The last 2 years has brought forth some major advancements in this realm of audiophilia.
I had really begun to question the future of audio tweaks ever since Jack Bybee passed away. There weren't many others out there who had the imagination and the courage to push the limits of audio system performance in such an unconventional manner like Jack. Jack and I worked together for 16 years. He was one of the most prolific, out of the box thinkers in audio when he was alive. When he passed I was truly worried about this little niche within our hobby.
But others have risen up, even elevating the niche of the audio tweak well beyond what Jack had accomplished. I think Jack would be proud.
These recent breakthroughs / advancements have largely gone unnoticed and fallen out of favor with the audio press, as they largely have shied away from writing on such devices.
Press coverage of tweaks appears (in my opinion) to be at an all time low. I feel internet culture has unfortunately curbed discussion about such things. Professionals who write reviews worry about hurting their credibility with a certain segment of their audience. Tweaks and the audiophiles that experiment with them often time get cruelly flamed by internet trolls, know-it-alls and bullies trying to virtue signal. Who needs another internet forum argument these days. Amiright?
But this has done a huge disservice to the audiophile community. One can squeeze an incredible amount of performance out of their existing system with tweaks from QSA, Steinmusic, and now Nano-Flo. In fact, I will go as far to say one really doesn't even know their system's true capability if they haven't embraced the audio tweak.
This is why I am here
I am using my web site to share what I have learned about audio tweaks with those of you who are interested and curious.
I shamelessly cover audio tweaks because I know they can take a component or system from good to astounding. A worthy tweak, when your system is dialed in with clean power, speakers placed properly in an acoustically treated room, can take your audio system's performance to levels you might not ever have thought possible IF you can handle not knowing exactly why.
If this annoys you, you can do one of two things. Leave, or engage with curiosity. By engaging I mean trying something in good faith without an expectation.
Aren't Specifications Good Enough?
It's not that I dismiss specifications. I don't. They can tell you a lot about what is happening and why. I love science, and science is measurement. I trust science, but I also question it (and so do scientists). At the very core of science are 3 things: Questioning/verifying everything rigorously, understanding that not everything can be quantified with current technology and/or knowledge, and being able to deal with new knowledge upending your perception of what is known. Be willing to admit you don't know why something behaves as it does. Ego check? definitely.
On the non-scientific front, I also trust my ears, judgment, and intuition. Measurements help me narrow choices down sometimes. But even then, the final judgment comes from experience with listening to the effects of products over the LONG TERM. I've made quick judgments on a product many times, only to totally reverse course after a month or two. BUT, I have taken those experiences and learned from them. Essentially, I live with something for weeks if not months. Most of the time I evaluate over the course of time by putting the product in, living with it, removing it and evaluating the change, then put it back in. I may do this cycle more than once. This is mostly for tweaks that are more subtle, or in the final stages of my evaluation when I am trying to assess the finer details.
Once I feel I have a solid handle on the effects of a product on my system, I ask the tough questions: Is my system better, worse, or just different without the item in the system? What is the difference? Is the change worth the effort and investment? In the final analysis, I put myself in the customer's shoes and make a final judgment about the efficacy and value of a product.
Do you trust me? If not, that's fine. You can try this for yourself, take my opinions and experience out of the decision, and decide if it makes sense for you. I'm not offended. In fact, I am glad you are willing to make the effort.
Nano-Flo is a small company based in Illinois. The parent company makes coatings for engine parts and other parts subjected to heat and friction. As an unintended side benefit, it turns out when their product is added to electrical contacts there is a positive sonic benefit. It's not as romantic as trickle down tech from Skunk Works or NASA, but it is interesting nonetheless.
The first time I became aware of their products was a StereoTimes review of the Nano-Flo power cord. It was a rave review, but I was still in the midst of getting a handle on the recently acquired QSA product line and simply didn't have time to check it out further. Months had passed since the initial sighting and I was prompted to look at Nano-Flo once again at the urging of an industry colleague. This time I had more time to devote to auditioning the product.
I anonymously bought a syringe of their gel product off of Ebay. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I did some further product research. Unfortunately my research first led to the usual group of people on the forums blasting the product, calling it "snake oil", and of course that was merely on their speculation that it wouldn't work. They didn't need to try it, because they are the audio police. Also unfortunately, Chris, the developer of Nano-Flo and owner of the patents took their insults and ridicule personally, and the forum threads ended up tainting the actual brand, scaring off would-be customers. It's tough being an inventor.
Here's where it gets interesting. At least to me...
But, what I learned from reading some of the posts, was that this product was derived from nano sized diamond particles, and that caught my attention. Both Jack Bybee and myself were using similar materials with great success. Jack's V2's, QSE, and Quantum Clarifiers all make use of similar products. My DMT products as well. There was a common thread, or element to all of our products. Why?
"In 1879, Henry Morton, a leading scientific mind and president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, called one man's tinkering a "conspicuous failure." The man was Thomas Edison. The invention was the light bulb." - Vice
Jack told me one time that diamond can be used to help control electron spin states. My research* into this has led to believing he was correct. Diamond is also a great thermal conductor, which may also have something to do with why it may work in keeping high voltage conductors running a little cooler, and reducing electrical resistance through managing heat. Recent research has shown a specific type of nanodiamond can become a superconductor if placed under the right conditions of temperature and pressure. I think the answer as to why diamond has an effect on the sound of an audio component or system lies somewhere within this research. We'll probably never know for sure because the researchers are looking to use the properties of diamond for different things. Like modern televisions and displays, integrated circuits, etc. Their focus is not on audio. The discovery is an unintended consequence.
So knowing this gave me a some confidence that Nano-Flo might work as advertised.
