Well, Iím back to one of my favorite topics again: the junk electricity we are paying big bucks for from your good old electrical company. I have written about this several times before, and I will ask you to go back into my previous articles for my thoughts on the subject (Chapter 3, Chapter 10, and Chapter 31)
The electricity coming into my abode I would liken to swamp water. Happily for some of you out there, yours is possibly a little better, but Iíll bet you still have plenty of garbage floating along with that once upon a time pure 60 Hz. sine wave. How can you tell? Very easily. Listen to your system early to mid evening, playing a CD, then put it on pause, go do something else until 11:00pm to 12:00pm at night... then turn it on again. Big difference in the sound? Thatís the loss of some junk that travels through the electrical grid all across the spectrum from below 1Hz right up to the GHz range. Just think of the grid as one big antenna sucking in every radio wave out there. Plus, the good old electrical company, to increase profits, sends along it own radio waves riding on the 60 Hz one. Then, every piece of electrical equipment between the station and your house is adding to the junk.
Unhappily, that is only part of the story. Some of that junk could be screened out by the electrical company by using decent isolation transformers along the way. But they cost money, so guess what? They put cheap as small as possible ones out on your pole, which do very little isolation. To make matters worse, sometimes clip the wave giving nasty harmonics, then attach several houses to one, thus allowing your neighbors to further add junk and clipping to your power.
While this is not a problem for most of your appliances, the more high end your audio and video system is the more purity the equipment needs to work at its full potential. Also, unhappily, digital seems to be more susceptible to this problem than analog. Which brings me to the equipment for review today. First up is an improvement on a tweak (I love using that term for this product as it drives the developer, James Weil, crazy.) Back in Chapter 25 I gave the Sound Application CF-XE-12 AC Noise Reduction Unit Product of the Year Award. Well, James called me a couple of months ago to let me know that he had changed the cabinet and some of the internal working parts and thought I might have a listen to his new XE-12. I was reluctant for two reasons.
First, his previous units had cleaned up my electricity to the point where my system sounded and looked great 90% of the time and superb the other 10%, as compared to my normally opposite situation of 10/90 using everything from high end power cords, magic bricks, uninterruptible power supplies, AC generators, etc. So how could there be a further improvement. Second, I was afraid they would work as claimed and I would not be able to send them back and thus have to hide another mega-buck purchase from my wife. Then I thought, how could what I have with his other units be improved upon. Besides, he guaranteed he would take the new ones back and give me a generous trade-in on my old units.
Dumb move on my part. Its amazing that we do not know there can be an improvement in the sound of our systems until one experiences it. I first put the two new units in place of the previous two I had and again, further veils of electrical grunge were lifted. The noise floor dropped another couple of dBís, and the stage deepened and widened a smidgen more. Everything became clearer, including the image from my front video projection unit. I couldnít believe it . I should have stopped there, made out a check for the difference between the cost of the old and new units and shipped the old ones back to California. But no! Stupid me, I decided to experiment further and use all four units, the two new ones for the front channels, and analog and digital audio equipment, one of the originals for the rear speakers and subwoofers, and the other original for the video equipment. Did the four units make an improvement over the two new ones? Unhappily, Yes. Isolating the video from the audio again dropped the noise floor, tightened the imaging for the audio, and increased the saturation and resolution of the video. Not by a huge amount, like adding the original units months ago, but enough that I can not take them out of my system. I was just getting my charge cards paid off. Now I have to go into hock again.
How much do they cost? Only $4,200 a piece with their own cord. But for that you do get twelve outlets of the most pure power Iíve gotten with much more expensive AC paraphernalia in my system. So what do I have for my $8,800. Money well spent Iím afraid. The improvement is certainly much more than can be obtained from adding any other piece of equipment to your system as long as the stuff you already have is good. Do you need to get four of them? Probably not. Even big recording studios use only one or two, so I guess I am into overkill. And donít try daisy chaining them. Best is to isolate right from left, or analog from digital. (Actually read on as to how to do both.)
