Transitory Psychotherapy For Audiophiles?
Audiophiles are a peculiar breed of animal. Not only are we never satisfied in our lifelong quest for high fidelity, but also actually thirst for accessories more expensive than the components themselves in an attempt to squeeze out that last smidgen of "air" or "solidify the soundstage". My all-time favorite is the "reviewer" who claims that the $1,000 accessory made a $500 CD player sound like a $5,000 state-of-the-art product.
Let's be honest kids.
As much as I enjoy my Rega Planet/Audio Note DAC Kit 1.2 set-up, there is no way that putting a few cones underneath it and then placing it on an isolation platform makes it sound like the superb Audiomeca Mephisto II CD player or Naim CDS II. It would call it nothing more than wishful thinking and product envy.
Yes, some tweaks and isolation platforms will make a huge difference but don't expect them to turn an "Acura" into a Ferrari. If something as simple as a cone coupled to an isolation platform can turn a budget product into a statement product, then many of us have been wasting thousands of dollars on over-hyped hardware, when we could have used that money for more music, a new car, or one of those fancy BBQs (charcoal please).
Another way to look at accessories is that they are a form of transitory psychotherapy for audiophiles who are insecure about their quality of the equipment and how it sounds in comparison to the "latest," "greatest," "newest" promoted by the press. So before you run out and spend thousands on power cords, line conditioners, vibration devices, and isolation platforms, find equipment that really allows you to connect to the music that you enjoy listening to. Only then, should you consider something as esoteric as an isolation platform from the good people at Symposium Acoustics.
Many years have passed since analog maven Michael Fremer spilled ink on the virtues of Symposium's first isolation platform in an issue of Stereophile, and I do recall reading the article and thinking "Who in their right mind would spend that much money on an isolation platform?" At the time, I was content with the super-duper sand-filled audio rack that held my prized system and the tiptoes and inexpensive cones that I used underneath most of my components. I think I heard a difference, but it is inherently possible that I was afraid to admit that they had very little impact on the sound of my system and simply lacked the guts to return them to my local hi-fi hut.
About three years ago, after purchasing a new turntable, I came to the realization that the sprung floors in my apartment were having a negative impact on the sound of my system so I headed right back to that same hi-fi hut and started looking for a solution. A wall-mounted shelf was a nice idea but not practical due to the rice paper thin walls. The dealer in question had an abused and tortured (I hate when they use the electrodes) Symposium Ultra platform on display which I begged him to let me try over the weekend.
Okay, So Some Of These Ridiculous Things Actually Work
Not only did the Ultra platform fix my trampoline floor problem, my turntable sounded as if someone far more skilled than myself in the art of cartridge set-up had performed their magic while I was out getting a double decaf skim late with extra foam. Vinyl triple-jumped past my CD set-up and I was stunned by the improvements in midrange clarity, speed, bass extension and solidity. My Spendor SP2/3s are not exactly admired for their imaging ability, but there was certainly an improvement in depth and soundstage width with the table sitting on the Ultra platform.
The next day, after curbing my enthusiasm, I placed my Wavelength Duetto 300B power amplifier on the Ultra platform and listened to the same music once again. The improvements were not as dramatic this time, but everything sounded cleaner, faster, and velvety smooth.
I bought the used Ultra and added a second used one the following year and have never looked back. Having experimented with the Ultra platform underneath more than twenty components (from $800 to $21,000), I can confidently recommend it with tube and solid state amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, turntables, and most digital components. It has never sucked the life out of any piece of equipment that I have used it with, but I must confess that it seemed like overkill when used with entry-level equipment. Under something really special like the Duetto or Emotive Audio Sira and Caeli-LE, the Ultra really solidifies the strengths of each one of these components.
I have tried the affordable Svelte platform as well and really liked it under most turntables, CD players, pre-amplifiers, and external power supplies. For the price, the Svelte improved the sound of the Rega Planet more than any other device that I have tried to date.
