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Marja & Henk
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: PS Audio PWT; PS Audio PWD; 2 x Thorens TD160; Thorens TD124
Streaming sources: Foobar2000; XXHighEnd [in for review]
Preamp/integrated: Tri TRV EQ3SE phonostage; PS Audio Trio P-200;  modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Trends Audio TA-10; NuForce Icon Mobile; RSA Predator; KingRex T20U and Slap; Yarland FV 34 CIIISA; Qables iQube V1
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Podium Sound Podium1
Cables: complete loom of ASI LiveLine cables; full loom of Crystal Cable cables; Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Audio Note AN-L; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201; LessLoss DFPC and DFPC Signature [in for review]
Power line conditioning: Omtec PowerControllers; PS Audio Humbuster III; LessLoss Firewall [in for review]
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; ASI amplifier and TT shelf
Sundry accessories: Boston Audio Design graphite CD damper, Mat and Tuneblocks; Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotec Nespa #1; Machina Dynamica Magic Box; Exact Audio Copy software; Dell server and laptop w/Windows Server 2008, Vista and XP; iPod; wood, brass, ceramic and aluminum cones and pyramids; Manley Skipjack Room treatment: Acoustic System International resonators, sugar cubes, diffusers
Room size: dedicated listening room ca. 4.00 x 5.50m with open extension to a 30 sqm living and open kitchen. Ceiling height is 2.50m, paneled brick walls, tiled concrete floors.

As the previous page sketched out, designer Louis Motek did not drive over thin ice one night to develop his Blackbody device. Louis’ experiments are extensively chronicled at the LessLoss website. The most interesting part to us was where Louis combines his ramblings on the influence of blue light radiation on CD playback—like French manufacturers Metronome and YBA have used for years—and driving through a German area that hosts many crystal glass manufacturers.

When sending something through the EU, customs really want to know what’s in the parcel they are clearing. A package with a Blackbody inside is described as containing a glass reflector. That description implies that inside the Blackbody sits an array of reflectors, mirrors and prisms. This is all Louis would divulge on the internal parts that make up the 12.2 x 12.2 x 6 cm 2kg Blackbody.

This fully passive device has two sides. One is ‘active’ and marked with the LessLoss Audio Devices moose logo plus a radiating pattern of variously sized dots applied to an apparently acrylic face plate. Gently knocking the face plate reveals that the real thing sits behind it. On the back we find a similar radiating pattern together with an engraved Quantum Particle Conditioner–Active Other Side–Effective Angle <35° notice. A matt black machined aluminum frame completes the Blackbody as a completely sealed device without screws or obvious fasteners to look decidedly salonfähig.

LessLoss ships the Blackbody in a matching black carton with enough contoured padding to keep the heavy black brick in place and protected even during rough handling. In the box also is a small user’s manual. The manual emphasizes to let the Blackbody acclimate to room temperature before putting it to work - plus that temperature fluctuations may cause very subtle sonic changes. Then comes the most important direction from the manufacturer. It covers placement of the device. Users should place the Blackbody such that the circuitry of the audio gear to be treated sits within a 35° imaginary cone originating from the center of the active side of the Blackbody. Further placement instructions show sketches of wrong and right setups.

What one gleans from the operational theory on the LessLoss website is twofold. First, the device is temperature sensitive. Second, placement is crucial. For the first observation, we have to visit blackbody radiation. A blackbody—spelled not with a capital B—is a physical phenomenon that absorbs all incoming radiation and only emits radiation back as a function of its own temperature. Radiation here refers to electromagnetic radiation. Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation so let’s run with that for an example. Humans only see a very small portion of light’s electromagnetic spectrum. To our perceptional bandwidth, glass is a very poor absorber. Ergo, glass appears transparent. It contains no electrons that can get induced into oscillation at the same frequencies as the incoming visible light. No oscillation means no energy transfer from incoming light photons to glass electrons. Thus visible light falls right through the glass and we can see it. When visible light hits a metal surface instead whose very motile electrons start to oscillate in accordance with the incoming light’s frequency spectrum, that part of the spectrum becomes blocked. We observe a shiny surface or see ourselves as a reflection in a glass mirror with a metal coating on its back.

