KING KONG PLATFORM & DC-1 DYNAMIC CONTROLLER
A plethora of audio companies have sprung up recently in the East, offering all kinds of weird and wonderful contraptions aimed at making your stereo rig perform even better than when you bought it off the shelf. While some of these are relatively big companies with lots of financial backbone and heft (Yaqin and Melody are just two off the top of my head) there are other outfits which are much smaller and all product research, marketing, and manufacturing oversight are done by just one or two guys, quite possibly in that mythical garage. Perpetual Audio, owned by one Freddie Kwoh, is one such company.
Before you dismiss them as fly-by-night ventures, remember lots of very famous companies started like this (Apple anyone?). In any case, Freddie is not your typical DIY tinkler who thinks he can score big with his little gadgets. He has been producing tweaks and devices for longer than I have been an audiophile. Freddie’s pedigree boasts solid product design stints in MNCs such as Chinon, Radford, Zolt, Electra and Sound Mechanics. He built his first turntable when he was in university and was hooked to high-end audio ever since. One day in the early 80s, Freddie decided to turn to hi-fi design full-time, and in his birthplace of Hong Kong as well as in other Asian countries such as China, Malaysia and Singapore, he has created a niche for himself by inventing products that seem to do what they do by nothing more than pure ‘magic’ in the best sense of that word. Dig a little deeper though, and you will find that much thought and not a little science precede his products, as befits a good product designer. An example is the so-called “C16 block”, a wooden cube about the same size as that of Rubik’s eponymous toy, but made up of 16 different selected woods (including rare specimens such as Hinoki, Wenge, and Rosewood) bonded together in a certain pre-determined pattern. The idea is to utilize the differing tonal qualities of each wood in an inter-active combination that brings out the best in each of them. The C16 block made waves amongst Eastern audiophiles in the mid-1990s and mint examples are still extremely sought after today.
Today, Freddie is still going strong but his company remains small and dedicated to producing devices he truly believes in. No quick money-spinning, fad-of-the-day thing, or lots of obfuscating marketing-speak to dress up otherwise mundane me-too items. His company, Perpetual Audio, produces a line of products which to some may seem only low-or mid-end, but which many audiophiles have realized will work perfectly well at even the highest levels of the game. In this review, I am focusing on two of his products, the King Kong Platform and the DC-1 Dynamic Controller.
THE KING KONG PLATFORM
The King Kong Platform (henceforth the “KK”) came about through the company’s successful Px5 speaker supports that were designed to go under floorstanders. The Px5 itself consist of three layers and what Perpetual Audio calls Level 1 RF reduction. The higher the level, the more complex the RF reduction circuitry is built into the product. Satisfied customers of the Px5 clamoured for more RF reduction and a platform specifically designed for equipment, and thus the KK was born. The name King Kong was chosen not because they did a drop-test from the Empire State Building, but because the platform is designed to be able to handle high energy equipment including monster kilowatt-rated amplifier monoblocks.
Weighing in at a substantial 12 kilograms, the King Kong Platform is constructed in three layers. The top layer supports the equipment and it is here that the RF circuitry is located. Perpetual Audio believes that the nearer the circuitry to the equipment, the better their RF reduction works. The middle layer acts as the isolation layer and reduce vibrations. To Freddie, vibration feedback is one of the main causesof sound colorations and he therefore pays special attention to this area. This layer is also where the antenna for the RF reduction core is located. The two aluminum side bars act as an dipole antenna, strengthening the RF reduction capability. There are two rear connectors, which act as an ground energy dissipater for the RF energy absorbed. They can be connected to the ground point of a phono amplifier.
The third layer is the dissipation layer, where the vibrational energy transferred from the second layer is absorbed or grounded. It is composed of a base material made from solid wood and 35mm thick, allowing massive energy to be handled. And because of this design concept, the screw sockets are actually embedded in the layer and is 35mm long, allowing proper dissipation of energy throughout said layer.
At first, I placed the platform underneath my Soulution 720 pre-amp, and then the KK itself atop a Critical Mass Systems amplifier stand. I did not connect its grounding or RF functions to the preamp, and just listened to it as a pure piece of equipment support. I wanted to hear, if anything, what the platform could bring to the table simply by way of being a support.
