Home  |  Hi-Fi Audio Reviews  Audiophile Shows Partner Mags  News       

 

 

 

December 2023

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

 

World Premiere Review!
LCH Audio B1610 Subwoofers
Stack Audio Auvo Isolators
Synergistic Research Vibratron
An audiophile special ménage à trois.
Review By Rick Becker

 

Review: LCH Audio B1610 Subwoofers, Stack Audio Auvo Isolators, And Synergistic Research Vibratron. An audiophile special ménage à trois.

 

"Science cannot tell us a word about why music delights us, of why and how an old song can move us to tears."
― Erwin Schrödinger, Nature and the Greeks / Science and Humanism

 

  Actually, neuroscience has come a long way since Schrodinger's day, and audiophiles might be able to offer some suggestions, too. Let me tell you about three innovative items that helped those old songs move me even further.

In typical audiophile fashion, I'm always on the lookout to improve the sound quality of my system in search of more musical delight. A pattern that has emerged over the past two decades is that my speakers always seem to get better when I improve the components and add ancillary tweaks to the rig. Funny how that happens. Many people would sooner go out and buy a new speaker. But I've developed somewhat of a reputation for adding tweaks rather than spending huge sums on major components.

The opportunity to explore Axpona earlier this year turned up two products in particular that I wanted to review and a third opportunity subsequently came my way from Great Britain. The first was a pair of subwoofers from a new company in Houston, Texas, LCH Audio. The second was a product from Synergistic Research that was introduced 15 years ago and made over a million dollars for the company in its early years. A second generation was recently introduced and it has been selling well during its soft launch. It is offered at a considerably reduced price that was made possible by the new design and economies of scale. This is the first review of the second-generation Vibratron.

And third, Theo Stack of Stack Audio, whose upgrades for the Linn LP12 turntable I've reviewed, has expanded into the realm of aftermarket footers for components and loudspeakers. Each of these products yielded significant improvement on their own. And together they took my already fine system into End Game territory. Let's start with the subwoofers.

 

 

A pair of LCH (Low Country Horns) subwoofers almost came home from the Chicago show with me, but Mike Heusi, the CEO, apparently lined up some marketing adventures that took priority. I took note of this young company, founded in 2018, on my first pass down the hallway on the 12th floor (see my show report, here) and was impressed by what I heard. As my sleeping room was right next door to their exhibit room, I stopped in several more times during which I met Mike Heusi and Mark Menendez, the designer of these unique subwoofers.

What impressed me most on this first visit was that they did not try and blast me out of the room with excessive bass. What I heard was bass that was fast, tight, and smoothly integrated with the floorstanding speakers. I couldn't visualize the location of the subs with my eyes closed, nor could I hear where the floorstanders left off and the subs filled in in the bass. Moreover, it had better timbre than any subwoofer I can recall except the Escalante Designs Uinta, a $5500 subwoofer I reviewed back in 2005 that is no longer available. In today's dollars, the Unita would be about $8,425 each, but that subwoofer had a built-in amplifier, parametric equalizer, and two 12" drivers in an isobaric configuration.

The LCH has no amplifier, no crossover, and no polarity switch. It has a claimed frequency response of 20-1000 Hz and a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz. The 10" dual voice coil driver is not visible and there is no grill — just two vertical slots on the outside edge of the front panel. It looks like a finely made block of furniture and weighs like a Class A amplifier of comparable size. Heavy.

 

 

Conventional wisdom says subwoofers have to be finely tuned in, centimeter by centimeter. I didn't do that. The large bay window wall behind the speakers has no right-angle corners and the floor space along that wall is filled with plants and equipment stands. The best I could do was place each sub just inside the main speaker with a 3.5" space between them. I started with the baffles aligned and they sounded pretty good. At Mike Heusi's suggestion I recessed the subs about 3" and noticed very little difference.

For power, I ran a second set of RCA interconnects out of my Coincident Statement Line Stage to my AGD Audio monoblocks, a GaNFET Class D amplifier with 85 Watts each @ 8 Ohms. LCH recommends using 100 to 400-Watt amps, so I was at the minimum in my rather large room.

My Kharma Ceramique 2.2 three-way speakers have an efficiency of 89dB/W/m and they were noticeably louder than the LCH subs. I needed a way to balance the outputs. Bill Dudleston of Legacy Audio recommended the Douk Audio Nobsound NS-05P stereo attenuator. Mike Heusi was a step ahead of me and sent one for me to use. It is a very affordable ($70) and nicely made unit. It features a silky-smooth Alps attenuator and you can use it with either XLR or RCA interconnects. Most importantly, it didn't seem to degrade the resolution or the transparency of the speakers, but it did require an additional set of interconnects which cost considerably more than the unit itself.