We perceive as pitch black any object that absorbs all incoming light. Nothing in our visible light spectrum passes matter as perfectly as glass, not much reflects it like metal but with a pitch-black object, all the light gets absorbed. Since we’re taught that energy cannot get lost but only transform, it has to go somewhere. In this case the incoming light energy is transformed into heat. A black object gets noticeably warm. You can feel that warmth radiating when you put your hand above a black object sitting in sunlight. Yet you cannot see that light coming off the black object. It’s in the infrared band. When that black object gets heated up a lot more, we begin to see the radiation in the visible light spectrum. First the object gets red, eventually it turns white.

The perfect black object—or blackbody—only radiates back any incoming energy as a function of its own temperature. We can construct an attempt at a perfect blackbody by making a tiny hole in a large box. Light falls into the hole and starts to bounce around the cavity. Each bounce absorb some energy and only very little light emits back out through the hole. The energy transfer of each bounce will heat the blackbody a tiny bit. At room temperature, a perfect blackbody emits only infrared light.

Thus far, we talked of visible light passing through an object or being reflected or absorbed. However, the electromagnetic spectrum far exceeds visible light frequencies. We already mentioned invisible but tactile infrared. In our daily lives we literally swim in an immense sea of electromagnetic radiation composed of all imaginable frequencies. Most of those are natural in origin, some are man-made. In our homes we have quite a few radiators of man-made EMF - motors in freezers, fridges, power lines, cordless phones, WiFi and more. In our beloved audio hobby, we even stack electromagnetic field generators atop each other and sit in close proximity to them. Invisible to us, not tactile to most—though some people are sensitive to WiFi or cell phone radiation—we are engulfed by radiation. With a stack of audio equipment with its power cables, power supplies, ICs running at high frequencies steered by MHz crystal oscillators, tubes, transistors and voice coils, we concentrate a lot of EM radiation in a small place. We might not notice all that radiation but our sensitive equipment sure does. Radiated EM bounces back and forth between equipment and the rest of the room, even outside the room.  

Louis Motek wanted to capture and neutralize this stray EM radiation by converting it to less harmful infrared radiation. This would clean up the environment our audio gear is asked to operate in. While driving through Germany on the Autobahn, he noticed a sudden change in the quality of his car stereo. He later learned that the ‘beneficial miles’ had taken him through an area especially rich in resources for crystal glass. Adding this and other evidence, Louis constructed a passive device that would absorb/convert EM radiation with special reflectors, mirrors and prisms. While working at a normal room temperature, the radiation coming off the device would be in the infrared spectrum, i.e. warmth. He thus built a textbook blackbody and very fittingly also called it Blackbody. The owner’s manual instructs that the center of the Blackbody’s active side is the origin of an imaginary cone that should point at the gear’s circuitry analogous to the tiny hole in the box through which light enters but never returns. The shallow 35° angle is related to the depth of the Blackbody.

We received a largish cardboard box containing 6 Blackbody devices to experiment with. Unpacking was easy. The hard part was deciding where to place them - in proximity of the audio gear, not too close and not too far away and within the 35° optimum angle. The basic question now became, what is the largest source of EM radiation in any piece of audio kit? The power supply? The circuit board? The output transformers? The DAC chip? What else? Or did we need to turn things around and shield sensitive parts from ‘incoming’ radiation by pointing the virtual cone outward, a setup not described in the manual?

This started a lengthy trial and error period. First we placed a Blackbody 10cm behind and facing the CD transport, another behind and facing the DAC. The Blackbody aimed at the PS Audio PWT CD player was put in the middle between the cables and turned a little to the side of the transport that houses the electronics, not CD drive. For the DAC the Blackbody aimed straight ahead. Did the two 2kg black bricks make a difference? Yes, a bit. Large choral works played with the PWT/PWD combo can sometimes be a bit bright during crescendos. With a Blackbody behind the PWD, that lessened and smoothed out.

