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Yamamoto VB-18
Ebony V groove tuning bases

SouthEast Asian Ebony linear footers

[Italian version]

Manufacturer: Yamamoto Sound Craft
Product: Yamomoto VB-18 Product made from ebony V character slot receptacle base
Recommended Load: Up to 40kg per pair
Size: 180mm long x 25mm wide x 27mm high
Price: 6,000¥ per set of four
Approximate European cost: 45€ approx (YMMV depending on currency fluctuation)
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: July 2009 - January 2010

Over the winter holiday period I rearranged the listening room to fit that pagan habit of bringing an evergreen tree into the house to decorate it, now usually known as a Christmas Tree and usually thought of as a Scandinavian and German tradition. Some readers may be familiar with this practice of decorating a pine or spruce tree indoors and the disruption it causes. Among other disruptions chez Wheeler, this did seem to disrupt sound quality even though loudspeakers and equipment racks had not been moved. In particular there was a loss of focus and soundstage that I attributed to the slight change in acoustics caused by a 2.5M tree in the room and the presence of a sofa between the loudspeakers.

However, when the tree was removed the audio condition remained unchanged. Then while sweeping and vacuum cleaning the floor to remove the tiny pine needles (known in England as Christmas tree tingles) I noticed that one of the three spikes under both of the speakers had become dislodged from the central well of its Yamamoto PB-18 African Ebony Spike Receiver Base and was perched on one corner. Playing an LP (one of the new Neil Young Archive boxed set) before and after replacing each spike correctly in the well of its base and checking the alignment of the others allwed me to check whether this tiny set up deviation was responsible for any loss of focus.

"Does the old fool really think a pair of misaligned spikes will have as much effect as a 2.5m tree in the listening room?" challenge plebs, stage left.

The tree had surprisingly little effect as was noted when it was removed. The misaligned spike difference was surprising. I would not expect any difference at all from this change as the spike is still mating with the same combination of materials but the difference is clear and repeatable. I know beacuse my disbelief prompted me to repeat the condition and it happens with either of the baffle spikes but not the rear spike. This surprises me even more as I would have expected the rear spike to be even more critical as it defines the front-back horizontal orientation of the driver chassis with respect to the fore-aft movement of the main driver cone. So once again, I am reminded of the importance of good set up and vibration & energy control.

Which brings me neatly to the unusual Yamamoto VB-18 ebony V character slot receptacle base, hereafter known more concisely as VB-18 (not to be confused with the aforementioned PB-18). These tuning devices are unusual, eschewing the usual hard spike, lossy materials or novelty suspensions, these are prism shaped rods of ebony nestling in mating slots of similar material with slightly gretaer than right angled slots to hold the slightly under 90° prism shapes.

Last time I wrote about Yamamoto Sound Craft's range of tuning devices I described it as "extensive" and a recent visit to their website indicates an ever expanding selection of range of ebony, ceramic and metal tuning products, to meet every identifiable need and perhaps to address needs not yet identified! The VB-18 are predictably approximately 180mm long 25mm wide and 27mm high. A longer version, the VB-25 (12,000¥ "2 pieces") max load 60kg per pair, w=35 x h=33 x d=250 obviously). The 250mm long slot bases are primarily designed as loudspeaker supports and at first I tried the VB-18 in this role out of curiousity. Yamamoto claim "As compared with a common pinpoint base, it excels in stability, and also becomes easy to install by controlling vibration moderately."

"Do Yamamoto still market the hessian shopping bag?" demand the same plebs appropos of nothing, stage left.
Yes, it's still here, replies the old scribe, But apparently it was only available until the end of December, so you're probably too late!

The VB-18 is manufactured from SouthEast Asian ebony with a specific gravity "as heavy as 1.1". The hardness of this material combined with the VB-18 and VB-25 unique shape are claimed to enable a high degree of vibration control. The use of similar materials for musical instrument necks, "such as an actually high-class guitar, the acoustic feature is also with a guarantee", claims Mr Yamamoto, which is reminiscent of the ERaudio bases made from spruce usually used for conservatoire violins.

Mr Yamamoto suggests using one set of these products for cd players and amplifiers and two sets for speakers. Having only two pairs of the Yamomoto VB-18's I cannot comment on the use of two pairs under a stereo pair of speakers. However I can try various permutations and configurations to suggest where they might prove most effective. The triangular prism shape of the VB-18 is certainly more stable than spikes and may be especially useful for those with small children running around stand-mount mini-monitors. However, my experience was that when used parallel to each other, arranged fore and aft along each side of the speaker they had all the same problems as four spike arrangements in terms of focus and sound stage. Arranged side to side along the front edge (immediately below the baffle) and rear edge they were somewhat better, but still no better that three ebony footers (review soon) from the Yamamoto range, who foolishly sell them in sets of four which leaves a spare one we will use later.

I then tried the Yamamoto Sound Craft VB-18 in a T-shaped arrangement, one along the front baffle and the other rear to front from the centre of the rear panel. This was better still; the soundstage locked into place as well as the preceding spike/PB-18 receiver base arrangement, but the latter still crept ahead in treble timing and clarity stakes. I tried replacing the rear brass spike and Yamamoto PB-18 spike receiver bases at the rear of the big floorstanding transmission lines (yes proper Bailey transmission lines rather than TQWP, so really big with 30cm drivers) and the treble improved but not to the extent of 3 brass spikes in 3 Yamamoto PB-18 bases. However, I suspect the larger VB-25 would be more suited to these monster speakers. Tried between the bass section of a 3-way system (project under development), in similar configurations to the above floorstanders, the VB-18 were more successful. Once again it was a combination of VB-18 along the baffle lower edge with the Yamamoto PB-20/PB-21 at the centre rear that proved more successful. I suspect that if glued to the baffle lower edge, using a hard 2-pack epoxy glue like Aerolite 603, the VB-18 would be better yet, but such a move is outside the scope of this review as the VB-18 must be tried in as many roles as possible for thoroughness.

The Yamamoto VB-18 V-bases are also recommended for amplifiers and cd players. Yamamoto recommend "When using it for amplifier or CD player, it is not used under the leg attached to a main part, but it installs between legs or in a portion with high intensity of both the sides of a sole plate." I agree with this view wholeheartedly, the VB-18 and most other aftermarket footers, work at their best in direct contact with the chassis base of amplifiers and cd players. Two of the places of greatest effect are the central bolt of toroidal transformers or the axis of the compact disc with the drawer in the playing position. This applies, of course to spikes, so the VB-18 presents an entirely new proposition. I tried various combinations of position, but with the selection of both valve and solid state amplifiers and cd players I have at my disposal they were consistently beaten in all respects by another Yamamoto product in for review, the Yamamoto PB-9 and PB-10 pin & recepcacle combination.

Yamamoto VB-18 under turntables

Readers with very long memories might recall my vibration control series conclusion that turntables are the most unpredictable units for vibration control. In particular, subchassis turntables seem to require rigid support to avoid total PRaT breakdown. Solid plinth turntables, on the other hand, sometimes benefit from lossy support and at other times benefit from spikes. The longitudinal arrangement of the Yamamoto VB-18 implies scope for fine tuning under turntables.

Indeed this proves to be the case. Despite not being on the list of recommended applications by Mr yamomoto, the unique long axis of the VB-18 makes them perfect for this tuning application. Both suspended subchassis turntables and solid plinth designs excelled on the Yamamoto VB-18 bases. However, a lengthy optimisation process is needed to get the very best from set up with any particular turntable.

The most dramatic effect is found with a turntable much favoured in Japan, the Garrard 401 with SME 3012 series I (steel knife-edge bearing). Under this behemoth LP spinner the effect of position and alignment of the VB-18 axes is most noticeable. The fore-aft or sideways alignments are less than optimal. Dramatic configuration number 1 involves standing a pair of VB-18 parralel to each other, in a lozenge configuration, aligned parallel with the tracking error null points of the stylus trajectory across the LP. The two VB-18 are arranged as evenly around the turntable centre of gravity as this orientation permits. Hence they are at about 60° to the front and rear plinth edges (judged by eye, not measured). In this orientation soundstage is at its biggest in all 3 dimensions of any VB-18 configuration. Dynamics are also at their most explicit, especially micro-dynamics. The noisefloor is not as quite as low as with some other support arrangements with my unrestored Garrard 401/SME mounted on a sand filled plywood sub-chassis (not in the sprung sense but set within an outer plinth, removed for these tests). The soundstage is not to the Gyro/Orbe epic scale, just the best I have heard from the Garrard 401.