Start off with one, but do not call James to let him know what you think of them or heíll tempt you with an offer of another one to trial, with money back if unsatisfied, of course. Each is rated for at least 20 Amps, and the harder you push them the better they work. He actually recommends breaking them in by attaching them to a high amperage table saw and letting it cook for a couple of weeks. Yes, there is even a breaking in period with these... probably due to the capacitors in the units. Trouble is, the money wonít be coming back as you will not be parting with the second unit. Enough said.
The second mistake made this past couple of months was to accept a phone call from Brian Ackerman of Artistic Audio in California, who asked if I would like to do a review of some of his AC products from Ensemble Audio of Aesch, Switzerland. Well he was very convincing. Then told him I would have a listen, but in my system, with four of Jamesí units, I doubted any difference would be heard. That is when he threw the bomb. He is a dealer for the Sound Application units, and has found the Ensemble Isolink Transformers and Powerflux and Megaflux Power Cords to work synergistically with the others, especially with digital equipment.
The Isolink units are either single (UNO) or dual (DUO) isolation transformers with both 240 and 120 volt inputs for both European 240, and American single ended 120 or dual 240 volt systems. Output can be either 240 or 120 volts, but they are built for primarily isolation of digital and analog source equipment, with a maximum of draw of two to three Amps each, so no amplifiers need be attached. At $2,680 for the Duo, they are certainly not a steal, but the cabinets are made to superb standards as are the electronics and isolation transformers.
He sent along four of his Megaflux FSF power cords. Two 1 meter, one 1.5 meter, and one 2 meter, at $440, $560 and $680 respectively, to use on the ins and out of the Isolink. Compared to some other high end AC cables, these appear to be built to the typical high Swiss watch standards, are a glossy black, easily bendable for their 0.5 inch diameter, have two shields around the entire cord, and a third shield on each wire , internal damping to minimize changes in capacitance and inductance, and low dielectric absorption to minimize echoes of the AC wave.
Unhappily for my bank account again, at least in my system, they work as described. Digital source components sound more analog, with a smoothness that allows 16-bit/44kHz CDs to come closer to SACD and analog in sound quality. Even with my $1,000 Pioneer 47A DVD-A, CD, SACD player, which sounded horrible when first hooked up in my system and is now maturing into a giant killer. CD sounds almost as good as with the best 16-bit/44kHz equipment I have had in my room. The biggest surprise came when listening to analog on my Walker Proscenium turntable. Up till now, I have had to shut off all digital equipment while playing records, as they imparted a grunge to the sound. No More. I could hear no difference in analog whether the digital equipment was on or off when they were connected to the Duo. To make sure I was not hearing things, I connected the digital stuff back into the CF-12 directly and the mild grunge was back. So indeed the Sound Application and Ensemble equipment do work synergistically. If two outlets are not enough and you have a couple of pieces of analog or digital, you can add an external dual AC outlet for both. They do suggest not going over the rated wattage, but I have been running my new Home Theater Computer with a 400 watt power supply off of the 250 watt outlet with no damage to the unit, but do not call me if you plug in 600 watts worth of equipment and a mushroom cloud appears over the unit.
So is the Ensemble stuff worth the price. I would have to say a resounding yes for the power cords. They are nice looking, easily bendable so easy to run, and sound as good as my top of the line NBS cords at 1/5 the price! They do beat out all of my Electraglide cords... at least when run through the CF-12. While these are three to six years old and may have been superseded by better (have heard good things about the new ones from David Elrod, an ex-partner of Electraglide). You could not do much better for any way near the cost. As for the Isolink, it definitely is worth it for anybody running digital equipment. This is especially true if analog is also on the system. While the price is steep, you do get what you pay for in build quality, looks, and sound improvement. I have purchased mine and plan on doing further experimentation with it. Mr. Ackerman has suggested trying it with the motor drive of my Walker Proscenium. Stay tuned.
Finally today, I have been testing some new isolation feet from Jef Culhane of the Ganymusic Company in Minnesota. He sent me three sets of his Ganymede v.c.s rollerball isolation feet. I have discussed how different types of feet work to improve on sound in AA Chapter 12, so I will not go into that here.
