Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Power Conditioning
VSE Tri-Orbs Lite Standard

Vibration/Damping Control Without Compromise

Brett Rudolph

2 July 2003


Vibration/Damping Platform
Single - $295, Set of Three - $795

Van Slyke Engineering
12815 Porcupine Lane
Colorado Springs, CO 80908
Telephone: 1.719.495.3828
24 Hour FAX: 1.719.495.3828

Bare Essentials

I am certainly no engineer. I don't even claim the credentials to make an informed scientific hypothesis on why things work the way they do, and sound the way they sound. I very happily leave that to the "professionals" and instead, I concern myself with the end results. The interesting creations that are the subject of this review, the Tri-Orbs by Van Slyke Engineering, are no exception. There is much to be said about the ease of setup and installation, but what I want to get to, is the synergy between the Tri-Orbs and my components. It was nothing short of amazing.

On the day they arrived, I opened the box to find a few metal stand-looking things, a few balls, and O-rings for holding the whole setup together. Putting them together was relatively straightforward. The directions in the box were very simple and made the setup easy. About the only thing left to the owner's choice was an informed decision about which O-rings should be used for the best results. This decision depended on the weight of the component or components to be placed on top of them. Different O-rings required for various weights and sizes are included.

The manual suggests that if you stack components, the heavier the load, the fewer Tri-Orbs you'll need. I must admit that while somewhat contrary to many philosophies, given the nature of these Tri-Orbs, it made some sense. The more weight, the less the units actually vibrate and therefore, the less vibration that ultimately needs to be absorbed by the Tri-Orbs.

The manual also suggests that the Tri-Orbs should not be placed under the feet of a component. Instead, they should be placed in contact with the body of the component where possible, again in an attempt to neutralize vibrations more effectively. In my system, this turned out to be a boon since the combined height of the Tri-Orbs and certain components left little clearance. Had I needed to use them under the equipment feet I might have run into trouble. One thing I found though, was once you place the component on top of the Tri-Orbs, they tend to twist. You might have to lift the component a few times and find the right place to position it so this doesn't happen. Also, some parts of a component or product are heavier than others and you might have to reposition the Tri-Orbs for optimal weight distribution. This whole process is really quite simple, though a little time consuming. But once you get the hang of it, you'll find it doesn't take that long at all.

The first component that I tried the Tri-Orbs on was the Pioneer Elite DV-047A. If you read some of my other reviews, you might notice that I love to "pick" on this particular component. Although I have used it for quite some time to do many software reviews of standard "red book" CD, SACD and DVD-A formats, it does have certain drawbacks.

One of this component's biggest drawbacks is its lightweight construction. This creates a greater risk of compromised quality of playback caused by room vibrations and internal vibrations. Sometimes even loud passages from a disc can decrease its audio and video quality noticeably. Luckily, once I installed the Tri-Orbs these problems almost disappeared entirely. It seemed like the unit was being suspended on an air platform and the vibrations caused far less performance degradation than I had seen and heard previously. It became possible to hear more subtle details in SACDs, details that I had only heard on far more expensive units.

For example, on Mark Levinson's Live Recordings at Red Rose Music - Volume One [Red Rose Music RRM 01], track six is entitled "Twenty-Third Psalm," with the Twenty-Third Psalm recited by Shane Cattral, and accompanied by Mark Levinson playing the Japanese & Korean temple bells. The closer you listen to this track, the more detail you tend to notice. Without the Tri-Orbs, it seemed as though the bells simply lost definition and clarity. By comparison, with the Tri-Orbs present, the ringing of the bells didn't get softer; rather the ring's decay became more noticeable, with distinguishable tonal changes.

On the same recording, the first track, "In a Sentimental Mood," is played by Chico Freeman on the tenor sax, and George Cables on the piano. Without the Tri-Orbs, the passage is well done, a superb example of just how good an excellent recording can sound with the SACD format. But usage of the Tri-Orbs allowed this recording to demonstrate even greater detail. For instance, sound of people talking in the background while the music plays, became extremely evident. In fact, by paying close enough attention, you will hear Mr. Cables' laugh at some point during his piano performance.

