Herbie’s Audio Lab — Vibration Isolation Products

by admin on January 27, 2009 · 27 comments

in Accessories

by Andy Fawcett

If you own a decent audio rig, and have taken no steps to mitigate the adverse effects of vibration upon your components, then you are probably only hearing a fraction of your system’s ultimate capability. At the other extreme, even if (like me) you think you’ve done a pretty thorough job of isolating your gear, you may be surprised at how much more can be achieved – and for a very modest cost. Dismiss it as hyperbole if you like, but my experience sends a message of crystal clarity; you ignore this issue at your peril.

Let there be no doubt – vibrational energy generated by and/or fed back into your audio components is one of the arch enemies of high-fidelity reproduction. Back in the days before digital audio held sway, owners of high performance turntables were acutely aware of the huge influence exerted by the structure, and even the exact material, upon which they were supported. Of course, little by way of imagination was necessary; when your very means of reproducing music involved using a record groove to vibrate a stylus, the deleterious effect of external vibrations on that interaction was easy to envisage. Judging by horrific photographs I’ve seen recently of turntables the price of a luxury car sited on a rickety shelf and a wobbly old cabinet on casters, it’s a lesson that could stand some re-learning … but that’s an issue for another time. What’s less widely appreciated is that, error correction notwithstanding, CD players also suffer the adverse effects of vibration … to an extent not dissimilar to turntables. Which isn’t so crazy, if you think about it; a CD player’s laser is required to track the fast-spinning optical disc with almost unimaginable accuracy - to do so while being robustly shaken must be akin to writing a novel while riding a roller coaster.

Which brings me back to where this story began (no, not a roller coaster!). Out of the blue, Mike Lenehan – designer of the superb ML1 loudspeaker that I reviewed recently – sent me three Herbie’s Audio Lab Tenderfeet, with instructions to insert them under my CD player and prepare to be amazed. Mike wasn’t to know that I already have an exotic (and sinfully expensive … je ne regrette rien) isolation platform doing duty there, which had simply transformed the player’s sound beyond all recognition; the platform turned out not to need any help but, when the Tenderfeet were used to replace the Vibrapods under my preamp, the improvement was startling. How could that be? They’re both sort of squidgy and rubbery, after all (stop me if this is getting too technical!). Within hours I was in contact with Steve Herbelin, eponymous principal of Herbie’s, and the ensuing correspondence touched upon the complex science underpinning his products, while also providing some valuable insights into the practicalities and mysteries of vibration isolation … which I shall do my best to share with you here.

One thing that’s puzzled me for a while is why, given my own revelatory experiences, there are still many audiophiles openly sceptical of the whole isolation issue. I admit, some of the wilder and wackier products on offer (typically accompanied with a dose of speculative pseudo-science) seem almost calculated to provoke the rationalists, but there’s more to it than that. The messages are confusing. Everybody’s claiming that their products are the best; but should we be using rigid spikes and cones, or something soft and absorptive? Three-point or four-point support? And how come my buddy reckoned such-and-such was the best thing since sliced bread, but he must have been smoking something because when I tried it, it didn’t work at all? Well, Steve’s been immersed in this endeavour for long enough that what he might dismiss as common sense will pass for wisdom to the rest of us! As he explained, pretty much all of these products can work well … but whether they will or not is down to the specific set of circumstances – the component being supported, the surface on which it’s placed, the type and frequency of vibrational energy it’s being subjected to, whether the component itself is generating energy that needs to be dissipated, and so on. Not surprising, then, that in the search for a universal panacea, experiences have been so diverse. The real world is more complex than our modest ability to rationalize it will allow.

So, are there any ground rules to help us through the maze? Steve was refreshingly undogmatic, encouraging experimentation in each situation to determine the optimum solution, but he was prepared to lay down some guidelines. As a general rule, he finds spikes and cones to have very limited applicability, as they typically allow vibration to find its way into the component as easily as it is dissipated out – despite what some manufacturers might appear to claim, there’s no such thing as one-way energy transmission! The most common exception to this rule arises where loudspeakers are sited on a concrete floor (which is my situation); spikes then optimally allowing the substantial energy stored in the speaker cabinet to be mechanically grounded. On a suspended wooden floor, the situation is reversed – the speaker should preferably be isolated from the vibrational energy in the floorboards. Where absorptive materials are concerned, Steve’s research has shown that most of these have their own resonances and are surprisingly effective at transmitting certain frequencies of vibrational energy; this energy can also be stored briefly and then released to smear vital rhythmic cues, or modulated to a frequency band where it does even more harm. He reserves special scorn for sorbothane, considering it inappropriate for audio applications. Invited to comment on Vibrapods (as perhaps the best-known of the soft footers, with which many of us have had success), he acknowledged that they could prove quite effective in some situations but had minimal ability to absorb energy structurally, isolated over a relatively narrow bandwidth and worked only within restrictive weight-bearing limits.

