Much more than a musical Bandaid!
By Roy Gregory
It’s easy to get carried away with the ‘differences’ wrought by the myriad tweaks and accessories that litter the audio landscape. One reviewer (sadly, I can’t recall who) once wisely commented that the acid test of any tweak is whether you are still using it a year – or even two – after its arrival. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Things that sit under massive amplifiers are more likely to stay put – at least in the normal run of things. But in a reviewer’s system, even cones, couplers and platforms get regularly shifted and replaced. Anything whose benefits are marginal enough to make the inconvenience of employing it quickly gets discarded.
Which roundabout route brings me to the Sound Strips, an almost prototypical tweak developed by Acoustic Precision in France. Narrow Velcro strips about the size of a sticking plaster (20 x 95mm, ¾ by 3½”) and with a reddish, leather-look ‘button’ on one end, you simply wrap them around your cables and sit back to admire the musical benefits. At least, so goes the theory…
Like a great many such products, the Sound Strips are long on claims and somewhat short on evidence – other than that provided by your ears. The designer rightly points out that modern systems are subjected to unprecedented levels of EMI/RFI energy and that the cables connecting your components make seriously effective aerials. The ‘active’ element in the Sound Strip (it’s actually totally passive) is an extremely efficient high-frequency absorber that helps eliminate EMI/RFI distortion carried by or hitting the cables. It also helps dissipate surface charging effects.
Hold a deceptively simple Sound Strip in your hand and you might well be sceptical – especially given that a single sound Strip costs just shy of €200! But start applying them to your system – experience suggests starting with the power cables first, then digital leads and interconnects – and the benefits whilst subtle are also significant. It’s not just the removal of high-frequency hash and grain from the soundstage, the improvement in focus and dimensionality, it is the sense of air that the Sound Strips bring. As you apply each strip to the system, there’s a subtle but unmistakable change in the air around the instruments. The acoustic space becomes more and more distinct from the listening room, the character of the recorded acoustic more distinct and definite. This is no smack you in the face change. It is less obvious but actually, arguably more important than that. What the Sound Strips do is help reveal not just the character and tone of the voices and instruments within the recording, but they separate one recording, one event from another – and that’s a big step towards musical immersion.
If you want to assess just what the Sound Strips will do in your system, you could do a lot worse than reach for Rickie Lee Jones’ ‘Easy Money’ (Warner Brothers 7599-27389-2). The combination of an explicit acoustic space, sparse instrumentation, the upright bass and the reach out and touch immediacy of Jones’ sly vocal might have been made to embrace what the Sound Strips promise. Adding the Sound Strips to the system doesn’t just render the voice even more present and immediate, it locates it and the other instruments in a more coherent, deeper and more clearly defined soundstage. The path of RLJ’s footsteps as she approaches the microphone is far more obvious, but what this track also demonstrates is the clear linkage between upper registers and lower. The bass isn’t just more positively located and dimensional, its notes take on greater texture, shape and pitch definition. The languid bass-line is more fluid and articulate, the unhurried tempo more natural.