Positive Feedback ISSUE 62
july/august 2012

 

Musing on Building a Digital Music Server: The Spiral Groove Strange Attractors
by Andy Schaub

 

"Don't fall in love with me yet

We've only recently met

True I'm in love with you but

You might decide I'm a nut"

—The Magnetic Fields

I am planning on having my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC upgraded. That's a fact. Everyone I talk to says the Version 2 sounds better; but one thing that the upgrade doesn't address—as far as I know—are the feet. There's nothing wrong with them; they're small, made of some kind of compliant material, and bolted to the threaded chassis with Phillips-head bolts. What I did discover, quite by accident, is that Allen Perkins' Spiral Groove turntable company is coming out with special feet that can be used for many types of components but that he has a set of four you can get with bolts specifically designed for the Alpha DAC. Since Allen and I are old friends, I knew I had to try them, so I contacted him and he offered to loan me set. I tell you from the very beginning, they make such a difference, and I've already decided to keep them. They make my Alpha DAC sound like it costs $7,000.00-$8,000.00 if not more as I already think the Alpha DAC sounds better than the dCS Debussy I used to own, which was too "tight" and "clean". The Strange Attractors lend a tube-like delicacy to the treble while smoothing out the midrange and really cleaning up the bass. In short, they make nothing but improvements.

alpha dac with a Strange Attractor

I was listening to the 24/96 download of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John from hdtracks.com and for the first time in my life—and I grew up with Elton John—I could understand all the lyrics clearly not in an overly detailed way but just in a quiet, musical, straightforward way without any grit or grain. The bass was also quite a bit tighter and cleaner; and I kept hearing these little touches almost as if seeing a flash of light out of the corner of my eye for the first time. I also listened to the 24/88.2 download of Byron Janis, London Symphony Orchestra and Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, Antal Dorati's interpretation of Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3; Prelude in E flat etc. from hdtracks.com and I felt moved by the music in an analog-like way for the first time since I setup the digital music server. There's nothing wrong the Quadraspire stand it all sits on; however, that stand is not as well designed as my custom built "main" stereo stands and the vibration isolation and dissipation qualities that the Strange Attractors offers go a long way towards making me want to use the digital music server.

I am currently playing the 24/88.2 download of Elizabeth Watts' Bach: Cantatas and Arias from hdtracks.com which now has a sweetness and gentleness to that, again reminds me of a very good turntable; the Alpha DAC now seems capable of both holding onto the holistic quality of Watt's voice while resolving complex passages of massed strings in a musical and harmonious way, something that it could not to this extent before. It really is very close to playing a record without record noise, no excess brightness but soaring treble when it's actually in the recording. My Western Electric 300B's have never been happier! So how does this all work? Well, according to the Music Direct website:

In fact, Strange Attractors act very similarly to a diode, which allows energy to only pass one way and not return. Strange Attractors remove both internal and external sources of vibration, hold your components very, very still, allowing your components to finally deliver all the music in your recordings. The effect is absolutely stunning; background noise vanishes, harshness and hash are banished, revealing a gorgeous tonal purity and dramatic dynamic range.

Strange Attractors

Now bear in mind that my Strange Attractors are specifically threaded for the Alpha DAC; but you get versions that sit under most any component and if Elizabeth Watts is any indication, I might have to think about picking up some more of these for other components when the time comes, particularly for my office system where I have more Quadraspire and Ikea shelving. The Strange Attractors are also quite pretty, improving the overall appearance of the Alpha DAC I think and generally gaining two, "thumbs up", from Lori.

I think of the advantages I've found are particularly notable on the 24/176.4 download of Rebecca Pidgeon's The Raven from hdtracks.com where even the slight ambience artificially added to her voice falls pleasantly into place. For the first time, I feel like I am hearing a studio master. The same is true of the 24/192 download of The Modern Jazz Quartet's Lonely Woman (again from hdtracks.com) where the vibes truly sing but not excessively so. Everything is just laid back enough. Percussion generally takes on more depth and dimension. The Linn 24/192 download of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra really sings and is perhaps the best example of that, "corner of my eye", effect that I mentioned earlier. Lastly, female voices, my personal reference for voicing a system are just flawless; playing the B&W Society of Sound download of The Unthanks' A Retrospective at 24/44.1 really glows with warmth, depth and a kind of fluidity that I think my Western Electric 300B's must be adding because I can tell you the Alpha DAC with the Strange Attractors is adding nothing of its own. I feel very much like I am at a live performance; even the piano sounds natural with normal, reasonable decay. I'll be writing more about the Strange Attractors as I get a chance to try more generic models under other components in different systems but, for now, I am—in fact—strangely attracted to these remarkable little devices.

Kindest regards,

Andy

P. S. There seems to be a "settling" effect where it takes a few days for the Strange Attractors to really settle in and do their thing; I can't explain it. It's just something that I noticed. You'll hear a difference from the beginning but, in my case, I heard a slight over-crispness at first that has now been replaced with nothing but tube-like lushness. And the strings, oh those strings! Also, as I mentioned, there are different types of Strange Attractors for different types of components. As the Canalis Audio website says:

When viewing the audio system as a series of coupled oscillators, it becomes clear that no ‘ trick pony' design can address all the sources of energy in a system. There is both wide and narrow band, chaotic, random, and steady state energy either exiting or entering a component. Different solutions are required to address different vibrational behaviors, so we developed different types of Strange Attractors.

See more at http://www.canalisaudio.com/Canalis/Strange_Attractors.html.

 

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