|Posted by Amine Slimani on August 24, 2011 at 2:45 PM|
The Aktyna A.R.I.S. Evo2 are high performance decoupling feet for audio (and video) equipment that transform the vibration generated by the equipment itself and by the outside environment into heat.
Throughout the past three years I have experimented with different coupling and decoupling feet and platforms. While most of them did change the sound of my system, very few did it without imparting their own character to the mix. During that period, I tried feet and cones constructed from brass, aluminum, ebony (Yamamoto), vinyl (Vibrapod) and other composite materials such as the ones used by Herbie’s audio tenderfeet. Each of those aftermarket feet had their strengths (the Yamamoto being the sweetest sounding and the Tenderfeet the most neutral of the lot) but none of them was the ultimate decoupling solution I was looking for.
The most noticeable drawback was that the performance of those different aftermarket cones was highly dependant on the platform they were sitting on. After experimenting with various DIY platforms (acrylic, carbon fiber, glass, MDF, plywood...), I settled on DIY sandboxes with maple platforms. I have also been using for more than 2 years a very affordable yet effective E&T Spyder rack.
After reading a few raving articles about the Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet in the French specialized press, I decided to try them on my system. The shop I bought them from offered a risk free trial period for the Aktyna in order to allow the prospective buyer to try them on his or her own system before making the final purchase decision. As soon as I tried them on my system, using one set under my DAC and a second one under my headphone amp, I knew I wasn’t going to return them. These decoupling feet were the most effective and neutral feet I tried in my system. While the change was already impressive on my reference solid state gear, it was even more astonishing on the entry level tubed Little Dot MKIII, which was completely transformed by these high performance feet.
Admittedly, it doesn’t make much sense to use aftermarket feet that cost more than the amplifier itself (in the case of the LD MKIII) but it is interesting to study the effect of the Aktyna ARIS on entry level equipment and understand that a positive side effect of heavier and more expensive equipment is in fact better vibration control.
Before describing with more details the “sound” of the Aktyna ARIS feet, I wanted to share a little anecdote which prompted me to write this article.
I had the Aktyna ARIS decoupling for more than a year and I was very impressed with them since the first time I tried them in my system. With the time passing by, I started forgetting about the Aktyna ARIS, which always a good sign about audio equipment. I kept using them as they were by far the best aftermarket feet I had tried but I didn’t think more about them... until the day I missed their presence. It was during a time I was experimenting with different filter settings on my DAC, which involves opening the case and getting it out of my audio rack.
After finishing with my experimenting, I opened the DAC one more time in order to set back the filter to its stock settings and while putting back the DAC on my rack (using the same interconnects, power cords...), I forgot to put back the Aktyna ARIS feet under the DAC.
The following day, I thought something was wrong with the sound of the DAC. I let it warm-up, as usual, using a mix of my Tara Labs Cascade Noise and Isotek Burn-in CDs but the sound was still “off” after the warm-up period as I noticed both a noticeable decrease in overall resolution and a dulling of transient. I first checked Foobar to see if I had enabled a DSP or upsampler by mistake but couldn’t find anything that explained the change in sound. It was until I decided to open back the DAC that I realized I wasn’t using the customary feet I had been constantly using during the previous months.
While this little anecdote is by no means a proof that decoupling feet can work, it just shows to the reader that is familiar with my other reviews what kind of radical and unmistakable change they can expect from this tweak.
When should you use decoupling feet or other vibration control devices?
In my opinion, there are 3 ways to consider the issue of vibration control on audio equipment.
The first view is to say that no vibration control device can affect in an audible manner the sound of any audio equipment (save for speakers). While I do understand where such a belief can come from, all I can do is to encourage people to try for themselves.
The second view is that only ultra high end and highly resolving can actually allow us (humans, not bats) to hear the supposedly small and subtle effects of vibration control. Hence, according to this elitist view, using different decoupling feet and vibration control platforms will only affect the sound of those ultra revealing systems.
The third view is the one that vibration device makers would want you to believe in, which is that audio racks and aftermarket feet are extremely important to the foundation of the sound as the vibration control can break or transcend a system.
My personal view falls somewhere between the second and third one. While I believe that good vibration can benefit any system, it is better to start with a system that more to your liking. For instance, no amount of vibration control can change the fact that a DAC is using a poor fast roll-off filter plagued with poor transient response and excessive ringing. So it is up to individual to decide when it makes sense to start investing in vibration control devices and platforms.