Herbie’s Audio Lab’s Tenderfeet are quite different. They’re actually surprisingly firm, for one, and that lack of deformation ensures completely stable support for components weighing from 2 to 80 pounds on four standard footers (though a higher capacity variant is recommended for items from 45 right up to 220 pounds). Their proprietary silicone formulation is manufactured in Germany and its weakly vulcanized, loosely cross-linked cellular structure endows it the ability to absorb large amounts of energy evenly across a wide frequency range (further technical detail is provided on the manufacturer’s website, for those so inclined). And, as I quickly established on first acquaintance, their performance far surpassed the Vibrapods in my application. But they’re only one item from a very comprehensive and ingenious range of products aimed at fighting the evils of vibration in all of its myriad forms. The inspiration for this article was to take my system – which had already had significant attention paid to isolation – as a testbed, and find out how much more could be achieved with judicious application of Herbie’s goodies. If they can realize gains in a supposedly well-treated system, then the benefits for an untreated system will be exponentially greater.

Steve Herbelin kindly took the trouble to review my set-up, devise a thoughtful list of recommendations and a week later, a box of contraband arrived via international mail. I wouldn’t normally see fit to mention it, but the packaging was quite exceptional – despite none of the contents being inherently susceptible to damage in transit they were all individually sealed and labelled, carefully cocooned in protective wrapping and provided with written instructions offering useful guidelines for implementation. Very professional, and symptomatic of the pride that the company takes in their products. Also pleasantly surprising was the impeccable quality of manufacturing across the whole range of items supplied; despite their low cost they are robustly built and flawlessly finished. An unconditional lifetime warranty is offered right across Herbie’s product lines, though I suspect you have about as much chance of needing to make a claim as sleeping with Jennifer Aniston (Jen – if you’re reading this, and John’s out of town, do please get in touch…)![get in line! - Ed]

The effect on my equilibrium of this box full of weird and wonderful audiophile treats proved to be entirely corrupting. Typically a devotee of the scientific method, I’d generally feel obliged to proceed carefully and systematically with unit testing each item in a controlled A/B/A scenario. The alternative approach, its validity derived chiefly from my impatience and lack of self-control, was to throw the whole damn lot in and see what happened! Just don’t try to claim that you’d have done any different. The time for experimenting, for figuring out what’s doing what, will come later.

The Full Monty

I deferred those items relating specifically to my analogue playback as more suitable for subsequent systematic evaluation, leaving the following products to be applied in a “best-guess” configuration to the remainder of the system. I’ll take a closer look at them individually later, so for now a list will suffice:

4 Tenderfeet under each of the preamp, power amp, and dual external preamp power supplies (16 in total). The amps had both been supported on Vibrapods and the power supplies on an old Mission isolation platform (all removed).

4 SuperSonic Stabilisers, apportioned between CD player, pre and power amps. Eichmann “Toppers” were already in use on both amps, and were removed.

4 Grungebuster dots interfacing the CD player’s feet to its isolation platform, and 4 Spike Grounding Bases between the platform’s spikes and the top shelf of my Target stand.

4 Hal-O Jr Interconnect dampers, applied at the destination end of each interconnect cable.

To put things in context, that’s a modest $350 (all prices are quoted in US Dollars) worth of product in total, yet it’s enough to thoroughly treat my entire system (less the turntable). In my situation, I emphasize again, it was being used only to replace or supplement existing well-regarded isolation products. I really thought I’d got the situation covered. I was wrong.

To anyone who’s heard it, the sonic signature of successful vibration isolation is both extensive and easily recognizable. The soundstage becomes larger, and architecturally much more composed – images are presented with rock-like solidity (for what it’s worth, I believe that this is an important element in allowing a listener to become immersed in the music). Every aspect of the sound is cleaned up; transient speed is increased, notes start and stop more precisely (improving PRaT), bass frequencies become tauter and more powerful, and detail is more clearly resolved against a “blacker” background. Timbral fidelity and transparency increase, and the system assumes a feeling of greater ease and naturalness (indeed, try going back and you’ll be horrified how smeared and murky the old sound now seems). These are not mere tonal manipulations, and there are no trade-offs involved – they are fundamental aspects of high-fidelity reproduction that no discerning enthusiast could fail to appreciate (though the typical removal of an edgy, artificial ‘zing’ of distortion from the sound might temporarily confuse those whose hearing has become attuned to it).

