POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 39
Cloud 11 Vibration Control Platform
as reviewed by Adam Goldfine
For the last seven years, my equipment has been supported by a lead shot filled steel rack with sorbothane damped shelves. And while it isn't quite state of the art it has done a remarkably good job of keeping vibrations out of my equipment and providing a solid and stable platform for my Music Hall MMF-7 turntable. Slightly over a year ago I began the challenging task of building a custom listening room, designed by Rives Audio. Unfortunately the rack didn't quite fit in with the overall design and was replaced by a low and wide unit built from double thick sheets of ¾" plywood. Though the new rack is substantial, it is far more resonant than lead filled steel. So when Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio offered me the opportunity to review one of his isolation platforms I jumped at the chance to try the Gingko Cloud 11 and see what improvements I might be able to wring from the system.
The Cloud 11 consists of a black acrylic bottom plate with ten round recesses designed to accept very compliant balls that are about the size and hardness of squash balls (that is, fairly squishy). An 18" x 16" skirted acrylic top plate sits on top of the balls and the component of course, sits on the top plate allowing it to float in three dimensions as if riding on a cushion of air. (I know, I know, like floating on a cloud!) The ten recesses allow the user to vary both the total number of balls used and their arrangement to balance and level components with uneven weight distribution. Gingko claims that the enclosed balls provide the most neutral sound but that the user may experiment with different types of balls to suit his or her taste.
You are instructed to add or subtract balls, depending on the weight of your gear. Each ball is designed to optimally support 10 pounds and can handle up to 20 pounds. I think it goes without saying that a minimum of three balls are required and Gingko recommends adding weight to components weighing less than 30 pounds (though I didn't). Five balls are included and I would guess that more can be added for components weighing more than 50 pounds.
When fully assembled, which takes less than a minute while wearing thick wool mittens, the platform has a much more sleek and refined appearance than one might be led to believe from the description. The fit and finish is first rate and the manufacturing quality is very high.
Initially intending to use it under my turntable, I decided to give the unit a try under my Vacuum State Logic Level 6 modified Sony DVP-S9000ES CD/SACD player. And that's where things ground to a halt. Sitting atop the Cloud 11, the first thing I noticed from the Sony was the improved pitch definition and greater resolution in the bass registers. One of the things I enjoy about tight, fast bass is the visceral growl that comes from resonance free, clearly defined notes. With the Gingko in use that growl became a tad more visceral and soulful.
The recorded acoustic environment was more clearly defined as well, while instrumental images came more tightly into focus with a greater sense of blackness between notes. The fine harmonic details that distinguish one instrument from another were more distinct, with cymbals, triangles and upper piano registers losing a slight edge or mechanical hardness. If I had to characterize the overall effect I would say the sound became tighter, removing just a bit of hardness and resonance or overhang from the system.
Due to the nearly ubiquitous reflex tuning of modern speaker systems, bass notes can have a tendency to smear together and the unique character of individual instruments becomes lost in the port resonance. Marcus Miller's Grammy winning CD M2 (CD, Telarc CD-83534) is a real test of a system's bass resolving power if there ever was one. On “Cousin John", the deep bass synthesizer conspires with the electric bass guitar and kick drum to turn the entire lower register to mush on all but the most articulate systems. And while my system has always done exceptionally well in this aspect, the Cloud 11 improved it further.
With the Sony player sitting on the Cloud 11 each bass instrument was punchy and tight, retaining its own harmonic character. The kick drum gained a greater sense of roundness and tone, with the resonance of the drum head and shell clearly part of and distinct from the impact of the beater. That increased harmonic resolution also found its way to the other end of the scale with cymbals sounding less splashy and more metallic, the ringing of the triangle sounding rich and full instead of hard and truncated. Sonic images were more tightly focused as well.
Recorded live in a New York City jazz club, Bucky Pizarelli's Swing Live (SACD, Chesky Records SACD223) is among the most you are there recordings I've heard. Even so, that sense of realism was further improved by the Gingko Cloud 11, due largely to the increase in harmonic resolution the platform provides. Listening to “Lime House Blues", each instrument seemed more fleshed out, that last bit of fine harmonic detail that tends to truncate and become lost in electronic haze remained intact until the note completely decayed, giving the instrument a greater sense of palpability and presence.
On Dick Hyman's performance of Duke Ellington's, “The Gal from Joe's", Reference Recordings HDCD Sampler, (CD, Reference Recordings RR-S3CD), the piano sound is very convincing. But there is a hint of hardness to the upper registers which sounds like a slight glaze, masking the full richness of the piano. With the Sony sitting on the Cloud 11, that glaze disappeared, revealing lost nuances of the sound. A slight distraction from the music was removed allowing me to more fully relax into the piece.
With disc after disc, a bit of muddiness here, some high frequency glare there disappeared leaving the fully resolved sound of each instrument in its place. I wouldn't say the Cloud 11 made a night and day difference with the CD player, but it was substantial. So much so that once you hear the improvement the Gingko provides you won't want to go back to listening without it. And I didn't. I enjoyed the effect it had so much that I was reluctant to move it from the CD player to the turntable. But alas the day came when I had to make the switch.