Equipment used for the Review:
Transports: Jkeny’s modified Hiface MK1, Kingrex UC192, Audio-gd Digital Interface (w/ Tentlabs upgrade clock), Musiland Monitor 01 USD, EMU 0404 USB, Teralink X2
DAC: Audio-gd DAC-19 DSP (with DSP1 V5)
Amplifiers: Audio-gd C2, Audio-gd C2 SA, Little Dot MKIII
Headphones: ALO recabled Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD650 with Artisan Silver Dream Upgrade Cable
Digital interconnects: Hifi Cables Sobek BNC, Oyaide DB-510 BNC, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Analog Interconnects: Artisan Ultimate Silver Dream RCA, Norse Audio UP-OCC ACSS, Deep Sounds SPS ACSS, Kimber PBJ RCA
Power filtration: Bada LB-5600 Filter, Essential Audio Tools Noise Eater, Essential Audio Tools Pulse Protector, Supra Jentech Mains distributor
Power cords: Hifi Cables & Cie PowertransPlus (x2), Hifi Cable & Cie SimpleTrans, Olflex power cords
Vibration Control: Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet, Maple and Acrylic Platforms, E&T rack, Stabren Damping pads, Sandbox, Brass cones, Vibrapod, Yamamoto Ebony footers and Various Herbie’s Audio Labs tweaks
The review system:
Pictures of the Aktyna ARIS underneath the C2 headphone amp:
Comparison of the Aktyna ARIS with other cones (Aktyna ARIS on the left):
Reference Tracks used for this review:
Mahler - Symphony n 5 - Decca - 16/44
Sol Gabetta - Schostakowitsch Cellokonzert Nr. 2/Cello - 16/44
Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 violins - Carmignola/Mullova - 16/44
Natalie Dessay - Italian Opera Arias - Emi Classics - 16/44
Puccini - La Boheme - Decca - 16/44
Glenn Gould - The Goldberg Variations 1981 - 16/44
The Essential James Bond - City of Prague Philharmonic orchestra - 16/44
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five - HDCD - 16/44
Diana Krall - Live in Paris - 16/44
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me - 16/44
Patricia Barber - Companion - 16/44
Johnny Cash - The Essential - 16/44
Soundrama - "The Pulse" Test CD - 16/44
High Resolution quality:
Rachmaninoff Dances - HD Tracks - 24/96
Mozart Violin Concertos - Marianne Thorsen - 2L - 24/96
Keith Jarrett - Paris / London - Testament - 24/96
Jazz at the Pawnshop - HD Tracks - 24/88
Alison Krauss and Union Station - Paper Airplane - 24/96
Ella Fitzgerald / Louis Armstrong - Ella & Louis - 24/96
Diana Krall - From this Moment on - 24/88
Diana Krall - The Girl in the Other Room - 24/96
The World's Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings - Chesky - 24/96
The Kinks - One for the Road Live - 24/96
The Eagles - Hotel California - HD Tracks - 24/96
Head-fi/Chesky Sampler - Open Your Ears - 24/96
Timber & Tonal Balance:
One of the trickiest things when evaluating vibration control devices is to be able to make the distinction between mere tonal balance shift and actual timber improvement. Indeed, at one point before getting the Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet, I was using aftermarket feet as tone control devices.
The sandboxes (with maple platforms) I was using at the time were great cost effective devices but the final sound result was still very much dependent on what kind of feet I was using. Also, given that the plastic feet that come with most entry and mid level equipment tend to be easily outperformed by aftermarket solutions, the sandboxes were definitely not the ultimate solution I was looking for.
For instance, here is a quick description of the sound some aftermarket feet I was using on top of the sandboxes.
The Vibrapod cones and feet were usually a good improvement over the stock feet but they tended to soften the sound, by dulling the transients.
Herbie’s Audio Lab were relatively the most neutral of the affordable, however they tended to make the sound a little bit too analytical, though not as much as some simple cones I have tried, and were slightly thin sounding.
The Yamamoto feet were the most colored and the most “enjoyable” of the lot. Regardless on where they were put on the system, the result was always the same: the sound became richer with a noticeable softening and sweetening of the high frequencies. I used to use the Yamamoto footers whenever I felt the overall balance of the system was too bright or analytical as the effect of adding these footers was similar to moving from a solid state amplifier to a tube amplifier of the same category.
While the changes in sound resulting from the use of these different decoupling and coupling feet used to sound rather substantial at the time, it was until I got to try the Aktyna ARIS in my system that I understood the true meaning and effect a well designed decoupling feet can have on the sound performance of a system.
The Aktyna ARIS doesn’t simply shift the tonal balance of a system but rather increases the qualities of the system, without any apparent drawback I could detect after more than a year of using them in my system.
In comparison with the plastic stock feet, the overall tonal balance is clearer and less congested without making the sound become overly analytical.
What the Aktyna ARIS does is that it extends the frequency bandwidth in both extremes and clears the upper bass and lower midrange congestion of most soft sounding feet.
