(Jolida) Black Ice Audio Foz SS-X Sound Enhancement


I could find only a few reviews of this device and a few forum entries here. They were all favorable. I sorely needed the bass enhancement circuit for my Maggie 3.7s. I have a Marchand X.26 crossover handling them and the sub but the integration was not ideal. The pre and amps are Cary Audio Class A mono blocs. The source is transparent and very revealing. I did not want anything to upset the glorious sound of the tubes. I also needed something to offset my small-ish listening room. The Maggies ’stand watch’ but I can’t get the distance I need for them to bloom. The SS-X seemed to fit the bill - tube driven, clean specs and a solid designer pedigree. I respect Jim Fosgate.

I ordered the SS-X on the strength of his engineering expertise, particularly in tubes, viz-a-viz Jolida. Not having heard the device it could be considered a leap of faith or a plunge into disappointment. I held my breath.

Straight to the chase: Maggies now have a sweet bottom end, the sub has been dialed back and has disappeared and the top to bottom synergy is spot on and very satisfying.

But wait, there’s more...

The spatial imaging adjustment: Well, I listened to several of my favorite studio recordings. Clean, thankfully. I then put on a nightclub recording of the late Ben Webster live in Amsterdam. I nearly fell out of my chair. The speakers disappeared and I was looking around for the cocktail waitress. The drum kit, the piano, the double bass were all present in the venue with all of its ambiance and Mr. Webster was doing what he did so incredibly well: swinging the audience ala Ellington with that big smooth sax. You could hear everyone present as if you were sitting there.

I’m still waiting for the cocktail server. Incredible device and worth every penny and the anticipation.





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I also want to add that my Stax SRM-MKII with Lambdas now sound rich.  They are notoriously bass shy.  Not anymore.  Also, the enhancement circuit works wonders with them too.  

 “Oh, waitress!”
I too, have a sort of interest in this product just to audition it, or more. I forgot whether the unit would have an effect on treble. What have you found there? 
It only affects the bottom end.  There is no affect beyond at all. It simply warms up the bottom end with a 9db plus (or minus) adjustment which I needed.  It is very satisfying and nothing like a traditional equalizer.  The device itself is flat to beyond audibility.  The specs are impeccable.  

The big plus is how it widens the soundstage on live recordings without sounding the least bit gimmicky. Been there - done that.  I am a stickler for tone, clarity and musicality. It is a well designed and well executed circuit.  Very well built.  It has transformed my listening space just as I was hoping it would.  Actually, I wasn't prepared for just how much.

Jeez, judging by this it sounds like the cocktail waitress served me a few already...still waiting but enjoying the music!
I spent years working in recording studios and there are many, many devices that are used to "enhance" the recorded sound that manipulate phase and eq. While high-end has traditionally eschewed tone controls, equalizers and phase manipulation at the end-user, things seem to be changing a bit, IMO because of the popularity of super-revealing systems that sound good on first listening, but then become tiresome over time. Again, IMO. If you like the sound and you can wrap your mind around the fact that you are not hearing what was actually recorded, have at it.  But I can see where this would be abhorrent to those people who spent a lot of time and money assembling a system that was as true to the recording as possible.  I'm not sure they could intellectually enjoy a system they knew deliberately manipulated the sound.  The human mind is a strange thing.   
Agreed.  I am one of them.  I spent good money on a very revealing all tube system for those same reasons.  I'm just stuck in a small room and my 3.7s can't disappear due to the physical limitations of placement and can't generate quite enough bottom due in part to their design as well as the room dimensions.  

This is a fix.  I was well aware of that in my deliberation.  But it is one heck of a good one.  I've have owned and have heard many enhancers over the years and never cared for them.  This one is done right.  Subtle, clean and unobtrusive save for the fact that it accomplishes what I need done.  I am a happy camper.
There is nothing worse than speakers that won't work with the room.  I've said this many times, but in a normal domestic environment without a huge amount of placement flexibility, it is a total crapshoot in finding a speaker.  But when it clicks with the room, a whole world opens up.  Believe me, I know.  I had the Harbeth Monitor 30s and I so wanted to love them, but it sounded like everything under 100 hz was missing.  Then I tried the Opera Callas Monitor and it sounded perfect.  The errors in the speaker complimented the errors in the room.  My guess is you will eventually abandon this product and try for a better matching speaker because you won't be able to deal psychologically with inserting a $400 box in between all your expensive components.  Part of the audiophile mind.  Maybe not.  Try to enjoy.  
Thanks for the comments. Good observations.

It would be really hard for me to give up the Maggies. I wanted them in the worst way since the early salad days when I first heard them powered by Audio Research. I knew I wanted tubes and Maggies. I was finally able to buy them in mid 1990 after I acquired the Carys. They were the last in the chain of my build.

Actually, they were never intended to stay in my office at home. They sounded tonally great even without the bass and imaging. It was always my intent to move them into a different area but that option never happened. Family issues precluded that move. In the intervening years, I wasn’t necessarily suffering from the lack of bass and imaging, I just missed both. My prior speakers, Celestion SL700SEs, would disappear and image like crazy in that other area, but no, I just had to have the Maggies. Well, to be fair, the Celestions suffered a catastrophic loss too painful to recount. I decided to opt for the Maggies rather than replace them.

This product brought it all together. I’m under no spell. I know it is signal/phase manipulation, but I accept that. It is well-executed, the build is exemplary and the sound very satisfying, such that, the compromise to absolutism is more than amply offset by the glorious compromise it is.

