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This is one of the best single upgrades I've ever made and certainly the most cost-effective one. Dave C, Bristol (about the Pico Component Grounding Blocks)
"One word Jeremy - FANTASTIC!
System is really singing. A total transformation. And the best thing, with just 3 items, there's more to come!" Andrew B, Chipping Sodbury
In simple terms, the Vertex AQ platforms and cables drain vibration and block it from damaging the music signal. Speakers and transformers are the worst offenders and their wide-band vibration shakes circuits that are bathed in magnetic fields. Vibration is carried round the system by the cables, metal being an excellent mechanical conductor (think back to your youth and that telephone with two tins connected by wire.) That vibration generates spurious signals that pollute the music – no hifi hype, just basic physics.
…getting the fundamentals correct in the first place is just too important and for that, I can only thank you yet again for introducing me to the range of Vertex AQ products. I cannot over-estimate their importance as a vital part of any music reproduction system, AV (Blu-ray & plasma) included." Richard C, Bristol
Read more customer reaction here: Vertex comments
There is a lot to read in this section but the time spent will probably be the first step to the best upgrade you've ever taken.
Do you have transformers and loudspeakers in your system?
Then they will be creating vibration. It matters because those vibrations damage the music, badly.
Transformers pulse, not just at 50Hz but also in sympathy with incoming high frequency electrical noise, from radio transmissions, wi-fi, computers, TVs, fluorescent lights – also coming from the neighbours.
Loudspeakers work by vibrating but also export the full spectrum mechanically via the crossover.
Your metal cables – excellent mechanical conductors – will carry it very efficiently round the entire system, end to end, into circuits handling the most delicate signals. Bathed in magnetic fields inside the cases those circuits resonate and – law of physics – generate their own signals, out of phase and out of time.
Money spent on Vertex and LeadingEdge components will bring more improvements than the same amount spent on upgrading the major equipment.
You will be surprised at the scale of these improvements (but just read the comments above) –
- reduced sibilance and edginess
- cleaner treble
better separation of performers
deeper and faster bass
– but crucially you will connect far better with the musicians and the performance. Everything will flow better, make more sense and be more enjoyable, even recordings that have been unplayable in the past. You'll see in these reviews how the writers comment on the jump in musical enjoyment.
There are many magazine reviews and here is a small selection: parallel universe_lowres.pdf tnt audio '07.pdf hifi 41 isolation.pdf
See below for product information, Try Before you Buy and here retail oct'14.pdf is a price list for Vertex components.
That's the story in essence but read on if you'd like to understand more about the very high-level scientific research that underlies these components.
Spurn the 'sticking plaster' method of system matching
It’s simply wrong to think of the Vertex AQ components as accessories, to "tweak up" performance after you’ve bought everything else, the icing on the cake. Because of the insidious pollution suffered by all systems, actually changing their performance, there's a strong chance that you will choose the wrong combination of components, perhaps aiming to soften an edgy abrasive sound. That's a "sticking plaster" solution that will actually lose musical information – better to sort the problem at source.
The under-pinning technology has spun off now into electronics and system-supporting products, offering for the first time ever a holistic approach to allowing a music system to work at its best.
The technology developed by Vertex has now been applied with astonishing results inside other system components – electronics, equipment supports and loudspeakers – and new brand names established, Aletheia for DACs and power supplies and LeadingEdge for the supports.
In conjunction with Kaiser Acoustics in Germany Vertex vibration-draining has been built into the Vivace and Chiara in the Kawero! range of loudspeakers – see Kawero!
There's a clear description of the forces, mechanical and electrical, at work in this Vertex AQ paper: systematic approach .pdf
Read also the section here on LeadingEdge which is a joint project with Kaiser Acoustics in Germany to make furniture-quality equipment racks, hugely benefitting from Vertex AQ technology cunningly hidden in the structure, and a range of room acoustic treatment panels, all made to exquisite standards of finish.
Vertex technology is now being built into major system components, with spectacular benefits. Read about the Aletheia dac-1 Aletheia
We'd like to say something critical to understanding why mistakes are made in choosing equipment: our ears and brain were not designed for listening to music, they were designed for survival.
So? What this means is that we hear the timing well before we hear the pitch or tone and timing was crucial in locating a potential threat – and it's the timing of music that is so badly damaged in most systems. Distorted timing leaves us unsatisfied and thinking an upgrade is necessary.
We’ll go out on a limb here: when "upgrading" you will actually buy the wrong components unless you first put some Vertex items in place to correct the underlying faults that plague all systems – yes, all systems. Nothing is immune. Just because your CD player (or whatever) is recognised globally as the proverbial… We've proved it in systems from £5,000 to £150,000, to our satisfaction and, importantly, the customer's.
The thing is, you are very likely to blame the CD source or the amp or the speakers for a sound you dislike – whereas the signal is being crippled by the system itself, with RF polluted mains and vibration creating spurious signals.
