"The Springtime clad in gladness doth laugh at winter sadness"... or so go the words to an ancient song. Time to get out and enjoy the fresh air, clean up the yard, plant your garden, fertilize the grass, etc. Or maybe just open up the windows in the listening room to clean out all that musty air and sit back and enjoy some music. As I begin to write this write this, its mid-February and I'm just returning from a great afternoon of evaluating some audiophile tweaks with my best friends, Clark Johnsen and Kwami Ofori Asante, and Steve Klein at Steve's listening room in Nashua, NH. In addition, Steve had invited John O'Rourke, a fellow audiophile, along for the ride. Steve is the proprietor of Sounds of Silence, where he's combined his hobby with a side business, distributing and selling such high end equipment as Kondo electronics, cartridges and wire, Vibraplanes, Beauhorn Speakers and Simon York Design S10 turntables. While he's still a 2 speaker listener, preferring vinyl and CD's to high bit rate players and computer playback, I don't hold that against him as his is one of the most natural sounding stereo systems I've ever heard, and his Stibbert CD player is one of the most analog-like units out there. (Plus his setup looks somewhat less of a mess than mine as presented three months ago and cal be seen at this link.
As usual, Kwami brought his latest equipment purchase, a D/A converter from AudioLogic, designed and built by Jerry Ozment. This was a real "blast from the past" for me as I owned one of his units back in the 90's, and it is one of a handful of pieces of equipment that was sold off that I miss dearly. At $5000 it's not cheap, but compared to the analog output of Steve's Stibbert CD player, one of the best out there, especially at its new price of $5000, using the Stibbert as a transport for the Audiologic, there was a definite improvement in the bass, and retrieval of soundstage information which was agreed on by all present. So much for the nay-sayers who feel that all digital equipment sounds the same. Of course, for its additional cost plus the extra power cord and digital interconnect, it should. And for those non-believers, Steve did the switching through his Kondo M1000 MKII$73,000 line stage in a double blind fashion with appropriate volume balancing. So there!!
Clark, a fellow audiophile journanist who once himself ran a retail store, brought along his various bag of tricks, including the Music Gun, a hair dryer with built-in tourmaline crystals that supposedly give off negative ions when warmed, which discharge build-up of static electricity on components, digital discs, vinyl, etc. Unhappily, we didn't get a chance to try this new improved unit out as we became consumed with wonder and filled most of the rest of the afternoon with a second tweak he brought, but you can see Clark's review accordingly. I'm speaking of a new tweak out of Scotland called...
The vibrations from the speakers feed back to the equipment through the air and ground to the equipment, and there are all sorts of very low frequency vibrations rumbling through the ground that can affect the signal. Unhappily, all audio equipment is vulnerable to it, especially tube and low voltage stuff such as cartridges, preamps and tubes, but also wires, circuit boards and even individual resistors, capacitors, etc. These vibrations intermodulate with the signal being produced or transmitted, leading usually to a smearing of instruments, loose bass, and a veiling of the soundspace.
There are three ways of decreasing if not eliminating unwanted vibrations, as with a spring, through compression, damping, and/or isolation. Damping can be achieved by adding a sink to lead the vibrations away or change them into another form of energy such as heat. Compression can be done through adding mass to the object or compressing it mechanically to change the frequency and intensity of the unwanted vibration. Isolation obviously prevents the vibration from getting to the object in the first place.
To successfully remove all unwanted vibrations from the room would be impossible and thus one wants to isolate each piece of equipment, including even ac cords and interconnects as they can also vibrate changing their relative impedance and capacitance. One could remove everything except the speakers from the room as I did 25 years ago, but that has the drawback that one then needs to run long interconnects or speaker wires which has its own problems, and necessitates having to get off ones butt every once in a while to go to the other room to change music. While this removes acoustic vibration from the music, it does nothing for environmental vibrations carried through the air and ground.
Another form of isolation would be to build a cabinet with the ability to both isolate from ground born vibration through massive shelving and visco-elastic materials (mass and isolation) and air born by producing a vacuum which does not allow sound waves to pass through it ( not even attempted as yet.) A less expensive method would be massive platforms with air-filled bladders, ala Vibraplane, or feet with either special vibration qualities (special woods for instance), shapes to repel vibrations(cones) or elasticity (rubber discs) to absorb and change vibrational energy into heat. Another option would be to suspend the equipment on tuned springs (difficult as one needs to know the weight of the equipment to tune the spring). All of these have been tried and depending on the equipment will work at some level. But like everything else, none of these are perfect and will only isolate a certain amount. Thus one may need several levels of isolation.
Damping can be done either through compression of the object (adding mass to the chassis) or some form of vibration sink (lead shot or various visco-eleastic paints). Some products may do more than one of the above. For instance, Walker Audio combines brass cones with lead weights for compression and isolation. Lead shot bags which can be bought at most gun stores will do both compression and damping. Visco-elastic feet will do isolation and some damping.