And so it proved that, across my extensive and varied selection of reference tracks, every single one of them exhibited gains in some or all of these areas to a substantial or, occasionally, startling extent after the Herbie’s treatment. There’s no need to bore you with the specifics (my listening notes are, as always, copious) when the outcome was so clear and consistent – applied appropriately, this stuff works, and it works remarkably well. That may sound like a conclusion, but it’s really just a springboard to the next stage of the review, where I’ll take a closer look at these products individually, plus others that have not been mentioned yet, and try to get an idea of what’s doing what. Let me assure you, there was still a surprise or two in store!

Tenderfeet

I’ve already covered various aspects of the Tenderfoot’s composition and use in the earlier introduction, so shall not repeat that here. Suffice to say that their deceptively simple appearance conceals plenty of science, exotic materials and many years of incremental improvement. Though they can be purchased with an adhesive pad to facilitate permanent fixture, the company recommends that the feet be used free-standing, either way up, in direct contact with the component’s chassis (ie. not underneath its own feet). Experimentation with positioning is encouraged to find the optimal support points, which will be a factor of the specific component’s construction. They grip both shelf and component with a mild suction effect, which proved sufficient to withstand even the forceful removal of uncooperative interconnect cables. Unlike the Vibrapods that they replaced in my system, they do not ooze oil or leave a residue. Two sizes are available – 5/8” or 1” tall, for heavier components or those requiring increased shelf clearance – at prices from $12.38 to $18.39 each. Though suitable for all types of electronics, an alternative footer design (the “Iso-Cup”) is felt to be particularly effective under tube amps, so check that out if you’re of the glowing glass bottle persuasion.

I had established before this testing began that the Tenderfeet work extremely well, very obviously outperforming Vibrapods under my preamp, so that was never at issue. I was curious, though, to investigate the dilemma of whether 3-point or 4-point support was preferable. Steve Herbelin takes no firm stance on that question, suggesting that Tenderfeet are typically best used in fours (for stability, and to maximize the amount of vibration-absorbing material in contact with the chassis) and Iso-Cups in threes, but the supported component’s construction is a key variable and experimentation is encouraged. As one who recalls the era when 3-point support swung firmly into vogue, it was interesting to hear Steve’s comment that this was largely influenced by the typical inability of rigid (non-adjustable) cones to make even contact at four points on a component’s base. Anyway, there’s no reason why my findings should apply to your situation, but for what it’s worth I determined a clear preference for four Tenderfeet under my preamp; bass was tighter and the sound generally more lucid and composed.

SuperSonic Stabilizers

The SuperSonic Stabilizer, placed upon a component’s lid, is used to absorb upper-chassis vibrations and increase the efficiency of whichever Herbie’s footers are in use, while its strategic non-magnetic composition helps it to weaken and disperse electromagnetic interference. Weighing just under 6 oz., it is not intended for mass loading, though additional weight can be placed atop it if desired – it is decoupled by a thin elastomer layer on its base, which prevents it from sliding and protects the component’s finish. Two Stabilizers are recommended in most cases, either stacked or separate, though one is adequate for smaller items. Cost is $20.96 each for quantities of two or more. Optimum positioning can be determined by experimentation, though the centre of the lid is a good starting point.

If you’re unsure whether you need these, get something with plenty of bass playing loudly and gently rest your hand on top of each of your electronic components – you’ll likely be shocked by how much vibration you can feel. The Eichmann Toppers that I’d previously purchased to combat this, though entirely different in design, also work by structurally absorbing vibration and had proved quite effective when placed on the pressed steel lids of my pre and power amps; both in reducing the amount of tactile vibration and providing a clear sonic benefit. However, substituting two Stabilizers for the six Toppers on my preamp was even more effective to the touch and, sonically, gave a slightly tighter bass and improved transient definition – at a much lower overall cost. An impressive result for the Stabilizers though, to be fair, the versatile Toppers have been easily redeployed; I also miss their effectiveness as impromptu auxiliary heat sinks on my hot-running amps, a function that I’m sure their designer never foresaw!

On Steve’s suggestion, I also tried a Stabilizer on my Meridian CD player – to my protest that it already bore what the manufacturer describes as a “non-resonant” glass lid, he countered that he’d never come across a piece of glass that didn’t resonate! The Stabilizer’s presence does nothing for the player’s refined aesthetic, so I was really hoping that it wouldn’t work … but it did, improving bass coherence and overall definition, and it’s still in situ. Somewhere in that, I think, we have a working definition for the term “audiophile”!

