LessLoss C-Mark Entropic Firewall 640x / Bindbreaker
for living a life.
Where do I begin? It's been such a complex and intriguing journey. It started by chance with my rave review of the High Fidelity Cables NPS 1260 3D contact enhancer. A stranger, Jörg Stanislawski from Germany emailed me with nine questions about NPS 1260 which I promptly answered. Jörg says he reads internet magazines because the German print magazines limit themselves only to products that have a distributor in Germany. This cuts out a lot of products from other countries, particularly those who deal factory direct. For Jörg the world is his marketplace. (See Step 1, above.) Before long, I learned all about how the beer industry in Dortmund had shrunk down to two main breweries, and that I should avoid beer made with malt extract, which is from the crap at the bottom of the vat. He also shared how he ordered an amp from Decware here in the USA and was placed #400 in line. By mid-August, the line had grown to 780, and he had moved up to #284. I don't think he received it in time for Christmas. His story is indicative of the unusual boom in high-end audio during this era of CV.
Jörg also told me about a Lithuanian company called LessLoss and how they are a very different kind of audio company. (See Step 3, above.) The name sounded only vaguely familiar. Jörg described them as a very customer-oriented company that worked in a kind of crowd-sourced fashion, offering discounts to customer-investors who wished to buy a product still under development. He said they were also very sensitive to customer feedback on their products. Through their website, they sell factory-direct with free UPS Express Delivery to 65 countries around the world. Delving further, I learned they were founded in 2003. Why had I not heard of them in all this time?
Part of the reason is the Atlantic Ocean. Until recent years the American press did little coverage of the Munich show. We've had our hands full just trying to keep up with all the North American shows. The multitude of smaller European companies have had little exposure over here. It is a big expense for these companies to make an appearance at US shows. LessLoss tried marketing their cables through The Cable Co. for a while, but the relationship was not a good fit with their direct marketing strategy. They also made multiple appearances at Rocky Mountain and New York shows with their cables on active display, but as a show reporter, I can tell you it is really difficult to spot new cables and room hosts typically talk about speakers and the larger components.
Their Plan B was to seek reviews from smaller internet publications, primarily in Europe that had a genuine interest in smaller, boutique manufacturers and where he found the writers to be more passionate about this hobby. On their website, the Reviews page is divided into Press Reviews and User Reviews. Over a hundred press reviews are searchable by both product and date. So are the hundreds of user reviews, but they take these two steps further and sort them by equipment their products are used with, and by specific components their products are compared with. They lay all the cards out for potential customers to see, and build a strong bond with customers, almost all of whom return for additional purchases. Did I mention their website is world-class, yet?
Jörg also told me a little bit about the founder and managing director of the company, a young man named Louis Motek... well, at 50 he's young enough to be my son anyway. His musical background is expansive, his formal education unlisted, and his business acumen revealed by the lectures he has presented at the university level. He also speaks Lithuanian, German and superb English, if not a few more undisclosed tongues. The back story is he was born in Texas where he spent his first 15 years and was a straight-A student in school. He skipped to Germany to study musicology and composition, then to New York to pursue fine jewelry manufacture. Then, back to Europe to learn violin making in Vilnius, Lithuania, finally transitioning to become a recording studio technician and studio musician. This is where his interest in developing better cables began. LessLoss has grown steadily over many years, solely from the profits of their production.
Vilmantas "Vil" Duda is a master engineer at LessLoss with a degree in electrical engineering and experience in Los Angeles as a studio computer specialist. He returned to Lithuania to realize his dream of combining his strong work ethic with his desire to create. He's been making custom DACs for nearly 40 years and is the force behind the LessLoss Echo's End series of ladder DACs. What stood out for me was his penchant for "upgrading the latest cheap technology to outdo even the more expensive offerings." To me, that sounds like a strong appreciation for value, but his most expensive model is right up there in price with many of the other top brands, though Louis claims their $30,000 top model outperforms DACs costing $100,000 and more. Nevertheless, I was liking this company before I had even seen their product.
1) The aforementioned animation of how they weave their Litz wire and the science of how it helps filter out noise. C-MARC stands for Common-mode Auto-rejecting Cable which is what they achieve with this complex noise-reducing weave. If you skipped it earlier, your second chance is here.
2) The demonstration of why Panzerholz (tank wood) is superior to aluminum for chassis construction. This extrapolates into their use of oak in the Firewall and wenge wood on the barrels of interconnects here.
