I recently wrote that hi-fi reviewing was a dangerous business. I still contend it is, particularly when trying to repair tube amps in a hurricane without benefit of cover. But I do submit that it is not one of the hardest businesses in the world either.
Actually, Hi-FI reviewing is pretty easy and the pay reflects it. (NB: Steve!) (Steve says: MB Jeff... and consider yourself now banned from the Enjoy the Music.com® NBar night during the CES ;) ) But contrary to the view that it is all wine, single-ended triodes and dedicated mains in the reviewing world, there are isolation platforms, which, simply put, are a female canine to review and this month the dog got the better of me.
I am sorry to be so obtuse in my wording -- Cartman from South Park could put it much better -- but what can you really say about something that by design tries to give your Hi Fi less (namely bad vibrations) in order to let out more good vibrations which the Beach Boys haven't already taught us?
Also, if I did allow Cartman to weigh in with a potty-mouthed obscenity that most of our readers wouldn't even understand, our fearsome editor, Steve Rochlin, would both have to find a new rating for Enjoy the Music.com™ and a new writer to fill his pages. Either way, for me anyhow, the gig would be up. And this is a good gig. (Jeff, consider yourself re-invited to the Enjoy the Music.com™ NBar night during the CES:) )
That is why this review has been so hard to write, though I am getting ahead of myself.
Another problem with these illegitimate child isolation platforms is that they may very often be confused (and not always unjustly, I might add) with the snake oil that can make Hi Fi such a slippery slope and make us look to the world like such nerds. You paid that much for that little thing! For, after all, no one in good conscience can say that a new set of solid-core crystal cables with special woodblocks on the end of them will improve the sound of your room more than a better pair of speakers, curtains or even a decent Persian rug on the floor. Yet, some reviewers persist in making such claims and that gives us all bad reputations.
As it is impossible to look into someone's mind - and there may be those among us with golden ears that can hear nine-nines silver at twenty paces - I will just have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are acting in good faith. That said, it's still pretty easy to recommend something you haven't paid for, and what I have before me is not, I think, an example of snake oil either.
But the question that I have to somehow answer in this review is whether the object I have before me is actually an isolation platform at all. That is, a platform whose purpose is to isolate. I am sure about the word 'platform', but less about the word 'isolation'. And if it is not an isolation platform, what is it then?
I am not quite sure, but the Eraudio Space Harmonizers are not isolation platforms in the strict meaning of the term, as opposed, say, to the Fabreeka Isolation platform that was previously reviewed in these pages. In fact, I believe the Eraudio platforms are more akin to tuning forks and, as such, work well with some equipment and less well, if at all, with other equipment. And, in reviewing the Eraudio platforms, I have to write that my experience was more of the latter than the former, but this may just have been a case of the gods of Hi Fi synergy being unkind.
To the credit of Eraudio, they do not actually call the platforms isolation platforms, but, rather, Space Harmonizers, and who wouldn't want their space harmonized? I know I would. And, because the Space Harmonizers are not strictly speaking isolation platforms, this may account for my audio findings-or lack thereof.
When I wrote my positive review of an isolation platform a ways back, I went into some detail as to how an isolation platform had to work: that is, it's ostensible purpose was to transform bad vibrations into less bad vibrations or, better yet, heat so as to remove unwanted energy (either ambient or from the system itself) from your system. The result would be more of what you wanted and less of what you did not, and who doesn't want that?
But I am not quite sure that is what we have here with the Eraudio's Harmonizer. So what is it exactly? To approach this question I think it would be first better to explain how a Siberian violin company, who has a hand in the dark thermionic arts, stumbled upon something so well named, even if my experience did not reflect theirs.
The way the harmonizers started was that the boys (or girls) from the amplifier department at Eraudio scampered off with a soon-to-be violin sound board in order to best show off their brand new tube amplifier to good effect. They hooked the amp up (and, in my mind, played some very fine speed-metal-balalaika) courtesy of a Melodya's little known EP Jungle-Balalaika label, 'Take-That-Lara.'
After feeling well pleased with themselves after a very successful demonstration, our intrepid engineers took the amplifier back to the lab, changed some fancy components for even fancier ones, twiddled with the tubes bias, perhaps put on a tube cooler or two, maybe dug into the box for a pre-glasnost NOS Rectifier, or some Perestoika era tantalum caps, brought the cooking amp out and sat waiting for the accolades as to how much better the special edition was as compared to the original. If the first version was good, this one would be fantastic.
But it wasn't.
Here is where I suppose everyone tried to be polite by looking down at their snow boots. The newly tricked out amp may have sounded different. But it didn't sound better. Hmm. What vuz wrong (please excuse the horrible Rusky accent)? What vuz right, Valery? Only the violin soundboard that amplifier 'Mark I' had been placed on, obviously.
With the chopping board, I mean Space Harmonizer, back in place the amp picked up the pace and Lara's heavily modded Balalaika screamed in a speed metal agony that would bring tears to Lars Larson's eyes.