Cone/Spike Grounding Bases

Four of the small Bases (7/8” diameter - $8.49 ea) went under each of my main isolation platforms to mate their spiked feet to the shelf, replacing small metal spike cups in each case. Not only do they have a purposeful and attractive look, but their natural ‘stiction’ helps to prevent them from sliding on smooth surfaces (as the spike cups had done). They have a huge weight capacity, with the large model able to support loudspeakers and audio racks up to 450 pounds, so a no-brainer for those needing to protect wooden or tiled floors (which they will not mark) and/or provide a degree of decoupling.

To be honest, I’d have happily kept these for their looks and practicality alone, and was disinclined to undergo the aggravation of removing them from beneath the CD player’s platform to confirm their effectiveness. It was abundantly clear just from resting a hand on it that the amount of vibration reaching the platform from its supporting shelf was significantly reduced. I did, though, take the trouble to do a formal before/after comparison when fitting them to the identical isolation platform under my turntable, and heard an obvious increase in resolution, a more open top end and tighter bass. Touching the platform again confirmed that vibration transmission (this time from an Aerolam shelf) had been reduced, to a similar degree as previously. Practical, cheap and effective – recommendations don’t come much easier!

Grungebuster Dots

A highly versatile method of vibration control, Grungebusters are heat-resistant and can effectively interface or decouple components over a very wide weight range. The list of potential applications is probably only limited by your imagination; one suggestion on Herbie’s website is to apply them to the flat side of cones, thus enabling the cone to work more efficiently! Both firm and compliant, the Dots naturally grip smooth surfaces and are offered in a wide variety of different sizes and thicknesses – starting at just $0.50 each – or in sheet form for cutting.

Steve recommended that these be placed underneath the CD player’s feet, and provided four Extra-Thick Dots ($2.45 for the 7/8” diameter – at just 1/8” thick, they do not advertise their presence in use) for the purpose. As the player was already sitting on a world-class isolation platform, effective enough that even Tenderfeet had offered no advantage, I was highly sceptical that any benefit could possibly result … but it was easy enough to position the dots and simply lift the player on and off them for comparison. And blow me down if they didn’t make the sound that little bit cleaner and tighten up the bass – both on their own, and especially in combination with the Supersonic Stabilizer on the CD player’s lid. Proof that, if one of these products doesn’t work well in a particular situation, another probably will.

HAL-O JR. Interconnect Dampers

I must admit, this one came out of left field; but if Steve says they work then I’m prepared to at least have a listen. Borrowing their general design from one of Herbie’s signature products, the Ultrasonic tube damper, cost is $25 per set of four and they can be applied to either or both ends of the cable. Different sizes are offered to cover the variety of audio connector types in use – and for its alternative application as a tonearm damper, which I must get around to trying as the concept makes sense to me. Having recently installed interconnects with plastic-bodied Eichmann Bullet Plugs, inherently less resonant than the oversized metal types, my confidence in hearing a difference was diminished still further. But these dampers are not only for the plugs – the cables themselves can transmit vibration (either airborne, or acquired from the connected components), which the dampers will help to combat. Space can become an issue if the sockets on your preamp are a little cramped and you’re using several inputs, though there’s usually a way to persuade them to fit. Inveterate tweakers will be thrilled at the possibility of trying them at various points along the RCA plug’s barrel; go for your lives, fellas, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I can hear anything at all!

While playing David Gray’s “As I’m Leaving” during a previous test, I’d spotted something that caused me to put it aside for later investigation, and now seemed like the time. At the end of the first verse, the bass enters in robust fashion (actually an electric bass doubled by piano, though that’s not strictly relevant) and I sensed a mild anomaly in those bass tones. Closely following the note’s initial attack there was a second gentle surge, like a faint echo, causing the leading edge to just perceptibly wobble – which I’d surmised could be caused by the transient energy being fed back into the replay chain. Having fitted dampers at both ends of the CD player’s interconnect cable, I repeated the track and the leading edge of those bass notes was now absolutely clean. The effect was repeatable as the dampers were installed and removed; removing only the pair at the CD player end (as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions, when using a single pair per cable) was still effective in eliminating the audible ‘echo’ effect, though two pairs gave the bass transient a more confident, assertive clarity. I also felt that I heard a fractionally enhanced smoothness to the overall presentation with the dampers in place, though couldn’t swear to it.

So, yes – I can say with confidence that the interconnect dampers worked in my system, even on the Eichmann plugs. Whether you’d hear anything in an otherwise untreated system I doubt; these products have a cumulative effect, in that removal of the grosser levels of interference allows more subtle issues to come to the surface. It takes a special kind of obsessive to pursue performance gains at this level, but I’m guessing we all know a few … and it keeps us off the streets!