Anyway, back to the Black Ravioli from Scotland. They are about 2x 2 x 0.5 inch thick black cloth enshrouded squares containing a 1.5-inch piece of firm but slightly compressible solid material with 4 to a set for $150. Well, we all thought, just another expensive replacement for the cheap feet found on most pieces of equipment that supposedly isolate the piece from shelf-born vibrations. So where to try them first? How about under Steve's Kondo Tube Line Stage which was already resting on a Vibraplane. How could they make a difference here when the Vibraplane is already doing such a great job of removing cabinet-born vibrations? Four sets of two thick to elevate the feet off of the support. Wonder of wonders. We all heard a distinct improvement in soundstaging and tightening of the bass. Not huge, but surprising considering this is an $80,000 piece of equipment resting on one of the best isolation units available.
So where next? How about under the phono stage, the Kondo KSL-M7 unit priced in the "you can't afford it if you have to ask" price range, sitting on a separate Vibraplane. Again a further improvement in the bass and soundstage but also a tightening in the image of individual instrumentalists and singers. Gee, these may be worth their price! Now a request by me; Place them on top of the output tubes of the Kondo KSL-Kegon amplifier. Interestingly, absolutely no change. So they must work as a vibration controller through some sort of compressive-absorptive effect, both isolating and possibly changing vibration to heat.
Okay, what else could we try them on. Clark had brought a total of 30, so he had enough to try on the preamp's power supply, which was also resting on a Vibraplane but also resting on three very expensive feet. These are 4 inch in diameter by 2 inch high pucks of Mpingo wood with a point projection on top containing a diamond. At $1500, not exactly a steal, but up till now Steve's favorite for vibration isolation. Well, wonder of wonders, two sets of four of the Black Ravioli's made the biggest improvement in the sound, easily beating the crap out of the expensive discs.
You may ask why, would feet on the AC power supply of a preamp make an even bigger difference than on the preamp itself. That would be due to the old "Garbage in Garbage out" phenomenon. As I've stated in previous articles, if the electricity sucks, so will the sound. The higher end and the cleaner the equipment, the more the quality of the electricity is important. Anyway, hearing is believing, and the change we heard should have made a believer out of the strongest objectivist out there.
As first impressions can be somewhat misleading I contacted Steve about a week after our meet and he confirmed that the improvements have held up and he will continue to use the Ravioli's, and will probably ask Clark for more. As the Black Ravioli web site is now up and running, yet not at the time of this writing, I couldn't contact them directly. Therfore I begged Clark to send me some and I received 20 of them on Friday. This past weekend I began adding them to my system. Before going into the findings, let me say that I have tried over the past thirty years more than my share of feet, platforms, racks, weights, equipment positioning, etc., to control unwanted vibrations. At present, all of the source equipment rests on an Arcici Suspense Rack, a favorite of Harry Pearson, and all of the amplifiers are on Vibraplanes. Each source and the pre-pro rest on Walker Audio Valid Points, with their resonance control discs or lead shot bags on the cabinets' tops. These rest on ER Harmonics wood platforms. So that should give excellent vibration control. RIGHT??? So the Black Ravioli's shouldn't do anything for my system. RIGHT???
Well, it didn't work out that way. First I tried removing the Valid Points and placing the Ravioli as feet, beginning with the source equipment, and, as some of the equipment needed six, one on top of the other to clear the equipment's inherent feet, placing them only under all of the active units. As with the previous experimentation at Steve's house, the improvement in the system's clarity and bass response was significant considering their reasonable cost for a high end tweak.
Then, I went a step beyond our previous efforts, and tried placing them between the Valid Points and the cabinets. The effect was significantly improved upon. Plus, I was able to use only three Ravioli per unit which allowed me to use them on all of my equipment. All I can say is "WOW"!! I don't know what they have inside them, whether its some expensive exotic space age material or just a piece of a used steel belted radial, and I'm unsure whether the black covering material is from an old pair of silk pajamas or a piece of the Shroud of Turin, this is definitely one of the best reasonably priced tweaks I've evaluated over the past umpteen years. As usual, Clark Johnsen has found a new winner for system improvement.
Again, I hope I'm not leaving the impression that the improvement comes any way near what would happen changing your speakers or phono cartridge, but it certainly was at a level above any change I've heard from different similarly priced interconnects. At their price, I'd suggest that any equipment manufacturer that doesn't use them on their equipment instead of the normal crappy feet is doing a disservice to both his equipment and the customer, and any audiophile who spends more than these feet cost for vibration control, is wasting money. Steve, dealer and distributor of super-high end equipment and isolation units, kept all of the Ravioli's that Clark had brought and wouldn't share them with any of us. That should be enough proof for anyone who knows Steve.
A week ago I received a package from England containing their newest product, 2-inch long Black Ravioli feet containing 2 of the Ravioli sandwiching a polished square piece of Corian. Unhappily before I could break try them out, Clark Johnsen called and suggested that he was leaving the next day for Florida where he'd like to evaluate them with some fellow audiophiles there. So off they went FedEx 2-day air. As publishing time is here and the Ravioli feet are there, you and I will have to wait until my next month's column to learn whether they're worth the price difference.