AURIOS Media Isolation Bearings

AURIOS Media Isolation Bearings
Paul Szabady
12 June 2000


Vistek, Inc., Tempe, AZ

Distributor: Media Access
2660 County Road D
Woodville, WI 54028
Price: $299.00 per set of three bearings (one set necessary for each component to be isolated)
Warranty: 5 years
Tel: 800-830-1575
Fax: 715 698 3256

"So what does all this vibratory muck do to our systems? "Mud and murk" sums it up: blurring, loss of focus, truncated transient response, plodding rhythms, compression of dynamics, and shifting of timbre all occur to some degree."

Aurios Media Isolation Bearings

Aurios 2In many ways the most significantly cost effective advances in the quality of home playback over the last dozen or so year have been in the increased effectiveness of isolation and damping products. That a well set-up and well-isolated budget system can musically outperform a mega-buck system haphazardly and incompetently arrayed is now a given. And as new products have shown up on the market I have made it a duty to audition as many as possible and, until I retired from retail high-end audio 4 years ago (after 25 years), to recommend them.

Dating back to the ubiquitous Mortite, to the original Tip-Toes (and their progeny) on through various lossy elastomer isolators, to special shelves and racks, and finally to the air isolation platforms, commercial products (not to mention all the DIY efforts)--all these devices and tweaks have increasingly allowed components to do their job in the real world, albeit with limited and varying degrees of effectiveness.

Vistek, Inc. designs and manufactures micro-vibration isolation bearings and dampers. Based on proprietary and patented vibration control technologies Vistek's products serve a wide range of applications: ranging from the high-tech atomic tunneling force microscopes and silicon wafer polishing tools, e.g., to civil engineering--bridge and tower construction. The Aurios are Vistek's first consumer audio product.

The Aurios Media Isolation Bearings, as the name implies, provide isolation for all media components: turntables, CD players, tape decks, preamps, amps and loudspeakers, but also for DVD, VCR, TV, microphones, instrument amps and other performance, broadcast and recording components.

The Aurios bearings are designed to isolate the component from horizontal micro-vibrations. Vistek's experience in civil and structural engineering, and in the high-tech world taming and eliminating micro-vibrations, has given them a long experience in understanding the problems encountered and engineering effective solutions.

There is constant low-level vibratory activity going on around us. Sometimes it crosses our threshold of perception, but most of the time it just lurks in the background. In addition to our mechanical devices generating this low-frequency crud, there's the vibratory energy of the Earth itself--a problem even in non-earthquake zones. In Vistek's analysis and experience, most of this horizontal and vertical energy lies in the 10 to 100 Hz range. Historically the horizontal component has not been well addressed in the marketplace. Furthermore, vertical vibrations can quickly transform into horizontal ones. Think of the growing and expanding ripples when you plop a stone into a still lake--the spreading circles are the horizontal vibes. An isolation device that isolates horizontally is then just good applied physics.

If the goal of audio is to produce only meaningful vibrations (music) and to ignore the non-musical lattice of vibrations that is physical reality, effective isolation becomes essential. The Aurios bearings begin to isolate for frequencies as low as 1/2 Hz, so even the fundamental resonance of the ground is being isolated. Neat! A set of 3 bearings will easily support at least 1000 lbs. so any known component can be used on them. The only contact a component makes with the Earth is at 3 tiny points at the top and bottom of the ball bearings, and as these balls are very very hard and the points very very small, the component "floats" and thus, is isolated.

The individual Aurios bearing resembles a sort of metal Oreo cookie: there are 2 halves to the "cookie". The "cream-side" of each half contains a precision bearing race in which the 3 precision ball bearings ride. A black Delrin bearing-keeper completes the visual analogy to an Oreo cookie--the Delrin looking like the cream (chocolate in this case). The 2 halves are then held together by a locking screw.

The two halves of the device move laterally (within a set limit) in a frictionless way riding on the bearings, much like an Oreo cookie on a hot day when the cream center has gotten very mushy. Except in this case the feeling is like stepping into a puddle of Mobil One synthetic oil with leather-soled shoes and then attempting to walk on slightly wet ice--frictionless. Playing manually with the bearing is very tactilely satisfying, with the ultra-precision and high manufacturing quality of the Aurios being readily apparent.

The bearings are self-centering. When placed on a flat level surface, displacing the top half of the bearing and then releasing it results in the Aurio automatically re-centering itself. The goal in installing them is maintaining this self-centering action and the oily-leather-on-wet-ice feel when a component is placed on top of the bearing. The key concepts here are LEVEL and FLAT, and this cannot be emphasized too strongly! The surface under the bottom of the bearing must be level and flat; ditto for the bottom surface of the component which contacts the top of the Aurios.

When properly executed, the component will seem to float in a frictionless lateral movement. When done incorrectly the bearing will lock and become similar to a spike in its effect. The isolation improves with correct set-up, both in cut-off frequency and degree of isolation, so it is essential to pay careful attention to installation.

