There are some relatively new audio products coming out of Japan from a company called fo.Q (pronounced pho-cue, like pho in photo). They are damping accessories, for use with audio components that were developed by Dr. M. Sumida of the Tokyo Institute of Technology under the support of the "Japan Science and Technology Agency". Originally this new material was used mostly for industrial purposes, to limit the vibrational effects in aircrafts, buildings and houses. These damping products were also found in the roofs of vehicles and even on trains. Recently Acoustic Revive, a Japanese company also known for producing audio accessories, bought this new material from fo.Q and placed them strategically on several of their own products. Acoustic Revive makes the incredible RTP series AC power conditioners where it places the material on the bottom of their footers. You will also find this material on Acoustic Revives RCI-3 cable insulators (used to lift cables off the ground) and on their SIP-8 short-pins for use in unused digital and analog inputs, as well as with some of their other products.
I first heard of fo.Q from Yoshi Hontani, the managing director for Muson Project Inc., the overseas exporter for such prestigious products as Acoustic Revive, Leben HiFi and others. When Hontani-San emailed me asking if I would like to test some products from fo.Q, I readily agreed. The following is a quote from their website discussing the properties of their new high damping material, fo.Q. "Vibrational energy is converted to electric energy, and finally to heat energy, enabling efficient absorption. There are no rubber or heavy metal overtones, and efficient attenuation of the finest vibrations, considered difficult to remove up to now, promise you the purest and clearest tones." Not being a scientist I can not attest to the validity of some parts of the above statement. I can however listen to the end results and comment upon that, for really all that should matter to most audiophiles is will it produce the desired end results. To begin with I decided to remove all previous anti-vibration devices from my system so that I could see the effects each fo.Q product had as a stand-alone device. Unless noted in the review, after I tested a particular fo.Q product it was then removed, so that I once more started with a review system that was lacking any anti-vibration devices at all and could move on to test the next product.
fo.Q Quiets The Doubters
DS-25 is a small ring-shaped seal made of a polymer hybrid damping material. It is to be used with optical discs like CDs and DVDs where it is designed to absorb vibration. This was the least expensive product I tested from fo.Q, listing at only $40 for eleven such discs and center holes. The CD player in use for today was the Sony Playstation 1, model SCPH-1001. Having heard from more than one source that it was an excellent Redbook CD player I have since purchased a used one and I have been quite happy with that decision. To my knowledge it is completely unmodified and original. Using the supplied small plastic spatula I scraped one of the DS-25 rings off and placed it on the Buddy Guy CD, Skin Deep [Silvertone 88697-31629-2], where I proceeded to play the song, "Too Many Tears". Joining Buddy Guy on this song are blues singer Susan Tedeschi and slide guitarists Derek Trucks. Derek Trucks' uncle, Butch Trucks, was a drummer for The Allman Brothers Band, with whom he toured with in 1999; the same year he married Susan Tedeschi. The DS-25 enhanced the vocal works of both Buddy Guy and Susan Tedeschi as immediately I sensed an increase in volume and the vocals lost some of the CD glare that I had previously noticed. With this song the piano and guitars both sounded clearer and more distinct. I felt a better dynamic presentation as both ends of the audio spectrum sounded less constrained and more natural.
Next came the G-53F which is a rather thin spacer used to help dampen audio vibrations. It can be used with amplifiers, CD players, loudspeakers or just about any audio product where you want to absorb unnecessary vibration. Each package comes with four discs. Each disc is composed of three different types of polymer hybrid damping material with a layer of glass fiber on its interior. fo.Q claims that the glass fiber adds compression strength to the G-53F and the asymmetrical layering makes it possible to use each spacer either side up while giving you a slightly different sound depending on the side in use. To keep things simple and less confusing fo.Q made one side black and the other side brown.
