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ClaraVu dustcover and Mini-Cloud vibration control system
as reviewed by John Zurek
Why review a dustcover? Isn't that a little over the top? It's just a piece of clear acrylic that sits on top of the turntable! Hold on. Those of us with cats for listening partners know the importance of a good dustcover. Its importance grows in direct proportion to the price of your tonearm and cartridge. My 15-pound Siamese Purcy loves to look out the window from his favorite perch—you guessed it, the top of the turntable. Purcy, an analog lover, prefers sitting there to any other place in the house. He also leaves when I use the CD player. Can you imagine 15 pounds of fur, claws, and fangs jumping up there with no dustcover? Moving coil re-tipping fee, here we come! No Fancy Feast for months.
The VPI Scoutmaster had finally made it to my house for review. After assembling it, I discovered that (unlike older VPI models) there was no dustcover. I saw Purcy eyeing the new table when I played the first record, and his look said, "You know I'm going to jump up there the first chance I get!" At the time, I had not yet decided to keep the Scoutmaster, and imagined returning the thing to the Weisfelds with claw marks everywhere, and little bits of brown fur that I was never quite able to pluck off. The next thing I would hear was, "No more review samples for PFO. There's cat hair in the VTA mechanism, the tonearm has claw marks, and the platter smells like tuna!"
I had to do something quickly. Out in the garage, I pushed aside the empty stereo boxes, hit my head on the mountain bikes hanging from the ceiling, and knocked over a rake, which then knocked over more crap. Look, my old chainsaw! I need to clean up this place… but wait, that translucent Walmart storage container looks promising. The cat gods smiled on me—the damn thing fit perfectly around the turntable. Purcy said "This things a lot higher than my old one. I see a bird's nest in a tree across the street I haven't investigated yet". Purce loves to eat birds.I had to remove the interconnects and drill a couple of holes for them, but that was a small price to pay. And it didn't look THAT bad. (My wife disagreed.)
The next day, I got on the phone to Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio. VPI recommends his products. What a nice guy. He agreed to send me a dustcover and some of his Mini Cloud isolation devices. Good—only another week or so of using the Walmart dustcover. A few days later, the Gingko cover arrived. While there isn't much to say about a dustcover (it's height was just in-between the old cover and the designer wal mart cover), I can say this: Buy this one! It fits perfectly, looks great, and Purcy thinks it's even better than my old HW19 dustcover (possibly because the Scoutmaster sounds waaay better than my old 19). Also, the cat prints wash right off with a little Windex. I'm keeping it.
How 'bout them Mini Clouds? These are scaled-down versions of the Gingko Cloud 10 platform, basically a small square of acrylic with a concave indent (Gingko calls it a dimple) and a blue vibration-control ball. The Mini-Clouds come in sets of three, each designed to hold 10 pounds. I used five on the Scoutmaster. They are absurdly easy to set up—I had them under the turntable in minutes—and the setup options are endless.
The Mini Clouds are all about controlling resonance. Why? Resonance control is essential, especially for a turntable, the most mechanical component in your system. Do you really want all those vibrations coming from who knows where, invading the sensitive coils in your expensive cartridge, only to be sent through the amplification chain to your ears? Purcy doesn't.
Be prepared—once you get the Mini Clouds underneath a component, it is going to move a little. It's a good idea to balance the load so that the component sits as squarely as possible on top of the blue balls. Even with an even balance, the component will be slightly precarious, but that is the only bad news. The good news is that these little devices are fabulous! You won't need golden ears to hear the difference. Anyone who can't hear it immediately must be deaf. The proverbial layer of grunge was removed, and an oh-so-smooth sound emerged, without any obscuring of detail. On the contrary—detail was enhanced.
Although my new Scoutmaster (I love the sound of that) sits on a StandDesign rack that is coupled to the concrete slab floor with spikes. If I jump really, really hard right next to the rack, I can induce the teensiest bit of movement without the Mini Clouds. With the Clouds? None. Blue balls are good in this case. Rapping my knuckles on the plinth yielded the same result. I could hear my the knock without the Clouds, but with them? Silencio.
What else did I hear during my time with the Mini Clouds? Bass definition, detail, air, and space were all enhanced. Complex music was more clearly defined. It was like a component upgrade. I became addicted. I couldn't stay away. The outside world did not matter. I even listened to Modest Moussourgsky's Songs for the Dead, an LP I once bought as a lark. (Where are all those Goths when you need 'em?) Mind you, I was still using my Benz Glider cartridge that is more than ten years old and my original Black Cube phono stage. That didn't matter—I was glued to my listening chair for weeks. My wife suggested a 12-step program. I suggested we go to the used record store.
If you own one of VPI's newer tables, buying a Gingko ClaraVu dustcover is a no-brainer. It fits perfectly, looks great, and Purcy likes it a lot. It lets him sit in his favorite spot and protects my favorite piece of audio gear. The Mini Clouds should be called Value Clouds. They deliver a huge bang for very few bucks. They make a superb turntable sound even better. Analog heaven exists at my house, in no small part because of the Mini Clouds. Both products are highly recommended. John Zurek