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ERaudio Space Harmonisers - Part 2

MORE SPACE, less heed

[ERaudio Space Harmoniser]
[Italian version]

Product: ERaudio Space Harmonisers
Manufacturer: ERaudio - Russia; do check out their site for cute animation
UK distribution: RPM Audio
UK prices:
SpaceHarmoniser (medium) equipment support is 149.00 (180 euro outside UK);
The large (aka loudspeaker) supports (1-Pair) is 265.00 (250 euro outside UK)
ERaudio steel Isolation cones (set of four) are 29.00
Dimensions: medium 290mm x 470mm x 29mm supports 30 kg
Large 380mm x 610mm x 35mm supports 50kg
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: October 2004 - March 2005

In part 1 (go on and read it, you know you really want to) I described how ERaudio Space Harmonisers are a different concept in audio support platforms. ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers are not conventional audio support platforms that typically attempt to damp vibration or isolate equipment from vibration by a selection of devices and materials that would not look out of place in medieval alchemy or apothecary. The SpaceHarmonisers make very different claims that do not display the usual hokum of snake-oil & fairy-dust (thanks for the latter phrase to Thorsten), but equally enigmatically do not attempt to explain how they work. I will begin by reminding readers that they do seem to make a difference under everything I tried in part 1, but I only preferred the difference with half the items tried.

I feel under pressure to write a review that comes to a definite "right" vs "wrong" or "good" vs "bad" conclusion, one that says either "this is splendid & the best & will make your hifi sing & your penis larger" or "this is garbage and not worth the money & buying it will make your testicles shrink". Neither of these is true, and you will note the solely masculine references because gender orientated music experience is significant here. Left-brain dominated linear thought might automatically dismiss the desirability of purely subjective effects in an audio system, and this mode of thought is often characterised as masculine . Right-brain touchy-feely intuitive stuff might embrace these ideas especially when they invite the non-material esoteric realm of phenomena, regardless of accuracy or measurement, which is often described as a feminine response. Having said that, most women are too sensible to entertain the idea of spending that much money on some planks to make the hifi more musical.

The SpaceHarmonisers do not control resonances by converting vibrational energy into heat like most "damping" products. Neither do they claim to isolate audio gear from vibration by airbags, solid-springs or sky-hooks. The Space Harmonisers make no such claims. ERaudio do not promise magic phenomena through copious application of pixie dust either. So what do they do to justify 180-250euro for cedar shelves? ERaudio wisely make very few explainations or justifications for what the SpaceHarmonisers are supposed to do to your system and say nothing about the physics involved.

Their vagueness might either imply that either it's all a deception or perhaps that they do not really know how they work either. Valery Pankov, President of ERaudio, coined the phrase "Resonance Reproduction" to describe the effect and the principle. This is an anathema to all the principles of accuracy and fidelity to the original signal that has fuelled the progress of much of this hobby for over 60 years. Contrary to this we also have a 30 year history of tension between divergent subjectivist and objectivist pathways, both claiming to lead to enlightenment.

I described how they are made and what they look like in part 1, and even how they came to exist in the first place. Valery's claim that the SpaceHarmonisers "increase the involvement into the listening process" implies psychoacoustic mechanisms at work rather than purely mechanical, be it vibrational behaviour in solid or air. Psychoacoustic phenomena are merely the relationship between the physical properties of sounds received by our bodies (not just our ears) and the neurological processes involved in converting those audio signals into an experience with meaning. This involves the conversion of sound into electrical signals in our nervous system, which is then processed by our brain. The journey from the physical property of compression & rarefaction of air molecules to noticing a violin is playing (or noticing that a twig breaks behind us in a darkenned forest) is a long and complicated one that is performed in microseconds, and involves drawing on myriad sources of information within our own internal system and comparing it with other information inputs (like vision) and stored experience. And you thought listening to music is easy?

