May 1999LaserBase Component Stand
by Doug Blackburn
What is a LaserBase?
Lets build a LaserBase. Start with 1/2"-diameter tubing and build a rectangle about the same size as the component you will be supporting. Then build another rectangle inside the first one, also using 1/2" tubing. Slip an elastomeric band lubricated with petroleum jelly around each pair of parallel tubes, four bands total. Now attach four downward-pointing feet to the outer frame -- theyll need to be maybe 3" long or so. These four feet will contact the shelf or table supporting the component. Then attach four upward-pointing feet to the small frame. The component will sit on these feet. These upward-pointing feet will also need to be around 3" long. When you set the LaserBase on a shelf, then place the component on top, the elastomeric bands stretch out to hold the component in what amounts to a decoupled "cradle."
Most audiophiles would call the LaserBase an isolation device, and if you arent interested in being scientifically accurate, you could get by with that. But what the elastomeric bands really do is change mechanical-resonance energy from the rack/shelf/table from frequencies that occur in the 20Hz to 20kHz audio frequency range to frequencies that are well below this range, and this removes their influence from the sound you hear when you use the component suspended on the LaserBase. Likewise, mechanical-resonance energy that originates within the component sitting on the LaserBase is also shifted to frequencies well below the audio frequency range. Of course, this description above is simplistic and simplified. Selecting the right material for the tubes used in the frame and solving a lot of engineering problems to turn the LaserBase into a viable commercial product involves quite a bit more work.
The LaserBase first came into being as a support for laserdisc players and CD players. The logic was that these devices had a lot more mechanical-resonance energy being generated internally as well as being susceptible to outside energy. But it didnt take long for the manufacturer to realize that tube components sounded a heck of a lot better sitting on a LaserBase. Then components with no moving parts were tried, like DACs, solid-state preamps and solid-state amps, and the improvements were just as audible. In the end, it turns out that the LaserBase works great under just about any component.
Because of the range of sizes and weights of audio components, each LaserBase is custom-made for the component/device it will be supporting. The elastomeric bands, for example, have to be selected for the amount of weight the LaserBase will be supporting, and the physical dimensions of the frames used for the LaserBase need to be selected to support the component in question properly. As a result, when you decide to purchase a LaserBase, there will be some discussion with the manufacturer to determine how to build it. If you are going to get one for a laserdisc player or many products made by mass-market manufacturers like Pioneer or Sony, look at the bottom of the component to see if the manufacturer has left a flat surface or if some kind of pattern has been pressed into the bottom panel to add stiffness to the chassis. If the bottom of the chassis is not completely flat, youll need to consult with the folks at LaserBase on how to make the LaserBase work with one of these "lumpy" bottom plates.
Wide-open spaces and modular Multi-Level Towers
Setting up the LaserBase is supremely easy. Remove the component in question from its shelf. Place the LaserBase on the shelf, put the component on top of the LaserBase, and lower the component gently into place. Observe the tilt in the smaller inner frame as a result of your component being heavier in one corner than the others. Slide the elastomeric bands along the tubes until the heavy corner is level with the other corners, and you are then all set to go. You will probably find a round bullseye-style bubble level useful for this setup if you are supporting a laserdisc player, CD player, DVD player or turntable. Other components are not terribly critical to have perfectly level, so eyeballing them will be fine. One tip: when leveling a laserdisc player, do the leveling with a laserdisc in the drawer. The disc itself is heavy enough to throw off the balance, and you want the LaserBase to support the player correctly with the laserdisc loaded.
The greatest shortcoming of the LaserBase design is that it requires quite a bit of vertical space. The California Audio Labs CL-25 CD/DVD player I used with the LaserBase for this review sits 5 1/2" higher with the LaserBase (and optional Twinkle-Toes) under it. The CL-25 itself is already a fairly tall component at 4 1/2". That makes the CL-25/LaserBase stack 10" high. Youll want at least an inch of headroom to maneuver the component onto the LaserBase and to insure the component cant bounce high enough to hit the shelf above. Two inches would be even better. This means that you probably want 12" of rack space for a fairly thick/tall component like the CAL CL-25 or a laserdisc player. Slimmer components like many preamps and mass-market DVD players may only be 3" high, so 9 1/2" to 10 1/2" would be more typical for clearance needs.