However, the main advantage over such replacement feet as Herbie’s Audiolab Tenderfeet is that the increase in “objective” performance (bandwidth extension) is also accompanied with an improvement in other important subjective qualities, which are namely a better sense of flow and a richer and more differentiated timber.
What it means is that one usually gets an increase in bass depth, high frequency extension, midrange clarity, timber accuracy and improved overall sense of flaw without sacrificing the performance in other areas. Overall the sound just gets more real.
A question one can ask himself at this point is how it is possible to know which component is the most neutral and closer to the real thing if the listener wasn’t there at the time of the recording.
My methodology is very simple in that regard. I use a wide range of “known” good quality recordings. What I look for is the equipment that imparts the least sonic signature throughout those different recordings. Also, inside each recording, I look for the equipment that allow for the most distinction between different instruments and performers. Of course, if a particular device is so colored that it makes a piano or a violin sound unnatural on many high quality recordings, I don’t bother going into a deeper investigation.
One of my favorite albums is the Concerto for Two Violins performed by Viktoria Mullova and Giuliano Carmignola. I often use this well recorded album in order to judge the timber qualities of different equipment and tweaks. The two talented musicians used two different violins, a Guadagnini and a Stradivarius. On systems that lack resolution and accuracy of timber, the two violins can sound off and vulgar. On slightly better systems, the two violins can sound somewhat good but rather similar.
Inserting the Aktyna ARIS in any already decent performing system brings two main improvements; the musicians are performing better using better instruments. Distinguishing between the two violins requires less effort. Overall, the improvement in refinement is similar to what you would expect from an upgrade of a major component or two (DAC, amplifier).
Although the improvement in bass depth and high frequency extension is easily noticeable, what makes the Aktyna ARIS addictive to use is the improvement in the refinement of the sound. Instruments and voices start sounding more like the real thing. That explains perhaps why most people who try them on their system never return them.
One final word regarding the timber qualities of the Aktyna ARIS is that the improvement was quite staggering when used underneath the Little Dot MKIII. The refinement of the sound produced by the LD MKIII paired with the ALO Beyer T1 betters that of most speakers systems I have had a chance to listen to.
In comparison with less effective aftermarket feet, the Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet improve both macro dynamics and micro dynamics. Switching back to “regular” feet, you get the feeling that you are listening with the brakes on.
Thanks to its superb transient response and its outstanding consistency throughout the frequency spectrum, you get a perception of highly improved dynamic response. This characteristic is especially noticeable during big orchestral movements. Indeed, the point where most systems seem to hit compression simply disappears, or at least gets pushed back further back.
While I did appreciate the improvement in macro dynamics, I appreciated even more the improvement in micro-dynamics.
I personally believe that part of the ability of a system to transmit emotion comes from its micro-dynamics capabilities. When a system can accurately track very small shifts in variation of sound, it actually removes yet another layer of veiling, which can bring you even closer to the recording event.
The improvement in micro-dynamics was very noticeable with everything I tried the Aktyna ARIS feet on. As a result, and as I already mentioned on the timber section, this helps towards improving the overall refinement of a system.
Once again, the fact that the Aktyna ARIS can improve both the macro and micro dynamics to such an extent, without any observable drawback, is very impressive. Most other vibration control devices seem to improve the dynamics around a limited part of the audio bandwidth, but none of them has the ability to improve the dynamics across the whole audio bandwidth.
Soundstage & Imaging:
Perhaps, the easiest quality to pick up is the ability of the Aktyna ARIS feet to improve the soundstaging and imaging.
Prior to getting the Aktyna ARIS, I used to use the Herbie’s Tenderfeet when I wanted a relatively neutral soundstage and the Yamamoto ebony cones when I wanted to get a more expansive soundstage for all my recording. With the Yamamoto cones, the soundstage gets more expansive but at the expense of the quality of the imaging.
With the Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet in place, the soundstage gets bigger than ever but also a lot more defined. This was very welcome as I do all my critical listening with headphones. Even with my ALO recabled Beyer T1s, the sound can get stuck close to the drivers.
Also, with the Aktyna ARIS in place, the sound gets pushed a little bit further back creating a more natural and immersive soundstage at the same time. I believe that the relatively big increase in depth is the biggest contributor to this enhanced see through effect on the soundstage.
The good thing is that nothing sounds forced and you get used to it pretty quickly, as it close to what one experience during live events.
Given that the improvement in soundstaging is on the natural side, it helps sometimes to remove the Aktyna ARIS from the system to understand how much it was contributing to the overall sound.
