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Positive Feedback ISSUE13
Cloud 10 isolation platforms
as reviewed by Victor Chavira and Francisco Duran
Isolation platforms are available in many materials and designs, from boxes filled with sand to magnetic levitation devices, but one principle is common to all—the less vibration entering into a component, the better it will sound. Ginko Audio's solution to the contaminating effects of vibration is both elegant and simple. The Cloud 10 Vibration Platform consists of an acrylic platform suspended above its shallow base by elastic balls, and the system can be tuned by varying the number and hardness of the balls placed between the platform and the base. The review sample was supplied with four green (medium density) balls. The Cloud 10 platform is designed to support a wide variety of components, but for the purpose of this review, I elected to set it under my turntable only. My Linn Axis table presently rests upon a Townshend Audio 3-D Seismic Sink.
The first test for the Ginko was to play a record and have my two young sons scamper about the house, as they usually do when I'm trying to listen to music. The Axis is unsuspended, and very prone to vibration coming from my raised wooden floor. Without an effective isolation platform, mistracking is a constant problem. I had determined that if the cantilever bounced or skipped, the Ginko would be packed up and sent to the next reviewer. Fortunately, it performed marvelously. The record played without tracking errors, even when had my sons jump up and down near the turntable! The Ginko effectively damped vertical vibrations reaching the delicate stylus.
The second test was the sound. I could seal my turntable in a vacuum, but if it didn't make music sound better, why bother? The Cloud 10 did make music sound better. Bass became firmer, and low bass more discernible. For example, Pat Metheny Group's Travels features several tracks with low bass notes on keyboard, bass pedals, and bowed or plucked acoustic bass. When the Cloud 10 was under the turntable, each bass instrument was rendered with distinction, and I could easily follow its musical lines. Drums sounded punchier and more tautly tuned. The soundstage also benefited from the Cloud 10. Music was clearly defined in time and space. The Beatles' Abbey Road sounded more focused, with more precise images. Harmonies opened up, and fadeouts held my attention for a moment longer. Rhythm and pace seemed to have kicked up a notch as well.
A quick survey of my classical LPs verified these positive attributes. Schubert's Symphony No. 5, as performed by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic, sounded superb. The sections of the orchestra were more clearly defined, and the monophonic soundstage grew in proportion and depth. Dynamic nuance became more pronounced, and more responsive to the conductor's baton.
The Ginko Cloud 10 performed at its best when I was listening to complex music. The Gingko fine-tuned the musical panorama, allowing me to select favorite elements of a composition or performance like a hungry patron at a buffet line. However, for solo instruments, such as Paco de Lucia's passionately strummed, unaccompanied flamenco guitar, I preferred the Seismic Sink for its warmer sound. The air bladder-based Sink has the effect of drawing a listener into the music, while the Gingko boldly expands form, color, and line.
Another difference between the two platforms is their planes of operation. I discovered that the Ginko was not as effective as the Seismic Sink at damping horizontal movement when I accidentally tapped the side of the Cloud 10, and the top platform swayed back and forth until the balls returned to a standstill in their cups. Luckily, the tonearm had not yet been placed on the spinning record. In contrast, the Seismic Sink's internal bladder absorbed most of the energy during a similar mishap.
Strictly on the merits of sound, the Ginko Cloud 10 isolation platform is a complete success. Even those who believe that their turntables are well isolated may be surprised by the enhanced detail and cohesion that the Cloud 10 can reveal. I look forward to trying the Ginko under other components when time permits. The Cloud 10's flexibility, performance, and affordable price make it a strong recommendation. Victor Chavira
When we were kids, we were told to think. This was usually stressed before an exam by our teachers, or by our parents when we screwed up. Apparently, somebody out there in audio land still thinks. They probably got better grades than I did and didn't get in as much trouble with their parents. (Hi, Mom!) Vinh Vu and partner Norm Ginsburg must have had a brainstorm when they cooked up the new Cloud 10 Vibration Control Platforms.
Metal has ruled for decades in the realm of high end audio—not the Motorhead or Metallica variety, but the material in which our highly prized audio gear is sheathed. There is machined metal, sculpted metal, magnetic and non-magnetic metal, light metal and heavy metal. Gear made out of metal should be stronger and better, right? And the heavier the metal, the more one is getting for one's money. But boy, does it ring and ping! I have frequently tapped on a very expensive solid state amplifier, only to hear it rattle like tin roof (a hot one if it is a class A amp!). We have learned that vibrations are not so good for high end audio equipment, and there are many products that are meant to reduce those vibrations.
Companies such as DNM and Virtual Mode use plastic and wood in the construction of their products to address vibration, and we can now add Gingko Audio to the short list of audio innovators who buck the metal tradition. Many wonders can be found on the Gingko website, including the Clara VU acrylic dustcover for turntables, the Silver Lining, which is a combination of platform and cover, and the very cool looking Platformula rack and stand, a three-tier rack made of acrylic and metal. The Cloud 10 is a platform that isolates components from vibration by dissipation. It consists of two pan-shaped pieces of acrylic. The bottom unit has fifteen evenly spaced dimples molded into it. Over this fits a cover that doesn't hit bottom because rubber balls that fit into the dimples in the bottom unit prevent it. You can use up to fifteen balls, with each ball designed to support a ten-pound load (though they can handle up to twenty). The designers apparently spent many hours listening to different balls before deciding upon the ones that come with the Cloud 10.