Orientating the VB-18 at 90° to the above arrangement, so that they are parallel with a tangent to the groove radius at the zero tracking error points of the stylus arc changes the presentation surprisingly. In this orientation there is an improvement in Pace and Rhythm. This is the Garrard 401's trump card compared with many belt-driven subchassis turntables and these VB-18's exploit it throughly in this arrangement. The downside is the loss of the enlarged soundstage and dynamics. The best way to explain it is this:

Your old scribe always wants the best of both worlds and after much playing about comes VERY close. An 'L' configuration with:

  1. One Yamamoto VB-18 directly below the arc of stylus travel, intersecting the zero tracking error points and starting at the outer LP edge
  2. One Yamamoto VB-18 at 90° to this forward of the back left corner of the sub-plinth close to the motor.

Tried under a support platform under subchassis turntables (Orbe/Hadcock and Thorens/SME) the VB-18 suffers similar probelms to any four spike arrangement in that it is difficult to get exactly even pressure on the four ends of the two VB-18 devices. However, a pair of VB-18 do seem better subjectively than four spikes of a similar material. Better still though is a VB-18 with a single PB-20/PB-21 combo forming a traingle whose VB-18 base is at a tangent to the LP rim at the outer end of the stylus tracking arc and the PB-21 under the TD150 motor. This uses up the spare PB-20/PB-21 you'll get if you buy them as Yamamoto insists on selling sets of four despite us all knowing that triangles are inherently rigid and tripods more stable than quadropods. This arrangement would be dangerously unstable under the Orbe SE, but I can recommend it directly below Thorens/AR/Ariston/Linn type subchassis turntables. Here the VB-18 bypasses the inadequate feet (and I include a certain manufacturers springy feet in this cristicism) of most plinth type subchassis turntables and provides capacity to tune isolation and support vectors to match the needs of the whole turntable system.

Under the Orbe SE an intermediate platform is needed. It was possible to change the sound of the Orbe SE with the VB-18 and this depended on the platform material chosen. Under the ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser there was little difference between the VB-18 pair, other wood points and various other trios of hard points. However, under a 12mm laminated glass shelf, a pair of VB-18 diagoinally across the rear corners (nearer the CofG than the front) and a PB-20/21 under front centre worked as well as the much more expensive (and no longer available) PolyCrystal Isolators and much better than RDC cones. The character was changed so that soundstage, while remaining immense on any Orbe configuration, seemed more tangible. Instrumental timbre seems more accurate on all the Yamamoto ebony feet than the composites.

Summary & Conclusion

The Yamamoto VB-18 are very unusual 'footers' (how I loathe that term) have characteristics that set them apart from all the spikes, spike cups, points, blobs, springs and exotic material mixtures that characterise the vibration isolation industry. The Mr yamamoto has succeeded in producing a product like no other of which I'm aware. At 45€ (YMMV) these ebony V-bases are at the lower end of the fancy feet market and they work well.

However, they also have the capacity to tune their strengths, particularly in the context of turntables. The larger PB-25 are designed for loudspeaker support and from the evidence of the VB-18 (which may possibly not be extrapolatable to the VB-25 so caveat emptor, dear reader) may work well in combination with spikes and points. Here the PB-25 may be useful to tune vibration isolation and energy path coupling to suit individual speaker systems, especially midrange modules or horns.

It is always encouraging to discover a designer or manufacturer who develops genuinely innovative products rather than me too evolutions. This is especially valuable when they make such beautiful looking and feeling objects in the process. Natural materials have their own unique characteristics that are often superior to manufactured materials (like the disgusting MDF) because of their internal structure and its microscopic irregularities.

Supporting CD players and amplifiers the Yamamoto VB-18 are not as cost effective as the Yamamoto PB-9 & PB-10 combination, nor various other point supports at similar prices. However the Yamamoto VB-18 can be recommended where very specific vibration control vectors need taming or tuning, such as loudspeaker systems and especially turntables.

Music enjoyed during this review

On Vinyl:
  • Neil Young: Official Release Series Vols 1-4, boxed set of Neil's own remasters of his first 4 albums, well produced
  • Littel Feat: The Last Record Album, sorts out vinyl supports for bass articulation and midrange clarity in the face of overwhelming bass
  • Jimi Hendrix: Loose Ends, out-takes LP I bought in '75 with superb version of Dylan's Drifter's Escape

and all the LPs listed for the recent AAAVt SM-12B and the B&C drivers tests!

On cd:

  • Jimi Hendrix: First rays of the New Rising Sun,
  • Neil Young: Greatest Hits

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

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