3) The description of their Firewall manufacturing process involving Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), also known as Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF), which is outsourced to a certified specialty lab employing men in hazmat suits.
Engineering types can read more about it by scrolling down here.
In particular, I had good results with my Coincident Speaker Technologies Statement line stage, a tube design with a huge separate power supply. The Firewall 640X was also used extensively between my 30A JPS Labs In-Wall dedicated line and a Synergistic Research QLS power strip, which allowed me to eliminate my Synergistic power conditioner. The QLS power strip allowed me to plug in most, but not all of my components. Consequently, I had to remove and install power cords whenever I wanted to change my front-end sources. Once I felt I had a good understanding of what the LessLoss products were contributing to the music, I listened to them one at a time, and in combinations.
Earlier in the review process, I dropped the standard C-MARC power cable from the review for three reasons. First I don't have a comparably priced power cord to compare it with. Second, the Entropic C-MARC power cable was clearly superior to it and I felt this is the cable most people moving up from entry-level cables in the $500 range, should aspire to. And third, I erroneously thought the standard C-MARC power cable had been discontinued. Closer inspection of the power cable page on their website reveals a 'select' option to choose between the Entropic version and standard C-MARC. So yes, the standard version is available if you feel this is the most you can justify spending.
LessLoss is not a company with a large number of products in each category with a "Good, Better, Best" hierarchy, although their DAC is an exception. Improvements lead to new products that are offered via the crowd-sharing I mentioned even before they are ready for production. Louis and Vil are constantly looking to advance their 'state of the art' and move forward with new products.
To establish the relative effectiveness of each LessLoss product, I ran all amplifier and digital front-end power cords through my Synergistic Research PowerCell 8 SE (running off the 30A dedicated line) and then substituted the LessLoss products, one at a time, in an appropriate position. I assume most people today have some sort of power conditioner as their main power distributor, and would likely continue to use it as they added the LessLoss products under review here.
I also used the LessLoss with the power strip without the power conditioner with pretty much the same relative results. By using my power conditioner I optimized the performance of the other components (preamp and monoblocks) in the rig, hoping this would reveal the best results when I installed the LessLoss products — which proved to be the correct decision.
If I had enough LessLoss power cords for all my amplifiers as well as the CD Transport and DAC, I would have a more definitive comparison of using the power conditioner vs. the QLS power strip. Louis informed me that they will soon release a power distribution unit with the Firewall 640X technology built-in which would conveniently allow you to eliminate your power conditioner. This also raises the question of the possibility of combining the Firewall 640X with their Entropic C-MARC power cord, much in the way some other major cable manufacturers incorporate filters in their cables. This would provide more individual component isolation as well as cost savings if the power cord were hard-wired into the 640X. Hmmm.
Specific Listening Results
Second, I re-installed my Synergistic Digital power cord and installed the Entropic Firewall 640X directly into the DAC. This provided a similar qualitative improvement, but more significant quantitative improvement than the Entropic C-MARC power cord. For $662 less, it provided even better results.
Third, I removed the 640X and installed only the Firewall for Loudspeakers between my Synergistic Research Foundation speaker cables (a current model that is an excellent value at $749/8' pair). The results here were very similar to installing the 640X in front of the DAC, perhaps just a little bit less effective. Of course, improvements made at the source components will carry on down through the signal chain, while improvements made just before the speakers will have to deal with whatever quality signal has made up to that point. Pricewise, Firewall for Loudspeakers falls roughly halfway between the power cord and the 640X, but it has the advantage of improving music from all your sources.
Fourth, I left the Firewall for Loudspeakers in place and added the Entropic Firewall 640X back in front of the DAC. As you would expect, the combination of the two was better than either one alone. Synergy. How much better? That's hard to quantify, but I'll address this issue shortly.
Fifth, I used all three products, adding in the Entropic C-MARC power cord to feed the Entropic Firewall 640X. And yes, better still.
But What Is This "Better Still"?
None of these products made a stunning appearance when I added them to my system. There was no "Oh, Wow" factor. I had to learn to listen at a deeper level than ever before. My initial efforts at A/B comparison were fruitless. Aside from allowing the new 640X to burn-in, and the distraction of other review products, I had to spend a long time listening to these before I could recognize what was going on. It wasn't until I removed them that I recognized the noise and distortion they had removed. Once I was tuned it at this level, I could then easily recognize their contributions on a relatively quick A/B comparison. In a way, it was just an extension of the process of becoming an audiophile — learning how to listen, but at a higher level than before.
