Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully you've recovered from last night's revelries, and are ready to do a little tweaking today. Also, I pray you've saved a little of your Christmas funds for them. Okay, here we go...
Marigo Labs Signature 3D Stabilizer Mat
First, a word to those who think tweaks can do nothing for digital playback. Stop reading now. It'll be a waste of time for you. All digital discs have just as many imperfections and reading difficulties as vinyl, just different ones. If that weren't so, there'd be no such thing as jitter readings, and differences in transports and CD players. How the pits are laid down, the reflective coating used, and the thickness and uniformity of the plastic laminate, the accuracy of their stop and start points, their depth, etc., will make a difference as to how the reading mechanism will interpret the digits. Then, like vinyl, no disc is perfectly round, and the center is always somewhat eccentric. There is also a layer of material over the read surface left over from the pressing process. All of these things mess up the ability of the mechanism to transfer the data to the DACS. While a large buffer will make up for some of these problems, the harder the read mechanism has to work affects the interpretation of the data. Thus many tweaks have been developed to maximize the purity of the information going to the DACS. This is even more important for DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and SACD.
Thus I use the following routine on each disc. An Audiodesk System lathe removes any eccentricity. Just be careful and not take too much off, especially on discs where the data goes almost to the edge. Polishing the reading surface with Walker Audio VIVID disc polish, finally using a Bedini Ultraclarifier II to destaticize and demagnetize the disc, follows this. For those doubters out there, just keep enjoying what you're getting from your discs. For the serious audiophiles, try some or all of the above techniques and let me know whether they work. In the past I've used several different mats, but after the above treatments they didn't seem to make much of a difference with the several transports used. Enter Ron's Signature Stabilizer.
As a caveat, when the mat was first used, several times on opening the player's drawer the mat dislodged from the CD and either was stuck half way inside the drawer, or completely disappeared inside the player which had to be opened to retrieve it. Ron Hedrick was notified and he immediately shipped several small round bumpers that were to be stuck to the transport's inner edge. This cured the problem, and I haven't lost one since. Ron will supply them with every stabilizer, and, if possible, he should make them from his VTS tuning dots as they might also help to decrease vibrations of the drawer. Just a thought Ron.
This is the first mat that significantly improves on the sound even with my multi-treated discs. With the gold side down for CD's, there is an increase in resolution, almost like adding digits. This leads to retrieval of more ambience information, and a more defined soundstage and tightening up of each instrument's space. The other three mats available to me come nowhere near the improvement from the Signature.
The big surprise came when using the gold side down on high-density discs. I have listened several times now to the new SACD reissues of the RCA catalog from the original master two and three track tapes by Sound/Mirror Studios as reviewed in AA Chapter 62. With the stabilizer, there's even more there, there. The SACDs come very close now to the second generation master tapes I had of the performances, and actually prefer them to the my late vinyl pressings. Video DVD's are also significantly improved, with more vivid colors and an improved soundstage with the Dolby Digital and DTS playback.
All in all, the stabilizer works as stated by the manufacturer. While expensive at $199, it can be used for all digital discs, is easy to use, and when supplied with the bumpers, should give years of service unless it's mishandled.
The height of the VTS dots is 2x the bumper height, and there is concern for dots interfering with the drawer opening and closing on some transports. The disc spinning off is a non-issue now, as bumpers are included with every mat shipped. Appreciate it if it was noted. Article reads like most people will have this problem and they will need to contact me to deal with it. I did cover SACD and DVD-A usage by stating "with green side up for audio replay" in instructions. If I can squeeze more copy on back of jewel case to spell out CD, SACD & DVD-A, I'll do it to be more clear. Video is indeed less directional as you noted. best regards and thanks for a very enjoyable review.
ER Audio Spatial Harmonizers
According to their literature, they use "100 year Siberian cedar" which is put through a drying process, then cut into bars. I am unsure whether this is fresh cut wood from 100-year-old trees, or wood that was cut 100 years ago and aged, which is sometimes done for wooden instruments. The bars are then tested for their resonance qualities by a specially trained listener, then glued together and finished and retested for their resonance properties. The shelves feel lighter than Balsa wood, while cedar is usually a fairly heavy hard wood, so they either take the majority of the water out or maybe have some hollow cavities inside the bars. I doubt the latter as the platforms are only 1-inch thick and appear very sturdy.
They claim that only 14 percent of the finished boards are up to their vibration specs and accepted for sale, thus what they consider to be their high price of $270 for the smaller, $380 for a large, and $585 for a package of two. The units were finalists last year for the Best of CES Award, the first such Russian product to obtain this. The platforms, for an extra charge, can come with steel cones that are put point up (as compared to normally putting them point down for other equipment) as close to the corners of the shelf as possible. The piece of equipment is then placed directly on the center of the platform. I have found that using Walker Audio cones under the equipment instead of the equipment's feet magnifies the shelf effect. Steve suggests using the Walker cones under the platforms also, but I didn't have enough of them to try, and they're as expensive as the platform, which would significantly increase the cost of this reasonably priced tweak.
