Easy Riders: Townshend 2D And 3D Seismic Sinks
by Wayne Donnelly
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The new-generation Townshend 3D Seismic Sinks represent a notable improvement on their predecessors. "3D" indicates that these Sinks control not only vertical vibration but also horizontal front-to-back and side-to-side motion -- sort of a (relatively) poor man's
Vibraplane. The 2D Loudspeaker Platforms affect only the vertical and front-to-back movement. Having liked the original Sinks, I was eager to check out these newer models. I tested the middle-sized versions: the Model 2-3D, which measures 19 X 15 inches and supports 33 lbs., and the identically sized 2-2D, which supports up to 175 lbs.
With either new type of Sink, as with older models, the key to getting the best sound is to inflate the air bladder only enough to ensure air suspension -- i.e., so that the metal top and bottom sections are not touching. The earlier Sink provided a red LED, which would blink until the Sink was sufficiently inflated and then burn steadily. So, when your Sink began to blink,
you knew it was time to get out the bicycle-style pump. The new Sinks no longer have the
LEDs, but with a little practice one can soon get the hang of inflating the bladders of properly.
The point is important because the Sinks' sonic signature when pumped up too much is not a desirable one. Too much air, and the sound becomes less dynamic and colorful, becoming relatively lifeless and tonally "gray." You'll know it when you hear it.
Another general observation: like virtually anything inflatable, the Sinks will need periodic pumping up. In my experience, the intervals between adding air range between two and four weeks. If you find yourself using the pump more than once a week, either the bladder or the valve is defective.
The 3D Seismic Sink
I found the original Seismic Sinks generally more effective under turntables and CD transports than under electronics. But the first test of the 3D Sink, at a friend's house, was to isolate four Job 200 monoblock amplifiers. Those dense little solid-state bricks had been sitting directly on a rather springy and resonant upstairs wood floor. The floor resonance there is exacerbated because the system's 300-pound Goldmund Apalogue loudspeakers are grounded to the floor via large spikes attached to the undersides of the bass enclosures.
Placing all four amplifiers on the 3D Sink was like waving a magic wand. Edgy high frequencies became smooth, open and gloriously detailed. Imaging became more precise within a more voluminous soundscape. The bass of the $79K Goldmund loudspeakers seemed to gain a full octave of extension while also getting dramatically quicker and tighter.
After repossessing the 3D Sink from my friend (not easy), I applied it in my own very different environment -- where equipment rack and loudspeakers are spiked through thick carpet onto a concrete slab. About three years back I favorably reviewed the Arcici Suspense Rack in the late
Ultimate Audio magazine. A few months ago one of the rack's air bladders got leaky, and I have been unsuccessful in repositioning the remaining three air bladders to keep the top (turntable) shelf level. With the Arcici completely deflated, I placed the Sink under my Basis 2800, barely squeezing it on.
Yikes! The performance of this fine turntable (click
here to read Basis 2800 review) took a giant leap. Quieter background, improved inner detail, more explosive dynamics, sweeter highs, cleaner bass -- the whole record-listening experience with the Sink is far more engaging than without it, on any kind of music. The Sink's 3D isolation is more effective than the air-suspension Arcici rack was even at its best.
Remembering the good results from the earlier version, I am not surprised to find that the 3D Sink is also effective for CD and DVD players. The Sink's 33-pound weight capacity precluded my evaluating its effect on the 60-pound Sony SCD 777ES, but I did try both the Phillips SACD 1000
multi-format player and the Andy Bartha-modified Pioneer 434 DVD/CD player.
Under the already smooth-sounding Phillips, the Sink yielded a more spacious presentation, somewhat more bass extension, and improved inner detail, which allowed me to hear more deeply into complex orchestral textures and dense rock mixes. The Sink improved those same areas with the very lightweight Pioneer player, and in addition produced a subtle smoothing of the player's energetic and detailed high-frequency presentation, giving it a refined smoothness very similar to the sound of the Phillips player.
Both the Thor TA-1000 line stage and the WAVAC MD-300B amplifier responded well to the 3D Sink, primarily with finer resolution of inner detail. Somewhat surprisingly, I heard only slight improvements in bass, dynamics or spatial resolution from these components with the Sink in place. As I had no solid-state equipment on hand, I can't comment on the Sink's benefits for transistor-based gear.
The 3D Sink delivers better isolation than its predecessors. Back when I reviewed the Arcici Suspense Rack, I judged the rack's isolation superior to the original Seismic Sinks, but the 3D Sink has surpassed the rack.
The 2D Loudspeaker Platforms
Ever since first hearing about them, I had been at once intrigued by and skeptical of the Townshend 2D Loudspeaker Platforms. Having "grown up" in audio with an unchallenged belief in the efficacy of spiking loudspeakers to a solid floor, I found the idea of floating them on air cushions counterintuitive. The goal as I understood it was to make the loudspeaker enclosure a rigid, unyielding platform from which the drivers could launch their output with maximum efficiency. But on these Townshend platforms, the speakers could be made to wobble back and forth with the light push of a forefinger.
It was no great leap to grasp the desirability of isolating the loudspeaker from a loose, resonant wood floor, but the notion of decoupling from a solid, inert floor such as concrete just didn't make sense -- I had always found that, especially with big floorstanding designs I preferred the sound with spikes in place. But unlike some reviewers, I have never reached the exalted state of knowing everything, so I embarked in
this review process with mind and ears open.
