Audio Equipment Review By: La Folia & SoundStage/Ultra Audio's, Mike
As a matter of personal interest, those aspects of audio that
most fascinate have generated the greatest controversy. I
remind the reader who may be unfamiliar with the scene that
the late Julian Hirsch typified an attitude. So long as it’s
not pushed beyond its operating range, a component that measures
well on the test bench will sound no different from another
such that measures equally well. A report in Stereo Review
detailing an elaborate and excruciatingly fair listening test
involving amplifiers from dirt cheap to esoteric-costly would
appear to have nailed that coffin lid shut. With respect to
designer cables, perhaps the hottest button of all, a handsomely
credentialed Ph.D. demonstrated by way of figures and graphs
(in Audio? — can’t remember) that zipcord does
as good a job. Capping all, we’ve the Stereophile brouhaha
Bob Carver provoked in tweaking one of his inexpensive, mass-market
amps to sound like a well-respected, and of course high-priced,
tubed amp — a Conrad-Johnson, as I recall. The jury
was unanimous: that wily old Bob did what he set out to do.
The much decried and confounding event was not without its
amusements. A reader declared Carver’s coup unethical.
One mustn’t mimic and thus make light of a serious amplifier
Those were the days. Audio’s once burning issues at
best smolder or have turned to ash. The measurements-tell-the-story
coterie, its major print forums having succumbed, is close
to silent. I don’t mean to suggest that this is a good
thing. But it is a fact of life. (As a commendable adjunct
to its subjectivist equipment reports — “it sounded
like this, it sounded like that” — Stereophile
routinely publishes John Atkinson’s test results, with
sometimes pungent asides.)
As strict objectivism beats its retreat to a smattering of
websites, subjectivist audio journalism flourishes, likewise
on the Internet. No license exam or advanced degree need impede
the urge to declare oneself a golden-ear. Many an attentive
listener found strict objectivism wanting; similarly, subjectivism’s
disdain of figures and graphs has its drawbacks. The audiophile,
discophile and music lover is perhaps no better served by
a subjectivist’s impressions than by numbers-tell-the-story
reviews. It has been and remains caveat emptor. Your reporter
is of course a subjectivist. While I am certainly not identifying
myself as a fool or a fraud, as with any audio commentary,
I do urge an exercise of caution. I shall do my best to describe
SRA’s Ohio Class isolation platforms in as fair and
accurate a way as my methodology and biases permit.
Aspects of a product lie beyond opinion. Silent Running Audio’s
website pictures an Ohio Class platform, along with the company’s
other lines, with texts that give an idea of the technology
within. What you cannot see in detail is just that, the attention
to detail that goes into these pieces. Even among high-end
audio designer-manufacturers, Kevin Tellekamp’s fit-and-finish
standards are high. My four Ohio Class platforms are as beautifully
turned out as my Wilson WATT / Puppy Series 7 speakers, and
that’s saying something. Even SRA’s purely functional
wood shipping crates are well and thoughtfully made. Remember
how Bush looked into Putin’s heart and saw goodness?
On rather stronger evidence, I see in Tellekamp a man who
Manufactured on demand to conform to the size, weight and
weight distribution of the component it supports, an Ohio
Class platform is unique among isolation designs. It’s
been my understanding that the less expensive VR line conforms
to the size and weight of its component, but not to its weight
distribution. I emailed Tellekamp for confirmation. His reply
and SRA’s website provide some idea of how these units
“Compared with Ohio Class, our VR Series uses a less
expensive housing and simpler build process. VR has the ability
to modify its isolation potential based on pre-set parameters.
It also relies on problem averaging, based on a software program
that allows us to target problems common to most audio electronics.
“Ohio Class is a more dynamic, on-the-fly design.
Think of a car with few options. That’s VR. Then think
of the same car with a bigger, more responsive engine, alloy
wheels, a snazzy sound system, and so on. It’s a goofy
analogy, but people seem to get it. The Ohio Class’s
technology fills in all the miniscule gaps whereas the VR
units hit the most important points. The difference of course
is building to a price point. Another goofy analogy: Think
of a ruler. VR measures by the quarter-inch. Ohio Class covers
quarters and eighths; Ohio Class XL, sixteenths, eighths,
quarters; Ohio Class XL Plus, sixty-fourths, thirty-seconds,
sixteenths, etc. Seismologists refer to this kind of thing
as seismic anomaly reaction potential.”n In his email,
Tellekamp has mentioned two product lines I don’t touch
on here, the Ohio Class isoBASE XL and Ohio Class isoBASE
XL Plus. The website explains the differences.
