Silent Running Audio – Tremor/Less Isolation Platform and VR Series Platforms
|Silent Running Audio – Tremor/Less Isolation Platform and VR Series Platforms|
|Effective Isolation Becomes More Affordable and “Future-Proof”|
It is Rocket Science
Silent Running Audio’s isolation platforms and equipment racks are well known to audiophiles. What is not as well known is the depth of research and experience behind the designs. To fully appreciate the technical expertise that goes into SRA products it important to know the company’s background. Only one-third of SRA’s business is the high-end audio consumer. Another one-third of their business is internal use by audio manufacturers, recording studios, and medical and science labs. The remainder of their business is military and aerospace applications including NASA.
The scientists at SRA have diverse backgrounds but one common goal—protect delicate equipment and ensure optimum performance. There is a lot of trickle-down into the consumer product level but it is not just an after thought. The computer model they use for their component-specific (VR Series and Ohio-Class) isolation platforms has been evolving for 16 years. It takes into account the construction of the item, its function, rack material and construction, location in the room, and the construction of the room. Fill out a “request for quote” form for a VR Series or Ohio-Class platform and you will be asked for a wealth of information stopping just short of your mother’s maiden name.
But many customers have fear of commitment to any one CD player, etc so SRA is constantly asked to produce a universal platform. The Tremor/Less platform is SRA’s response to those requests. Recently SRA revised the Tremor/Less internally and externally and lowered the prices. Delivery is scheduled for June 2008 but orders are being accepted now. At the time of publication the SRA web site had not been updated.
Isolation requires de-coupling and de-coupling requires a suspension. Think of an automobile with springs and shock absorbers. Anything that absorbs mechanical energy can help to isolate. The viscoelastic devices audiophiles place under their equipment fall into this category although they operate in a limited resonance frequency range and over-compression and material degradation can reduce their effectiveness. The user has to make the proper choice of material, size and location.
Cones, spikes, pucks, and ball-and-cup devices do not “drain” energy or de-couple. They are a two-way street so they do the opposite. They couple the equipment to the shelf, rack, and floor. This changes the resonance frequencies of the vibrations. It is a valid approach to tuning (flavoring) the music to the user’s preference but it does not reduce vibration. Again, the user has to make the proper choice of what device to use and where to position it.
I am not a fan of the individual feet approach. It is a valid technique but largely hit or (mostly) miss. Or maybe I really am a fan since I have a drawer full of these increasingly expensive devices.
I remember one manufacturer smiling enthusiastically as he told me “these sound different wherever you put them so you have to move them around to find the best place”. My forced-smile response was “oh, really, that’s interesting”. My thought bubble was “Just what I need—more variables. I wonder how many people bought these and found out the best place for them was in a drawer?”
I also have memories of my heart skipping a beat as I knocked the front of one piece of equipment or another off of its precarious perch while I was swapping interconnects or power cords.
SRA to the Rescue
SRA does not believe the user should have to make decisions on what material to use or where to use it. They also believe isolation results should be predictable. A well-designed platform can meet those requirements. A universal platform makes compromises but they can be intelligent compromises.
When a company provides products for critical military and aerospace applications, compromise comes with great reluctance. To minimize compromise, SRA did it their way. The T/L platform is not a one-size-fits-all platform. In fact, it comes in three sizes and three models. The “S” model is designed for static equipment such as phono preamplifiers, preamplifiers, and DACs. The “M” model is designed for equipment that contains moving parts such as a turntable or equipment with a disk drive or fan. The “A” model is for amplifiers.
What is the difference? What is inside? I was told each model deals with a unique set of problems. Beyond that, the recipe is guarded more closely than the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices.
The attractive book-matched bamboo with “waterfall” short ends finish of the T/Ls is different from the rest of the SRA line. Waterfall means the grain on the short ends matches the top. The T/L has four permanently mounted spikes. Disks are provided to protect shelves. As with all SRA platforms, each T/L is shipped in an exceptionally sturdy, custom-built ½” plywood box.
I only had one T/L platform (“S” Model) to work with. It was a demo model since full production had not begun yet. I decided to start at the source (Nova Physics Corporation Memory Player), and proceed down the music chain through a TacT Audio 2.2X digital preamplifier and finally a Spectron Musician III Signature Edition amplifier. For each piece of equipment I listened to select music before inserting the T/L under it.
Before I can get into performance I need to establish some evaluation conditions. Isolation de-couples two or more items. I frequently read on-line forum comments on the performance of various spikes, cones, etc. The user always mentions the electronic device involved but rarely, if ever, mentions the shelf material or rack construction or the type of floor involved. That is critical information the reader requires to make any extrapolation. Without knowing the evaluation criteria the performance evaluation has little relevance.
