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April 2001
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
A Symphony of Symposium
Review by Steven R. Rochlin
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  Here we boldly go into the land of dampening, tuning and tweaking. Symposium makes a complete line of products from their now famous and in Series 2 Rollerblocks to quite impressive and extremely solid platforms. It is no secret that a good stand makes an audible difference in the way a system reproduces music. Therefore it also makes sense that good shelving or supplemental platform is also beneficial. Reviewed here platform-wise is Symposium Acoustics' Svelte Shelf ($239 including three square couplers) named as such due to its slim and slender profile. Made generally for items under a few hundred pounds, it easily accommodates CD/DVD players, many pre-amplifiers, amplifiers and turntables. The brushed stainless steel top and bottom have a utilitarian look and feel.

 

Symposium Svelte Shelf
Symposium Svelte Shelf

Sandwiched between the pieces is a special proprietary foam-like material that is specifically made to reduce resonances. To quote their website "The Svelte Shelf's stainless steel top and bottom layers vibrate more uniformly than less rigid materials, thus transferring more energy to the center section, where it can be dissipated as heat. The Svelte Shelf is non-resonant, so it doesn't add any resonances, colorations, or other "flavorings" to the original material." For those of us with extremely heavy gear (mega-amplifiers for example) and/or look to use the same technology by mounting your loudspeakers on top of a platform, the Ultra Platform ($499 including three rectangular couplers) may be in order.

 

Symposium Ultra Platform
Symposium Ultra Platform

Their top of the line Ultra Platform is more than a Svelte Shelf on steroids. You get a much higher amount of anti-resonant devices with more layers of dampening material. These additional layers are claimed to further improve high frequency performance while a full tripling of the foam "heat sink" with a 1.5" thick foam section. This is also claimed by Symposium Acoustics to provide "significant improvements in bass performance, dynamics, and spatial presentation". As seen above, also included are three rectangular couplers that are employed for coupling the platform to the chassis of your component. By placing the three rectangular pieces between, say, your CD player's bottom and the platform's top, it enables better mating to the platform for best results while also eliminating the CD player's feet from touching the platform's top plate. Of course you may gain additional benefits by using the Symposium Rollerblocks instead of the included standard rectangular blocks. Visually, it seem to be sized like a big, very good high-end CD player... and weigh in at about the same heftiness (19" x 14" x 3.5" and approximately 20 lbs. for the curious ones out there).


Symposium Rollerblock Series 2
Symposium Rollerbock Series 2

Saved the best and most inexpensive goodie for last as we also have the Symposium Rollerblocks Series 2 equipment support system ($299 with standard chromium steel balls, add $75 for tungsten carbide balls upgrade). As seen above, there is a high-precision polished cup area for the ball to rest upon. The Rollerblock's body is constructed of a a one-piece "unibody" design so that the cup section is carved out then precision polished. The matrix of holes on the bottom also also cut out of this single solid block, later being filled the foam material. This arrangement of the holes acts to suspend the cup area over a series of parallel and irregularly shaped pillars, which in turn act as a "waveguide" to improve coupling efficiency with the surface it is resting on. With the platform and Rollerblocks used in concert you get a complete system of isolation plus coupling. A "draining" of chassis and also reduce the affects of air borne vibrations.

 

Keep on Rolling...
It seemed best to start with my tube amplifiers. Specifically, the impressive Wavelength Audio Cardinals single-ended tube monoblocks. Placing the Rollerblocks was a lesson in finding just the right place where the unit seemed to "free float" the best. It appears that the best positioning for the set if three Rollerblocks is where you gets the optimum freedom of movement when you slightly nudge the unit sideways until it seems to be floating on the three balls.

Gains included a more precise imaging and greater front soundstage depth and width was audible. Midrange seemed to be a tad bit more pronounced (?maybe?) while the frequency extremes sounded smoother to my ears in my system. Trying an experiment with my cj Premiere 17LS pre-amplifier, and  having two sets of Rollerblocks on hand, i decided to use a Rollerblock top and bottom with the ball in-between. In other words a Rollerblock was on the bottom of my Standesign's stand normal shelf, a ball in the middle, then an upside-down Rollerblock on the bottom of my cj Premier 17LS. Holy cow batman! The difference was not subtle! Everything got better!

To my ears using top and bottom Rollerblocks are the way to go over all the cones, pucks, pods and Sorbothane devices i have tried in the past many years. While not offered as a package like this, two sets of Rollerblocks will set you back $598. Hmmm, maybe there is another way i thought. Ya know, a way to save some of your lunch money for buying that new vinyl release of Led Zeppelin II by Classic Records.

