|Reviewer: John Potis
Digital source: Pioneer DV-535 DVD player and Bel Canto DAC2, McCormack UDP-1 universal player [on review]
Analog Source: Sota Jewel, Sumiko Premier FT3, Micro Benz MC Silver, Bryston BP-1.5 phono stage
Preamp: Herron Audio VTSP-1A
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa & Symphony II [on review], Bryston 7B ST
Speakers: Silverline Audio Sonata Series II, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5.2 upgrade, Third Rethm [on review]
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor interconnects and speaker wire, DH Labs D-75 digital interconnect, JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptivator power cords
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature with Wattgate upgrades
Sundry accessories: Isolation pods and cones by Vibrapod; ZCable Ultra 1 Z-Sleeves
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling. Speakers set up on long wall
Review component retail: $8 each
In May of 1998, I was the first-ever to pen a review of the now well-known Vibrapod isolation pods. At the time, the wonderful devices hadn't even established a chain of distribution yet. I vividly remember my first experience with them though I was at first reluctant to even give them a try. I mean, what was this little vinyl doohicky going to do for my system? After all, if Vibrapod's Sam Kennard wanted them to be taken seriously, he would have put a serious price on them. Every audiophile knows that nothing worthwhile ever came from a product retailing for $6. Right? Obviously I jest - I've been using them as a matter of habit ever since. No component goes without. It's not up for debate. [How perfectly Germanic of you, John. Yessir! - Ed.]
The original Vibrapods were so good that in order to expedite their use, I measured the distance between the feet on all of my gear and procured sheets of 1/4" tempered glass sized such that they would just span the foot print of all my components. Ever since, I've been placing Vibrapods on the shelf of the equipment rack, sheet of glass across, component on the now isolated and damped glass. (Vibrapod claims that acrylic shelves work even better.) Chez John, CD players and DVD players get their factory feet removed and rest upon yet another set of pods.
The effects of my inconsequential efforts are numerous and consequential. First and probably foremost, I get bass. Particularly when placed under tube preamplifiers and CD transports, the effect on the bass region is considerable. More bass. Better defined bass. More musical bass.
|The areas that experience the next-greatest level of effect are soundstaging and imaging. With Vibrapods in place, the soundstage gets wider, deeper and taller. The dimensions of that stage become much more obvious, boundaries less nebulous. It becomes much easier to navigate with the mind's eye. You can almost see it. Sharper outlines and better dimensionality even improve image delineation.
Tonal colors become more highly saturated too, this probably having as
|much to do with the music emerging from a more silent backdrop than before. Some components produce a quieter noise floor once the music starts which also heightens micro dynamic contrast. I also found that placing Vibrapods under non-suspended turntables decreases the probability of problems with acoustic feedback.
Packed with performance as the Vibrapods are, they're also packed with value. As the weight of your components increases with other like-minded products, so does the cost of isolating them from their supports. Not so with the Vibrapods. They come in 5 different models, each the same price, each supporting a greater weight than the preceding one. You can support your 100lbs tube amp for exactly the same cost as your 15 pound CD player. Outstanding.
Bring on the Cones
After all these years of using Vibrapods, you'd think that I would have had higher expectations when Sam Kennard told me to expect a box of something new in the mail. When the box arrived, I opened it to find a bunch of vinyl cones. Vinyl cones? Had Sam lost his mind? All cones are hard! Steel! Aluminum! Carbon fiber! PolyCrystal! Who was going to take soft, flexible vinyl cones serious?
Anybody who bothers trying them, that's who!
The new Vibrapod Cones sell for an amazingly ridiculous $8 each but are otherwise quite the departure from the old pods which remain available (I'll get back to them shortly). The Cones stand a touch over 1 inch tall. At the tip, they contain a 3/8" chrome ball bearing. The ball is stationary - it doesn't roll. (Vibrapod even invites experimentation with ball bearings of like size but different composition; just pop one out and the other one in.) The base of the Cone measures about 1.5" in diameter. Rather than being flat, it is slightly concave to form a mild suction cup when loaded to prevent things from sliding about your shelf - a nice touch. Each cone supports 10 pounds max and is ideally loaded at 6 lbs.