John Zurek recently reviewed the Cloud 11 in issue 36 of this magazine. He used it in conjunction with his Scoutmaster turntable and I wholeheartedly agree with his conclusions. He also provides some additional background information on the unit which you may find useful. My analog set up includes a Music Hall MMF 7 turntable with a Pro-ject 9 tone arm, Ringmat Anniversary Edition turntable mat, Pro-ject Speed Box Mk. II and Benz Micro ACE H cartridge.
A quick side note: every playback system has a range of qualities that can be used to characterize its sound; it may have tight bass, deep bass, no bass, extended highs, warmth etc. but to me there is one attribute is by far the most important. And it is this; it must convey the soul of the music in such a way that you can forget about the system completely. In fact it is my opinion, that it is only within the last five years or so that technology, especially speaker technology, has advanced to the point where this is even possible. It must be free enough of the mechanical artifacts inherent in the reproduction process that it conveys music first and foremost.
In other words, the system itself gets out of the way leaving just the music. (No system does this perfectly, but we are getting close enough to the ideal that we can speak of it experientially and not just theoretically – Good times!) And even with poorer quality recordings the experience is similar; the system itself is getting out of the way allowing the best possible version of what has been recorded to shine through. What you hear is just the recording, warts and all, but there is still a distinct sense of the system disappearing. In fact when I hear systems that make good recordings sound good and poor recordings sound worse or accentuate certain shortcomings of a recording, my current thinking is, something ain't right. The system is adding something that it shouldn't, imposing itself on the sound.
These days, if a system is doing its job properly it should, without adding euphonic distortion, allow everything that comes through it to shine at its best, even if that best isn't as good as it could be. It certainly shouldn't make it worse. (I expect some may disagree with me on this point, and I welcome lively debate on the subject.) And if a component or accessory can help a system achieve that goal, then it becomes worth further examination. The Cloud 11 definitely did.
I moved the Cloud 11 to under my turntable and from the first needle drop, the quieter background was immediately noticeable. Music stood out in greater relief sounding less mechanical and more like the real thing. It eliminated the kind of noise, as someone recently put it, that you don't hear, until you don't hear it. With the platform I heard less of the turntable and more of the music coming through.
Listening to “Josie" from Steely Dan's Aja, (LP, ABC Records AA 1006) it was easier to hear deep into the mix, with each instrument's unique texture sounding more, well unique. The bass especially became punchier and more articulate overall. On “Aja" from the same album, the opening piano had greater weight, with a seemingly wider range of dynamic contrasts available. Each instrument sounded more open and present, the fundamental pitch of each drum more defined and less blurred by the overtones.
On Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (LP, Sheffield Lab LAB 24), the quieter passages had always seemed a bit veiled and recessed, lacking the presence and palpability of the louder passages. With the Cloud 11 in service the quieter passages just sounded quieter with no difference in quality from the rest of the recording. My guess is this can be attributed, at least somewhat, to the noise that you “don't hear until you don't hear it" being eliminated. The sound was also more articulate regardless of level; the violin runs becoming easier to follow and the depth of the soundstage increased.
Shades of Dring (LP, Cambria Records C-1016), features a series of compositions by eclectic composer Madeleine Dring, arranged for jazz ensemble by Lennie Niehaus. The deceptively simple and unpretentious melodies may lead one to dismiss them at first blush, but after several listenings the poetic beauty of these tracks becomes obvious. Performed by jazz greats including Shelly Manne and Ray Brown, the sonics are very good, recorded directly to two track at 30 inches per second with all of the mixing done at the time of recording. On “In the Pink" Leigh Kaplan's piano was more fleshed out, its harmonic structure fuller and more realistic sounding. Ray Brown's acoustic bass was punchier, more articulate and had a greater sense of weight.
The vocals on Fleetwood Mac's “Gold Dust Woman", Rumours, (LP, Warner Brothers BSK 3010), had the kind of in the room quality, not just in terms of sound staging, but also in terms of wholeness and palpability that creates a convincing illusion of the real thing. Once again a sort of mechanical haze that I hadn't noticed before was gone, leaving just the soul of the music.
All in all the Gingko Cloud 11 is a great product at a reasonable price. It is simple to set up and use and it does what it claims to do. It looks good under even the most well manufactured components and larger sizes are also available, (the largest is 26" x 20") for oversized turntables and components
While visiting family in New Jersey this summer I had an opportunity to stop by and see Vinh Vu at his facility not far from where I grew up. He introduced me to a new product, the ClaraVu stand mounted speakers which will debut at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this October. While I can't go into detail, I predict that the pricing and sound quality of these babies is going to put them in high demand and give a certain stand mounted monitor featuring a Beryllium tweeter (of which I am quite fond) a run for its money. See you in Denver! Adam Goldfine
Dimensions: 18" x 16" x 2.5"
Gingko Cloud 11