Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Eastern Electric MiniMax CDP
Preamp/Integrated: Eastern Electric MiniMax preamp
Amp: Eastern Electric MiniMax amplifier
Speakers: AKG K-1000
Cables: Crystal Cable Reference interconnects and power cords, Stefan AudioArt headphone cable
Stands: 3-tier wooden stand with marble inserts
Powerline conditioning: Furutech eTP-80
Sundry accessories: Three Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platforms
Review component retail: $ 120/3 Mini Clouds [$99 special offer August/September 2004]

Miniaturization -- the elimination of redundancy -- is a common theme with turntables. Affordable decks invariably sport one common plinth/platform to which motor, platter and tone arm are mounted. Expensive rigs usually begin to segment the plinth into parts. They separate motor (and often multiple belt-drive decoupling stations), platter and one or more arm boards into individual pieces. Whatever resonances might migrate through a single plinth to affect all mechanical elements coupled to it are broken up. Elements become individuated and isolated from each other. Like the famous statement about the sculptor who removes the unessential portions of the rock to reveal the essential figure hidden within, this approach eliminates all 'negative space' that doesn't serve any direct support function but merely connects areas which do. These thoughts occurred to your digital fella while unpacking Vinh Vu's latest, the Gingko Audio Mini Clouds. They shrink the basic functionality of his Cloud 10 and 11 isolation platforms down to their most essential ingredients. You get three (or more if you need) black or translucent Acrylic squares. Each measures 3" x 3" x 11/16" and sports a central well to capture a blue rubber ball.

The end user may move these squares on a shelf or furniture surface to align precisely with wherever one wants the balls to make contact with a component's bottom. This placement flexibility goes beyond what the larger platforms offer. While their pre-routed wells allow for variable geometries of ball placements, options are ultimately fixed and not as free-roaming as the Minis. What those lack is the Cloud 11's black Acrylic top plate with its running downward edge that hides from view a portion of the weight-compressed balls. Gingko supplies blue balls for the Minis, green balls for the Cloud 10 and black balls for the Cloud 11. Like any suspension-based design, the Mini Clouds require proper weight matching to operate as intended. Deformed into an ovoid under applied weight, each blue ball is ideally loaded by 10 lbs but can support up to 20. A basic set of three can support 30-60 lbs though maximum benefits from an optimized spring damping rate will occur between 30 - 40 lbs. Simply add Mini Clouds for heavier equipment. A set of three Minis will set you back $120. For a 2-month period which began ticking on August 1 and expires September 30, Vu sells 'em for an introductory $99/3.

Not unlike NordOst's famous trade show demos, Gingko Audio's laptop screen demonstrations of how their platforms reduce vibrations have quickly become a crowd favorite. I asked Vinh to supply some measurements to show how the Minis compare to his best Cloud 11 platform. He did us one better and provided three pairs of charts with two graphs each, showing no isolation vs. Minis and Cloud 11 and Minis vs Cloud 11, all with both a 20Hz - 20kHz frequency sweep on a logarithmic scale and an actual music signal from Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man [Reference Recordings, Minnesota Symphony under Eiji Oue].

What are we looking at? The black line on the top of each chart shows the amplitude modulation trace indicating the summary of vibrational intensity across all frequencies and over time. The lower colored portions show the vibration present over time and by intensity of particular frequency. The horizontal axis represents time, the vertical axis displays the logarithmic spectrum analysis plot from 20 to 22,000Hz (the bottom is 20Hz, the top is 22KHz). Higher color temperatures indicate stronger vibrations. The colored representation progresses from red for worst to yellow, green, light blue, dark blue, then white for best. Taken with two accelerometers to measure resonance on an actual component chassis, these graphs clearly show that Gingko Audio's apparently basic approach to resonance control works very effectively indeed. (In fact, the no-isolation vs. Cloud 11 printouts were run at higher input signals. According to Vinh, the right half of the graph otherwise would barely have shown any activity.) This merely confirms the enthusiasm whereby our own Ken Micallef waxed poetic over listening to a Cloud 10 platform. These graphs also show that the Cloud 11 platform attenuates spurious resonances even further than the Mini Clouds. Call it an example where more money does buy you more performance especially in the bass.

However, a closer look reveals that the magnitude of differential between no isolation and Mini Clouds is far greater than that between Mini Cloud and Cloud 11. Clearly, the bang for the buck comes from the Minis. Within Gingko's scheme to vibration control, you will achieve more than 80% of available performance from Vinh Vu's entry-level product.

