acapella audio arts
as reviewed by Marshall Nack
It may seem perverse—that wasn't my intent—but the first place I thought of using the isolation platform from Acapella Audio Arts, a German high-end manufacturer known for expensive horn loudspeakers, was an unused shelf. It's been my experience that some of these products are so powerful they can work their stuff on the rack itself. Heck, just being in the room is enough for some of them. Good luck explaining that to a non-audiophile.
I removed the three Walker Audio resonance control discs from an unoccupied shelf on my TAOC rack (not that I noticed any difference with them on or off, but they're supposed to help) and placed Acapella's Fondato Silenzio Isolation Platform on it. (A curious choice of name; Acapella likes Italian names.)
The Fondato Silenzio is an elegant-looking platform constructed from a hardwood frame, an aluminum top plate and layers of plumb, felt and fine quartz sand inside. Like the speakers, it is expensive. Mine was the smallest (19"W x 15"D x 1.4"H, weighing 23 lbs), with a $2,400 MSRP.
Clark Terry, The Chicago Sessions 1994-95 went into the CD drawer (Reference Recordings RR-111). Good selection: the trumpet solo in the first half-minute of Just Squeeze Me was very revealing. I expected to hear mass loading effects and the damping material at work and, yes, I heard those things. The results were already enough to stimulate heated back and forth amongst my panel.
OK, let's move to a real test. I put the Fondato Silenzio (FS) under my mbl 5011 DAC. Then I put Acapella's Couplers between the platform and the DAC. These precision-machined, hand-ground footers are made from solid aluminum and come in sets of three or four. The Puck 1 Couplers are included with the purchase of the FS. In this instance, I was using an upgrade Coupler called the LaMusika (LM).
When I hit play, Clark appeared on the stage. I felt closer to him, not in terms of perspective—the hall cues placed me in the same mid-orchestra seat in DePaul University Concert Hall—but there was something different about the acoustic energy in the room.
It had calmed down. I was privy to previously obscured small-scale events, like the mechanics of Clark working the valves and the air blowing through his mouthpiece. There was a flurry of pick up notes at the start of each melodic phrase, the kind of thing seasoned trumpet players often indulge in. This must be an occupational tic from all those years of practicing, a finger muscle reflex. Well, there they were, exposed, including a few that weren't properly tongued, and they were coming at me as fast as my ears could process them. (Although my perspective was mid-hall, I'm quite sure engineer Keith Johnson used spot mikes.)
On another afternoon, I was listening with my wife's oboe instructor. He was particularly keen to check out the principal oboist on a new recording, Stravinsky Pulcinella, with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSOR 901 920).
We began with the mbl 5011 DAC back on the TAOC shelf, without any accessories. "Nice oboist," was Jim's quick assessment. "Doesn't he sound great?"
Stepping through the series of tweaks, I put a set of the La Musika Couplers under the mbl 5011. Good became better.
Then we added the Fondato Silenzio under the Couplers. And better again.
And then, the coup de grace, I put the Speed Block on top of the DAC.
The Speed Block Resonance Control Device (SB) is similar to the FS, except it is much smaller, 9.5"W x 5.9"D x 1.65"H, and is intended to go on top of the component. It is constructed just like the FS, but has an acrylic encased exterior. And it is heavy—23 lbs.
The DAC was now outrigged with the complete Acapella isolation solution: the FS; the LM; the component; and the SB on top.
Jim reacted, "He certainly can do anything he wants with that tremendous technique, but why be so restrained? Why not let loose and put a little soul into it?" I heard the same thing. With all three tweaks it felt constricted.
I tried the SB on top of the ASR Basis Exclusive phono stage and the Soulution 710 amplifier with the same reaction. Top-placement weights clamp down the sound: The Speed Block came off. I've yet to meet one that stayed.
Putting it in Perspective
Let's sum up what the Acapella devices do: Principally, they remove glare and brightness. This in turn gives transients a clean edge, enhances body and boosts detail retrieval. Everything I was hearing was consistent with a coherent re-alignment of frequencies. If you take away the F S and the three LM, what's left seems blurred.
This was food for thought, because I recently reviewed a competing isolation product that addressed all of these things with fantastic results—the newest platform from Vibraplane called the ELpF, an active, air-based, biomedical industry research tool.
At one point I even tried doubling up to see if more "fixing" was required. If one ELpF is great, what happens when you use two? I put one under the turntable and a second under the phono stage. But what resulted was not better—it became excessively soft and relaxed. So, I concluded that a single ELpF did the job and anything more was unnecessary. I figured I had those gremlins licked for good.
