November 11, 2009

Wonder Wood? - Cardas Golden Cuboid

The Cardas Golden Cuboid is an unassuming looking piece of rectangular solid wood. Its only distinguishing mark is the Cardas nautilus logo engraved on it. It comes in 2 sizes - 0.618"x1" x 1.618" and 1" x 1.618" x 2.618" (I'll just call them 'small' and 'big'). Those in the know will instantly recognize the golden ratio applied in the measurements immediately, i.e., 1 to1.618 (read wikipedia for more on the golden ratio if you are interested).

The big & small Golden Cuboids contrasted for size with a ballpoint pen

Cardas' advocacy is that the golden ratio dampens resonance. In fact it also advocates speaker placement and hifi room dimensions based on the golden ratio, you can read more on their website. The Cardas Golden Cuboid is made from myrtle wood, a rare American hardwood according to Cardas. Ayre also offers their own version, apparently sourced from Cardas too.

Now, I believe some of you who see the picture of these wood blocks would think, "Why should I pay for them, I can fashion them myself." Hmmm... that should be interesting, I wonder too whether wood blocks made from local hardwood such as chengal would have a similar or better effect than myrtle. However, I am the lazy kind, at RM32 per piece for the big Golden Cuboid and RM23 for the small one , I would spend my leisure time listening to music rather than on wood cutting. I tried my hands many years ago trying to saw chengal for some diy carpentry, it was no walk in the park really, I gave up. :-) However, some might want to apply the dimensions to, say, mdf, which is easy to work with, I'd love to hear your result here.

These myrtle wood blocks are to be used as support, like cones, under your components, three as a set. Do they have any effect in my system? Yes, certainly. I'll describe it later. The effect of the Cardas Golden Cuboids is, let's say, not day and night in my system, though clearly discernible and, more importantly, musically significant. Please keep this in mind when you read on, I'd suggest you add the word 'slightly' in front of my every description of their sonic effects. :-)

I also wonder whether my finite elemente signature rack has reduced much of the resonance problem in my system, such that the myrtle blocks have less to do, so this may very much be a 'you mileage may vary' kind of scenario.

I first tried a trio of the small ones under my Ayre C-5xeMP universal player. On first listen, I blurted out a disbelieving 'huh?'. After a few more tracks, a quite surprised 'wow' (ok, this is a 'wow', not a 'WOW', but it is a wow nonetheless :-) ). The sound became calmer and more stable, the images better defined. I could hear more low level details in the music, more pronounced were the nuances in vocals - breathing, control, vibrato, etc.. I was listening to my favourite tracks, 'Shenandoah' and 'India Song', from Youn Sun Nah's album "Voyage", I got pulled into the music more readily than before and there were more toe curling moments. It worked also on 'bigger' music - with the Chinese drum troupe track "Poem for Chinese drum" from Hugo's "The Dreams of Chinese Butterfly" CD, the drum beats were more solidly felt, and the atmosphere was also more readily apparent.

Cardas Golden Cuboid under the Ayre C-5xeMP

I was a skeptic, but I am now sold. I was thinking why should a RM26k player need a few wood blocks to improve its performance. Well, I don't know, but for the price of the small Cardas Golden Cuboids, I am not going to complain too loudly. I think the performance on their equipment is what gotten Ayre into having their own myrtle wood blocks too. I still need to emphasize that the effect was not night and day, like I said earlier, but it was an improvement significant enough to me personally. And for that kind of price, I think they are punching way above their weight.

After longer listening over a few days, during which I took them out and put them back twice, I still liked what I heard, so there they shall stay under the Ayre.

Over time I got a better understanding of the effect of the Cardas Golden Cuboids. They seem to also take away some brightness or some shine from the highs, you can look at it either way, depending on your existing system balance. There may also be a slight lift on the mid-bass. See whether such characteristics would benefit you. But be a little careful if your system is already on the warmish or slightly dark side. If you have some brightness in your system that you need to cure, I think you should definitely check out the Cardas Golden Cuboids.

For my next experiment, I moved to my Shunyata Hydra 8 powerline conditioner. Putting a trio of the small Golden Cuboids under it did not seem to have any effect. It could be that the Hydra 8 was sitting on the bottom shelf of my finite elemente rack, an already hefty chunk of solid wood, which is also sitting on 4 pieces of finite elemente cerapuc. Or possibly too that the Hydra 8 was a passive component, so it was less affected by resonance.

Then, I wanted to try the big Cardas Golden Cuboids under my monoblocks, but their chassis were raised too tall by the feet to fit the big cuboids under. I could lay the blocks on their sides instead of laying them flat to lift the monoblocks, but thought against it. It would not be stable and I was afraid the monoblocks would come 'crashing down' on the floor. :-)

So, instead, I decided to swap the small Golden Cuboids under the Ayre with the big ones. Well, there was a difference. The effects I described with the small Golden Cuboids were still there, and now there was an even more enhanced sense of control and stability to the sound. For my personal taste, I preferred the slightly more lively presentation with the small Golden Cuboids. However, this result showed that the big Golden Cuboids had a greater effect, if your system needed greater resonance control, the big ones might be a better bet.

The last item left for me now was to try the Golden Cuboids on my pre-amp. My Pass Labs X2.5 was sitting on 3 finite elemente Ceraballs, which were more than 5 times dearer than the Cardas Golden Cuboids. I liked the Ceraballs' effects on the X2.5, they opened up the sound, rendered a bigger soundstage and improved focus and resolution, music flowed better too. Changing the Ceraballs to Golden Cuboids pulled the sound the other direction, it became slightly more warmish, soundstage was less grand but felt more intimate, resolution was not as good though. However, comparing the Cardas Golden Cuboids underneath or having the pre-amp sitting directly on the rack, I still preferred to have the Cuboids under the pre-amp.

finite elemente Ceraballs and the small Cardas Golden Cuboids

Horses for courses, these results seem to show. I tried the Ceraballs on the Ayre player before the Cardas Golden Cuboids came. The Ceraballs expanded the soundstage and sharpened the imaging, but I lost some solidity in the sound, it became slightly diffused. So I preferred to have the Ayre placed directly on the rack. When the Golden Cuboids came along, I preferred to have the Ayre put on top of them. Whereas with the Pass Labs pre-amp I much preferred the Ceraballs to the Golden Cuboids.

I said before that tweaks to me are like flavourings in cooking, like a dab of soy sauce in your porridge, or a pinch of salt in your stir fry. Without them, you may not get the right flavour, the key is to use the right kind and the right amount.

On Cardas' website, they also showed notched version of the Golden Cuboids, these are meant as cable lifters (to lift your cables off the floor), Hi-Way Laser did not bring in the cable-lifter version, but these wood blocks could conceivably be used for this purpose too (which offers a cheaper alternative to Shunyata's Darkfield that I am using). I did not have the time to check it out, but you can.

The Cardas Golden Cuboids aren't that expensive, you can get a pack of six in a nice black velvet pouch and share the fun with your hifi buddies! I am keeping them myself. :-)

Cardas is available from Hi-Way Laser. Contact Kenny 03-7873.8325; 019-281.3399 .

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