Today's opening of the Musse Audio MiniMax vibration dampers and PureMagic Isolation Boards review could double as Hollywood-style concept pitch for a new movie's finale scene: Tommy-Lee Jones riddled with bullets dies on Salma Hayek in strategically torn bodice. Maximum damping kills powerful chemistry vibrations. A curvaceous headline act survives the rolling credits. A happy PG-13 ending. Pure magic, great box office sales!

What's that got to do with audio? Simply translate the cineast imagery: Shot-filled Ziploc baggie meets furniture-grade finish. Bullets. Shot. Sex appeal. No resonances. Get it?

You see, with subscriptions to Elle Décor, Interior Design, Architectural Digest and InFurniture long expired since audio became the great equalizer, many a tweak-happy audiophile has greatly benefitted from jerry-rigged mass damping. Granted, such accomplishments usually did not coincide with aesthetics awards or brownie points on the domestic audio acceptance meter. Why? Because inveterate tweakers have appropriated anything heavy and inert whereby to attack resonating component chassis and overly live speaker cabinets. Literal sand bags. Shot-filled Cuban cigar cases. Dumbells wrapped in saran to avoid scratches. Strategically placed trutchkes. Medieval torture racks clamping components like thumb screws. Good old-fashioned bricks. The kid's penny bank. 5-liter bottles of noli. Whatever the actual victim, the mass-loading approach to system-tuning's a trick as old -- and overlooked -- by décor-conscious listeners as shorting out unused speakers, deoxidizing connections, floating cables off carpets or unwinding spiraled-up power cords.

For those music lovers in vain search of not eye sores but affordable high-mass dampers, Musse Audio has released the MiniMax dampers and PureMagic isolation boards. They're shot-loaded Ziploc bags in disguise. Instead of lead (which would be toxic to handle and likely illegal to ship) steel powder acts as the granular filler. Instead of cheap see-thru plastic, elegantly contoured MDF housings become the container. Immaculately finished in a classy Mahogany color on elongated ovals with matte black bellies, the 10.8" long by 5.35" wide MiniMax weights come in two weights and hence heights - 2.25" for $180, 3" for $220. A 45° chamfer softens upper and lower edges, twin or triple longitudinal grooves add side-view appeal.

The PureMagic board Model 1 [bottom, Mahogany-stained Cherry veneer/$280] measures 19.25" w x 17.75" d x 2" h while the Model 2 [top, real Cherry veneer/$250] comes in at 20.25" x 13.5" x 2". Finishes are interchangeable.

Besides the obvious -- placing MiniMax atop ringy cases or resonant speaker cabinets, using PureMagic to upgrade inferior rack shelves -- the boards, winner of the 1999 Audio Excellence Award by Japan's Audio Accessory Magazine, double as vibration sinks underneath loudspeakers. As reported in my Grand Prix Audio Apex review Part II, spiking speakers to the floor creates vibrational pathways to your equipment. Because speaker-generated resonances are by far the highest amplitude culprits (60-cycle transformer hum and centrifugal CD spinner artifacts don't even count by comparison), minimizing the amount of parasitic resonances travelling into your audio components from our impact hammers called loud speakers is a long overdue idea. Its time, at least in Japan, seems to have come, too, making thunderstruck converts among the old-time proponents of pointy spikes. If you've ever felt bass notes propagating through the soles of your feet, you can appreciate the obvious. You do not want to couple your speakers to a substrate that allows unhindered vibration transmission.

Just like the GPA footers before, PureMagic underneath the subwoofers of my DUO hornspeakers installed a barrier between especially the deleterious long wavelength bass frequencies and my GPA Monaco equipment stand. Because of their iron fillings, the boards are very heavy. "And so is my concrete subfloor", you protest loudly, failing to grasp the logic of PureMagic. True, but the difference is in the granular makeup of the encased steel shot. It injects millions of miniature surface-to-surface transmission losses to attenuate entering vibrations.

The audible improvements vis-à-vis the spiked speakers were very similar to my original surprise at decoupling them via the hi-tech carbon fiber GPA footers. If the latter, perhaps, proved yet more efficacious, this wouldn't seem entirely unjust considering their more-than-twice cost. And if they were better, they certainly weren't even remotely twice as good. To level with Apex requires the optional knuckle adjusters and yet more funds. To level with PureMagic requires shims. Besides this bit of potential tweaking and the appealing difference in cost, the at most minor loss of performance compels me to proclaim "I've already described the very audible benefits of this decoupling principle". I thus refer you to the above link for details.