The results were rather ho-hum, but that was hardly surprising. Coming from CMS stand with Coldray footers in between the stand and the pre, this combo had served me very well for some years already. The Critical Mass Systems support is amazing, and highly recommended in and of itself. I was not expecting the KK to add very much more in sonic terms, and extended listening bore this out. I can only surmise though, how the KK would improve things for a more modest set-up, where less prior thought and attention had been given to equipment support. In those situations, having a solid, heavy platform such as the KK can perform wonders, even without its added functionality. Playing with different spike and footer combinations (which I didn’t do in the course of this review, as the Soulution is hernia-inducing heavy) may also pay dividends.
After some time, I decided to wire up the Soulution grounding post to the KK’s ground lugs. I used some spare speaker wire, but the makers of the Silver Tellus grounding station that I am currently using are convinced that using higher quality wire will increase the efficacy. They even sell bespoke silver wire to do the job, which I have yet to try. As I already have the Soulution separately grounded to the Tellus, I expected minimal improvement.
As myriad other reviewers have already opined, it is always good to have one’s pre-conceived negative expectations overturned in reality. This often means that any gain in system improvement is real and audible, and not just the result of a placebo effect. And what I heard from the KK in conjunction with the Silver Tellus is greatly increased dimensionality. No longer is the sound field bound to the speakers; the KK/Tellus combo outlined instrumental images in bold, vivid and colorful fashion, and placed them solidly where they would appear to come from in real life, or at least from where the mixing engineer intended. There was added depth and definable layers to that depth, no mean feat. I was genuinely impressed. A good example of this improvement was the "Children of Sanchez" LP by Chuck Mangione (A&M Records SP-6700 double album) , especially the (overly) long "Consuelo’s Love Theme," a simple but inspired melody into which Mangione was able to weave the chorus of the main eponymous track. I was able to discern how the musicians ranged around the microphones in the studio recording, which was clearly a live (as opposed to track-by-track) take of very experienced, tasteful session musicians, feeling their way through the song. The cut was raw and sounded more like a run-through, but it was this very quality of live rawness that suited this album to a T, and which the KK platform brought out clearly and unambiguously.
A secondary effect of hooking up the KK was an extra darkening of the background, something I did not expect nor think was possible with the already excellent Silver Tellus in the system. Somehow, having the KK increased the effects of the Tellus, or both have a synergistic effect that transcends each equipment’s independent abilities. This additional background silence is testament to the very effective RF screening provided by the KK. It doesn’t solve all RF problems of course, but then again, short of encasing yourself within a giant Faraday cage, what does? Overall, the KK is extremely efficacious and well worth its price of admission.
THE DC-1 DYNAMIC CONTROLLER
Dynamic what? I hear you. I had the same reaction when I first read about this device.
The short version is this: the Dynamic Controller DC-1 claimsto allow a user to dial in the dynamics of his sound system, without plugging it into the signal path. All you need to do is hook it up to the ground lug or the chassis of any hi-fi equipment. Do you know of any other product on the market that makes similar claims? I don’t. The DC-1 is a relatively simple design, and feels rather light and flimsy in hand. Overall build quality is plasticky and disappointing, and I would have liked to see better finishing despite the affordable price. A rectangular block (only slightly larger than the Gryphon Demagnetizer), with two rotary détente knobs and a single knurled screw at one end, is all you will see. Underneath is a screw-fastened door which opens up to a battery compartment. A single AA sized 1.5V battery is required for operation. Freddie says that the better the quality of the battery, the better the sonics. For the duration of the review, I used Eveready Gold batteries and found no need to change them. Maybe this product will trigger off a new audiophile pastime of dry cell rolling in addition to tube rolling, who knows?
The first of the aforementioned rotary knobs is marked Polarity, which can be selected for either positive, negative or OFF. The second knob sets one of the five levels of whichever polarity is selected. The accompanying literature usefully explains that positive polarity will give a more dynamic sound, while the negative polarity setting gives a less dynamic sound. Er…okay.
