Audio Equipment Review By: Ultra Audio's,
Silent Running Audio
Tremor/Less Isolation Platform
To arms! To arms! The audiophiles are coming!
The day FedEx dropped SRA’s Tremor/Less platform off
at my kitchen door, I got an e-mail from a gent who flies
F-16s. Seems this Air Force pilot has taken on a second career
as a distributor of a Japanese equipment line. He wanted me
to audition a power cord, which I look forward to doing. High-end
sound meets high-end weaponry.
Jack Bybee, a designer of high-tech noise erasers, also connects
to the military, as does the cable designer Jeff Smith of
Silversmith Audio -- a reactivated Naval officer who put his
audio business on hold in deference to the Middle East. Silent
Running Audio’s Kevin Tellekamp, the maker of the audio
isolation platform reviewed here, has a background as a contractor
and subcontractor for the military. His specialty, among several
others, is stealth applications. The company’s very
name alludes to his work on submarines, as do the monikers
of his Ohio
Class and Ohio Class XL audio isolation product lines.
The stars and stripes -- and great sound -- forever!
Tellekamp is one of the more impressive folks I’ve
met in this game. For an encouraging start, he’s an
audiophile. The transition from military silence to sound-system
silence makes perfect sense. Add to that a passion for woodcraft
-- he’s also a skilled cabinetmaker -- and you get an
unusually well-crafted product. As to effectiveness, I’ve
been using pieces from SRA’s
VR line for several years; one lies under my Mark Levinson
No.390S CD player (an upgraded No.39) and two more can be
found under my ML No.33H mono amps. A fourth, under a Reimyo
ALS-777 line conditioner, is squirreled away beneath a low
Chinese chest where there’s no room for additional elevation.
As the ML amps are far too heavy for your favorite wheezing
geezer to heft, I requested but one Tremor/Less platform for
evaluation under the CD player.
Your reporter reconnoiters
In short, I have one economy isolation platform to compare
with a pricier equivalent from the same designer-manufacturer.
As a control of sorts, I also have the option of no isolation
at all. The simplicity appeals. Ideally, a well-executed audio
isolation device provides a tighter, better-delineated focus,
which of course implies a lower noise floor and better-defined
imaging. This is the kind of thing for which the genuinely
committed audiophile is willing to sell an organ, and I don’t
mean his Wurlitzer. (Revealing word choice that -- it’s
my subconscious speaking. A whole lot of audiophiles need
to be committed, and honesty prevents me from excluding myself.)
With respect to construction -- those aspects of it that
one can see -- my CD player’s VR platform consists of
two outer sections not unlike a box, the lid of which doesn’t
quite reach to the inner section’s bottom. Note well:
the VR, Ohio Class, and Ohio Class XL are component-specific
lines, and in this they are unique. Tellekamp would probably
prefer to have me repeat the preceding sentence in bold 20-point
italics. That certain benighted souls ignore the significance
of a one-on-one, component-specific application is a thorn
in his side. Excepting the new Tremor/Less line, SRA builds
to a given component’s size and weight on demand. As
to the need for an on-demand approach, it would be hugely
impractical for a niche-market designer-manufacturer to maintain
a component-specific inventory given the array of high-end
electronics and turntables from which consumers can choose.
To put that in personal terms, the horizontal dimensions of
my ML 390S’s VR platform closely match those of the
player; its suspension, as mentioned, is likewise tailored
to the player’s weight. It’s an expensive way
of doing things, but in Tellekamp’s opinion, it is critical
to optimal performance. He claims that nothing the competition
has to offer comes close. Rather than bemoan public incomprehension,
the clever fellow has begun marketing his own take on non-specificity:
the "generic" and relatively inexpensive Tremor/Less.
The textured finish of the review piece Tellekamp sent is
close to that of the VR series, an unobtrusive, dappled gray.
My 390S calls for the smallest of the three stock Tremor/Less
platforms, the 15" x 17", at $275 USD list. For
comparison, the suggested list of my component-specific VR
was $500. The other Tremor/Less models are 19" x 16"
($300), and 23" x 20" ($375). The 15" x 17"
platform is 1.25" thick. With its four spiked feet secured
in their shallow steel cones, it stands a tick short of two
inches tall, in contrast to the VR’s overall 5.25"
height. If you turn the Tremor/Less upside down, you will
see a fine seam at its perimeter, where the skin-thin lid
joins the rather-more-substantial base. Tellekamp describes
the suspension within as "set static," consisting
of "a six-component, semi-viscous material; its sound
damping properties accomplished as a liquid pour just prior
to final assembly." At close to ten pounds, it is heavy
and solid to the touch. Had I not been told otherwise, I’d
assume it to be filled with something like concrete.
