November 15, 2007EquaRack Multi-Mount Footers
I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the manual: heavy paper, three colors, beautiful illustrations, obsessively precise instructions. And math. For footers.
Ive never believed in the adage that good sound comes from sweat, aggravation, and sharp pains in the lower back that radiate toward the hip. Im an accidental audiophile if ever there was one: music first, sound second (OK, maybe first), fiddling with equipment dead last. If a product intended for use in a home stereo requires the rental of a forklift, the hand-to-eye coordination of a surgeon, or the perseverance of an emperor penguin, then I firmly believe somebodys got a little more engineering to do.
That said, I do have a serious vibration problem in my new listening quarters that stems from a massive 10 x 16 bookcase and credenza my wife had built along what was formerly my systems front wall. Id looked forward to all those books reducing the reverberant effect of the rooms nakedness, but when I realized that the only possible place for my components was inside that credenza, I had to act fast. With construction in full swing, I asked the contractor for thick shelves of solid maple with heavy brass supports. I know some audiophiles swear by the stuff, so I had no way of imagining the negative effect that maple -- and all that pulsing, buzzing pine, a veritable 160-square-foot cello -- would have on the sound. I was a beaten man.
My Silent Running Audio V-Series bases had done an outstanding job of isolating my equipment from the nasty tubular-steel-and-MDF rack Id used for a decade. There was plenty of dynamics and detail without any edge -- maybe even a touch of euphonic "butter" that made vocal harmonies and massed violins as rich and smooth as hollandaise. With the new shelves, that was now only a pleasant memory. Because of the severe space limitations, the big base under my VAC 30/30 Mk.III tube amp wouldnt fit (before, Id set it directly on the floor), so that had to go straight on the shelf. I cant blame SRA for the resulting sound, but it definitely lacked punch. Worse, it now seemed to peak in the midtreble, somewhere around 4kHz, giving me about a 45-minute window to listen before tightness set in around my temples. What I needed, other than an apartment transplant, were supports with a low profile that, unlike most one-size-fits-all shelves or cones, would be just as effective with my lighter components as with my power amp. (The rest of my system consists of a dCS Verdi and Delius front end, Audio Physic Virgo loudspeakers, and a Z-Systems rdp-1 digital preamp.)
Equa Corporation founder and designer Joe Ciullas concept is a footer that enables the user to dial in the exact weight capacity of the footers with just the right number of small, viscoelastic pellets. This material, when asked to support only the weight for which it was designed -- no more, no less -- will, theoretically, convert the kinetic energy of vibration into heat. Properly loaded, the Multi-Mount pellets will permit horizontal movement the way bearings or rollers do, isolating components from rack-borne vibrations while providing the vertical movement needed to damp airborne vibes, with little or no deformation of the sound.
I could feel very satisfying senses of both solidity and freedom of movement when I pushed down on a component, supported by Multi-Mount footers, and tried to rotate it. It was exactly the same sensation provided by the SRA bases -- which, coincidentally, also use a kind of viscoelastic sandwich to sink vibration while allowing movement. Of course, each SRA base must be built to handle the weight of a specific component, effectively marrying the two items for life. This doesnt bother me -- my system has been stable for years -- but as a reviewer, it wouldnt hurt to have on hand the means to properly support any component that might come my way. (Obsessive system-churners: keep reading.)
The Multi-Mount footer ($300 USD for a set of three) consists of an aluminum base with 16 pits, in which can nestle a number of small, blue, rubbery pellets. A cap with concentric circles sunk into its underside fits snugly (once compressed) over the pellets, and a viscoelastic disc covers the top to make firm contact with the components base. Simply divide the weight of the component by three or four, depending on how many footers youre using (none of my pieces was heavy enough to require a fourth footer). A 60-pound amp with reasonably even weight distribution needs three 20-pound-capacity Multi-Mounts. Now divide that 20 pounds by the 3 pounds each pellet supports and you get -- yes, dammit, a fraction. Using seven pellets per footer gives you a total of 63 pounds, not 60, but since its better to slightly under- than overload the pellets, this is exact enough for me.
Equipment with oddly disbursed weight is a problem, however. My amp has little 6SN7 tubes down front, big 300Bs in the middle, and huge transformers in the rear. Weighing is the only solution. Unfortunately, we dont own a scale (were both in denial about our weight), and the only one I could borrow was the old-fashioned analog kind that you just step on and read. Ciulla recommends a scale capable of 0.2-pound increments, so I played along and ordered a cutting-edge digital scale.
