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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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...
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.
Value: Off the scale