Testing this product I used the Tracy Chapman CD, Our Bright Future [Elektra 514061-2]. Starting out with the black side facing up, under the Sony Playstation 1, I sensed an increase in the high-end spectrum coming from my system. Again an increase in volume was noted as the sound was clearer and the fluctuations in Tracy Chapman's voice were more distinct. When listening to the piano the decay of its notes also seem to last longer. Later I flipped over the G-35F to see if I would really hear a different sound by using the brown side up instead of the black side. You know what, I did hear a change and preferred it in my system to using the black side up. To me it was just ever so slightly more musical, quicker and clearer. I supposed you could play with any number of combinations of black or brown sides up and down respectively under different parts of the equipment but I did not get quite that involved in testing this product for this review, you of course just might.
The AB-4045S is an Audio board made with layers of organic polymer hybrid damping sheets, advanced hybrid ceramics and wood. This board is made with the intention of damping even the very minute vibrations that can affect audio playback in a negative way. The AB-4045S has multiple uses and can be put under your CD or DVD player, turntable, amplifier, audiovisual equipment and even used as a base under small to medium sized loudspeakers. Its main purpose however is to eliminate vibrations caused by a power transformer. Each board has a fo.Q logo on it and you may use either side up, as the boards are non-directional. Packaged with each board are five round very thin adhesive damping spacers. It is recommended that these be used under the board when placed on surfaces that are not flat or smooth. Be warned that when I tried them on the smooth wooden top of my Salamander audio rack the AB-4045S boards slid around very easily when pushed, so I removed them. I did not after all want to accidentally bump into the board and push it off the top of the rack which at the time I was using under my turntable.
Apparently the factory was correct, they were not meant for use on a flat surface, but being inquisitive I just had to see for myself how right they were. I was now ready to hear the Carlos Santana CD Abraxas [Columbia/Legacy CK 65490]. First I started with the board under my Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro amplifier as it rested on the shelf in my audio rack. Carlos Santana's guitar and the accompanying Congo's sounded more focused and individual players within the group were more clearly defined as the layering effect increased within the song, "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen". With the AB-4045S there was a welcomed increase in depth to the soundscape on drums and Congo's. The amplifier sounded as if it had been upgrade slightly, not altogether a different amplifier, as it retained its initial characteristics but sounded slightly clearer. Moving back to Buddy Guy's CD Skin Deep [Silvertone 88697-31629-2], the attack and especially decay of instruments was more pleasing to me. Even at loud volumes, where I felt the wooden floor vibrate under my feet, the music seemed to keep its composure and remain more coherent.
Next I placed the AB-4045S audio board under my turntable. Turntables are one place you definitely do not want vibrations to move about uncontrolled and the AB-4045S was a welcome addition to my LP playback system. As you are about to find out this audio board as well as the RS-912 and RS-55 had a dramatic impact on my turntable. If you try the AB-4045 audio board and are impressed like I was you might want to look into fo.Q's two audio racks, models WR-312 and WR-316. For more money you can get an entire rack made of this stuff and while I did not get a chance to audition them they certainly caught my interest. Bob Dylan's, The Freewheelin' LP [Columbia/Sundazed LP 5115] is a great reissued mono album. Here I found the texture of vocals on, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", to take on a richer deeper quality and the silence between and around instruments was noticeable pronounced. Bob Dylan's harmonica when played with the AB-4045S under my turntable, it seemed to produce a more correct timbre for this instrument. Using the AB4045S was a definite improvement, but wait there is more.
fo.Q's RS-912 consists of two Record Player mats made up of a polymer hybrid damping material. Included with this is some adjustment tape for use with the cartridge, head shell and tonearm. The two mats included are 1mm and 2mm in thickness. I used the solid 2mm mat with the 1mm perforated mat resting on top of it, as it was almost the same thickness as the original Oracle Delphi factory mat, leaving for less adjustment to the tonearm setup. I removed the factory may completely for this test. You may experiment as you see fit here, using either mat on top of or below your existing mat, or one alone and even two mats together. Experiment and have fun, enjoy yourself as you discover what is the right combination for you in your system.
