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
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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)

19 comments:

km ng said...

Hifikaki,

From the photo, it reminded me of Oprah at her abundance best on 4" heels.

But seriously, why is the speaker on its rubber legs sitting on the Cerabases, if my visual is correct?

Shouldn't the Cerabases be directly coupled to the speaker?

hifikaki said...

km ng,

Those aren't rubber feet, they are metal studs with a central threaded hollow for you to screw the spike in. You may not have seen EgglestonWorks' speaker spikes, I'll post a photo of it in the blog.

I decided to place the Cerabase this way for 2 reasons:
- the studs cannot be removed, which left me with very little space to place the Cerabases anywhere else at the speaker's bottom.
- I reckon that since that is where the designer had decided to drain vibration off the speaker (via spikes), it is the best place to substitute the Cerabase since it is for the same function.

km ng said...

Hifikaki,

My apologies for the assumption as I've not seen the upskirt of your Egglestone speaker.

A suggestion.

Why not you try 3 Cerabases under the speaker?

2 in front closest (but not touching) the metal studs and 1 at the back?

P.S. If the metal studs cannot be removed, how are they fixed to the speaker in the first place?

Anonymous said...

wouldn't the increase in height due to the bases change the sound as well?

michael said...

Would the increase in height due to the cerabases have an effect on the sound?

hifikaki said...

km ng,

Thanks for your suggestion on using 3 Cerabases. Unfortunately I have returned them, so I can't try it out. See if there is any opportunity in the future.

Those metal stubs are secured with a bolt to the bottom plate. The bolt head is almost as wide as the stud's inner diameter, so I cannot fit a spanner in. I suspect that it is secured from the inside.

michael,
good observation. The increase in height (about 3-4cm) meant that my ears were placed slightly below the tweeter. Which gave a slightly more mid-centric sound. I have to pad my listening seat to get back to the original alignment.

GCK said...

Hifikaki, my experience with the torquing method was very positive. Positive in a sense that at every components I torqued, the sound improved without me needing to do any further adjustments on my tweaks. Guess my tweaks are waiting for the torquing to come into play to complete it.
I am sorry if my experience does no go with some others school of thought.

Panzer said...

hifikaki,

I thought the Cerabases are going to be permanent feature under your "The Nine'?

He!He!

Ken said...

GCK,

I am very glad that you have achieved great results with torquing. In fact, I can only hear positive things about this tweak since I told ML about this.

May I visit you next Saturday to listen to your setup? We can talk more then.

Anonymous said...

hifikaki,
Hehe, there are more than 4 routes to further improvements ! Infact there are endless ! There are more matching interconnects and better powercords out there too ! But for a start which of the 4 would you begin with ?

hifikaki said...

GCK,
Indeed, the 'torquing' method gives pretty impessive results.

Panzer,
My heart and mind are willing, but my bank account is not. :-)

Anonymous of 5.30pm,
Yes, there are definitely more than 4 ways to improvements. I was just relating my experience in the last few weeks. :-)

I have covered all 5 (i.e., incl your point on cable) areas in my system to an extent. So, I can't say what next I'd go for now, until the day I hit on something that gives me the biggest bang for my bucks. Then you all will hear about it.

Ken said...

Hifikaki,

I always listen to the first track in the Red Road cd. The great thing about this track is the thunder at the end of the track. It sounds like it starts from very far and then ends at the front of the speakers. At the point when the thunder is about to end, you will hear it rumbling in your ceiling. Way out!

Another thing that I forgot to tell you is that you should take out the RCA RF Insulators in your system. They tend to suck out the dynamics of your system and affects the high in a bad way. If you still want to use them, you should unscrew the middle connectors. Try it out and see.

Lastly, I think you should check all your tweaks again. I feel you should take them all out and then add each one by one to your system and hear the difference. Too many wrong tweaks will affect the sound.

Tell us what you hear.

Anonymous said...

So there is a hierarchy for the tweaks as in which tweak go first and second etc. Otherwise once you do a tweak you have to start all over again.

So.....
1. Platform/racks
2. footers for components, speakers
3. PLc
4. etc.....

Right?

hifikaki said...

Ken,

I like the The Red Road's first track too. In my system, the thunder at the end of the track does behave as you described, except that I could not get the 'ceiling' effect, seems there is some more work for me to do. :-)

I like the Pow-Wow track because of its rawness, I found the better my system's resolution gets, the more exciting the interaction between the shouts and the drum gets. Also a good test on your amp's control on the woofer cones. :-)

Thanks for your suggestions, I'll find a weekend to try them out. Really, too many options, too little time.


