The Townshend Audio 3-D Seismic Sink Isolation Platform and 2-D Speaker Platform
|The Townshend Audio 3-D Seismic Sink Isolation Platform and 2-D Speaker Platform|
18 February 2002
3-3 HD Seismic Sink (supports 225 lbs.) $600
2-3D Seismic Sink (supports 45 lbs.) $450
2-2D Seismic Sink Loudspeaker Platform (supports 175 lbs. each) $1000 per pair
Other sizes and weight capacities available.
Dan Meinwald/Sound Advice
1087 E. Ridgewood Street
Long Beach, CA 90807
7 Bridge Rd, Hampton Court
Surrey KT8-9EU UK.
Townshend Audio has been a pioneer of audio products designed to cope with the degrading effects of structural-borne vibration. Given my revelatory experiences with isolation devices, the replacement of the original air-platform Seismic Sink (two of which I've owned for 6 years) by the new 3-D Seismic Sink and the release of the new Seismic Sink Speaker Stand demanded audition. My experience with the best isolation devices has fundamentally altered my perception of the hierarchy of system performance. Where circuitry had been responsible for, say, 70% of a given component's performance and build and isolation 30%, the advent of the best isolation devices has reversed that ratio.
Once the Earth is understood as "terra infirma" constantly transferring low frequency vibrations to anything placed upon it, the necessity for isolation becomes simple common sense. Eliminating these micro-vibrations and the distortions they cause -smearing, fogging, harshness, edge and blurring are typical - allows us to approach the inherent quality of each component.
Isolation devices can be conceived, and are often described by their manufacturers, as mechanical low pass filters. Viewed this way, they yield to measurement and can therefore be graded in effectiveness: the lower the cut-off point frequency and the greater the amount of attenuation, the greater the isolation. Thus there is an absolute ability of the device. The evolution of isolation products, from the once-controversial but now ubiquitous and mundane spikes, to the soft elastomer pucks and disks, through the air platforms and ball bearing-based isolation devices, has been the progress of extending isolation lower in frequency, in amount of attenuation, and in planes of operation. Would 100 dB of isolation from 0.25 Hz through 100 kHz be hailed as perfect? Probably. Unfortunately we are nowhere near this level of isolation in the products on the market yet.
The perceived result of isolation is thus the inherent ability of the isolation device plus the susceptibility of the isolated component. This can lead to some difficulty in making ultimate judgments of efficacy because components, though all vulnerable to this kind of micro-vibration, can vary in the degree of vulnerability to them. Components dedicated to a particular isolation device, whose susceptibilities to interference are tuned to the abilities of that device, are few and far between. Townshend's Rock turntables, which incorporated the Seismic Sink into their design, were in the vanguard.
The 3-D Seismic Sink improves upon the older, original Seismic Sink by lowering the frequency at which the Sink begins its isolation and by extending isolation into both the horizontal plane and around a central axis, hence the 3-D designation. Attenuation of micro-vibrations increases by 10 dB per octave above the fundamental resonance of the Sink. Available in a variety of sizes and weight capacities, the 3-D Sinks feature a damped metal top plate upon which the component is placed. An air bladder underneath this plate isolates it from the Seismic Sink's base, and thus the ground. The component floats on air.
The 3-D Seismic Sink is more austere in appearance and operation than its predecessor. Gone are the adjustable feet, built-in level bubble, and the flashing LEDs to warn when the suspension needs to be pumped up again. Set-up involves pumping the bladder up to a degree of firmness (taking care not to over-inflate,) placing the component on the inflated bladder, and centering its weight (using a supplied weight if the component's weight balance is too far askew). Once this balance is achieved, one releases air through the air valve until the top plate squares with the bottom plate and the top plate moves forward and back and side-to-side, floating freely, thus, over the base.
Though not completely idiot-proof and not entirely inspiring of confidence in the accuracy of first-time set-up, a little practice and acquiring the feel of when it's right comes very quickly. The most effective isolation occurs when the amount of air in the bladder is at its lowest and fortunately there's some fudge factor in achieving this. Some very unbalanced components, particularly turntables and tube amplifiers, might necessitate a larger Sink to balance correctly. My older Sinks usually held their air levels for 6 months before needing to be topped up: the transition in and out of the need for central heat usually being the cue. I expect the 3-D Sinks to be similar, as once set-up they have not needed any topping up.