The idea that a platform can "redistribute" the emphases on specific frequencies being processed (in whatever electrical, electronic or electromechanical way) by the component it supports would seem ludicrous if it weren't for the obvious tonal differences between electric guitars with identical pickups, or even two of the same model with different body materials. Many perfectly sane electronic manufacturers go to great effort to minimise vibrational effects on electronic components, be they hifi or industrial control systems or measuring equipment or whatever. From this hypothesis, the audio-support, instead of merely being designed to minimise the effects of vibration, could be designed selectively to affect the frequencies in a harmonic series rather than a numeric series. Assuming, for a moment for the sake of argument, that this is possible, the question arises whether this is desirable. So much is possible in the realms of science and engineering, but not all of it is desirable.

Valery Pankov makes the point that what these platforms do relates as much to human hearing as to anything else. I would question whether there really are "frequencies that positively affect human hearing and ... negatively perceived ones" and suspect that it is the relationship between combinations of frequencies that affect whether they are perceived as positive or negative. Valery's analogy with violin soundboards is more revealing of effects in terms of harmonic relationships than any specific group of good & bad frequencies. Hifi enthusiasts have been raised to believe that an audio system should treat every frequency with equanaimity if it is to make any pretence to "high fidelity" and yet here is an audio product that claims the opposite.

ERaudio descibe how the SpaceHarmonisers' effects are supposed to be cumulative, that the speakers should be treated first and then the source components, and finally amplification. They maintain that treatment of source components will be more noticeable after the speakers have been treated first, and again this flies in the face of modern audio received wisdom. Ever since the late 1970s the mottos have been "front end first" and "garbage in - garbage out". The idea that the speaker could do anything more than convert as much as possible of the electrical signal into sound, adding or subtracting as little as posible in the process, has become the dominant hegenomy. The SpaceHarmoniser is a product that claims to begin with the soundfield and work backwards. Another heresy to the audio community. Valery Pankov is either foolish to challenge these doctrines or very sure that he may be the begetter of a paradigm shift.

I do hear very distinct effects as I described in part 1, some of these effects I like and some I do not. The chap at enjoythemnusic.com can't have read the instructions and hence heard very little difference. If he had placed the rubber nipples on his rack-top he might have heard a little difference, but if he'd put the steel cones points upward into the plank itself as close as possible to the corners (refered to as "angles" in the instructions - hence the confusion) he might have heard something, good or bad. I too tried the points-into-rubber configuration, out of curiousity, and I too heard nothing in this mode, so don't do it that way. I am surprised to hear as much as I do which is why I requested 2 more small platforms to experiment further and I am very glad I did. I do not find the effects quite as cumulative as descibed by Valery. I do find that the nature of any changes are similar in some respects on every component tried, but almost too similar to distinguish when swapping about between components. The two extra small platforms have enabled me to try the cumulative effect under all the components I have to hand including separate pre & power amps, outboard power supplies, sources and speakers. Because the SpaceHarmonisers stray so far from the mainstream it is the duty of a magazine to explore all the possibilities in a spirit of enquiry, rather than just a simple review of another me-too commercial product.

As recommended I began by trying the SpaceHarmonisers under speakers only. After my unsuccessful experiment trying the SpaceHarmonisers under very full-sounding Rogers Studio 1a (and a similarly unsuccessful outing under heavy pillar-stands supporting mini-monitors) I waited until I had some floorstanding speakers available. The JMR Arpeggione in for review in November have proved the ideal candidate for this treatement, having a small footprint and low Q bass response. The spikes have to be removed from the speakers and their lower surface rested upon the platforms. Removing the spikes is easy, but the threaded inserts stand slightly proud of the lower surface, making contact with the wood surface impossible. I have tried both sizes of SpaceHarmoniser in this location, both with and without the steel cones.

The most obvious finding with both sizes of platform and any position of the speakers is that the SpaceHarmonisers should only be used under loudspeakers with the four steel cones at the corners. Without the cones (with the platforms supported by their inbuilt rubber nipples) the music loses all sense of timing, the rhythm is substantially slowed and the the sound becomes muddled and incoherent. From this point forward all comments apply to SpaceHarmonisers on the steel cones, but the steel cones must be in the correct position; not under the rubber nipples, and they are supposed to be as near to the corners of the board as possible. The effect of the steel cones under the rubber nipples is negligable compared to the effect of the cones' points into the corners wherever tried.

The smaller platforms are much closer in size to the Arpeggione footprint and they sound better than the larger ones in this location. Compared to spikes direct to floor several areas gain. Bizzarrely the sound seems louder, just like with the bass-guitar practice amp in part 1. The soundstage gains more depth, vocals become more natural and the character of different instruments is foregrounded (eg Fender or Alembic bass-guitar, modern percussive Steinway or older mellower Broadwood); drum-skin or string type become more obvious but there are losses or disadvantages too. Although bass becomes tighter it also becomes lighter (the opposite of the experience with the Rogers in part 1) and high frequency detail (stick-noise on cymbals for example) becomes very recessed. Trying some larger footprint speakers of similar area to the small platforms produces similar results, even to the preference for the small platforms.

I did wonder if the knowledge that bits of my hifi are effectively standing on violin soundboards raises my expectation of phenomena. So I tested whether there is an effect on a couple of people with no knowledge or interest in hifi and music. There was only one consistent result when asked whether the music had changed, that the music was slightly louder with platforms under the speakers. I am sure this is not what Valery means when he says the Space Harmoniser "raises sound reproduction of the whole system to a new level"!

The optimum configuration of harmonisers under loudspeakers had the following effects using my +3~0~-3 notetaking:
Bass Depth -1
Bass tune/pitch +1
Bass weight -2
Bass tightness +2
Natural voices +1
Embodied voices +1
Midrange clarity -1
Treble clarity -2
soundstage height increased +1
Vocals more forward in the mix & sounstage position
much more ambience +2 or +3
Microdynamics +1
Macrodynamics +1 or +2

The marking system is based on fairly conventional subjective parameters, but these are not conventional products. I do not usually divulge the points I use as aides-memoire, but the obvious contradictions in my scoresheet would be difficult to describe. There were no obvious differences across the other 12 parameters, including those musical necessities of pace, rhythm & timimg (PRaT) nor tingle-factor (the capacity of a musical performance to raise the hairs on the neck). At this point in the excercise, with the small platforms under the JMR speakers, it is appropriate to move through the system using ERaudio's guidance, beginning with cd players. I would love to try them under turntables but the sizes do not suit any support frame or turntable I have available. After various experiments I conclude that the platforms must be used with the cones. Without the cones the rhythm is again severely compromised and the bass becomes fat & warm and badly defined compared to either the cones or no SpaceHarmoniser at all. Further experiments demonstrate the optimum SpaceHarmoniser configuration:
cd player directly on SpaceHarmoniser
SpaceHarmoniser on 4 ERaudio steel cones
steel cones on low mass rigid platform (obsolete Mark Orr prototype c1988 for Doug Dunlop's Concordant range)on 3 spikes and 2 BrightStar Isonodes on steel support frame
support frame on Polychrystal isolators (standard size)

Any kind of glass is definitely contra-indicated with the SpaceHarmoniser, don't go there. Equally the SpaceHarmoniser was not happy with its steel cones direct on the steel support frame. Superficially this seems a very complicated set-up, but no less so than stacks of Mana shelves or other multi-stage isolation systems. In order to asses the sole contribution of the SpaceHarmoniser it had to be in an environment that was as well optimised as possible for vibration, and the control condition (i.e. no ERaudio platform) had to be as good as possible too.

In the optimum configuration the Shanling CDT100c (with valve output buffer in circuit) undergoes distinct changes in musical presentation and sound quality. Both male & female vocals seem to sound more natural, more human and more embodied. Individual's characters in duets and choruses are more clearly differentiated and likewise the individual characters of particular instruments stand out more clearly. The soundstage sometimes seems to be in a more defined space and there is less tendency for some multitrack-recording (imaginary) soundstages to collapse into the speakers.

