Apex or Apoplexy?

Both - if we use the latter's gentler insinuation of shock rather than stroke. As spike replacement on my Monaco stand, the effects of Apex were shockingly pronounced. Guesstimate? Upwards of 30% perhaps? Converted into component footers beneath my Cairn or Bel Canto CD player and preamp sited on the Monaco stand (I only had a set of three to experiment with), the efficacy of the Apex diluted. By how much? Readily more than half its impact on the floor. Perhaps even more. Nevertheless, when propped under my Art Audio PX-25 taking pride of place on the top shelf of a pARTicular Novus rack, Apex readily trounced its own performance on the Monaco to once again become appreciable enough to lust after.

Before we get all gory with details, here are my assumptions: As its website and owner's manual itemize, the Monaco structure incorporates a multi-tiered stage-by-stage approach. Gear is isolated against three forms of energy migration - floorborne, airborne and component-generated. The first stage to combat floor-borne vibration? The point-contact spike touching said floor. Now replaced by Apex, it affects all components just like a common powerline conditioner would. By virtue of its primary position in the scheme of vibration migration -- through the floor up the columns through the viscous interface into the struts, through the Sorbothane dampers and acrylic shelves into the components -- its gain of attenuation is exponentially multiplied by whatever these subsequent stages add. Clearly, this whole attenuation business is a number's game. It all multiplies and adds up. Beef up the foundation and the math following will do its magic.

Consider the flat-to-25Hz performance of my Avantgarde DUOS. Now add my penchant for, ahem, lively levels. 90dB+ peak LF resonances from the 250w amplified subwoofers with their sealed dual-10" drivers couple very effectively to the floor via considerable weight and skinny spikes. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised that the biggest improvement of floating the Monaco stand on three Apex footers came in da bass? It tightened up. Removed were vestigal remnants of hollowness, of unnatural bloom/boom, of a thickening and obsfuscation of lines. The bass thus even more seamlessly than before integrated the lower registers with the vocal range.

Good advice for subwoofer integration is always to set its level such that you don't hear it. You should only notice its prior contributions by turning it off. Otherwise you're buying into the silly American pastime of "better"-(more)-than-real bass. Apex flotation had this kind of streamlining effect. It subtracted resonant "fluff" in the mid- to low-bass range that simply does't occur to this extent in the higher bands. This makes said distortion in the bass doubly noticeable. It stands out. When you remove it? The same extent of disturbing applies, just in reverse. The advances in naturalness, the vicarious opening-up of the midrange, the greater continuousness between registers? These become a bit disturbing when their apparent magnitude is compared to so little and harmless a gizmo as Apex.

Did I mention the well-known increasse of spatial resolution -- better soundstage transparency and ambient cues, more micro details, an apparently sweeter treble -- that come when bass performance, especially its subtler aspects, are improved? Truly, owners of full-range speakers suffer a huge handicap over their humbler 2-way stand-mount brethren. Unless their far deeper and weightier bass is properly integrated, it's more of a slow'n'murky liability than fast'n'taut asset.

And guess what? Beyond room interaction challenges, high-amplitude, low-Hertz sound pressure waves are the primary muddy-the-waters culprits in this whole vibration game. The more fullrange and output-happy your speakers, the greater their toll on your equipment. It is for such intrepid bass mavens -- which clearly includes yours truly -- that Apex will prove to be a real panacea. My set of triplets ain't going nowhere. I already asked for the bill...

In fact, I'd be curious to now try two sets of 4 underneath my DUOs, knuckle-adjusters screwed into their T-nuts to replace the stock spikes. Theory predicts two things: A serious reduction of resonance transfer into the floor (very good) and a possible dulling of transients and smearing of inner detail if the speakers thus floated managed to move in space even by the tiniest fraction of a millimeter (pretty bad). Previous experiments with Aurios indicate that the advantages far outweigh the possible evils. But only a real-life trial would tell for sure. (Alvin, are you listening?)

How 'bout using Apex as the last stage against floor-borne vibration, underneath components (or conversely, as the first stage of disrupting mechanical component-to-component dialogue)? When said components benefit from a rack as wonderfully effective as the Monaco, this becomes an obvious exercise in diminishing returns. To begin with, component-generated vibration (i.e. CD drives, 60-cycle power transformer hum, discharging capacitors) is so minuscule when compared against the high-level full-spectrum assault of the residential exciter motors and impact hammers we call speakers, it's like juxtaposing a sweet li'l apple against a filthy boat anchor: The latter is very audible and might register as reasonably drastic when lifted. The former's consumption could drift into the realm of imagination - a tiny one-gulp snack on the vibration starvation meter.

