The Ganymede Vibration Control System
|The Ganymede Vibration Control System|
22 May 2002
Ball bearing-based isolation pucks
Price: $229 per set of 3. Custom colors available for $249. Shipping included.
I find it encouraging that increasingly effective and increasingly affordable isolation devices continue to proliferate the market. The pernicious effect of environmental vibrational interference on audio components is finally becoming a given. My experience with the best of the isolation devices over the years (see also my reviews on the Townshend 3-D Seismic Sink and the Aurios Media Isolation Bearings in Archives) has been so transforming that I cannot see them asaccessories: rather they are the essential foundation of a system. The musical and sonic improvement offered by the best of them easily trumps a component upgrade in magnitude. Indeed the sound of a non-isolated component is often only a pale shadow of its potential, and I find it naive to assume that a haphazardly placed and set up component offers any indication of that component's true capability. This applies both to inexpensive components and to very expensive high-end products alike.
The physics behind the need for isolation is simple enough: the Earth and everything on it vibrates. Place anything on the Earth and it will be prey to the fundamental resonant frequency of the Earth itself (circa 0.5 to 2 Hz), plus all its seismic activity stemming from internal geological pressures and the effects of wind, tides, etc. Add to this all the technological noise we humans generate: road noise, railroads, air traffic, heating/air conditioning systems, refrigerators, even large puppies chasing balls. These vibrations lie primarily in the subsonic and bass areas and are large enough in amplitude to affect anything placed on the ground, like a house and the hi-fi components inside that house.
The sonic effect of this vibrational interference includes falsification of timbre, harshness, murk, blurring, boom, fog, smear and homogenization of subtle volume changes. The sonic degradation is profound, and one only becomes clearly aware of its pernicious effects when they are removed. The progress in the effectiveness of isolation devices continues: extending the isolation to ever-lower frequencies, increasing the level of attenuation of the environmental crud, and expanding the isolation into vertical and lateral planes.
Any isolation device has an ultimate ability that can only be intuited through its effect on the component placed upon it. Herein lies the rub. The susceptibility of the component to contamination, plus it own internally-generated vibrational signature, complicates the making of judgments as to ultimate ability of the isolation device. This stems largely from the fact that techniques used in construction of the component tend to be relatively Stone Age in sophistication and also quite variable in effectiveness. Thus build-quality, heavy weight, and rubber feet or spikes might superficially impress, but give no reliable clues as to susceptibility to interference. Auditioning isolation devices is thus somewhat of a shot in the dark: one can predict a general effect, but whether the match is a marriage made in heaven is left too much to chance. Until we see components designed to fully and intelligently exploit the level of isolation offered by these state-of-the art products, assessment of both their ultimate abilities will be somewhat tenuous and tentative.
The new Ganymede Vibration Control System uses the ball bearing-based "puck" concept to achieve its isolation, following in the tradition of Yamamura, Symposium and the paradigm-exploding Aurios. This type of isolator, along with the air-bladder platform type, has generally yielded the most predictable and most consistent effects. Their affordable price also makes them more likely to be utilized. Developed by Jef Culhane of Ganymusic to aid in the precision of archiving analog open-reel music transfers to digital formats, the Ganymede VCS uses a single ball to achieve isolation. Only 2 tiny points - the top and bottom of the ball bearing - are involved as the points of contact between the component and the source of the vibrational pollution. The Ganymedes contact the component's chassis directly, bypassing the component's stock feet. A good thing this, as stock feet are typically compromised in performance. Lateral movement is greater than with other bearing-type isolators, one of the design goals being to allow greater movement, thus permitting easier use of the thick and rigid cables and power chords so beloved by audiophiles. The Ganymedes do not demand that the component be absolutely level: at least 3 degrees of out-of-plumb leveling is permitted. They are available in a variety of optional colored finishes at a $30 per premium set, with the basic finish being silver. The bearing inside the puck is sealed from outside dust contamination and no maintenance is necessary.
Set-up is fairly straightforward, the brief instruction sheet covering all the basics. A set of 3 is necessary to isolate a component. The bottom of each round puck has a retractable bottom plate that one pulls down to free the ball bearing inside, allowing it to then float free. The top of the puck has an additional floating plate. When properly installed, the component seems to "float" as if on wet ice, with quite a bit of free lateral movement, disconcerting perhaps to first time users. Ginger manipulation of buttons and dials, and the loading of discs in CD and DVD players will be absolutely mandatory, as will careful dressing of cables.
Though each 3-isolator set of the Ganymede VCS can support 100 pounds, suggesting possible use under loudspeakers and turntables, they were developed for use with electronics. I focused therefore on electronics in my auditions. 4 preamps, 4 amps, 1 integrated amp, a phono stage. 2 CD players, one DVD were the candidates. These were auditioned in 3 different systems in 3 different rooms.
