Carbon graphite blocks with ball bearings
Basic: $99 for set of 3 1 inch high
TuneBlocks XT: $119 for set of 3 1.5 inches high
Carbide Bearing Upgrade: $50 per set
Boston Audio Design
49 Appleton St.
Arlington, MA 02476
VTS Tuning Dots for speakers, electronics, windows & rooms
Range of sizes, colors, 8 to 12 in a set
SRP: from $29 to $279 a set
3112 SE 51st Avenue
Portland, OR 97206
Few audiophiles can afford the very top level of high end components in their music systems, and due to the stratospheric levels of specialty audio exhibited at the recent CES this is even more true than previously. One way some of us squeeze improved sonics out of our more reasonably-priced gear or even rock-bottom mid-fi components is by tweaking the hell out of them. While there are a number of tweak approaches that cost little or nothing – such as lifting your cables off the artificial-fabric carpeting with black thread – others require a bit of investment. Though still nothing like the cost of those Boulders, Krells and Meridians.
Taming vibration and resonance is one of the primary goals of many tweaks. These include special shelves that drain micro-vibrations away from equipment into the floor, isolation plates and stands, special bases filled with sand or air, and special feet. There are a myriad of different under-component feet available for your equipment – ranging from something as cheap as ordinary marbles to high-tech supports that cost as much as $100 per foot. There seem to be two main types of materials used – soft and gushy materials such as Sorbathane which absorb vibration, and hard, often pointy feet which are designed to transmit micro-vibrations set up by motors and electronics within a unit into the base under the unit in a procedure sometimes referred to a mass-loading.
It is important to try a number of different supports under your various components to discover what has the most positive effect on its sonics, although this is rather difficult to do with so many different products and many available only via mail order. I’ve tried a number of feet over the years and have slowly enhanced the sound of my electronics and players bit by bit. Although my components sit mostly on rather poor MDF shelving, the shelf sections have heavy brass cones from Walker Audio going into the floor thru the carpeting, and the shelves under the most sensitive equipment have heavy MSB Iso-Plates on them.
My AV preamp and my two disc players had either the Van Slyke or Ceraball iso feet under them. Reviewed in 2003 Here. Other components are using Black Diamond Racing cones. A new player in this game is Boston Audio Design, and they have come up with an equipment support that is not really a foot but has a number of advantages over some of the others. TuneBlocks are made from high purity carbon graphite – not too far removed from pencil lead, except that it is fashioned into one-inch blocks and finished with a special sealant making it hard and non-smearing (in more ways than expected). In the top of the block is a depression which accepts the single small ball bearing – either chromium steel in the standard version or tungsten carbide in the enhanced performance model for an extra $50.
The bearing usually contacts the bottom of the component at a single point, though if it is against a ventilation slot or other non-flat surface it really doesn’t affect the sound. The bearing rests in the conical cavity in the top of the block, creating a circle of contact for maximum transference of vibrations. The 1.5-inch TuneBlocks with Tungsten carbide bearings are the ultimate in the line, but on many shelves they would raise the component so high that there would be no room for ventilation on top of it or it could simply not fit on the shelf any longer.
While the height of the big TuneBlocks might be a disadvantage, there are some genuine advantages to their design. Although they employ a ball bearing, components sitting on them do not wobble in the least as with the Darumas and other feet using ball bearings. You won’t knock your player off its feet when you try to put a disc in its drawer as with the shaky supports. There’s also nothing to become damaged in use; the TuneBlocks can stay in your system forever, improving the sound of any future components they support. They also don’t seem to have detrimental effects on components’ sonics as do some of the other support solutions. Some of the squishy ones can actually dull and roll off sonic performance. I have a highly tweaked turntable support system set up or I would have tried them there, but I venture the TuneBlocks might work well with many turntables having some sort of floating suspension. They would also be worth trying under strictly electronic components. I have been pleased with the results of Walker’s heavy brass cones under my three front channel tube monoblocks, so I didn’t get to a comparison there.
I find the TuneBlocks to have a Zen-like simplicity about them – both in their appearance and general concept – that is most attractive, and they certainly do achieve what they were designed to do. Boston Audio Design deserves allocades for coming up with a most worthwhile high end accessory.
Marigo’s VTS Window Tuning System
Marigo Audio is the developer of the Signature 3-D Stabilizer Mat which we reviewed Here. The dots come in a variety of sizes, types and colors for different applications, but all are designed to reduce extraneous resonances and micro-vibrations that can impinge on the clarity of reproduced sound. They are constructed from various thickness layers of both hard and squishy materials and range in diameter from 3mm up to 60mm. The smallest 3mm Tuning Dots are used directly on the drivers of dynamic speaker systems. Larger dots are used on the bands around drivers and around the binding posts on the rear of the cabinet. 40mm VTS Dots are using on the sides and rear of speaker cabinets. Small tuning dots ranging from 3mm to 6mm are used on electronics, including application directly to IC chips, voltage regulators, transistors and even on the bottom of vacuum tubes. In the listening room, Super Dots of 40mm and 60mm diameter can be used near the corner intersections of walls and ceilings.