Baby Booties

A thoroughly unprepossessing translucent blob, just ½” across and ¼” tall, these are the preferred footer for compact components (such as DACs) weighing up to 10 pounds. In my case, they were destined for the Linn Lingo power supply, whose half-width size and 3 pound weight suited them perfectly. After a recent relocation onto the main equipment rack, it was the only piece in my system that hadn’t received any additional isolation – though, at a cost of just $3.19 each (add 50c for adhesive, which I’d recommend as smaller/lighter items are more easily dislodged), I can’t say that my expectations for the Baby Booties were especially high.

Which serves me right for being a snob, because these were the biggest surprise of the whole test. Yes, the fact that they weren’t replacing another isolation product swung the odds in their favour, and the influence of the Lingo on the Linn Sondek’s sound is profound by any measure … but the transformation was pretty jaw-dropping! I could spend a paragraph listing the improvements in detail, but it wouldn’t tell you any more than a two-word observation from my listening notes – “better everything!” Resting a hand on top of the Lingo confirmed that much less vibration was getting through (though its highly resonant case also benefited greatly from a Supersonic Stabilizer on the lid, which I had in place during the testing). For a total outlay of around $13 (or $35 with the Stabilizer), that’s some ROI – the only tweak I’ve applied that was more cost-effective was a full system treatment of Caig DeOxit/ProGold … though that took me four hours and a lot of swearing, while the Baby Booties took 30 seconds! Seriously, if there’s anywhere in your set-up that you can utilize these, just do it.

Way Excellent II Turntable Mat

I haven’t previously been inclined to investigate alternative platter mats for my Linn – fear of invoking the Wrath of Ivor sufficient to keep me on the true path – but with Herbie’s offering their mat in a variety of thicknesses, one a direct replacement for the Linn (thus removing the common need for VTA adjustment), and Ivor temporarily distracted by the possibilities of streamed hi-rez … well, why not?!

Fitment took a matter of moments, thanks to the clear written instructions supplied. The mat (the thinnest in Herbie’s extensive range) is just fractionally less thick than the stock felt model; something I only noticed when it proved harder to get my fingers onto the edge of a couple of favourite LPs, though I can’t imagine any other grounds for concern. The effect it had on the sound was … well, complex! It’s been a while since I’ve had to make the distinction so bluntly, but my reaction typically differed between rock and classical music. With the latter, the changes wrought by the Way Excellent II Mat were predominantly for the better - the detail resolution and soundstaging precision in some orchestral favourites was astounding, easily the best I’ve heard. While the orchestra’s bass section had less weight than I’m used to, this actually brought it into better balance with the whole, and rhythmically it was more tightly connected. A ‘blacker’ background hinted at reduced tracking noise. The tonal balance, though, was clearly leaner than with the felt mat in place.

When the same effects were applied to contemporary music, my preference tended to swing back in the opposite direction. On the plus side, the improved resolution and soundstaging was still evident (though less vital to the overall sonic picture), while the ‘bouncier’ feel I recorded in my notes is probably better described as increased rhythmic drive! Yet, crucially, I heard the lighter, leaner balance as a lack of richness and a reduction in bottom-end fullness; a personal (and system-dependent) preference that I’m sure many others would not share. Perhaps I’m just betraying myself as a die-hard Linnie – after all, its signature upper bass warmth was part of what attracted many of us to the Sondek, and the Herbie’s mat changes that aspect of its character. Conversely, rhythmic potency has always been a Sondek specialty too, and the mat usefully enhances that.

Certainly I would have agonised over these questions for longer, had I not found one aspect of the mat awkward in use. Its white base material naturally adheres lightly to the metal platter, while the LP simply rests upon its dark elastomer surface and, when removing a record from the spinning platter, it generally lifted without difficulty or incident. However, on the odd occasion that I failed to grip and raise it cleanly (usually those slightly smaller-diameter records that don’t extend beyond the platter’s edge), there was sufficient lateral friction between LP and mat that the platter would jar and lurch alarmingly on its suspension. In the same situation, the stock felt mat spins freely on the platter. Those using the thicker mats, blessed with greater dexterity than I, whose turntable does not have a sprung subchassis or who stop the platter between records, will not experience it.

