TUNGSTEN GROOVES FEET REVIEW P1

For some, high-end accessories still fall under esoteric labeling, while others who have experimented with aftermarket products have experienced both positive and negative effects. These can be drastically leveled out in both opposites. 

For years, many of the high-end audio manufacturers have been using exotic materials and complex mechanical solutions to deal with resonances. Not only for high-end accessories and audio racks but also the chassis, interior parts, modules, feet, etc. 

When it comes to scientific, technological, and material science knowledge, not many audio companies reveal the inner workings of their products. That is why I was immediately interested in Tungsten Grooves' feet when Paul Fowler contacted me and asked for the possibility of an evaluation. 

I did my homework and study the company, its products, and its modus operandi. My multiplex, almost 24/7 operation in Mono and Stereo does not allow me to test unlimited equipment. I have to hand-pick the products, and this is where the doors open for the unique, interestingly different, and non-ordinary solution-based product. 

I love it when the great design is backed up by technical data. Many manufacturers are willing to exploit the blind faith in the proposed technological solutions, that can either work or not. In any case,  I always prefer to understand how a certain product works, at least to a level, that won't reveal patented or secretive approaches. Total reclusiveness that doesn't reveal anything simply doesn't float my boat, and based on the reader's feedback, it's not preferable by them either. 

Do not get me wrong. I love exotic materials and esoteric exploration. Nevertheless, in the 21st century, where the supercar industry, the space industry, the medical sector, the military, and other industries already use so-called exotic materials with impressive technology for decades, I do not see high-end audio being susceptible to technically secure products. 

For years and decades, institutions, research laboratories and various manufacturers from all sectors have been dealing with the undesirable hubris that emanates from various sources and generates resonances, micro- and airborne vibrations that drastically influence the mechanical and electronic operating behavior of various devices.

All areas of high-end audio technology, not just the top tier of ultra-high-end audio technology, are advancing rapidly. Consequently, music lovers and audiophiles are digging deeper to find out where and how performance can be shifted up at all levels of music reproduction. 

Most high-end audio systems implement a kind of dedicated audio rack. While some serve as an elegant shelving system for the components, most have been installed to proffer the system's better performance. 

In the analog field, there is no doubt about the utmost importance of each part involved in the front-end setup. 

This insight and knowledge are slowly spreading to the other parts of the audio system, and people are beginning to realize how important it is. With a turntable, you do not want to go wrong at any point, as the balancing act between cartridge, tonearm, record player, and the rest of the paraphernalia will be disrupted. 

The same applies to the rest of the high-end audio system. It just takes a little more effort, time, and an inquisitive mind to delve into the realms of vibration. 

Everything is susceptible to vibrations and nothing is idle. Even if it doesn't seem that way. 

The vibrational study is a science unto itself. As soon as we enter a universe of parts and particles on a micro-scale, it is obvious that the ceaseless interdependence is hidden from the eye. 

When we are dealing with resonances, vibrations, and oscillations of different frequencies, getting rid of them (transforming them) or aligning them at a certain point is a matter of constant research of various scientists from all fields of manufacturing. 

In the audio world, we strive to understand the particular nature of the resonances that affect the audio signal. Over the years, I have spoken to many audio designers, and they all have their way of dealing with it. The silver lining is to bring them to the common point and either transfers them to heat, dispatch them mechanically or even move them in an inaudible range. 

If the resonance is observed as a kind of motion that can be identified by their inherited nature of oscillating between two conditions, then we are looking for the localization and treatment of these peculiar oscillations. 

Certainly, this is an unusual and lengthy intro, but it sets the pace by understating what Paul Fowler and Tungsten Grooves are trying to achieve and want to do with their devices.

THE BACKGROUND

In order to understand where the tungsten groves come from, it is imperative to learn about the background of Paul Fowler (CEO and owner of Tungsten Grooves). He started his career as an electronic/mechanical engineer with a UK defense radar company, then known as Marconi Radar Systems.

There Fowler had access to all types of radar equipment and to some of the best engineers working in the field at the time. They designed and built the hardware, electronics, and software from scratch, all tailor-made for different NATO countries.

For over 20 years Fowler is demoing various isolation devices from different manufacturers and even brought some. At the same time, he has been building his own streamer and looking at various interfaces such as USB, and researching the jitter in clocks.

Mechanical isolation and jitter collided Fowler recognized through listening tests how existing isolation devices could not properly isolate a component, and there were obviously artefacts introduced into recordings.



Early sketch and prototype

After further investigation, many other people complained about the same problem. Fowler realized that artefacts were not really being introduced, but the isolation devices were only able to deal with vibrations at certain frequencies and not the entire frequency spectrum.

The question was!? What is going on and why is that?

Fowler wanted to get away from the perception that vibrations are only transmitted through the floor and upwards through a stand or object. The final conclusion was that this is not true!

