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A Review by Jonathan Scull aka J-10

Audio Equipment Review By: Stereophile, Jonathan Scull

One review I’d wanted to do before leaving Stereophile (and starting at Monster Cable), was about the super-effective custom isoBASE series VR 3.0 component stands from Silent Running Audio. So when SRA’s Kevin Tellekamp asked me if I could put a few words to keyboard, I jumped at the chance to put things right. Audiophiles need to know! And to share more --- it couldn’t hurt.

Maestro! Harp music please. Art director! Begin calendar pages dropping away.

Some time ago, Kevin showed up at our loft bearing serious ordinance, or so it seemed. The crates for his equipment bases were all packed in large wooden crates, Army green in color with chunky rope handles.

T’ank you faddah’, pass the ammo!

Stenciled on the sides were such Dire Phrases as Classified, Top Secret, Handle With Care, etc. Of course, that was before 9/11, so I have to imagine SRA’s shipping crates are more politically correct these days. Thus it was ever so; ya gotta watch ‘yer butt! (But I hope not your neighbors.)

Kevin unpacked the non-descript but classy-looking isoBASEs and methodically installed them in our system. They were custom-made for the Accuphase DC-101 converter, DC-100 transport, a pair for the Lamm L2 Reference and its separate power supply, with another two-tiered pair for the Linn Klimax Solo 500 monoblocks. Fortunately, Kevin also makes a chassis-damping isoDOME “top hat” that sits on top of both chassis of the Lamm 2 Reference preamp, further attenuating resonance in the somewhat vibration-prone bodywork.

Custom-made, you might gulp to yourself? Yes, the isoBase isn’t cheap, but you get a lot for your resonance control dollar. Kevin contacts the manufacturer of the Device in Question and checks overall and weight distribution as well as size. Then the beautifully crafted bases are manufactured.

So how does Kevin do it? Ask him and you’ll see the basic conflict that all high-end manufacturer’s face play out. He wants you to know that he’s not blowing smoke and mirrors, but he doesn’t wanna give away the farm! Here’s what I found out, and it was like pulling teeth!

The primary damping material is a “very sensitive thermal reactive copolymer,” according to Tellekamp, who I suddenly imagined wearing a white lab coat. He didn’t scratch his chin and look sideways at me when he said it, but he could have. He went on, “This patented material has the ability to change darometer --- its hardness and softness --- very rapidly.”

I looked rapidly startled, and Kevin pounced. “Think of Jell-O as it moves from a liquid to a solid --- it’s the same idea.” He checked to see how I was taking it. Pretty well, actually. “The liquid state is only possible in an air-free environment. Air contains water, of course, which would act like a hardener and make our damping compounds appear --- and feel --- like foam.

I looked startled again, so Tellekamp went in for the kill: “Yup, we assemble our stands under a nitrogen blanket --- air free --- so all the stands are air free & airtight.”

I was impressed, but didn’t want to show it. I asked him if he meant to use the plural, as in damping compounds, and he pretended to be impressed. Cub reporter Jimmy Olsen gets his jones! It turns out that the copolymer compound is contained within a bladder, of sorts, inside the sealed stand. The chemistry is varied, as he expressed it, as well as the volume of the compound material within the bladder, and thus the load customization is accomplished. “It allows for a very specific tailoring of weight and load,” he explained. He didn’t buff his nails, but he could have!

There’s more. Your cherished components sit on the composite outer-shell that’s supported on the stand’s bottom with threaded footers that poke through the shell. The sharply pointed footers, which sit on supplied steel coasters, are set into a machined cylinder with more of SRA’s proprietary damping material.

“Think of a cup filled with Jell-O!”, Kevin explains brightly. I was getting hungry. “In fact, sometimes different types of compounds are layered within the same cylinder, enhancing our ability to get very exact.” Jump up and down on one of these stands and you’ll feel the float! The point is, nuts to bad vibes, and that, I’ve found, works wonders for the music.

How so? A snap to limn. And I’m out on no limb saying so! (Stop me before I pun again!) As with all changes, the first rule is: Do No Harm. And the SRA VR-series stands do nothing but good!