However jumbled my impressions, there is much to admire in the Way Excellent II. It is, as with all of the Herbie’s products supplied, flawlessly constructed and fitted the LP12’s platter with absolute precision, nestling up to its raised outer edge. It displayed qualities of true excellence and, for those systems and owners who appreciate its tonal balance, would likely prove to be a revelation. Offered in a comprehensive range of sizes and thicknesses, and at prices (starting from $60) that undercut its obvious competition, anyone looking to sample an aftermarket mat would be well advised to start here.

The Black Hole CD Mat

The Black Hole is a self-adhesive, flat elastomer ring that you apply to the label side of a CD or DVD, around the spindle hole. Its effectiveness is claimed to derive not from improved reading of the disc (as with most similar products), but from reducing micro-vibrations arising at the disc/clamp interface; that vibration permeates the player, affecting its sensitive electronics. Instances of incompatibility with either players or discs are rare, but check the website just to be sure. Application proved simple, and quickly became more so with practice. Its modest cost ($19.45 for 10, decreasing with larger quantities) is, in reality, reduced still further by the possibility of removing and re-applying it many times – even when its mild adhesive is entirely depleted, the Black Hole will still grip the disc by natural ‘stiction’. Hence, you will never have to leave it on a disc that it fails to improve.

Not that I think there will be too many of those. Yes, I did encounter some variability in the results – though never a disc whose sound got worse! – but typically observed an improvement in resolution, bass articulation and transient ‘snap’, along with a cleaner, more relaxed and natural presentation. It wasn’t night and day (though some users have reported amazing results – a lot may depend on the CD player itself), but it was certainly worthwhile. The chance to make many of our favourite discs sound better for such a small outlay is one that few of us would knock back, I suspect.

When I first queried these with Steve Herbelin, he explained that they’re not a product he actively promotes; the cost of production is such that there’s virtually no margin, so he essentially sells them as a service to existing customers. On which basis, I can only suggest that you spoil Steve’s day by ordering a few!

Conclusion

While my intention was to provide a decent introduction to Herbie’s Audio Lab’s products, I really haven’t done much more than scratch the surface of their extensive range. I hope, though, that you’ve garnered some ideas to apply to your own system. Yes, the cautionary note sounded earlier still holds good – there is no ‘magic bullet’ where this stuff is concerned, and the optimum solution will depend on each precise situation. But everything about the company, their products and the science behind them inspired my confidence. There is no luck involved in the way that they work, and I have to think that they are inherently more likely to prove effective across a wider range of applications then most competing products. Although the need for experimentation is consistently promoted, I was very encouraged with just how effective the “best guess” set-up adopted at the beginning of the test proved to be; based as it was largely on recommendations from Herbie’s website. Sure, I could tweak the configuration until the cows come home if I were so inclined, and when the dust settles I probably will, but if that’s not your style then you can still expect excellent results just by following the company’s suggestions.

As noted throughout the review, the prices of these products are very modest in view of their high quality and effectiveness. The need to use them in multiples (like the 16 Tenderfeet deployed in my system) does see the cost start to add up … though, as the incomparable Oscar Wilde observed, cost and value are different things. All of these items have a lifetime warranty, and their effectiveness will not deteriorate in use. Their very broad weight-bearing ranges mean that, even as your system changes over time, you are unlikely to need to replace them. Above all, though, they will allow the audio components that you’ve already sunk big bucks into to work at much closer to their true capability. I was speaking to an enthusiast recently who was ecstatic at the improvement an $800 isolation platform had brought to his $15,000 preamp. I cite this example only to illustrate my point; a small outlay to unleash the performance you’ve already paid for makes much more sense than another costly component upgrade. And if, in these challenging economic times, upgrades are currently off your agenda then this is manna from Heaven!

If the lengths to which audiophiles will go in combating the evils of vibration initially appear strange and obsessive, that’s because it is a battle which, like the pursuit of high fidelity itself, has no obvious end. It does, though, have an obvious start. Go to the Herbie’s Audio Lab website, browse their extensive range of products and purchase a few. There’s no risk, as they have a generous 90-day refund policy for any products that you might choose to return. Bet you don’t!

Equipment

Analogue: Linn LP12 / Lingo PS / Ittok LVII / Audio Technica OC30
Digital: Meridian 507
Amplification: Custom-built AC Magnum dual mono P200 pre and power
Speakers: Acoustat Spectra 1100 hybrid electrostatics (modified)
Cables: MAC Ultrasilver+, Mystic and Palladium i/c’s, Ultimate Cables Silver C4 (speaker), Acoustic Zen Matrix Ref 2 i/c, MAC HC and Digital power cords
Accessories: Sound Mechanics Performance isolation platforms (on each source component) / Target & Sound Organisation stands / Aerolam, RATA & Mission shelves / Vibrapods / Eichmann Toppers

Manufacturer’s website

Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan.