Obviously, given the huge number of high-end audio components
on the market, a ready-to-go inventory occupying a vastness
of shelves is out of the question. Custom work does not come
cheap. Let’s deal first with sticker shock. The Ohio
Class platforms under my Mark Levinson 33H mono amps go for
$1,023.75USD each. The Mark Levinson 390S CD player’s
platform costs $912.50USD, as does the platform under my Reimyo
ALS-777 line conditioner. The sum of these pieces buys a not-bad
hi-fi. Is Ohio Class worth the expense? The issue is one of
commitment — zeal, if you will.
I began these remarks with a pinkie-nail survey of audio
controversy. Among strict objectivists, isolating solid-state
components from vibration might certainly qualify as yet more
high-end flummery. Common sense tells us that, yes, effective
isolation probably benefits turntables and perhaps even tubed
electronics, where microphonics is an obvious problem. Common
sense also tells us that the sun circles the Earth.
I have proved to my own satisfaction that my CD player’s
performance profits from SRA’s take on isolation. Before
an Ohio Class replaced my VR Series CD platform, I listened
to a disc with the player directly on the low Chinese cabinet
it and the line conditioner occupy and then with the VR Series
platform under the player. On another occasion, I made the
same comparison with SRA’s generic Tremor/Less platform
under the player. I heard differences that favor the VR and
Tremor/Less platforms, in that descending order of preference.
The Ohio Class platform does yet better.
I’m too old and too sane to even think of hefting a
pair of 200-pound amplifiers off and on their Ohio Class platforms.
The goodies within the amps’ svelte platforms follow
the same rules as those within the CD player and line conditioner’s
platforms. I can safely assume that they do for the amps what
the OH platform does for the CD player. Simply put, I like
my system with these OC platforms in play. No equivocation
there. Besides, I’ve never talked or exchanged emails
with an audiophile who didn’t believe that a platform
under an amp will affect its sound — and not always
for the better.
So then, restricting my observations to the units under discussion,
I declare acoustic isolation a worthwhile tweak. Tricky me
— were you watching carefully? — I just put us
back at the beginning of these remarks, amidst the controversy.
With respect to my subjectivist mindset, it’s nowhere
close to religious faith, nor should it ever be. I listen
to something in the comfort and familiarity of my listening
room and ask, Am I hearing a difference? If I am, is it a
difference for the better?
I am hearing a difference, and it’s definitely for
the better. As a number of other tweaks have dealt effectively
with grunge (see note below), it’s a difficult difference
to characterize. Call it a heightened sense of correctness.
The soundfield is at once larger and more coherent. Perhaps
I should have written, as large as it ought to be. Dynamic
gradations sound spot on. The signal’s as clean as ever
I’ve heard from this array. A system in which the hardware
is allowed to do what its designers envision permits the perception
of vanishingly small gradations of software difference. For
the hard-bitten discophile, this is a wonderful thing. If
the recording is gritty, you hear it. A different disc has
one lolling in warm honey. With another, I’m wondering,
is that actually stereo. And with another, the image extends
beyond the speakers.
Expensive stuff, unique technology, impeccable craftsmanship
— what’s not to recommend? All it takes is money.
* * *
Tweak note: The line conditioner, a Harmonix Reimyo ALS-777,
contains Bill Stierhout’s Quantum Resonance Technology.
Into this I’ve plugged my Mark Levinson 390S CD player,
not my Mark Levinson 33H amps, which have their own 20-amp,
dedicated outlets, as does the line conditioner. Two of
Stierhout’s Quantum Symphony and one Quantum Symphony
Pro pods sit under the cabinet that holds the CD player
and line conditioner. Two Harmonix Studio Master power cords
connect CD player to line conditioner and line conditioner
to its outlet. The outlets are all FIM 880s. At the binding
posts of my top-unit WATTs are two Walker Audio Ultra High
Definition Links. The speaker cables, Audio Magic Clairvoyants,
have four NotePads keeping them off the carpeted floor.
Speaker-cable terminations, the terminations of my Nordost
Valhalla ICs, and the male and female ends of the system’s
six principal power cords have been treated with a silver
contact enhancer from Walker Audio. I’ve reported
on a lot of these items in UltraAudio.com.
Review by Mike Silverton