A Diamond in the Rough
Black Diamond Racing's "Round Things" Record Clamp
In a scant few years, D.J. Casser's Black Diamond Racing has risen from relative obscurity to the upper echelon of audio tweakdom. Having almost singularly pioneered the use of carbon fiber for damping and resonance control in audio applications, Casser has recently turned his attention to the world of analogue playback, where the control of micro-vibrations and resonances is of the utmost importance. The Round Things record clamp is the latest member of Black Diamond Racing's unimaginatively named, yet justly famous, stable of carbon fiber resonance control products, which includes The Shelf, Those Things and the Mk.III and Mk. IV Pyramid Cones.
The Round Things clamp is a two-piece affair consisting of a thin circular disc, dubbed the "coaster", and a thick rounded puck, both fashioned from carbon fiber and finished in a high gloss. Holes drilled through the center of both components (unthreaded in the case of the coaster, threaded via a brass insert in the case of the puck) accept a turntable spindle ¼" in diameter with a thread density of twenty threads per inch - a configuration chosen for compatibility with VPI's array of turntables. The coaster, in the words of D.J. Casser, "is the interface portion of the clamp", designed to be sandwiched between the LP's label area and the threaded puck. The bottom of the coaster contains a recessed area, said to aid in the coupling of record and clamp, and its edge is beveled to forty-five degrees so as to provide adequate clearance during a cartridge's traversal of the LP's runout groove. Although the Round Things record clamp will work with turntables other than those from VPI (provided, of course, that the spindle is of the appropriate dimensions), I would caution owners of non-VPI turntables to ensure that their turntable's motor is able to cope with its relatively high mass (about fifty-percent greater than that of the stock VPI clamp) before proceeding.
While the clamp was not accompanied by any form of user documentation (a side-effect of the review sample's early production origins, I suspect), its use is quite obvious. With an LP on the turntable's platter, the coaster is lowered over the spindle until it comes into contact with the LP's label area. The puck is then threaded onto the turntable's spindle and tightened against the top surface of the coaster, the latter being held firmly so that it is not allowed to rotate against, and hence wear, the LP's label. When the clamp is used with one of VPI's turntables, the rubber spindle washer used in conjunction with the stock VPI clamp should be left in place, preventing any "dishing" of the clamped vinyl disc. Although the two-piece, and hence two-handed, nature of the Black Diamond Racing clamp puts it a notch below the one-piece VPI clamp in terms of ease of use, the sonic payback is well worth the additional effort.
I could certainly speculate as to the physical goings on which allow the Round Things record clamp to quite clearly outperform the stock VPI clamp (the ability of the fibrous material used by Black Diamond Racing to more effectively damp motor and bearing induced micro-vibrations, as well as those which result from the stylus/vinyl interface itself, for example), but the clamp's musical, rather than scientific, contributions are what concerns us here, and it is the former which proved nothing short of profound.
Owing to its more faithful treatment of both high and low frequency transients, the Round Things imparted a feeling of energy and life to analogue playback not heard with the VPI clamp. The Round Things' portrayal of the finale of Mahler's First Symphony (Zubin Mehta/Israel Philharmonic, London CS 7004) bristled with electricity and excitement, with massed double basses growling intensely, and brass fanfares blaring convincingly. This same recording, heard with the VPI clamp in service, lacked verve and vitality, sounding somewhat bland and dull in comparison. It is often the case that a component or accessory which imparts a feeling of vim and vigor to musical playback does so as a result of etching high-frequency transients. Not so with the Round Things. High-frequency transients heard with the carbon fiber clamp had a degree of smoothness and naturalness unmatched by the VPI clamp, removing the slight edge and glare heard with the latter during the massed brass passages of the aforementioned Mahler First Symphony.
The Round Things' ability to control the inevitable vibrations and resonances associated with vinyl replay allowed the VPI Aries to effortlessly unravel the heretofore unknown wealth of musical detail buried deep within the dense orchestral constructions of Mahler and Anton Bruckner. The multi-layered sonorities of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony (Bernard Haitink/Concertgebouw, Philips 835 385 LY), for example, were more readily heard as individual, yet consonant, musical passages, as opposed to the more homogenized whole heard with the stock VPI clamp.
While I do not consider myself an inveterate tweaker (I don't dress my cables in jackets or ties, nor do I feel the need to randomly distribute pocket change atop my loudspeakers), I have found the sonic improvement wrought by the Round Things record clamp to far exceed its nominal asking price. I recommend it highly to owners of VPI turntables wishing to get the most from their analogue front ends.
"Round Things" Record Clamp
Manufactured by Black Diamond Racing Inc.
2625 South Greeley Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 53207
Phone: (414) 747-8733, Fax: (414) 747-8734
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan
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