Using the Nobsound was counter-intuitive with the Kharma speakers being more efficient than the subwoofers. To raise the volume of the subs I had to attenuate the volume of the Kharma with the Nobsound and then raise the volume of both with the preamp. I found what I thought was a sufficient balance between the two and sat back and enjoyed the experience of not just deeper bass but a very tuneful one to boot. The LCH subs seemed to blend seamlessly with the Kharma speakers. I was very impressed.

 

 

Mike Heusi had a lot on the line with this first review and wanted to fly up from Houston to maximize my experience. Given what little experience I've had with subwoofers, I welcomed his visit. He shipped up a 400 Wpc D-Sonic stereo amp and some runs of BEL speaker cables for us to play with. There was no model number on the amp but it has the same chassis dimensions as their monoblock (7" W x 15" D x 3.5" H).

It was said to produce400 Wpc in Class D at 8 Ohms and nearly double that into 4 Ohms, as well as being stable into 2 Ohms. Being a compact amp, it suffered from connectors being close together on the short back end. It lacked a bit of transparency and some inner detail that was present with the AGD Audion, but the large increase in power fleshed out the bass and made it a welcome addition. Mike said its projected cost is about $1400.

 

 

Next, we swapped out the Synergistic Research Foundation SX speaker cables for the BEL cables Mike had sent up. Here again, being a larger gauge, the sound quality took a healthy step up. While the Foundation SX was terminated with banana plugs, the BEL cable had spades with a 5mm opening which was too small for the thick binding posts on the subs. Even some Audio Sensibility cables with 8mm spades were too small. The binding posts were easy to tighten down and loosen up, but this is a change LCH needs to make. A tight connection with common-size spades is a prerequisite for optimum sound, though you can also use bare, un-terminated wire if you choose. I solved this problem by inserting one prong of the spade into the hole intended for a bare wire connection.

At a later point, with the new Audion Mk III powering the subwoofers through Synergistic Atmosphere SX cables, I ran two sets of measurements with the SPL meter. First, with the sub and the Kharma together, and then with just the sub running. In comparing this graph with the Kharma alone, it was obvious the LCH subs made a significant contribution. It felt like I had moved up to a higher-level speaker in the Kharma line.

More importantly, they brought the music to life with greater tonality and transparency in the bass. The improvement they brought to the midrange in the form of more weight to the music and more presence, particularly on male vocals was also impressive. Overall, the music was more complete with significantly deeper and fuller bass which the Kharma alone only hinted at, particularly with the 300B tube amplifiers. I should mention that I didn't bother to measure the treble region but it wouldn't surprise me if the sub continued to put out signal up there as the company claims.

It was a year ago at the Toronto Audiofest that I listened to the experimental subwoofers that Magnepan was developing to complement their quasi-ribbon panel speakers. The Magnepan subs, with eight full-range dynamic drivers, extend high up past the midrange at a uniform SPL, whereas the LCH is shelved down at around 250Hz. And like the Magnepan, the LCH produced very transparent and dynamic images with excellent timbre of the Chinese drum cut I use on my compilation CD, though with a single 10" driver, the LCH requires substantially more power to reach 100dB. Wendell Diller said Magnepan anticipates having a unique variation for each of their models, indicating that their sub will likely be specific to their brand.

Getting back to LCH, their website states:

"A single induction coil (in the LCH) rolls off the frequency at 6db per octave at 250Hz. After two octaves, the response is flat out to 20,000hz. That's not a misprint. The enclosure literally takes a driver which, according to manufacturer specs, drops off dramatically after 2k, and now measures over three octaves above."

 

This feat is accomplished with what they call their proprietary Dual Horn Compression Chamber (DHCC) formed with solid cork. A second waveguide is also part of this design. With this complex enclosure, and extending the frequency range above the bass region, the subwoofer's driver creates the harmonic overtones of the bass notes, rather than cutting off its output with a high-pass filter, allowing it to more easily blend with the drivers of the primary speaker. That certainly seemed to be the case with my rig. The tonal color and the generous decay brought a new dimension to the low end that made for pleasurable listening that effectively allowed me to turn off my critical listening and enjoy the music.

Their proprietary design is also said to largely eliminate bass nodes in the room. In my large room with an open floor plan, I normally have few, if any obvious bass nodes. That's the good news. The bad news is with such a floor plan it is nigh impossible to pressurize the room with bass as you can do more easily in a conventional enclosed rectangular room — except with an unreasonable amount of power driving a large number of drivers. Or perhaps with those enormous horn speakers from movie theaters of a bygone era. But those fantasies lie far above my financial comfort zone.