"System matching will sort out these problems"
(no it won't)
So-called "system matching" is a seriously misleading tactic. Conventionally, people buy components with characteristics, colourations even, that balance out the unwelcome traits of another. Example: softer, more muted loudspeakers that hide a hardness in the sound, or less-revealing cables because the better ones show up fundamental system faults. Result: significant loss of musical information. OK, it’s listenable but it’s not satisfying and eventually, you, the unhappy listener will start on the difficult and chancy upgrade path yet again.
This is where advice can save you a lot of money.
Are Vertex components expensive? Here are Roy Gregory’s words from hifi+
"At no point in the process did the cost of the upgrade seem expensive given the musical results. Indeed, translated into equipment terms, you’d be well pleased to achieve these levels of improvement from a change of electronics costing many times as much (our emphasis). And as we’ve discovered, the impact of this approach on the performance of even quite basic electronics is frankly astonishing. The simple fact is, most of us have never heard what our expensive electronic boxes can do…"
There's a lot of science and very high-level maths behind all this
In case you think this is just another “black magic” ploy consider this: a significant part of the Vertex armoury is based on knowledge gained from non-destructive testing of aircraft.
From its military experience the company is now working with one of the MoD’s defence research agencies, Acuity, and developing tests that, for the first time ever in the field of hifi, show the dramatic and damaging twisting of timing information.
In simple terms, the research shows that no system at any price level is fast enough to follow the music signal, there's always a lag in response. The bigger and more complex the system the more likely it is to suffer significant inertia.
Some other hifi companies are taking a deep interest, with the idea of using findings to improve their own products – a very significant development and one that will put them ahead in the market. Read an in-depth explanation on the Vertex web site: Time Domain Measurement and download a PDF or click this link ka paper.pdf
From the Knowledge Alliance paper, showing the displacement of the CD player response (red) from the music signal (green). Note how the CD player response lags behind the music signal on the Time axis as it changes rapidly. Timing displacement worsens as volume and complexity increase, so heavy rock or full orchestral music suffer incrementally as replay volume rises –exactly why so many systems sound worse as the volume increases.
We are particularly struck by the rigour of this interesting partnership: "…the Acuity staff are applying the highest level of scrutiny to the work, just as they would if they were delivering information to the UK MoD" – taken from the document.
Our ear/brain combination is a survival sense and their sensitivity and discrimination are extraordinary. The traditional measurements of frequency response and distortion are not irrelevant but they miss by a mile the other things that our ears listen for in music. Timing information is critical to our enjoyment.
So, where to start? At its simplest probably a mains distribution block, an equipment platform and a mains lead (see more detail below), but to understand why you’ll probably need to read some explanation. Contact us to discuss your system and seek our advice about where to start. Also visit the Vertex AQ web site: Vertex AQ *
The two key elements in the Vertex approach are mains treatment – not so unusual though their particular approach is (more on this below) – and acoustic energy absorption/blocking, ie not isolation. Isolation methods produce variable results and now Vertex are showing that there's much more damaging energy created inside the components – generated by the system itself – than there is coming from outside. In fact, by isolating one is trapping the energy and causing even more problems. The villains are especially power supplies and loudspeakers but almost anything else, at a lower level, carrying a current.
Put simply, vibration across a very wide band of frequencies – not just low frequency vibration that we can feel – shakes circuits that are carrying currents in complex magnetic fields. Spurious electrical signals are created that do massive damage:
- timing of the music at different frequencies is warped, spoiling imaging and tonality
- bass sounds loose and imprecise because the start-of-note timing clues are lost
- phase information responsible for imaging and placing of performers is lost
- high frequencies are distorted, creating an aggressive edge to female vocals, brass instruments etc
- and fine detail creating 'presence' is destroyed
- all this information loss limits dynamics, making music sound 'flat'
- the loss also limits useable volume range: low and music lacks interest, higher and distortion makes it unlistenable.
A classic mistake is to think that a more powerful amplifier will 'control' the loose bass – it may sound better in some ways but it's likely the extra vibrational energy will cause even greater damage, as in the list above!
None of this information loss and damage can be properly recovered by upgrading the major components. Yet people all too often are persuaded into 'upgrading' the main boxes, vainly seeking the information that has already been lost. Even sadder is the fact that better components will show up this loss even more savagely.
Vertex platforms in the Kinabalu range proved highly successful over the years in draining this damaging energy out of the equipment.
Now the Kinabalu range has been replaced by the beautifully-made LeadingEdge platform that is also significantly more effective.
Cross-section of the LeadingEdge platform – note especially the fast path to drain energy from the equipment into the labyrinth
It's worth spending a moment here to describe the operation of the platforms because there is often some misunderstanding amongst audiophiles, probably because there are other "cone solutions" out there. Besides the two rubber-tipped cones that are supplied purely to maintain correct height, there is one hard steel cone that couples the metal chassis through the metal plate to the acoustic labyrinth beneath where the energy is dissipated.