If you dont have shelf space this wide in your rack, placing the LaserBase on the top shelf is about the only other alternative -- well, that is unless you want to do something really radical, like replace your rack with the LaserBase Modular Multi-Level Tower, which is essentially a multi-level LaserBase tower three, maybe four, components high. The outer frame is big enough to clear even large audio components, and the inner frames are adjustable to fit almost any audio component you would want to put into the Tower. Each component is then isolated (or de-coupled) from the floor and from the other components in the Tower. The LaserBase Modular Multi-Level Tower is an equipment rack unlike any other you have ever seen. There are no shelves, only the suspended adjustable tubular frames with four upward-pointing feet to support components. Logistical problems prevented me from evaluating a LaserBase Modular Multi-Level Tower, but the manufacturer claims results with it are even better than with individual LaserBases.
That twinkle in your eye
Besides the standard LaserBase and the Modular Multi-Level Tower, there are two more LaserBase-related items: Twinkle-Toes and Twinkle-Fingers. Both are priced at $199 ($398 for both on a single LaserBase plus the $350 cost of the standard size/capacity LaserBase). Twinkle-Toes go on the downward-facing legs. Twinkle-Fingers go on the upward pointing arms that support the component. The standard LaserBase with neither Twinkle-option has the upward- and downward-pointing contact points fitted with rubber bumpers (bottom) and rubber sleeves (top). The review sample was fitted with Twinkle-Toes.
Twinkle-Toes (and Fingers) are, explained simply, small ball-bearings in the center of the leg. The leg is cut in the middle. A cup is machined in the upper and lower cut surfaces to contain the "loose" ball-bearing. You end up with a leg with a loose ball-bearing in the middle of it with the two cupped surfaces and the weight of the component and LaserBase holding everything together. However, if you lift up the LaserBase frame while the Twinkle-Toes are free, you will leave four feet and ball-bearings sitting on the shelf. If you remove a component from a LaserBase equipped with Twinkle-Fingers without "capturing" the Fingers, all four of the top feet will fall to the rack shelf when you lift the component. To avoid this, spin the threaded collar up until it spans over the area where the ball-bearing is secured. This essentially makes the upward- or downward-pointing legs "solid" and keeps the whole thing together for transportation. When you have the LaserBase in the correct location, just spin all the threaded collars down below the bearings to let the bearings "free" again. One note: you can have your Twinkle-Toes or Twinkle-Fingers factory-installed, or you can buy the LaserBase without either or both and add them later. There is no difference in cost.
I was initially worried that the four-legged LaserBase would have problems in systems where shelves were not perfectly flat. However, each of the four downward-pointing legs have threaded extensions with locking collars. It is an easy procedure to unlock any leg, shorten or lengthen it as needed, and re-tighten the collar.
Initial listening impressions
I had been using the CAL CL-25 as the primary digital source in my system for a while before the LaserBase arrived. I was quite familiar with the excellent performance and sound quality of the CAL CL-25 and was somewhat skeptical that an isolation device under it would improve the sound enough to justify the $550 cost of the LaserBase with Twinkle-Toes. My initial listening to the LaserBase was with the Twinkle-Toes "captured" so that they were not actually being used. This configuration closely, but not exactly, replicates the performance of the standard LaserBase with no Twinkle-Toes or Fingers.
It took about three seconds for my skepticism to disappear. The change in sound was quite obvious. Bass improved in tightness and detail. But the overriding sonic club that hit me was the sense of space the system took on with the CAL CL-25 suspended on the LaserBase. The sound opened up, portraying a whole new feeling of space Id never heard from any digital front-end in this system before. More critical listening revealed a top end that was more refined and detailed than before. There was no delay, no break-in, no hours of tweaking needed. The improvement -- and believe me, it was unmistakable as a very worthwhile improvement -- appeared instantly. This is the kind of system change that once you hear it, you never want to look back. Theres no need for a list of recordings with description of what LaserBase does to their sound because LaserBase does what it does to every recording. Even 78 RPM records remastered to CD sound less space-restricted when the LaserBase is in use.