The designers feel that acrylic does the best job of dissipating vibrating energy because of its complex and dense molecular structure. The Cloud 10s seem both familiar and new—familiar because we have seen balls of one material or another used as vibration control devices before, and new because who except turntable manufacturers thought of using acrylic? Not to mention balls that look like the ones your kids play with? It is clear that the guys at Gingko put much thought into this product. They have many years experience between them, working in such places as Lucent Technologies, AT&T, and the military. At the Montreal Festival du Son & Image in April, show-goers were not only treated to a demonstration of the Cloud 10 platforms, but a split screen was set up to show graphs of the demo in real time. The left side of the screen showed vibration measured without the Cloud 10, and the right side showing the measurements with it. This showed the confidence these men have in their product.
Shown here is a similar graph of the vibration level measured on a sensor on an acrylic block simulating an audio component sitting on and off the platform (the black line is off the Cloud 10 versus that of the green line being on the Cloud 10).
I have always balked at doing accessory reviews, and will probably have to be threatened to do another power cord review. It's not that I believe that accessories don't make a difference, but their price to performance ratio often makes me squirm. However, in the case of the Cloud 10, I heard positive words about the product from my audio buddy Victor Chavira, and I thought the price was reasonable. I received one Cloud 10, and immediately inserted it under my Nohr CD player with four balls, one in each corner. After reading the manual, I realized that only three balls were needed, as the player weighs less than thirty pounds, even with the ankle weights that I have been using on top of it. Out went one of the balls, and the remaining three were placed in a triangle pattern, with two under the heaviest part of the unit. I listened to quite a bit of music with the Cloud 10 under my Nohr, probably too much without committing ink to paper, but I was enjoying myself.
The Cloud 10 brought out a richness and warmth that the Nohr had been missing. Along with it came an overall cleaning up of the music. The noise floor was reduced, and the music had better focus. One disc that really got my attention was the hybrid SACD by David Johansen and the Harry Smiths. The track "Old Dog Blue" starts with a woman laughing softly and some hands clapping. The texture of these sounds took on greater naturalness with the Cloud 10. My ability to hear these low-level effects was not only enjoyable but a tad surprising.
The next piece of equipment that got the Gingko treatment was my DVD player. This unit, a vintage Pioneer DV414, was recently resurrected from moth balls, extensively modified by Musical Concepts of St. Charles, Missouri, and reinserted into my system as one of my main CD spinners. It is comparable to CD players costing more than $2000. The Cloud 10 under the Pioneer, with the three-ball configuration, produced the same qualities heard with the Nohr, but this time the soundstage took the prize. The Johansen disk took another step forward in performance. Before, instrument placement and depth were a little vague. Now, more air, space, and detail were present. These improvements were also noticeable on my XRCD copy of Lightnin' Hopkins' Going Away. The soundstage got deeper and wider, making it much easier to get into this great music. "Stranger Here" was a particularly good showcase of this eerie spaciousness. It didn't sound artificial, just better. And these improvements were heard through a solid state player!
With DVDs, the results were similar. There was a slight increase in image stability, and colors looked slightly more vivid. I didn't concentrate on pictures as much as sound, but the improvements were readily visible. I watched Casablanca with and without a Cloud 10. With it, I soon forget I was watching this great movie in black and white. The gradations of tone were a sight to behold.
At this point, I started looking around to see what else I could experiment with, and my preamp, with its three tubes, seemed the logical next step. The Gingko again improved soundstage dimension and focus, and provided a cleaner sounding musical performance. Then I began to wonder what would happen if I used four balls instead of three, so I listened to each component again, with four balls in the farthest corners. Each sounded less bright than it had with three balls, especially the Nohr. This proved that the Cloud 10s are very flexible. Gingko owners can add or subtract balls to tailor the platform to each component.
I noted the changes as I removed the Cloud 10 from under each component, and a similar pattern emerged with all three units. Removing the Cloud 10 caused a noticeable reduction of spaciousness. I was less able to hear into the recording. My system still sounded good, and it still had that dimensional tube sound, but some of the air and space was missing and a little grunge returned, along with a slight increase in sibilance. The sound became slightly darker. There was a flattening and thinning to vocals that was not welcome, but what was weird was the way in which vocal timbres were altered. This was not good, and I quickly pressed the Cloud 10 back into service.
I normally use a combination of Vibrapods and Final Bearings under my preamp and CD players, so I am not accustomed to hearing my components "naked." However, the Final bearings (and other devices like them) have their downsides, and the biggest one is stability. I dare you to give any component a hard stare while steel bearings are under it, especially a lightweight (read cheap) DVD player. Ball bearing devices are a royal pain in the butt. Don't get me wrong, the Final bearings are an important part of my system, but now that my wife refuses to use the CD player as long as the bearings are under it, I don't know for how long. As for the Vibrapods, they work, but they are not in the same league as either the Final Bearings or the Cloud 10.
The Cloud 10 has it all over bearings. You can open a CD drawer, remove and replace weights, and dust the player to your heart's content. The components will move, but it will stabilize quickly. I enjoyed the sonic benefits of the Cloud 10s all the more without the audio nervosa induced by the bearings. It felt good to not to worry that I was going to knock my CD player off the shelf every time I changed a disc. The Cloud 10 also looks beautiful. I really had to pry it out of my son's hands, and was only able to do so after promising to buy one to put under his Sony Playstation2. And my wife is no longer afraid to play CDs.
Just before I was finished with the Cloud 10, I got hold of a second unit, figuring that if one worked this well, how about two? With one under my Nohr player and the other under my preamp, there was a further increase in the areas of performance mentioned above.
I was very impressed with the Gingko Audio Cloud 10. It can be added to a list of high quality vibration control products that includes the Townshend Seismic Sink and the Vibraplane, as well as an assortment of cones, pucks, and bearings. The Cloud 10 is a high-performance, cost-effective, and practical aid in the elimination of unwanted vibration. Francisco Duran