In a nutshell? Subtracting measurable resonance contamination from your equipment performs the proverbial spring cleaning in your soundstage. Image some "grunge-be-gone" TV commercial. It shows a cobweb-infested, dark and dusty basement transformed into a light, clean and transparent greenhouse. That's the improvement potential - especially if your equipment rack sat on spikes as well. Decoupling speakers also tames (or possibly eliminates) what you might have come to accept as unavoidable room boom. You thought certain bass aberrations inflicted by spatial geometries? Some or all of them may in fact have been induced by mechanical feedback: From your speakers back into the components and -- naturally time-delayed and altered by intermodulation -- out again through the speakers.

Music lovers even only marginally interested in maximizing the performance of their systems must incorporate decoupling. Get your speakers and components off the floor. Remember, it's the primary communications exchange between them. Remember too that spikes don't work. They're more live wires than short circuits! Decouple instead. Shut down that noisy pipeline. It's like silencing the background din in a restaurant. Suddenly your table partner makes sense. The best part? These Musse Audio devices are about as untweaky and decor-friendly as they come. Granted, sand bags will accomplish the same trick as the dampers. But they'll also look horribly misplaced. And can you build a beveled MDF carcass and veneer it as immaculately as Musse just to save a bit?

If they were costlier, I'd advocate the DIY route. Seeing how reasonably priced they are, I'd keep my table saw, sander, biscuit joiner, veneer cutter and clamps in the garage. PureMagic is a valid, cost-effective and attractive way to decouple speakers - above, Model 2 in Cherry underneath the Triangle Ventis 222, one large MiniMax double damper atop. It's also a wonderful upgrade path from standard MDF, wood, glass and marble rack shelves. (While the latter two look très chic, they're acoustically live, not dead. PureMagic is deader than any of those and better-looking than Mapleshade's thick hard maple shelves.) Where MiniMax is concerned, remember that more isn't necessarily better. Overdamping can kill musical energy to become dry and uninvolving. The right amount firms things up - one double damper on my DUO subwoofer was just right, two too much. The only way to find out? Experiment. Use Ziploc bags filled with sand to calculate what you need, then order MiniMax replacements accordingly.

Make no mistake - elevating a system from good to jawdropping is, most of the time, not a function of acquiring that next glitzy component down HiFi alley. It's most the time not a function of that mysterious synergy either. It's a matter of attending to all the details. Resonance control. Proper cable dressing. Power distribution. Clean contacts. Precise speaker and listening chair geometry that equalizes path lengths to within 1/8th of an inch. CD cleaning. In short, system tuning. It's akin to minding proper tire pressure, clean spark plugs, dialed suspension, motor oil cleaners, premium gas, proper exhaust flow in your automobile. These mechanical Musse Audio vibration sinks are a prime example of such detail work in audio - and don't think only expensive systems deserve it. Your very affordable rig may well sound like a very expensive one once you're done paying attention to it. Hence MiniMax and PureMagic are highly recommended. Kudos to the manufacturer and distributor for keeping the costs low while offering good-looking solutions to old problems!

The manufacturer responds:

Dear Mr. Srajan Ebaen,

our distributor forwarded your write-up on the MiniMax. I am glad that you enjoyed our product. As the designer and manufacturer, I have a few comments which you may consider to include in your report.

A bit of history first. I was introduced to the idea in 1983, during our vibration control lecture at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Birmingham University in the UK. At that time, our lecturer was a consultant to Rolls-Royce's jet engine division. Rolls-Royce then encountered some problems in obtaining a smooth surface while machining very large jet turbines. The reason was a vibrating rattling cutting tool. One machinist discovered that when he slotted a loose ring into the holder to vibrate while the tool was in use, the surface finish improved noticeably.

In time, this idea developed into a special cutting tool that contained metal bearings, the theory being that the rattling and knocking of the balls dissipated vibrational energies. When we developed our PureMagic isolation board and MiniMax dampers, we employed the same principle. We use round steel shot (each granule is a nice round ball) so that in addition to sheer mass, there's also minute vibrational "knocking" to dissipate energy.

In the case of MiniMax, one can even tune for optimum results. More is NOT necessarily better.


Lee Seng Tuang, Technical Director

Global Distributor's contact