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Vibrapod Isolator
Vibrapod Cone

The Vibrapod Company

623 Hanley Industrial Court
St. Louis, MO 63144
Phone (314) 645-2900
Fax     (314) 645-6700

This review is from the Autumn 1998 issue of Listener.
Vibrapod isolators.
Manufactured by the Vibrapod Company
623 Hanley Industrial Court
St. Louis, MO 63144

(314) 645-2900

Pod People
Look out, y'all.
Review by Bruce Kennett

Don't you love it? An audio accessory that only costs $6 each instead of 3-for-$149.99?

    I am not generally interested in tweako stuff, preferring to flop on the sofa and listen to music rather than mess with the hi-fi. But when Art asked if I would listen to these things, I hesitated just slightly too long -- enough to have him pounce and say Done deal. And actually, now that I'm on the other side of the experience, I'm glad I took on the assignment. I recognize and respect the pleasure that tweaking brings to some audio hobbyists, and the continuing sense of gradual improvements that they can bring to their home systems. Not only is the Vibrapod tailor-made for these folks, it should appeal even to confirmed gearphobes.

    The Vibrapod looks like a shiny black flying saucer, and is intended to go under your audio equipment in place of rubber feet, cones, ebony tetrahedrons, or the like. It's the brainchild of Sam Kennard, an audiophile in St. Louis who happens to run a company that makes specialty gaskets and other plastic shapes for various industries. On a small scale, Kennard's invention is just another of those epiphanies that are sprinkled throughout history: Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot, Chuck Goodyear spilling rubber on the stove, the Swiss inventor of Velcro realizing why burrs were sticking to his Golden Retriever -- and now Sam and the Pod.

    At this particular St. Louis workplace, people like to play music (some of Sam's employees are audiophiles, too). One day, in the midst of all this industrial energy -- no Persian carpets and lights-out stuff here -- the CD player started skipping. Sam grabbed some compliant vinyl gaskets from the production line and shoved them under the player, which then stopped skipping. Then and there, Sam knew he was on to something -- and with the materials and machinery at hand, he set to work.

    The result is a series of weight-specific feet, each one accepting a range of loads, but also having an optimum value for highest performance. The Vibrapod is 2.5 inches (10cm) in diameter, with a thicker, heavier base (plinth?) than the thinner and lighter donut floating on top. The donut is quite flexible, and partially collapses under the weight of the component, thereby sending vibrations down to its periphery, which is made up of several different -- and thicker -- wall sections. The inside of the donut ends up at the base, with a small hole formed in the center. This means you can put the pods donut-side-up, just sitting on a shelf, and put the component on top of them. Or you can use the small holes to mount the pods as feet onto the underside of the component, in which case the donuts will face downward.

    All Vibrapods look the same, but are made up of different wall thicknesses, and may even vary in their chemical composition. All are made from vinyl, and smell just like the squeezable coin pouch Aunt Lucille gave you for your sixth birthday. They are deep black, with a wet-shiny surface, and very nicely made -- entirely the product of rational manufacturing rather than following the hand-assembly model that also appears frequently in audio circles.

    If Art will permit me an aside, I'd like to recommend some brain food to anyone who's interested. One of the more thoughtful books I've read over the years is The Nature and Art of Workmanship [Cambridge University Press, 1968] by David Pye, a professor of furniture design at the Royal College in London, and author of several books. Here he examines the relationship between design and execution. Pye talks about the workmanship of risk, in which "the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgement, dexterity, and care which the maker exercises as he works." Since much of the audio equipment we enjoy is assembled by hand, it falls into this camp, and that human involvement is reflected in the price.

    The author contrasts this with the workmanship of certainty, in which "the quality of the result is exactly predetermined...always to be found in quantity production, and found in its pure state in full automation." One of Pye's most important points is that hand craftsmanship is not always good, and manufacturing is not always bad or second-rate. Hand-thrown clay pots or wooden dovetail joints (risk) can be good or bad, just as Mason jars or ceramic insulators for utility poles (certainty) can be handsome or ugly.

    Given the sonic behavior of the Vibrapod; its simplicity of design and attractive appearance; and the fact that it sells for a low price, I'd call Sam's experiment a flat-out success in the workmanship of certainty. End of aside.

    The Vibrapods come in four sizes: Number 1 can support up to 4 pounds, with an ideal load of 2.625 pounds (this is per pod), and targeted for components up to 32 pounds. Number 2 supports 4 to 8 pounds each, is tuned to an optimal load of 6, and works with equipment that weighs 24 to 72 pounds. Number 3 supports 8 to 12 pounds each, is tuned to 10, and works with power amps and speakers over 60 pounds. Number 4 supports 22 to 28 pounds, is tuned to 25, and bench presses stuff over 150 pounds. They all cost the same -- $6 each. Don't plan on using them in your second system out in the garage, as they only function properly between 50 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

    How do you know which ones to get, and how many? Let's use my Wadia 23 CD player as an example. It weighs 16 pounds. The Number 1 isolators like to have 2.625 pounds loading on them. I divided 16 by 2.625 and came up with 6.09, which is conveniently close to 6, so I used six of the Number 1 Pods under the player, putting three along the front edge and three along the back, in a symmetrical arrangement. Of course, I also unscrewed and removed the four machined cones that came with the Wadia. The Vibrapods only end up with a height of 1/2-inch or less.

    If your component has very tall feet and you don't want to remove them, or if the underside is not flat (open-bottom chassis, etc.), you park the component on a new shelf measuring the same width and depth as the component. Your equipment sits on its own feet, and you put the Pods underneath this new shelf, on top of your equipment rack shelf, table, wall shelf, etc. This new shelf could be MDF, plastic, or 1/4-inch glass. Pick your flavor, just as you can with armboards. Vibrapod seems to avoid recommending one material over another.