This might sound tweaky and intimidating, but I found that a little practice soon made it a snap. The results of set-up can be easily tested by displacing the component slightly laterally and then counting the number of sways until it self-centers and comes to rest--the more sways, the better. Cables and speaker wires will need to be dressed when they are connected so as not to impede the bearing's motion. It won't do its THING, if it ain't got that SWING!

Paradigm Shift #1: the component will move laterally when touched, upsetting that feeling of psychological security that immobility can evoke. This is soon overcome. The need to develop a slow and careful hand when cueing or changing records or CDs, or when operating controls will result in a steep learning curve. Ten minutes of listening and I was motivated enough to want to be nicknamed "Slow Hand".

Paradigm Shift #2: the movement of the loudspeakers might also challenge some preconceptions. I know I had to consciously "bracket" my presuppositions and theories of how speakers should be set up in order to be open-minded about what the Aurios do. These too, are easily overcome, as one listen dispels 10,000 preconceptions.

So what does all this vibratory muck do to our systems? "Mud and murk" sums it up: blurring, loss of focus, truncated transient response, plodding rhythms, compression of dynamics, and shifting of timbre all occur to some degree. Its pervasiveness becomes conspicuous by its absence. If a non-isolated system can be likened to viewing a landscape through a dirty picture window on a foggy day, the system isolated by the bearings is akin to that same view through a clean window on a clear bright day of low humidity.

"I know that in my case, having auditioned countless products over the 25 years I spent in audio, it's very easy to become blasé, skeptical, and jaded--the old "been there, heard that" syndrome. With the Aurios, I am now (finally) consistently hearing what I've always wanted out of audio…"

I listened to the Aurios bearings under various components, in various systems, in three different physical locations in my home. The optimum performance of the bearings is experienced when ALL components in the system are floated. This can be overwhelming at first. The sudden and enormous increase in sonic and musical information can create a kind of temporary mind-blowing perceptual chaos. Fortunately it is short-lived.

My main reference system consists of a Linn Sondek LP 12 with Origin Live modified Rega RB300 arm and Grado Signature TLZ-V cartridge, amplified by a Meitner PA6i preamp and STR 55 power amp, connected to Sound Lab Dynastats with Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables. My CD player was a Marantz CD67SE. Isolation and damping devices included 2 Townshend Seismic Sinks, Sims Navcom Silencers, Vibrapods and an Archetype rack. This is a fairly high-resolution and neutral wide-bandwidth system, and I thought it was pretty good myself--until I heard the full monty Aurios effect with every component being isolated. For 5 minutes I was speechless and overwhelmed. How had I lived with the blurry incoherent sound before the Aurios?

But say one doesn't want to buy 6 or 7 sets of the Aurios at once. Where do you start? I would recommend at least 2 sets and then experimenting within one's system. But ultimately one should hear the full effect of the entire system floated. I first started with one set under the preamp, then I moved to the source. I tried turntable only, speakers only, turntable and speakers only--in short just about every combination possible. I repeated all this on 5 preamps, 3 power amps, 3 sets of speakers, 2 CD players, 1 DVD player and 5 turntables. Whew!

Consistent in all these systems and components (and corroborated by those who did beta testing on the product in their own systems) are the sonic and musical results. Simply, everything--bass, mids, highs, timbre, dynamics, transient response, rhythm, imaging, pace, etc., is clearer, more natural, more life-like, and much more musically communicative. The fog lifts, and the murk and mud recede. A wholesale improvement like this has in the past signaled to me a genuine gain in resolution, and not merely a reshuffling of resonances into a different frequency range.

The musical effect is the most important; in many ways listening to music on my systems now takes on many similarities with how I listen live. I can shift attention to any instrument, follow it easily in crescendos and ensemble, and consciously shift attention to any aspect of the performance at will.

It is also hard to ignore the impression that I was listening to the intrinsic sound of the component for the first time--a sound that likely even the designer had never heard. Particularly revelatory was how wonderfully musical some less costly components sounded. Containing good circuits, but housed in cost-conscious chassis and inexpensively built, some of these products can sound quite impressive (I speak of products like NAD, AMC, Rotel and Hegeman). Furthermore the sound of expensive, build-conscious (and build-extravagant) high-end components also improved in the same manner. The build quality and its higher price are called into question here, as the improvement with the Aurios leads to the conclusion that more rugged construction isn’t completely effective.

What, ultimately, do the Aurios really sound like? It is impossible to know right now because no component has yet been designed with them as an integral concept and element. So while there might be differences of degree of change with a given component, the type and kind of change is consistent. And it's all to the better—both sonically and, most importantly, musically.

I know that in my case, having auditioned countless products over the 25 years I spent in audio, it's very easy to become blasé, skeptical, and jaded--the old "been there, heard that" syndrome. With the Aurios, I am now (finally) consistently hearing what I've always wanted out of audio, and what inspired me to enter the audio field in the first place.

The terms "revolutionary" and "paradigm shifting" have become almost cliche due to overuse and misuse in "Biz-speak," but the Aurios are a genuine breakthrough product in my experience. Simply put, I've experienced more pleasure and more realistic musical sound with the Aurios bearings in my system than with anything else, since this hobby first took my musical innocence some 28 years ago.

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