as we experienced with the Intelligent Chip inside our CD player back then?

From the three freshly burned CDRs, one was left untreated, one was flashed on the Nespa #1 with 120 flashes and the third got bombarded with a dose of photons on the Intelligent Box. For identification, the discs were marked with hard to see markings on the discs' clear area by 1, 2 or 3 dots - to stay in style. Next we had a pair of Naim samplers of which only one was treated on the Intelligent Box, plus a pair of -- sorry Ray to use your great work again for this purpose -- Kimber CDs. Hint: when at a hifi show, collect as many 'free samplers' as reasonable without being greedy of course. All CDs and CDRs got a two-sided zap on the Furutech DeMag before each playing.

At the time of the tests, we were lucky to have 3 CD players in residence - our trusty CEC TL5100/Audio Note DAC combination, an Eera DL2 and the Tent Labs DIY player. All of these players have their own character but could easily tell the differences between original and Nespa-treated CDs and CDRs. Would they do the same with IB-treated discs?

The sequence of CDs in our first test was non-treated, then Nespa'd, again non-treated, then IB'd. It was quite obvious that there was a substantial difference between the clean copy and the Nespa-flashed copy. A similar difference was clear after first reverting to the clean copy and then to the IB'd CDR. The commercially pressed Naim samplers too showed a difference between treated and non-treated. We repeated the listening test with all three players for 3 tracks each: the first track, the middle and the last track to cover most of the discs' area from inside to outside. Before a disc went into a player, it was DeMag'd.

In a previous article, we compared Nespa-treated discs to Intelligent Chip-treated discs. There it was not possible to tell the difference between both methods. With the Intelligent Box, we experienced the same using a semi-blind test of randomly picking from the stack of discs. It was clear that the sound was different from the non-treated versions. Music retrieved from treated discs had far more internal rest. Tone was much more defined, minute details were no longer buried in grime and imaging was enhanced.

As for differences between the Nespa and the Intelligent Box, we came to the same conclusion as with the Nespa and the Intelligent Chip. Both worked very well in enhancing the musicality of optical audio recordings (we did not compare DVD-Vs for image enhancement this time). Both enhancers worked equally well and we could not differentiate between Nespa or Intelligent Box-treated versions of discs.

Working with the Intelligent Box is by far the quickest method. Insert card, put disc on top, hit button, replace disc for next, hit button etc. Just don't forget to store the card afterwards in a wrap of tin foil. It is also a good idea to keep score of how many times the card has been used.

Now to economics. The Intelligent Box costs $400 and should last a lifetime. It comes with one Intelligent Card with a credit of 100 photon treatments. Replacement cards are $200/ea. That means the box alone weighs in at $200. When we compare a Nespa Pro at $825 to the MB, we get the following calculation. The Nespa Pro is good for 2000 treatments before its Xenon bulb wears out and needs replacement. Let's write the whole thing off at that time and do the same with the Intelligent Box. In order to treat 2000 discs, you need 20 Intelligent Cards, setting you back a whopping $4000. Plus the box, that's $4200. That comes down to a staggering $2.10 per disc! With the more potent of the two ICs, a treatment was $1.33/disc ($40 for 30). With far more moving parts and an equivalent end result, the Nespa Pro sets you back 'only' $0.41 a disc.

Well, if this were the final conclusion on the Intelligent Box, it'd be a pretty negative one. It does give us a viable off-line device to enhance optical discs by means of photon treatment - at a price. Audible results are very good and it is hard to listen to a non- treated disc after listening to an enhanced version of that same disc on any CDP. Once used, always hooked so to speak. With the ease of use the IB offers, the crème de la crème of a CD collection can be enhanced in no time. And here comes the twist to our previous conclusion. How many CDs from a collection are part of the crème de la crème? 10%? 20%? How big is your CD collection? In our sphere of acquaintances, the mean CD collection of music lovers is 500 discs. Let's say 20% of those 500 are really worthwhile recordings to get enhanced because you listen to them a lot beginning to end. That's 100 discs. In order to treat these 100 best discs from your collection, the basic package of $400 Intelligent Box will do. Is the IB still expensive now? However, we hope the retail price for the Intelligent Card comes down real soon so that more audio hobbyist can enjoy the benefits of this photon cannon.

Because we still have no 100% explanation for how these light treatments work on the physical disc itself, we will keep searching for that elusive answer. In the meantime, zap away. That part isn't in question at all.
Machina Dynamica comments:
The Intelligent Box and Intelligent Card are not manufactured by Machina Dynamica. Machina Dynamica is a strong advocate of the technology of the I-Box and I-Card and also a dealer for these products. Golden Sound is the distributor for the I-Box and I-Card. Regarding the 10 silver dots on the surface of the Card, those are not functional (as far as I can determine). In the orginal Intelligent Chip, the metal dots were actually "shells" that contained the quantum material between the metal sandwich. And the photons are emitted thru the edge of the sandwich. For the Intelligent Card, the quantum material is provided in thin film between layers of the Card. The card must be cut enabling the quantum material in the film to be exposed to laser light (and for the Card's photons to be emitted). The Card is also an edge emitter emitting photons thru the exposed corner. This theory (that the 10 silver dots are only cosmetic) can be easily proven by cutting the Intelligent card in half and using the half without silver dots. The half without the silver dots will work equally as well as the half with the silver dots, eliminating the theory that the silver dots on the card have any function.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica website