Random Noise 06
Before we get to Nordost’s new “Resonance Control Devices,” I’ll mention three audio-component-isolation systems I’ve used that more or less share a feature Quasar Points ignore.
When my principal electronics consisted of a pair of Mark Levinson 33H amps and 390S CD player, they sat on Silent Running Audio platforms. Those readers familiar with SRA know that, with an economy-grade exception, Kevin Tellekamp’s product line is conceived and executed to precisely comply with the dimensions, weight and weight distribution of the units it supports. Little in high-end audio can compare to SRA with respect to fit and finish. When I sold the ML amps and player, their matte-black SRA pieces were part of the deal. I hated to see them go –– the platforms, I mean. Parting with the player and amps gave me no qualms.
At the other end of the cost-scale we have VibraPod / VibraCone combos. The VibraPod comes in several weight-bearing versions. Whether as trios or quartets, the VibraPod / VibraCone twosome approximates a component’s weight. The Pods and Cones can also be implemented one without the other. I used them in combination.
The EquaRack Multi-Mount Footers I covered in Random Noise 2 are likewise configured to the weight and weight distribution of the component a quartet supports. (Their designer-manufacturer recommends against trios.) For more about these fine devices, see my review.
I’ve also used Golden Sound’s graphite-composite DH Squares and glazed porcelain DH Cones, which, like the Quasar Points, pay no mind to component-weight relationships. A recent addition to Golden Sound’s line, a 12-1/2 x 17-1/2-inch DH graphite-composite pad, remains under my Integris CDP.
Very well then: each in its way, three design schemes from opulent to low-cost basic –– SRA platforms, EquaRack Multi-Mount Footers, VibraPod / VibraCone combos –– observe the same principle. Their designers see effective acoustic isolation depending in good measure on conformity to a component’s weight.
So then, in contradiction, the items under scrutiny: three quartets of Nordost’s Quasar Points, one set of which is said to be capable of supporting up to 220 pounds. My V2 versions of NuForce’s Reference 9 SE mono amps weigh seven pounds each. My Integris CDP is considerably heavier but nowhere near boat-anchor range. Is the user instructed to adapt or adjust a Quasar Point quartet to lesser or greater weight-bearing tasks?
That’s not a judgment; a fact rather, to which I hasten to tack an opinion. Nordost’s Quasar Points bring an improvement to my sound system’s performance –– maybe the best yet. (It’s unlikely I’ll have an opportunity to compare the QPs with SRA’s component-specific platforms. I should also mention that I used one set only of EquaRack Multi-Mount Footers, under the CDP. The NuForce amps sat on VibraPod / VibraCone combos. With three sets of QP quartets in place –– CDP and amps –– I’m hearing a uniform application working to the system’s advantage. As a final aside, Nordost makes another isolation system it calls Pulsar Points. Quasar Points: QPs. Pulsar Points: PPs? There are times reviewer-coined abbreviations are best avoided.)
As you can see by the picture, a cone-shaped QP amounts to a top, bottom, and ball bearing. Couldn’t be simpler. Nordost takes over: “…Each Quasar Point consists of an upward facing base cone with a recessed smooth hemispherical top. This is designed to house a ball bearing which provides isolation between both halves […]. The top piece uses a similar recessed hemispherical contoured design on the bottom of the cone, allowing this to mate with the ball bearing. This design provides superb isolation through the minimal contact made by the ball bearing to the two cones. The top cone has a flat surface so equipment may sit directly on top of it. The cones are precision machined from military spec aluminum which has a very narrow resonance point and is superior to steel, brass, carbon fiber and other composites used in traditional cones and spikes. Each part is black anodized for a uniform smooth surface finish. The unique contra point and contoured support mechanism coupled with the isolation of a ball bearing lowers low-level mechanical noise to vanishing low levels.”
If we’re to believe Nordost’s statement, a diminutive set of QPs would have supported a 200-pound ML 33H mono amp. (I offer that as a disinterested aside. No way would I and a buddy or two have attempted such a maneuver.) Two hundred pounds compared to seven atop identical foursomes: what is one to make of Nordost’s disdain of weight differentials? I can best answer by observing that tweaking for better sound bears a curious resemblance to love-making techniques. Any number of variations can lead to a happy conclusion. Kindly note “can.” Not all do. Indeed, but here happiness reigns. I’m hearing a difference for the better: superior focus and definition, a firmer, smoother, squeaky-clean low midrange and bass, exquisite soundstage distribution, superior microdynamics. Not that any of these qualities were markedly shabby heretofore. With tweaks, it’s a question of degree.
The audiophile’s mantra: Any change for the better is huge.
The audiophile’s wake-up call: a set of four Quasar Points lists for $200. (Actually, $199.99. The ubiquitous cent-less-than-round-number figure is one of marketing’s sillier conventions. Sillier still is gasoline pricing’s nine-tenths-of-a-cent suffix. Don’t get me started on the Electoral College….)
It cannot be helped: another enthusiastic word about avant-garde jazz pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. (For my first expressions of delight, see Random Noise 5’s Recommended Recordings.) ECM issued Abaton, the two-disc set here covered, in 2003 (ECM 1838 / 39). Not a problem, the label keeps its releases current. Would that more did.
Disc One offers four Courvoisier compositions featuring the composer as pianist, with Mark Feldman, violin; and Eric Friedlander, cello. One of the works, Poco a poco, omits Friedlander. Disc Two consists of nineteen improvisations performed by Courvoisier, Feldman and Friedlander ranging in length from 1:04 to 4:04.
Positioning Courvoisier in jazz’s avant-garde is more a matter of convenience than spot-on accuracy. She’s one of those rare birds who flourishes outside of pigeon holes. She’s also one of those rare non-classical birds who’s obviously aware of twentieth-century art music’s leading-edge developments, which she applies with subtle individuality.
The set’s two discs are as remarkable for their similarities as for their differences. Courvoisier’s Romantic, mercurial, at times tempestuous temperament makes frequent appearances among her exquisitely crafted compositions, which is not to say that the piano dominates. Indeed, the composer-performer’s preference for integration over domination stands as one of her music’s salient characteristics.
As much as I enjoy the four compositions (Ianicum, Orodruin, Poco a poco, and Abaton), I’m utterly smitten with the 19 improvisations. The delightfully epigrammatic, often humorous, again as often passionate pieces are performed so seamlessly well that it’s difficult for me to accept that they are improvisations. I’ll go on faith, which is really the appropriate term inasmuch as the three participants operate as virtuoso soulmates. Manfred Eicher’s lovely production, engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, took place in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in September, 2002.
Pianist Margaret Leng Tan emailed me recently to remind me of a comment in a review I wrote I can’t recall how many years ago –– at least seven, probably longer. I wondered whether she had a future as a vocalist. (I’ve also forgotten what occasioned the remark.) Anyway, the e-correspondence led to the present review of a recent release, New Albion NA 134, entitled Lost Style. The music is by a Chinese composer residing in the US, Ge Gan-ru. Having survived the Cultural Revolution and a “re-education” labor-camp stretch, Ge developed an interest in Western art music’s avant-garde. For solo cello, the title work, Lost Style, engages in heavily camouflaged references to aspects of traditional, pre-Mao Chinese music with, ironically, the farthest-out new-music gestures a cello can make. Among mavens, this kind of thing is generally referred to as extended technique.
Four Studies of Peking Opera, performed by pianist Kathryn Woodard and the Shanghai String Quartet, and Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!, written for Margaret Leng Tan’s voice and a toy orchestra she operates solo, are excellent recent recordings engineered by, respectively, Tom Lazarus and Joel Gordon. Alas, cellist Frank Su Huang’s Lost Style performance suffers from an inept 1983 Shanghai production. To make its point effectively, a recording of an edgy new-music solo calls for up-close intimacy in order to capture the work’s novelties, harmonic complexities, microdynamic bits, and the like. Maybe, some day, another try….
Meanwhile, as they say on the baseball diamond, two out of three ain’t bad. Like its companion pieces, Four Studies of Peking Opera alludes obliquely to Chinese tradition. Here, however, the music’s modernistic aspects defer somewhat to an array of beautifully expressed sentiments. For example, the second of four parts, entitled Aria, works its way through a gorgeous, bittersweet melody at least as reminiscent of Western opera as not. The writing throughout is handsome, subtle and quite affecting. Woodard and the Shanghai Quartet’s performances sound to me in perfect accord with the music’s intent.
I emailed Margaret that on first hearing Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! her vocal part actually scared me. Think of a shaman high on magic mushrooms –– and anything but shy. I also asked whether her simultaneous manipulation of the toy orchestra was a real-time event or had it been necessary to lay down a track or two. No. She performs the piece live pretty much as recorded. Quite a feat. The words are Lu You’s, a twelfth-century Chinese poet. The squeaky, wheezy, tappy, variously tinkly orchestra’s toy piano, toy glockenspiel, toy table harp, cup-gongs, toy accordion, gourd rattle, plastic hammer, plastic flute, cricket boxes, and foot-stomps contribute nicely to a where-in-the-world-am-I experience. Again, quite a feat: amusing and deliciously weird. And, for the adventuresome, not to be missed.
Don’t forget to bookmark us! (CTRL-SHFT-D)
Stereo Times Masthead
Frank Alles, Mike Girardi, Key Kim, Russell Lichter, Terry London, Moreno Mitchell, Paul Szabady, Bill Wells, Mike Wright, Stephen Yan, and Rob Dockery
David Abramson, Tim Barrall, Dave Allison, Ron Cook, Lewis Dardick, Dan Secula, Don Shaulis, Greg Simmons, Eric Teh, Greg Voth, Richard Willie, Ed Van Winkle, and Rob Dockery
Carlos Sanchez, John Jonczyk, John Sprung and Russell Lichter
Site Management Clement Perry
Ad Designer: Martin Perry