Compared to no isolation, the sonic change wrought by the Ganymedes was near cosmic: the difference between a foggy, rain-blurred day and a bright, clear high-pressure day with low humidity. Clarity, resolution, and detail improved enormously across the entire bandwidth. Notes began, ended, and decayed clearly and the all-important silence between notes was crystal clear. Bass notes and lines became tight, fast and controlled. Cymbal strikes emerged as individual events rather than splash and wash. Mumbled lyrics became intelligible. The effect was consistent with all the components auditioned, both tube and solid state, digital and analogue, irrespective of the floor in the room, two of which were suspended wood, one was the concrete of a basement.
These sonic effects were similar in kind to the improvement heard with other top-drawer isolation devices (the Townshend 3-D Seismic Sink and the Aurios 1.2 And Pro MIB's being my favorites, due both to effectiveness and affordability.) Noteworthy was the lack of any additional coloration with the Ganymede VCS: they contributed no glaring overhang, edge or tonal variation, unless, of course, it was on the recording. And herein lies another rub. Maybe a rash.
Since the Ganymedes were designed for recording studio work it's not surprising that their effect reflects recording studio needs and the concomitant worldview. Although 'studio monitor' and 'recording studio quality' has a certain cachet to some home listeners, it must be remembered that studio playback involves hearing flaws and gaffes as well as the successes (sometimes hearing the warts is actually more important to studio needs,) and the studio and audiophile world are, at times, at odds with each other. Audiophiles enamored of a sweet, euphonious, mellow and dulcet sound will hear that only from recordings that actually sound that way. Crap recordings will sound like crap: but interestingly, as with a few other high resolution audio products in my experience, one can actually separate what's crap on the recording (or noise and groove damage on worn LPs,) and still get to the gist of the music. Nice achievement that.
Many mainstream pop studio engineers and producers fancy themselves artistes in their own right, and their recordings have little connection to the classical music-based ideal of capturing an actual live performance event -- an absolute sound. The contrivance of some of these artificial pop studio effects can be intriguing and offer their own illusion and sound, which is fine until that illusion is punctured. Once one sees the mundane man behind the curtain, the illusion of Oz the Magnificent is shattered forever. The negative edge of the two-edged sword of pursuing increased resolution and detail in our systems comes in attaining the ability to all too readily puncture the illusion of pop studio techniques, and to see only the refugee Carny charlatan behind the curtain. Being true to these recordings, as the Ganymedes allowed, made me yearn for less awareness of the man behind the curtain. One must be careful thus not to curse the messenger.
On the other hand, purist recording techniques, and the recordings of classical music in general, had their illusion significantly enhanced by using the Ganymedes. Creation of the acoustic space and the positions of the instruments within that space improved vividly. Extra-musical artifacts were also, alas, clearly reproduced. I could more clearly hear any damage to vinyl, the tape hiss on the recording, and the ambience and depth of image of the recording venue. Fortunately, these were clearly differentiated and I could ignore the artifacts and immerse myself into the music. Again: very, very impressive.
It is logical, perhaps, to assume that increasing the clarity and resolution of the sound will also automatically result in enhanced music making. This is not always a safe assumption in my experience. The ineffables of music-making - that sense of inevitability of each note leading inexorably and perfectly to the next, the drive and variation of rhythm and phrasing, the subtle shifts in volume within a short musical line, and above all else, the emotion and meaning within the music, are all too fragile and all too often lost. One of my main gripes about many high-end products is that while spectacular sonically, far too many are lame musically, particularly rhythmically. To its credit, the Ganymede VCS did not interfere with these basics of music making. Neither did they particularly enhance the sense of drive and pulse, somewhat surprising considering their ability to let a higher resolution signal pass. Given their capacity to allow one to analyze each thread of the sonic fabric and to clearly hear performance flubs, they appealed slightly more to the head than to the heart at times, but they did not enforce this focus, nor exclude appeals to the omphalos and to the more earthy and physical regions of response.
Max Townshend of Townshend Audio has stated that even given the advances in the current generation of devices, we are nowhere near perfection in isolation products. And except for turntables, the sophistication of component resistance to external vibration is still at a very crude level. Thus we cannot yet know if there is such a thing as too much isolation and are still limited to the context of any given component in a given system. The effect of the Ganymedes crystallized as more components in the system under evaluation were isolated. The speaker systems in 2 of the 3 auditioning rooms were floating on Aurios PRO MIB's and, thought the effects of the Ganymedes were immediate in these rooms, they were certainly not nullified in the non-isolated speaker system in the third room.
Particularly impressive was the sonic effect on CD playback and DVD video sound. As I've mentioned in my other reviews, I don't find the resolution of the CD standard adequate to serve as a reference musically, but the sonic improvement with the CD players and with DVD movie soundtracks was at times breathtaking. Those who've had more success connecting to the CD format than I have should be duly impressed.
The Ganymede VCS is a highly effective and highly affordable isolation device and is a very welcome addition to the market. Highly recommended.
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