So, in the interest of striving for my own relevance in the universe, I will describe my equipment rack. It is custom made from 1.5” maple butcher block. The four corner legs are solid maple (1 7/8” x 3 7/8”). The fifth leg (rear center) is slightly smaller. Overall dimensions are 48” x 35” x 18”. It is assembled in a half-dado interlocking style and is glued and screwed. Each leg is coupled to my concrete floor via a heavy brass spike.
Is that a serious rack or what? Based upon material shipping weights I estimate the empty rack weighs about 175 pounds. It is level and when I push on it I move, it does not. I thought it would be relatively resonance free but my research into isolation made me want verification.
Try this at Home
Ear plugs in, drum track cranked louder than normal, I placed my palm lightly on the top shelf. I could feel vibrations. Hard drum hits were a distinct pulse. Rapid-fire hits set up a sustained vibration that felt like buzzing. I had not expected the dense, laminated maple to respond like that. The top shelf was the worst offender. Perhaps that was because it was not loaded or maybe it was location, location, location
In sharp contrast to the definite and very similar improvements I heard using the T/L on the Memory Player and TacT I could not clearly discern any improvements with the Spectron and T/L combination. Afterward, I received validation when I found out there was a specific model (“A”) for amplifiers. I began to understand the wisdom of building different models.
My comments on specific music tracks are limited to the T/L with the Memory Player or TacT preamplifier. The improvements heard in both cases were virtually identical. Both applications showed me that amplified mechanical noise is something that is hard to hear until it is gone. It is even harder to describe. But inquiring minds need to know so I will try.
With the T/L, Hans Theessink’s rich baritone voice became more resonant with less of a hard edge on the sparsely recorded “The Planet” from Call Me [Blue Groove BG 4020]. The T/L took some gravel out of the voice without smearing or loss of detail. Instruments and the soundstage became more focused. I always thought that track was somewhat larger than life. With the T/L it took on more realistic proportions while still being very spacious. I forgot I was reviewing and I slipped into listening mode, completely lost in the music. To truly appreciate that you would have to realize that frequently my favorite test tracks become wearisome and less than favorite to listen to during extensive comparison sessions.
Both Rob Wasserman’s bass and Jennifer Warnes’ voice are standout performances on “The Ballad of the Runaway Horse” on the Duets disk from the Trilogy Box Set [Rounder CD 11661-3225-2]. Interestingly even playing this CD at moderate volume showed an improvement. The house does not have to shake before vibration strikes. Using the T/L, Rob’s solo bass was more clearly defined and Jennifer’s voice lost some edge on portions where she kicks it up a notch. I loved the delicacy when her voice is dubbed in as backup.
“Rosewood” from Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams [Sony B00005YVQ8] was another track where I slipped into listener mode. I was already hearing the very detailed bowing but the T/L sweetened the cello by reducing a level of harshness. The guttural growl took on more of a powerful purr. Again, there was no smearing and no more detail. It was simply a more musical and natural presentation. An analogy is slightly increasing the pixels in a photograph without increasing the size. It may not reveal any more detail but what is there has a different presentation with a sharper focus and less grain. The edges are less fuzzy. Just as it is impossible to get sharp focus while shaking a camera, amplified mechanical vibrations fuzz the edges and add harshness to music.
The overall characteristic of the T/L was total lack of personal character. The T/L did not add flavor or shade the music like a wire product might. It merely let each piece of equipment perform in a more revealing and focused manner. The improvements were not dramatic but they were distinct and I doubt anyone would want to go back to listening without the T/L after using it for a while.
SRA products should be considered as polish for systems that have all the basics (equipment matching, clean power, room treatment) squared away. They are not tuning devices and they are not cures for serious problems. In fact their contribution could be largely masked if other problems exist. But if you are pleased with the equipment you have and want to take it to the next level for less than the cost of many of the non-platform isolation devices or wire upgrades, give SRA a try. And now there is more reason than ever to try SRA platforms.
VR Series Important News Update:
Fear commitment no longer. You are reading it here first. SRA has recently implemented a policy to make their VR Series platforms “future-proof”. Starting with units built in 2008 all VR Series platforms can be rebuilt internally when the owner changes equipment. For the original purchaser, the first rebuild is free. Persons who bought a used platform pay a small fee ($40/$65/$95 depending on whether the platform is small, medium or large) for the first rebuild of that platform. Subsequent rebuilds are $200. Rebuilding is conditional on the new equipment fitting within the footprint of the VR Series unit.
Customers with questions on any SRA product are encouraged to contact SRA directly or one of the 38 U.S. or international based dealers or distributors.
Specifications SRA Tremor/Less Isolation Platforms:
17” x 15” x 2” ($250)
19” x 16” x 2” ($275)
23” x 19” x 2” ($300)
Three Models: S = Static devices, M = Moving parts (for equipment containing moving parts, e.g. a drive, motor or fan), A = Amplifiers
Silent Running Audio
325 Hubbs Ave.
Hauppauge, NY 11788
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