Audio Equipment Review By: Positive Feedback
Online, Roger S. Gordon
ROGER S. GORDON'S SYSTEM
VMPS RM 30 full range floor standing speakers (-3dB at 37Hz)
with VMPS Large Subwoofer (-3 dB at 17Hz).
deHavilland Aries 845-G single ended triode mono block amplifiers
on main speakers with two Electron Kinetics (John Iverson)
Eagle 400 solid state monoblock amplifiers on subwoofer. Herron
Audio VTPH-1 phono stage and VTSP-1 preamplifier. Active crossover
a one-off design by Brian Cheney of VMPS with power supply
by John Curl.
VPI Mk IV turntable with stand alone motor assembly, Benz
Micro Reference cartridge, ET 2.5 tonearm with Mg II arm wand,
high pressure air pump, damper trough, and a pressure regulator.
Sony SCD-1 with Modwright Absolute Truth Mod, plus SuperClock
II, Superclock II Power Supply, and Richard Kern's Transport
DIY phono cable using Van den Hul mono-crystal silver wire,
Harmonic Technologies and Audio Magic interconnects, and Audio
Magic silver loudspeaker cables.
Sound: Michael Green Pressure Zone Controllers - 2 floor standing
deluxe controllers weighted down with two bags each of lead
shot, 4 ceiling mount controllers in the room corners. Vibration
Control: Turntable - Lead Balloon stand with the legs filled
with a mixture of kitty litter, sand, and lead shot, with
Bright Star sand-filled isolation platform for VPI Mk IV with
cutout for stand-alone motor assembly, with Black Diamond
Racing Cones replacing VPI rubber feet. Vibration Control:
Electronics - Black Diamond Racing Cones replacing original
rubber feet under amps and pre-amp. Vibration Control: Tubes
- Herbies Audio Lab HAL-O tube dampers on all vacuum tubes.
EMI and RFI Control - Sound Application XE-12 cryoed with
Elrod Power Systems 3 Signature power cord. Bybee speaker
filters, two pairs.
Any audiophile knows that there are good vibrations and bad
vibrations. We also know that if we eliminate 0bad vibrations
from our audio system, it will sound much better. Many of
us have spent a lot of time and money experimenting with pucks,
balls, bearings, cones, brass, wood, sand, graphite, etc.
You name it, and we have probably tried it. If your experience
has been like mine, virtually every isolation device has changed
the sound of your system, but in many cases the change was
just that—a change, not an improvement. When the change
was an improvement, it usually was not earth shattering. Fortunately,
most of the vibration control devices that I have tried have
been both beneficial and low in cost. Herbie's Tube Dampers
(see PFO No. 7) and the Bright Star Audio Big Rock Sand Box
(PFO No.4) are examples of simple, bang-for-the-buck tweaks.
Obviously there are more costly vibration control devices
(Vibraplanes, Black Diamond Racing Shelves, etc.) but experimenting
with these is impossible for audiophiles on a budget, so I
had never tried any.
Thrifty Scot that I am, I peruse the web looking for audio
bargains. By buying used equipment, I really stretch my audio
budget. While doing one of my routine web scans, I noticed
that one of my local high end stores was selling a used Silent
Running Audio VR Isolation Base for a Sony SCD-1 SACD/CD player.
I own a Modwright-modded SCD-1 (see PFO No. 14), but knew
nothing about Silent Running. Their website turned up some
interesting information. Each base is built to order for the
component that will be placed on it, so the bases are not
interchangeable. The technology is derived from devices used
to eliminate vibration from the sonar gear of nuclear submarines,
ergo the company name and that of their top-of-the-line isolation
base, the "Ohio Class." Intrigued, I stopped by
the dealer and asked to see the base they had advertised.
It was a fairly nondescript, grey, rectangular box on four
short legs. The dealer claimed that it was very effective.
Could I buy it with a three-day, no-questions-asked, money-back
guarantee? After a few moments, the dealer said, "Sure.
You won't be bringing it back," so into the storage room
we went to locate the wooden crate that each Silent Running
Isolation Base is shipped in. Crate located. Base put into
crate. Crate put into trunk of car. Return to domicile.
After dinner that night, I fired up the system and played
several CDs that I use to audition equipment, including the
soundtrack to Black Hawk Down (Decca 440 017 012-2), Lisa
Garrard, The Mirror Pool (4AD 9 45916-2), and Samuel Barber,
Violin Concerto, Hilary Hahn (Sony SK89029). With the system
warmed up and my ears re-familiarized with my CDs, I disconnected
the SCD-1 and lifted it off the equipment shelf. I hate moving
70-pound pieces of equipment! Onto the shelf went the VR base,
then the SCD-1 on top of the base. The Isolation Base has
the same footprint as the SCD-1, so the player must be carefully
positioned. I reconnected the SCD-1, put the Black Hawk Down
CD back into the player, settled into my lounge chair, and
hit "Play" on the remote. With the first notes,
I knew that the VR Isolation Base would not be going back
to the dealer. I played all of my audition CDs, one after
the other. What I heard was consistent from disc to disc.
The greatest change was in the lowest octave, with the improvement
slowly diminishing with each higher octave. By the upper midrange
I could not hear any improvement.
