POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 13
panda thumb audio
as reviewed by John Zurek
I can see a lot of you reading this and saying, "What the @!#$—Pandafeet? Right." Well slow down, audio pard. Don't dismiss these because of the unusual name. You may miss something that is so cool—and so inexpensive—that you will be sorry.
I've experimented over the years with isolation devices, from very expensive stuff to ping-pong balls and inner tubes. Some worked, some didn't, but none were outstanding. I use a Standesign rack that is fair-to-middling. It is made of welded steel, is very strong and heavy, and has adjustable, spiked feet that go through my rug and couple with the concrete floor. The shelves are oak, and sit on spikes built into the frame of each shelf. I had a faux-marble slab made to accommodate my VPI HW-19 Jr. turntable because it was too large for the top shelf. Blu-tack affixes this shelf to the rack. The combo works reasonably well, never causing a skip when someone walks across the room, though a small "thunk" is audible through the speakers when you rap the side of the turntable.
I began web surfing to investigate the seemingly endless variety of isolation devices now available. I don't remember how I came across the Panda Thumb website, but it was intriguing. On the home page was a panda logo and a picture of what looked like the plastic caps that go on the bottom of table legs. Because I like small, ingenious, high-value, one-man audio shops, I decided to see if Panda's claims were true. Gary sent me some medium (gray, 8-14 lbs.) and firm (blue, 15-30 lbs.) footers to try under my Cary preamp and CD player and my turntable.
Sorbothane footers seem like the afterthoughts of some of the bigger audio companies, and I don't know of anyone who is particularly high on them. That is about to change. What does Panda Thumb Audio say about Sorbothane? I'll let them explain:
More so than any other material that I am aware of, Sorbothane excels at converting mechanical (vibrational) energy to heat. Yet, it has earned a somewhat less-than-favorable reputation in the audio world. Why, you might ask? Well, the primary reason is that in order to work properly, a Sorbothane damper must be designed for a given loading application.
Using four footers, one under each corner, it is then possible to support components that range in weight from 3 lbs. to 30 lbs., simply by choosing the proper footers. For more effective damping of lighter components, simply order footers designed for a heavier load and add weights to the top of the component. This will lower the resonant frequency of the system, and increase damping of low frequency vibrations. For components that weigh in excess of 30 lbs., additional black footers can be added to reduce the weight applied to each.
My Cary 303/200 CD player and SLP-88 tube preamp are treasured components. They have given me more pleasure than any others I've owned. I don't know about the rest of the Cary Line, but the 303/200 and the SLP-88 respond very favorably to tweaking. With the SLP-88, I first replaced the stock Chinese tubes with some very reasonably priced Electro Harmonix EH-6SN7s, which cleared up the hash I was hearing in the upper mids on dynamic swings. Next came the PS Audio Statement power cord, which gave the ‘88 a more effortless presentation. Last, and certainly not least, were the Pandafeet, which made a bigger difference than the other two tweaks combined. Grunge I'd never noticed was gone, and the sound was more lifelike and agile in every way. Highs were sparkly, with more air.
On to the Cary 303/200. This will most likely be the last CD-only player I ever buy. I could give you the usual litany of audio superlatives, but to put it very simply, I like it almost as much as vinyl. After a little tweaking, I was in love. The 303/200, unlike most Cary products, has no tubes, so no rolling. I tried several aftermarket power cords, and again the PS Audio Statement won out. With the squishy little feet, the change was instantly noticeable. The sound was more analog-like, silky. The already spectacular bass tightened up a bit. Imaging improved. Subtleties leaped out. Leading edges were better defined, and the sustain of acoustic instruments seemed to last forever. Maybe Dennis Had should use these feet instead of the substantial-looking ones that come on the Carys!
When I talked to Gary at Panda Thumb, he really didn't think the feet would do much for my non-suspended turntable. Since I'm beginning to think that he is a design genius, I hate to tell him he was wrong, but HOLY &%$#! I had already tried Vibrapods under the table, and noticed better, lower bass and better imaging. With the blue Panda feet under the table, and with the Vibrapods still in place, I noticed that it was now easier to hear the proper vertical alignment. After that, I got on the magic bus and listened to records for hours and hours. The little VPI just sang. I could describe every parameter that was improved, but the word "smooth" just kept coming up. The proverbial layer of dirt was removed, and the "thunk" was gone! I rapped my knuckles on the side of the VPI until they were sore, and not a sound came through the speakers. Before I tried the Pandafeet, I was ready to upgrade my turntable. After trying them, I'm not so sure it is necessary. In fact, my next move will be to order some more of the blue feet, and put them between my rack and the faux marble shelf that the turntable sits on. Can't wait!
Here's my take on why these squishy little rascals are so good. They are not one-size-fits-all accessories, but are carefully calculated to accept a definite range of weight. When you place your component on them, you will notice that the component feels like it is suspended, not only in the vertical plane, but also in the horizontal plane. Push on the front or sides of the component, and it wiggles in the X, Y, and Z axes, similar to being suspended in air.
You've probably gotten the idea that I like these sticky little wonders, but "like" doesn't begin to describe it. I've used the Vibrapods in the past with some success, but the Pandafeet perform so much better that they're not even in the same league, and they're cheaper! I'll put them up against anything—cones, spikes, balls, balloons, you name it. The difference they made under each component was like a component upgrade, and the effect was cumulative. Talk about value added! For twenty dollars, you can make each component in your system sound like you bought a newer, more expensive model. For less than a C-note, you can have the equivalent of a new (and much better) system.
If you already have megabuck racks and isolation devices, the Pandafeet may not do much for you, but I'd try ‘em anyway. Spend the money you save on vinyl and/or CDs. I can't guarantee that you will have the unqualified success with the Pandafeet that I did, but at $20 per component with a 30-day guarantee, you can't lose. I've never given an audio award before, but here goes: Panda Thumb Audio's Pandafeet get my personal award for the best price-to-performance ratio I've ever encountered. John Zurek