 

 

Aesthetics
While the LCH subwoofer were placed next to my main speakers they looked more like a piece of furniture than a subwoofer which typically has a large visible driver and perhaps some indicator lights revealing the nature of the beast. My prototypes were finished with a very smooth black satin finish like you would find on a grand piano but Mike Heusi tells me the standard finish will be a black wood veneer that reveals the woodgrain. A wide variety of custom veneers and finishes are available at additional cost.

The cabinets are built by Brochsteins, a manufacturer of custom architectural woodwork and furniture since 1935 in Houston. They house thousands of veneers going back to the 1930s if you need something truly unique. If the fit and finish on my sample are indicative of the production versions, you will be very impressed.

The cabinets are 16" cubes with a little extra for the feet and binding posts, so they will not be overpowering in modest size rooms. And the absence of a driver or conspicuous logo staring at you means they do not draw your attention — an elegant approach, suitable for the finest home décor, especially if you select a custom veneer.

 

Implementation
Someone looking to acquire subwoofers in this price range will likely be looking to buy a pair and in my large room, I was grateful for the opportunity to have a pair for review. The absence of internal amplification, however, mandates additional costs over more conventional powered subs. I was fortunate to have dual RCA outputs on my Coincident Statement preamplifier to facilitate wiring, though a line-level splitter cable could be used if you have a sub-out on your preamp or integrated amplifier.

 

 

The Nobsound NS-05P attenuator from Douk Audio above allowed me to balance the signal levels between the more efficient main speaker and the LCH subs. But this required a second set of interconnects to reach the AGD monoblocks that ultimately powered the subs.

After Mike's visit, Alberto Guerra contacted me about his new Mk III power tube for the Audion amps and I readily accepted his offer to review the new "tube". A separate review is found elsewhere in this issue, but let's say the Mk III tube was a game-changer for driving the LCH subs.

A more user-friendly solution would be to use an integrated amplifier, particularly one with a remote control. This would allow you to not only balance the subwoofer's output with the main speakers but also to fine-tune the tonal balance of individual recordings. Particularly with rock music I sometimes found the bass in the recording to be overpowering. Being able to adjust the level of the bass would be a welcome addition brought by an integrated amp. And given the omnidirectional dispersion of bass frequencies, you would be surrendering very little sound quality by going with an integrated amp vs. monoblocks.

Of course, the better the quality of your integrated amp, the better will be your sound quality. This, too, will drive up the cost of implementing the LCH subwoofers. From what I've been able to ascertain with the D-Sonic power amp and the two versions of my AGD Audion, there is probably more sound quality to be gained with a high-quality, higher-power integrated than with the jury-rigged combination of the Douk attenuator and the amps I used. I'll let you round up the usual suspects for this task.

 

LCH Summary
For all the shows I've attended, you might think I've heard a lot of different subwoofers, but this is rarely the case at shows. What speaker manufacturer would want to admit that his speaker can be improved with the addition of another manufacturer's expensive pair of subwoofers? Not a good marketing plan, I think, which is why LCH went the distance to host their own room to showcase their subs.

While I can highly recommend these subs, you will have to consider the requirements for extra cables and amp to decide the value of this product. If you already have the cables and amp in your audio armory, well, then it's a different story. Hopefully, Mike Heusi will get his subwoofers into the hands of other reviewers, perhaps with more powerful amps and a more conventional shape listening room for additional input. I certainly feel it will be worth his effort. And keep an ear out for LCH subs at shows in the near future. This technology is widely patented and it is scalable so it is available to other manufacturers under license. What I've heard here may just be the beginning. This is definitely a company to watch.

 

 

Stack Audio Auva Isolators
Theo Stack took a hard right turn into component damping from his original offerings of aftermarket components for the Linn LP12 turntable. I had great success in reviewing many of those turntable products so I was eager to try his new Auva speaker isolator footers for loudspeakers. Aftermarket footers have become an item of interest in recent years after decades of reliance on traditional spikes. A few manufacturers have even followed suit in developing their esoteric designs. The Auva comes in three sizes at ascending prices and can be ordered with felt pads, or spike feet of either 25mm or 15mm in length.

 

 

Knowing I use 100-pound Kharma speakers and need to slide them in and out of my rig for reviews, Theo sent the largest (model 100) footers without felt pads or spikes. They are priced at $1312.33 for a set of eight with your choice of either a felt pad or either length spike. A set of eight Auva 70 goes for $889 and a set of eight Auva 50 goes for $460.38.

Sets of 3, 6, 4, and 8 footers are available to suit your needs. The difference in the models reflects the difference in size and the amount of vibration-absorbing Auva material contained in each footer. The Auva material is their proprietary mix, but Theo assures me it does not include Moon Dust. The materials use the familiar mechanism of turning micro-vibrations into heat. An explanation of particle impact damping is given on his website.