The improvement in the quality of imaging is also astonishing. Performers are better differentiated; there is more air in between instruments and players. While this kind of improvement can sometimes come at the expense of the “body” of the sound (everything can start sounding thin), this absolutely not the case with the Aktyna ARIS. The improvement in imaging can perhaps be best compared with a move from a regular size low resolution monitor to a bigger higher resolution monitor. With the bigger and more advanced monitor, you can gain on details without any drawback in comparison with the smaller one.
Transparency & Definition:
For those who highly value transparency and overall resolution, the Aktyna ARIS might be what they have been looking for.
The increase in timber accuracy and richness, in dynamic capabilities, and soundstaging and imaging are all signs of improved transparency and heightened resolution.
One of the biggest weaknesses of a most vibration control devices is their coloration, and the sonic signature they force on all the equipment and albums they are used with. While this might be pleasing for a particular set-up or genre of music, it is not what high fidelity reproduction is about.
The Aktyna ARIS feet bring out the best from any equipment (or speakers). It usually does so by removing coloration generated by the equipment and its supporting platform, and by revealing new depths of low level information.
Using the Aktyna ARIS underneath Little Dot MKIII, for instance, reveals a quite surprising decrease of the subjective noise floor. Low level details are a lot more apparent and you don’t have to strain yourself to hear them. The overall definition goes up a notch or two, similar to what I would expect from using a much more expensive amplifier.
On already good systems, what is most impressive is not that you hear things you haven’t heard before, but it is how natural and very well integrated these new details are.
There is one point I haven’t entirely addressed in this review is how much immune is the Aktyna ARIS to the supporting platform and rack.
The “perfect” decoupling feet should be absolutely insensitive to whatever platform and rack are used underneath it. While this might be a reasonable expectation from a top performing vibration control device, experimentation, done by me and by others, show that there is no such a thing as perfect decoupling feet.
The Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet, while much more immune than any other feet to the supporting platform, are still affected. However, the scale of the change is rather small and can be used to “enhance” the sound. For instance, if you want an absolutely neutral and slightly analytical sound, you can use an acrylic or carbon fiber platform. If you want to add slightly more warmth and sophistication to the sound, in comparison with carbon fiber or acrylic, you can use a maple platform.
In any case, 90% of the effect of the Aktyna ARIS will be there whether you are using sandboxes, granite, maple, acrylic or other composite materials. That is a far higher consistency in sound compared with most other solutions in the market.
Perhaps that the biggest weakness of the Aktyna ARIS, in some systems, might arise from the required mass loading it needs to work properly. Because the Aktyna ARIS was designed with (heavy) high end equipment in mind (the $30,000 French La Source CD Player uses them as “stock” feet for instance), the more you mass load it, the better the effect. Given that I am using relatively light components (around 4 kg per item), I am rather on the extreme lower limit of the equipment limit that can be used with it, and that is why you can see on the pictures that I am stacking equipment on top of each other. The components on top of the DAC and the Headphone amplifier are just there to increase the mass. My next step will be to experiment with brass weights, which according to Mapleshade Audio can provide both mass and good resonance control.
To put things into perspective, I used the Aktyna ARIS for more than a year before reviewing them. I wanted to make sure that my very positive opinion wouldn’t change over time. However, the consistency and the repeatability of the excellent results of the Aktyna ARIS are impressive. I believe that the excellent sound of the Aktyna ARIS is not the result of a happy accident, as it can be the case with simpler cones and feet, but shows rather the results of a high quality design and excellent understanding of vibration energy control.
The biggest drawback of the Aktyna ARIS decoupling is their selling price. Indeed, priced a little above €200 (for a set of 3), the Aktyna ARIS feet are not what one could call cheap. However, there are far more expensive offerings out there and more pragmatically, there are very few 200€ upgrades that can give the same level of improvement in sound.
My recommendation is to first experiment with less expensive solution such as the Maple Buttons reviewed by Kevin on Tweak-Fi. Once, and if, you determine that you can hear changes, the Aktyna ARIS should be high on your list of high performance feet. The Aktyna ARIS feet are the only vibration control device that I would recommend without hesitation for any system, regardless of price, provided you have heard differences with different vibration control equipment.
Personally, the Aktyna ARIS are my ultimate decoupling feet. The difference in performance with all the affordable vibration control devices I have tried is sufficient to make the Aktyna ARIS well worth the asking price. Also, it is so good that I don’t feel compelled to try something new at this point. The overall performance is so good that I am just going to concentrate on improving other parts of system and forget, once again, that I am using the Aktyna ARIS in my system.
Edit 27/08/2011: As asked by rosgr63, here is a link to the mannufacturer : http://www.aktyna.com/PRODUIT/PRODUIT.php
Categories: Cables & Tweaks