Tweaks for systems, rooms and Do It Yourself (DIY) help. FAQ.
Although the Beach Boys might have liked their good, good, good vibrations, in audio equipment they have been considered undesirable for many years. Everything from small bicycle tubes, concrete slabs, to more elaborate carbon fibre shelves, rollerballs, rubber pucks and spikes have been lauded. Soundcare Spikes claim that theirs have involved significant R&D and are patented world wide. Given the opportunity to evaluate them, I was keen, but admittedly skeptical whether their claims were verifiable.
In my system I have most of my components on a home made isolation stand. The shelves consist of a layered MDF particle board sandwich with felt then another MDF particle board (12mm) sheet comprising one shelf. Multiple shelves are supported from each other by Besser style (incinerator) bricks. A relatively cheap, somewhat ugly, but quite effective anti-resonant shelf. The amplifier monoblocks on the floor are on their own marble slabs.
The Soundcare spikes themselves are a neat design that hides the spike/receptacle away from eyes and more importantly fingers, instead providing a felt covered foot, especially ideal for wooden shelves and floors (the latter when using their speaker spikes). The designs come in some five different ranges and styles to suit virtually every application, whether screwed or stuck underneath components. A High End 'HE' finish incorporating hand polishing, gold plating and clear plastic feet is available at a premium price in a funky box, but personally I quite liked the standard edition which is functionally identical. Then again as an electrical engineer I prefer performance over presentation generally. Your mileage may vary.
One thing that impressed me right out of the box was the attention to resonance control in the R&D process they have done. By choosing hardened steel for the spike, steel for the receptacle but less resonant zinc around it and the spike, they claim to have improved a conventional spike's resonant problems. Further, they are one of the few vendors I've seen to provide scientific evidence that their components work. Quotes from their literature are below (apologies I can't reproduce the graph here, but check the website it should have it):
Measurements for Soundcare SuperSpikes
A calibrated loudspeaker has been fed with a sinusoidal wave on each frequency level. The loudspeaker has been placed upon a calibrated pressure sensitive microphone. For each frequency the signal is fed through the loudspeaker and the output level is adjusted to specific level which is referred to as 0 db.
Then the spike is placed between the loudspeaker cabinet and the pressure sensitive microphone. The same signal with the same output level is used. The level from the microphone is then measured. The direct sound through air from the loudspeaker to the microphone is never measured louder than -30 db for any of the frequencies. The curves will therefore show the approximate transport of energy from loudspeaker cabinet through the spike and down to the microphone.
What is particularly good to see in this graph is the low frequency attenuation, where the bulk of the energy, and typical room modes also exist below 300Hz. My hypothesis is that energy in the room excites its fundamental modes, and by doing so vibrates the audio components deteriorating the sound. Why does vibration result in reduced sound quality? A good question, and probably not one I can answer with any science. So instead, I'll use my ears - let's try them out!
I tried several implementations of the spikes to see if there were specific components of my system that could benefit from their use. These included supporting my custom made DAC and Camelot transport (self adhesive type spikes) for the first experiments and later the Muse monoblocks (self adhesive types). On this occasion the speaker spikes haven't been tried, but I hope to cover these in a followup review.
The first thing I noticed when placing the Soundcare Spikes under my CD Transport was how stable it felt. One of the disadvantages of bearing-in-cup type isolators is that if you inadvertently touch the device supported, it can career off it's supports, or be pulled one way or the other by the various connecting cables. No such problem here. Also air bladders/tubes tend to squash unevenly if the product is unevenly weighted (power supplies often are the culprit), which means fiddling takes place to place it properly. They also lose pressure over time. Concrete slabs or marble slabs can be functional but are heavy, decor dodgy (perhaps unless you are Greek), and often don't fit easily in standard racks unless specifically designed for them. Sort of makes the Soundcare spikes pretty attractive actually upon reflection. High WAF guaranteed...
Using the smooth jazz sounds of Fourplay's album '4' I heard clear improvements with the spikes. The bass tightened, which given it was Nathan East's most tuneful playing was more of a good thing. Depth perception also increased, helping the Gallos disappear even further than they already do. Transparency also improved overall, with more subtle details noticeable. Overall considerably more musical, not more hi-fi. A round of applause for Soundspikes...
To make sure I wasn't imagining things I pulled the spikes out again and tried a more upbeat jazz-fusion track from Tribal Tech's album 'Thick'. Without the spikes the bass on the title track 'Sheik of Encino' was thick as the album title suggested, and the bass drum was not cutting through as well as I hoped. The stereo image was quite narrow and dynamics were OK but seemed limited. With the spikes back under the CD transport, depth again came through, imaging was wider and ambience retreival was much improved. The delicacy of the cymbal work, tone and decay was more apparent, more analogue like. There was no hyper detail however. On Track 4 'Clinic Troll' the myriad of electronic effects, the guitar fretwork, and the weirdo voices were entirely captivating with the widest soundstage I think I've ever heard in my system. My notes just say 'wow!'