The sense of space the LaserBase brings out has a lot to do with how sounds decay. Without the LaserBase, components sound comparatively dead, as if sounds start fine, but die away too soon. This premature decay drains the life out of sounds and closes down the sense of soundstage space to a significant degree. Even in a system that already has an impressively wide and deep soundstage, the LaserBase can still cast a magical spell on the proceedings by de-clumping sounds you never realized were clumped before. Height is more apparent, and the decay of sounds becomes a multi-dimensional thing for the first time. Decay becomes audible at the instrument as the note dies out as well as a spatial thing where you hear the note decay within space. Without LaserBase, the decay that occurs in space seems to happen right at the location of the instrument -- clumped around the instrument instead of occupying room in the soundstage. The "LaserBase Decay Effect" means that you hear both kinds of decay, instrument-related and space-related, as they occur in live music. When you hear decay work like this in a home audio system, it becomes easier than ever before to suspend disbelief and let the music carry you away. If your goal is effortless listening and losing yourself in the music, the LaserBase will aid and abet you in your pursuit.
Remember, though, that I still hadnt released the Twinkle-Toes. I was still hearing only the LaserBase. Quantifying the difference is really tough; we dont have much of a system for quantifying changes in sonics in the high-end. The most descriptive word I can think of is "obvious," as in pretty much everyone would recognize the difference as obvious even if they were guests and were not that familiar with the sound of this room and system. Ive had plenty of cable changes, preamp changes, amp changes, and CD/DVD player changes that were more subtle than the difference the LaserBase made. Descriptive words like "huge," "stupendous" or "substantial" would mischaracterize the degree of change/improvement. On the other hand, the changes you hear are instantly addicting; taking them away is no fun, and you want the LaserBase back immediately. Once youve tried a great but expensive Chardonnay, your $8 favorite has a pretty hard time being amusing -- as it is with the LaserBase.
Twinkle, twinkle Twinkle-Toes
After a week of acclimating myself to the sound of the system with the CAL CL-25 on the LaserBase, it was time to see what the Twinkle-Toes do when you release them. I grabbed the knurled collar between two fingers and threaded it down the leg until it reached the bottom and exposed the cup-bearing-cup structure that is the business end of the Twinkle-Toes option. Repeat this for the other three legs and the Twinkle-Toes are now all present and in full action. Again, the difference is obvious and can best be described as more of the same -- meaning that the Twinkle-Toes just multiply what the LaserBase did by itself, and pretty much by a factor of two. This was sort of a jaw-dropping experience because I figured the four elastomeric bands were doing the vast majority of the work and that the Twinkle-Toes would be more like buttering the bread rather than a significant improvement in its own right. It is easy enough to thread the four collars up to disable the Twinkle-Toes. I did just that several times to convince myself that, yes, the Twinkle-Toes really are that much of an improvement.
There are several sets of Bright Star Audio
isolation/damping products in the reference system, and Ive been quite happy with
their performance. The LaserBase is the first product to get my attention enough to
consider them in the same league with the moderately priced Bright Star products. A
comparison was, then, inevitable, but the results are annoying. The best-sounding
combination was the Bright Star Air Mass (air bladder isolation system), Bright Star Big
Rock (an MDF box you fill with sand and on which you place a thin, loose, top board for
the component to rest on) plus the LaserBase on top of the Big Rock. I was hoping I could
tell you that one of the two products was obviously better or that using both at the same
time wasnt better than either one alone, but I cant. The Bright Star products
excel at making a very quiet background and bringing out the dynamics and contrasts in the
components they are used with. There aren't as many small bands of frequencies that are
very slightly emphasized or sucked-out when using LaserBase and Bright Star products
together. This refines the sound by a small amount over either product used on its own,
but the difference is probably not worth the cost.
The LaserBase is not quite as effective as the Bright Star products in the bass, but the LaserBases improvements span the entire audio frequency range. More importantly, the LaserBase adds a sense of space that is considerably better than that of the Bright Star products. On the other hand, the Bright Star products give the sound a sense of immediacy and drive that the LaserBase cant quite muster. Ultimately the Bright Star products and LaserBase end up complementing each other. Unfortunately, the Bright Star products add another six inches to the height of the stack, making a top shelf or floor-level platform a necessity. While the sound was definitely better with the combination of products, the improvement was not nearly as large as either product on its own. I cant therefore give you a strong recommendation for using the Bright Star products and LaserBase together. Most people will find that the Bright Star products or the LaserBase on their own will give the best bang for the buck.
Conclusions? We dont need no stinkin conclusions! If you read the review, you already know what I think of the LaserBase, so I dont need to say it again. And if you didnt read the review, we have those cool little review summary boxes now -- go read it! Im tempted to say "I bought the review sample," but I didnt. It wasnt quite the right size. So I ordered two others instead.
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