The removal of noise, more obvious in the treble, but effectively throughout, allowed more inner detail to emerge from the now blacker background. In essence, this was improved transparency that I found evidence for in numerous ways. Without the LessLoss the music had a certain low level of what I'll call "wild behavior". These were micro flashes tone bleaching out, or amplifier clipping or ringing or notes smearing — tiny little distortions, similar to what many recognize as "grain" that reminded me that I was listening to electrically reproduced music, not the real thing.
These micro distortions can be somewhat exciting at times, such as the striking of a cymbal, and somewhat distracting at other times as I "struggle" to interpret what a musical note or a syllable "should" have sounded like. I say "struggle" but actually, my rig is at a reasonably high level that a lot of guys would be proud to own. But this "struggle" takes mental energy and it tenses up the body. For some people that is attractive and somewhat like the experience of a live concert — very energizing and demanding of a high degree of presence and participation.
The LessLoss works against that "struggle" by removing a layer of haze, making the music and lyrics more obvious. Micro-dynamics and nuance of tonality appear that were unheard of before. My body relaxed and absorbed the music as it came to me, rather than forcing me to lean into the music. The difficult lyrics were more easily understood. On my compilation CD I have many signifiers; phrases of words or notes that are challenging for a system to reproduce and challenging for me to hear clearly or cognitively comprehend. With only these few pieces of LessLoss gear in the system, I sailed right through these rough spots, and in most cases, they were the best I had ever heard them. While I can only speculate, I expect having a full loom of LessLoss cables with the Entropic C-MARC technology would prove to be even more beneficial.
It is their proprietary skin filtering noise reduction technology that strips out noise without interfering with tonal quality or dynamics that differentiates their products from typical capacitor and coil filtering techniques. C-marc itself stands for Common-mode Auto-rejecting Cable. And the effect is very much like their stated target: to consistently reproduce that noise-free listening experience achievable during 3 a.m. listening sessions when the rest of the world is asleep and the electrical grid is relatively quiet. I can testify that it does not interfere with tonal quality as my rig continued to sound the same in that regard, and dynamics seemed unimpeded, too. Did I achieve that 3am. Blackbody magic? Not completely, but then, as I said, I was not using a full loom of their product. My results certainly leaned strongly in that direction and it was very relaxing.
Bindbreaker Vibration Control Footers
At first glance, they look like something fabricated in a high school shop class with 84 chrome-plated small Allen head machine screws binding a metal plate to a hexagonal piece of high-quality plywood, topped with a hexagonal plywood knob. A large center screw centers the footer on an identically sized thinner piece of solid wood. Presumably, the different layers of different materials act as a constrained layer damping device with micro-vibrations further filtered through the dome-topped screws. My review samples had a thin layer of solid wood as the bottom piece, but current versions are bored with dimples that mate precisely with the 84 screw heads. And the cost? A whopping $224 apiece! (5% off for two or more and 10% off for four or more) While the materials may seem affordable, the build cost is likely very high. With the discount, that works out to about $639 for a set of three.
While I have a variety of footers, mostly I use Synergistic Research MiG footers ($149, set of 3) and MiG 2.0 footers ($249, set of three) but these sit on a Codia Acoustic Design rack with shelves made from a South Korean version of Panzerholz with a vibration-absorbing resonator in the center. These shelves provide substantial damping by themselves. I also have a set of Synergistic Research MiG SX footers ($995, set of three) which I use under my DAC and keep as a reference. These incorporate several high-tech components in a sophisticated design. That said, the Bindbreaker footers outperformed the MiG SX and I expect the current version with the dimpled bottom plate will yield an even higher resolution. They are rather humble looking, but they performed astonishingly well throughout the audible spectrum with my DAC.
After trying them under the DAC (which is a 95% solid block of aluminum and 5% electronics) with great success, I tried them under a new Charisma Audio Musiko turntable which is finished in piano gloss black, top and bottom with Sorbothane half-spheres for feet. The very smoothly finished Bindbreaker wood surfaces were no threat to either the piano gloss finish or the solid oak wall-mounted shelf on which the turntable rests. The results were a slight improvement, but less inspiring with the turntable. This was probably due to the heavy (possibly Panzerholz) layers of the turntable plinth which were already very effective at reducing vibration. [Review forthcoming.]
I also tried the Bindbreakers under my Coincident Statement Line Stage that sports an internally suspended socket for the 101D vacuum tubes. The results here were disappointing with the Bindbreakers sucking the bloom out of the music and diminishing some of the transparency in the process. Tonal color saturation dropped a bit, too. These features are very beneficial in creating the synergy between this line stage and the AGD Audion GaNFET Class D monoblocks.