 

Step Up to the Plate...
Having two Symposium Svelte Shelfs on hand, i decided to try one Svelte Shelf with the included standard square blocks. Hmmm... So i tried the shelf with the standard blocks on the cj pre-amplifier. The difference between just placing the cj on my rack and then with the Svelte Shelf was noticeable. The frequency extremes seemed smoother while transient attacks were improved. Not as much as using the double Rollerblocks combo, yet still noticeable never the less. For $239 the Symposium Svelte Shelf with included square couplers seems to be a very good value for those looking to easily add the benefits of dampening without much muss or fuss. Now comes the revelation.

Using the Rollerblocks instead of the supplied square blocks with the Svelte Shelf was a true winner. While using the Rollerblock on top of the shelf with the ball touching the cj pre-amplifier was good, i was blown away when i used the Rollerblock upside-down. To clarify, the Svelte Shelf on bottom, the ball in the middle and the Rollerblock upside down (cup on the bottom) with the cj's bottom sitting on top of the Rollerblocks bottom. Now begs the question, at $299 for the Rollerblock and $239 for the Svelte Shelf, does it beat out the $299 plus $299 double Rollerblock setup? Yes! The less expensive Svelte Shelf and Rollerblock combo gave gains in all areas over just the shelf (or just the Rollerblocks) and seemed subtly better than the double Rollerblock combo. Why? My guess is that the solid shelf has more mass and area to truly reduce resonances.

 

Got Balls?
Moving back to my beloved Wavelength Audio Cardinal single-ended tube monoblocks, i tried the same Svelte Shelf on the bottom (sitting one each on my to Target amplifier stands) with the upside-down Rollerblock technique. Yes! This was really a revelation over various cones and pucks i have on hand. WOW!!! Speed, precision and articulation... These are the three words that i first wrote down in my notes. While my system does not suffer from slowness, the Avantgarde Acoustic Duo hornspeakers will, and i do mean will tell you everything. This seemed the be the "sweet spot" in the Symposium Acoustics line. For me this was the best setup for my system without a doubt. In fact i got lost for hours enjoying music from classical and jazz to my fave 80's dance. In fact the Symposium Acoustics Svelte Shelf with Rollerblocks is so good that this setup is not, i repeat not leaving my system. Sold!

 

The Bigger The Better?
While the Svelte Shelf's 300 lbs. capacity is more weight than anything in my system, Symposium Acoustics did send me one of their Ultra Platforms that is claimed to not have a weight limit. Those of you with huge Krell, Levinson or 1.21 jigawatt amplifier may seek out the Ultra Platform. In my system it seemed a small step backwards. Possibly it was not "loaded" well as a too light 50 lbs. amplifier sat on top of it? Maybe if i had a pair of them to use under my Avantgarde Acoustic Duos... Still, my feelings are that the Ultra Platform seems to be a great product yet a single shelf was simply overkill for my relatively lightweight monoblock amplifiers and loudspeakers.

 

Better Balls...
Before i end this review fest, allow me to discuss the benefits of using the improved, heavier and denser Tungsten carbide balls ($75) over the Rollerblocks standard chromium steel balls. Both sets of balls seem to be the same size (0.5"), yet using my handy dandy Clearaudio EXACT stylus tracking force gauge, the standard balls weigh in at 8.3 grams while the Tungsten carbide come in at 16 grams. Almost twice the weight difference! Symposium Acoustics claims that he only thing harder than Tungsten carbide is a diamond! For those technically minded, the standard chromium steel balls have a "Rockwell" rating of 60 while Tungsten carbide reaches in the neighborhood of 91! A huge difference!

Being the curious one, and having a truly large manufacturing facility near me (New Hampshire Ball Bearing Inc. to be exact), i called up one of their technicians/representatives. He said that Ceramic balls (silicone nitride) rates at about 80 in the Rockwell measurement yet may not really be better than chromium steel. In fact when i asked if they could make Tungsten carbide balls, he said that they do not have the tooling for that and "making them is very expensive". This piqued my interest, as i know the facility is amazing with many large machines servicing the industry at large. So it seems that Tungsten carbide is truly the high-tech way to go (unless you can afford diamonds on the soles of your shoes to coin a phrase from a Paul Simon song). Yes, diamonds seem to be the only harder substance. If there are any rich oil Sheiks or Bill gates reading this, please let me know if diamonds are better. Eh hem...