Tremor/Less under fire
As the curtain raiser -- and eye opener! -- a fine jazz recording:
We See: Thelonious Monk Songbook by the Steve Lacy 6 [hatOLOGY
569] (Steve Lacy, soprano sax; Steve Potts, alto and soprano
saxes; Hans Kennel, trumpet and flugelhorn; Sonhando Estwick,
vibes; Jean-Jacques Avenel, double-bass; and John Betsch,
drums; US distributor, www.candencebuilding.com). Peter Pfister
recorded this re-release in Willisau, Switzerland in 1992.
Pfister’s work, which is responsible in large part for
my early enthusiasm for this fine Swiss label, is among the
best I’ve encountered in small-ensemble recording.
I approached Tremor/Less in steps, with a detour at that
low Chinese chest where I’ll be making my comparisons.
Because it’s low, I call it a chest. With its front-facing
drawers and doors, it’s really more like a sideboard.
At 4.5’ long and 1.5’ high, this sturdy wooden
antique supports both the CD player on its VR platform and
the Tremor/Less, which I put directly next to it, thus avoiding
delays removing and reinstalling interconnects. I’ve
heard tell -- and believe -- that our memory for other than
gross differences in sound is short-lived. Therefore, the
speedier the comparison the better it is. The chest sits at
one edge of a 12’ x 12’ sisal carpet. The woven
fibers seem to do a pretty good job as room treatment, as
do two couches, an armchair, and large hassock, all upholstered
in a close-shorn velvet. Behind the couch that divides the
room from the bay, there are three screens consisting of 17
angled pine boards milled over 150 years ago and rescued from
our barn and attic renovations. Wide pumpkin-pine boards comprise
the flooring under the carpet. The listening room’s
five windows are covered with blinds of fine bamboo strips
alternating with strands of a woody material. Draperies are
still in the planning stage. We’ve been in the house
just over a year, and the room as it stands has remarkably
good acoustical properties.
I listened to a variety of Lacy tracks with the player on
the VR platform and then without. Off the VR, the sound took
on a disagreeable edge, especially evident in the drum set’s
harsh, unlifelike cymbals. Sax solos lost their compelling,
pinpoint clarity. I also compared both platforms to no platform.
In several platformless sessions using the VR and Tremor/Less
via a large number of recordings, the disagreeable difference
with no platform held.
As I’ve already digressed, this might be the ideal
time to mention that we audio writers get ourselves in trouble
overstating what we hear. As an enthusiast, I treasure my
SRA VRs in ways impossible to quantify rationally, since a
difference for the better, however subtle, is emphatically
desirable. If I comported myself in print as the enthusiast
I admit to being, rather than as an impartial journalist,
I’d doubtless resort to the kick-ass panegyrics so regrettably
common to these gigs. To the unengaged onlooker, intemperate
rhetoric in review after review would seem to elevate a given
reviewer’s sound system to the stars and beyond. I’m
reminded of a comment a fellow audiophile made: "Once
you’ve achieved perfection, there’s no limit to
where you can go." He meant it sincerely.
In the midst of my comparisons, a tad mischievously, I e-mailed
Tellekamp my suspicion that he might find my conclusions disconcerting.
In short, I found that in several instances Tremor/Less vis-à-vis
VR taxed my powers of discrimination close to their limit.
As an entry-level item, I asked, is Tremor/Less perhaps better
than its designer would like? Tellekamp’s response is
far more interesting than my question.
"In designing Tremor/Less, we concentrated on lower-midrange
and low-frequency isolation, as these are what the listener
most easily hears and feels. While we do regard Tremor/Less
as a stellar performer, I would have you make comparisons
with recordings of piano and acoustic guitar. Listen for speed
and detail, [and] air around the quiet passages. These are
some of the areas that can’t be mastered with ‘generic’
isolation products, which much of the time muddy the sound.
We did try our best, however, and feel that we have designed
as good a unit as you’ll find in its price range. Obviously,
there are unavoidable dead-ends in building to a price point.
The VR series excels at allowing subtleties to come through.
The hardest thing to do is precisely transmit what the component
manufacturer wants you to hear. I see my job as removing problems
only. This can be done better with our custom units owing
to component-specific design and the freedom of choice one
exercises in building to a higher price-point target."
It’s not surprising that Tellekamp would want to establish
a performance gap between his economy and component-specific
lines, but my responsibilities are to the reader. I was instantly
impressed by the Tremor/Less’s abilities and so remain.