I received a small white box in the mail a few days later. In it was a syringe, 3 or 4 tiny applicators, and some documentation on the product and how to apply it.
In the instructions I was fascinated to find out that the gel is actually non-conductive. As the Instructions say:
"NanoFlo® gel is not by itself electrically conductive however its extreme conductivity is only activated under
the pressure of conductors coming into contact with each other. The actual contact interface is microscopic,
and so when carefully and thoughtfully applied, a very small quantity will go a very long way."
My biggest issue with contact enhancers of the past was that they were extremely conductive, and also being in a fluid or paste, they could migrate between contacts to create a short if one wasn't careful. Being non conductive is a huge boost to the safety of the product.
Looking at the syringe, I was surprised at how little gel there actually was, but as the instructions indicate, a very little goes a long way. That proved to be true ultimately, but I do feel that I initially wasted a lot in learning how to apply Nano-Flo.
I started my Nano-Flo audition with a single power cord. Since I build my own, I applied the gel to the internal connectors and wires with the blue applicator. I ended up not using the supplied "needle" after trying it a few times and dispensing too much. For me, just rubbing the tip of the applicator across the opening on the syringe, occasionally squeezing tiny amounts of the gel forward to keep it within reach.
This didn't take too long to accomplish on the first cord which would be powering my Merason DAC 1 MK2. This cord had been powering the DAC for months, so the only change made to it was adding the contact gel.
On a side note, my system was already what I felt to be fully tweaked with QSA products. I have the QSA Router, the QSA Switch. The Farad power supply for the switch has a QSA fuse, as does the DAC (2 fuses actually), amps, preamp and streamer. My power conditioner has QSA AC receptacles, and an internal 10x38mm QSA fuse (big fuse, more metal, better sound than small fuses). The power conditioner plugs into a QSA treated wall receptacle, which is tied to a QSA treated circuit breaker. I consider my system to be operating at a pretty high level for what it is, as well as being extremely revealing of any changes made to it.
So, after treating the power cord to my DAC, I plugged it in, and began to gather initial impressions.
This was not subtle...
Initially, the sound took a significant and immediately audible leap forward in transparency, transient response and dynamics. The speakers disappeared more, and I heard deeper into the music. This would indicate a lower noise floor. The initial tradeoff was a bit of graininess in the high frequencies, but after a couple of days of the system being powered on continuously, the harshness subsided completely. Additional break-in also proved to improve the sound quality further. I could only describe the sound as more fluid and real. subtleties were more textural and refined. Dynamics had more impact and jump. Music just hung in the air, not just between the speakers, but outside of them and all around the room. I was mightily impressed to say the least and wanted to take the experiment further. I had to resist Nano-Flowing the rest of my system, because I really wanted to try the Nano-Flo power cord. The cord was said to have been treated end to end with Nano-Flo Gel, and no small amount of it at that. My curiosity was quite high at this point.
Nano-Flo Power Cord
I reached out to Chris at Nano-flow asking more questions about the contact enhancer as well as his power cord. He kindly sent me a power cord for an audition. I received the cord a few days later. In order to be fair, I had to clean the contacts on the iec plug on the Merason DAC before connecting the Nano Flow cord. So using a little acetone on a cotton swab, I wiped away any traces of the gel that might have been on the iec, and plugged the cord into a different AC receptacle on my power conditioner than the treated cord.
Immediately I could tell the NanoFlo power cord effect was certainly more powerful than one of my own treated power cables that had the internal and external connectors treated only. But this could also be from the cord itself. Since I didn't have an identical cord without the Nano-Flo treatment, I can't say with authority. But experiencing the gel, I had a pretty good idea what was causing this increased effect. Perhaps there was just a better synergy with the Nano-Flo cord materials and the gel. Bottom line was it was a big improvement over an already incredible listening experience with the gel alone.
Initially, transients and transparency seemed to benefit the most from the cord, but we needed to let things settle for awhile to see if more would emerge.
With some settle-in time accumulated (about a week of being on 24/7) Things started getting really exciting. One of my favorite demo tracks is "Brasero De Soucis" by the Hadouk Trio. The entire piece is a study in texture and subtlety. The drums are the most subtle and expressive in my opinion. They demonstrate well the effects of Nano-flo on transients, flow and fine details and textures.
I've heard things described as being "lit from within" or having a spotlight (candle light, etc.) shown on the performance, illuminating the details. I would say the Nano-Flow in the system was like illuminating the room the performance was in with natural sunlight. Not candle light, or some ethereal inner glow, but natural light. Calming, not colored, evenly illuminating everything going on in the performance.
Music For Auditioning
Below are a few tracks I find myself using for evaluations.
The Nano Flow gel and power cord were every bit as transformational products as anything I have tried in my over 20 years as the Tweek Geek. I have been fortunate enough to experience many, many great products over the years, and Nano Flo is among the best of the best of them.
The gel is a no-brainer. The impact it has on one's system goes far beyond it's price. I couldn't believe the improvement treating only one power cord brought to my system. It is such a tired analogy, but it really is more akin to a component upgrade than a small, barely perceptible improvement we normally associate with tweaks. If you can't hear the positive impact Nano-Flo gel has in your system within 30 seconds, you may want to consider another hobby.
For the Nano-Flo power cord, the experience was similar, but much more powerful. One cord on my DAC was again transformative to the experience of listening to my audio system. I personally can't wait to experiment with more cords.
If you value music infused with life-like energy, dimensionality, flow, texture and subtlety, you absolutely need to try Nano Flo.
I will be writing more on the effects of more Nano-Flo, both the gel and the power cords as I add more to my system. Stay tuned!