To add, a brief e-mail back and forth with Peter Bizlewicz said "...While hardness is a desirable characteristic for the ball, ceramic is not as good a candidate as Tungsten carbide for the material in Rollerblock balls because metals have a crystalline atomic structure which transmits mechanical energy more efficiently. For instance, coffee cups are often made of ceramic because they insulate the heat of hot liquids well - anyone who's put piping hot liquids into a metal cup knows that the metal transmits the heat better, and heat is another form of mechanical energy. This would be exactly the opposite of what you want in a device such as the Rollerblock, which uses an all-metal contact path to present and preserve an efficient energy drainage path between component and support, and that is why we did not go to ceramic balls." Sound-wise, which is what matters most to us audio dudes, you do gain in more of the benefits that have been gained from using the standard chromium steel by upgrading to the Tungsten carbide. In for a penny, in for a pound... or an additional 16 grams per ball to be exact. For the relatively small $75 entrance fee i can easily recommend the Tungsten carbide ball upgrade for the Rollerblock Series 2 those looking to get the most out of their music reproduction system.

 

Rolling Along to a Conclusion
The Svelte Shelf in itself offers a definite audible improvement over those basic wood shelves included with most equipment racks, yet when combined with the Roller Block Series 2 you really get a good dose of what dampening and isolation is all about. i can see where some might start with either product and then, when finances permit, upgrade to the complete system. Gains seemed to cover the entire audible spectrum while making the imaging more precise. Of course in the end what really matters is that you...

Enjoy the music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

Manufacturer's Reply
Steve,

Now it's my turn to say WOW! Great job!

Thanks for taking the time and effort to sort out the obvious from the not so obvious and for doing it with a style that makes it engaging and easy to read. It's not easy to write about our products (I know from experience!) & I appreciate your obvious talents in this arena. Also, I must say that you're the first person to report on the somewhat unorthodox (but apparently very effective) deployment of upside-down Rollerblocks with the Svelte Shelf. This indicates a very creative approach to audio problems- and it's thanks in great part to people like you that the state of the art becomes advanced. However, I would like to say that if anyone tries this without a Svelte Shelf, it should be done with the polished stainless steel "Rollerplates" that are included with the Rollerblock set placed between the ball and whatever surface the system rests upon. Also, one should always use these plates if one tries this with an Ultra or Super Plus Platform, which have aluminum tops instead of the Svelte's stainless steel top; with heavier components, the pressure of the ball can cause undesirable "dimpling" of the softer aluminum. This should not be a problem with the Svelte's 16 gauge stainless steel.

Again, I would like to thank you for your professionalism and courtesy with regard to evaluating our products. We put a lot of hard work and effort into them, with the aim of making this hobby and avocation something that brings enjoyment into our lives. We thank you for sharing Symposium's mission goal - and that is, simply to "enjoy the music"!

Thanks again for a wonderful review.

Sincerely,

Peter Bizlewicz 
Symposium Acoustics

 

Specifications
Svelte Shelf Specifications
Thickness: 0.6"
Top: 0.07" stainless steel
Bottom: 0.04" stainless steel
Center Section: 0.5" non-resilient, closed-cell foam plus interlayers
Couplers: Optional
Finish: Polished, brushed stainless steel
Weight: 7 lbs.
Load limit: 300 lbs.
Size: 19" x 14" size

Price: $239 (includes three square couplers)

 

Ultra Platform Specifications
Thickness: 3.5"
Top: Two constrained layers of 0.05" + 0.125" aluminum
Center Section: 1.5" non resilient foam, banded
Couplers: 2" x 1" x .75" 
Finish: Clear anodized; black anodized
Size: 19" x 14" size (3.5" thick)

Price $499 (includes three rectangular couplers)

 

Rollerblocks Specifications
Dimensions: 2" x 1" x 0.75" (WxDxH)
Material: 7075 aircraft grade aluminum 
Finish: "Hard Coat" black anodized with laser-etched legends
Bearings: Chromium steel standard; tungsten carbide optional

Price for set of three: $299 (chromium steel balls)

Tungsten carbide balls (optional): Additional $75

 

Company Information
Symposium Acoustics
1209 Pines Lake Dr. West
Wayne, NJ 07470

Voice: (973) 616-4787
Fax: (973) 616-7848
E-mail: info@symposiumusa.com 
Website: www.symposiumusa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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