 

 

Another key variable is the adapter you select for your particular speaker. The threaded end that goes into the Auva is common to all models, but various threads are available on the other end to fit into loudspeakers from all over the world — all at the same price unless you require some uncommon custom thread that is not stocked such as the gargantuan threads on the extended arms of my Kharma speakers.

 

 

Previously I had been using Soundeck round Mini Damping Feet ($132 + shipping for 8) under the Kharma's spikes and found them to be a noticeable improvement over the larger version I had been using since they first came out. The Soundeck footers are a very good value for the money and have the advantage of not raising the speaker more than a few millimeters. But as with many things in life, if you pay more, you get more.

The Stack Audio Auva footers are in a whole different price league so I expected them to offer a very significant improvement in resolution. The threaded inserts in the footers are stainless steel so I felt comfortable just setting the spikes of my Kharma footers into them without fear of damaging the threads.

 

 

The improvement in resolution struck me before I could even get back to my listening chair. I was hardly through the first song when I was convinced the Auva was a must-have accessory for the Kharma speakers. I'm tempted to declare this a winner for speakers at this high performance level, but as I think about it, that might be selling the Auva short. Might a less expensive speaker benefit even more from these footers?

Alas, my vintage Coincident Speaker Partial Eclipse in my TV rig uses a smaller thread than the adapters I had on hand, but Theo had sent along some 3/8-16 adapters that fit my friend Tom's speakers. The Auva 100 was even more effective on Tom's Wilson Sabrina than they were on my Kharma.

 

 

The Sabrina's response increased in resolution and smoothed out in a way that many audiophiles would declare "less digital and more analog." Lower noise floor?Greater dynamics? In my brief listening session at Tom's house, I didn't get that far into it, but probably "yes" and "yes." It was the increase in resolution with the Sabrina that grabbed my immediate attention, producing a resolution that approached an electrostatic speaker. And it didn't escape Tom that the Auva 100 was considerably less expensive than the Wilson Audio Acoustic Diode Kit ($3400). He was disappointed when I recalled the Auva for further testing and put them on his wish list.

Back at home, I had another expensive speaker on hand briefly that exhibited very high resolution with just their off-the-shelf spikes. The Auva 100 took them to an even sharper resolution. Perhaps too much. I could make out some lyrics sung by long-dead bluesmen that previously had escaped me. But while the razor resolution quieted the cognitive side of my brain, the pleasure center tired of such high resolution rather quickly. My brain became stuck in analytic mode.

Chances are very good that you will benefit from the Auva, but if you don't, there is a 30-day return policy. The greater regret, I suspect, would be to buy the Auva 50 or Auva 70 and wish you had moved up to the Auva 100, particularly if you have an older speaker that could use a boost in resolution. Interestingly, all three models are rated for speakers weighing up to 606 pounds. The difference is in their damping ability which is determined by their footprint and the amount of Auva material they contain. The size of the spike or pad you select could also be a factor, but I had no way to test those options.

 

Aesthetics
Fit and finish of the Auva footers is first class. The adapters have two knurled washers and the threaded shaft has a notch for the small thin wrench that is included. This allows you to lock the adapter into both the footer and the speaker itself. The thick round footer is anodized in a satin black which should work well with speakers that have a colored finish as well as wood veneer or piano gloss black finishes. It doesn't have a hint of bling, nor does it call attention to itself. It looked really great on the Sabrina and no doubt would look great on the Kharma with the proper adapter.

 

 

Auva EQ System Isolators
The EQ isolators for components are different from the footers above. They combine the micro-vibration-absorbing ability of the Auva material with its particle impact damping technology that turns motion into heat, with a custom silicone absorber that acts as a deformable suspension providing compliant damping. The EQ is designed to be placed in direct contact with the chassis of components, not under the component's feet. A machined aluminum body holds the footers together and there is a 3mm height adjustment. The silicone in contact with the shelf provided a non-skid connection that was reassuring when swapping cables.

 

 

The round silicone absorber has a threaded shaft attached to its top that screws into the rest of the footer. By backing the silicone absorber out of the aluminum shell you have an additional 3mm of height adjustment that may be useful in clearing the factory feet from contacting the shelf.

The Auva EQ are sold in sets of three or four and the Custom Silicon Absorbers (CSA) are available in three weight ranges: 0-9 lbs/footer, 9-22 lbs/footer, and 22-33 lbs/footer. Using four of the heavy-duty footers would allow for components up to 132 pounds. By dividing the weight of your component by the number of footers you will arrive at the weight range you require.

