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Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET

Myrtle wood & brass feet

[Eyup myrtle, how's things?]
[Italian version]

Manufacturer: Waipuna Sound - Japan
Product: MYRTLEFEET
Price: $34 per set of THREE (hooray) plus shipping
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: March - May 2010

"Isn't the old scribe getting cold feet yet?" accuse plebs, stage left, "Geoff gets the new SME V-12 and Mark gets more little bits of wood - he's become typecast."

These beautiful turned and polished wooden feet are made from myrtlewood with a brass ball embedded in the top surface. The qualities of myrtlewood are extolled extensively on the Waipuna website suggesting that these should be considered tuning devices rather than vibration control devices. Just in case you forget what you ordered, the legend "HAND CRAFTED by WAIPUNA SOUND" is branded into the bottom surface, but this would be covered if you stick on the self adhesive furniture protecting pads. If you accept that wooden blocks with embedded brass balls can alter the sound of any component in your system, inevitably the felt pads will alter the sound even more as felt has compliance and will therefore impose a resonant system with the mass supported.

Waipuna Sound, aka Jeff Freauff, claims "The original standard MYRTLEFEET, incorporate a brass sphere embedded into the top of the wood puck. Brass is one of the top end conductors of energy and the intent is to channel any vibrational energy caused by the component itself, into the myrtlewood body. The incredible density of myrtle and the erratic grain, has the ability to diffuse and absorb vibration leaving a purer signal to reach your ears. No other hardwood looks as uniquely rich, or behaves quite like Oregon myrtlewood."

"There's no shortage of brass balls in those claims... " accuse plebs, stage left

indeed those brass balls will have an effect of their own. In several previous tests I have found brass spikes superior to steel and aluminium under loudspeakers and turntable shelves. My experince of wooden feet has been that they are in the tuning domain rather than true vibration isolation devices, but that in some circumstances instrument feet are about control rather than isolation. Compound devices (2 materials) like the Jade IsoDuo or the Avondale Basis 15 seem most effective at preserving PRaT, while being less effective than blobby devices like the BrightStar Isonodes at controlling structure borne and internal vibrations.

Manufacturer's Specification

  • height: 38-40mm
  • Diameter 70mm
  • materials: Myrtlewood & brass
Optional felt pads

The very low $35 (25.55€) cost for a set was offset by a swingeing 11.70 (12.89€) import duty/tax charge collected by the Post Office when I went to collect the package. I am not sure when UK VAT (value added tax known in other markets as sales tax) was raised to over 50%. This seems to happen EVERY time I import goods and is little short of theft; I fully support paying correct taxes and detest those people who use clever strategies to avoid paying their dues but the law says 17.5%VAT at present, which equates to 4.47€. The UK consumer gets overcharged by 262% regardless of the feeble justifications put forward by the authorities this is nothing more nor less than a pathetic and dishonest attempt to discourage you and I from making individual personal imports. The authorities do not like such individual action because it is less easy to check for genuinely undesirable stuff if more people are indulging their eccentric hobbies by importing tiny quantities of things border authorities do not recognise. It is an impediment to free and fair trade.

"Get down off that soapbox!" demand plebs, stage left, "'Nuff ranting already. We're not sans cullotes about to storm the barricades, we're just poor audiophiles made even poorer by the endless purchases of system tuning devices."

Waipuna Sound is not to be confused with their antipodean namesake who make an organic hot foam weed control system, nor the more musical Hawaiian duo named Waipuna, which to them translates as spring water but which prompts me to endeavour to add some clarity to and eliminate some weeds from this Audiophool tuning business. Working by day in the world of psychological medicine I am only too aware that the randomised controlled trial is neither random nor controlled in this context. The few minutes the tester spends explaining the trial therapy, be it drug, placebo or psychological intervention is attention paid to the patient. Research also demonstrates that attention given to the patient makes as much difference as many other interventions. A sense of being heard is a significant intervention and a shared smile releases seratonin, the happy brain chemical. Here at TNT-audio we have tried making inexpensive household materials into tuning and vibration control devices and when tested with sceptical non-audiophiles who knew not what was being tried heard clear and repeatable differences even when they were unaware what was under trail. They could identify sound changes from somewhat crumbly triangles of bathroom pumice as well as from expensive fancy devices.