{ 1 trackback }

Herbie’s Audio Lab — Vibration Isolation Products | Shablogs
01.27.09 at 10:03 am

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

admin 01.27.09 at 9:47 am

Nicely done, Andy. You did Herbie proud!

Good support does make a difference. Nice to see gear do as advertised and relatively inexpensively.

Cheers, a

Matt 01.28.09 at 6:23 am

I’m seriously considering replacing the tea towel under my cd player with some of those baby booties!

Andy Fawcett 01.28.09 at 6:51 am

Matt - is that the same tea towel you previously had under your speakers, or have you been investing in more as funds allow? ;-) (those unfamiliar with Matt’s matchless forum posts can ignore that one.) You could always check with Steve whether he’d do you a trade-in on it …

admin 01.28.09 at 6:57 am

Matt’s tea towel!! ROFL!!

Best comment. Ever. Matt, you’re the best!

Cheers, a

Matt 01.28.09 at 8:55 am

Oh, I have many tea towels, each with their own sonic character :-D

I’d previously stacked the cd player directly on top of the amplifier, not ideal I know. A few of those baby booties might be just the job until I get a proper hi-fi rack.

Martin Appel 02.03.09 at 8:36 am

Hi Andy, thorough job on the Herb’s products. I purchased the large tenderfeet and placed them under the Marantz cd player and preamp. Nice suprise. The clarifying effects you described were replicated in my rig as well. I will be trying more under other equipment in the near future.

Andy Fawcett 02.03.09 at 9:23 am

Very pleased to hear that, Marty - thanks for having the faith to give them a go. It will be interesting to see whether they prove equally effective in the other applications you have planned for them.

admin 02.03.09 at 9:33 am

I’ll be interested to hear the differences at our Audiophilia NYC mini summit in May.

Cheers, a

Russ 02.09.09 at 4:49 pm

Hi Andy,

Interesting article and observations.

Personally, I’ve used anti-vibration ‘gizmos’ over a period of time and found them to be effective, but not to any ’startling’ extent.

At this point in time, I have 2 sets of Black Diamond Racing cones under my pre and power amps, that I think do a decent job in minimising any unwanted vibrations between the two components.

But cable/interconnect dampers ??????????

That, in my opinion, would rank right up there with other snake oil products like Shun Mook Mpingo discs etc.

Obviously, I’d be happy to be proved wrong…………..so after you’ve reached your own conclusion about their ‘worth’, please send me a set (for my own trials) and I’ll eat my hat if my statement about snake oil was premature or inaccurate.

Sceptically yours,

Russ.

admin 02.09.09 at 7:33 pm

Hey, a call out on Audiophilia. A first! Go get him, Andy ;)

Russ, when did you (not) hear the Shun Mook and in what context? Thanks. And welcome.

Cheers, a

Andy Fawcett 02.10.09 at 4:37 am

Thanks for the feedback, Russ. If you haven’t had ’startling’ results with isolation products, maybe you haven’t used the right ones yet! As I explained, they cannot all be tarred with the same brush, and decoupling your components could (I stress, could) prove much more effective than the cones. That said, my experience suggests that source components have much the greatest need of isolation - get that right and you will certainly be startled!

I was also sceptical about the interconnect dampers, but I explained my methodology in detail and the results were repeatedly verified. Unlike the ’snake oil’ products you mention, there is a plausible explanation of exactly what these dampers are tackling and how they do it. As I wrote, it’s very unlikely that you’d hear their contribution until thorough treatment of the rest of the system raised this subtle effect to audibility. Perhaps their appeal rests with the lunatic fringe … suffice to say, I shall be purchasing more of them! ;)

All the best, Andy

Martin Appel 02.11.09 at 8:51 am

Hi Andy. In addition to my preamp and SACD player I have TENDERFEET under my four Nuforce amps. The total benefits were equal to your description and I thank you for making the audiophile community aware of this company’s products….

Increases in clarity, body, seperation, soundstaging with an improvement in the natural rendition of sonics were all achieved in my system. They are so worth it.

admin 02.11.09 at 9:14 am

You’ll have to give us some blind testing when we get down to NYC in May.

Cheers, a

Andy Fawcett 02.12.09 at 4:16 am

Great to hear, thanks Marty. It is very easy to get excited about these products and what they do. I’d expected that ‘digital’ amps might be less susceptible to the ill-effects of vibration, but from your experience it seems not.

