Vibrapods - An Undiscovered Application
One of the truly rewarding experiences of riding the up-tide with the growing success of SoundStage! over the past two years has been the reader response; the joy of hearing from readers worldwide that my rantings and suggestions have brought some closer to our beloved music has been immeasurable. However, of the unexpected circumstances arising from writing for such a widely seen audio publication, the most rewarding are the people with whom I have come into contact. And so it was with Anna Logg, another self-proclaimed audio fetishist who pens material for TNT Online and The Abso!ute Sound. We met, online of course, when she sent me a very kind note on my review of the Von Schweikert Research VR-4 Generation II speakers, and our inevitable friendship was born.
As with many others with whom I regularly correspond, Anna and I often exchange ideas and thoughts in an effort to try to verify and expand on each other’s tweaks and modifications. So it was no real surprise when a certain e-mail pertaining to Sam Kennard and his exceptional Vibrapod vibration-control products came in from Anna.
Can You Improve the VR-4 Generation II?
Yes you can!!!
Hi Greg ;-)
Write to Sam Kennard (firstname.lastname@example.org) and order 8 high-density ("Bubba") 'Pods ($6 each!) [i.e., the new number 4 Vibrapod] and replace the spikes on the Gen. IIs with one in each corner.
Be wearing your Depends when you do this.
The wondrous Vibrapods, whose virtues were first extolled here at SoundStage! by none other than our own audio anarchist, Steven Rochlin, had been in my possession for some time. Given my propensity for vibration control using partially deflated inner tubes, MDF shelves and sandbags, it was only natural for me to inquire about using Vibrapods after reading Steven’s glowing report. Well, Sam Kennard seemed more than willing to accommodate my e-request, and soon a package containing loads of all of the then-current models arrived. I tried them with great success in their standard applications, under this and that. The units are simple to use and highly effective.
They originally came in three varieties, with model number 1 optimized for about two and a half pounds of displacement each, the number 2 built to displace about six pounds each, and the number 3 for off-setting about ten pounds each. The trick is to use them in groups as feet to isolate your components. If you have a ten-pound compact disc player, take the feet off the unit and place four of the number 1s under the unit. The results are superb -- they push the cost-to-performance ratio off the scale. It is important to note that the weight-to-‘pods-used ratio is VERY crucial. Placing four of the number 1s under a 65-pound amplifier is pointless. It would likely be best served by using six or seven number 3s (try both) arranged under the unit in a manner that befits the mass distribution of the unit. If the power-supply transformer is in the rear, you might try four (or five) along the rear and two (or three) at the front. Experiment. The results are well worth the three to five minutes it will take to change the ‘pods around.
But I’m not here to go into the sonic benefits of using the ‘pods in this manner. That is well documented and has earned the terribly affordable devices their due praise. No, rather I’m going to go off in a previously unexplored (to my knowledge, anyway) direction.
Anna’s note had indicated a new member of the Vibrapod family, a Vibrapod that could displace something on the order of 25 pounds. This was interesting. An inquisitive e-mail to Sam promised the new sibling would be sent soon, and faster than anyone could expect -- the very next morning, in fact --- a box of these new creatures showed up on my doorstep.
And now for something completely different...
Hmmm. Let’s get into a little history before we go any further. My initial response to Anna’s taunting note about bettering the already overachieving VR-4 Gen. II was to let her know what I had already discovered on my speaker quest with the Vibrapods. A quick look at the docking method of the mid/tweeter module to the top of the woofer module reveals four rubber "bumpers" for the purpose of isolating and coupling the two units. Though the VR-6 and VR-8 use carbon-fiber cones to separate the terribly articulate mid/tweet module used on those two models, the owner’s manual for the VR-4 Gen. II urges you to try different materials other than the supplied bumpers. So over the last five or six months I had applied marbles (no joking -- they have their uses), neoprene mouse mats, half tennis balls, cones and spiky things of many types and materials -- all to some limited degree of success.
However, after the original box of Vibrapods had arrived, I found absolutely astonishing results with their use in this application. Because the mid/tweeter modules weighed in at 50 pounds, it was simple enough to decide on the use of five of the number 3 ‘pods. Placing them between the modules was a snap. I placed two at the rear corners in front of the little rubber bumpers, two along the sides, just past half way toward the front, and one at the front center. What magic these little pucks wrought! "WOW" simply doesn't cover it.
This released even more of the music from being locked or tied to the speakers -- not that they were bad to begin with. But now they were completely invisible in the sonic landscape, with no clue whatsoever as to the speaker location. Lower mids assumed more body, and the speakers took a huge step forward in the transparency department. Vocals and midrange in general were even more liquid than before. The VR-4 Gen. II just took a colossal leap forward in detail, focus and vitality. I was diggin’ this big time, so when the note from Anna came in, I shared all that I had discovered with this application with her.