While your humble scribe has some reservations about exploiting the properties of trees that have taken up to 500 years of slow growth to be cut down just for the benefit of domestic audio refinement, it is no more selfish than using it for jewelry boxes or other trinkets. It is claimed by Jeff Freauff, owner, designer and manufacturer of the (always uppercase) MYRTLEFEET that the figuring of the grain, such as burls, are cellular mutations, create natural design patterns that are not only beautiful but also naturally random and therefore ideal properties in combination with the density of Myrtle (so dense that the logs sometimes do not float) for audio tuning. It is a lovely story, and every product needs a good story, but there are many out there who do not believe that wooden feet can have any effect on the sound of audio equipment.

I was surprised to see that such a new untested item is the subject of derision and approbrium on the gearslutz forum by folk who explicitly had neither tried them nor contemplated trying tham. This site is populated by music biz professionals (or those who'd have us believe they're music biz pros) slagging off the audiophiles who are actually their bread and butter, because let's face it, the tosh passed off as music by the majors is more likely to get downloaded as fast cheap low-res downloads than bought on CD. The teen pop market, once the essential milch cow to subidise elite classical recordings (don't kid me my Bartok boxed set was profitable) is now almost all file sharing and piracy; if you surround people with low quality their thinking eventually becomes low quality (James Hillman, analytical psychologist).

I have witnessed such musicians' tantrums because they could not use their favourite "lucky" instrument lead because of a studio layout (and an engineers sensible desire to avoid an extra 1/4" jack-to-jack socket in the middle of the studio floor) or because their noisy old stage amp would render any recording unlistenable. All despite standing in front of the window through which they can see tons of EQ and sound shaping gear that common sense implies will swamp any such difference. I have also heard the difference audiophile tuning tweaks can make when placed under a small practice combo or a flimsy old cab housing an ancient 15" green lable Celestion. Tuning isn't about accuracy, it's about taste.

[if you go down to the woods today]

Do MYRTLEFEET sound?

Despite the satirical mirth I'll attract from those who don't bother to try a thing before they dismiss it, I decide to listen to my system without the Waipuna Mytlewood blocks anywhere, to recalibrate my ears to the present state of the art. Guiness used to advertised "I don't like it because I haven't tried it" and as this was written over Saint Patrick's Day it seems an appropriate comparison, although I'll leave pouring a pint of the black stuff until I've finished some tests. The first location to try is going to be the old Concordant Excelsior valve pre-amplifier.

With the Waipuna Sound blocks in place I noticed for the first time, strong pre-echo on the new reissue Don't let it Bring You Down on Neil Young's After The Goldrush. Now maybe this is because I'm listening carefully to try to accurately reflect if there is any difference with three bits of wood and brass under an anciebt pre-amp whose capacitors are probably past their best by now. Or maybe it's beacuse the old masters these new remasters were sourced from has deteriorated with some print through. There's only one way to find out. Removing the MYRTLEFEET will prove nothing as now you know the probelm is present, just like when you read a review that notes the sound of a sheet slipping from a music stand at a page turn you begin to listen for it every time you play the disc. Mind you I watched a 1st violinist drop a sheet the other night at the Nottingham Royal Centre but never noticed the sound while swept along with the music, illustrating a fundamental property of recorded music: it's repeatability. Well now it's just as obvious when the Waipuna blocks are removed.

So I dig out my old copy of After the Goldrush given to me by a friend in New Jersey and stuffed into a Karrimor rucksac that hitched and bussed around the North Eastern USA before being slung into the hold of an economy 747 and brought to England over 20 years ago. On this old pressing there is no detectable pre-echo. Returning to the new reissue the pre-echo is again obvious. This is an object lesson in subjective testing suggestibilty; attributing a change in perception to some property of the known material change in the experiment without checking back to the correct baseline. I have heard the new recording several times, but I have heard the older presing hundreds if not thousands of times. Human memory works by repetition (more specifically repetition across the brain hemispheres via the hippocampus) and clearly my long term memory has been conditioned by the earlier and more repeated exposure to the older pressing.