I auditioned the 3-D Sinks sequentially and methodically under turntables, CD players and preamp/power amps, concluding with the Speaker Platforms. Two different listening rooms - my converted-attic master bedroom suite with wooden floors and my concrete-floored basement "reference" listening room were used. I compared the 3-D Sinks to non-isolated components, eventually concluding with entire systems floated on the Sinks. I also listened to "Sink-ed" components in system contexts involving other isolation devices.
Common to all my auditions of the 3-D Seismic Sinks was an increase in stereo separation: the soundstage was wider, instruments had a wider spread within that stage with more space between them, and were more solidly anchored in position than without the Sinks. Common too was the unveiling of subtle low-level information resulting in the delineation of the ambience of the recording site, be it a performance hall or the artifice of the studio. Instruments were grounded in a more believable space, aiding orientation to a reality that allowed listening to what the instruments were playing rather than wasting mental energy in trying to ascertain where they were. Reverberant information was articulate; the attack, sustain, and decay of notes notably more coherent. A large reduction of hash, edge and grunge was also consistent, with far less artificial brightness. Bass instruments played notes, lines, melodies, and rhythms clearly and every instrument gained refinement, subtlety and nuance, both in timbre and in musical content. The overall impression was of an unassuming, easy-on-the ears presentation that insinuated itself into awareness rather than overwhelming one with superficial flash.
Turning specifically to turntables, I first auditioned 2 Linn Sondek LP 12's. The Linns are notoriously tweak-proof, performing as intended only with their recommended placement. The noted improvement in resolution and spaciousness was present with, however, a slight loss in the Linn's forte: rhythmic coherence, drive and tension. No surprise here: I didn't expect the Sinks to be completely effective with the Linns. There is a reason for Linn's set-up recommendations and the fact that the 3-D Sinks don't meet them is not a criticism.
There were consistent across the board improvements with the Rega Planar 3, the Acoustic Signature Analog One Mk II, the Origin Live Basic Kit turntable, an AR XA77/Merrill, and an antique Connoisseur BD2A. All showed marked gains: to the general improvements in low-level resolution, stereo separation, and ambience portrayal were added deeper and clearer bass and improved stylus tracking. The degree of improvement varied from turntable to turntable and not unexpectedly, the less effective the turntable's built-in suspension, integrity and isolation, the greater the improvement.
Placing the 3-D Sinks under my 2 CD players yielded similar excellent results. The improvements here were extremely gratifying. The CD format has always sounded artificial and mechanical to me - a computer model of music rather than music itself - and the kind of aesthetic/ecstatic musical peak experience that I routinely experience with analogue LP eludes me with CD. Consequentially, I have not invested heavily into the medium, either in CD's or in hardware. The decreases in grunge, glare, and edge, the increase in stereo separation and in the quality of note tracking were particularly welcome, as was the simple overall gain in making musical sense. Although not transformed into silk purses, the sow's ears were at least washed and perfumed.
The effects on various amp/preamp combinations were subtler, with some amplifiers showing only minute differences. Consistent again were increases in stereo separation and in resolution of low-level detail. Vintage tube gear that I auditioned benefited the most, but I won't claim any hard generalizations here.
The Speaker Platforms differ from the 3-D Seismic Sinks in that they isolate vertically and front-to-back only - 2-D in Townshend's parlance. Because of the weight of most speakers and the need to center their mass correctly on the Speaker Platforms, set-up can be more time-consuming than with the 3-D's. Although the Platforms do not isolate side to side, the speakers will wobble if pushed when mounted on them. This side-to-side wobble is controlled at its extreme, however, by the Platforms.
Given the now commonly held dogma that speakers should be firmly anchored in place and shouldn't move at all (I am old enough to remember when speaker stands and spikes were considered a controversial avant garde tweak), an open mind is required to give the speaker platforms a fair hearing.
I first auditioned the Speaker Platforms in my 19' × 17' converted-attic bedroom loft to test response on wooden floors, and also to test the 3-D Sinks when placed on large very heavy, record cabinets (1500 LPs each.) First speakers tested were an old pair of Infinity Qb's circa 1976, pre spike, pre-speaker stand. Placed on spiked stands, the sound was thuddy and blurred in the bass with a notable upper-midrange edge. In came the Platforms. Can you say "Transmogrify?" "Apotheosis?" I now can.
Delineation of bass playing was particularly notable. What had been, without the Speaker Platforms, murk, mud and thud, was now agile, tuneful bass clarity. The clarity extended throughout the entire frequency range - pianos no longer clanged and note articulation and timbre were not shamed by the sound of the live piano that often wafts up the stairs. Vocal intelligibility was simply stunning: I was able to parse foreign lyrics into words and phrases even when I didn't speak the language. There was a sweet clarity, a lack of edge and harshness to the sound that I had not thought the speakers capable of producing.