Given things seemed pretty consistent disc to disc, I then placed a second set of Spike-2s under my AD1896 upsampling DAC, which sits on the tube preamp and Carver power amp for the sub. Not an ideal platform ideally but that's the way it is until I get a new rack. Playing Clinic Troll again the results were better still, and the resolution overall put me closer to the musicians than I thought possible.
My last check of sanity was to get my partner sit beside me (a genuine non-audiophilly) and offer her own thoughts. I chose the disc by Christine Sullivan 'Here and Now', a gifted female vocalist based in Melbourne, Australia who sings improvised soul/blues classics. We started with the opening track 'Be Cool'. No doubt about it, with the spikes under my DAC and CD Transport, I heard much more air around here voice, her tonal inflections and the acoustic reverb as well. Bass notes had better leading edge, the bass drum had more body and feel. Overall the band sounded like they'd sharpened their game a little. It was simply more musical! My partner concurred. Whilst not as tuned to the instrument specifics she thought it sounded clearer overall and the piano was more easily heard in the mix. Hey, there's audiophilly potential for her yet, don't you think?
Another thing I noticed was that at low levels (eg whilst studying) that the system was overall more engaging to listen to. Sylvain Luc and Bireli Lagrene's 'Duet' fabulous acoustic guitar interplay had me hard pressed to concentrate on the books. This is a boon for many audiophiles who for WAF or other reasons listen to music at lower volumes.
The very next day I blipped an email to Ed sharing my enthusiasm. In the meantime I removed the spikes from my source gear (reluctantly I might add) to try them under the Muse amps which as you recall were already sitting on marble slabs. First I listened again without any spikes.
Listening to the title track 'Thick' off the same TT album, I thought it sounded good, but it didn't jump out at me as much, it didn't draw me in quite as much as I had heard with them under the DAC and transport. Air was limited to the snare drum only, and not to the rest of the band. Depth was good but not 'get out of here' great. Bass was meaty but seemed like it could with that last resolute thwuck on the bass drum head to discern the sound of the beater hitting the head as well as the resonating note of the drum.
With the Soundcare spikes under the Muse amplifiers the results were similar, if not quite as obvious as the front end components. The bass was definitely tighter, there was more seperation between instruments. The cymbals seemed to have more body in them, more character. The synth melody was more up front and the pseudo brass section more rearward. The triplet bass drum fill was taut, tight and terrific. Very engaging again - I didn't stop the CD player to change back...
At one point in this review I contemplated how Ed should market these spikes, since he has only recently launched the products in Australia. I considered that he might offer a money-back guarantee. However I soon realised that this would be fairly pointless. Anyone who tries these products won't be returning them. Further, if I was an audio dealership, I'd be keeping these in my back pocket as a killer deal-closer when selling equipment - the upgrade (and that's what it sounds like - better parts inside!) will be significant and the cost low.
I guess I am still very suprised these spikes have made such a valuable improvement to my system, in ways that I couldn't achieve for similar money in another fashion. The fact that I feel more emotionally connected with the music is their biggest strength, and the fact they do it in a neat, practical and fairly attractive way is a bonus. The difference is *not* subtle and I believe I've done enough comparisons, and even been sanity checked by my the good old lady to be sure I am not imagining it. I have tried plenty of other isolation devices and generally struggled to hear the improvements - not this time. If you fail to audition these, you just may not get to hear how good your system really could be. Ed please invoice four more sets for my other gear!
Audiophile, Silver Stealth Cable Designer/Director and Member of Melbourne Audio Club
System Used for Evaluation:
Preamp - Tube triple triode/channel 5963 Black plate RCA custom design.
CD Transport - Camelot Merlin Pro running I2S bus to Dejitterer.
Dejitterer - Camelot Dragon Pro 2 with 24/96 upgrade.
DAC - AD1896 custom DAC with 132kHz upsampling, battery and SS PSUs.
Poweramps - Muse Model 300 Monoblocks, custom powersupply.
Speakers - Gallo Nucleus Reference with modified Auricap external crossovers and biwiring.
Cables - All own Silver Stealth Silver/Gold alloy design, cryogenically treated (digital, analogue, speaker).
Powercords - All own custom design - pure silver strips and also some Copper/Teflon cords using Marinco IEC plugs. Some cryo treated.
Powerfilters - 2x Gary Cawsey Ear Science
Room Treatments - Four bass traps (one per corner), rear diffractor using Bassline panels, felt cover for TV screen to eliminate reflections
Cheers, Kendrick Pavey
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Topic - Review - Soundcare spikes - Triode Dude 17:01:17 05/28/03 (3)
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