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Positive Feedback ISSUE 62
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"I breakdown in the middle and lose my thread
No one can understand a word that I say
When I breakdown just a little and lose my head
Nothing I try to do can work the same way"
— "Breakdown" from I, Robot by The Alan Parson's Project
While my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC is getting upgraded, I thought I would focus on some other components. As it turns out I had just received some more Strange Attractors isolation devices from Spiral Groove in Berkeley. These come in a variety of configurations but I got two sets of three, one set with bolts for speaker stands and one set with screws for attaching to, say, a Rega plinth. In both cases, they also had sorbothane. After chatting with Stirling Trayle at Spiral Groove, I found out that the bolts and screws could be easily removed and the Strange Attractors placed directly under the device in question. So I did remove the bolts and screws carefully putting them away and placed three Strange Attractors each under the two devices that needed the most help—given where they were—my Theta Compli Blu and my Motorola PVR. In the case of the Theta, I noticed an immediate improvement in the treble, which became softer and sweeter, and the imaging and soundstaging also made a dramatic leap in the right direction. While the setup was settling in, I listened to several SACD's using headphones including Bach: Brandenburg Concertos by the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr and Like Minds by Gary Burton et al. In both cases, I heard mostly the tonal improvements I've described because, well, I was listening on headphones; but then I switched to speakers.
I listened out loud to Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell and to the eponymous Sticks & Stones. In both cases, I was truly taken by the depth and three-dimensionality that the Strange Attractors added to the sound; imaging and soundstaging improved and, as with my digital music server, the Strange Attractors improved the articulation of words and phrases in the vocals on Sticks & Stones. I would say that overall the bass was cleaner albeit perhaps a bit lighter (more like a Graham 2.2 Deluxe and less like an SME V) with similar improvements across the tonal scale. With regard to the PVR (sometimes called a DVR), color saturation improved and I could see more depth in the composition of television shows like ABC's Rookie Blue. The sound also improved, which was interesting because I was going through a Transparent HDMI cable into a Sony HDTV then taking the Sony's audio output and feeding it through twenty (20) feet of Whiplash Audio Sapphire Pro audio cable terminated with Eichmann copper bullet plugs. Even my Apple TV—which simply sat on top of the Theta Compli Blue—seemed to have an improvement in sound and image quality when similarly connected. Watching Bachelorette via Apple TV with Kirstin Dunst was a truly fun and theatrical experience. Then I watched Albert Nobbs, a Blu-ray disc, in my Theta Compli Blu.
Even though I don't have a true home theater system, my Audio Note AN-E's can put out quite a bit of bass. It's not unusual for people to go looking for the "hidden" subwoofer, which doesn't exist. While Albert Nobbs is far from a car chase film, just the sound of the studio logo nearly knocked me out of my chair it was so bombastic with the Strange Attractors (which is how I believe it was meant to sound). The beautifully photographed period piece took on a very warm glow and I definitely felt I was watching analog film, not video. There was a creamy texture to the outdoor scenes in the snow and the blues had purity to them that I never thought I would see via my lowly Sony HDTV (although it has been calibrated and not just thrown in "Theater" mode). The sound, travelling through 4.5 meters of Audio Note Lexus copper interconnects, was notable for its neutrality. Bells sounded like bells and all the little things that could normally sizzle had a laid-back and natural timbre and tone. I mention this because—compared to the Ayre C-5xeMP—the Theta has always sounded a tiny bit bright; but with proper power control and the Strange Attractors, the treble sounds extraordinarily neutral (especially on SACD's). In the scenes of the ball in Albert Nobbs, the whole set took on a kind of a golden glow. Switching back to sound, I played the first track from the SACD of Like Minds by Gary Burton et al, finding a richness and depth to the sound that I had not previously heard. There was also better distribution of instruments across the soundstage, the piano being more notable as an individual and the vibraphones taking on a much more natural size in proportion to the rest of the ensemble. Cymbals also had more natural attack and decay. In short, everything improved. I noticed that the "thwack" at the end of track 1 ("Question and Answer") had a particularly natural bite to it, just like one would expect in real life.
