THE MAGIC HOUR
by Steve Deckert
was the wee hours of the morning as I can recall, a hectic day had
passed, and I was ready for bed. Everything was quiet, the
air was still and a sense of peace encompassed the place.
The magic hour was almost upon me, but as usual it meant I got to
go to sleep and that was magical enough. Nevertheless it is
that hour the begins to open a window that lasts usually
until 3:00 am when listening takes on a new dimension.
walked through doing the bedtime check, part of which is going to
the front listening room and getting the blasted cat, Tesla, out
of the subwoofer. It seems that the sub has become his
new throne. He gets pissed when I try to extract him from
had our little confrontation, and Tesla grumbled off into the darkness
in search of the next best thing... his food bowl.
the sub was number # 22 of my SE84 little Zen
amps that I had left on from a demo earlier that evening.
The little guy waiting for some Sylvania NOS tubes to come in on
so it can ship out. I reached over to turn it off and suckered
into the same old trick of seeing how long I could hold my hand
on the power transformer before my finger nails start smoking, which
by the way wasn't very long tonight.
what the hell, I haven't looked at the time, but we're probably
right in the middle of the magic listening window, and this thing
sounded like it had its first bloom earlier this evening... leave
it on... let it cook out another tune, I want to hear my stereo
real fast before I retire for the night.
put in an Aaron Nevils CD, a recent gift from someone who appreciated
the demo yesterday. I had already listened to it perhaps 6
or 7 times, enough to be familiar with it and I wanted to hear it
took only the first few bars and I went into stage one - the open
mouth I can't believe it look... oh yes, It was alive tonight!
I was as usual only planning to listen for a few minutes if that
and shut it down, but this rearranged my priorities without effort
sat and listened to the next song and while silently loosing track
of where my body stops and the chair begins, and marveling at the
incredible articulation, the nice wet blooming midrange and the
fact that the bass was coming from inside my body and going out
into the room. The progression into stage two - focused listening,
where the stress of trying to hear something wrong has been replaced
by complete surrender as
you tease euphoria.
few more songs had passed and the release of denial that it can't
be sounding this good gives way to stage four - foreplay.
This is when your body has become one with the chair and your spirit
begins to flirt with the space around you. You slowly focus
your senses to a heightened state where you have the hearing of
a blind man and your body becomes and extension of your ears.
Oh the depth at which you can hear. This is when you can start
to trip on conversations in the control booth behind glass at around
60 dB down. It is when focus becomes so great that you can
hear a pencil hit the floor 150 feet back, and roll in a pie shape
arc along the floor. You can hear it has flat sides.
half hour has passed and now time does not exist. The foreplay
has triggered stage five - euphoria. This is when your emotional
and physical senses become so acute that they overlap causing your
mind to forget which sense organ is doing what. Your sense
of smell becomes hearing, your hearing becomes site and you leave
your physical body and become the music.
after you've pushed repeat 3 or 4 times your heightened state collapses
and you come back. In a state of humble shock, you reverently
touch the magic tube amp wondering what alien force just possessed
it, and then turn it off. Safe now, and back in control you
dash out of the room with the energy of a 10 year old saying holly
shit at least 400 times and then collapse in your bed.
your stereo do this to you? Don't you wish it did?
experience I'll admit is rather new to me, a direct result of our
Casprera System, but the middle of the night blooms are something
I've puzzled over for many many years. I used to get so irritated
that the stereo would never sound like that in the day that I put
more than enough effort in trying to discover why it is.
the Room Treatment is what took me to
stage 5, my other work over the years would frequently take me to
stage 4 but only between the hours of 1:45 AM and 3:15 AM give or
take an hour for daylight savings time. During the day stage
3 was all that you could ever hope for.
I have confirmed this with enough audiophiles in different parts
of the country to know it is not just a unique experience I'm having
but stereos actually DO sound better in this night time window.
all started several years ago at my first location, where I would
be up late working on the computer with my stereo playing in the
next room. I typically will have been sitting there working
for several hours and the stereo playing unattended the entire time.
Then IT WOULD HAPPEN. Suddenly the sound in the other room
blooms and becomes distracting because of the profound change.
Just that fast you sit there starring into the monitor with your
complete undivided attention on the music coming through the doorway
in the next room. You get up and walk in there because you
can't believe what it's doing. Suddenly ALL grain is
GONE, the sound stage goes from 12 feet to 30 feet deep, and everything
sound, so convincing it tugs on your reasoning and spawns an uncomfortable
feeling as your mind starts to short out. The eyes and the
ears disagree, ...Which will win? Time and time and
time again this has happened. It happens out in the shop on
the old console stereo from the 60's, it happens at my bench on
the crappie car stereo/monitors I have back there...
18 years ago I did some work with our local electric company that
allowed me to go inside the nuclear bomb proof underground control
center that manages the power distribution for our city and surrounding
area. It looked like a scene straight from Star trek.
Curved walls with floor to ceiling schematics of the entire state,
LED's blinking all over the place. I sat at the captions chair
with the arc shaped control desk in front of me and saw a giant
knob marked "cycles". There across the room was what looked
like a large clock, no speedometer because it went from zero to
100. There was a large analogue hand melodically hanging at
57 cycles. Hmm, I thought, is that what I think it is?
I asked the operator still waiting for me to get out of his seat,
and he confirmed that that was in fact what controlled the frequency
of ALL the AC generators in the three connecting plants around the
first reaction was hey.. You can't do that! Well, it turns
out that during high heat days in the summer it cost less money
to manufacture the energy at lower frequencies. Then at night
around 1 or 2 o'clock, he turns that big knob and the big gauge
across the room crawls up to 62 sometime even 65 cycles so that
they can speed up everyone's clocks to catch up for the lost time.
thought I had found the answer to the magic hours but since then
I have been using a power conditioner (a real one) and it maintains
noise free 60 cycle 120 volts AC regardless of the input.
And while that improved the sound during the day, well all the time
really, the mystery middle of the night blooms continued.
have since then found that it seems to be many things that align
themselves on a coherent harmonic that yields the effect.
an unregulated power supply on a basic tube amp will perform better
when you bump up the 60 cycle AC a bit, it turns out that it is
the harmonics in the power lines surrounding your area that seem
to be responsible. During the day with hundreds of things
running off of ultimately the same power source, the AC power in
your lines is full of contaminants that add grain to your sound,
and collapse your sound stage.
believe it is the reduced level of power line harmonics that
make possible the middle of the night magic, triggered by the increase
in Cycles on the AC power, combined with the fact that this is the
time when the Sun is on the exact other side of the planet.
Radiation from the sun adds it's own effect to power line harmonics
in my observations. And finally, the reduced ambient noise
floor you typically have at those hours of the night let you hear
more dynamic range.
is my theory, and as person who likes to invent audio products,
I'm still frustrated that I don't have a concrete answer.
If I knew exactly what it was, perhaps I could bottle some up and
sprinkle it around the room during the day!
you ever want to experience the 5 stages I talked about in the start
of this rambling, just come over (call ahead please) and be prepared
to wait until after 2:00 am to start the session.