The Mapleshade Component
reviewed by Marshall Nack
Where will it end? In the beginning,
I stacked my gear on a pecan wood étagère because
it happened to be in my living room. Then I graduated to real
audiophile shelving with the purchase of Sound Organization
racks from England with metal frames with MDF shelves. The Sound
Organization philosophy is that lightweight racks sound better
than heavy, massive units. Next came Solid Steel. These are
made in Italy and also feature metal frames with MDF shelving,
but have enhanced cone points under each shelf to better isolate
Along with the new racks I
started to acquire various specialized isolation products that
sit on the rack and do things to make the sound better. I sampled
Black Diamond Racing products, Dark Matter platforms, sandboxes,
air bladders; you name it - I've probably tried it. Then came
a huge leap up to the made-in-the-good-old-USA PolyCrystal brand.
These have solid wood frames and composite resin shelving. PolyCrystal
is heavy and dense and structurally more stable. What a difference
they made! The PolyCrystal sounded so good on its own that I
no longer needed the supplementary Dark Matter or other platforms.
For the last month and a half
I've been auditioning the Mapleshade Component Support System
(MCSS). This was at the time I was comparing my Linn LP12 with
that manufacturer's current top-of-the-line model. The Mapleshade
support I put under my table did things I had never heard before
which were immediately recognizable as highly desirable. I had
the uncomfortable impression that the "wonderful sound"
I had been enjoying before was laden with artifacts and aberrations
of a euphonic kind.
The MAPLESHADE COMPONENT
The Mapleshade solution consists
of four parts. The first is a slab of solid maple wood. Mapleshade
sells solid wood blocks either in raw form or finished with
chamfered edges and four coats of handrubbed lacquer, which
about doubles the price. Standard length and width dimensions
are 12" by 15" or 15" by 18", in either
2" or 4" thicknesses. Custom sizes can be ordered.
Don't make the mistake of going to your lumberyard to procure
the wood yourself. There are many varieties of maple trees;
the wood used here is the same used in the manufacture of violins,
violas, cellos, basses and guitars. Four IsoBlocks come next,
which are placed in the four corners under the wooden platform.
Each IsoBlock is made of six layers of rubber and natural cork
layered sandwich-like and laminated together. The overall dimensions
are about 2" wide, 1 1/2" deep and 1 3/4" high.
IsoBlocks are designed to suspend the maple slab and have "correctly
tuned infra-bass resonant frequenciesS and clean, non-distorting
attenuation of the midrange frequencies." In other words,
the IsoBlocks are tuned to offset the resonant frequencies of
A set of three Triplepoint
Conepoints, which go between the wood and the component, are
the next piece of the puzzle. The Triplepoints are very heavy,
solid brass cones. The manufacturer claims that, as far as cones
are concerned, brass sounds better than other materials, heavier
is better than lighter and taller is better than shorter. A
couple of sizes of these brass cones are available. The model
I tried is the Ultimate Triplepoint design, which is heaviest
and tallest, and has three mini brass points on the flat top
of the cone, the part that comes in contact with the component.
So you have points on both the top and bottom of the cone.
Finally, Heavy Hat weights
are to be placed on top of the component. These are also machined
of solid brass and come in two sizes. Also available are Heavy
Hat Triplepoint weights which have the added three mini points
on the flat side.
Count 'em. Four individual
items just to support one component!
The excellently recorded LP
Live at Bernie's with the Bill Cunliffe trio [Groove Note GRV1009
- 1 DD] is a collection of standards done straight up, for the
most part. Cunliffe may not be shockingly original, but his
dexterity and tasteful interpretations make for pleasurable
listening. The sound of this 45 rpm Direct-To-Disc LP is fabulous.
The A - B comparison revealed that post MCSS treatment, everything
was a little different. The sound was full of desirable contradictions:
soft, warm and full-bodied like the old-fashioned tubey sound,
yet with noticeably more clarity, detail and dynamics. You know
how you have to continually fight to maintain treble extension,
yet avoid any kind of glare or shrillness up there? These platforms
take care of that for you. The tonal balance had shifted slightly
downward commensurate with the gains in weight and removal of
glare. With the MCSS under the LP12, cymbals were altogether
more present, defined and clear. But the real surprise was how
complex and full of nuance and musical color the unamplified
cymbals in their studio setting had become. The double bass
tightened up and became easier to follow without any loss of
body or weight. The piano began to sound more like a huge, nine-foot
Steinway concert grand. Alas, it will never sound completely
convincing. It is a common, and unfortunate, recording studio
practice to cover, nay, to mummify the piano and shove a microphone
under the lid. This is supposed to enhance realism?
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NOISE
As claimed, resonance control
was excellent. Especially in the bass register, the halo that
surrounds each instrument was reduced. The removal of this persistent
lower register resonance was what really turned me on. This
opens up and clarifies the entire presentation. Soundstage attributes
were all enhanced, including localization, dimensionality, and
recreation of the recording venue. Depending on the CD, the
soundstage could seem less focussed. Then you put on the next
CD and it's razor sharp. There is no excess sound, no smearing
or resonance. The image of those cymbals ended, and beyond there
was just STILLNESS. No etched outlines, no unfocussed borders,
no unnatural blackness, just a realistic fading into space.
