Reviewer: Ken Micallef
Source: Krell SACD Standard player; Rega P2/Grado Prestige Gold cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Atma-Sphere MP3 preamp
Amps: Balanced Audio Technology VK-75; Atma-Sphere MA1 Silver Edition monos [in for review]
Speakers: Proac 2.5 Response
Cables: Omega Mikro and NordOst interconnects and speaker cables
Stands: Salamander rack, Mapleshade Platforms, Conepoints and Isoblocks.
Power line conditioning: Shunyata Hydra-8, JPS Kaptovator and Omega Mikro power cords, Shunyata Powersnakes - Black Mamba, King Cobra 2, Anaconda Vx, Diamondback
Sundry accessories: none.
Room size: 24' x 12' with 10-13' sloped ceiling, short-wall setup
Review Component Retail: $299.95 standard black or clear 14" x 18" with 4 balls; also available: 20x14 - $329.95; 20x16 - $329.95; 26x20 $349.95

Coming in right behind power conditioning as the hottest entry in the audiophile nervosa sweepstakes, vibration control is a tweaker's pursuit that attracts the mad and the maniacal, the foolhardy and the fabulously wealthy. Just as some used to say that anyone can build a speaker, you could also proffer than anyone with a decent set of tools and an eye for design can attempt manufacture of the ultimate isolation table, rack or platform upon which to position your hallowed audio gear. And many combinations of material have indeed been used: Glass, Teflon, marble, granite, stone, porcelain, steel, wood, aluminum, polycrystal, plus all manner of composite-to-space-age substances that claim inheritance from the NASA brain trust. But leave it to a relative newcomer in the game to try a seemingly obvious material: Acrylic.

I knew Gingko Audio's Vinh Vu from before he was a manufacturer, before he was even a serious HighEnd devotee. Back in the early '90s, when my then girlfriend (now a nun, really) lived in his home state of New Jersey, I purchased something (a cable?) from Vinh. I remember -- and I don't remember too much from said period with all that '70s Maui Wowie -- meeting Vinh for the first time and realizing that yes, here was a kindred spirit. Vinh had two audio systems and every copy of Audio Advisor ever printed. But that was then.

Vinh has since performed some serious number crunching and completed practical research into the resonance properties of various materials, all with an eye to finding the perfect method to isolate and control the insidious vibrations that harm the performance of our audio gear. How he decided on acrylic for his Cloud 10 Platforms is discussed in detail below. Personally? I had my doubts regarding acrylic's ability to handle the gargantuan task of audio isolation. The adage goes that audio equipment will reflect, to some degree, the material that you place it on. To describe a few, granite will give you a precise sound; wood a warmer sound; and an inflated inner tube an airy, somewhat ethereal sound. As always, results are system-dependent, but certain things hold true regardless of whether you own my $500 Rega turntable or a top of the line Sme. Sure, acrylic resembles the formulation of a vinyl LP - but wouldn't it be too hard, too unforgiving, too rigid to isolate vibrations and still allow the sound to flow unimpeded?

I posed the following questions to Mr. Vu regarding his choice of acrylic and the construction of the Cloud 10 platform. As an introductory note, the Cloud 10 platforms consists of a top and bottom section, with four small handballs providing the connective cushion between the two acrylic plates:

Why did you choose acrylic as the source material for your Cloud 10 platforms?
Acrylic has a very dense and irregular molecular structure that is not very good at propagating sound waves. This is actually a good thing because you want to dissipate the vibration as best you can. The balls play an even more important role in the design. We tested many balls of different properties before settling on the one we use. Its selection hinges upon factors like optimum absorption quality in certain weight ranges and lateral movement under loads etc.

Since most gear will reflect the sonic signature of whatever it's placed upon, wouldn't acrylic create a rather hard sound?

The appearance of a particular material does not necessarily translate into how it will affect sound. Properties like resonant frequencies or how it transmits vibration really determine how it will perform. That is why we spent time doing vibration, noise and listening analysis to verify that it works - as opposed to guessing or merely claiming that it does without possessing the empirical data to back it up.
Please explain the distribution of the balls in the platform and the effect of minimum vs. maximum number of balls.
Even distribution of the weight over the platform not only helps in leveling the unit but also facilitates more uniform dissipation of vibrational energy. That is why we have multiple dimples in the bottom plate to allow the user to choose the best geometry for the ball locations. Changing the balls' locations may affect the sonic performance of the platform, albeit in minute variations. Instead of prescribing what is best, we simply let the user decide what performs best. As for the optimum number of balls to use, a good rule of thumb is that each ball has a maximum weight bearing capacity of 20 lbs. and has an optimum load behavior of around 10 lbs. So three balls (the minimum needed to balance the top platform plate) can hold a maximum of 60 lbs. and works best with a load of around 30 lbs. More weight will overload the balls and make the suspension too soft and unstable. Less weight will make the suspension too stiff. One of the reasons we chose these balls is because they perform best with the typical weight range of high-end components (around 30-40 lbs). If the component is too light, the user should mass-load it with additional weights to get into the optimum range. If the component is too heavy, more balls should be added to return to the optimized load values.
Does the Cloud 10 "drain" vibrations from audio equipment or simply isolate it?

The Cloud 10 works by isolating the component from vibration. We find that the component is most affected by low level vibrations that exist in the environment (caused by anything with a motor or transformer around the house) and vibrations caused by footfalls or external sounds/noise like music being played through the system. These vibrations are transmitted to the component through the shelf it sits on.

Vibrational energy travels both ways, upward from the shelf into the component, and downward from the component into the shelf. In our tests, we put a sensor on the top of the platform (called TOP), and another sensor on top of the shelf it sits on (called BOTTOM). We measure the difference in vibrations from the 2 sensors across the frequencies. First, the component is not plugged in and the environment is as quiet as we can make it (we do this at night so the external noise level is low). Both sensors register very low and equal vibrations.

Then we plug in the power cord, and boom, the vibration registered by the top sensor increases, caused by vibration from the power transformer. The bottom sensor goes up too but to a much lesser extent. That means the Cloud 10 absorbs a part of the energy from the component (if this is what people call "draining" then it does do that). Then we turn on the component and spin the laser on a CD player. This causes yet more vibration on the top and, to a lesser degree, on the bottom sensor. Then we play loud music and the top sensor registers less vibration than the bottom one this time. That is because the vibrations caused by the music are much higher in amplitude than the vibrations caused by the component itself. Stomp your foot on the floor and you will see an even more drastic difference, with the top showing far less vibrations than the bottom. This means that the Cloud 10 now does its job mostly in the upward direction. The Cloud 10 thus absorbs vibrations bi-directionally which is what any vibration control device should do to function properly.