as reviewed by Francisco Duran
The last time I reviewed a product from Gingko Audio was way back in Issue 13. I bought both review pieces and one or both of them have been in my system since. The call went out from Dave Clark that a request had been made for a review of one of their new products. I stepped up to the plate, and a small box soon arrived at my home with not one, but two Semi-Cloud units. These new products are entry level units for Gingko Audio. The Semi-Cloud consists of a base plate approximately 10 ˝ x 12 inches and are 6/8 inches thick and 2 inches high. Nine holes are cut into them, and are evenly spaced to cradle the 2 inch Gingko Balls. The platforms come in either black or clear acrylic, with four rubber feet on the bottom. I was sent both a black and clear platform and ten of the Gingko Balls; I think the clear looks cool. Each platform comes standard with five balls, but experimentation is encouraged. With a platform and five balls it will support up to fifty pounds. The more balls, the more weight it will support. Gingko Audio claims that this new Semi-Cloud's performance is slightly better than their Mini Cloud. It is also more stable. Although with its rather small dimensions, it would be wise to keep the equipment that rests on top of it about the same size. The instructions recommend placing the platform on your rack, floor or a smooth flat surface, positioning the balls, and then placing your equipment directly on top of the balls. My den has a concrete carpeted floor where my audio rack sits. I used the Semi-Clouds in this manner as well as in a sandwich configuration.
I will not get into the science of vibration control here; the focus of this article will be on the performance of the Semi-Clouds. Needless to say having very sensitive systems, internal and external vibrations harm the sound. Whether they come from the natural environment or human induced phenomenon, removing or reducing them from our systems can be an interesting and varied proposition. The first thing I tried the Semi-Clouds with more or less demanded a sandwich configuration out of necessity. My Monarchy SM-70 Class A amplifier runs hot, really hot. In fact it runs so hot I use it as I would one of my tube amps. In other words it runs for only a few hours at a time. The thought of placing three Gingko Balls directly under my SM-70 fully warmed up was a no-no. I kept thinking that there would be three blow outs in a very short time. I placed a platform on the bottom, three balls in between making sure two balls were supporting the heavier side where the transformer is positioned. I then placed the remaining platform on top of the balls, which protected them from the heat, and placed the SM-70 on top of that.
I have owned the Monarchy SM-70 since 1999, needless to say that I am familiar with its sound. It is fast and punchy, with that slight Class A warmth and sweetness to its sound. It sounds a little dark and slightly closed in. It throws a credible soundstage with proportional width and depth when the recording calls for it. But without vibration control and support of some kind, the soundstage sounds a little flat. Spatial characteristics are diminished and micro dynamics are slightly smeared. These negative traits show up most noticeably in sibilance and the trailing edges of dynamics. Natural vocal tones are off just a bit and sound a little more hi fi than normal.
With the Ginkgo sandwich underneath, however, the music immediately became more sweet, slick, and dimensional. I noticed that sibilance was better controlled. The soundstage opened up and sounded clearer, cleaner, and overall more relaxed while at the same time the acoustic space sounded more focused. The background noise slightly dropped, and bass actually sounded slightly sweeter, rounder, and more dimensional. Bass had the same impact but was less flat. The surprising thing was that it took me all of one CD to hear all of these qualities I have described, and under one component. Gingko can put these in their entry level product line but they were in no way giving entry level performance.
OK, I sat back for a second and thought that maybe the sound I was getting was an artifact of the sandwich configuration that I used under my hot SM-70 amplifier. Maybe with two Semi-Clouds the sound was being exaggerated a bit. So to be fair out went the Mini-Clouds from under my amp and in went one set under my Marantz SA15S2 SACD player. The Marantz SACD weighs a solid thirty pounds, so I placed one Mini-Cloud and four balls under this unit. Even though each ball can handle up to ten pounds, I felt more comfortable with four balls and also felt it sounded best with four. Besides, the Marantz player's dimensions are much wider and deeper than the Semi-Clouds, and it was a little wobbly. I didn't want to take any chances. The results were similar with the SACD player as with the amp. The sound was slightly better dimensionally, better control of micro dynamics and noticeably sweeter in sound. To be fair, I added the other platform to the Marantz set up to mimic the one used under the amp. The results were a little more solidity to the sound and the positive qualities mentioned above were kicked up a notch.