You can imagine my surprise when I put in the Acapella products and heard even more glare and brightness purged.
Isn't this often the case? You begin with a reference system that you've just finished tweaking and it's the best sound you've ever had. You figure you're done, at least for the time being. Within a month you open the UPS parcel with the latest review product, like a couple of La Musika Couplers or the FS, and in short order you know—there's more work to be done.
I have to reiterate: there was some divisiveness amongst my panel. Everyone heard what the Acapella products did; it became a matter of how you interpreted the effects. On this score there was a split verdict. I so enjoyed them I didn't want to listen without. But roughly half the audience preferred them out of the system. They considered the blurry view to be in some ways more natural.
One word of caution: if you've already achieved tonal harmony, putting in the FS or the LM will cause a disruption due to the drop in treble energy. You'll have to lighten up somewhere.
Principles of Operation
Acapella is somewhat low-key about the principles of operation. These products employ commonly understood engineering principles and are very straightforward. No claims are made about exotic materials or innovative engineering principles.
The rationale goes like this: All electronic devices vibrate and generate electromechanical waves. These waves create mechanical resonances, which impair playback. Components with higher quality materials and construction are less subject to this, but it's never completely eliminated. The Acapella products' only purpose is to maximally drain this vibrational energy out of your component and dump it into the shelf it's sitting on. They don't tune or fundamentally change the component's sound.
Fun with Couplers
About the shape of the Couplers: Acapella claims pointed footers like spikes and tiptoes affect a restricted frequency range. That's why the Couplers have flat tops and bottoms: They have determined that this shape is effective across the entire audible band. Also, the ratio of height to diameter has been carefully arrived at. Very little is arbitrary. The FS, the Couplers and the SB have been around for at least 15 years without undergoing any significant change.
In the more expensive La Musika Couplers, one of them has a very small bearing embedded into the pear wood. This is the drainage point. Acapella says you want a single drainage point; furthermore, it should be as small as possible. The product brochure directs the buyer to orient the LM Couplers with pear wood up, and to locate the one with the drainage bearing under the area with the most vibration, like the drawer of a CD transport.
Given the explanation, I wanted to see how the Couplers stacked up to similarly shaped footers I have on hand.
Compared to Mapleshade Brass HeavyHats
I found the Puck 1 Couplers used alone boosted musical pacing and expanded soundstage dimensions. They were pretty neutral.
I replaced the Puck 1 Couplers under the DAC with a set of three Mapleshade HeavyHat weights. These are made from brass and the proportions are much different. They are much bigger and heavier. I liked what they did in terms of definition, separating out individual strikes on a triangle or mallet hits on the tympani. However, they caused a drop in tonal balance and a small suck out appeared in the middle—frequency integration was compromised.
Replacing the HeavyHats with a set of LM, integration became whole again. The LM tonal balance is similar to the HeavyHats, but they sound more acoustic. Noise levels dropped some more, definition improved and the stage grew. The LM had more power and impact.
Compared to Harmonix TU-66ZX Tuning Footers
Another footer with a similar shape that I have used in the past is the Harmonix TU-66ZX Tuning Footers. Back when I acquired them these retailed for $865/set of four. There's certainly some tuning going on. That's a key difference: the Acapella products are not intended to alter the source. Put a poor quality CD in the drawer and that's what you'll hear from your speakers. The Harmonix push the beauty quotient.
I thought I had finally gotten rid of those major gremlins glare and brightness with the acquisition of a pair of Vibraplane ELpFs. No doubt they made huge strides, but I found out it wasn't as thorough as I thought. The Acapella Audio Arts isolation products finished the job.
The Fondato Silenzio Isolation Platform and the various Couplers remove glare and brightness principally by cutting down chassis-borne vibrational energy. This re-aligns frequency response. This, in turn, yields crisp and highly coherent transients. And this serves to clarify musical lines and focus the view. They help you to make sense of the music. Remove the Fondato Silenzio Isolation Platform and the Couplers and what's left seems blurred.
The upgraded La Musika Couplers do nice things to timbre, moving it several steps towards acoustic and away from mechanical. If your rig sounds like it could use some tubes, consider a set of LM. They will do the job on their own; combined with the FS they are twice as potent.
Almost all systems could use some glare removal. The Acapella isolation products are highly effective at purging these gremlins. Marshall Nack
Fondato Silenzio Isolation Platform
Speed Block Resonance Control Device
Acapella Audio Arts