- Component feet: 4 x Tall Tenderfeet, 16 x Tenderfeet,
- Speaker decoupling feet: 8 x Large decouplers Stabilizers x 2 component top weights
- Interconnect stabilizers, 2 pairs XLR and 2 pairs RCA HAL-) Jrs.
- Various prices, $12.38 to $22.95 each, discounted for multiple purchases.
There is a large number of after-market footers, weights, clamps and treatments for the serious audiophile to tweak a system, each aimed at reducing or removing the incessant and pernicious vibrations that diminish the performance of those specialized audio circuits you paid for with your hard earned cash. To reduce this product niche to its basic philosophical camps there are two extremes: the incredibly costly or the more affordable types; those based on engineering we can appreciate or on some voodoo or ‘special proprietary process’ that nobody can adequately explain; those that produce marked effects instantly and those that you have to strain to hear, and if like me, you give up on quickly. The only such tweaks I’ve bothered with since my early steps into audiophilia were Vibrapods, which are cheap, seem to be based on simple principles of isolation, and proved their worth to me by curing a stalling CD transport that seemed always to get upset when the volume of the necessarily nearby speakers reached a certain level. I had sent the transport back to the (major) manufacturer whose engineer replied that the symptoms I reported were “impossible”, so presumably I was just imagining it! So much for customer service. Popping two pairs of ‘pods under the returned and still stalling transport allowed it to play on where it had previously halted, presumably due to the Vibrapods delivering on their promise to give the player improved isolation from its surroundings, and all for under $25 the set. Since then, I’ve added a very few treatments only when I was comfortable that my system was sounding pretty good already and I had no money for a major component upgrade. Most recently, after the repeated testimony of other owners on their virtues, I’ve added Aurios bearings under my amps to great effect. Even then, it still took a special sale price and return privileges on these to tempt me. Now, knowing that such additions can cure problems or just enhance a system to the point that my ears miss them when they are not there, I decided to explore further what was out there for the more economically-sensitive audiophile, and that is how I discovered Herbies Audio Lab (HAL).
The Herbie Approach
HAL is the brainchild of Steve Herbelin, and the company offers a range of vibration reducing products for all interface points in an audio chain: footers for components, decoupling dots and cones for speakers, tube damping rings and, a new one for me, rings for both XLR and RCA interconnect points. Chances are, if you can see a connection point between a component and a cable or surface, HAL produces something to work there. His products are definitely at the affordable end of the scale, few costing more than $20 and most are significantly less, all sold direct to the customer with 90-day satisfaction guarantee and a lifetime warranty on parts. No iconoclast on matters vibrational, Steve happily recommends general principles for what works where in most audio systems but he also encourages exploration and experimentation with his products too, on the grounds that everyone’s environment is unique. That said, there is a a certain proprietary mystery to the parts used in some of his products, described onsite as “blends of platinum-cured silicones and inorganic fillers (which) have a strategic balance of compatibility and incompatibility, resulting in strong viscoelastic compounds that never fully cure and achieve incredible vibration-absorbing and vibration-blocking ability”. Made purely for application in audio and video, Steve encourages discussion through a forum on Audio Circle (now replacing the original forum on his own site) where the curious can ask questions and seek advice on what might work best for their system. It’s a good example of personal attention and community building that seems to serve the company well and provides a great example of how the internet can be harnessed for mutual benefit. As a satisfied owner of Von Schweikert VR5SEs I was intrigued by the Von Schweikert ‘special offer’ HAL offered for their oddly names “Big Fat Dots” to serve as alternative couplers between the speaker modules. After a quick discussion with others about this product on the Von Schweikert owners’ circle, I decided to check a set out for myself, and pleased with the results, I bought them. I subsequently determined to explore the HAL offerings systematically for this magazine. A couple of exchanges with Steve and he had a package of goodies on its way to me to treat the entire system. Since they arrived, I’ve been slowly and somewhat systematically installing and combining the various footers and connectors, all in the service of interested audiophiles.
First up, if only because it was the simplest to install, was a pair of supersonic stabilizers, two discs, almost 3″ in diameter and less than 6oz in weight, said to be a fluorocarbon and metallic composite for use on top of components to increase overall efficiency of compliant isolation feet. Designed to work in concert with the Tenderfeet footers, they can be put on top of any component where they sit silently while reducing upper chassis vibration. Steve also states that the stabilizers “weaken and disperse RFI and other electromagnetic interference”. They feel solid and can be added and removed at will. On top of my CD player I could not say I heard a black and white difference and after a few minutes of on/off positioning, I let them there for a few days before again taking them off. To my ears (and my eyes), these had little effect, maybe focusing the midrange a little and giving the overall sonic picture a little more detail, but then again, maybe not. It was very subtle and at $40 the pair, I was hard pushed to say these made a difference I could reliably hear on the Marantz. If entering a room with music playing I would not have been able to tell if they were or were not in place. Of course, the Marantz SA11-S1 is a solidly built player so the extra weight alone did not seem to matter, and if the stabilizers work on RFI, then maybe the player does not need the extra help. That, at least was my original take on the stabilizers, but stay tuned.