First, resonance can be detected in all PCBs, and it is known that resonance causes noise in electronic circuits, which is bad for sound. This can cause jitter in digital circuits or can be introduced as noise in an analog waveform. The white paper, Resonance in PCBs describes the effect and the relationship between the chassis and the PCB in more detail.

Second, speakers generate a lot of vibrations through the air (see the YouTube video). This is why room acoustics are so important. Sound waves can be very powerful and strike the enclosure of an audio component and the platform on which the component sits. These induced micro-vibrations also affect the electronics and cables, which is why damping plates and cable suspensions work.

THE TUNGSTEN

Fowler was looking for materials that could absorb vibrations naturally, and there really is only one - tungsten and a few artificial composites. Tungsten Grooves feet benefit from a specially created Tungsten alloy that was made especially for them and composite material used in the bearings.

The advantage of tungsten is a double one. Due to its mass and chemical composition, it absorbs vibrations in a natural way.

The density of tungsten, which is much higher than that of lead, is a better barrier against EMC and EMI than lead. Fowler likes to think of Tungsten Grooves isolation feet like a black hole for electromagnetic fields (EM) and vibrations. This may not be entirely true, but it does give a way of understanding how feet can affect the transmission lines between the case and the PCB, whilst naturally absorbing vibrations.

Imagine vibrations in the form of electrical earth: The more direct the path, the better. There will always be some positions that are better than others due to the construction of different audio components. Therefore, trial and error are needed when positioning Tungsteen Grooves' feet under the equipment.

But this is not the end of the story. Tungsten Groove found that they were able to improve the design, which started out as a solid tungsten block. The moment of the light bulb came when they realized that particle shock absorption could improve the efficiency of the feet and could enhance the absorption of vibrations at all frequencies.

This is where physics becomes very complicated, and research into particle impact dampening is still in its infancy.

Using super-dense tungsten particles, Fowler and his team designed chambers that could effectively absorb vibrations. This is key to the design as it helps to stop vibration reflections while providing effective vibration synchronization. Although the tungsten plates absorb vibrations very well, there must still be a place where these vibrations can be completely discharged. Fowler didn't want that vibrations are transmitted through one object into something else, but aspire to absorb them completely. When vibrations pass through an object, that object can dissipate the vibrations to a certain degree, but it is more likely to change the frequency of the vibrations.

In order to prove that tungsten is actually responsible for absorbing vibrations, Tungsten Grooves has created different versions of feet made of stainless steel, copper, and composite material. While testing the different versions they heard the already known artefacts again, but in each version, they were audible slightly different.

What Fowler did not expect was that the heat from an audio component would warm up the tungsten, making it more effective. Listening tests at Tungsten Grooves showed a difference between warm and cold tungsten and as an objective conclusion, a warm-up time of 5 to 10 minutes is recommended.

THE RINGING EFFECT

Almost all materials, especially metals, have ringing effects. If you hit steel with a hammer, it rings, if you hit wood, it drones. These effects affect the audio components and create the artefacts we hear.

Often manufacturers show graphics showing how vibrations are reduced by a medium such as rubber. Often it looks similar to the graph below, where time is on the X-axis.

The graph shows a single frequency, while the amplitude decays with time. Depending on the frequency, the oscillations are reflected back at different speeds, effectively damaging the audio signal. Beware of graphs like this one, since almost all materials produce such a graph, even air. The difference is that time (the x-axis) varies.

THE COMPLEXITY

The complexity of an audio signal with different amplitudes and phases, which effectively allows us to perceive the sound stage between two speakers, is very short. Our hearing can perceive these differences down to the micro- or possibly nanosecond. If we cast an excessive number of reflections at different frequencies on an audio signal, it is not difficult to detect the damage done.

Chances are good that a good stand will already be able to cope with the vibrations from the ground up. What stands cannot do is absorb the vibrations of internal components. Tungsten Grooves feet effectively absorb vibrations from the ground up and from the inside. At low volume levels, a stand or rack has less effect than at high volume levels.

Consider the volume levels: If the volume level is very low, you will naturally lose the presence of a sound stage if the distortion is very high and poor room acoustics become the dominant factor.

While these factors can overwhelm a system and the listening experience, at low sound levels, controlling PCB vibration is still a factor. When there is no external vibration from speakers, PCBs and electronic components still resonate naturally. DACs, CD especially players and preamps seem to respond very positively to this type of internal vibration control.

Tungsten Grooves feet comes with different thickness of the cover plate. A thicker top plate helps to absorb vibrations and is generally perceived as a better isolation device in terms of overall sound quality. Their ability to absorb electrically generated vibrations is important.

From the audio source to the speaker, there is a sweet spot where a set of isolating feet makes a bigger difference in terms of improved sound quality. As with all audio, there is a cumulative effect where more of audio components are isolated.

There is a lot of science involved here, and Tungsten Grooves' feet are backed up with much info that lets people understand why their product improves the overall sound quality of the system.

