August 2, 2009

The Big-Brother: finite elemente's Cerabase

This is an old post of ours in the blog we previously contributed to.

Many readers of this blog has been alerting us to finite elemente's ceramic ball interface for quite a while.

In one of my earliest post "Eggleston Who?" (May 2008), Zimmermann, P Walsh, ramon, Jacques, Tsang, tim, landau, gray, catalona, kim tan, and many more readers since, have suggested that I try the Cerabase under my EgglestonWorks The Nine loudspeakers. Well, we do listen to your suggestions, and I am going to tell you the story....

If you have been following this blog, you'd know that finite elemente's products are now pretty much entrenched in Panzer's and my systems. Finite elemente has 3 models in their Ceramic Ball Interface range. The smallest is the Ceraball that comes in 2 versions - the 'spider' version, meant to be used together with the finite elemente Spider equipment rack (which Panzer has outfitted his rack with), and the 'universal' version (which Panzer uses as loudspeaker footers and I use for equipment support). Next comes the Cerapucs, which I use in place of my finite elemente Pagode Signature rack's spike feet. And lastly, the Big Brother, Cerabase.

The small brother, Ceraball universal, at the left, and the big brother, Cerabase

The Ceraball universal and Cerabase dissected

From the photo, you can see a contrast between the Ceraball and the Cerabase. The Cerabase, at RM2,400 for a quartet, is 4 times the price of Ceraball. However, you get more than 4 times the Ceraball in many aspects - in size, weight, and the most expensive part (as I understand), the precision ceramic balls - the Cerabase comes with 3 big ones whereas the Ceraball has only one little one.

Each model of the cera footer has its optimum operating weight range. For Ceraball it is 0.5kg-80kg (for 4), whereas the Cerabase's range is 20kg-500kg (damn, that is half a metric ton!). This means the Cerabase is more suited for the big items in your system, such as the equipment rack, big power amp or the loudspeakers.

I placed the Cerabases first under my Pass Labs XA60 monoblocks, directly supporting their bottom plates. The initial result was dire, to say the least. All types of music lost coherence, the sound was a mess. This was when I first realized that the Cerabase needed a 'run-in' period. Huh? This thing just sits there, it is not electrical nor mechanical (like loudspeakers), what could be a plausible explanation? I speculate that the answer may be in finite elemente's explanation of the workings of the cera footers.

You can get this from finite elemente's brochure - it says that the "vacuum" effect created in the coupling between the ceramic ball and the footer's body is what draws off unwanted resonances. One would need a heavy enough weight and some elapsed time, I believe, for the vacuum to form. Thus, one would expect the cera footers to achieve their optimum performance after being placed under a weight for a while.

Over a 3-day period, I observed the performance of the Cerabases improved. However, there was always a slightly hollow feel to the music, music sounded like it was gutted at the centre. I could not shake this effect fully even after 5 days' 'run-in'. Probably I had to wait longer for the 32kg(70lbs)-per-side monoblocks to 'run-in' the Cerabases or they still prove to be too light for the Cerabases to work optimally. Even so, the improvement was there, similar to what I got when they were placed under my EgglestonWorks The Nine loudspeakers, about which I'd elaborate later.
Cerabases under EgglestonWorks The Nine
So, I decided to move on to my loudspeakers then. At 57kg (125lbs) each, they posed a better challenge to the Cerabases. I placed the Cerabases under the speakers' feet, which were designed to receive their own massive spikes. The downward force of the speaker did indeed snugly pressed the Cerabases onto the floor.

I had to wait just overnight for the sound quality to stabilize. What made itself obvious to me first was a vast improvement in the bass region. On Bill Miller's "Red Road" album, there is an exciting Native American drum track - "The Inter-Tribal Pow Wow Song", from the title I think you can guess what the content would be. :-) The drum on this track went deeper, and more importantly, it gained more focus and better definition. Everything was done also with much more precise timing, the drumbeats added an inevitable rhythmic momentum to the entire proceedings, pulling the listeners along. In fact, this timing precision was obvious too in all kinds of music with each music note start and stop at the drop of a dime.
The Cerabases also gave music a better organization and structure, things were placed in their spot in the soundstage and were firmly anchored down. The soundstage simply did not waver. There was also better delineation and layering of the sound images. Taking the Pow-Wow Song as an example again, the human shouts and screams were placed on the same plane as the speakers' front baffle, whereas each drum whack was firmly placed slightly to the right at a distance of around 3-4 feet behind.

The Cerabase's prowess also improved on quieter music, such as 2v1g. In addition to those focus and soundstaging improvement mentioned earlier, I also got a more palpable atmosphere.

In terms of the system's high frequency performance, I found that it was less smeared, I could listen 'through' into the subtle changes in the treble region whereas previously these events were more like a glob of 'bright light' without much details and shadings. But since it was now less a 'glob of light', one might perceive a change in the sonic balance, especially if you have damped your listening room previously to bring your HF region in line with the others. I found that I had to draw the curtain open at the front of my room a little more and toyed with speakers toe-in to bring the HF back up a tad again, so to speak.

What I went through in hifi the last few weeks has been educational to say the least. I learnt that my system still have more to give, there are better transparency, details retrieval and musical enjoyment to be had and there are 3 routes to it:
1. via the normal upgrade of a component - such as the Pass Labs XP-20 pre-amp
2. via better power supply quality to the system - witness the Torus Power RM8's performance
3. via resonance control- such as finite elemente's Pagode rack, Ceraball, Cerapuc and Cerabase

The magnitude of improvement fell roughly in line with these products' price points. However, of all, the last gave the best improvement / price ratio, in my opinion, which could be because this was the most ignored aspect in my system previously.

No doubt about it, the impressive Cerabase is the Big Brother.

finite elemente is carried by Audio Image, tel: 03-79563077
P.S., There is a fourth route actually, that is the 'torquing school' route, which lil'kc and Ken had shown me much in one afternoon. But I am not knowledgeable enough to espouse on it. Treat this as a teaser, I hope I have a story to tell in the future. :-)

P.S., Below is a picture of the EgglestonWorks The Nine's spike, posted in response to km ng's question in the desirable thoughts about the way I placed the Cerabases.

If I were to use the Cerabase under my EgglestonWorks speakers permanently, I'd look to custom machine an adapter bolt so that the Cerabase can be screwed on securely in place of the spikes.
EgglestonWorks' Speaker Spike, screwed into the metal stud at the speaker bottom.
This particular speaker is in turn placed on upturned Cerapucs. (picture from EgglestonWorks The Nine review by Jason Victor Serinus from
Secrets of Home Theatre and High Fidelity)

4 April '09

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