February 1, 2005GutWire Audio Cables NotePad Acoustic isolation affects a systems sound. If you doubt it, remove an electronic audio component -- a disc player, say -- from an untreated surface. Place a 6" stack of newspapers where the component sat, and position the component atop the stack. Listen to the system. Youll hear a difference -- though this is not to say that all audible differences are for the better. On, then, to the question du jour: Can effective acoustic isolation be achieved on the cheap?
Lets begin at cheaps opposite. Excepting three Quantum Symphony pods on the floor, my audio electronics -- two mono amps, CD player, and line conditioner -- sit on Silent Running Audio Ohio Class acoustic isolation platforms. The SRA devices are expensive -- the platform configured to my Mark Levinson No.390S CD player sells for a tick under $1000. Its beautifully crafted and does a bang-up job.
The ML player and a Harmonix Reimyo ALS-777 line conditioner occupy the top of an old Chinese cabinet (56" wide by 20" high). Two Mark Levinson No.33H mono amps flank the cabinet. To keep things simple, I tried to hear how three or four relatively inexpensive NotePads ($79.99 USD/set of three) from GutWire Audio Cables compared with the stellar, top-dollar SRA.
A GutWire NotePad is a pillow of black plastic, overall dimensions 7.25" by 5", including a flat 0.25" border. Said pillow encloses a viscous liquid that GutWire identifies as a polymer gel. The product is identified in white letters on one side of the pad; the other side is featureless. One 10-ounce NotePad is said to support as much as 22 pounds -- which means that three or four NotePads can sustain just about any component short of a behemoth amp. Id been using eight NotePads, blank side up, to isolate my four speaker cables from the floor. The NotePad is ideally suited to the Clairvoyants wide ribbons. (More about this later.)
My principal test CD was Flamingos [hatOLOGY 609], with Max Nagl on soprano, alto, and baritone sax; Otto Lechner, accordion, piano, and voice; and Bradley Jones, double bass (for information about hatOLOGY, one of my favorite labels, see www.hathut.com). The sessions, recorded by Alfred Habelitz in SWR Studio 1, Baden-Baden, bring Jones double bass into the listening room. My Audio Magic Clairvoyant speaker cables -- four 3"-wide silver ribbons -- convey all the bass the recording has to offer and my speakers can transmit. As remarked in my Ultra Audio review, the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7s low end is a tad smoother and better extended than the 6s. With the CD players SRA platform in place, the sound was gorgeously rich and detailed and, with respect to that voluptuous bass, beautifully controlled. In terms of production, Id call Flamingos flawless. The musics good, too.
First, I needed to set a zero standard by removing the SRA platform and listening to the system with the player directly atop the wood cabinet. When I did, one of the more engaging jazz releases in my collection suddenly became rather uninvolving. However, youd need to listen carefully to understand just what it was that blunted my pleasure. Youd also need to understand that, absent the immediacy of an A/B comparison, Flamingos would still sound like a pretty good recording without the SRA platform in place. It cant be stated too often: An A/B-revealed difference for the worse, however slight, matters. If you can hear it, theres no point in trying to quantify anything -- no matter how small the difference, its enormous.
Without the SRA platform, the principal casualty was resolution. I heard a grainier, less-well-defined, relatively stillborn presentation. Flamingos sounded coarsened. The low end was still there, but was somehow less involving.
I then placed four NotePads at the CD players corners. As we like to say in this dodge, the difference was not subtle. The midrange and highs sweetened significantly. The low end, too, was now especially rich. The word is pleasurable -- this was a sound I could comfortably live with. What suffered by comparison with my component-specific SRA platform -- and I had to listen carefully for this -- was front-to-back dimensionality, inner detail, and low-end definition. Translating the experience to visual terms, I was looking at a more inviting but softer-edged subject.
For confirmation, I repeated the test -- player directly on cabinet, then on NotePads -- with a beautifully recorded CD of a markedly different character. The Tacet label (www.tacet.de) has just issued the third of a projected four sets of Beethoven string-quartet recordings with the youthful Auryn Quartet (Auryn's Beethoven [Tacet 125]), featuring the three Op.59 ("Razumovsky") quartets and the Op.74 in E-flat major. These superbly detailed discs can sound edgy under less-than-optimal playback conditions, and so they did with the players SRA platform removed.
NotePads to the rescue -- first four, then three. (Going from four NotePads to three made no difference I feel confident enough to report on, nor did I notice much of a difference with a NotePad over the players transport.) The edgy strings became inviting. I needed to listen even more carefully than I had with Flamingos to remark the SRA platforms shortfalls. The differences were there, albeit a shade less detectable. I think the world of the Silent Running gear, but nowhere does the law of diminishing returns obtain more strikingly than in high-end audio. The NotePads are a pretty good deal.
My system is a bear for resolution, and that rare and precious qualitys diminution would have been the first thing I heard. I didnt. For a sound system that doesnt cost a wife and a kidney, three or four NotePads under a component strike me as a dandy tweak. GutWires blurb claims that NotePads also deal with EMF and RFI mischief. Ill take that on faith.
If you go to www.gutwire.coms Product link, youll find several suggestions, with illustrations, for where to place NotePads. As mentioned, prior to this listening comparison, Id been using NotePads under my speaker cables; a website view of a speaker cable sandwiched between two NotePads showed me something I hadnt tried. The sonic effects of two NotePad sandwiches per side were subtle but somehow comforting. With my SRA Ohio Class platform back under the ML CD player, thats where these NotePads will stay.
I do appreciate that minimizing speaker-cable vibrations borders on obsessive-compulsive, not to say delusional, behavior. But lets back up to acoustic isolation for solid-state electronics. One would think that these expensive treatments merely gild the lily. Microphonic vacuum tubes? Yes, certainly -- the less vibration the better. Analog turntables, too.
Several years ago, an audio maven told me that removing a solid-state power amp from its floor or shelf and placing it on any type of acoustic isolation platform would change its sound. I may have offended him with an ill-disguised expression of incredulity. Im with you now, chum.
Price: $79.99 USD/set of three.
Warranty: Lifetime to original owner.
GutWire Audio Cables
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