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Mapleshade Isoblocks & Ready-To-Be-Finished Maple Platform Review

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Mapleshade IsoblockLong before I had heard of Pierre Sprey and his Mapleshade Audio products, I built a TNT Flexy-rack for my components with Maple shelves. The TNT recipe calls for MDF shelves, and at first that was what I used. But upon setting my CD player on the rack for the first time, the sound went from smooth and musical to hard and fatiguing.

I happened to have a largish piece of 1 ½” thick maple left over from a workbench top and, intrigued by the difference the MDF made, tried resting the CD player on that. The original sound of that player, a Cambridge D-500, popular about 7 years ago, came back. The workbench top which I had laboriously hand-planed and glued up from raw 8/4 maple, went to a friends cabinet shop where it was cut and machine-sanded into shelves for the Flexy. I still use it today.

Subsequent to that project, I heard about Mapleshade and purchased a few of their outstanding CDs. I also looked into the background of Mr. Sprey who was said to be a former Defense Department scientist and inventor, and found that he was indeed “a founding member of the so-called “fighter mafia” group that during the 1960s and 1970s ramrodded the F-15, F-16 and A-10 programs into being despite fierce internal opposition” (James P. Stevenson)

With my recent acquisition of a KAB Technics SL-1210M5G turntable, I began looking at various ways to wring a little more performance out of it.

As big an improvement as the M5G was over the Ariston, especially with the addition of the silicone fluid arm damper, I wasn’t happy with the stock plastic feet. I was led back to Mapleshade by opinions expressed on the Audiogon and Audio Asylum forums about the air-dried maple platforms and the use of Iso-blocks as footers. Sourcing more 8/4 maple involved a long drive and too much labor for this now 7-year-older audiophile, so I spent $100 on a 15”x18”x2 unfinished platform and a 4-piece set of Isoblocks.

They arrived in just a few days. While I was applying numerous coats of amber shellac to the maple, I removed the stock feet from the M5G and listened with it resting on the Iso-blocks. The table sits on a wall-mount shelf of steel brackets lag-bolted through the drywall into the masonry firewall of my condo, with adjustable levelers that support a ¾” thick piece of birch plywood. The Iso-blocks alone yielded a noticeable improvement in soundstage width and depth along with a little more “presence” and “air” surrounding instruments and voices.

Last night I added the maple platform.

If you go to the Mapleshade site, you’ll find that Pierre advocates a system of his brass footers under the component resting on the maple supported by the Iso-blocks. This impoverished DIY’er’s audio budget was used up with the $100 investment, so I made do with some M6 threaded steel spikes I had fashioned from hex-head bolts for the Ariston that I threaded into the M5G.

“That sax sounded better with the addition of the Iso-blocks, but with the spikes/maple/Iso-blocks combination it became a real instrument. I was so enthralled with the sound, I played the album side twice-over.”

Warming up the system with some Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie records, I noticed, even while doing other things, that there was more than the usual difference in sound that most any tweak yields. I began to get serious and sat down to listen to the recent Diana Krall LP From This Moment On. The “B” side cut, “Willow Weep For Me” has a bellwether entrance of a soprano saxophone that had sounded like a snake-charmers horn with the stock feet on the plywood. That sax sounded better with the addition of the Iso-blocks, but with the spikes/maple/Iso-blocks combination it became a real instrument. I was so enthralled with the sound, I played the album side twice-over.

Next, I played the Brahms Double Concerto, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, David Oistrakh and Mistoslav Rostropovich on Angel. I really love this recording with all its sonic faults, something I could say about ‘most any Cleveland/Szell recording.

Now we come to the reason I’m writing about something I wasn’t supplied for review: The sound of this recording was the payoff for all the time and dollars invested in my current component set-up.

What I thought were the aforementioned sonic faults vanished, along with all the components and the magnificent XLH Ref-1812 speakers, and I was listening, with eyes closed to a real orchestra in a real hall with all the scale, dynamics, tone and texture that audiophiles strive for. It’s difficult to verbalize the way that Mr. Oistrakh’s string tone went from woody to steely as his fingers moved up the octaves to fifth position or the unequalled sonority of the Duport Stradivarious in the hands of Mr. Rostropovich. I could feel as well as hear the air in both instrument bodies. These sensations were fleeting, however, and with no attempt to pick up the notepad, I kept by my listening position as all I wanted to do was just exist in these moments of sound. What a wonderful experience!

Thank you, Pierre Sprey. Of course, now I have to go back over all the work already done in evaluating the phono stage I have in for formal review but that will be a pleasure.

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