Based on the highly desirable benefits the first MCSS under
the Linn LP12 delivered, I decided to take the plunge. I installed
maple platforms and IsoBlocks under the amps. (My amps have
built in PolyCrystal cones that prevented use of the Ultimate
Triplepoints.) I found the platform's effects additive. You'll
hear positive results with the first one and then a compounding
as you install more. When I put the last platform in place,
so that the entire digital chain was sitting on brass and maple,
the sound really locked. Clarity, power, realism and happy listeners
sum it up. I noticed the same thing with the cymbals on Big
Sweet N' Blue with the Norris Turney quartet [Mapleshade MS02632
gold CD]. Track 3, "Blues in B," has the piano, bass
and drums doing an extended intro before Turney enters with
a riff reminiscent of the Duke. Turney was Ellington's last
alto sax soloist. The drum kit is featured in that intro and
the cymbals are prominent. There's a whole lotta treble shakin'
here that can sound pretty gray and undifferentiated. The MCSS
brought out the different sounds of each cymbal, and the many
colors possible from one cymbal, depending on where it was struck
and what was used to strike it. Jimmy Cobb was doing a lot more
with those cymbals than I had known about prior to treatment.
On the Decca 180 gram LP re-issue
of Leonard Bernstein Mozart [Decca SET 332], orchestral strings
had more shimmer and, at the same time, more authority and power.
The piano sounded more acoustic and more powerful also.
I find that practically any
object placed on top of a component will change its sound. I
prefer to have nothing sitting on the component. I did try the
Heavyhat brass weights, and found them as good as any other
weights I had on hand. Some weights, like the VPI Bricks, dampen
the sound and make it darker. The brass weights tended to give
a little extra energy to the mid-range, without damping. Then
there's the Heavyhat Triplepoint, which gave a little sparkle
to the treble. It's rather like preparing a fine meal and then
seasoning to taste. Use the Heavyhat to coarsely tune your system
and then fine tune with the Triplepoint. One combination that
worked well with my AC conditioner was a VPI Brick in the center
with a Heavyhat Triplepoint on either side of the Brick. This
energized the bass along with good treble extension. So, depending
on your taste, the Heavyhats might fit the bill.
Amazingly, there were no trade-offs
or compromises in the musical areas I pay most attention to.
However, there are some practical concerns. The fully implemented
MCSS, without the Heavyhat brass weights on top, elevates the
component an additional 6 inches. Finding that much extra height
on one shelf, let alone all the component shelves, can be a
problem. To save space, I broke the IsoBlocks in half, and then
used each three-layered sandwich under the maple. This saves
about 1" in height. Pierre Sprey of Mapleshade says you
lose a small percent of the effect this way. I used the IsoBlocks
both ways and found you do lose a little bit of the effect,
but also the overall balance had moved towards the treble with
the shorter sandwich. Then I had to resort to the HeavyHats
to add body.
Though the IsoBlocks are laminated
together, they were easy to separate and sometimes came apart
on their own. Also, their dimensions were variable, with some
being much larger than others. The raw wood is very porous and
tends to warp over time. And even though the finished ones warp
a little over time, I strongly advise that you go for the finished
product. And while speaking of the finish, it is obviously hand-worked,
and there are imperfections. It looks OK, but there is no mistaking
it for furniture grade.
Turntables present a problem.
Putting three cones under the plinth does not exactly make for
a stable support. It's only feasible if you get Triplepoints
with threaded inserts and screw them into the plinth. For my
LP12, the table's Trampolinn base sits on the maple plank, and
then come the IsoBlocks.
Best results are achieved when
the MCSS is used without other specialized isolation products.
Initially, I put an MCSS over a Dark Matter platform. I didn't
like it, and concluded that the particular component wasn't
synergistic with the maple. Later, I removed the Dark Matter
and tried it again, with very positive results.
Make sure the IsoBlocks are
securely contacting the maple. If any one of them moves freely
shim it up with some stiff cardboard or pieces of wood veneer.
Don't use corrugated cardboard for this - it's too compliant.
You want something stiff.
The cardboard shims actually
affected the sound slightly. After I put a few more of them
in and liked it, I decided to try some Golden Sound DH Squares
instead. The DH Squares under all four IsoBlocks worked nice
magic on the CD transport, LP12, the phono pre-amp and the power
supply to the line pre-amp. However, it didn't work with the
other components, so experimentation is recommended. The maple
only sounds good with the IsoBlocks under it. The wood on its
own is too warm and dulls the sound.
Order of application: the first
component to address is anything that has moving parts, like
an LP turntable or CD drive. Next would be tube gear. I also
used it under my Accuphase AC conditioner to good effect.
The Mapleshade Component Support
System is aimed at the tweakers among us. If it seems like the
whole thing is just too much bother, let me reiterate the MCSS
achievements. The treatment removes a pervasive low frequency
resonance surrounding each instrument and treble glare and haze.
It offers a heightened sense of power and forcefulness, even
on treble instruments. The resulting sound is clear and loaded
with detail and yet decidedly "non-hi-fi." It is slightly
darker, but based on how good the added weight sounds; I must
conclude that my system was in need of it. Yours might need
Analog Front End
Linn LP12, LINGO, EKOS
AudioQuest AQ7000 and Linn ARKIV II cartridges
American Hybrid Technology Non-Signature Phono Preamp with mods
Digital Front End
Phillips 960 CD transport, with Legend Audio mods
Legend Audio Design Music Reference DA converters
Legend Audio Design LAD-L2 Line Preamp
Legend Audio Nirvana monoblocks
Legend Audio Design phono cables
Legend Audio Interconnects
Illuminations/Kimber Studio D-60 Datastream Digital link
Legend Audio Digital Master Cable
Legend Audio Speaker wire
Harmonic Technology Magic, Legend Audio, and Golden Sound Power