I'd like to mention another of the Tri-Orb's benefits to the Pioneer player before discussing its performance with other equipment. Until this point, I have mentioned only the audio benefits of the Tri-Orbs. There were, in fact, video improvements as well. For example, when I used The Fifth Element - Superbit Edition [Columbia Pictures] as a reference DVD, there was a marked improvement in color saturation when played with the Tri-Orbs installed. The picture appeared more lifelike and three-dimensional, with more detail in brighter and darker scenes alike. It was so pronounced that when a friend stopped by and watched the movie with me, they asked if I had purchased a new DVD player because the picture and sound were amazing compared to the last time they experienced it with me.

From DVD to Amplifier

The act of removing the Tri-Orbs from the Pioneer DV-047A was actually difficult for me. I had grown very fond of the improved performance, so much so that I have been unable to use the player with much satisfaction without the Tri-Orbs in place. If I hadn't had another SACD player, I might not have done it at all, at least not as willingly. Unfortunately for my Pioneer, I did move the Tri-Orbs to one of my amplifiers-my Sunfire Signature Stereo Amplifier. As I explained earlier, this required switching O-rings, since the amplifier is much heavier than the DVD player. Once I completed adjusting the setup-which took about 5 minutes-I placed the 3 Tri-Orbs under the amplifier.

I didn't notice a comparable change when I began using the Tri-Orbs on the amplifier. In fact, unlike with the DVD player, it took several hours of extremely critical listening to notice any substantial change. However, over time I did notice that passages seemed to contain more detail and were slightly more holographic in nature. When I played the same track from the Red Rose album, "Twenty-Third Psalm," not only could I hear the decay as before (using a different SACD player of course), I could also hear the almost wavering tones of the bells as they began their decay. I could almost feel the impact as the bells were struck again and developed into their full glory.

Another SACD title I used during my evaluation was Hilary Hahn's "Brahms Stravinsky Violin Concertos" [Sony Classical SS89649]. In my opinion, this particular album is exceptionally well done, and is a good way to hear increased detail and performance in a system. The addition of the Tri-Orbs to the amplifier allowed the music to achieve greater coherence. While it didn't change the overall nature of the music, it did increase my general enjoyment by allowing the somewhat difficult passages of violin music to seem more lifelike and genuine. They also allowed for a better overall sense of involvement and a richer listening experience. It didn't improve the performance of the amp as much as it did the DVD player, but the improvement was much appreciated. In fact, using the Tri-Orbs improved the amplifier's fidelity enough to move it into another class of performance in my view.

Little Things go a Long Way

Admittedly, I did try the Tri-Orbs on several other components in my reference system, with varying degrees of success. I found that the addition of the Tri-Orbs tended to increase the inherent capabilities of a particular component, not create something that was new. Using them under my Philips SACD player made it sound slightly better; however, it was already doing a good job at vibration dampening, thanks to its substantial chasis, before I started using the Tri-Orbs. Likewise, placing them under my Lexicon preamp didn't produce enough of a change for me to justify using it on that component, though according to the company, their ultimate version might. I intend to review these later.

Ultimately, I believe I was somewhat spoiled by the Tri-Orbs performance in conjunction with the Pioneer DV-047A. It became very difficult to impartially judge the subtle improvements in various components when the improvement was so spectacular under the Pioneer. However, like many system tweaks, I will tell you there were definite improvements that would likely justify their purchase for use on many parts of the audio and video system.

While the cost of these small platforms might appear to be high, their improvements in my tests justify their purchase and use. To my mind, when a product can take a DVD player or amplifier to a higher tier of performance, without a corresponding increase in cost, there is a definite reason to try that product. Luckily, if you don't find the same type of improvement in your own system, the company has a money-back guarantee. See the website for more details.

Of course you know that once I've concluded this review, the Tri-Orbs will move straight back to their home under my Pioneer. Although I have done reviews of higher priced and perhaps better performing universal players, the truth is that even the combined price of the Pioneer unit and the Tri-Orbs make it a contender against anything I've used. I would absolutely recommend, to anyone looking to improve their system radically, that they try these little platforms before trying anything else.























































VSE Tri-Orbs Lite Standard