And yes, as you can see from the picture, without the milled conical feet you could easily mistake the platforms for chopping boards. For that is, essentially, what these could be mistaken for. Except these aren't IKEA specials and are priced accordingly. The smaller of the Harmonizer sells for $270 with the large harmonizer priced at $375 or $585 for a pair.
Made from hundred year old Siberian Cedar strips (carefully chosen and even more carefully glued together according to the Eraudio bumf) only about 14 percent of the boards manufactured actually become Space Harmonizers, the low yield rate keeping the price high. I can only imagine that the other 86 percent are consigned to onion and potato duty.
But if I caught anyone in my household preparing fried potatoes - a noble dish if there ever was one -- on one of the Eraudio's affairs, not only would I have to do a lot of explaining to the folks at Eraudio who so kindly lent me the platforms, the miscreant might have to look for a new address. Siberia anyone?
The quality of fit and finish of each platform is very high with each Space Harmonizer having four rubber posts at each bottom corner, sort of like glorified pen erasers. The pen eraser things are meant to accept the points of very nicely machined, very weighty, fatter-than they-are-tall steel cones. I actually tried the cones with the flat side up but quickly came to my senses after reading the well-written instructions. Even the right way up, it is still very easy to disturb a Space Harmonizer with an injudicious whack or a reckless change of CD.
We're not talking rocket science here, but I have to say I found it extremely tricky to set up these rather simple stands and then load them with equipment without knocking out one of the cones and having to start all over again.*
One nice thing about the very well-written manual is that it encourages you to experiment, which I think this hobby actually needs both more and less of. More, so that people get more fun out of the hobby, and less, so that they relax and listen to more of the music and to less of their latest mil spec caps. In this case though, I could perhaps have done with a bit less experimenting.
For here, as Shakespeare once wrote, is the rub.
I could hear no difference with or without the Space Harmonizers in place and, as I have already noted, putting them in and out of place for me, anyhow, was no easy task.
Whether it was the suspended wooden floor, the one solid state and pair of vintage tube amps that I used or the varnish on the speakers, I could hear no reproducible difference with or without the platforms in place. There were a couple of occasions when I thought I heard a difference, but by the time I switched things around, I could not be sure.**
Here is where I get all political (and I must warn you I have a doctorate in the subject). I am not saying that the Eraudio platforms do not work as advertised. I do not suggest that there is not value in isolating your equipment from unwanted vibrations. I am not suggesting that the people of Eraudio are peddling snake oil. Far from it. All that I want on and off the record to say is that the platforms did not work for me.
I am well acquainted with the components I used in order to evaluate the Space Harmonizers, and although the components alone and in combination have provided me with a lot of enjoyment over the years -- which is my aim in Hi-Fi -- they are not the last words in resolution. Or even the first word for that matter. The tuner for example is 20 years old and the amps are pushing 50. The SACD player, most probably the subject of a forthcoming review, is, however, new. I did not try the platforms with vinyl because neither of the supplied platforms was deep enough to support my turntable. My turntable is a big un.
To test the platforms, I decided to look around and use them with the most microphonic devices I could come up with less a turntable: a pair of Leak TL12+s in basically stock condition. Valves were a mix of EI, Sovtek and Mullard. Only the filtering caps and a couple of other small (and necessary) component replacements had been made. I used a pair of patch cords made up from old Rogers octal tubes to plug into my passive pre which was then fed by a cheapo Samsung DVD player which in turn fed an Art-DIO DAC. I alternated this front end with a do-everything Pioneer including DVD-Audio and SACD that I bought at Best Buy for an absolute song and a great vintage tuner that I bought at a pawn shop for even less.
As ever, I listened to a lot of CBC and watched more than a few DVDs. I also fed the SACD player a liberal dosing of Belafonte, Bennett, Brubeck, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Callas and Krall. Most discs sounded as they always did: very fine indeed. But I cannot in good faith say I heard any difference with or without the platforms in place.** Sorry folks.
* Indeed, I probably could have used help, but this is the sort of thing you don't like to be observed doing.
** Another reviewer, as per Google, did not share my experience.
While the Etalon integrated amplifier was out for repair I had the pleasure of listening to the matching speakers with Leak TL12+s. Indeed, I am listening to them right now. On a good day with the wind behind them and good water flow over Niagara Falls, the TL12+s are capable of about 10 watts each. In any event, such limitations were not evident here. In the review, I cited a sensitivity of 90db/W/m at a nominal 4 ohms. Well there's dBs and there are watts and I would be very surprised if these were as insensitive as that. On a purely subjective basis without the benefit of measurement the Medio's played significantly louder with the same amplification than did my 93dB/W/m Tannoys. The Medios with valves, incidentally, sounded fantastic and were much kinder to classic rock than I had first suggested.
Small Harmonizer: $270
Large Harmonizer: $375 or two for $585