I used familiar components that I’ve listed below, and listened to jazz, classical, early 20th-century French music, Trip Hop and pop music that I know extremely well and used to review various components over a long period of time.

The first and most obvious effect I noticed was in the overall resolution of the system. The sound emanating from our JMLab Utopias was cleaner and more transparent than ever before, and these are transparent speakers by nature. Imaging was more solid, life-like and palpable, lifting more easily, as it were, from the background noise-floor, which was definitely lower. This gave rise to a “better”, more immediate and “faster” sound with paradoxically richer and more finely developed leading-edge transient information.

How does “fast” translate in audiophile terms? There was certainly more twinkle and shimmer to the upper frequencies, with no sense of etch whatsoever. Sweet, extended, highly resolved sounding, I became immediately more comfortable listening to music. Was this treble “ease” a euphonic coloration? I DON’T THINK SO! I was simply getting more information out of each silver disc and vinyl pancake I played.

Transitioning into the midrange, a painless and sweet-tempered operation, I became filled with Audiophile Midrange Madness at the loveliness to behold within. Rich, warm without smarminess or obscuring detail, fulsome, “enabling” music in a delightful way. There was an elegance to the music and sound that had only been hinted at before.

The bass? Or pronounced more charmingly, as does Netherlander Judy Spotheim of La Luce turntable fame, as if you were trawling for... a whole DIFFERENT KETTLE OF FISH! But you knew I’d say that! Badaboom! Deeper, tighter, more full yet better delineated, more fundamentals with more fulsome harmonics. Ray Brown’s bass on a number of jazz recordings was always a gas to listen to, his “fat” sound full and complete, as was the really deep bass material on many Trip Hop discs.

The soundstage, looking at it from the audiophile perspective, was deeper, and no question, evinced more air, both in the micro sense (“cushioning” around and about each performer) and macro sense (overall soundstage volume). Interestingly, rather than become wider, the sound became better focused and slightly less wide. But this is in perfect accord with my experience. Clean up the signal, and rather than distortion, you’ll hear what’s on the disc, and a lot of the time, audio mavens are fooled by an ill-defined and hugely wide soundstage that’s made so by… distortion. Nice, fun to listen to, but not what’s on the recording. I got more height information out of the system as well, as the sense of air was so apparently true to the recording.

You think it matters less with solid-state? Bzzzzt, WRONG! Kathleen and I just could not believe how profound the change was when we slid the two-tiered SRA stands under the already wonderful sounding Linn Klimax Solo 500 monoblocks! Not to mention the towering CD12, which also benefited from Tellekamping, even though the stand was originally meant for the Accuphase SACD front-end. There was even less question of their beneficial effects under the superb Lamm L2 Reference, which uses tubes in the power supply feeding a solid-state output stage.

Happiness is low distortion!

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times (Gawd, I sound like my father!), get the basics right, and musically, everything else will follow. This includes the AC power, grounding, cable dressing, cleaning contacts, system-matching cables, and of course, resonance control. I love the Silent Running Audio component stands, and believe that Kevin Tellekamp deeply understands the tricky subject of resonance control. You could spend a lot more on esoteric cables and power cords, and still not achieve the benefits of really finely tuned resonance control.

SRA’s a winner, without doubt, and highly recommended.

Jonathan Scull
(Aka J-10!)

Review Components:

JMlab Utopia speakers, Linn Komri speakers, Linn Klimax Solo 500 monoblock amplifiers, Krell 350Mc monoblock amplifiers, Theta Citadel monoblock amplifiers, Lamm L2 Reference preamp, Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamp, BAT VK-50SE preamp, Conrad-Johnson ART and 16LS preamp, Linn CD12 CD player, Accuphase DC-101 converter, DC-100 transport, dCS Purcel D/D converter, dCS Elgar Plus D/A converter, Forsell Air Force One turntable/vdH Grasshopper IV GLA Gold cartridge, Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum cartridge, Cardas, Synergistic Research, AudioQuest, Tara Labs, XLO, Linn, Coincident, First Impressions Music, Audience speaker cables, interconnect and power cords, ASC Studio Traps, Argent RoomLenses, Prism Quiet Lines, Audio Prism Isobearings, PolyCrystal equipment racks, cones and cable towers.


© 2006 Silent Running Audio