Super Dots for Windows
When I first visited the house in which I currently reside I was forced to modify my criteria for a suitable place in which to have my combination listening room and home theater. I had been looking for either a large basement room or a large second story room which could be closed off and probably have some soundproofing added. Everything I had seen was depressing – low ceilings, pipes and ducts, no windows at all, noisy furnaces, moldy odors. This house, on the other hand, had no basement and only two average bedrooms upstairs, but it had a striking 33 foot by 13.5 foot great room with a very high sloping ceiling and balcony above. The short wall at one end was perfect for the AV equipment and screen and the far end of the room had a huge stone fireplace. The only thing that caused me some concern was the presence of three large picture windows; actually the center one is a sliding door to the deck. One of the large windows was adjacent to where the front three speakers would have to be located, and very close to the right front tower speaker.
The seller had never installed drapes of any kind. In fact the brown wall-to-wall carpet was completely faded from the sun and had to be immediately replaced. (In doing so I stipulated old-fashioned felt pad under the new carpet for improved acoustical properties instead of the normal rubber material.) I priced out having heavy padded drapes installed on the three large window areas to reduce reflections and resonance from the glass. That simulated me to research a more reasonably-priced window covering alternative. I ended up with lightweight folding shades which I could install myself. They look great but probably have minimal acoustical properties. Also my original speakers in the new house were rather squat minimonitors but last year they were replaced by my present four Von Schweikert towers which stand higher and more in line with the windows.
Learning about Marigo’s VTS Window Tuning System I felt that finally there was something I might be able to do to ensure that the large glass areas in proximity to my listening space were not mucking up the sonics. The first step was to clean all the windows with Windex. Next I sat down in my sweet spot and auditioned a variety of my favorite test material on SACDs and CDs, including two Opus 3 test samplers, some especially fine piano recordings, and the concluding cannon-emphasized portion of Telarc’s 1812 Overture SACD.
The next step was application of all the dots. They have a liner on the back protecting the industrial-strength adhesive layer. You don’t need to press them against the window for a long time to hold. The dots are all applied close to the corners of the windows. The windows on each side of the sliding door have a large center section bordered by two smaller sliding sections. I immediately discovered (fortunately before sticking the dots on the glass) that the 60mm SuperDots were just a bit too thick to clear the sliding portions of the windows. So I used the 40mm dots on the center section and the 60mm on the sliding surfaces, but only at the two far corners – left and right. In other words, not four dots on the sliding portions but only two.
I could use the 60mm SuperDots on the sliding glass door. I treated all three of the large window systems plus a small sliding window in the dining room about 10 feet away from the right channel tower speaker. Now without changing the volume levels, or returning to the level I had used and written down the first time, it was time to audition all my test tracks once more.
My first impression was that this enhancement was more clearly identifiable that that from use of the Marigo Stabilizer Mat. Clarity was the most descriptive word that came to mind. There was a cleaner and more focused sound on every track, but without any hint of “over-scrubbing” as with the quality of sound some digital processes impart. The initial track on the Opus 3 SACD Test CD 4 is From the Drottningholms Music, featuring the Omnibus Wind Ensemble. There are several clarinets in the forefront of the ensemble and a wonderful feeling of the hall in which the recording was made. It was plenty impressive pre-Dots, but post-Dots the distinctive reedy quality of the clarinets was so much more in evidence as to be jaw-dropping. Also the realism of the frontal soundstage was increased, with more depth, width and accurate placement of the musicians.
Another track on this same test SACD is the Lars Erstrand Quartet (with a B3 as the keyboard instrument) in Sweet Georgia Brown. Before the Dots it sounded like a typical live jazz recording, less processed and controlled than a studio recording, but nothing that involving. Post-Dots one was in the club where it was recorded, and sounds of silverware, bottles being opened, and low voices were suddenly noticeable. In fact I was reminded of Jazz at the Pawnshop, although it was nowhere near the audience noise level on that album. But the point is I hadn’t noticed all of that on first hearing.
The good old 1812 Overture (actually not nearly as good on the cannon part as the original Mercury LP) closed out pre-Dots with a series of cannon booms which seemed to cluster together a bunch of very low-frequency pops – almost musical in timbre as tough some tympani were involved somewhere in there. Post-Dots the booms were sharper, had more impact, and any hint of musicality was gone. This was now obviously a high-powered explosion. The other thing brought to my attention was the alternation of the cannon shots between the left and right front speakers. I had also not noticed that on the first hearing, and I believe this demonstrates the improved stereo separation and imaging produced by reduction of the resonances.
I would think many home audio systems might need only four of the 40mm or 60mm dots. I’m thinking of the setups at the narrow end of a living area with one picture window facing the street and the speakers some distance in front and on either side of it with the equipment in between. I’m also thinking of many such layouts I’ve seen where there is a large mirror or large glass-framed picture on one of the side walls over a fireplace. So add four more dots for that!
– John Sunier