They recommend putting only one piece of equipment on top of each shelf, as they are not vibration isolation devices, but tuning instruments. They supposedly act like the sounding board on a wooden instrument to change the harmonic structure of the unit's output for the better, and can only act on one piece of equipment at a time through direct contact. More on this later.
Way back in AA Chapter 2, I first discussed Acoustic Vibrations and how they affect the sound of our systems. The vibrations can be caused by many things, including ground and air borne, either from the reproduced music or natural background noise, or from the equipment themselves, such as vibrating transformers, diodes, capacitors, fans, etc. all affecting how each piece of equipment is functioning. Isolation devices, such as Vibraplanes, Seismic Sinks, etc., help to decrease or eliminate the ground borne vibrations. Damping sheets, lead weights, etc., change or decrease airborne or equipment induced vibrations, but not completely eliminate them.
The other option is to try to tune away the vibrations, or change them in such a way that they are more harmonious to the music, very similar to tuning a musical instrument. Enter the Spatial Harmonizers. In their words:
The application of the Harmonizer produces an effect of expanding and deepening the sound scene (stage) and increasing the soft sound resolution (ambience). The sound of musical instruments become more articulated and clear. The timbre of instruments and voice acquires greater naturalness and emotionality. The space Harmonizer is a resonant platform. It redistributes the whole frequency spectrum magnifying those frequencies that positively affect human hearing and reducing the negatively perceived one. The sound of the entire set becomes continuous as that of a violin.
They claim they have the greatest effect on speakers, which are mounted directly on the platform without spikes, but should affect all pieces of audio equipment. My horns, at 800 plus LB. each, would be difficult to use with the shelves, so rather than starting at the end of the playback chain, I began at the source, with my modified Denon 5700 universal disc player as my 275 LB Walker Proscenium turntable was also a little too heavy for the shelf. The Denon along with my turntable, two Vacuum State preamplifiers, and a subwoofer preamp, are placed normally on an Arcici Suspensrack, listed by Absolute Sound as the best one available. All other equipment are on Vibraplanes and all have Walker Audio Valid Points and cabinet weights for isolation. Thus they are all isolated almost as well as placing them in another room.
Thus imagine my amazement when I was actually floored with the first disc I played on the Denon, the new SACD reissue of the Munch-BSO Saint-Saens organ symphony. The first quality noted was a broadening and deepening of the soundstage. By deepening, I don't mean backwards but forwards such that one could hear hall reverberations right back to my listening position, something only attainable previously on my system with analog. This envelope also went up over me giving height information. I know, there isn't supposed to be height information unless one has a discrete height channel, such as with some Telarc discs or with Ambisonic recordings. Whether it is actually there and being recovered, or only being added by the Harmonizers I have no idea, but I do love the effect.
Next one notices that the music is more fluid, melodious, more like live than recorded sound. On the other hand each note is more distinct as is each instrument, with each note rising and falling faster, almost like the difference between cones vs. ribbon speakers. Finally the bass is significantly tighter, giving more chest compression. The volume could be turned down about 3 dB and still get the same enjoyment from the recordings. This was repeated with every disc I tried. On the Munch Daphnis and Chloe from the same series, when the chorus came in, I actually got a chill. On the other hand, when I used the Denon just as a transport, driving my EAD Theatermaster 8800 pre-pro, most if not all of the improvement disappeared.
The next step was the placement of a second platform under the EAD, which normally rests on the center horn woofer, using it as the DAC for the Denon. There was an immediate return to the same effect. Thus, the shelf doesn't seem to effect the digits, just the analog waveform. The effect held up when using the EAD as a Dolby digital decoder for DirecTV HDTV feeds and for DVD playback where the surround effects became more three dimensional and believable. Interestingly, the company recommends only placing one unit on top of each shelf for best effect. I tried placing my Marchand Audio electronic crossover for the center channel on top of the EAD, and, while it didn't worsen the effect, it didn't improve on it either. Maybe the effect will only work on the chassis connected directly to the board.
Finally, I placed one board on top of each of my amplifier Vibraplanes, with two Vacuum State amplifiers on each. Again, there was a moderate improvement in all parameters discussed, just not to the extent heard with the source components. I didn't try removing the shelves from under the EAD and Denon units to see what sort of effect would occur from just the amplifiers because I'm too happy with the improvement obtained, and I could find no way of placing one amplifier on each. I'll leave that to others.
I'm sure I'll get some letters asking if all the shelves are doing is adding euphonic colorations, and thus detracting from the purity of the original recording. All I can say is I don't care. The effect is good enough that I‘ll suffer with the distortions. There is no mention in their literature as to maximum allowable weight per shelf or an optimal weight for the tuning of the effect, so you'll have to experiment. I can only say I am ordering more to place under other equipment and highly recommend you do the same. If I hadn't given out my Best Product of the Year awards last month, these shelves would have won. They're in contention for next year. Highly recommended!