The rollerball type isolate primarily in the transverse plane by allowing the equipment to float on a ball bearing allowing free movement in the horizontal plane, while doing very little for the up-down vibrations from the world around the equipment. From my experience they work best under mechanical equipment such as turntables, tape decks and digital transports. The rubbery Sorbothane types isolate primarily in the vertical plane and work well for line type equipment, and the triangular or cone shaped pointy type (the best being the Walker Valid Points) work best for the amplification units. Each piece of equipment will work best with one of these types, and there are variances form the above rules. Also, some pieces of equipment actually work best with several of these together. Thus I have all of my equipment air isolated either on Vibraplane or Arcici platforms, and use both pointy feet and Sorbothane pucks under some.
All three of the rollerball types have found a place from time to time in my system, but I must say, I find the Ganymedeís to offer the best value for the price of $229, with colored one costing $20 more. This is for three units, which are an ideal number for making a plane if you can remember back to geometry. Each unit consist of two discs with a hard ball bearing in the middle. Unlike the other two, where there are three separate pieces which are a pain in the butt to prevent the loss of the ball bearing, one of which always seems to get lost when I am moving equipment, the Ganymede have the advantage of being interlocked, thus no possible loss of the ball. Also, this isolates the ball from the atmosphere and dust, which can foul the others.
I used the three sets under my Home Theater computer, the Pioneer 47 A SACD, DVD-A, DVD player and my Walker Proscenium turntable, the latter of which was not a good idea. At 275 lb., the weight was too much, and no isolation occurred. I donít know what the maximum weight is for these things, but most transports, turntables, etc., will probably be okay.
What does one get for their money. Loss of airborne and horizontal ground vibration. When set up properly each chassis is free to move in the horizontal plane. But you might say, I thought movement was bad? Well not all movement, just sudden jerking and vibration. What these things do is convert sudden movements into either no movement secondary to inertia of the component, or slow longer ones, which are less detrimental to the music. What one achieves is a smoothing of the sound, again, especially the digital, probably secondary to cutting down on jitter of the transport. Analog gets an opening up of the soundstage and I think less flutter, although this is tough to determine with my Walker turntable, which has the lowest wow and flutter measurements of any turntable.
Now you notice I said set up properly. First they have to be on a flat surface, and I mean flat. If the plane they are on is tilted, then the piece of equipment will move in such a way the ball bearing hits one edge of the cup and therefore negate the isolation. Also, each has to be placed per the directions, so read them. I at first, being the typical male, didnít and tried to put them on upside down. After fifteen minutes of working and swearing at why the damn things wouldnít allow free movement, I grabbed the instructions and found out the sad fact that the bottom has to be on the bottom. Oh well, Iím not perfect.
Is the improvement worth the cost. Well, I donít think it is as great as what one can achieve with floatation isolation with air type units, such as the Vibraplane, Arcici, etc., but it is probably worth it for anybody who doesnít want to spend a couple of thousand dollars on isolation. They certainly beat the other two bearing type feet Iíve had and are much simpler to use. Enough said.
Thatís it for today. Adios.
I'd like to thank Enjoy the Music.comô, and Mr. Gaw for evaluating my product, the Ganymede vcs. It's quite an effort to lift a 275 lb. turntable! I've had success isolating as much as 140 lbs. (being hardened steel, more weight won't actually hurt them). While set up does demand flat surfaces, the Ganymede was designed to isolate even when slightly off level, making "lock up" rare, set up easy.
It is flattering to be compared w/ the Vibraplane, and do have some users w/ more expensive isolation for sources, and the Ganymede for their amp(s). I have no doubt Mr. Gaw gets great results from the cones he uses under amps, but the Ganymede was voiced w/ OTL mono blocks, as well as digital sources. I encourage people to try the Ganymede under amps, and pre-amps as well as source components. Finally, I was happy to hear some else had trouble with loose balls from other isolators, as there have been two trapped in my cold air return for months!
Jef Culhane, Ganymusic