With some multitracked live recordings it becomes much easier to separate audience noise from performers; Little Feat Waiting for Columbus (Warner 8122-78274-2) usually presents as though the audience is behind the perfomers but with the whole system on SpaceHarmonisers the audience sounds became dissipated while the perfomers became more solidly grounded in position. Hendrix Live at the Filmore East (Experience Hendrix/MCA mcd-11931) has never sounded more accessible. Unfortunately these gains are not wihtout losses, which are manifested differently with each type of music. Live recordings that already have an excellent acoustic presentation with a very distinct acoustic space well recorded (anything recorded by David Chesky for example) lose this sense of acoustic which becomes as dissipated as the audience noise on the Little Feat recording. It is as if the SpaceHarmonisers are indiscriminate in their effect on acoustic clues.

Rasping brass retains or even gains force without becoming fatiguing, but close-miked snare-drums and cymbals seem diluted and imprecise in timing. The complex interplay of rhythm between different percussion in latin or jazz sometimes loses its focus. It is very difficult to describe, there is no obvious error or fault, just a slight loss of interest. This effect in percussion contrasts markedly with the exaggerated character of percusion instruments with the SpaceHarmonisers. It seems easier to guess whether a snare-drum has a stainless-steel rather than a wooden shell. Perhaps ERaudio's expertise in manufacturing musical instruments makes them particularly sensitive to this aspect of audio performance and thus making it a dominant priority.

Because this is such an unusual audio experience it is very hard to draw any analogies with any experience that might be familiar to readers. Those readers who have played around with compressors and expanders in the studio might be at an advantage here, together with hifi enthusiasts with long memories. Some readers might remember the range of DBX companders (compressor-expander) aimed at the domestic audio market in the late 70s & early 80s. Imagine setting a compander in modest expansion mode (much less than 1.4:1) and playing a final mix through it. This is very different from the sound of a single instrument as the expansion will affect the dynamics of each instrument differently depending on the frequency spectrum at any given moment and how forward it has been placed in the mix. I do recall that these devices resulted in midrange sounding more raised than bass. Upper-mid & treble often sounded like the whole level was raised rather than just expanded dynamics as if some additional eq was present in the processing. The nearest analogy I can conjure for the ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers, despite being passive devices operating in the mechanical domain rather than the electrical domain, is to those DBX companders, and their modern studio brethren, right down to the frequency selective effect.

Even closer in musical experience, but even more obscure, was the "peak-unlimiter", also marketed by DBX I think. The peak-limiter will be a device as familiar to p.a. operators and gigging bands as the compressor and the active-crossover. It works like a compressor but only acts at levels above the trigger-level preset by the engineer. It's a very handy device for preserving tweeters in p.a. rigs as well as ensuring that the venue complies with local peak-sound level licensing rules. The peak-unlimiter was a device briefly marketed to the domestic audio market with the promise that it would unleash the full impact of transients that had been squashed by the peak-limiter rumoured to be often brutally employed in the tape-to-laquer transfer of vinyl records or of the overload compression on low-speed analogue tapes. It was a gimmick that promised much in theory but only worked successfully on a few recordings, but when it did work it was quite a revelation. It certainly gave some of us hours of amusemnent. Its relevence here is that it worked well on some recordings but degraded the sound on others. The ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser is less clear-cut in its variable effect, but its results are not only mixed, but unpredictably mixed. Even at its most unsuccessful the sound never became unpleasant and I did like the effect when it was successful. It is a matter of tatse.

The ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser presents an equally diverse mix of good & not-so-good points. These platforms emphasise some aspects of dynamics, but unlike their electric forebears, they do so evenhandedly. This is both their greatest strength and their Achilles' heel. They work with every recording in the same way, which is great for lesser recordings where the SpaceHarmoniser seems to extract the best nuggets of performance, but really great recordings no longer stand out and seem to have their special qualities blunted.

Another analogy would be switching between cd red-book sampling rate and the various upsampling products available. My experience is that some recordings benefit from upsampling, gaining a deeper soundstage and sweeter treble, but just as many sound as if they're missing something. The effects are often subtle but always unpredictable. The one predictible effect is that good live recordings on good cd transfers rarely benefit from upsampling, but such recordings are very rare. More than half the cds I tried via the Shanling on the SpaceHarmoniser enhanced in some subtle ways, and just a few suffered noticably by contrast. The two solid-state players did not benefit or suffer as much or as often.