Next up, the Tall Tenderfeet, described as “carbon-filled, platinum-cure silicone formulated in consultation with Wacker Chemie AG of Germany for maximum micro-vibration absorption”. These feel like slightly squishy feet that allow a component to wobble slightly if pushed but which seem to grip the shelf below once placed underneath a component. I put these, at Steve’s suggestion, under the CD player, leaving the stabilizers on top (wherein I continued to do the on/ off comparison of these). Now of course I realized my first sense of the stabilizers was potentially compromised as I had my Marantz sitting on top of the Aurios. Putting the Tenderfeet under the player instead, I noticed a sonic shift.The Tenderfeet seemed to provide an sonic experience similar to the original effect I’d noted with the Big Fat Dots on my speakers, namely a slightly warmer bass coupled with a more detailed mid range response. In both cases I’d thought that perhaps the upper frequency response was lessened but over time I am not sure this is so. To be sure I was hearing the Tenderfeet, I took everything out again and listened once more to the sound of my CD player resting directly on the shelf, something I’d not heard since putting a further set of Aurios under it many weeks before. This cleaning of the sonic palette was most revealing, reminding me I should have started here! Had I really lived with that sound for a year before putting aftermarket footers under the player? Well, not quite as I had improved my rack since I bought the player but honestly, taking it all back to a CD player sitting directly on the shelf really did give me a wake-up call. Duller, more muddied in the mids, a lumpier bass, and just an all round less-involving sound was what I heard. Interestingly, I noticed the change from removal far more sharply than I had the change from addition. Intellectually this does not surprise me as we tend to adjust and get used to sound and subtle improvements, particularly if you are a skeptic, are not as obvious to us as subtle decrements which tend to jump out. What this told me immediately is that I had been comparing the Tenderfeet to the three-times more expensive (and that on special clearance!) Aurios. A better comparison, and the intended one, is the Tall Tenderfeet to the stock feet of the component. In this case, there was no comparison the Tenderfeet give the music a sense of space and resolution missing when they are not used. I popped them back under the player after a couple of hours listening to various tracks and relaxed with relief at the return of the musical flow.
At $62 a set of four Tall Tenderfeet, this ranks up there with the best sub-$100 tweaks I’ve experienced. Further, with the Stabilizer on top, the combination is seductive. Transients snap with greater attack and less smear and the quietness that results between the notes allows those small details in music to appear. It might appear in some rigs as if the bass is lightened but really it is tightened, and for most of us that constitutes an improvement. A great example here is the Joe Pass recording “My Song” (Telarc, 1994). I’ve owned this album since it was released and I can say with some surprise that before this, I don’t think I’d ever really heard it. With the Tenderfeet/Stabilizer combo, I started to appreciate anew all the nuances contained in the pits of this recording: the gentle interplay of Pass and fellow guitarist John Pisano weaving lines together, one in each channel. Or oddly for such a recording, the unequal capture of the piano’s range with Tom Ranier’s gentle right hand tinkling rudely interrupted by a much louder left hand bass chord which suggested the mic was placed too close to that part of the piano. What had always been a pleasant if unchallenging recording now had a more intimate life that revealed itself to me, after more than a decade of listening. With the Tord Gustavesen Trio, Being There (2003, ECM), the combo seemed to firm up the middle and give the piano greater body, pushing the instrument a little further forward in the soundstage compared to the Marantz on its own, and more akin to the improvement gained by putting the CD player on the Aurios. It is this small shift in resolution of intsrumental timbre and fidelity that makes listening all the more pleasurable and, once removed, is missed. If pushed to say which was the greater contributor to the improvement, the Tenderfeet or the Stabilizers, I’d opt for the former and put my money there first as a customer. Further, the Stabilizer seemed to work better in concert with the Tenderfeet than without them, adding a small but perceptible tightening of the soundstage and the bass which could make instruments seem more resolved within the soundstage but, and it is a but, lessening the diffuse treble information in the soundfield that surrounded the music on some recordings, which may or may not be to your taste. In in my system, this combo made musical sense and I consider the Tall Tenderfeet with Stabilizers to be a worthwhile step up on the digital front end for a combined total price of $104. Got a CD player you want to bring back to life or an expensive front end that might actually be hiding some of its potential from you in your current placement? Give these a try for a few weeks and send them back if they don’t work for you. My hunch is they’ll stay in your system.
