I guess Hi-Fi+ first appeared in early 1999. That’s about as far back as I can date any material that I wrote, and I seem to recall contributing to the first (and subsequent) issues. Some four years later (issue No29) I was wandering the corridors of the Penta hi-fi show when I came across a completely new brand with a funny name that was unknown to me. That was my first encounter with Vertex AQ, and the meeting turned out to be one of my most interesting hi-fi discoveries of the past decade.
The Penta hotel room I entered late that afternoon was virtually empty, apart from a couple of exhibitors. The decidedly modest looking components that were playing seemed to be making much more music than one had any right to expect, and this was apparently due to the various Vertex AQ treatments that had been applied.
Vertex AQ has only very recently begun building hi-fi components as such. The company started out making a rather strange range of items with even more curious names, of the type normally classified as ‘accessories’. These consisted of various Kinabalu platforms (named after a mountain in Borneo) and a number of cables equipped with small but heavy metal boxes, also named after several obscure mountains.
The modus operandum behind all these various devices was to reduce and minimise any low level mechanic-acoustic vibrations generated within and around the hi-fi system. Such vibrations may derive from a number of sources, and it’s Vertex AQ’s contention that they can not only adversely affect the low level reproduction of hi-fi components, but that its various devices can remove them and expand a system’s dynamic range in consequence.
My appetite was well whetted by that Penta experience, so I invited Vertex AQ’s principal, Steve Elford, to bring the stuff over to my place and try and convince me in my own home system context. This he did shortly thereafter, and I was soon convinced that this operation had something significant to offer.
Elford’s background in ultrasonic test techniques led him to realise just how far vibrations can be transmitted, especially through metals. And since the electrical conducting cables used to connect everything together are (almost) invariably made of metal, it’s easy to see how vibrations can be passed around a system, unless efforts are made to control and absorb them.
Strategic vibration absorption really represents the original heart of Vertex AQ, though the techniques have undergone (and are still undergoing) numerous refinements over the years (as well as costing me a fair amount of cash). For example, the original Kinabalu platform simply consisted of a carefully shaped slab of SPI Grey Granite, placed on four rubber ‘pucks’; the supported component then sits on a hardened steel tripod coupler and two decouplers. Above the standard Kinabalu are two rather more elaborate Super and Hi-Rez variations. Weighing 9kg and 11kg respectively, these incorporate extra ‘labyrinth’ absorbers beneath the granite slab, improving the performance in consequence. Interestingly, even though both my Naim pre-amp and CD player feature spring-decoupled subchassis, the Kinabalu platforms still improved their sound quality.