There was also the unavoidable impression that the volume level of lower bass response was down a bit, along with some loss of resolution. Playing at loud levels showed the sound holding up even under the duress from hard transients and huge masses of instruments hitting crescendos. The speakers remained clear and focused and did not turn harsh. And for the first time from these speakers, I heard a huge, coherent, three-dimensional soundstage that extended the boundaries of my room.
Audition of the Spendor 2040 and Celestion 3 speakers showed the same loss of bass level. The trade-off was one of quality with the Sinks versus quantity without. Since the bass playing was so articulate and tuneful, quality eventually won out. The lower reaches of acoustic bass and drum thwacks were however, missing and re-positioning the speakers to see if a closer proximity to the speaker's rear wall might bring back the missing low bass was stymied by the room's lack of positioning flexibility.
Switching to my concrete-floored basement listening room and to the much higher resolution, electrostatic/dynamic hybrid Sound Lab Dynastats showed the same bass level loss. The sound from the electrostatic panels was first-rate: free from harshness and edge, coherent and without discontinuities, and soaring up into the highest frequencies with ease and grace. The stereo image was expansive and liberating. Bass reproduction, drive and dynamics fell short of the finest I heard from these speakers, however. The bass response seemed to dip roughly in the 60 Hz range (sans Sinks, the bass response in the room is flat to 26 Hz), with the lowest reaches of the double bass and electric bass somewhat diminished. My bass resolution and rhythm acid test - the piccolo bass of Ron Carter playing with Buster Williams' double bass on the Ron Carter Quartet series of recordings - showed superb articulation of Carter's higher-pitched piccolo bass with Riley's acoustic double bass more diffuse and confused, and dimming in response as it descended in pitch. The deep bass foundation of the orchestra was missing and the drum/bass underpinning of much rock and jazz lightened.
Isolating every component in the system with the Seismic Sinks did not produce any particular sense of synergy: the widening of the stereo sound field for example, which was a hallmark of each application, only got so wide and no wider. Since the sound already was beyond the confines of the listening room this is a comment rather than a criticism. The refinement, nuance, and sweet tonality of instruments and vocals, again common to all my individual applications, could verge on the slightly polite and subdued when all the components were floated. If you've ever found some British hi-fi sweet, clear, finely resolved, and musical, but somehow self-effacing almost to a fault, you've got the gist of my meaning here. Too much of a good thing? Perhaps.
Diminution of dynamic contrasts, particularly in the bass, was more worrisome as it limited music's brio, urgency, and emotional energy. This was a characteristic of the Speaker Platforms only and using other isolation devices under the preamp cured it, but the reduction in bass level continued. The melodiousness of bass playing was a genuine gain, however, and my guess is that there will be quite different reactions to this loss of lower bass-level effect of the Speaker Platforms, based on equipment, personal taste, floor type, room size and speaker placement within the room, if indeed the effect can be generalized to other contexts and is not purely an idiosyncratic response to my situation.
Overall I find the Seismic Sinks and Speaker Platforms to be excellent tools for setting up and tuning a system. Actualizing the potential of any system requires savvy component set-up and tuning, a delicate balancing act of trying to achieve the maximum resolution without introducing objectionable side-effects, and subordinating the entire process to guarantee the inclusion of the basic constituents of music. Achieving the desired result has been frustrated in the past by assuming that the true sound of a component was what it produced when simply switched on. The use of effective isolation devices not only allows maximizing performance of an existing system, but also allows for far more intelligent choices when choosing new components. Indeed, any upgrade plans should first include isolation, as state-of-the-art isolation is often of more value than a simple component upgrade, the new component still being at the mercy of micro-vibrational pollution.
Systems marred by harshness and grating brightness, the most commonly voiced reason for system dissatisfaction, (often attributed to flawed components, poor power line service, radio frequency interference and a myriad of other gremlins,) can positively bloom with Townshend's Seismic Sink products - harshness and brightness being a direct manifestation of the intermodulation distortion caused by uncontrolled ground-borne vibration. Once this ogre is slain, rooting out other gremlins becomes easier and more systematic. Mixing and matching isolation devices from various manufacturers to attain one's system tuning goals - the elusive Goldilockian Ideal of "Just Right" - is far easier now with Townshend's products.
Where to start? I would recommend auditioning the Seismic Sink products under the source and the loudspeakers first, then branching out to isolating the complete system. Sequentially subtracting the Sinks from each component should easily reveal where the pay-off is the biggest.
Highly worthy of audition then and highly recommended.
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