The greatest change was in the low bass, which became tighter
and more tuneful. The bass guitar solo on the title track
of Bela Fleck's Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (Warner Bros 9
26562-2) was a treat. Without the VR Isolation Base, the notes
were slightly smeared. With the base, each note was clearer
and more distinct. On all of the CDs that I played, I heard
details that I had never heard before. On each CD, the soundstage
was slightly wider and much deeper. When I shut the system
down for the night, I was a very tired but very happy camper.
This was the biggest single tweak I had ever made in my system.
The change was not subtle. It was like going from zip cord
to a $2000 set of speaker cables—a night and day improvement.
As the weeks passed, I played more and more CDs on my improved
system and continued to marvel at the wonderful bass that
I was hearing. Also, on every CD I played I heard details
I had never heard before. Then I thought, "Hmmmm. If
the VR Isolation Base works under a component with moving
parts, like a CD player, could it work a similar miracle under
my deHavilland 845-G single-ended triode monoblock amplifiers
(see PFO No. 12)?" While amplifiers don't have moving
parts, transformers vibrate, and the deHavilland has three
humongous transformers per channel. Vacuum tubes are also
susceptible to airborne vibrations (see PFO No. 7 for my review
of Herbie's Audio Lab Tube Dampers). I went back to the Silent
Running website. How much would a pair of VR Isolation Bases
for my amps cost? The only way to find out is to submit the
lengthy questionnaire/order form that asks you to describe
your equipment and the room your equipment is in. Submitting
the form is a no-obligation request for a quote, so I filled
it out and submitted it. I received an email the next day
asking me to clarify a few details. I responded, and the following
day I received my quote—$585 per isolation base, including
free shipping via FedEx Ground. Ouch. I mulled the decision
over for a few days. The chances of finding deHavilland amp
bases on the used market were probably slightly greater than
winning the Lotto. Did I want them enough to pay full retail?
Yes, so off went my order.
It takes a while to build each Silent Running base. Each
is a sealed box built from proprietary material. The box is
essentially a raft floating on a base supported by feet. Inside
the box are semi-solid materials that almost instantaneously
convert vibration into heat. The thickness of the material
used to build the box is determined by the weight of the supported
equipment and how that weight is distributed. The type and
amount of semi-solid material put into the box is determined
by the anticipated vibration, both from the supported equipment
and from your other equipment. The type of feet used with
the base are also determined by your application. Bases going
onto a shelf get short feet. Bases going onto a carpet get
longer ones, to raise the platform above the carpet.
During my waiting time, I exchanged a few emails with Kevin
Tellecamp, owner and chief designer of Silent Running. He
told me that putting their isolation bases under amps yields
greater sonic benefits than putting them under CD players.
I was also warned that the lengthy, bumpy ride in the FedEx
truck shakes up the semi-solids, so while the units will sound
okay right out of their crates, it takes two days for them
to sound their best. Wanting to hear the full impact of the
Isolation Bases, I took Kevin's advice and waited two days
before slipping them under my amps. Before doing so, I played
a number of my audition CDs. After placing the VR Isolation
Bases under the amps, I replayed the Black Hawk Down CD. Once
again, I recognized the changes from the first notes, and
the changes were the same ones that I had heard when I used
the base under the SCD-1. The new bases simply carried the
improvements further. For example, the sound of the bass guitar
on "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" got even better.
Not only was each note clearer and more distinct, but I could
hear Victor Wooten's fingers sliding up and down the strings.
I heard more detail, a bigger soundstage, and better bass,
and this time the improvements could be heard on both my sources,
not just SACD/CD.
Two days after I inserted the VR Isolation Bases under the
amps, I had an audiophile friend come over. I wanted to do
A-B comparisons with the bases, and slipping them in and out
from under the amps is much easier with two people. Also,
two sets of ears are always better than one. When my friend
arrived, the bases were under the amps and I played CDs. We
listened to a few tracks, then stopped and took the bases
from under the amps. We played the same tracks again. The
sound was not quite as detailed, but the change was not large.
I suggested that we switch to vinyl, which in my system has
greater resolution. I played the first couple of minutes of
the Wilson Audio recording of Hyperion Knight's performance
of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C, Op.53, "Waldstein"
(W-8313). We then put the bases back under the amps. When
I put the needle to the vinyl, the sound of the opening chord
was immediately followed by an expletive from my friend. When
he got his jaw up off the floor he said, "This is unbelievable.
I'm not going to come over here anymore. Its getting too #$@%$#
expensive." What was my friend hearing? To paraphrase
him, "The piano sounded more like a piano. The sound
was richer and fuller. It had more presence in the room. Without
the bases, it sounded like a very good recording of a piano.
With the bases, it sounded like a piano." We then decided
that there was no longer any need to continue with the A-B
comparisons, and sat back to enjoy the music.
I have now had the VR Isolation Bases under my amps for over
a month. I am still amazed at the increased detail and musicality
that I hear from familiar recordings. The VR Isolation Bases
have kicked the performance of my system up a full notch.
I have just started an audition of power cords. With the increased
resolution that the VR Isolation Bases give, hearing the differences
between AC cords is now extremely easy.
Are there any drawbacks to the VR Isolation Bases? Other
than cost, I can't think of any. Some vibration control devices
remove vibration from the system but seem to suck the life
out of the music. Not so with the VR Isolation Bases. The
music simply gets more detailed, more realistic, and more
musical, without any negatives. Obviously, the higher the
resolution of your system, the more benefit you will receive
from using them. They cost $300 to $800 per base, so if you
want to kick your system up a notch and can afford them, get
online with Silent Running Audio.
Roger S. Gordon