Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Rotel RCD-971 CD player modified with IEC jack instead of captive AC cord; Hit Audio/Cayin CD-22 CD player [in for review]; Shanling CD T-100C CD Player ([in for review]; Pro-Ject 1 Xpression turntable w/AT95E cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Zone AMP-1, Manley Labs Stingray (w/ stock and NOS tubes), Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage
Speakers: Meadowlark Kestrel 2
Cables: DH Labs Q10 loudspeaker cables, DH Labs Revelation and Air Matrix interconnects, DH Labs Power Plus power cables, Audience Maestro interconnects, speaker cables, powerChord AC cables [in for review]; GutWire C Clef & Power Clef SE power cables [in for review]; Isoclean Premium II, Focus and Auto Focus power cables [in for review]
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow; GutWire MaxCon Line Conditioner [in for review]; IsocleanPT-3030G isolation transformer and 60A3 filter [in for review]
Sundry accessories: Pro-Ject Speed Box, Duende Criatura tube dampers on input and driver tubes of Stingray, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Audience Auric Illuminator, Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, GutWire Notepads, AudioPrism Isobearings, Black Diamond Racing cones, Vibrapods, dedicated AC line with Hubbell outlets, homebrew acoustic treatments
Room size: 13' x 17' x 8'
Review Component Retail: Apex carbon fiber composite footers - $550/set of 3; threaded levelers -start at $150/set of 3
Once upon a time, the world was flat. Audiophile-approved turntables required a suspended sub-chassis. Amplifiers with similar power ratings and specs sounded the same. We placed our equipment on coffee tables and wired everything up with zip cord because wire could not possibly make a difference. We also ruthlessly spiked our speakers to the floor. Nobody questioned the keepers of the audio flame and life was good. Not unlike Columbus, some brave souls then dared challenge flat-earth theory and have screwed up our safe little audiophile world beyond recognition ever since. Now we live in the era of Everything Makes A Difference. We have $10,000 cables, massive turntables that require a second mortgage, fancy racks that would not look out of place on Star Trek and an arsenal of tweaks some of which can cost more than an entire system. Perhaps we have gone too far? Or -- just maybe -- not far enough?
I have an inquisitive spirit when it comes to audio that has served me well, thank you very much. Rather than blindly follow the audio apparachnik and kulturnik, I have strived to experiment and form my own opinions. As a result of my non-conformist bent, my ears perk up when confronted with products that slay their dragons by alternative means. There is one flat-earth era rule that has stubbornly refused to go away: The requirement to couple our loudspeakers to the floor with metal spikes. Sure, I get the part about keeping speakers rigid for a more stable wave launch but would not some energy supposedly 'drained' reflect back up into the loudspeaker by the same means it left? Would not some low- frequency vibrations make their way down to the floor through those spikes only to excite sprung floorboards? Would not these rebellious gremlins worm their way across the floor, travel up the spikes of my rack, shimmy up the supports, scamper across the shelves only to launch a covert assault on the components themselves, thus mucking up those precious and delicate audio signals? Should not speakers be decoupled rather than coupled?
As it turns out, I could be right. This brings me pleasure as I am rarely right in our house. Since the onset of my audio nervosa (believe me, it's getting worse!), I have experimented with several inexpensive vibration control products on all of my equipment. I have used Sorbothane, DIY ¾" thick acrylic platforms, Isobearings, Vibrapods, Black Diamond Racing's carbon fiber cones, GutWire Notepads etc. No one product has been completely successful on all components, but I have found that various combinations reap significant gains in transparency, treble extension, bass control and ultimately, musicality. However, the biggest improvement has been on loudspeakers. Instead of spikes, I use BDR cones below and GutWire Notepads on top. They are both cheap and offer benefits greater than their price would suggest. Bass is less prone to boominess, transients let loose more freely, transparency is enhanced, highs are more open and sweet and music playback has a much more focused, coherent and relaxed feel to it.
Each time I have swapped out my cones and pads for the stock spikes, the sonic goodness attained went right out the window. When Grand Prix Audio's Alvin Lloyd read my comments in a previous review about my use of BDR cones, he inquired whether I'd be interested in reviewing his particular solution to banishing bad vibes. Hence today's follow-up to Srajan's original two reviews of GPA's Apex footers. Since my Meadowlark Kestrel 2s are threaded for three spikes, Alvin sent me six Apex cones, six levelers threaded for the Kestrels and hard chrome bearings. Also included were GPA's upgrade silicon nitride bearings, which I shall say right here did not make for a happy marriage in my system because they added an unnatural brightness. Therefore, my comments reflect the use of the stock hard chrome spheres.
Each cone-shaped Apex consists of two layers of carbon fiber decoupled via a proprietary polymer barrier, with a small cup on the - er, apex of the cone to house a hard chrome ball. The goal of the Apex is to minimize bi-directional energy transfer. Intended employ is not only for placement beneath individual components but also for loudspeakers and component racks via a threaded leveler. Each leveler has a precisely machined knuckle that almost completely encloses the bearing ball on the footer. This makes for a much sturdier support than other bearing-based isolation devices. While my speakers had enough freedom of movement for the Apex system to do its thing, they were planted on the floor quite securely and only a deliberate push would dislodge them. Grand Prix Audio can provide levelers in all manner of sizes and threads to outfit just about any speaker or stand. If your listening room is carpeted, rest easy - Apex' large footprint was deliberately designed to work on carpeted surfaces. Curiously, these footers were originally only intended for components and to replace rack spikes. As Srajan discovered, they turn out to make exceptional loudspeaker supports as well.
Check out Grand Prix Audio's website that is completely devoid of pseudo-science and marketing mumbo-jumbo. Not unlike Gingko Audio, GPA's site is a breath of fresh air in how they explain the science and workings of their products and the design team clearly possesses the requisite engineering chops to back up their claims and testing methodology.