Reviews appear on a regular basis of “new” isolation devices guaranteed to transform the sound of your system, and eliminate the gremlins associated with unwanted vibrations either from the environment or generated by the equipment itself. With the exception of Roy Gregory, the editor of the English print magazine HiFi + , no one has put forward a theory of why some devices work better than others in particular situations, or attempted to derive a general theory that would predict the best approach in a particular situation. The intent of this article is to review a specific approach to isolation, which I have found to be extremely effective and provide a universal solution to the problem within its operating limits.
Over the past ten years, I have purchased and used a number of acoustic isolation devices in my system, including Nuance shelves, Aurios, Roller blocks, sorbothane, EAR material, maple shelves, Mana stands, Riggle feet, tip toes, Goldmund cones, air isolation devices, a Mike Fredericksen stand, and various TG cones. Although no single device worked consistently well in all circumstances, various combinations worked well under particular pieces of equipment. In retrospect, I would guess that this was the case because each of these devices was more effective at selected frequencies than at others, and likewise that with respect to particular pieces of equipment, resonances were concentrated in particular frequency bands.
The problem with this approach is twofold, namely lack of predictability and the inability of any of these devices to address problems at all frequencies. A general dissatisfaction with this approach led me to research the problem, and later purchase a Finite Element Pagode Master Reference equipment stands, and subsequently, their amp stands. While this is not intended to be a review of the Finite Element stand, it is, in my opinion, the best single integrated solution that I have found. Other products provide better isolation in limited portions of the frequency band, but none achieved the type of wide band noise reduction throughout the audio band.
The FE design is based on careful selection of materials of low-mass, rigidity and their resonant behavior (or lack thereof), use of acoustic resonators to null/reduce resonances, and most importantly, design based on sound engineering, computer modeling, analytical measurement and actual listening. This strikes me as the right way to approach the problem. As a result, the FE stands particularly those which incorporate acoustic resonators, provide a very neutral platform for equipment which treats all frequencies equally and thus does not enhance detail or dynamics at some frequencies at the expense of response at other frequencies. The end result is enhanced dynamics (particularly at the soft end of the scale), enhanced retrieval of low level detail and harmonic accuracy. The result is true to the music. It is not intended to be a cost-no-object solution.
Enter The Halcyonics
The Halcyonics is made in Germany originally for scientific applications, such as use under electron microscopes. As a result of that, plus the devaluation of the dollar against the Euro, it is very expensive even by high-end standards ($11,500). The even worse news is that it is superb. The subject of this review is the lower model, the $8,500 Micro 40.
The Halcyonics basically has eight piezoelectric sensors on diagonals horizontally and four in the corners vertically. Each sensor generates an electric current when it is stressed and this current is then fed to an associated voice coil to cancel any vibration sensed by it. If you view the LCD display on the front of the unit you will see correction taking place constantly. Interestingly, even though these units are primarily focused on the frequency band from 10-100 Hz, the majority of corrections are not in the bass regions (except footfalls). The majority are in the midrange frequencies. The Halcyonics is different from isolation devices which use springs, whether metal, magnetic or pneumatic, which all exhibit a resonant frequency. The Halcyonics has no resonant frequency and instead works much the same as noise cancelling headphones. It senses motion and cancels it by generating a signal which is 180 degrees out of phase. The absence of a resonant frequency or frequencies underlies the superior operating principles and performance of this base.
This sounds somewhat complex but in practice it is extremely simple to operate. You merely turn the unit on, choose the button that prompts the unit to self level, and then push the button to turn the isolation on.
My introduction to the Halcyonics was at the home of TBG, a frequent contributor to the forums on Audiogon. He owns a number of the units and uses them under his amps, digital and turntable. TBG lives about 1.5 hours from me which is close enough that I have been able to hear his system on a regular basis over a number of years. In its most recent incarnation, the system is of world-class performance, particularly on digital. On a recent visit, however, the system sounded uncharacteristically “broken”. While reluctant to make any negative comments, I did ask what he had changed. As it turned out, he had not changed anything, but had inadvertently turned off the Halcyonics under his CD player. Turning the unit back on completely restored the sound of the system.
The unit under review was installed on the same shelf of the FE stand on which my Esoteric X01-D2 was sitting, and the X-01 was then placed on the top plate of the Halcyonics. No other changes were made to the system.
Many of you will be familiar with the FIM K2 demonstration disk This is K2 HD Sound, which contains excerpts from some of FIM’s other disks. The second cut is entitled “Pepe Romero/Zapateado, Excerpt” and contains flamenco guitar. The cut counter-imposes the sound of the guitar with that of the dancer’s metal taps striking a wooden floor which is clearly suspended. I was able to listen to it on a variety of different systems at CES. Although you would expect that it would sound very much the same on all systems, that ultimately was not the case. The best systems were able to differentiate the initial strike of the metal tap from the sound of the wooden floor resonating to that initial hit. In many systems, the bass seemed uncontrolled and almost as if the tap was creating a resonance in the recording equipment. On the best systems, the bass was resonant but well controlled with absolutely no hint of any resonance from the recording equipment.
Prior to the insertion of the Micro 40 into my system, there was a clear differentiation of the strike from the response of the floor but the bass was somewhat fuller than experienced on the best system that I heard at CES. After insertion of the Micro 40, the bass was better controlled and the system did a better job of recreating the ambience of the space where the dancer was recorded, with excellent dynamics and low-level detail.
Another CD used extensively was the NAXOS American Classics, Virgil Thomson, The Plough That Broke the Plains (8.559291). While the music on this CD is spectacular, the recording quality could have been better. Insertion of the Micro 40 was immediately audible. When it came on, you immediately heard the neutrality and sharpness of the reproduction. Everything sounded more immediate, lifelike and more like music. The bass had increased impact with a better defined leading edge. Snare drums sound almost like rifle shots. You almost duck for cover. Cymbals took on a shimmer and expanded into the room as a wave. Bass was more controlled and there was a feeling of additional size to the acoustic with a deeper and wider stage. The single biggest area of improvement was with respect to dynamics, which became explosive.
My friend TBG comments,
“I have tried the Halcyonics under CD players and transports, turntables, and both tube and solid-state amps. It basically lends the same attributes under all. I also should note that if you can place the unit flat on the Halcyonics, you can get the fullest benefits of ability to dampen internal vibrations.”
Even given an excellent equipment stand, it is still possible to achieve rather significant gains with the addition of a Micro 40, particularly with respect to 1) retrieval of low-level detail, 2) micro and macro dynamics, 3) coherence of the dynamic and harmonic envelopes, 4) image focus and 5) accurate recreation of the acoustic space in which something was recorded. As one listener observed after a recent listening session, “I have never heard a set of Acapellas [Triolon Excalibur] sound so coherent. I hear absolutely no discontinuity between the dynamic woofers and the remainder of the system, nor do I hear any problem with certain frequency bands increasing in level faster than others.”
The Halcyonics seems to work through two related mechanisms: 1) it prevents noise from the environment from affecting the device which it supports, and 2) it serves as a drain for vibrations and energy created within the device supported. Particularly with respect to (2), it becomes very important to closely couple the device to the top plate of the Halcyonics. This will typically mean that any footer which is soft/rubber or elastomer will decrease the effectiveness of the Halcyonics and should be avoided.
Even given their high cost, the Halcyonics products are highly recommended.
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