Qualitative test of Auric Illuminator

I recently bought some Auric Illuminator on Audiogon and conducted a test with identical treated and untreated discs. Since it takes about 5 minutes to treat a disc, there's really no accurate way to compare the treated and untreated performance of your own discs. To get around this problem, a fellow audiophile friend of mine and I checked our collections and found we had about 6 or 7 duplicate discs. I treated all my discs and then went to his house for the shootout.

For those of you not familiar with this product, it includes a black permanent marker pen (nothing magic, you can buy the same one at Office Depot), a bottle of the "illuminator" fluid, some polishing clothes and a cardboard mask to help you black-out the center of the disc. I took the radical approach of actually following the directions. First blacking-out the inner and outer diameters of the disc with the pen, then the disc centers. This can be slightly messy, but it helps to know that common rubbing alcohol will clean the permanent marker off your hands and the disc if needed (this is left out of the instructions for some reason). Also, since the process of blacking out the disc centers can be a little messy- I took a spare jewel box and sacrificed it, rather than mess-up the centers of all my other jewel boxes by treating each disc in it's own box.

Once you've used the pen, you're ready to treat the disc. You apply two drops of the fluid to the disc and spread it around. It's just like waxing your car- it dries to a haze and then you buff it off. You treat both sides of the disc in this way.

For the test, we used my Wadia 301 and my buddy's Wadia 860-X CD players running CD direct into his Cary V-12 tube amp. The results were also confirmed on my system using my Wadia 301 and PS Audio HCA-2 hybrid digital amp and Soliloquy 6.5 speakers. The Auric Illuminator makes the CD's play at a slightly higher volume level, so you have to adjust for that (about 2 or 3 on the Wadia digital volume control, depending on the CD).

The easiest way to describe the difference in sound is that everything just sounds better and more natural with the treated discs. They have a more analog sound- fuller, more musical with greater presence and realism. Bass is tighter, treble clearer, vocals more natural. Since I listen to a lot of jazz, I immediately noticed that cymbals had a more natural ringing sound, and that brushes on the drum sounded like brushes rather than white noise in the background. As we went back and forth, we really coudln't find any areas where the untreated discs were better. In fact, I now find it hard to listen to the untreated discs.

You vinyl lovers will laugh, but it wasn't until I heard the treated discs that I finally understood what was wrong with CD's. It was only in it's absence that the shortcomings of digital were apparent to me. I'd just gotten used to the CD sound over the years. Now, when hear an untreated CD, they have a somewhat flat and lifeless sound, with more glare. The notes are being played but the music just doesn't seem to be quite right. The treated discs go a long way toward eliminating those weaknesses of the format.

The Auric Illuminator may not bring world peace, but if you have a revealing system, it could allow you to stop fighting with your equipment and start enjoying your CD collection. A high resolution player with treated discs makes you wonder whether you really need to be worrying about SACD. Just like you can never go back to stock power cords once you've experienced the upgrade, I don't think you can go back to untreated discs after you've heard what more is possible from your existing collection. It's really quite a bargain at the price ($39.95 retail), and no, I have no affiliation with any dealer, or manufacturer of any product. I just wanted to pass along the results of my test since I've benefitted so much from the knowledge of others in these forums.
nice review. btw: i used to use AI. vivid works much better.
I also used to use AI for several years which was the best product of its type (non-abrasive enhancer) until someone mentioned I should try CD Clarity (out of Portland O.) which I found better still. Recently I broke down and bought some Vivid from Walker Audio, best by quite a bit, in terms of focus & smoothness. I guess everything is relative. By the way, for the outer edge of the CD try violet ink or perm. marker - 4 one-inch marks equally spaced.
I agree with your comments about AI and have performed similar testing with a slight difference. In every test, AI always produced cleaner treble response ( very noticeable on cymbals as you mentioned ) with an overall more "liquid", "focused" and "unstrained" sound when compared to an identical untreated disc. It also made discs that were damaged or barely readable perform like new with very limited error correction taking place.