An exercise: Try weighing each side of your body separately to gauge your weight distribution. It isnt as easy as getting on one leg at a time (my scale just keeps running numbers without stopping), and it isnt easy to get an accurate weight distribution for a component, either. As difficult as it was to haul that little pit bull of a tube amp out of the credenza, I couldve picked it up and thrown it out the window during the weigh-in. Some "modern" scales apparently have contact points or foot-shaped designs on them because thats where theyre sensitive to the weight. I got nowhere at all with anything shaped like a box. The EquaRack manual does illustrate a method using a platform and supporting blocks (which must be the exact height of the scale), but I lack the temperament for it. All I could get out of the procedure, even after reading the 48-page booklet that came with the scale, was that my amplifier has a BMI of 36.4, which, I understand, is quite good for a tube amp of its age. Luckily, between VAC designer Kevin Hayes and the nice people at SRA who made my amp stand, I learned that my amp weighs 75 pounds, about 80% of which is in the rear. Thats what I went with. Some manuals actually list a components weight in the specifications. Imagine that.
Once the Multi-Mounts are loaded with pellets, youve got to get the top to lock into place. The more pellets are required, the more difficult this is to do. It began to dawn on me that the top plate was so sensitive to movement -- because, I think, of its grooves being circular to allow, yes, motion -- that the job of lowering the amplifier onto the footers without disturbing the pellets would serve as my audiophile crucible. Each attempt at dropping the ungainly amplifier onto the tops without tipping any side even a few millimeters resulted in one or more footers shooting its load of pellets across the room like blue popcorn. I knew I needed to put the amp on blocks (books didnt work) and remove one at time, but those blocks had to be exactly the same size as the loaded footers, and not more than a few millimeters off. It struck me that if I could load three footers with pellets, then tape the tops to the bottoms, I could use those as blocks. Hallelujah.
Of course, theres still a little tape glue stuck to those footers (sorry, Joe), but damn, that little black amp sure looks pretty sitting on the Multi-Mounts silver cylinders. I cant move it, though. If I push the component even slightly, the tops move before the bottoms do, and the pellets go boing! Lighter components are almost no trouble at all to perch, and their weight is usually much more evenly distributed than that of an amp. And did I mention that a system floating on these things looks gorgeous?
I couldnt get enough of the sound. Sea changes were obvious from the first disc, Solo/Quartet, a multitracked solo-vibes outing from Bobby Hutcherson. Its just a routine Fantasy OJC CD [OJCCD 425], digitally recorded in 1982, but with vibraphone, marimba, gongs, bells, and drums, its a percussion feast. Although my tube amp usually gave the proceedings a nice, warm glow, highlighting the beautiful sustain of the vibes, I always preferred the disc played through my backup amp, a powerful solid-state model. With the VAC-EquaRack combination, however, the sustain remained, but the tonk-tonk-tonk of the wooden marimba was more startling, more insistent, and the actual striking of the gong was now just as pronounced as its ringing always had been. I was getting ahead of myself, but after that first session I began to hope that Id lucked into a harmonious combination of solid-state attack and tube decay.
After a few more sessions, it became evident that bass -- not deep bass (my Audio Physic Virgos dont really go there), but electric and acoustic bass -- had lifted itself out of the mud that now permeated my living room; no spikes allowed on this carpet, just the plinths that came with the Virgos. Still, the bass was cleaner and sharper, or as sharp as bass can be and still be bass. All instruments in the lower midrange began to separate -- basses from cellos, bass guitar from the guitars lowest string -- just enough to define them in the way a solid-state amp will. But this was through my tube amp, with all the inherent advantages of tubes (the VAC is inarguably superior to my SS amp).
Ive heard cones and shelves in my system that did this, too, but always at the expense of making the sound leaner. Everything would be tipped up slightly, making things in the middle sound thin, and things up top bright and etched. Not here. The EquaRacks didnt give me the trumpets dipped in honey that you can hear through some euphonic tube systems (and which I got with my old rack in my old room), but I wasnt diving for the volume knob, either. If youve ever heard someone play a trumpet right near you, you know the experience isnt 100% pleasant. With the amp sitting directly on the maple shelf, high horn notes made me grind my teeth. With the EquaRack footers in place, Miles Davis could still make me wince a bit (which probably would have made him happy), but Chet Baker and Art Farmer now sounded sweet again -- not "buttery" or "golden," but brassy, as they should.
It wasnt until I got around to concentrating on vocal harmonies that I realized I was missing something: smearing. I was listening for the syrupy blend of voices Id gotten to know and love from my 300Bs, especially the "Ooooohs" and "Aaaaahs" from the Eagles and Beach Boys, but it was virtually gone -- the syrup, that is. The resulting sound wasnt unpleasant, just a touch drier. I heard the five voices more as distinct individuals, with less studio echo -- a closer seat, if you will. Or maybe its just the way its supposed to sound. I wouldnt know.