It's not uncommon for the performance of footers to vary depending on the component and the shelf on which it rests. My anecdotal sampling here suggests the Bindbreaker may work best with solid-state gear, but you have to try it with your gear. When it works, it works very well.
The beauty of the 640X is that it works in both directions — filtering noise going into the DAC from your AC line, as well as filtering noise coming from your DAC and polluting the rest of your system. Likewise, when used at any source component, the benefits of higher quality travel down through the rig. The 640X also worked very well on my preamp where the improvement was experienced with each of my sources.
The accumulated benefit of having a 640X on each component would surpass the benefit of a conventional power conditioner in the view of LessLoss. Eliminating a conventional cap and coil power conditioner would help offset the cost of multiple 640X units, but you would also need a high-quality power distribution block such as those from Furutech, Audio Sensibility, Synergistic Research, and others. Also, keep in mind the forthcoming power distributor with built-in Firewall 640X technology that was mentioned earlier.
Similarly, the Firewall for Speakers made a relatively cost-effective contribution that benefited each of my sources. Using multiple sets of Firewall for Speakers in series is said to have a cumulative benefit. It is more expensive due to the multiple units (4) needed to accomplish its task on a pair of speakers. There are also some workarounds if your speakers are set up for bi-wiring. The website pointed out that the Firewall for Speakers and the Entropic Firewall 640X are quite different animals, presumably due to the nature of their application, though both employ the expensive Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) additive manufacturing process described on their website.
As for the power cords, the Entropic C-MARC power cable ($1934) is considerably more expensive than the standard C-MARC ($1148), but it was also considerably more effective. In numerous hobbies, I've learned that it is often best to skip an intermediate upgrade and save up for premium gear. Doing so enables you to avoid the financial loss of repeatedly buying and selling gear. It also allows you to turn your attention back to the music and/or to the next weakest link in your system. But do not make the mistake of thinking power cords are less significant than the main components in your system.
And the Bindbreaker? The new version is quite likely even better than the one I had. As with all footers, the benefit will vary from one component to another, and will likely be synergistic if used from the top to the bottom of your rig.
"The 'what if's' also can lead to great satisfaction and personal discovery. From isolation tweaks to cable changes, to room treatment, major equipment changes, and so on. When a synergy is reached and things just sound good the music becomes the focus, relaxation sets in and enjoyment reigns supreme."
Another frequent (and expert) contributor, Jazznut (Feb. 12, 2020), spoke of being open to different technologies to achieve your goals:
"...if one presets a certain technology to achieve a goal (say, microphone, recording format or speaker concept) or presets perfect measurements, this limitation of choices narrows the chance to have the... most "real" sounding result. Only one who knows and theoretically allows all choices, achieves the best results and not only the best by the given precondition."
I like that last point. Sometimes we discover something we like that we didn't even know was an option or a benefit at the outset of our quest. This is what happened for me with the LessLoss gear reviewed here. I won't take you on a deep dive into neurobiology, but a listening experience I had captures the essence of the LessLoss gear.
I had moved on to listening to a full loom of another cable manufacturer and was listening to Rickie Lee Jones' eponymous LP. Rickie Lee reached out to Ricky B and emotionally dragged me into "Coolsville" sending goosebumps up and down my body. The song was an emotional roller coaster dragging me back to younger, hipper days and all the chaotic years in between. This was the gutsy, emotionally provocative listening experience that I've been craving on my personal audiophile journey.
Acting on a "what if" impulse, I reached for the LessLoss Entropic Firewall 640X and Entropic C-MARC power cord once more and plugged them into the phono stage. Instant replay. The emotional seductress was replaced by the silky voice of a polished jazz singer. Firmly planted in the 'here and now' of my listening chair, I relaxed and enjoyed the music, unencumbered by any personal emotional drama, just experiencing the beauty of the music. That's the essential difference LessLoss brings to the game. Relax and enjoy. And they do it as well, if not better than anyone else
If that's your audiophile destination, I highly recommend you give LessLoss a listen. This Lithuanian company deserves a lot more recognition in the USA. And a tip of the hat goes out to Jörg Stanislawski in Germany for bringing LessLoss to my attention. With my mercurial Gemini personality I had the best of two listening styles close at hand. The review samples have reluctantly been returned to Konstantin at Atelier 13 Audio in Nashville, but Louis Motek and I need to have another Zoom call in the near future.
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