So being a sucker for pre-echo I play Toots & The Maytals' Bam Bam, the most explicit tape pre-echo ever commited to vinyl and cd, so much so that it seems to have become part of the perfomance, it is so familiar. A slight difference between no feet (there are none on the Concordant to facilitate use of the accessory wooden sleeve) and MYRTLEFEET. The player is already sited on the ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser shelf (it's b*llsh*t nomenclature sure to attract further derision), on ERaudio cones on Something Solid XR4 rack to provide vibration isolation. There's a small +1 difference in transient clarity, better separation of instruments, soundstage depth and height (delusion), the timbre of the instruments and voices, but a -1 narrowing of the soundstage. On first hearing there seems to be a +2 difference in micro-dynamics and the sense of a stable virtual sound image, but any switch from one item to another exagerates difference to the extent the swapping period is enough to make these impressions unreliable. The Concordatnt's Explicit outboard phantom PSU does vibrate a fair bit on another shelf on the rack so the test is repeated with BrightStar Isonode vibration isolation in addition to the suspended shelves of the XR4.

The simply vinyl reissue of Fairport Convention's Unhalfbricking gets the turntable treatment. Three Waipuna Sound feet are placed on the chromed frame of the Origin Live Ultra suspended wall frame, under the 11mm laminated glass shelf that supports the Michell Orbe SE/Hadcock 242SE Silver/MusicMaker II. Already an optimised system, including additional elements like PolyCrystal Point Discs, the Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET made a slight difference. They bypass the spikes resting on very cost effective Polycrystal Point Discs and therefore are an alternative rather than an additional tuning system. The differences are slight. There is no discernibkle difference in noisefloor, suggesting equal performance in this parameter. There might be a slight difference in timbre (this term used in its musical sense not audiophool winespeak) but not one anybody could reliably identify blind. It would be worth a punt to try in a turntable system just in case; if it works, then great; if not, then try under the CD player.

Sometimes I am a cruel reviewer. I set up the Avondale AAA5 upon its own Avondale Basis feet optimally placed on an old prototype Something Solid platform. I place this on magnetic springs (review soon) at each corner atop a kiln-dried sand filled box section frame on 4 cone feet. Theoretically the dominant audible effect of the supports will be that of the Something Solid platform (a known quantity of 20 years) and the feet between it and the flimsy steel case of the AAA5. To remove another dimension of chassis colouration a BrightStar Little Rock 5 is perched on top of the centre of the AAA5 top plate. One might expect very little difference under these circumstances, but what difference there is can only be from the cd player to platform interface. The result is so little repeatable difference between the Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET and the Avondale feet that it would be misleading exaggeration to describe.

However, with only the Avondale Feet atop the Something Solid shelf vs the Waipuna Sound Myrtle Feet, the case is altered. Indeed the case is highly resonant as the top plate is left undamped this time. Now the Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET seem to preserve the whole note envelope slightly better than Avondale's own feet. Vocals seem more embodied, for want of a better word, and PRaT is surprisingly close (this being a design priority of Avondale's founder, Les Wolstenholme). The Waipuna Sound Myrtle Feet is slightly ahead overall, which contradicts my expectations. In Waipuna Sound's country of origin, the Myrtle Feet therefore represent better value, but in the UK (where import duty looks as if it is used as an unofficial milch cow) the price/performance ratio is very close.

The electro-mechanical CD source with analogue valve output stage of the modified Shanlingis particularly sensitive to support (and CD sensitivity to this is widely reported by objective measurement in addition to the more innacurate pairs of ears we end up using to hear music) despite the addition of integral vibration control in my system in the form of the Something Solid XR4 rack, and Absorb-GEL vibration isolators under each valve. The reference standard here is the (no longer available) ERAudio SpaceHarmoniser, on its own steel cones, atop the Something Solid shelf and beneath the Shanling's own feet. The Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET are closer to the ERAudio SpaceHarmoniser condition than to the sound direct on the Something Solid shelf. This is good. This is very good as the ERAudio price (4 years ago) would buy 4 or 5 sets of Myrtle Feet. The ability to fine tune the position of the Myrtle Feet under the Shanling allows contact points to be chosen. This helps in the PRaT domains as well as more audiophile gloss like soundstage scale and virtual shape.