With respect to those differences Tellekamp suggests I listen
for, the arrival of a pair of balanced palladium interconnects
from RS Audio (I’ll be reporting on them next) provided
assistance. At this stage of my report, I’ve done better
than half my listening with these interconnects. They’ve
helped clear the air.
Tellekamp’s characterization is accurate and fair.
While differences are audible, they’re anything but
night-and-day. As I see it, that translates into high praise
for the "compromised" Tremor/Less. With most of
the discs I played, the distinctions lay chiefly in the sense
of spaciousness and air. The VR took the gold and Tremor/Less
took the silver.
My Wilson WATT/Puppy 6es, Mark Levinson electronics, SRA
VR isolation platforms, Reimyo line conditioner, dedicated
outlets, and Nordost Valhalla and RS cabling operate in synchrony
in providing a remarkably resolved sound. With systems that
resolve less well, the listener might have difficulty hearing
the distinctions I’m reporting here. Understand this,
in none of my comparisons did Tremor/Less come off as anything
less than a charmer. Tellekamp is correct in suggesting (in
another e-mail) that Tremor/Less makes quite the perfect entry-level
platform as well as an introduction to his take on isolation.
It’s dat ol’ debbil degree again. Show me an audiophile
who can quantify a change for the better and walk away from
it, "Widget X-100 improves my system by eight percent…."
Big deal, you say? I dare you.
A recent Telarc release (Rainbow Body [CD-80596]) features
the Atlanta Symphony under Robert Spano’s direction
in a handsomely performed and recorded program of easy-going
20th-century orchestral music: Copland’s "Appalachian
Spring," Barber’s First Symphony, and two shorter
works by lesser-knowns Christopher Theofanidis and Jennifer
Higdon. As is the label’s custom, a warm midrange dominates.
With this style of recording, I experienced more difficulty
in hearing a difference between the VR and the Tremor/Less.
This is not surprising, since by Tellekamp’s own account
the economy line’s strengths lie in the midrange and
below. A recent release of soprano Juliane Banse and pianist
András Schiff performing songs by Debussy and Mozart
is a thoroughbred of another color [ECM New Series 1772].
Here the listener remains keenly aware of executive producer
Manfred Eicher’s taste for space and air, which, as
I hear it, is where the VR’s virtues shine. With Tremor/Less,
the ambiance is there, no question, but in relatively reduced
circumstances. Again, were it not for comparison to the VR,
I’d have been perfectly content with the Tremor/Less’s
I returned to a set that’s always troubled me, John
Eliot Gardiner conducting his Orchestre Révolutionnaire
et Romantique in Beethoven’s nine symphonies, the last
with the Monteverdi Choir and vocal soloists [Archiv 439 900-2].
Despite line conditioning, superb cabling, and crackerjack
isolation, the sound remained stifled and harsh. Piggies’
ears cannot silk purses make. Neither the VR nor the Tremor/Less
were capable of providing what isn’t there. If you want
to check out Tremor/Less’s effectiveness, use top-quality
recordings, whatever the formats. Trust me, I’ve played
a stack of similarly harsh material while comparing the VR
and the Tremor/Less.
My best experiences with these devices can be encapsulated
in the one I had with a marvelous between-the-lines CD entitled
essencia [btl 017], with Gebhard Ullmann, tenor and soprano
saxes and bass clarinet; Jens Thomas, piano; and Carlos Bica,
bass. The bass clarinet and stringed bass hint at the disc’s
rich low-end. These lusciously calm tracks dwell for long
moments in low-level sounds as well. Warmest praise goes to
recording supervisor Wolfgang Hoff, recording engineer Ekkehard
Stopffregen, and Berlin’s SFB Studios. Here we have
a musically fascinating jazz-of-a-kind program in which warmth,
air, dynamic finesse, and effortless speed share center stage.
It came as no surprise that the VR again proved its worth.
What continued to surprise me in a most gratifying way was
how well, relative to its component-specific cousin, the Tremor/Less
did with this and every other well-recorded disc I used for
comparison. Gold and silver….
Were the platform I live with the Tremor/Less, I’d
remain a contented listener. Kevin Tellekamp, in designing
to an economy price point, has come up with a product that
does remarkably well in a high-resolution system. That kind
of know-how speaks volumes.
Silent Running Audio Tremor/Less Isolation Platform
Price: $275 USD (15" x 17"), $300 (19" x 16"),
$375 (23" x 20").
Warranty: Lifetime warranty (except in cases of abuse).
Silent Running Audio Inc.
325 Hubbs Avenue
Hauppauge, NY 11788
Phone/fax: (631) 342-0556
SoundStage / Ultra Audio