Three Unusually Effective New Tweaks For Hi-Fi Systems
- by Jonathan Valin
- Feb 20th, 2011
Over the last few months, I’ve come across a number of new devices for room treatment and vibration/resonance control that really work in the ways that I like such things to work—which is to say, all of them lower coloration, increase transparency to sources, and raise resolution without killing dynamics.
The first item—or items—is an unconventional room treatment from Synergistic Research, called the ART (Acoustic Room Treatment) system. I will be reviewing these temple-bell-like objects in The Absolute Sound in the near future, but for the time being know that all four parts of this system (the large Vibratron, which sits on a tall tongue-depressor-shaped stand, the smaller Bass Station, Gravatrons, and Magnetrons, which sit on wooden stands in front of your speakers or on little wedges of wood attached to your walls) work together to improve room acoustics by masking early-arrival reflections and comb-filtering, thereby clarifying and seemingly expanding the soundfield. In combination with Shakti Hallographs, which have much the same effects, they can do wonders for reducing brightness in an overly live-sounding room or for controlling midbass resonances in a smaller one. A starter set of ART products (including a Vibratron for the front wall, a Bass Station for the front wall, a Gravatron for the back wall, and two Magnetrons for the sidewalls) will set you back $2995. Granted this is a lot of money (especially if you combine the ART with Hallographs, as I do), but it is a WHOLE lot cheaper than custom-building a dedicated listening room and—from my experience of “scientifically designed” dedicated listening rooms—a whole lot better sounding.
The second item is the QPod from Magico. Originally designed for Magico’s own use in developing loudspeakers, these large, beautifully made, constrained-layer “feet” combine layers of hardened stainless-steel, oxygen-free copper, and aircraft-grade aluminum—all CNC-turned-and-milled—to “create a single traverse dissipating unit” that turns vibrational energy into heat. Magico, as usual, has done its homework on these items (you can find cumulative spectral decay plots on the Magico Web site, which clearly show the effects that the QPods have when a component—in this case a preamp—is seated atop them). I myself can attest to their effectiveness under components that handle low-level signals, such as phonostages or preamps. With Audio Research and Technical Brain electronics, the QPods lower image “smear” and improve focus, resolution, truth of timbre, transient response, and dynamic range and scale to a quite noticeable degree. Unfortunately, and once again, three of these hefty pods (upon whose flat tops a single component is seated) will put you out $1310 (a set of four, for larger items like amplifiers, is $1680). The veritable Porsche 911Turbo of vibration-reduction feet, the QPods are built like all Magico products without any prior constraints, cost like all Magico products a lot, and work like all Magico products exactly as advertised. A very worthy tweak, if you’ve got the do-re-mi. Once again, I will be reporting on the QPods in TAS.
The last item—and the most expensive by far—are the MAXXUM amp and turntable stands from Joe Lavrencik of Critical Mass Systems, which I will also review in TAS. Recently shown at CES in some of the highest of ultra-high-end rooms, these gorgeous objects—so beautifully machined and constructed that they match and, in some respects, eclipse Magico/Rockport build-quality—aren’t just eye candy (although they certainly are that, as well). CNC-machined (to tolerances in the thousandths of an inch) of three alloys of aerospace aluminum, titanium, tungsten, and proprietary materials, anodized in a two-stage process, hand-sanded, hand-polished, razor-trimmed, wet-painted in Aston-Martin automotive paint and then oven-baked, these stands have to be the current ne plus ultra in constrained-layer component-support systems. The products of decades of R&D, the MAXXUMs are the foremost examples of Lavrencik’s filtered direct-coupling techhnology, which he claims not only dissipates energy that is transmitted to and from the component in a vertical channel, but also from any horizontal or oblique angle. I’ve just started using the MAXXUMs under the new drop-dead-gorgeous Da Vinci AAS Gabriel II turntable and under the Technical Brain TBP-Zero EX amplifiers (review forthcoming in Issue 213). I cannot comment in detail about them yet (their constrained-layer damping takes a hundred or so hours to break in and I almost literally just got them), but my first impressions are VERY positive. For instance, the difference between the Benz LP S-MR cartridge, the (superior, IMO) Da Vinci Reference Grand Grandezza cartridge, and my reference Ortofon MC A90 were plainer to me with the Da Vinci ‘table and the Technical Brain amps sitting on MAXXUMs that on the devices I’d previously used, bespeaking higher transparency to sources. Alas, you’re going to have to pay for this kind of engineering and this kind of build-quality. The amp stands are $5650 apiece; the turntable/equipment stand is $36,400. If you have this kind of mad money, you would do well to consider the Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM stands, as well as the ART System from Synergistic research and the QPods from Magico. If, like me, you don’t…well, it’s still fun to window-shop.
By Jonathan Valin
I’ve been a creative writer for most of life. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I wrote eleven novels and many stories—some of which were nominated for (and won) prizes, one of which was made into a not-very-good movie by Paramount, and all of which are still available hardbound and via download on Amazon. At the same time I taught creative writing at a couple of universities and worked brief stints in Hollywood. It looked as if teaching and writing more novels, stories, reviews, and scripts was going to be my life. Then HP called me up out of the blue, and everything changed. I’ve told this story several times, but it’s worth repeating because the second half of my life hinged on it. I’d been an audiophile since I was in my mid-teens, and did all the things a young audiophile did back then, buying what I could afford (mainly on the used market), hanging with audiophile friends almost exclusively, and poring over J. Gordon Holt’s Stereophile and Harry Pearson’s Absolute Sound. Come the early 90s, I took a year and a half off from writing my next novel and, music lover that I was, researched and wrote a book (now out of print) about my favorite classical records on the RCA label. Somehow Harry found out about that book (The RCA Bible), got my phone number (which was unlisted, so to this day I don’t know how he unearthed it), and called. Since I’d been reading him since I was a kid, I was shocked. “I feel like I’m talking to God,” I told him. “No,” said he, in that deep rumbling voice of his, “God is talking to you.” I laughed, of course. But in a way it worked out to be true, since from almost that moment forward I’ve devoted my life to writing about audio and music—first for Harry at TAS, then for Fi (the magazine I founded alongside Wayne Garcia), and in the new millennium at TAS again, when HP hired me back after Fi folded. It’s been an odd and, for the most part, serendipitous career, in which things have simply come my way, like Harry’s phone call, without me planning for them. For better and worse I’ve just gone with them on instinct and my talent to spin words, which is as close to being musical as I come.More articles from this editor
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