The difference the Ground Controls make is so profound in my system – a system that already has a fully realized, dedicated AC supply and two parallel clean grounds – that they have become indispensable. I now run three GC1s (CD player, phono stage and preamp) and a GC3. Expensive overkill? Expensive certainly – but worth every penny. The really shocking thing is that I’ve heard just how big a step up I get by using a second GC3 on the pre-amp in place of the GC1. Four figures per box might seem like a lot when those boxes glory in delivering nothing – but then it’s a nothing that really matters to your system. Hearing what the Ground Controls can do doesn’t make them any more affordable, but it will definitely make you wonder how you can scrape the necessary cash together! Simple and stunningly effective, both the GC1 and GC3 get the highest possible recommendation.
Getting Physical… with Neodio and HRS
The beneficial impact of simple cones or spikes under equipment isn’t exactly news. What is new is that we’ve finally started to figure out about how these things work and how they fit into the overall scheme of things. By referring to racks and equipment supports as ‘isolation’, we have been missing the point. Isolating equipment from structure-borne energy is certainly beneficial – but it’s only half the story. What we actually may be working on isolating is the signal, not the equipment. The boxes (and cables) that generate, transfer, or amplify that signal are subject to the impact of airborne energy, especially if they are in the same room as the loudspeakers. At the same time, the operation of the circuits and their power supplies generates its own vibration, admittedly low-level, but right where the signal is and in an environment that’s often poorly suited to dealing with mechanical interference. In this situation, the rubber feet fitted to electronics, far from protecting the delicate signal, actually make matters worse by trapping energy within the chassis – which is why bypassing those feet with an effective exit path can have such a profound impact on system performance.
Mechanical grounds can be as simple as the Cardas maple blocks or basic aluminium ‘tip-toes’. But as more sophisticated solutions have appeared their impact has become more and more impressive, with the Neodio Origine B1 and HRS Vortex being the latest and most effective I’ve come across. But to get the best out of them you need to use them properly – and that means prioritizing their application to the noisiest components. Presented with a set of feet, most people tend to reach straight for their CD player – not a bad call considering there’s a transport whirring and rattling about inside. But actually, there may well be even more effective applications than that. Power transformers and power supply capacitors are two of the biggest noise problems in audio electronics, transformers because they vibrate at mains frequency (as well as being directly connected to the grid, itself a major source of mechanical energy) and capacitors because they are physically large and vibrate in time with the music! In fact, when it comes to deploying mechanical grounds, a really good guiding principle is to ‘follow the power’, a strategy that often leads to treating not just your power amp first, but even before that, the AC distribution block.
What does mechanical grounding deliver? The results are similar and complementary to cleaning up the electrical ground. But where a clean electrical ground is most readily apparent in the blackness of the background, the richness of instrumental colours and the absence of grain, mechanical grounding leans more on the concentration of energy, generating a dramatic increase in presence, impact, and musical purpose; at least if it’s done properly – and that depends to some extent on the equipment involved. The HRS Vortex is the perfect case in point. Specifically developed to deal with the extremely stiff, slab to slab or milled from solid chassis found on so many high-end products, a specially formulated, large area polymer interface grabs high-frequency noise from the chassis, routing it into the stainless steel body. The polymer’s behaviour is frequency dependent, ‘hard’ at higher frequencies while delivering some damping lower down. An internal labyrinth disperses much of that first wave, while the spiked body feeds the rest into the supporting surface – so yes, what you sit these things on does have a significant effect as we’ll see. The Vortex is also unusual in coming as a set of four, with one having an adjustable dome in place of the fixed cones of the others. That ensures that you can achieve level and stable support while more surface contact area makes for a more effective drain. And yes, four sound noticeably better than three. Used under the VTL electronics or the Wadia or Wadax digital front-ends, the Vortex is transformational, injecting such life and immediacy into the performance that it becomes dramatically more vivid and engaging.
But what of other products that employ a less rigid chassis construction?
HRS offer their simpler and more affordable Nimbus couplers for this application, with a softer polymer interface top and bottom that increases the chassis damping quotient. But the Nimbus doesn’t match the leap in performance achieved by the Vortex. For that, you need Neodio’s Origine B1 (price yet to be fixed but very much in the same ball-park as the Vortex). Under ARC electronics or the Berning amplifiers, the B1 feet really shine. Another design that incorporates a dispersive labyrinth, the Neodio supports don’t match the dynamic range of the Vortex, but they excel when it comes to instilling a sense of musical organization, flow, and phrasing – preventing the stored energy in a chassis from cluttering and impeding rhythmic articulation. Unlike the Vortex, the B1 also offers a screw thread interface, meaning that it can be used with speakers, another realm in which they shine. One tip to bear in mind with the B1 – they seem to prefer a lossy supporting surface, like wood or bamboo, as opposed to hard interfaces such as granite or marble. But carefully sited beneath the greatest sources of mechanical energy, three or four Origine B1 feet under the likes of Audio Research’s Reference CD9 or Reference 10 line stage have a really quite remarkable impact on the system’s temporal articulation, phrasing, and forward momentum.