The bigger question was whether the sheer presence of a 12 x 12 x 6cm block weighing in at 2kg per source component made the difference. We have a piece of an old Digital Equipment VAX 9000 computer called a building block. This is roughly the same size and weight as the Blackbody. Swapping the PWD’s Blackbody for the building block returned the brightness. This suggested that the addition of something in proximity of the DAC was not the cause of the effect. More twisting and turning of Blackbodies closer or farther away from the PWT or PWD resulted in no larger changes.

With four more Blackbodies on hand, we next attacked the integrated tube amplifier. Where the Blackbody’s center of action was level with the PWT and PWD internals, we had to raise the Blackbody for a better aim at the Audio Note Meishu’s innards. With quite a few transformers on board, we assumed significant EMF. Since the placement behind the sources had proven satisfactory, one additional Blackbody found a place on a tube box aiming at the power transformer and two output transformers. Now the result was far bigger than with the source equipment alone. This definitely cleaned up the sound, not that the noise floor dropped as it is already pretty low. We can play at very low levels without losing any detail. No, the cleanup resulted in more spatial information. It was as though the loudspeakers teleported into the most favorable spot by themselves guided by laser precision. Everybody knows how after meticulously moving loudspeakers millimeters back and forth, left and right degree by degree, the image finally locks and pops and the music completely severs from the loudspeakers and floats freely without identifiable sound sources. That’s what happened now for the second time, albeit without any hard physical iterative work on heavy speakers. Just one black object behind the amplifier did a lot. Questions remained whether EMF absorption affected the amp by altering feedback of EMR with the CD transport and DAC, any other components or just its own workings.

With three more Blackbodies to go, the trial and error sessions became a lot of fun. Tubes radiate heat, light and thus EM frequencies in abundance. What would happen when we put a Blackbody on top of the amplifier’s cover not quite over the hot WE 300B output tubes but a little more to the front so that the 35° impact window would still include the power tubes but the radiated tube heat would mostly miss the Blackbody? Though Louis states that the Blackbody is intended for room temperature use, the 35°C we measured on the Blackbody’s frame in this application was no problem as Louis confirmed.

What happened was not minor. With three Blackbodies at work, the speakers fully detached from the music. With the fourth Blackbody, the room extended well behind the speakers. Though we think soundstaging is not the most important feature of a home system compared to imaging, when it is present and this realistic, it’s a thing of beauty. We again used the computer building block as placebo and again had to conclude that it wasn’t the weight or proximity of an object that was accountable for the perceived change in sound. On Checkpoint Audio’s Test CD N°.1 is a track where balance engineer Onno Scholtze walks the stage of the Vienna Musik Verein while talking. This got really impressive with four Blackbody devices. Width, depth and height information was never this clear. The image of the voice rises as Onno walks to the back of the stage but gets smaller.  

While working with the Blackbodies, Aquarius designer Koen Vaessen came by to assess his speakers in our room. At home Koen runs this pair off the Luxman C-1000f/B-1000f combination. With now our Audio Note Meishu, he was more than pleased with the sound. He commented on the depth and detachment of images and the height information. When we removed the Blackbody from the amp’s cover, the soundstage did not collapse but was instantly shallower and the height information severely lacking. Simple two-mike recordings often contain much information on the vertical location of a singer or instrument.

With only our Avantgarde Duo Omega speakers at hand, we then continued our experiments with the Blackbodies. The two final EM absorbers found a place at the side of the amplifier pointed at the power transformer and power supply with its output transformers, chokes and tubes. The influence of these two Blackbodies was noticeable again but smaller in magnitude and not as overwhelmingly evident as the third Blackbody. This time there was more rest in the music. The silences between the notes were no longer ‘dead’. Was this what is meant by the sound of silence? Spaces between notes that are complete silence make things sound digital like on/off. In analogue replay, there’s never utter silence. Perhaps that’s one attraction of the medium. Between the notes, there is always a filler or noise, be it tape hiss or dust in the groove. That’s soothing and more natural. What the Blackbody did when placed in our system at the side of the amp was to add a perceived filler. Put differently, the Blackbody permitted the notes to gradually become the silence.

