Devices which deal with system noise can typically be divided into one of two camps, (1) those which seek to isolate the equipment from external vibrations and those which seek to dissipate any energy produced by the equipment itself and (2) those which seek to shield the component from noise.
The first group consists of devices which seek to dissipate or drain noise produced by transformers and motors or other active or passive components that may vibrate when an electrical signal passes through them; these vary from hard footers made of aluminum or stainless steel, to the mechanical grounding schemes of Goldmund, Stillpoints and Finite Elemente. The second group includes various types of viscoelastic footers, air isolators such as the Vibraplane and more recently, devices like the Halcyonics which sense external noise and then generate a signal 180 degrees out of phase with the noise to cancel it.
Either scheme can, if properly designed, result in rather substantial improvements to the sound of a system. Ideally, the best solution would be a product that incorporated elements of each. The intent of this article is (1) to review the latest iteration of isolation from Halcyonics which I have found to be extremely effective and (2) to provide a suggested methodology for maximizing the positive effects of the device.
For a number of years, I have used a Finite Element Pagode Master Reference (FE) equipment stand in conjunction with their Cerabase couplers between the equipment and the shelf. This combination works particularly well in my system and is, in my opinion, one of the better isolation solutions currently available. The FE utilizes a combination of low mass, rigidity, careful selection of materials and tuned acoustic resonators to null/reduce resonances. The design is based on sound engineering, computer modeling, analytical measurement and actual listening. In hopes of moving the performance of my digital equipment closer to that of my turntable, I subsequently purchased a Halcyonics Micro 40 for use under my Esoteric X01-D2 SACD player which seemed particularly sensitive to external vibration. I sited the Halcyonics on the lowest shelf of the Finite Elemente equipment stand. The result was very positive initially on my Esoteric X01-D2 and then later on the EMM Labs XDS1 which subsequently replaced the Esoteric..
About a year ago, I replaced my EMM Labs XDS1 with an Esoteric P-02/ D-02. This created somewhat of a quandary as I now had a two box digital system and only one Halcyonics isolation unit. Initially, I used the Micro 40 under the transport but almost immediately began trying to source a second Halcyonics isolation base for the DAC. By this point, the Micro 40 had been replaced in the Halcyonics product line by the Silencer and the price had increased to $13,500. While the units differ in cosmetics and information displayed, the only real mechanical difference is that the Silencer top plate must be manually leveled while that of the Micro 40 was self leveling.
Both Halcyonics units utilize the same technology: eight sensors on diagonals horizontally and four in the corners vertically. Each sensor has an associated voice coil to cancel any vibration sensed by it. The newer unit uses blue LED’s to indicate when correction is taking place. The LED’s flicker on and off as the active isolation is engaged. Interestingly, the majority of corrections are in the midrange frequencies. The Halcyonics unit also uses passive isolation in the form of springs. The active portion of the Halcyonics differs from most other units on the market in that it 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 performance of this base. This may sound a bit complicated but in practice you merely turn the unit on, allow it to stabilize, and then push the button to turn on the active isolation.
Packaging and instruction manuals are often an afterthought even for very expensive audio toys. This is not the case with the Halcyonics which arrived packed in an aluminum flight case, liberally insulated from outside disturbances with a thick layer of laser cut foam packing. In addition the top plate of the unit is secured in shipment with four heavy duty locking bolts which must be loosened before use. The instruction manual is well written and includes numerous pictures.
For this review, I used many of the same disks which I previously used in my review of the Esoteric P-02/ D-02. At the time of that review, I only had a single Halcyonics unit which I used under the DA converter. While the second unit made somewhat less difference than the first, there were still noticeable improvements in depth of field, level of inner detail, ambience retrieval, low level noise and micro-dynamics. These were most evident on the following recordings:
Steve Kahn’s The Suitcase Live in Koln ’94, Tone Center TC-40632 – the level of fine detail was further enhanced,
Hugo Wolf’s Prometheus Harmonia Mundi HMC 90137 – the ability to separate individual string players was further enhanced,
Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Standard’s Trio, Reflections WOM 0002 – the level of articulation heard from Rosenwinkel’s guitar (an electric arch top) is further enhanced,
Debussy, Images for Orchestra JVC XRCD 0004 -.the harshness in the brass is lessened but not eliminated,
Bill Frisell, Good Dog, Happy Man, the second Halcyonics further enhances the dimensionality of images which is already very good,
Solveig Slettahjell and the Slow Motion Quintet, Silver, again enhances dimensionality and leading edge.
I have tried the Silencer under a variety of equipment. It clearly has more effect under some units than others. For instance, I now have Halcyonics units under both my transport and DA (Esoteric P-02/ D-02); yet there is a much greater effect under the DA than the transport even though that is not the common wisdom. I also should note that the better you couple the unit being supported to the Silencer, the more pronounced the positive effect, particularly in the top end and leading edge. I believe that the better the coupling, the better the Halcyonics is able to dampen internal vibrations. The Finite Elemente Cerabases do an excellent job in this regard.
Even given an excellent equipment stand, it is still possible to achieve rather significant gains with the addition of a Silencer, 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 and 7) depth of field.
The Halcyonics Silencer is quite expensive but highly recommended.
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