I tried playing The Alan Parson's Project I, Robot on 24/192 Classic Records HDAD via the Theta perched atop the three Strange Attractors and found that to be quite bright. The midrange depth and definition did improve and I could understand the lyrics more clearly; however, the brightness made it very difficult to tolerate. I don't think that's the fault of the Strange Attractors though; they were just helping to deliver what lay on the disc. I did notice some improvement in the upper midbass and the sound took on greater overall dynamics (perhaps a bit too much so); but, again, HDAD is an obscure format and I felt the Strange Attractors helped me to better hear what was on the disc, not detract from something that I had previously cherished. Lastly, I tried something I don't do very often: playing an ordinary CD in Theta Compli Blu, specifically Franz Benda's Violin Sonatas (with original ornamentation), Naxos N.572307. It came surprisingly close to my reference Audio Note CD 3.1x/II. It wasn't as musical sounding as the Audio Note; but the Strange Attractors took the bite off the edge and delivered a clean, clear, respectable musical experience. I tried removing the Strange Attractors while I was playing the Benda disc and there was a kind of a flattening of everything sonically. So I put them back under the Compli Blu and returned to respectable sound. I wish I had more time and more places to try the Strange Attractors; but I think you get the point. Anything that can improve the sound and image quality of my Theta Compli Blu and Motorola PVR simply by controlling vibration is definitely worth the money. Plus, they look oh so pretty. I played El Nuevo Mundo by Jordi Savall et al and J. S. Bach Cantatas & Arias by Elizabeth Watts and The English Concert under Henry Bicket, both well-recorded SACD's and I found the sound to be quite musical and engaging with no sense of brightness or harshness and pinpoint imaging and soundstaging. I had no complaints about the sound whatsoever, something I can't necessarily say without the Strange Attractors. They really improve the sound. There was a richness and depth and, again, I think the sound exceeded the Ayre C-5xeMP that much more because of vibration control.
P. S. To help clarify a few points, Stirling Trayle of Spiral Groove/Canalis Audio sent me an email, which included the following:
"Just so I'm more specific with the information I'm providing you, let me clarify a point. In all cases, we would prefer that any of the Attractors be firmly threaded onto a component. This will improve the energy transfer from the component into the Attractor thereby increasing the effectiveness of the concept. This is obviously not always possible so the studs are removable. In cases such as the Alpha DAC, where it is a very popular device, we can make versions to accommodate the specific needs of the device where possible or warranted. The Alpha DAC would typically be a candidate for our Attach model (which does not use the Sorbothane layer) because we characterize it as a "quiet" component as it does not have any moving parts to create a lower frequency resonance issue, i.e. a drive mech. However, one of our dealers commented the one issue he had with the Alpha was a rather 'noisy' transformer, which I am sure they chose for sound quality reasons over a quieter toroid in the same cost range. Compound that with a bent metal box and rather light weight and it's a recipe for all sorts of low frequency problems. Additionally, a bent metal chassis is almost never square or flat on the bottom, and getting a light component to sit without a wobble on four solid feet is typically folly, which is one reason why three points of contact are so commonly used. Additionally, because of it's rather low weight, simply setting the component onto the Decouple would not provide the best energy transfer into the Attractor, as well as four being more effective than three to deal with the energy, we were left with a bit of a configuration issue to consider. Because of its low weight, we have to choose the lowest durometer Sorbothane to provide the correct deflection of the material to be maximally effective, which luckily is also the softest of the three durometer Sorbothane choices we have. The squishy nature of the low durometer Sorbothane made up for any inconsistencies in the flatness of the chassis so it sat without wobble when using four Attractors. This pointed to making a special threaded version of the Decouple for the Alpha DAC that would not modify the component at all and still get four under there rather than three. This is not to say that four Decouples placed in different places other than where the stock feet are might not be more effective, finding those places would require a bit of experimentation, and then, unless one threaded the chassis, the Decouple would still have less than ideal purchase to the chassis."
Strange Attractors - Decouple / US Retail Price $450 per 3 piece set