Great, but does my Marantz SA15S2 actually sound a little sweet? Well it depends. It shouldn't sound flat, dynamically smeared, and slightly closed in either. And that is what happens to the sound when you pull a Semi-Cloud out from under a component and it rests on its natural born feet. If the Semi-Clouds sweeten the sound a bit, then they are not any guiltier than other vibration control devices as far as changing the sound of a component. Let's see, there are vibration control devices that are made of stainless steel, some made of aluminum, and some made of carbon fiber, springs, and magnets. There are vibration control devices designed by scientists who have experience in the military and the medical field. Just one of these units can cost many times more than my whole system. There are many other materials and applications that vibration control devices are made of that are not mentioned here. I am sure each has their own “signature” sound. I have found the stainless steel and aluminum ones for the most part to sound on the brighter and steely side of “neutral”. Yes they improve resolution, which sounds great at first, but after time the sound becomes wearing and mostly sound exaggerated. Do they improve the music? Not in my system. There are the carbon fiber ones, I have some and they have been sitting in a drawer for many years next to the ball bearing type. Besides, how much of a pain is it to use a CD player balanced on ball bearings? Give me a break! But wait there is more; do you want a flat tire? Certainly not in your vehicle and certainly not in your vibration control device either. I have experienced both but more so in the air bladder platforms I used to own. In all the years I have owned the Gingko Balls, I have yet to have one go flat on me. So yes, the Gingko products slightly sweeten the sound in my system. They do not make the music sound steely hard or bright. They work in my system as I have described above and are mechanically stable and I like that.
Getting back to the subject, and not to stop with just two components, the Semi-Clouds were placed on several more pieces of equipment. I tried them on my Sony Blue Ray player with positive results on the picture. It slightly improved the sound of this unit also, but the sound of my Sony Blue Ray player is a mere shadow of the sound of my Marantz SA15S2 Upgrade Company Signature Edition. Still the picture was slightly improved with a shaper looking presentation. How about my Motorola cable box? The Semi-Cloud's positive qualities were also noticed on this black box too. How about my Audio Limits passive line stage? Very subtle change if any but it weighs only a few pounds.
Now without incurring the wrath of the good folks at Gingko Audio, there are other products in my system used for vibration control, not made by Gingko Audio. Those products are made by Herbie's Audio Labs. Last year I voted some of Herbie's products for product of the year. I use their Tenderfeet, Big Tall Tenderfeet, Baby Booties and on occasion their Iso-Cups. Another reason I mention them is because they make a direct replacement for the Gingko balls. They call them the Grungbuster black balls. I cannot vouch for their performance because I have not tried them. They are considerably more expensive than the Gingko Balls, and honestly that is one of the reasons why I haven't tried them on my Cloud 10 yet. Now I mention this out of the spirit of competition, and as tweaking audiophiles we love to experiment. And who knows, Gingko Audio and Herbie's Audio Labs might some day form a symbiotic relationship. The benefactors of course would not only be them, but also their good customers.
I may have sounded a little jaded in describing my experience with other company's vibration control products. Far be it from me to sound dictatorial. By all means experiment, have fun. But if you include the Gingko Audio products, I think you might end up as enthusiastic as I am. So there you have it, short, sweet and to the point. Gingko Audio scores once again with vibration control devices that work very good, are very affordable and easy to use. They are smartly engineered and their performance can be backed up by measurements. Not to mention Mr. Vinh Vu and Mr. Norm Ginsburg have some pretty impressive credentials in the engineering and marketing worlds respectively. And besides, all that plexi-glass looks cool. Francisco Duran
Semi-Cloud SMC-B, SMC-C