Anonymous of 2.14pm,

I am afraid a tweak novice like myself can't answer your question satisfactorily. Hope some others here can.

However, I do not quite agree that PLC (powerline conditioner) be considered as tweak, as in your list. I take it actually as an important component, given our erratic power supply quality and the sensitivity of today's high resolution components.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the PLCs are considered a component and a must have so it's not really a tweak in my opinion too. However the selection of a PLC is different from that of a component. You may try out a component at the dealer or at a friends and make your decision to take it home to try out and maybe buy. But a PLC is something you need to try at home as it address the shortcoming of your electricity quality and also that of your system component and cabling.

So while PLCs are a must have, they are also area and system dependent and so the type/brand of PLC has to give way to what is suitable for your area/system.

Hence it becomes a tweak from a selection stand point because it changes the sound. An addition of another tweak may alter the overall sound and balance. So the PLC need to sit on the hierarchy but where i dunno.

I would put it at the top of the tweak list but that's just me.

hifikaki said...

Ken,

You are right on the money!
Could not wait until weekend, so I decided to do a quick test by first taking off all the RCA shorting caps (those with a middle pin) on my pre-amp. The sound opened up, the highs sounded more extended.

Next, I took off the metal Cardas-like RCA caps (without pin). Now, the highs sounded even more prominent (but not bright), however, at high volume the highs had some grittiness.

So, I put back those Cardas-like caps, I lost just a bit of hf 'body', but I gained smoothness and quietness, which I prefer.

Putting back the shorting caps again started to shut down the highs. Taking out the pins on the caps improved things a bit but I feel the highs were still worse off. Taking out the Cardas-like caps while leaving the shorting caps on did not improve things.

So, at the end the Cardas-like caps were left on (3 pairs) and all the shorting caps were off (also 3 pairs). Seems that the material of caps also made a difference, the shorting caps sans pins affected the sound negatively while the cardas-like caps improved things to my ears.

I am now very surprised by the extra details, especially subtle nuances, in the guitar on the 2v1g album!

I have 3 cardas-like caps on the cdp, taking them off seems to dirty up the sound a bit. So they are still on.

The effect of the Cardas-like caps on my monoblocks' RCA input is tough to call. The difference was too subtle, need to experiment more.

Thanks for the tip. I'd like to repeat the whole thing in a more organized manner when I have more time. But this initial result is amazing.

Ken said...

Hifikaki,

KC and I noticed the change in sound when we took the RF insulators out of your pwr amp. We did that when you went out of the room (to greet Panzer and Wong)because we cannot understand why your system still sounded a bit closed in. Sorry for touching yr things before notifying you;-P

I never liked those caps that have pins in the middle. I find that they always affect the sound in a bad way, ie, reducing macro and micro dynamics, truncating highs etc.
I find the RCA caps made by Cardas and other generic brand only clean up the sound a little bit but does nothing else in my system.
Then I tried those Telos caps. I can tell you that they make a big, big difference. The are 2 type of Telos caps, Gold and Platinum. Almost all the unused xlr and rca input and outputs in my hardware are covered by the Telos Platinum caps. The difference from using generic and Cardas caps to Telos is that the latter
1. reduced the noise floor dramatically
2. letting the highs go through unimpeded
3. improve the depth and width of the whole soundstage
4. present the image as a whole body rather than a mouth or just the head

The sound that I get now from my system is nothing like what I used to have. Now I can play louder without strain . I was listening to Skye last night. This disc is all about micro and macro dynamics. This is because Todd Garfinkle employs minimalist miking to record the songs. So all the little nuances of the vocalist and the instrumentalist goes through unimpeded.
In track 3, Skye's singing becomes louder as you go further into the track. When you reached almost the end, you can hear her at her loudest (I am talking of a loudness level much, much higher than when you played Stimela during our torquing visit). But the image is still stable. The airiness between vocalist and instrumentalist enhances the depth. I can say that this disc is a work of engineering art. It is the best recorded cd that I have ever listened to. What more is that all the songs are great.

Happy experimenting!!

Anonymous said...

ken,
I would like to buy this "skye" cd. Could you tell me where its available or give me more details so I can source for it ? Thank you in advance

Ken said...

Anon at 5.05pm

Actually to my knowledge this cd is not available in Malaysia.
My friend KC got it for me from Spore. He told me that he has been recommending this cd since the second half of last year. Anyone who has listened to this cd will buy it instantly.
Personally I would recommend anyone who saw this cd to just buy it. No need to audition.

If your system can hack it, please play this cd loud.
The transperancy, imaging, soundstage depth is totally out of this world. IMO, the best song in this album is track 3.