Full treatment of a system was still some way off since I had multiple components and cables with a set of small feet to put under each. Feeling it would be impossible to assess the small incremental differences each time I added one, I decided to go all out. I took the Aurios out from under my preamp to realign my ears in preparation for a Herbie’s Tenderfoot invasion. Once again, I’d forgotten how much improvement had been wrought by my inveterate tweaking of the system until I had it back in its raw state. Each time I took out a decent footer it did not take me long to realize that
I preferred the sound with each component well supported. As I’d seen with the CD player, I found an improvement again with four of the smaller Tenderfeet under the preamp. In fact, I’d say the PS Audio preamp took quite a shine to the smaller footers, offering tighter bass and greater resolution of musical and instrumental lines. I am torn between thinking the feet do all this but it might be that cleaning up the bass alone offers those quieter details to emerge where previously they are drowned out or smeared. It’s impossible for me to tell in my living room but that should not matter for the typical listener, the point here is these little feet lift the preamp slightly higher than the stock feet and hold the component in a slip-proof manner above the shelf (an improvement over the more slippery feet on the preamp or the wobbly Aurios if you ever want to change connections at the back, which I spend a lot of time doing). Sonically, and for reasons I cannot easily explain, at this changeover I was drawn to my guilty pleasure recordings of 70s rock: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow Rising and Horslips’ Aliens. Neither of these would win audiophile awards for production, even remastered, but it’s fair to say, hearing Blackmore sail over the band on “Stargazer”, that anthemic, pounding slice of riff’n’roll, I again felt like I was hearing it anew and was able to enjoy the sound as well as the music (which I could never say before of this recording which seems the have been so compressed and treble-boosted for radio that the whole texture of the musical picture is surely not what Blackmore intended us to hear). By the time I had installed small Tenderfeet under all components in the chain, including the two Spectron monos, I began to think I had a real feel for their effect. These work in concert and collectively they really do give a little more warmth to the bass while allowing midrange details to emerge more clearly. In all cases, I felt the HAL Tenderfeets were an improvement over the stock feet, it’s as simple as that.
At the opposite end of the chain, I finally decided to introduce the speaker stabilizer decouplers to replace the small brass cones into which my spiked speaker feet normally sit to protect my wooden floors. The small brass disc is replicated (apparently in thicker brass) in the Herbie decoupler but is itself mounted into a 2 3/8″ Teflon base which serves to cushion the brass coupler off the floor. A further benefit of this design is the ease with which it allows the speaker to slide for positioning once mounted onto the coupler, a boon or a curse, depending on your environment and level of neurosis. These are the ‘giant’ decouplers, there’s a smaller one for lighter loads but my two-module Von Schweikerts welcomed the larger model and looked good with the speakers in place (a job that necessitated me taking off the top modules first). My speakers already have outriggers from SoundoCity and the HAL decouplers are a great match aesthetically and physically too with their extra deep indentation for the spike.
Wrestling these into place it was immediately apparent that the feet had a more immediate effect on the sound than anything else form HAL that I’d introduced. As soon as I hit play, I knew something had changed. Not surprisingly, I suppose, given the general impact to date, these further warmed up the bass response of the VSA VR5s. In fact, they warmed it up to the point that I felt now overdid it. The whole sonic picture was a little too warm for me and I felt the lower regions dominated the sonics in my room in a manner that unbalanced the music, to the point of booming at me on some bass-healthy recordings such as Holly Cole’s Temptation CD. Now this is where the other advantage of these decouplers came into its own as I started to move the speakers about in an effort to locate a postion that would better control the bass, if only as an experiment. Sure enough, with these in place, my heavy and spiked speakers moved easily (not quite effortlessly) across the wooden floor without strain or scratch. What followed is the painful and often frustrating process that all audiophiles experience the little doubts and concerns about just where the speakers sound best. I love the stories of the one perfect spot where it all locks in for the listener. I just don’t experience this. Sure I get strong central images and variable soundstage depth (though the latter is never as defined as it would appear to be in other reviewers’ systems, at least as they tell it!) but in my room any pair of speakers I have had never sounded so much better in one and only one spot that it made the case for only that location. In all my playing around with speakers and rooms it usually feels as if there are several acceptable locations, each offering a slightly different trade-off. In my effort to tame the warm bass with these couplers I ended up with a new location, both speakers slightly further apart but angled more into the listening position, putting the rear and sides at an off-angle to all walls. Interestingly, the more I listened, the more I liked this result. Some minor tweaking to get the angles and distances equivalent for both speakers and I ended up with a location that has pleased me since.