The full system treatment was tried in various configurations. I came to the conclusion after many permutations and combinations that the SpaceHarmonisers did not produce an effect I like under hifi loudspeakers. All the better combinations were achieved with speakers mounted in their conventional optimum configuration on my solid concrete floor. Transistor equipment did not benefit sufficiently to justify the expense, mostly there was very little effect. Valve based equipment, be it pre-amplifiers, power-amplifiers or even guitar amplifiers all altered out of all proportion to the simple addition of a platform (compared with already good isolation). The effect with valve amplification is cost effective in high-end terms. The change with cd players is a mixed blessing, but often positive much of the time with many cds, and certainly worthwhile with the Shanling.

Whatever your experience of the ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser in your system, the size range needs to be expanded to be accessible to the widest range of equipment combinations. The 86% rejection rate of tuned bars can't be good for business, maybe they could chop those bars down a bit until they're usable. then lay front-back or whatever for different sizes. There must be ways of increasing the size range, which might have the added benefit of enabling the use of otherwise rejected bars, which in turn would reduce the unit cost and make the range more affordable and therefore more widely saleable.

The pricing seems a little enigmatic too. The UK distributor Audio Synergy say they can only supply the larger SpaceHarmonisers as pairs. The pair price makes their unit cost in the UK alone lower than the smaller ones. They also quote 29UK for a set of four steel cones separately. Now the UK distributor has changed: RPM Audio.
The steel cones are well finished and supplied in the best designed packaging I have ever seen on an audio product. Just two small pieces of card provide excellent protection & reshape the awkward cone-shapes into a neat storage-friendly cube. There is no plastic (petro-chemical product), no unwieldy blister pack and what little material is used can be recycled easily. All the products to test arrived well packed in a mail-sack with numerous old-fashioned wax seals making the whole unwrapping experience quite an adventure.

Conclusion

The ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers arrive on the hi-fi scene supported by fairly straightforward claims. Valery Pankov writes of them as "Resonance Reproduction" which strikes me as an honest explanation that they add their own character to the sound. This is honest and a refreshing change from some of the barking-mad b*llsh*t pseudo-science that comes with so many snake-oil enhanced products in hi-fi history, including special-water, coatings, magic-rocks, knotted-wires etc. The philosophical debate that ensues from Valery Pankov's honesty is a welcome breeze in audio today, even if fraught with difficulties for a reviewer.

I find it hard to believe the magnitude of effect that a platform can have, beyond the usual vibration damping or isolation criteria.

ERaudio are cheeky selling the steel cones as a separate product as the platforms can't be said to work sucessfully without them. The size range is very restricting given the diversity of sizes of hardware & support frames on the high-end market. These are expensive products and will only appeal to the high-end buyer so this really needs to be addressed for ERaudio to make a significant market penetration.

Speakers vary wildly in their encounter with these platforms. Even the most beneficial (the JMR Arpeggione) with dry bass, floorstanding small footprint on small platforms was not a desirable effect to my taste, and these are entirely a matter of taste as all claims for them are subjective. On the present evidence, and I may get a different result from some future speakers, I will not be keeping them under speakers in my systems. The effects are too flawed with otherwise good loudspeaker designs; the SpaceHarmonisers altered the frequency balance and exaggerated some aspects of perfomance in a manner that for me detracted as often as it added to the experience. I am very surprised at the magnitude of transformation wrought by something so simple as a platform under each speaker but the change was too much and too far from accuracy for my taste. It would be interesting if ERaudio ever build loudspeakers that incorporate the SpaceHarmonisers into their design, where the effect could be more balanced by other design parameters.