This apparent success with the amplifier opened the trial for even less digital from our sources. Just as with the amp, we now tried a Blackbody on top of the DAC facing down. To protect the high-gloss finish of the PS Audio PWD, we put a sheet of thin foam board between DAC and Blackbody. We like the PWD as DAC. It’s versatile, can be run in NOS mode and the sound overall is very balanced. Nevertheless we think it has more potential though at an expense. We changed two things on the standard PWD which were nothing spectacular but did change the sound in a positive way. First was swapping the standard fuse for a high-grade ‘audiophile’ version. This should be standard issue as it smoothed the sound. Second was the addition of three ASI Topline footers. As with anything you put between a piece of audio gear and shelf, rack or board, that alters the sound because vibrations are shifted. One retunes the box. With the location of the footers contacting the bottom, resonant frequencies are shifted. The material of the footer further determines the sound of the box – the harder the zingier, the softer the duller.

With the Blackbody on top of the PWD, the sound changed once more. This time the keyword was fluency. That little harshness the PWD reveals at times in large orchestral works when the full symphony including large organ and extensive choir are at work disappeared. A comparison with our resident placebo made clear that it was not the weight, cabinet damping or such which caused the difference. We then removed the ASI Topline footers and started the recording again with the placebo still in place. Back were the spurious harsh edges. After swapping the placebo for the real thing, it sounded as though the Blackbody were joined by the footers again. Adding the footers to the clearly marked original positions made hardly a difference now. What was going on?

After swapping of footers and repositioning of the Blackbodies on the PWD and the one behind the CD transport, we came to the only plausible conclusion. Electromagnetic fields can and will interfere with mechanical resonances. When a part of the enveloping EM field induced by either the equipment itself and/or other gear in proximity is eliminated, resonances earlier defeated by resonance controllers or tuning devices are neutralized as well.

These resonances are clearly not caused merely from the air excited by the loudspeakers. Those vibrations are of a lower frequency, slower and contingent on the music played and SPLs involved. It seems that EM radiation excites electronic parts into micro vibrations. Louis explained it by saying that all circuitry acts like a condenser microphone - simple as that but not equally beneficial. Stray capacitances inject noise into the circuitry like a cable or microphone. Because these are electronics, the reverse applies as well. Noise makes the capacitances vibrate too. Only in an ideal world where the distances between every circuit trace are hundreds of kilometers would capacitances be so small as to cause no vibrations from these effects.

For analogue we mostly used a Thorens TD160 BC MKII with SME III arm and Dynavector 20B2 cart. The phono stage was an all-tube Tri TRV EQ3SE. Guessing that the cartridge was the most sensitive part in this chain, we removed the two Blackbody devices from the digital sources and placed them to the best of our knowledge strategically around the analogue equipment. At the end of the listening tests, the best position for the turntable was having both Blackbodies on the left facing off the cartridge. This presumably shielded the cartridge from things coming from the left where resided the phono stage and digital sources in standby.

To explore what impact a Blackbody might have on a chip amplifier, we swapped the big Audio Note amplifier for a much smaller KingRex T20U plus accompanying SLAP battery power supply. After some listening with all Blackbodies removed from the room for a base line again, we started adding them piece by piece. We found the same effects as with the digital sources in the previous sessions. When we started to place the LessLoss devices around the amplifier, sonic changes were more pronounced than with the big tube amplifier. Again the image was richer in detail, with more depth and height information. But that wasn’t all. Putting a Blackbody on top of the tiny amp smoothed out its high-frequency response. The sound became rounder without losing detail, just smoother. That was a good thing. Placing the Blackbody under the T20U versus on top made no difference. Nor did adding the additional two Blackbodies as we had done with the Audio Note Meishu. Of course we also tried the placebo again but with no success.

When we moved house a few months ago, the big Sony CRT TV did not make it to the new digs. It was time for a new television. With today’s sad ratio of commercial ‘breaks’ versus real content, investing heavily in a TV for broadcast programs seemed unwarranted to us. Hence we settled on a bargain flat-panel LCD screen. After fiddling with the image settings way below the over-bright ‘enhanced’ factory settings, we were left with decent enough picture quality for the odd program of interest. However, the sound quality was questionable on intelligibility. Unless some fancy auto setting existed that adjusted sound quality depending on content—in other words made the commercials louder—the spoken word suffered from blurring. That is, until we put a Blackbody facing the TV on the table we sit at while watching. The picture gained in contrast without touching any settings. More importantly, intelligibility of the spoken word changed dramatically for the better. No more blurring of words into one consonant that lacked well defined syllables. Now we could understand what was being said. With the spoken word cleaned up, music broadcasts followed suit. Of course the good old placebo failed the test and reversing the Blackbody did not work either.