The "difference" that i mention is that i used the marker on only one set of "tests". In my experience, markering the edges of a disc actually decreases readability and increases the amount of error correction necessary to read the disc.

I know that Rodney Gold from AA has done similar testing using an all digital Meridian system that he tied into his computer to look at things "bit by bit". Our results basically confirm each others observations i.e. markering the edges created more problems than it solved. He also checked to see if "trimming" the outer edges of a disc made any differences. Using his computer to verify what his digital Meridian transport was reading, he found that a disc that is better balanced without any "burrs" on the outer edge was more easily read. My experience with the Audio Desk Systeme also verifies this.

Out of curiosity, has anybody done comparisons between AI and Optrix ? I would be curious as to the results and how the testing was carried out. Sean
Sean, very interesting. Did you still use the markers to darken the centers of the disc, or did you find optimum sound with no marker pen at all, but just using the "illuminator" treatment?

Speaking of "unstrained", one of the test discs I used was Paul Simon's "Graceland," and the AI made his voice go from thin and weak sounding, to fuller and untstrained sounding. Quite an improvement, and much easier to listen to as well.

Looks like I'll have to try the Vivid product mentioned above and compare it with the AI.
I heard no differences I could consistently identify.

However, I can objectively say that treating CDR's before burning caused an increase in ruined CDR's. Apparently the Auric Illuminator blurrs the laser and creates problems when burning discs. So maybe this blurring" of the laser creates more of the analog sound.

If you like Auric Illuminator this stuff looks to be the same and only costs $12 plus $3 shipping:
All very interesting. I can't say I'm really ready to believe all of it, but then again I've never tried this (and to be perfectly honest, probably won't). But I do have one question: By what mechanism could this supposed treatment increase the playback volume of a CD? I can imagine how, in theory, a more perfect surface might result in less missed data and error correction, or fewer laser adjustments during play. Maybe this could suggest a mechanism by which a slight improvement in sound might be perceivable. But the instaneous volume (voltage) level is encoded word by word for every sample on the whole disk. Why would helping the player to read any - or even all - of those samples "better" result in a uniform increase in playback level for the whole program? That would presumably require a uniform alteration to all the pertinent bits of each word on the entire disk. Your guys' systems, recordings, and ears are probably as good or better than mine, so please don't think I'm being dissmisive when I say that it's results like this that make me marvel at the power of psychology.
The improvements may be (partly) the result of removing static electricity from the disc. I have found that treating discs with a bog-standard antistatic cleaner improves "liquidity" and, yes, introduces a perception of better dynamics as if the cd's were playing slightly louder. I don't blacken edges, etc... though; prompted by Sean's findings (he had mentioned this experiment some time ago) I convinced a friend to check out bit-to-bit "readability" on his 'puter. His results tallied with Sean's.
The audio world is strange!
Zaikesman, the reason you need to have two stacks of test discs (both treated and untreated) is so that you can go back and forth and not just convince yourself you are hearing something because you want to believe. Also, you can't have a valid test by listening, treating, and then listening again for the reasons I mentioned above.

I waited a long time before I tried this stuff because I basically felt the way you do. Since there were two of us testing, we also able blind tested each other. But the fact of the matter is, it wasn't even close. First CD, first track and it was obvious which was better. This wasn't one of those pained "I think I hear something" listneing sessions, either. This was obvious to even the casual listener. Like I said, we went back and forth many times just to verify the result, but it wasn't to convince ourselves, because it was very obvious. That said, my friend still spent an entire evening just listening to the two "Graceland" discs to see if there was any part of any track that wasn't better (he thought maybe he liked the wooden block percussion better on the untreated disc, but that was it).

As to why the volume level is higher, I have no idea.
Greg, here's a link to my original post or one can simply do a search on Auric Illuminator in the Agon archives. I have never bothered to try using a marker any time after the "testing" performed here. Hopefully, refreshing your memory with this thread will fully answer your question. Sean

Thanks, Sean!
Somewhere, I think on AA, a writer mentioned that he prefered results using the AI when he rubbed and buffed with firm pressure, not simply wiping and very lightly buffing. I tried on a few discs where I have two copies, and my initial impressions were that results with firm pressure were quite superior (though I did not run any critical comparisons). Any one else tried applying a little elbow grease to the process?
I am going a step further and use Mapleshade's
micro smooth before I appy the Auric.
As Mapleshade writes: the difference is not subtle.