Very simplified experiment, but it shows how sound can affect a surface and cause vibrations. i.e. imagine this is an amplifier chassis or the surface of an audio rack. This is especially interesting because you can completely isolate the vibrations from the ground, but we do not listen to music in anechoic chambers, so the sound reflection from speakers always induces vibrations into our high-end equipment via the air.

Interestingly if you watch the Stacore video to the end they actually demonstrate air induced vibration but gloss over the potential issues

THE FAMILY

W50-H33 Mini Groovers

The W50-H33 is the smallest model currently available, measuring 50mm diameter, 33.5mm high and weighing 0.75 kg.

Having the same design as its bigger brothers, don’t let its size fool you, these mini groovers still pack an audiophile punch.

W70-H33 Vibration Isolation Feet

The D70-H33 is the smaller of the two models currently available, measuring in at 70mm diameter, 33mm high and a weight of 1.4kg. It has the same design as its bigger brother but with a smaller tungsten alloy top plate.

When choosing which of these two models you need to consider the height of gap under your component between the chassis and the shelf, as well as the space available above the component in your rack. If the height of the gap is more than 33mm you will need to choose the D70-H47 model to avoid removing the manufacturer supplied feet.

W70-H47 Vibration Isolation Feet


Weighing in at over 3kg each, the D70-H47 – the bigger brother of the D70-H33 – has been affectionally code-named ‘fat boy’ by our founder and its designer Paul Fowler.

The fat boys offers a greater height clearance of 47mm for components where it’s needed. Height clearance is not the only reason for choosing this model if your budget will stretch to it.

W70-H47 Speaker Edition

Available as a special order, the fat boys can be manufactured with a thread and supplied with an appropriate size thread for your speakers.

Due to the number of different sizes used by speaker manufacturers they are custom built to requirements.

SUM UP

There is a general idea that you can only squeeze a few last percentages out of the component/system performance if everything is already set up and on an equitable level. This is true in its own right, but it's not the sole path in reaching the final goal. 

Paul Fowler and Tungsten Grooves approach this topic from a different perspective. It starts with dealing with resonances from the very beginning. This approach lets the component show its true potential. If each component works at the optimum plane, the system can then produce a finely tuned and harmonious whole from the outset. 

Much common sense follows this logic. Understandably, not everyone will take this path, as it can quickly become much more complex and costly.

The other way is of course easier and is taken more often. Most people have already established their system and work with various degrees of satisfaction. 

When inserting the feet under different components, it is always advisable to start with a singular device. The preamplifier or source should be among the initial candidates for evaluation, as this is where the signal begins to form or is treated in the amplification stage. There is no golden rule and every system is different. Nevertheless, I would recommend experimenting with one of these two devices first as I did. 

The summary of the first results can be subjective but is usually immediately apparent. If the performance of a particular component is shifted, not only the component behaves differently. The whole system changes. A high-end audio setup is commonly considered as a harmonious whole, and if something changes, it affects the overall system behavior.

A careful and step-by-step evaluation process helps to determine the impact on the individual component and the system as a whole. This of course requires time, a lot of listening, listening remarks, and consistency. 

Tungsten Grooves vibration isolation feet are intended for use directly under the component. The upper side of the foot must touch the chassis directly. They should not be placed under the existing feet, as this will impair their intended function. Most of the high-end audio electronics offer a flat bottom surface so such type of installation shouldn't be a problem. 

I was more than just surprised by the Tungsten Grooves vibration isolation feet at the primary impact, which only further proved itself after long and continuous testing. 

The effects vary from component to component, as every high-end device is constructed differently, but my comments in the listening notebook have created the constant impressions of positive performance shifts. 

The overall effect brought an intriguingly interesting twist. It's well known among tube aficionados how the NOS tubes made in the magical period act very differently compared to the presently produced tubes. Or to be exact, the ones after the mid-'60s of the last century. They elevate positively both even and odd harmonics equally without affecting the dynamism and transparency. This is exactly what Tungsten Grooves' vibrational feet reminded me of. Many high-end audio feet take something away from the music. On opposite the Tungsten Grooves act in favor of music, rather than dissecting it.

Paul Fowler and his team designed their vibrational feet without compromise and within their out-of-the-box specter of understanding and know-how. The result is not something I've expected to be honest. Yes, I was triggered by the technical approach and Fowler background. Yet, you never know what to expect performance-wise until the product is used in real-world applications and I'm glad I've kept the mind open. 

I will break down and point out the specific qualities of Tungsten Grooves vibrational feet in the second and final part of the review in the music section with direct musical references.

Stay tuned...

Matej Isak

PRICES

  • W50 H33 £350.00
  • W70 H33 £775.00
  • W70 H47 £995.00
  • W70 H47 Speaker Edition £1,025.00

CONTACT 

Web: www.tungstengroovesaudio.com

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