 

Digital Front End Results
Theo sent me a set of CSA 1 (lightest range) and a set of CSA 2 (medium range) footers. I started with the CSA 1 footers under my Lampizator Amber 4 DAC with a tube output stage where they replaced a set of Synergistic Research MiG SX footers ($995). It took a few minutes for me to determine there was a slight improvement in resolution. I can't jump up and down about the improvement in sound quality, but the difference in price between these two sets speaks for itself. A set of 3 EQ is $158.75 and a set of 4 EQ is $209.55 (plus shipping). The CSA weight-bearing range does not affect the cost. CSA 1, 2 and 3 are the same price.

From there, I installed the set of four CSA 2 Auva EQ under a much heavier Sony ES CD player which I use as a transport. Here, it replaced a more comparably priced set of Synergistic Research MiG 3.0 Isolation Footers ($295/set of 3) which I used in the pinpoint-resolution orientation rather than the more holographic ambient orientation. There was a very discernable improvement in resolution here and the combination of Auva EQ Isolators under both the transport and DAC sounded like a major upgrade in my digital front end.

I left the EQ footers under the transport and DAC and took a listen to my compilation CD for a baseline. Then I added the Auva footers to the Kharma speakers, placing their spikes into the threaded holes of the Auva as before. The sound quality took another very noticeable improvement, though I wouldn't call it twice as good as just adding the two sets of EQ to the digital front end. It was certainly a worthwhile addition in the grand scheme of things. As with other types and brands of footers, there is typically an improvement with each additional set, but slightly diminishing returns.

 

Analog Front End Results
Next, with the speakers still sitting on the Auva footers I turned to my Charisma Audio turntable which has hemispherical Sorbothane balls at each corner. This turntable, tonearm, and cartridge combo is about $7500, in total. After taking a baseline listen to Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms I put an Auva EQ 1 (light) under each corner. Here again, it was like a major upgrade to both turntable and cartridge. The increased resolution liberated inner detail, tonal color, and spacious bloom that I've only heard from much more expensive analog rigs — turntables in the $20k range (and above) equipped with cartridges in the $10k range. I didn't bother to put the second set of EQ Isolators under the Coincident Statement tube phono stage as the results were quite predictable at this point.

Finally, I went to take advantage of my weekly listen to Hearts of Space on NPR to try the Auva EQ 1 under my hot-rodded Sony ES tuner. A schedule shift had me listening to Pipedreams.org instead, which gave ample evidence not just of improved resolution and all that entails, but also of the excellence of the LCH subwoofers down into the bottom octave. It also gave me an unwanted dose of periodic tape noise from the broadcast — another reason for having remote control of the subwoofer volume.

Midway through the program, I took the opportunity to pull the Auva EQ 2 set out from under my CD transport and place it under my Coincident Statement line stage. Although it only required the lighter EQ 1 set, I still had a very noticeable increase in sound quality by adding the EQ 2 beneath the line stage. While the returns from adding this second set to the signal chain were somewhat diminished, it was evident that additional EQ sets would still represent a very high value. And what's good for the tube line stage is likely to be good for the tube phono stage as well.

As with upgrading AC power cords, it seems to be best to start with your source components and work your way toward your amp. With the price differential between the EQ and the Auva footers for speakers, the EQ yields the best bang for the buck...or GBP, or Euro. It doesn't surprise me that the EQ is out of stock at the moment. Theo has been having trouble keeping them in stock. Once you've tried them, you will likely be back for more.

I've spoken mainly of improvement in resolution with the Auva products, but resolution is the gateway to many other aspects of sound quality including soundstage, localization of instruments, the overall size of the soundscape, the distance from the listening chair to the musicians, tonal color, micro and macro dynamics, inner detail of the notes, and so on. I hate to wax poetic about such details with descriptions of music that may be unfamiliar so I'll leave that fun for you to discover.

The quality level of your components sets the level of possibility that any footer can extract from them. That said, my experience of reviewing footers over the past two decades suggests there is very likely a lot more sound quality in your components than you realize. The relatively humble Auva EQ and the more expensive Auva for speakers are over-achievers and very highly recommended.

 

 

Synergistic Research Vibratron
This brings us down to the third item of this review, the second generation Synergistic Research Vibratron. "What the hell is a Vibratron?" you ask. It sounds kind of like a high-end sex toy, don't you think? Well, this thing has been around since 2008 in audiophile form, but the principles involved here have roots in the ancient Greeks, Romans and Turks. Ted Denney "tuned in" to it when visiting Buddhist temples and turned it into an audiophile product. Today, he can't tolerate a system without one.

I know I've seen it at numerous shows over the years, but never understood what it contributed to the sound of the system. The original Acoustic Arts room treatment system was totally priced out of my league — like $7-8k, so I never gave it much consideration. The Vibratron component of that system was the most effective part. It was originally configured with wood and had an Oriental flavor in its appearance. Ted decided that configuration was a limiting factor and set out to re-design it in a more contemporary vein. Along the way he discovered using a metal rod instead of wood amplified the effect.