So what to think of the Blackbody? Simply that it works. One or more Blackbodies strategically placed around our audio equipment alter the sound and help bring out more of the encoded ambient information into the playback venue. The Blackbody does not add anything to the sound or system. It effectively removes something that’s intrinsically connected to electronic sound reproduction (the cleaned-up TV image is a nice bonus). As far as we can confirm, the Blackbody does not operate in the acoustic realm. This means it also works on headphones. Louis’ claim that the Blackbody operates as a blackbody in a Physics sense seems viable. Having at least one Blackbody placed at the right spot makes a big difference in how we experience the music. The added spatial information—or better, finally revealed data purged from the former EM clutter—pulls the listener much deeper into the music. Bliss is in the details so to speak.

Listening to the system without any Blackbody, a situation we were quite happy with before, now produced an empty feeling. There definitely was something missing from the sound. Once you have eaten from the forbidden fruit, there’s no way back. That's scary. The Blackbody proves that audio playback systems are far from perfectly designed to deliver all recorded information. No matter the medium, it contains far more detail than presumed. Why crave for high-definition audio when even modest Red Book CD and the relative limited bandwidth of vinyl aren’t yet explored to the fullest? These formats have a lot more potential that remains buried most the time. The Blackbodies help retrieve more musical information by eliminating (or minimizing) an electronic filtering haze.

Extrapolating from the forbidden fruit analogy, the knowledge could very well be the understanding that the ideal audio system would be one where a Blackbody had no effect at all. Do we own such a system? Not. Thus an investment in one or more Blackbody devices outperforms swapping an existing audio system for the theoretical ideal audio system to put the LessLoss price in a different light.

: There are more accessories—or tweaks if you like—that work in the EM realm to clean (or claim to clean) the working environment of the electronics. Of several offerings, two come to mind directly, the VPI db5 aka Brick and the Shakti Electromagnetic Stabilizer aka Stone. Both are passive devices as well. The first tackles stray magnetic flux from equipment transformers, directs it away from the chassis and thus neutralizes the accompanying Foucault (or eddy) currents. The Shakti Electromagnetic Stabilizer transforms electromagnetic interference into heat. Does the following patent brief sound familiar at this stage?

"A passive Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) dissipation apparatus typically utilized with an active host component to reduce self-generated and externally-generated electromagnetic interference and to improve the performance of the host component is disclosed. The apparatus includes a housing and a circuit located within the housing. The circuit includes a plurality of pyramidal-shaped resonating chambers having internally conductive surfaces covered with a layer of electrically resistive material, a plurality of quartz resonators each mounted upon a damping compound, and a plurality of permanent magnets each including a magnetically permeable bar. The electromagnetic interference is dissipated in the circuit over a broad range of frequencies in the form of heat."

The Blackbody and Shakti Stone seem to operate in the same realm and play a similar ball game. This puts us in an awkward position. How can we fully judge the Blackbody without any experience with the Stones? We know the Blackbody works and operates even at a distance. So far we only have seen Stones operate at close proximity and in contact with the gear to be cleaned or protected from but, we do not yet have hands-on experience with the Shakti devices. To put the Blackbody into proper perspective, we are endeavoring to procure some Stones for a head-on comparison.


Quality of packing:
Excellent, double boxed with sturdy dense foam padding
Ease of unpacking/repacking: 100%.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Includes manual.
Quality of owner's manual: To the point.
Website comments: Extensive background information packed in a well-designed layout.
Pricing: $959 a piece; discount when ordering several
Human interactions: Fast, informative and humorous.
Suggestions: Add user experiences to the website regarding placements of the Blackbody. Optimal placement of the device is crucial to its effective operation.

The following page describes Srajan's findings.