The SpaceHarmonisers definitely suit valve based equipment and it is no surprise that the only other hifi products made by ERaudio are valve amplifiers. CD players seemed to work on them too, although the effect was not large on the two solid-state models I tried, and other tweaks would be more cost effective on those two models. The Shanling CDT100c with its tube output stage was a great match and never sounded better than the SpaceHarmoniser, in the setup described above. This was a big heap of optimisation products, vulnerable to being toppled by clumsy handling, but the best i've heard from this player yet. I would now leave my Shanling CDT100c permanently on a SpaceHarmoniser on steel cones. I enjoy the effect. My Hot-rod Rotel RCD965BXDiscrete is another matter. It is clearly less accurate on the SpaceHarmoniser in a way that has as many disadvantages as advantages. This was a pattern that became obvious: if it's got valves (tubes) the SpaceHarmonisers were beneficial; no valves meant no guess until you try. Most electronics are microphonic to some degree (hence the attention to vibration control taken by so many audio manufacturers) and valves are more obviously microphonic but I am frustrated not to understand why there is this different effect with these platforms. All the small-signal valves I have to hand are B9a (the little ones) types, and I know the octal equivalents tend to be more microphonic (especially those with bracing structures to the glass envelope) and octal power tubes often handle bigger signals so may be affected less so it would be very interesting to hear a 6SN7 based line-amp. I wish I could offer an explanation of the mechanism at work here, both electro-mechanical and psycho-acoustic, but all I have are tentative hypotheses.

Amplifiers fare similarly. My smaller single-ended triode home-brew with outboard power supply now lives permanently on a SpaceHarmoniser where the little amplifier's strengths seem to shine out, while its weaknesses are unaffected. The Assemblage SET300B (Sonic Frontiers kit) was unwell during the review period but will be tried on these platforms as soon as repaired. A selection of solid-state pre & power amps were only slightly affected. Whether they were as desirable or cost-benefit compliant is a moot point entirely dependent on taste.

Taste is the essential term here. Valery Pankov makes no claims for accuracy or neutrality, indeed he argues in favour of the opposite approach. Excessive commitment to the Appollonian qualities of neutrality often leads to results that sound neutered and music's essential Dionesian qualities suffer at the hands of such audio censorship. However, a full blooded commitment to only those Dionesian qualities can lead to an excessively coloured view and early liver-failure too.

The ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers are a product destined for controversy in the audio world. To some the idea that a platform may have these kinds of effects will be a heresy. To some these platforms will be mere colouration. To some they will be another step closer to audio Nirvana. I hope that ERaudio are able to establish a distributor-dealer network sufficient to offer demonstrators on loan as they mark too easily to be offered on sale-or-return basis. The SpaceHarmonisers are too distinctive to offer universal unequivocal recommendation. If this review seems too ambiguous or even ambivalent then you have understood what I am trying to convey.

In the studio the task is to get the most desirable (whether sad, dancey, happy accurate etc) sound onto the tape, and the catalogues are full of supposedly music enhancing devices for this purpose. At home the hegemony used to be that the task was to reproduce as accurately as possible the tape's contents (via cd, tape or vinyl); the objectivists' definition of accuracy being measurement based and the subjectivists' definition being aural-experience based. Here we have a range of products that don't claim to improve accuracy, but do claim to increase listening pleasure. There was a time, not so long ago when I would have said that this made them irrelevant to hi-fi in the home. My Masters degree research was all about the subtle nuances of artistic experience and the effects of these on our emotional state (via, for example the autonomic nervous system) and I now find myself questioning much of the received wisdom of objectivists and subjectivists alike. If I ever become involved in recording again I will try SpaceHarmonisers under instrument amplification every time.

The ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers do have a very distinctive effect. I am unable to say whether the effect is a good thing or a bad thing because it it so system philosophy and taste dependent. If you wish to increase the musical pleasure of your system, regardless of considerations of objectivity or accuracy, then you should try ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers in your system. You may not like the effect or it might be just what you desire. These devices reduce accuracy but can increase pleasure, rather like wine. A couple of glasses of Barolo before a trip to the theatre will not increase your understanding of complex sub-plots but usually make the whole evening more pleasurable.

I am unable to say whether you will like what you hear but I am able to say that you should be able to hear it easily. If you've got valves in your system do try and borrow some of these platforms to try out for yourself and decide whether you like what you hear. They may just hit your pleasure buttons.

© Copyright 2005 Mark Wheeler - www.tnt-audio.com

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