The Trampoline Test
As with the 3D Sinks, the first challenge for the Townshend platforms was at another location. (I seem to have an abundance of friends with loose, springy wood floors.) The Von Schweikert dB-100 loudspeakers that I recently selected for a Best of the Year award were sitting on a floor that had all the stability of of a carpet-covered trampoline. On that easily excitable surface, the prodigiously deep and precise bass I had experienced with the dB-100 had morphed into a swollen, overblown mess. With or without spikes, the wild and woolly bass output was obscuring this loudspeaker's overall balance and detail resolution.
The 2D platforms were exactly the right solution. Placing the dB-100s on them restored the speakers' real character. The visceral deep bass now had the speed and clear pitch definition I had heard during my review process. Moreover, in addition to cleaning up previously obscured midrange information, the platforms also brought a new delicacy and sweetness to the high frequencies. A clear win for
The Slab Test
Back in my own environment, I installed the 2D platforms under the Meadowlark Blue Herons, also a Best of the Year award winner. The process is surprisingly quick and easy. The loudspeaker should be at the platform's center of balance, and I found that with the aid of a small carpenter's level I had the Blue Herons standing upright in about three minutes each. Of course, the flip side of this balancing act is that it is also easy to nudge the speaker off its balance point. I found myself checking with the carpenter's level every couple of days, and usually found that a slight repositioning was needed. Anyone planning to use the 2D platforms might want to recruit a helper and affix the bottom of the enclosure to the platform with a double-stick adhesive.
There's Good News...
I had found virtually nothing to complain about with the Blue Herons, and I was concerned that the platforms would at the least adversely affect their extremely fast and dynamic bass response. After all, rather than being solidly spiked to a concrete slab, they were now floating on air about 1 1/2 inches above the floor. The first few minutes of listening seemed to confirm my fears. The huge bass drum on the Reference Recordings CD of Leonard Bernstein's
Candide music was now a touch less sternum-shaking than before. But after more extended listening to this and many other good recordings, I realized that the slight loss in sheer dynamic impact was more than compensated by my being able to hear more deeply into the low frequencies -- e.g., clearly distinguishing the tone of the contrabasson from the low strings in the Rachmaninoff
Even more surprising was the effect of the platforms on the midrange and high frequencies. The Blue Heron uses an unusual "gas piezo" tweeter that is one of the smoothest and most resolving I have heard, and the midrange driver is also exceptional. But with the platforms in place, suddenly there was more emotion in Renee Fleming's portrayal of the Marchallin's monologue from Act 1 of
Der Rosenkavalier; a longer decay of Nojima's powerful left-hand chords in the Liszt Sonata in B minor; and an enhanced sense of air and space in the wonderful CD of the Sibelius
Violin Concerto by Kavakos/Vanska/Lahti Symphony. Score another win for
...and Bad News
Next up was the Von Schweikert dB-99, the smaller sibling of the dB-100. This one, I figured, would be a slam-dunk. Because the 99 has a 400-want active bass system with adjustable output, I could easily compensate for the slight loss of bass power from floating the speakers on the platforms. And I remembered how much the platforms had improved the sound of the dB-100s at my friend's house.
Never assume. While the mid and high frequencies benefited from the platforms much as with the Blue Herons, the bass of the dB-99s was suddenly hollow and dissipated. Moreover, those qualities didn't change appreciably no matter how much I manipulated the bass output control. My troubleshooting -- verifying that the speakers were properly balanced on the platforms, double-checking the amount of inflation -- made no difference.
What could cause such a difference? The dB-100s had been sitting on a highly resonant, carpeted wood floor, whereas the dB-99s were on carpet over concrete; that was probably significant. The weight distribution of the dB-99s is asymmetrical, so that in order to balance it on the platform an inch of the enclosure's base was hanging over the side. That might perhaps be significant, but I was damned if I knew why. The Townshend Web site had nothing to offer on the subject. Why the platforms produced such good results with the Meadowlarks and bad results with the dB-99s in the same environment remains mysterious to me.
To Sink Or Not To Sink
The audiophile marketplace is awash with isolation products costing both less and more than the Townshend Seismic Sinks. And cruising around the Web, you can find lots of DIY air-suspension
devices using tennis balls, inner tubes, or for all I know, whoopee cushions. The 3D Seismic Sinks are not inexpensive, but they are well conceived and well made solutions that in the right system can achieve wonderful results. One of them is now permanently in-service under my turntable.
As is evident from my descriptions above, it's harder to make the call on the 2D Loudspeaker Platforms. If your system environment includes bouncy wood floors, I suggest you
audition these products. On a solid floor? That seems to depend on the loudspeakers involved. In any case, always make sure you have the right to return the Sinks after a reasonable addition time, and then try them for yourself.
3D Seismic Sinks
Model Dimensions Capacity
1-3D 17 X 12"
25 lbs. $400
2-3D 19 X 15"
33 lbs. $450
3-3D 22 X 18"
40 lbs. $500
1-3D HD 17 X 12" 130 lbs.
2-3D HD 19 X 15" 175 lbs.
3-3D HD 22 X 18" 225 lbs.
2D Seismic Sink
Model Dimensions Capacity
1-2D 17 X 12"
90 lbs. $900/pair
2-2D 19 X 15"
175 lbs. $1,000/pair
3-2D 22 X 18"
225 lbs. $1,100/pair
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