I'm a big believer in three things audio which are somewhat interrelated: Resonance control; EMI/RFI control; power delivery. In my personal country bumpkin experience living partially underground and very remote, resonance control is perhaps the domain most pregnant with counter-intuitive returns. Arguably, an inner city dweller might derive larger initial dividends from proper power line filtration. No matter how you approach these subjects though, they remain vital for ultimate performance. Non-metal chassis sound better than metallic ones not just because they won't ring but because they won't interact with electromagnetic fields. Read Denis Morecroft's paper on his DNM website or consider certain Japanese products that favor woods or composite materials. GPA's Carbon/Kevlar shelves sound better than their Acrylic counterparts conceivably not just because of superior resonance attenuation but because they also perform some type of uncredited shielding between stacked components and their radiated fields. Some of the truly comprehensive and most effective resonance control solutions by EquaRack, Finite Elemente, Grand Prix Audio, HRS and Silent Running are very expensive. Do they work? You bet. I'm about to drive out to Durango in neighboring Colorado this week to where Alvin and Heidi Lloyd have recently relocated [factory tour to follow once they have settled in]. I'll purchase and pick up a second GPA Monaco because I'm running out of space to perform certain component comparisons without handicapping some candidates with low-brow floor placement.

Can everyone afford those solutions? No. Is everyone willing to make the peanut butter/jelly, potato/beans sacrifices to somehow make them happen regardless? No. Should everyone who can afford them roll out the long green? Not neccessarily. It will depend on the overall resolving power of your system. An entry-level Arcam or Rega system inside a GPA Monaco rack seems financially mismatched. Gingko Audio to the rescue. An expensive amplifier sited on the floor may not mandate a full-blown dedicated stand if you're on concrete rather than suspended wood flooring. Mini Clouds to the flotation. The potential applications for this new product are legion. Don't let their appearance fool you. Like most truly clever ideas, this one is slap-me-silly simple but still required extensive testing to come up with the right combination and execution of materials. I'm using my Cloud 11s underneath tube equipment and on a hard furniture-type stand that was never designed with any audiophile ambitions in mind but had the right size, looked good and cost $79 at the Hobby Lobby [above].

Bottom line? It works. Vinh's solutions increase see-thru factor and low-level detail by removing subliminal echoes that would otherwise overlay the signal and induce a certain fuzz or blurring. And unlike certain metal-based footers can occasionally be guilty of, the compliant rubber balls and Acrylic bases don't add hardness or brightness. How much and what type of improvement should you expect? Think higher-current amp with better damping factor if you own speakers that require more control. You'll get similar effects in the bass with the Clouds. Think superior noise reduction from power line conditioning that noticeably unveils details previously obscured. You'll get those effects as well. Lastly, think "remastering" a poor CD copy with EAC and releasing dynamic jump factor that wasn't there before - you'll get those improvements also. So much for what. How much is harder to quantify but I'll take an educated guess: If you pin a 100% on your current sound without resonance control, the Mini Clouds will readily give you a 20% improvement and perhaps even more, especially if you play things loudly and have full-range speakers. For the money asked, this becomes a slap-me-silly idea whose time is now. If you want to go all-out with Gingko's approach, the Cloud 11 will formally debut in September, measure a standard 19" x 16" x 2" (custom sizes available - inquire) and retail for $379.
Gingko Audio responds:
You have captured the essence of the Mini-Clouds - affordable yet effective vibration control for the masses. Yes it looks very unassuming but we proved in our extensive testing that it works exceedingly well. Now, everyone can benefit from our Platformula™ technology without spending an arm and a leg. For entry-level components (which can really benefit from good vibration control), the Minis can deliver good sound for cheap. Their flexibility in use is also a plus, especially when vertical space is a constraint. Since you put the balls directly under the component's bottom, our profile only adds about an inch or so to the height of the component (depending on the height of the stock feet we replace, naturally).

Another detail that may be of interest to some of your "techie" readers:
For the tests above, we used 2 Bruel & Kjaer 4371 accelerometers affixed to the two items in the test and under the same load of 30 lbs; 2 Bruel & Kjaer conditioning amplifiers Type 2626; and an IBM ThinkPad PC with Spectrogram software developed by Richard Horne.

Thank you for introducing our Minis to your readership. We hope they will contact our dealers, most of whom offer a money-back guarantee to give the Mini Clouds a no-risk trial.

Vinh Vu
Gingko Audio
Manufacturer's website