Perplexed yet?

The fact that the Apex-as-component-footer, on the Monaco stand, was far less impressive than as floor interface speaks volumes about the Monaco's inherent isolation qualities. What gets through to its shelves is already so heavily attenuated that subsequent gains register only marginally. This doesn't invalidate the Apex's employ as a component footer. It merely means that to really judge what it can do requires a less thorougly engineered stand. pARTicular to the rescue. >

To be honest, I'd originally purchased Volkmar's Novus stand for its looks. I subsequently discovered that it also sounded better than what I'd used before. However, rapping my knuckles against its primary metal uprights clearly produces ringing. Ditto for the H-shaped shelf supports. And the lightweight wooden shelves with their grain structure never struck me as the last word in hi-tech. Not that their maker ever claimed they were. The whole modernistic contraption set me back less than half of the Monaco. I never upgraded to pARTicular's upscale acrylic shelves. I got exactly what I paid for and still love this rack for its contemporary appearance. At the time, it just didn't occur to me to hunt for good looks and audible performance. This to set the record straight and not unfairly pounce on a competitor out of context.

That said, my beloved Art Audio micro-power SETon the Novus really liked its new footers. Out of laziness, I'll refer you to the comprehensive review of the Monaco for a blow-by-blow description of the effects. You'll then have to significantly reduce their overall impact, of course. Still, the innate flavor of these improvements is identical. Same taste, just less of it. Call it the I-shrunk-the-Monaco effect.

And this taste, in short, for those too lazy to read the original review? Imagine a new-construction "stick house" (all 2x4s, no sheetrock yet). It's your temporary stand-in for the musical soundstage. Prior to Apex, this structure had weathered the clutter of time and debris. "Stuff" hangs between the rafters, gunk sticks to the wooden members. Instead of seeing an airy space with clearly defined structural components and crisp edges, such details are obscured. Additionally, instead of admiring the spaciousness of your future home, you're disgusted by the left-over junk, dust, cut-offs, trash. A messy construction site. You get the picture. Apex acted as the clarifier, the deep-sweep straightening-out effort by the whole crew prior to the arrival of some bigwig (you) whom they had to impress to get paid.

Okay, this is a lighthearted simile. But how many ways are there left to say the same thing? Do read the other review if you want more specifics.

In the final analysis -- Freud, get off the couch! -- with the Apex, Lloyd is now clearly entering the accessory's market for real (remember, I don't consider the Monaco an accessory but full-blown active component). When used as component footer on stands of competing designs, it's clearly a vital tweak whose effects are far from subtle. How those compare to the Walker Audio Valid Points will remain a subject for a brief future visit when I have a spare set or two to experiment with (taking out the current three from underneath the Monaco one more time is not only a royal pain in the buttorski but too painful a loss of performance to contemplate - truly).

The bottom line?

At $550/3, their contributions on Lloyd's very own Monaco stand, as a component footer and to my ears, are for those who have the easy bucks and can justify them for smaller incremental refinements.

As spike replacements on the Monaco, however, they're no-brainers and easily worth every penny asked. In fact, I wonder whether they may not eclipse Alvin Lloyd's more expensive Formula Carbon fiber shelf which, after all, finds itself rather at the tail-end of his hierarchical multi-stage scheme. While my purse strings aren't yet tied into a Gordian knot, Alvin Lloyd seems keen to abuse my present fascination with this entire subject matter. He's already warned of the impending arrvival of one such Carbonic shelf.

As far as using Apex in a similar function under non-GPA stands? My Novus rack's two main load-bearing metal arms don't feature provisions for any kind of spikes. I won't be able to conduct this test in earnest and I ain't buying a bloody Target rack to find out either. But common sense asks this: If these Apex footers could improve the Monaco stand to such an extent, how much more would they do for a rack that didn't already feature the Monaco's pointed application engineering? Say any of the many cold-welded, high-torque bolted metal fabrications or fine-furniture-grade wooden designs like RixRax or Zoethecus?

Such musings will remain for others to answer. What I will ask you in closing is this: Do you presently own one such stand or a Grand Prix system and are due for a $2,000 component upgrade? Then contact Alvin Lloyd before you do splurge. For a lot less dough, you might come out far ahead with his Apex footers - especially if you play your music loudly and have speakers that pass out low bass by the truckload. And unless you were deaf, you should pass out if they did... (this only to appease the Surgeon General - rock on, friend. Ultimately, it's about whether you're having fun, not the last ounce of fidelity or any of the other popular HiFi audiophile notions)...

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