Happy Feats

Hope some of you have had the chance to hear Mr Harmonix, Kiuchi-san at the recent Sound n Sight Exhibition. Harmonix is a line of accessories that brought the company into prominence. Harmonix accessories, as its name implies, add ‘harmony’ to your system, it brings out the best from your equipment. Very Japanese, don’t you think so??

The subject of this entry is the Harmonix tuning feet. Ever since Mod Squad came up with simple add-on feet called Tip Toes some twenty years back, there have been a constant stream of footers and isolation devices to help things along. We all know they do work, to a degree. Some changes the sound, some produce improvements here and there. You put it under your equipment and voila, magic. Or so it seems. Then after a couple of days something starts to grate at your ears. What seems to be an improvement can be a form of an emphasis of a certain range of frequencies. This brings out some aspect of the sound at the expense of the rest of the range. You win some – you loose some. I must admit, I lost faith in most of them. Though I haven’t tried them all, I tried enough – floating magnetic feet, air suspension platforms, Chinese ceramic tea cups, blocks of wood made from different material (yup they sound different), wood cones embedded with lead shots, acrylic cones, metal cones, combination of wood and metal cones and so on. I suppose some of them may work well in your system but that’s hardly science.

In my opinion, the tuning feet should not do the following:

–          change the sonic balance of the equipment

–          add colouration of its own

Before we start discussing about the Harmonix feet, we should ask ourselves – why do we even need them in the first place? Flimsy folded sheet metal chassis seems to be an obvious culprit as are equipment handling very low level signals or those with moving parts eg CD players and digital to analogue processors. Tube amplifiers are other obvious candidates for tuning feet, as glass tend to ‘ring’ and that adds a ‘glassy’ coloration to the sound. Turntables would benefit as well but that depends very much on the design, with some of the more expensive designs that place emphasis on resonance and vibration control, the benefits may be less apparent. However cheaper turntables may not have the same luxury…

So we agree, at least some of our equipment need some form of isolation footers to help achieve their full potential.

Harmonix tuning feet have been around for a while and it is my opinion, they work as they claim. While this might sound self-serving, please keep in mind, we sell some of the tuning feet mentioned earlier in the article too! We have ample opportunities to try them not only in our systems in the showroom but also in our customers’ systems over the years. The Harmonix tuning feet is in my opinion, the most consistent performer. The only catch is, they are not exactly cheap. Kitting out an average system can run into some nice numbers. Then again, if they don’t work, how much or how little it costs is of no relevance. But they do.

To test out the system we had the AMR CD77 CD player as the test equipment. This is a CD player –hence moving parts and low level signal processing plus it has a tube output stage. Tube line drivers can pick up microphony and colour the sound. In its favour, the unit is well constructed with proper attention to isolation of the CD drive and the tubes have damping rings. In all honesty, the unit works well sans any form of isolation feet! Because of this, the AMR CD77 is the perfect candidate for the test, as it shouldn’t need any help from outside sources. But if there are sonic improvements to be had, we can say for certain, it is attributed to the tuning feet!

We tried out two sets – the TU 606Z (S$1250) and the TU666M million series (S$1900), a special edition of the standard TU666ZX. The smaller TU600 is too short for the AMR player, the AMR feet are taller than the height of the TU-600 itself, and the TU666ZX is at the moment out of stock. You can place the feet between the chassis and the platform it is sitting on, thereby bypassing the original feet of the piece of equipment, or alternatively as Harmonix suggests, let the equipment feet rest on the Harmonix tuning feet. They are height adjustable.

The construction of the feet seems simple enough; a metal piece separates two pieces of wood. Harmonix gives no indication on how the tuning feet are constructed or the choice of materials used. They are pretty substantial in weight though; I suppose about half a kilogram per piece. They are available in matt silver or gold finish for the same price.

The CD we used for the test is Rickie Lee Jones ‘Pop pop’, an old favorite with a nice live feel to it. First we tried the CD77 sitting on an equipment rack. Playing the first track ‘My one and only love’ it has guitar, double bass, and the interlude with a harmonica and of course Ms Jones. No complains here, the CD77 sounds fantastic with this CD. Instruments are nicely separated, the bass end is deep and rich and Ms Jones voice, sublime as ever.

First we tried the less expensive TU606Z. The first impression is the third dimension becomes more apparent. Now there is a sense of even better separation and added sense of space surrounding the instruments and voice. Her voice seems softer, more expressive; more relaxed than before where there once seemed to have a sense of hardness and grain. There was no apparent increase in the leading edge, eg the attack on the double bass was snappy yet no accentuation was apparent. Instead, the snap of the fingers on the strings were much more realistic compared to before.

The tonal balance seems smoother and more harmonically rich. To me it struck a balance between over smoothing the sound vs adding a leading edge. How did Kiuchi-san do it? Is it the type of wood used? Or is it the design of wood-metal-wood that gives the necessary properties to the final result? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, what counts is that it works!

Next we replaced the TU606Z with the TU666M. The TU666M is appreciably heavier than the TU606Z. The construction of the TU666M seems similar to the TU666 so what does the extra S$650 brings? In a word – plenty. As impossible as it sounds, the TU666M seems to double the dynamic range of the system! The sound is able to break free from the constrains of the system, becoming even more life-like and more dimensional than even the TU606Z. Again, there is no exaggeration on any part of the sonic spectrum. The closest I can describe is the first time I heard a super tweeter being added to a system – not only was the high frequency extension improved; there were also significant gains in the overall clarity of the system. The TU666M does even better – now it seems I am transported twenty years back to the recording venue, listening to the session playing life as they are recorded! Can you beat that!?

Now counting the pennies, a set of four TU666M cost S$1900, I’ll need one set for the CD player, one for the amp and Harmonix says they work well with speakers too!! Perhaps that’s the next thing I will try out!

Article contributed by Terence Wong of MOD AV magazine.


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