In other words, the cones and the invisible labyrinth are one complete energy-draining system. It is the labyrinth that is the "magic" ingredient, helped by the hard cone and the metal plate that form a swift path for the energy to travel with a low mechanical impedance right through from the metal chassis.
If cones are placed on different surfaces, such as wood, glass or granite alone the results will be variable because the energy has no clear destination. There is a significant danger that energy will find its way back into the chassis, rapidly and with a 'glassy' sound in the case of glass, and with some time delay in the case of other materials, naturally causing some smearing of information.
There's fuller information here on the Vertex web site: Time Domain Measurement where you can download the measurement paper that focuses particularly onto the performance of the platforms and has shown remarkable new evidence of the damage that we hear but that has so far eluded measurement.
This is ground-breaking research, conducted at the highest scientific level in one of the MoD's agencies.
The report is a technical read because it involves very high-level maths but it's a prime example of the dangers of shutting one's eyes to the complex in audio and relying instead on simple solutions.
It's no exaggeration to say that this is a major breakthrough for the audio industry, for the first time allowing us to quantify the damaging effects of timing distortion. The discovery will also improve analysis of search data in the defence industry.
An explanation of the energy absorption process is simpler with the Vertex cables. With a stethoscope and two interconnect cables, one Vertex and the other a standard cable, it's easy to show the blocking ability. Place the stethoscope on one end of the regular cable and gently stroke the other end – the sound carried through the wire is LOUD. Do the same with the Vertex cable and it's virtually silent. This blocking ability is especially important with the speaker cables, because they naturally link the very noisy speakers into the rest of the system.
One misconceived idea “to gain more control” in a system is to upgrade to more powerful amplifiers and more meaty speakers. Of course this actually puts a lot more vibration into the system! Think of the direct connection from speakers back into the amps and thence into the rest of the system, even directly back into delicate sources such as a cartridge, efficiently conducted through the metal cables.
A simple illustration of this point: how often have you heard a system that sounds good with quieter, simpler music but becomes unpleasant and raucous as the complexity and volume builds? That is acoustic energy doing its damage. It's also a good example of how "upgrading" to more powerful amplifiers, for instance, may help with some aspects but may well also cause a lot of disappointment.
We make sure your money is always spent in the way that will bring the greatest enjoyment – and that way might not include conventional upgrades.
Interestingly, the reputation that silver cables can sound 'harder' is a perfect illustration of their greater efficiency: because silver is a harder metal than copper it is conducting this damaging energy round the system more successfully! It's not the fault of the silver, it's simply revealing faulty system set-up.
The mains treatments come in various forms, from a range of plug-in filters through probably one of the best-value items – the Taga six-way distribution block that both absorbs damaging energy and also filters the mains – to the Aletheia PSU1 and 2 for ultimate mains cleaning.
An important point to make is that these filtering devices do not limit dynamics, a common criticism of filters from other manufacturers. The reason is simple: there are no components in the supply line. The Jaya series simply plug into a socket alongside the equipment, nothing is plugged into them.
The Taga distribution blocks, standard and HiRez, may look like many others but each socket is connected directly to the input – no restriction on current supply.
The filtering with all the Vertex devices is done by "shunting" the RF contamination, ie drawing it off to the side and dumping it to Earth. This is in contrast to those of other manufacturers that have chokes, transformers or diodes in the supply path.
The second crucial function of the Taga block is acoustic energy absorption – every component plugged into it benefits. The technology is the same as is used in the platforms and cable boxes, described above. In this case the Taga absorbs vibrational energy coming in from the mains and also from the power supplies of the system components, draining the energy down the mains cables.
The Taga is therefore an excellent first step whether or not there are any other Vertex components in the system
Vertex produce a range of HiRez filters, cables and a Taga, using "stealth" materials that absorb electro-magnetic interference (EMI).
The HiRez Jaya filter is an astonishing component that allows life, energy and transparency to leap out of the music, all information that was being killed off before by interference coming through the mains. Here's the reaction of a customer who bought one:
"So I have spent tens of thousands of pounds chasing insight and transparency, which ultimately took a £960 'add on' to unveil."
Vertex Taga 6-way distribution block – also available with Continental (Schuko) or US sockets.
HiRez version has a higher performance vibration-absorbing labyrinth plus RFI/EMI absorption
Balanced HiRez Taga takes performance even higher, supplying source components with ultra-pure balanced power
Try before you buy: we're willing to lend out items for you to try in your own system, to satisfy yourself that this is not mumbo-jumbo stuff. We ask only that you pay the return (very rare!) cost if it does not live up to expectations. Mind you, if you are not impressed in the trial it could be that your system is stifling the improvements, which means that it's also losing a lot of musical information.
(Note: Why the strange un-memorable names? All the products are named after mountain peaks around the world. One customer said to us, "Ah yes, I've climbed Mount Kinabalu!")
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