Here I decided to play a little vintage Beatles by putting on "Norwegian Wood" from Rubber soul [Capitol C1 0777 7 46440 1 3] the reissue not the original LP. There was a clear-cut change when played with the fo.Q mat in place, as the highs seemed to take on an added sparkle and the guitar had a fuller clearer sound. Of everything I did to my turntable this produced the most significant results, especially when I threw the fo.Q-supplied tape for the cartridge and tonearm into the mix. It is recommended that you experiment with the amount of adjustment tape to be used while being carefully not to add too much. If you feel that the sound becomes less impressive, remove some and listen again. Adding this tape to the cartridge gave me the sense of a little larger soundstage and I felt as if the cartridge had gone through an upgrade to a model just one step up in the audio chain. The essence of the cartridges signature remained but it was as if it was now doing things just a little better. I also used one of the left over centerpieces from the DS-25's to put on the end of the tonearm where the balancing weight was located. I was told I could use the other centerpieces in areas like the center of round control knobs on audio equipment. Unfortunately none of my equipment used for this review had knobs, just switches and remotes.
A hand-made record stabilizer called the RS-55 consists of a multi-layered composite of an organic polymer hybrid-damping sheet, a new ceramic hybrid and Star Silent. Star Silent is made for fo.Q by the Daido Steel Company Ltd. and I used this disc stabilizer in conjunction with the above-mentioned RS-912 mats, adjustment tape and AB-4045S audio board. Adding the RS-55 added some extra warmth to the Beatles' song, "Drive My Car". Here both bass guitar and drums sound fuller while the overall feel to the song had some extra impact. Packaging together all these fo.Q products gave me the feeling that my turntable now sound better than I have ever heard it before. Whereas before my Oracle turntable had a center clamp that had to be tightened down to have its full effect, the RS-55 could just be placed on the center spindle without any further fuss. It seemed that its composition, weight and density were enough to produce the desired results. This made it easier to remove and reinstall with each new LP as you just lift and place it on the next record. Here you did not have to worry if you tightened it too much or not enough for the optimal desired effect like with the factory clamp.
It was time now for the TA-52, which is a thin almost transparent tape made of a polymer hybrid damping material. It is used for precision tuning and damping for any type of pin cable (interconnects, digital cable etc) speaker cables, power cords and much more. There are so many uses for the TA-52 that it is virtually limited only by the boundaries of your imagination. My imagination took me only as far as treating interconnects, power cords and loudspeaker cables. One nice thing was that it took only twenty minutes to cut and apply the TA-52 treatment to my entire system. The process was simply for me as the TA-52 was self-adhesive and required adding no glue of any sort. No mess or fuss, just cut to the desired length and wrap it around the cables or place it against the spot you want treated. The effects here were subtle but overall I liked the sound after I had treated my entire system with the TA-52 strips. From the Luther Vandross CD, The Ultimate Luther Vandross, on the song "Power of Love/Love Power", the TA-52 strips provided some extra depth and width to the soundstage. The song had more impact and felt unrestrained at higher volumes while remaining smooth and not harsh sounding. Again I could pinpoint people on the soundstage more easily as the sound was quite clear.
All Together Now
Summing It Up
Now that is my recommendation for purchasing these products as a complete package, but if you throw buying the products individually into the mix than we have a different scenario. Here even that modest $500 system can take advantage of some of these products from fo.Q without taking your budget to ridiculous proportions of tweaks versus total system cost. For instance the DS-25 at $40 is an easy recommendation for treating your CDs. The same holds true for buying a set of G-53F damping spacers at $87.50 for use under your CD player or the TA-52 damping and tuning tape at only $62.50 to treat your various cables. The qualities of all the fo.Q products remained similar as each one worked its "magic" within my system. Each fo.Q product produced much the same effect on the music, just to different degrees while some were of course made to be used with different components. Putting them all together gave my total system a sense of ease while still remaining dynamic as I felt they brought me closer to the essence of the intended performance. Once you put these products into your system and are treated to the power of fo.Q products you just might order more as they are easily additive and for me quite addictive. I am glad that fo.Q products have moved from industrial use, on planes and trains, to find a home within our audio systems where they are now a welcomed addition and were a pleasure to review.
Specification And Ratings
DS-25: Disk stabilizer for optical discs like CDs and DVDs
G-53F: Damping spacers for use under components or audio
AB-4045S: Audio board
RS 912: Analog record player components
RS-55: Record stabilizer
TA-52: Damping and tuning tape for audio cables
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