Once positioned suitably, the speakers sang with a new voice, one that no longer sounded over ripe and with a freed up midrange that revealed details not obvious heretofore. Playing Charles Brown’s These Blues, my wife remarked that the music sounded so ‘fresh’, the band smoothly comping behind Brown’s lingering piano and drawling vocals. Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me sounded so like a new recording, not the old familiar, with more space and presence. This weekend I had friends over for a drink and we chatted while I played music. My friend, a psychologist who has often told me he is glad he can’t hear what audiophiles claim to hear (which is usually a prelude to a discussion of blind testing and some ridicule of the whole hobby) stopped short at one point and turned to me saying, “that music sounds so good, it’s like they are in the room”. That’s the idea I replied. And this is the real moral of the story here. Small tweaks sometimes combine to enable (rather than directly provide) meaningful differences, allowing the gear to speak. If I had only a few thousand dollars to spend on a complete system, I’d probably not want to invest $500 in footers but I am convinced now that everyone should at least spend some proportion on good support. HAL offers a suite of such options and the prices are definitely affordable.
Small other additions remained. The Hal-O Jrs are small teflon rings with bumpers on them (as I call them) that fit over the interconnect plugs to dampen micro-vibrations ( I would say ‘supposed’ micro-vibrations but Steve assures me there is no supposed here, they are real and they impact the chain of reproduction). I vividly recall my surprise several years back when I put my hands on my old speaker cables at the terminal end while music was playing and felt the connecting wire tingle with vibration to my touch. This convinced me that it’s possible for anything to vibrate once it carries a signal. Steve supplied two pairs for XLR and two for RCA I popped the balanced sets on the cables from my pre to my mono amps and the single-ended on the MAC Silver Braids from turntable to phono stage. Frankly, I did not notice any real change with these, though perhaps the phono link might have sounded a little more rounded with them in place on the table end but since I could not easily swap the in and out while a record played, I’d not swear to it. I presume the balanced interconnects (PS Audio Transcendents) are pretty well made in the vibration-resistance dept but even so, I’d not rule out the value of the Hal-O in other settings. I also popped on on the JMW 10 arm but could not reconcile the look and possible impact on alignment it might have effected to really determine if it worked but hey, these are about $13 each so it’s a cheap experiment for any of you to try for yourself. Given my experience with the other HAL products, I’m inclined to encourage such experimentation.
And for my last trick
Experience has taught me never to rely on first impressions when hearing a new component or product. Even if the change is powerful it usually helps to give your perceptual system time to adjust. The corollary is that once I get used to a new component, I find it helpful to remove it and return to the previous set-up, if only to remind myself of what has changed. It is often easier to detect improvements going backwards than forwards, so to speak. Thus, after several weeks on incremental tweaking with HAL products I pulled them all out of the system in one go. The resulting shift drove home my basic findings loud and clear. I much preferred my rig with the HAL footers in place. Without them, the music just seemed to lose a few degrees of resolution, enough that once you’ve heard them, you find it hard to go back. Thankfully, at the price HAL charges, you won’t need to live without these for financial reasons. There is no easy way for me to tell you where to start. In my system I’d want the speaker stabilizers first, they just made a larger difference than anything else, look good, and offer improved moveability too (which will surely matter once you’ve fitted them!). That said, I already have excellent outriggers on the speakers, I did not take these off to learn how the HALs worked with the original spikes but I’d not be surprised if they helped there too. After that, I’d probably go for support from the front of the chain onwards, but I don’t feel strongly enough about this to say it is the only way that makes sense. Your system will dictate your choices. At the price, the HAL-O cable rings made less impression in my set up but I can see how they would really be useful in some contexts.
So, in case you have any remaining doubts, I believe decent product support is essential to getting the sound your paid for out of your components. While I am not arguing the HAL’s Tenderfeet outperform more expensive vibration control devices, I can say with confidence that impacted the sound of my system positively and likely will do the same for yours. Further, they do so at a price that seems to me such good value as to be worthy of everyone’s consideration. These are a small investment that will live with whatever system change you make in the future. Move over Vibrapods, there’s a new affordable reference in town. Highly recommended.
from aﬀordableaudio, By Patrick Dillon