This is a micro buffing agent really polishing the cd to an extreme shine and then comes the Auric, giving it the final touch.
Thanks Tekunda, I'll give that a try also. I think there's hope for redbook CD's after all, based on the above suggestions.
Yes, the audio world is strange and I must confess that I too was curious if this "gimmick" really works. Well I tried the Auric Illuminator with the black pen and I have to confess that I am now a believer. There was not a night & day transformation of my cd's but I did hear a more liquid presentation which I would characterize as the removal of most of the edginess that cd's present. There seemed to be more dynamics and crispier transients in the upper midrange and treble regions. I cannot account to what this change is attributed to, but I definitely liked what I heard.
I found this product to be an easy winner. A subtle but significant improvement in removing that infamous digital glare. Also really great on DVD's. $40 for a little bottle makes me queasy, but the application is only pennies per disc, and seems to help most on the worst pop and rock CD's. One of these days I'm going to try Optrix and Vivid. Has anyone found that AI needs to be reapplied, and if so, when? I have some discs that were treated more than a year ago.
The disc that i originally did my testing with went back to hop, skip and jumping. As such, i don't know if Auric "wears off" or "dissipates". I should probably re-treat it and then spin the effected song on a daily basis to see if / when i notice the problem starting to re-occur. If it does, i'll clean the disc off using warm soapy water with a thorough rinse and apply Optrix to see how that works. Using the same disc would allow a direct comparison in terms of sonic presentation and overall readability. For the record, I think that Optrix is only like $17 a bottle.

If i get some time tomorrow morning before work, i'll try spinning that disc to find out the specifics and start all over again with the AI. No promises though : ) Sean
Oh crud, now I gotta go buy some Vivid. How can I ignore a tweak that cost $70 that might work as well as a $$$$ IC upgrade? Something about A'gon that always gets my upgrade-itis juices flowing. :-)
The gel from Auric caused some of my disks to haze and I can not remove the stuff. The surface of some of my disks are a mess. These disks will be very difficult to trade or sell. With my previous cd player which had a 16 bit processor I could detect a slight improvement with the gel. With a newer cd player I can not detect an improvement between treated vs. untreated disks.
As a follow-up to my previous posting, the only way I could remove the haze was to reapply the gel on a disk that was cleaned with tap water and liquid soap.

To my surprise the hazing ocurred only after the cd was treated, buffed to a shine and played. I am suspecting the hazing occurs with some cd's that have a particular coating and they are not adequately dried after the treatment.

After re-application of the gel both surfaces were buffed until it was smooth and shiny. The cosmetic appereance of the cd was better than before but not perfect as when purchased new. On listening tests, IMHO I have to conclude that the haze problem degrades the performance of the cd !! The realism and the holographic image is impaired to a point that an untreated disk of about the same audio quality performs better. I will report later on the cd that was hazed after being re-treated with the gel.

If others can comment on the hazing and performance it will be appreciated.
Contacted the manufacturer of the Auric gel. Recommendation to remove the 'haze' was as follows;
Apply the gel and let the disk dry for about 4-5 minutes, then buf to a shine. I followed this advice and it worked about 90% of the time. With some disks it is impossible to eliminate the 'haze' from the surface.

Another point to consider is that every time you manipulate the disk surface you open up the possibilty of introducing new scratches - particularly if the cleaning pad has been used often containing dust particles, etc.
I would have to agree with the original posting. I purchased the A.I. system a few years back and had good results. So good in fact, that now with many additions to my cd library I have ordered and used another set. The new marker works better than the old one did. Much more focused sound. Easier to hear the details. Much more texture to the music itself. I for one will continue to use as my cd library demands it.