The spooky (spooky because it makes no sense in physics that a repeatable audible phenomenon is possible with a shelf under a CD player) effect the SpaceHarmoniser has on vocals is different from the equally inexplicable effect of Waipuna Sound Myrtle Feet, but in the same domains. The Myrtle Feet seem to emphasise a slightly lower register. While the SpaceHarmoniser's great strength is in perceiving different instruments more clearly than any other support or vibration control measure, the Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET seem to manage this imaginary separation trick almost as well in this context

Supporting the CANOR Precision Tube CD Player under the CD dtawer axis, analogue valve board and PSU lifted its performance and overcame the few cristicisms that might have been levelled at that player's sound. The boogie factor also lifted very slightly (+2 in the PRaT group of Mark's judging system). Ambience retrieval improved, and note envelope coherence became state of the art.

The DIY SET6080 in Torlyte case seemed less affected than metal clad source components. If you have already tuned such a rehoused amplifier, or you own a magnificent wood and copper SET then these feet will look great, sound pretty much as good as anything similar. They are therefore worth trying if the amplification lust object is just lying about without consideration of its supports, but the Waipuna Sound Myrtle Feet may not bring any improvement if proper support has already been employed. If such support is already optimised (in the case of the SET6080, by blobs under the remote transformer and PolyCrystal feet under the audio section) the Myrtle Feet may be even be a retrograde step. The felt pads made far less difference than the feet themselves and merely reduced the effect of the feet, which was not what might be expected when considering that they introduce a compliance and therefore a resonant system.

The choice of metal and wood as a support for CD players is shared by Yamamoto, whose PB4 CD player feet (review soon) are similar to the MYRTLEFEET by combining metal and wood for CD player feet, whereas all their other supports are wood or wood-ceramic. Perhaps there is something in this idea, however counterintuitive.

Finally, stuck under a practice amp I can convince myself that the MYRTLEFEET sound is different from the plastic feet. I can't be sure as I'm not using a recording and my playing isn't consistent enough. The brass balls embed themselves in the leathercloth cover so the combo doesn't wander about much.

[is this where I get felt?]

Conclusion

The Myrtle wood and its advertised properties make claims in the tuning domain rather than the vibration control domain. The test outcomes seem to confirm this. Evidence tends to suggest devices in the tuning domain, rather than strictly vibration control, have most effect on source components. Source components are often electromechanical devices, be they turntables, CD players or big hard drives and are inevitably more affected by vibration and by the modification by tuning gadgets of its transmission to components. hence a systematic systemic analysis of qualitative data is required IN EVERY CONTEXT. This evidence has been garnered usually individually, often blind or ABX, and being data from subjective sources, analysed for trend NOT by some pseudo scientistic numbers from human experience, nor is it the completely irrelevent dismissal of phenomena unmeasured by relatively primitive electrical tests telling more about the fear of uncertainty of the tester than anything useful to the audiophile. Hence in every

There is an audible difference with the Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET under certain equipment, especially those electromechanical items or items with valves (tubes). The effect of vibration on valves has been measured and the effect of vibration isolation on valves has clearly been measured. The dominant effect is on noise; perhaps tuning devices such as the Waipuna Sound MYRTLEFEET affect the frequency content of that noise (I cannot imagine how) and perhaps thus have a similar effect to that of noise shaping in the digital domain. The MYRTLEFEET do make a difference in the context of some equipment and every time that a difference is heard, that difference is positive. For 35 bucks (and your mileage will depend on exchange rates, local taxes and whether there is an 'R' in the month) these feet are in the most competitive segment of the market. That price will buy you ONE fancy RCA plug, and frankly a fancy RCA plug is merely an attempt to shine shit (or polish a turd as it is less aliteratively known), so in the audiophile cable context these are a bargain. However tuning devices are totally dependent on the relationship with the object they attempt to tune but brass and wood have more universal application thn most materials so the Waipuna Sound MRTLEFEET have more likelihood of success than other materials.

Music enjoyed during this review

On Vinyl:

  • Neil Young: Neil Young, 1st album in the Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 1-4
  • Neil Young: After The goldrush,
  • Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking
On cd:
  • Toots and the Maytals: Reggae Greats
  • Foghat: NOT Live at the BBC,
  • Stray: New Dawn/Alive and Giggin'
  • Robin George: Crying Diamonds/Dangerous Music Live,

"4000 words on another trio of feet," mutter plebs, stage left, "No wonder Geoff got the new SME V-12, the old scribe would've written a book."

© Copyright 2010 Mark Wheeler - mark@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com

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