Ted's rooms at shows are always among my Best Rooms Awards. And I've been a big fan of many of the Synergistic products I've reviewed. I don't recall exactly how it came up, but Ted was surprised that I had never heard him demo the Vibratron and offered to A/B it on the spot. It was late in the day and the room was nearly empty so I listened intently to a segment of music. Then Ted disconnected the ground wire and removed the Vibratron from the room. He then replayed the same segment and OMG. The music collapsed toward the front of the room to the area behind the plane of the speakers. When he reinstalled the Vibratron the music sprang forward seeming to fill the entire room in front of my chair — even coming at me from the sides of the room. How could that be? How had I not noticed this before?

 

 

The Vibratron, along with the $218k Acora VRC loudspeaker, were the two brightest stars at Axpona for me. Once I had become aware of what the Vibratron could do, I was painfully aware of how all the other two-channel presentations at the show were recessed, good as they otherwise might be. Ted informed me that this is actually the Gen II version, though not labeled as such. It has been given a "soft release", meaning little fanfare or advertising and he claims they now have over 500 units sold.

After the show, I checked their website and learned the price had dropped to $3995. It seemed ripe for a review. Andy Weiderspahn assured me that it would work in my system aligned on a long wall with the side walls far to the right and left of each speaker. To answer the obvious question, "How does it work?", I'll quote from the website, in part:

"Vibratron is a handmade multi-frequency resonator which anchors the focal point of your sound field to your listening room, expanding and clarifying your listening experience. Vibratron works by resonating in response to acoustic pressure created by your speakers. When excited, Vibratron radiates even-order harmonics in a 360-degree wave pattern in sympathy with the music, focusing and expanding the soundstage. Additionally, Vibratron improves your room's acoustic response to music creating a more organic and musical sound…the entire vocal range sounds more present and three-dimensional."

 

Ted told me it is based on the same principle as his Black Box resonator, but more effective and more refined. The Black Box works in a wide variety of positions within a listening room. The Vibratron needs to be placed between the speakers and is most effective when also placed between the plane of the speakers and the listening position, though you can move it fore and aft to adjust its effect to your liking. Combining the Black Box (or boxes) with the Vibratron is said to amplify the effect, with the Black Box being more effective in lowering and tightening the bass while the Vibratron works more effectively on the midrange and treble, though both work throughout the audible range. Below you can see how the Vibratron is placed in my room.

 

 

Physically, it is a 70" tall stand with a heavy chrome polished base that supports two Vibratron units. The gold one is nickel with a 3-micron layer of 24-carat gold plating and is positioned at eye/ear level when sitting in your chair. The one on top is polished nickel and is positioned by ear to maximize treble response and achieve a greater sense of air and natural decay. It is easy to assemble but the results will vary somewhat by where you position the silver unit as well as the entire Vibratron.

My speakers and listening chair closely approximate an equilateral triangle. My preferred position for the Vibratron is roughly near the center of that triangle. Sure, it is a little funky having it right in your face like that but that is where I found it maximized the effect of being there with the musicians. Achieving the sense of being in the room with the live, 3-dimensional musicians is a high priority for me, along with excellent (but not necessarily razor-sharp) resolution to compensate for my aging ears. Tonal color and transparency are also top priorities. Other audiophile touchstones are a little further down my list.

With most two-channel systems I find the soundstage begins at the plane of the speakers and extends behind the speakers for some distance depending on the room, the speakers, and their placement out from the front wall. Sure, the music breaks through that plane and reaches me in the listening chair, but the physicality or presence of the musicians remains behind that plane. And the musicians appear like flat cardboard stand-up posters of rock stars in record stores many years ago. (Maybe Taylor Swift will revive the art form?) They exist in a reality (or music venue) that lies behind the speakers for the most part and, as a listener, I am present in a different reality — my listening room in my chair. This disparity is part of the reason why we say the music sounds like a recording.

 

 

With the Vibratron in position, the musician's reality (or music venue) extends forward from the speakers and engulfs my head, putting me inside the music venue. I am present with the musicians. Music comes from in front of me and from the sides, but not from behind me. The music has a presence that is much closer to actually being present during the performance than almost any other two-channel system I've heard. It also places me closer to the front of the stage and gives me an unobstructed view of the performance. The view is more acoustically transparent as if the stage was more brightly lit, or if you had removed a woven shawl from the baffle of your speakers. This shift in perception results in more emotional and cognitive involvement. The music is simply more present.

What's missing are all the usual annoyances that typically accompany an actual live performance.