The DC1 is claimed to operate on a “floating voltage principle” with a very slight voltage, which can vary the dynamics of the sound system. As a non-electronics person, I had to look up the “floating voltage principle” and the best layman explanation I could come up with is the voltage that is required to keep a device fully charged. Applying that to a power amplifier, for example, I would understand the DC-1 as applying either a positive or negative charge to that power amplifier (depending on the polarity selected) and the battery keeps that charge going rather than having it discharged, e.g. through touch or ground. The level knob increases or decreases the magnitude of that charge accordingly. However, none of this lies directly in the signal path of the amp or whatever device you care to hook the DC-1 up to. And don’t worry, you won’t get a nasty shock when you touch a DC-1’d piece of equipment, the voltage is too miniscule for that.
Given the sketchy “theory” behind the DC-1, and the lack of similar products in the market, I was prepared to strain to even hear any kind of improvement with the DC-1. In fact, I was merely hoping that the DC-1 did not degrade the performance of my system as that would make writing this review a very uncomfortable experience indeed. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.
After finding out that I was using monoblocks, Freddie proposed that I used two pieces of DC-1, instead of just one connected to both monoblocks. This would preserve the separation of both amps and ensure minimum cross-contamination of unwanted artifacts between the channels. Freddie considers the use of 2 pieces in this way as a single unit, so do bear this in mind if you also own monoblocks.
When hooked up appropriately, I was utterly surprised to discover that the DC-1s did live up to their claims, and then some. The differences between negative and positive polarity can be discerned without the need for golden ears or elaborate instrumentation. “Dynamics” is perhaps too general a word to describe its effects, but it probably comes the closest. The differences are not night and day, for sure, but definitely audible. I would go so far as to say that positive and negative polarity is akin to the dichotomy between solid state and tube sound, respectively. Selecting ‘positive’ gives the sound a steelier edge, affording greater immediacy but also adding a slight hardness and brightness to some recordings. Turning it to ‘negative’ causes the system to relax and takes away that unwanted tension in the treble region, but at the expense of sometimes sounding too laid-back and boring. This effect repeated itself again and again, with any kind of music you care to throw at it, whether it be intimate jazz or chamber music, rock or pop, gentle or raucous, big or small scale, so I see no reason to bore you with a blow-by-blow account of each record I’ve listened to using the DC-1. If you were anal retentive enough, you could conceivably select levels and polarity apropos of each piece of music/recording that you listen to. For me, I was happy to settle on a level that suited the majority of my records and leave the settings alone.
Inevitably, the question begs to be asked: how in the world does a black plastic box with a battery, connected only to the chassis or ground of a piece of hi-fi equipment, make such a distinct difference in the way the system sounds? Freddie’s explanation is that the DC-1 affects the equipment as a system, not just that particular individual piece that it is connected to. Putting my meditation hat on and trying to read between the lines, I came to the conclusion that the DC-1 encourages a paradigm shift in the way we view our hi-fi. As audiophiles, we are encouraged (nay, brow beaten) by manufacturers to think of hi-fi as discrete pieces, so that if we change one piece of the puzzle, be it a cable or a phono-amp, we will accordingly get better sound. Over time, I have come to understand Freddie’s Zen-sifu admonition (to think of the entire system and not just the DC-1 itself) as the revelation of a secret in itself. And that secret is this – system synergy is important, not only in the sonic realm but also in the electrical realm. The best way I can think of describing it is this: the DC-1 provides an electronic “skin-effect” to coat the entire system so that electrical “mismatches” between pieces are either eliminated or covered up. Kind of like a force-field, if you like. If this sounds too much like hyperbole, I make no apologies. All I can say is I am gob smacked at how this device has changed the way I use my stereo and whether or not you buy the explanation, res ipsa loquitur. And that’s all I need to know.
I have nothing but praise and admiration for Freddie Kwoh’s creations. Like any good magician, he pulls tricks out of hats that surprise and delight the audience. The KK platform must be used with the RF reduction circuitry connected up in order to exploit its fullest potential. The DC-1 controller is something that you must use with an open mind and ears. I happen to have picked two pieces from Perpetual Audio’s arsenal of tweaks at two extreme price points, but the same advice to you applies. Ignoring the price (too cheap or too expensive) for the moment, the efficacy of this company’s products is undeniable. Value has always been in the eye of the beholder anyway, and we audiophiles routinely spend vast amounts of cash on equipment that will bring water to the eyes of the ordinary man on the Clapham omnibus. Bottom line is, if you need what they bring to the table, whatever the cost of your system, these may be the panacea you have been looking for all this time.