To both our satisfaction, her results echoed mine nearly identically. She found it to be the piece de resistance on the already superlative VR-4 Gen. II. The final visage of glare, which she had attributed to her VTA setting, her preamp, her wires, or even the transistors in her equipment, was gone. What we both found was that the Vibrapods wrought a level of improvement that could not be had by any other means, including the substitution kilo-buck gear.
But you know, any reference to adult diapers makes me curious. Plus, Anna isn’t one to exaggerate, so it was time to get busy. It wasn't terribly easy for me to do, as I couldn’t just toss them under each corner and sit back and be amazed. I had to cut two 12" x 20" pieces of 3/4" MDF (to 011999vibpod01.jpg (6089 bytes)approximate the footprint of the VSR VR-4 Gen. II) to place under the woofer module to achieve leveling on my carpeted floor. Thank goodness for a table saw and supply of MDF at work. After the paint dried, I leveled each "platform" where the VR-4 Gen. IIs had stood previously. I now placed one of the new Vibrapod number 4s on each corner, about two inches in from both edges. That done, I now lowered the 105-pound bass modules gingerly onto their new isolation platforms. "So, Greg, was all that effort worth it?" I’d say so!
STUNNING CHANGE is wrought by this new arrangement. Sheez, midbass articulation is suddenly phenomenal. If you remember, my original beef with the Gen. II was the less-than-stellar performance below about 80Hz, a slurring and blurring of bass lines. Well, part of this was attributable to the original crossover arrangement in my pre-production models. After my review, Frank Derrigo at VSR let me know that changes to the crossover-component layout in the regular production models had been made, and that in fact, mine were not up to the standards of the units that are available to the average buyer. Off to New York they went for the correction. That change had made a substantial difference, no doubt (see the upcoming VR-4 Gen. II update). But this? Unbelievable.
Instruments, or more accurately, their voices, just hang in space now, not that they were necessarily locked to the speakers previously. There is a new clarity and focus from lower mids on up through the upper reaches of the piano and violins. Uppermost harmonics are now stunningly and accurately portrayed. Low-level detail, which was a strong suit of this loudspeaker to begin with, is now frightening. One can now "see" into the noise floor and background of the soundstage. Speaking of the stage, it has opened up in terms of all three dimensions, length, width and depth. Imaging has solidified and become so well layered, with a rounded body of presence, that I had to play things over and over again to convince myself that the results were repeatable. Though highly efficient, the VR-4 Gen. IIs seemed to play ever so slightly louder at the same volume setting. I should have taken Anna's advice and used an adult diaper when I fired the system up after the change. Katana, one of the world’s only true audiophile felines, wouldn't be looking at my seat so curiously now.
Even being the isolation fanatic that I am, had anyone told me such a change could be achieved with a speaker, I’d have merely scoffed. Shame on me. This two-stage Vibrapod mod has produced more difference than any new cables, than the Dusty Vawter upgrades to my digital gear, than ANY OTHER SINGLE CHANGE I CAN RECALL. Massive detail is revealed, harmonic structure is uncovered, outrageous space is thrown, image specificity is phenomenal and micro-dynamic shadings are outstanding. Sounds are released from the speakers COMPLETELY and float delicately in three-dimensional space. Synergizers, this is simply the single most significant tweak I've run across -- hands down. The monumental degree of improvement is unsurpassed in my experience -- at least at a certain level of equipment and above where traditionally such substantial audible improvement means a quantum leap in cost. I believe that any listener out there would be delirious to realize such vast improvement.
OK, the big question of the day is WHY? I’m no engineer, but there is one consistent factor in each and every application in which I’ve applied this tweak. All the rooms I’ve tried this in (and Anna’s, too), have suspended wooden floors. When I e-mailed the sonic results of this tweak to Albert Von Schweikert, his response came as two questions: "What type of floor do you have, and do you believe that the speaker is now decoupled from the floor so that the floor is not going into sympathetic resonance?" Well, why not? The floor under my main listening room, though due for some shoring up soon, is currently very much like a trampoline. If the floor were resonating, why wouldn’t decoupling the speaker from that sympathetic vibration increase resolve and heighten detail and focus? It makes sense to me.
So what if you don’t have a pair of the Von Schweikerts? Guess what, Synergizers? The results have traveled VERY WELL. I’ve tried the Vibrapod mod with floorstanding speakers, minimonitors on speaker stands -- even ESL panels. Among the contestants in these trials are several pairs of B&W speakers (804s and 805s), the gorgeous Kharma Divine 2 (review upcoming), the stunning ACI Sapphire III, even my eight-foot-tall Acoustat electrostatics.
Whoda’ thunk! I couldn’t believe the results with the ESLs. They make no sense, but they are undeniable. The inner detail and resolve, already astounding, improved substantially. Midbass clarity and speed, articulation of low-level detail, staging and imaging, even truth of timbre -- all showed dramatic enhancement. Folks, you gotta’ try this to believe it. The things only cost $6 a pop and come with a 30-day money-back return policy. What have you got to lose? The best that could happen is what I would like to happen for you all -- that you might get a little closer to the truth of the music. Let me know what you hear, and happy new year!