I initially used the Cones in place of the Vibrapods and was surprised by what I found: They bettered the original Vibrapods in some areas but other areas felt as though I'd lost some of the original gains. I immediately noted advances
|in the domain of focus. Even with the pods, instrumental outlines as well as vocals previously seemed to have their origin spread too much in the vertical plane. Rather than coming from a sharply defined point in space, it was as though they were coming from a source highly delineated laterally but with too much vertical indecision. The most obvious gain brought by the Vibrapod Cones was one of focus within that vertical plane. Voices now came from|
|a more highly defined point in space. Instruments did likewise. The difference wasn't subtle. I thought that in some of the aforementioned areas, particularly the bass, my system had taken an almost imperceptible backwards step. Still, the increase in focus was amazing and I wasn't sure which product I preferred. Then Sam told me to stack 'em.
Not coincidentally, the base of the Cones just happens to be the same circumference as the central support ring of the original Vibrapod. What Sam was suggesting was that I place the Vibrapod on the shelf, park the Cone atop the pod, then the component atop the Cone.
Well, I did and couldn't believe how well the combination worked. I regained the small previous loss and still maintained what the Cones had already done so well. In fact, now the system had better focus than ever before. Instruments now came from both a highly delineated point in space and they were surrounded by a better sense of 3-dimensionality. The presentation was now positively holographic. These cones and pods had synergy, baby.
There's Got To Be Cones
As I write this, neither Vibrapod's Sam Kennard nor my publisher know that I've been motivated to slip into unannounced review mode. What prompted me was the realization that these Cones are just too damn good to sit on. Yesterday I made some changes in my system. The last couple of months were spent evaluating the Third Rethm speakers and the Underwood HiFi/PartsConneXion Level-2 Music Hall Mambo integrated amplifier. Yesterday I inserted the McCormack UDP-1 universal player, brought in my customary Silverline Sonata IIs and threw in the 300B-based Art Audio Symphony II amplifier with the McCormack MAP-1 multichannel preamplifier. Today, after a 24-hour warm-up, I was listening and something didn't seem right. I just wasn't getting the focus and detail down low that I remembered being so impressed by with the Opera Audio Reference 9.9C 300B monos which I reviewed for Soundstage! a while ago. Things seemed a little opaque and congested now. For sure, the Art Audio Symphony II was warmer and more robust sounding, but could it be that it wasn't going to match the Opera amplifiers in detail and musical finesse?
That's when a little light-bulb went off. With all my fiddling around, I had lost track of the Vibrapod Cones. As a matter of habit, when I moved my gear to the new rack, I had transferred the Vibrapods but not the Cones. With the Cones again in place, I couldn't believe what I was hearing - for the second time. Bass tightened up and became much more musical than with the Pods alone. Congestion disappeared. More importantly, the focus that I remembered from those bygone 300B amplifiers had now returned in spades. It'll be a cold day when I forget the Cones again. I guarantee it.
A favorite system-check CD of mine whereby to evaluate just about any changes in my rig is Dire Straits' On Every Street [Warner 9 26680-2]. The title cut and "You and Your Friend" are two fairly subdued songs that just ooze pronounced sensuality. They also offer some fantastic soundstaging and imaging well beyond the speakers. Once the Vibrapod Cones were back in place, not only did the widely spaced guitars have palpable presence and a holographic dimensionality but Knopfler's voice appeared from a completely convincing point of origin at center stage. "Heavy Fuel" and "My Parties" were both charged by the Vibrapod Cones, with new microdynamic prowess propelling right along the song's bouncy rhythms.
Even more arresting was Live at Blues Alley [ G2-10046] by Eva Cassidy. "Cheek To Cheek" immediately knocked me out with a crisp dimensionality that caught me off-guard. Instruments were so neatly and obviously layered about the stage that the presentation was more believable right off the bat. The piano riffs hung in the air with new authenticity and the acoustic bass sounded superb in its woody resonance. Of course, Eva's voice exuded the smooth soulfulness that made her premature departure from this world such a tragedy. "People Get Ready" features a low growling bass line that was the perfect complement to the skipping rhythm of the high-hat and Cassidy's vocal allure. With such clean palpability, such simple arrangements can't help but draw the listener in. It was time to put down the pencil and just listen.
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