So Why Did They Have To Make A Better One?
When I received my review sample of the Symposium Quantum I really didn't understand why anyone would need such an expensive isolation platform. Yes, it does work differently than the Ultra, but not without a certain degree of sticker shock. Had the Quantum not offered a significant improvement over the Ultra, I would not have been all that enthusiastic about doing the review, but I should have known better. The Quantum is a lot more effective than the Ultra, but I can only really recommend its use with components of equal quality.
I did use the Quantum with the Rega Planet and while the benefits were impressive, I think you are likely to hear about 75% of what the Quantum can do with the Svelte, saving you hundreds. I heard very little improvement when I placed my Naim tuner on the Quantum and I would even suggest that my tuner sounded slightly shut-in on the platform.
The Quantum platform is Symposium's statement product, an isolation platform that implements everything that they have tried to date with great success. The design of the Quantum aims to drain four sections of a component's chassis individually, leading to lower noise levels in the component. Each of the four iso-quadrants is constructed from dual levels of heavy gauge stainless steel. Each of the four top layers are constructed of two bonded layers of 1/8" 20 gauge stainless steel. The top layer and intermediary layer of 14 gauge stainless steel are separated by two separate sections of 1/2" high-thermal foam.
The top four sections are mounted on a separate platform, which is made up of three separate foam layers, which consist of two different densities of foam. The sandwich dissipates vertical displacement vibration without what Symposium calls the "bounce" problem that plague rubber air bag systems.
Symposium also redesigned the couplers that they provide with their other platforms, borrowing from the technology used in the development of their rollerblocks. Four new Supercouplers, made from 7075 aircraft aluminum, are provided and Symposium advises using one in each of the four quadrants to maximize the drainage.
The platform itself is three inches thick and available in a number of different sizes. With a weight limit of 150 pounds, the Quantum can handle almost any product including speakers.
The fans are standing up to them… the security guards are standing up to them… the peanut vendors are standing up to them… and by gum if I could get down there, I'd be standing up to them!
What I like the most about all of the Symposium products, but especially the Quantum, is that they reinforce the inherent strengths of your system. The Wavelength Duetto paints a crystal clear picture of everything that is fed to it (good or bad) and the Quantum solidified the bass, added some extension in the upper frequencies, and helped lower the noise floor of the entire system. The reduction in noise had a more telling affect on my Spendor SP2/3s, which seemed less congested in the mid bass and slightly quicker.
When I placed the Rega Planet CD player on the Quantum, there was a really noticeable change in regard to pace, something that isn't the venerable little guy's strength and I did like the improvement. That being said, I did hear the same change with the Svelte under the Planet and it just seems silly to me to us the more expensive platform in this particular case. Trust me - Most affordable CD players sound a lot better with some rollerblocks and a Svelte, and it is serious overkill to put a $900 CD player on something as revealing as the Quantum.
So, what really benefited the most from a Quantum?
I have tried the Quantum with a Michell Orbe SE, Audiomeca Romance, Verdier La Platine, and a Nottingham Audio Interspace, and the improvements were enormous.
In each case, the tables were more stable, less susceptible to vibration, quieter, bolder, more musical, and far better at resolving the nuances of each recording. Everything just came across with more emotion, but without coming unglued. On bass-heavy music, there was a really substantial reduction in what I like to call "flab", or "bloat". Bass notes were meatier, yet tight and quick.
When I read through Symposium's explanation of the Quantum, I grimaced when I read the word "neutral" because I do not think that it is the case with this product. None of the platforms have a real sonic signature of their own, but their impact cannot be described as neutral. When used with entry-level equipment, they help solidify the strengths, but do not make the components "giant killers". When used with really exceptional gear, they free equipment from whatever is holding it back from achieving a level of sonic nirvana. You know... that silly thing that all of us are striving for in our pursuit of musical enjoyment. The Symposium Quantum is not cheap, but its benefits with appropriate equipment are impossible to ignore.
Very highly recommended.