With instrumental music, which I listen to 90% of the time, the overall effect was a kind of stiffening or, more accurately, stability -- like the difference between riding in a Lincoln Town Car and riding in a Porsche. I felt the road more with the EquaRacks in place -- every pit, so to speak -- rather than happily but numbly gliding over them. Consequently, hard-edged music could sometimes get a bit uncomfortable. (You gonna drive that thing through the Baja? Ha!) On the other hand, because I listen much more often to jazz than to metal or late-1970s punk, the nimble ride is exactly what Im looking for. For those of you who have trouble with the concept of pace, rhythm, and timing (PRaT), one session with these footers should finally raise that curtain. Im not kidding.
Im also pretty much convinced that this unusual stability or lack of euphonic smearing (Im talking tube amp here, not SS) contributed to the solidity of the imaging and the origin of sounds. The soundstage Im used to with the VAC-Virgo combination has always been kind of huge and billowy, even now that the speakers are firing the length of the room instead of sitting along the long wall. The images, while very full-bodied -- meaty, even -- werent, however, snapped into place the way the way they are with solid-state. (That, by the way, is a very nice thing about solid-state that few tube addicts will admit.) Even the images out on the flanks behind the speakers were more solid, more convincing, giving the impression of a wider stage even if it wasnt actually expanded. More effective stage area? I was very happy that I could now enjoy this kind of image focus while retaining the Virgos panoramic sound spread.
One last thing: My earlier hissy-fit aside, the precision of these finicky little pellets has not been overstated. I tried adding or subtracting just one pellet from each footer (not the ones under the amp -- those are permanent, believe me), and the change was equivalent to using different cables, or substituting squishy Sorbothane pucks (verboten) for the EquaRacks, or using no footers at all. Adding (underloading) made the sound harder and cleaner, in general, while subtracting (overloading) seemed to make things softer, duller, and, yes, more smeary. These are very general impressions, but I was never able to take the sound for long with purposely misloaded footers. Just do as I say, not as I do, and mind the instruction manual. Joe Ciulla hasnt gone through the obvious trouble for nothing.
So -- with the headaches and backaches now receding into the distant past, was it worth the effort? Duh. Is the EquaRack Multi-Mount still the most annoying product Ive ever used? Only turntables are worse. Maybe the pellet holes could be a bit deeper, or maybe the caps depressions should match those of the base. Maybe perfectly sized blocks could be provided (what would they cost -- a nickel apiece?).
But the gains are hard to argue with, especially with transports and tube amps, although a sampling of EquaRacks sonic signature (theyll hate that -- there should be no sonic signature) was available after Id mounted only my digital preamp. Proceed carefully, trying three or four Multi-Mounts at a time: first under the transport, then the amp, especially if its a tube job. The results will vary, as it always does, with the makeup of your system, the room it occupies, the construction of your floor, where you live in relation to fault lines, the humidity, how your stock portfolio is performing, etc.
But most important, Im using the Multi-Mounts in conjunction with solid maple shelves that Im pretty much stuck with, and nothing aside from levitation can truly isolate a component from the shelf it sits on. The moment you decouple something from a shelf, it falls down. Nonetheless, three Multi-Mounts cost $300. That may be a bit high for those contemplating a one-size-fits-all platform, but the result will make you glad you gave up that dinner out on Saturday night to make up the difference.
EquaRack Multi-Mount footers are unique. The niche Joe Ciulla has created -- of viscoelastic-based footers that can be easily adjusted to accommodate components of any weight -- is a conceptual A+. Ingenious.
EquaRack Multi-Mount Footers
I am extremely displeased with this review despite the fact that it reports positively about the sonic benefits of the Footers.
The writer has made a Herculean effort to describe the difficulty he had with the setup and deployment of the Footers. I am not suggesting he did not have a hard time. I am saying that he should not have had this difficulty because the Footers are not inherently hard to set up. The problem lies with the reviewer -- not with the Footers! Unfortunately, readers will expect they too would have the same problems but in fact this is completely untrue.
He admits it! He calls himself, an accidental audiophile and admits, I lack the temperament for it! Heres the problem in a nutshell. This writer has an admitted predisposition against any device that isnt plug and play and his contempt for the Footers is glaring and remarkable!
The writer is entitled to report his experience, but a responsible review must make the distinction between the writers personal biases and shortcomings and the inherent nature of the subject product! This review fails miserably to do so!
I have never had to defend my products. They speak for themselves. The Footers are brilliantly engineered, extremely effective devices that the average person can set up with minimum effort! And, they come with a ten-day money-back guarantee.
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