    Incidentally, if you have a pair of Hercules Unchained monoblock amps -- with those heavy transformers at the rear -- you know by now you can't just put Vibrapods along front and back, since the weight distribution would be so uneven. For the pods to work their magic properly, the equipment will want to sit off-center on a new shelf -- and there's a tidy explanation how to do that on the Vibrapod website.

    Now, Vibrapod claims that the pods improve bass definition and depth, dynamics, imaging, detail resolution, ambiance, clarity, soundstaging, and video images. After reading this list, I was tempted to quote Michael Flanders and add, "also contains Lanolin." So many benefits arising from a blob of vinyl! (Well, it's happened before with LPs, right?) Vibrapod says that this is all because the isolators work in both horizontal and vertical modes, and dissipate not only the vibrations in your equipment but also absorb airborne and equipment-stand vibes, too.

    Okay, on to the music. I started with the Wadia 23 in its normal mode, with Wadia cones installed, on the second shelf of my Target TT5T rack. The rack has been carefully leveled via its bottom spikes, and sits on a 4-inch concrete slab. First, I just listened to a lot of old faves on CD and refreshed my sensory memory of them; then I installed the Vibrapods and listened again; then I went back to the Wadia cones and listened a third time; and finally, back to the Pods.

    My initial impression of the pods was that the music was thicker and fuller in the midrange, with definitely more bass energy. As is the case with many tweaks, the sound was just different, but not better or worse. I went on living with the Pods installed for several weeks, then returned to the cones and started making very focussed comparisons. What had seemed like a different-but-similar situation when the Pods were freshly installed, now seemed easier to describe.

    I was definitely hearing more low-level detail, and coming up with the usual audiodweeb delight at hearing some things for the first time. Acoustic bass had better definition, to the salvation of some material like Richard Thompson's "Easy There" (Mirror Blue), in which Danny Thompson's bass line has always seemed too heavy in the mix. Still heavy, but now more dimensional and shapely. Similar effect on Lennie Hochman's Manhattan Morning album, and with a clearing up of instrumental voices in times of peak energy, when everyone's playing at once. Speaking of voices, the a capella pieces in John Renbourn's new Traveller's Prayer CD are breathtaking -- they were recorded in the old church that he's bought in rural Scotland. I have enjoyed these songs over and over with the Wadia wearing its regular pointy-toed shoes, but the Pods add even more space and air around the five voices, and give extra life to John's guitar on other tracks.

    Since first reading about it in Listener, I've become completely addicted to Phil Woods' Astor and Elis (Chesky). Despite my knowing the material well, in the achingly beautiful duets that go on between clarinet and cello ("Oblivion," for example), the Vibrapods took me a whole layer deeper in appreciation. Both instruments come through with added richness with the pods, and when I went back to the cones, the clarinet and cello both felt under-nourished, thin-sounding. That thickened sound that I heard when I first put in the Pods turns out to be closer to the mark .. I had simply grown accustomed to hearing the material a certain way, over and over, and took that to be the center of things. The Pods have helped me to make an even stronger emotional connection with this recording.

    Putting in Dorati's CD of Respighi's Birds (Mercury), I could feel a slight relaxing of the string sections when they were really going at it .. not so hard-edged. More low-level detail in things like the individual musicians turning their pages, double-bass lines being a little more distinguishable. The Solti/Vienna recording of Shostakovich's Fifth (London) isn't as sumptuously recorded as the Haitink/Concertgebuow, but I like the reading, and now I could hear better definition in the lower registers here, too.

    Percussion didn't seem all that different from one to the other, although Joe Locke's vibes in Hochman's recording seemed more under control, still shimmering and pulsating as you'd hear them in person -- but now in more evenly-shaped waves.

    What was really telling in my going back and forth from cones to Pods was that, when the Pods were on duty, I would forget what I was doing and just sit there listening. Doesn't that say it all? We're not talking thunderous contrasts here, mind you. But a slight improvement, more natural and relaxed, easier to listen to. If the gain came from a sizeable investment, I'd be inclined to weigh the benefits, but at $6 apiece, these Pods are a great buy!

    Just before review submission time, they sent me some of the Number 2 and 3 isolators. I wasn't able to put them into the system and evaluate them, but I'm sure they'll create a similar sense of ease. In particular, I'm curious to see what effects the Pods have under my Well-Tempered Turntable, either in conjunction with the Mana support or in place of it. I'll report again in the future when I have something more to tell you. In the meantime, seek the Vibrapods out wherever you can, and have some fun. (I just went to look at the Vibrapod web site and they already have dealers in 9 states and Canada, as well as mail order from The Elusive Disc; by the time you read this, I'm sure the dealer network will be even bigger.) There's a 30-day money-back guarantee if you aren't happy with the Pods, but you'll probably keep them.

    I have only one concern, and it doesn't affect my enthusiasm for the product, since the price of admission is so reasonable: how long will the vinyl do its magic under pressure? Is this forever? Ten years? Three years? I don't think anybody knows. In any case, I bet they'll last longer than the next proposed digital format...

    Finally, I feel compelled to mention: Instead of funneling all his profits into a Ferrari, Sam Kennard is giving 10% of the profits generated by Vibrapod sales to St. Louis outreach projects like the Alzheimer's Association, the Ecumenical Housing Development Corporation, and Ronald McDonald House. Not only does he charge a fair price to us, he passes on some of the proceeds to others who can really use it. Exemplary.

Quality: XXXX
Value: Off the scale








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Vibrapod : the Affordable Alternative.