The diagram below illustrates the range of the effect when sitting in the listening chair. The envelope represents my room with the speakers aligned on the long wall. The blue line represents the apparent soundstage without the Vibratron; the red line, with the Vibratron.

 

 

Of course, if you prefer to sit further back in the concert hall or not be so engaged with the music while multi-tasking, the Vibratron may not be for you. But there is some adjustment that can be made. If you move the Vibratron closer to the plane of the speakers, the effect diminishes somewhat and you appear to be sitting further away from the front of the stage. At 14 pounds, it is also not too heavy to simply remove it from the room. In my case, with an open floor plan, I simply walked it around behind the back wall, out of sight from the speakers. You only have to do this once to be convinced of its efficacy.

The best seat in the house will still be your listening chair. Moving off-axis the music will retain the enhanced sense of presence described above, but there can also be a greater awareness that music is coming from the closest speaker as you move about, depending on the mix of the music. The soundscape can break down as you move further off-axis if lead instruments are placed far left or far right in the mix. But if you treasure the gain in the illusory presence of the musicians, the trade-off is well worth it. Orchestral music or other genres that are spread more evenly across the stage will fare much better in regard to off-center listening. And let's face it, most of the time you listen from the sweet spot.

 

 

Astute readers will recall I mentioned a ground connection. I used the Vibratron with a Synergistic Research HDSX ground wire connected to a Synergistic Active Ground Block. I live in a suburban neighborhood with buried cables, not very far from the electric company's transformer. I use a Synergistic PowerCell 8 UEF SE plugged into an Audience Hidden Treasures 30A dedicated line. And I have a LessLoss GroundBlock 10X in my system that very effectively eliminates a lot of RFI. So I have a pretty clean system to begin with. Grounding the Vibratron cleaned up the top end a little bit and gave me a little more air and resolution.

The bass also seemed a little cleaner but these were very minimal gains that required multiple A/B trials with very attentive listening. If the grid is rather dirty where you live, or if you have the more effective Synergistic Galileo SX Ground Block, you may find grounding the Vibratron more valuable than I did. In any case, if you don't have a ground system in your rig, don't let that hold you back from trying the Vibratron.

 

Vibratron Value
This is a more difficult subject because there will undoubtedly be people that don't like the effects of the Vibratron. Change is difficult for some people and others will simply prefer the more distant listening perspective without the Vibratron. Having the music come so close and from the sides may be an invasion of personal space for some. The Vibratron does not turn two-channel audio into surround sound, but it does enliven the space between the listener and the speakers as well as retain the soundscape behind the speakers that we are all so familiar with.

The only other solution that achieves a similar result is the BACCH-dSP from Theoretica Applied Physics, a stereo 3D imaging and binaural audio processing component with a base price of $23,800.This is a whole different animal and I'm looking forward to having a more serious listen to it at Capital Audiofest than I have the past two times. At six times the price (or more, with a decent power cord), it is targeting a different class of customers. Yet it points out the high value of the Vibratron even if the effects are only roughly similar. Personally, I like the Vibratron a lot; it is a paradigm shifter that puts me right in the cathedral with organ music and right in the mud at Woodstock. Yes, I could live without it, but why would I want to? It is a supreme indulgence.

 

This Ménages à Trois, A Summary
Reviews of individual components are sometimes criticized for sounding like press releases, so I thought I would approach this a little differently and see how a threesome would work. It turned out to be a lot more work than three individual reviews. The end result, however, was beyond the mere summation of benefits of the individual components. Back in the ‘90s I heard manufacturers proclaim that one should put together a system of the most neutral (or perfect) components to achieve the best results. Of course, we didn't take into consideration the contribution of the room so much back then either.

Today, we hear a lot more talk about system synergy and room acoustics. And that's the approach I've taken over the past three decades with my main rig. Some of my components like the Sony ES tuner and the Sony ES CD player I use as a transport go back to the early ‘90s. My Kharma speakers date back to 2003. Virtually all of my components have benefited from tweaks or upgrades that have improved the overall sound quality of the system. It's a game we all play, though some of us prefer (and have the means) to throw money chasing major components rather than squeeze more quality out of those we already own. And then there is the DIY crowd who have the skills and knowledge to make their own gear or hot-rod classic older gear to the extreme.

Like a lot of reviewers, I'm somewhere in the middle, but rather than crank out lots of reviews of mainstream products, I relish the opportunity to explore the new, the different, and components on the wild side or fringe of the industry that expand the boundaries of two-channel listening. The combination of these three products was a huge step forward for my musical enjoyment.