“Blind testing” in NYC in May, Anthony? Blind drunk testing, more like … ;-p

Steve Herbelin 02.22.09 at 12:57 pm

Russ, it’s not so much the interconnects themselves that benefit from damping; rather, it’s the internal components’ capacitors, op-amps, tubes, and other sensitive electronic parts that are susceptible to distortions caused by micro-vibrations. Damping the interconnects prevents some micro-vibrations from permeating into the component and from being transferred from one component to another. Interconnects can be very efficient conduits for transferring micro-vibrations; damping them generally helps with overall component isolation. Musical/electronic distortions caused by micro-vibrations are a real phenomenon, and isolating components from their influence is a worthwhile venture for the discerning listener.

Bruce 05.05.09 at 12:26 am

I have had Herbie’s dampers on all my tubes for several years now & consider them to be a great low-cost tweak. Nothing earth shaking, but a blacker background, a bit more detail and an improvement in dynamics. For the price, they are pretty much a gift. Looking forward to trying out more of their product line.

Bruce 05.12.09 at 10:40 pm

After reading the above review, I decided to dig a little deeper into Herbie’s bag of tricks. The effect of placing tenderfeet under my Unison Unico was not trivial. More like what I got when I went from a pedestrian interconnecct to Siltech.

Tighter, warmer and better articulated bass. Percussion is better defined. Overall improvement in pacing. More overall detail. My system already handled harmonies and vocals in general very well, but that has improved as well.

$50 bucks for this? It’s grand larceny. I have Finite Elemente Ceraballs supporting my CD player, I might just sell them and get more tenderfeet. Anyone who delivers this kind of value deserves the business.

Andy Fawcett 05.15.09 at 6:13 am

Thanks for the feedback, Bruce. I was sufficiently inspired by this stuff to want to get the message out to fellow enthusiasts, and it’s always gratifying when others react the same way.

New Web Address 03.03.10 at 8:39 pm

Hi, Herbie’s Audio Lab’s new website address is:

http://herbiesaudiolab.net

Thanks,

Steve Herbelin
Herbie’s Audio Lab

Andy Fawcett 03.05.10 at 3:47 am

And very nice the new site is looking too, Steve.

It’s well worth revisiting Herbies’ website periodically, there’s usually something new and thought-provoking to peruse.

Bruce 12.30.10 at 1:21 am

Recently added Herbie’s decouplers on my speaker spikes, I expected a significant performance gain & got one. What surprised me was the difference dampers made on my Acoustic Zen XLR interconnects. Yikes. Bang for the buck on these is off the charts. I guess interconnects are inherently microphonic, and the dampers mitigate this. Steve offers truly outstanding value, and he stands behind his products. Great stuff.

admin 12.30.10 at 12:02 pm

Glad you heard a difference, Bruce. Andy loves them. All the best. Cheers, a

Gordon 11.17.12 at 6:57 pm

Wow, Herbie’s site does look good these days.
I wonder…. will the IC dampers fit and work on XLR cables too?
Anyone tried them?

paulo 11.30.12 at 5:25 pm

very interesting review..any advices which herbie thingies i need for the folowing audio rig per unit?:

hifiman hm602 mp3 player (source) via line out:

darkvoice 337, 18kg heavy, tube amp, dual mono:

short copper cable from Double Helix Cables between source and amp (mini headphone to dual rca) with Valab carbon rhodium hollow connectors:

Atacama Equinox hi-fi base rack on spikes with decoupling bases under them:
each shelf (2 shelves total) is decoupled by 4 super small rubberish? feet, the shelves themselves are of some kind of dark grey ‘dead’ fibre themselves (not glass)

Double Helix cables quicksilver copper headphone cable with Furutech 704 connector:

headphone hifiman he500

thanks for ur advice!
all the best
Paulo Coelho from the netherlands

Andy Fawcett 12.01.12 at 7:39 pm

My experience barely scratches the surface of Herbies’ product range, Paulo. It can certainly be a bit daunting working your way through all the options, but if you send that list to Steve Herbelin (website address is a few comments above) I’m sure he’d be happy to provide specific recommendations.

Reading back, I realise that over the few years since this review, my system has changed almost entirely … yet all of the Herbies items are still deployed, and performing as effectively as they did on Day One. Says a lot for the value proposition.

paulo 12.09.12 at 9:36 pm

thanks Andy, for ur reply…i will forward my question to him..

by the way..i just ordered 4 extra-firm tenderfeet for my amp.. and 4 baby footies for my mp3 player to start with..
now i have to find out what i need next:-) but first i need to get my 6 new pairs of tubes in..they are still on their way..:-( to find best pair..and then buy the right dampeners…and then the rack..cables ….and so on

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