My interest in subwoofers has been growing since my audio buddy Tom picked up a pair of used Wilson Sabrina speakers that put out a much fuller bass in his refinished basement listening room. With my large room and open floor plan, it became obvious that the bass needed reinforcement. The LCH model B1610 not only provides a deep and tuneful bass but reaches up into the midrange to flesh it out. The internal cork horns put out higher frequencies than the 10" driver is designed to deliver on its own. The transition is seamless and the positioning is not as critical as most subwoofer lore suggests. However, the simplicity of the design without a built-in amplifier drives the cost of implementation upward. Aesthetically, with all the optional veneers available, and no driver or garish logo staring at you, this is an interior designer's dream that will fit into the finest homes.

 

 

The Stack Audio Auva isolators were a major contributor to the gains made in resolution. Using the EQ footers under front-end components delivered more resolution from my digital front end, turntable, and tuner than I thought they were capable of — not that I was complaining, to begin with, but for relatively little money, I felt like I was listening to major league components. The footers for speakers cost more but have a bigger job to do. Their value is just as high and combined with the contributions of the LCH subwoofers, they brought the performance of the vintage Kharma up to the level of contemporary high-level speakers. My only regret was I didn't have Auva footers for the subwoofers. The subs have an unusual footer that appears to be ‘glued' to the cabinet with a viscoelastic polymer.

The Synergistic Research Vibratron is in a league of two and the far more affordable one. While "Vibratron" relates to the physical action of the device, the visual design reminds me of the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. Performance-wise, it is a space needle that injects three-dimensional space from the stereo recording into the area between your listening chair and the speakers, and beyond into the soundscape we all cherish. It reduces subliminal awareness of the listening room and enhances the awareness of the musical performance and its venue. Call it a paradigm shift if you will.

While the LCH Audio subwoofer and Stack Audio Auva isolators have competition, the Synergistic Research Vibratron is pretty much in a class by itself in that it won't displace any equipment you might already own. Together, these products took my reasonable rig up to a level I didn't think I could afford, and over the top in terms of spatiality. One of my top priorities is to achieve a better sense of "being there". Were it not for my incorrigible curiosity gene, I could call this ménages à trois an End Game.

 

 

 

Specifications
Stack Audio Auvo Isolators
Auva 100 for Loudspeakers: Available in sets of 3, 6, 4, and 8 priced from $506 to $1312

Auva EQ for Components: Available in sets of 3, 6, 4, 8, 12, and 16
Priced from $159 to $838

 

 

LCH Audio B1610 Subwoofer
Driver: 10-inch dual voice coil driver configurable to 4 or 8 ohms
Frequency Response: 23Hz to 250Hz
Internal Horns: Natural Cork
Weight: 75lbs
Cabinet: HDF wood with veneer
Dimensions: 16" x 16" x 16"
Price: $3999 each ($7499 pair)

 

 

Synergistic Research
Height: 70"
Base: 12" diameter
Weight: 14 lbs.
Price: $3995

 

 

 

Company Information
LCH Audio
1334 Brittmore Road
Houston, Texas 77043

E-mail: info@lchaudio.com 
Website: LCHAudio.com 

 

 

Stack Audio Limited
Workshop 1 First Floor
Avenue Road
Bovey Tracey
TQ13 9BQ United Kingdom

Voice:+44 (0)1626 24 9005 and (866) 232 7610
E-mail: info@stackaudio.co.uk 
Website: StackAudio.co.uk

 

 

Synergistic Research Inc.
11208 Young River Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Voice: (949) 476-0000
E-mail: service3@synergisticresearch.com  
Website: SynergisticResearch.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

Quick Links


Premium Audio Review Magazine
High-End Audiophile Equipment Reviews

 

Equipment Review Archives
Turntables, Cartridges, Etc
Digital Source
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Preamplifiers
Amplifiers
Cables, Wires, Etc
Loudspeakers/ Monitors
Headphones, IEMs, Tweaks, Etc
Superior Audio Gear Reviews

 

 


Show Reports
HIGH END Munich 2024
AXPONA 2024 Show Report
Montreal Audiofest 2024 Report

Southwest Audio Fest 2024
Florida Intl. Audio Expo 2024
Capital Audiofest 2023 Report
Toronto Audiofest 2023 Report
UK Audio Show 2023 Report
Pacific Audio Fest 2023 Report
T.H.E. Show 2023 Report
Australian Hi-Fi Show 2023 Report
...More Show Reports

 

Videos
Our Featured Videos

 


Industry & Music News

High-Performance Audio & Music News

 

Partner Print Magazines
audioXpress
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
hi-fi+ Magazine
Sound Practices
VALVE Magazine

 

For The Press & Industry
About Us
Press Releases
Official Site Graphics

 

 

 

     

Home   |   Hi-Fi Audio Reviews   |   News   |   Press Releases   |   About Us   |   Contact Us

 

All contents copyright©  1995 - 2024  Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.