Bottom line is I get to keep my Maggies with their seductive mids and now have the warmth in the bottom with the imaging I was missing. To directly address the responses to my post, I’ll take that compromise for sure, even though I don’t view it that way at all.

I’ve been into this hobby since boyhood with soldering iron in hand and I have heard enough to know immediately what I like and don’t like; hence, despite the room acoustics, I kept this system this many years. This, I like, and my compromise is over.

I posted this as I suspect others may be in the same dilemma and need this capability. It may merit consideration. It truly is a great tool.

Now that I have shot my 5 (posts), I’ll return to the music and anonymity.

Best and happy listening to all!
Comments/advice greatly appreciated. I like to own ANYTHING that is quality first. Audio has never been an exception.Jim Fosgate has the kind of reputation that holds up to my expectations. Eventually, I will buy one of these.
Ok, get ready for an update in the coming days. I should receive the unit this Thursday, and am anxious to give it a listen. My system isn't quite complete yet, as I am working on an amp project that will take some time. In the interim, I am getting by with less than a great power amp. Regardless, I feel that the new unit will make it's impressions known enough for me to decide what I hear from it. Seems that it had some intent for headphone listeners as well, and that< is where I do have a leg up for some more serious listening. More later, less sooner.  
 The unit came in a day late, courtesy of a snow storm. Then, living in Wyoming generally means that a product needs to warm up for at least an hour. Finally, I plug it in and turn it on for a few minutes. Like others that stated a bit about the quality, I concur. Thank god this isn't some crappy little black box. I am pretty impressed. The packing was righteous as well. My wife is sleeping so, headphones first impressions. After a bit of fiddling with the controls, I was surprised to learn that just a bit more bass on my ZMF Ori phones was used. Not much, just something that I preferred. I am listening to U2, Joshua Tree. Listened to it last night on speakers, and said to myself, "Oh yah, this is the album that can have a little or more midrange bite." The Ori phones put this sort of thing right back in perspective for me. Glad that I own them. Then I am adjusting the dimension control. I have listened to more than my share of this kind of stuff, and am skeptical after being fed anymore placebos. As I used the control, I realized that yes, there really is something positive going on, and thank god again, it is variable. Too much is just that, too much. For this recording, about a 1 o'clock position gives me for the first time, a worthy impression of headphones not feeding your ears a little miniature rock band smack dab between your ears. I may sell the rest of my system... who needs more? But just kidding folks, I will accidentally wake the wife, and continue listening through speakers. So far, there are no regrets for the price paid, nor the real estate taken by this unit. Thanks Jim Fosgate.
Talked to Jerred at Black Ice yesterday (great guy) about the SS-X. Very tempted to try this out soon.
 I was tempted too, but then realized there is little chance of buying a used unit. Finally bit the bullet and got mine. I didn't mention what the unit does for my speaker system. The fact that I like it in circuit so much says a lot, but it is not for every recording out there. Further, my system already has a great sound stage so why did I bother? Because I wanted to try out the bass EQ that this unit has in comparison to the bass tone control that is on my Vincent pre-amp. It does treat the bass differently than the Vincent, but I need more experience to determine what that difference is. Also, it includes a tube buffer, and the 12AU7W tube chosen was right on the button. Since I make buffer amps for sale, I know the difference between one or another in terms of sound. This one is simply honest. No 'tubey' euphemisms to be tacked on here.It is the same reason that I bought the Vincent. The LED display is a little funky though, and I wouldn't exactly call it studio level resolution. God help me, I am somewhat tempted to find high dollar replacements for the TL074 op amps. For now, I am just enjoying what the unit has to offer.
I have a Rogue Cronus Magnum and a Jolida JD9 phono amp. Wonder how this will work inserted between them?
Since the Jolida phono pre-amp provides a line level signal, it is fine to use this unit between it and the Rogue unit.
Follow-up:  This is arguably one of the best purchases, dollar-for-dollar, I have ever made in audio with the best benefit ratio and enjoyment factor of any component.  It has completely exceeded my expectations and the magic simply has not worn off, as so often does, with something new and different.  Been there - done that.   

This is out of the ballpark.  Clean, clear, articulate and involving.  For those of you who own one, it might explain the sparsity of used ones on the market.  :-)

       
Thanks 4krow. I know it will work from a technical standpoint, just wondering how good it will sound. Enjoy the music review said it didn’t work as well with the Tavish tube phono stage as it did with a ss phono. Questioning how it will sound with the JD9?

Only way to know is try it I guess. Sounds like a great value.


  Your instincts are correct. The unit sounds different with each combination of components. So far, I have not found a combination that it is in that I would take it back out.
Every claim about this product is confirmed, based
on only a few days in my system.  I had broken it in
to get some time on the tube.

It puts more "meat" on the sound, through the tube "filter."
I don't have a preamp, and placing the SS-X between my
cd player and amp has dispelled any questions about
what I may have been missing.  This is my first tube product.
The music seems to have more body, and the instruments sound
more substantial, in a natural space.

I am happy with the bass adjustment, and am content to leave
the control on neutral.  In this position it sounds more full than
what I was hearing before.  Now I have the option of changing it,
whenever desired.  (I do not use a subwoofer.)

The sound staging in the "wide" mode, is really excellent, too.
It also seems to add more depth and height to the sound.

The SS-X is well built and definitely responds to quality cabling and
vibration isolation.  (I replaced the fuse with SR Blue.)

The people at Black Ice (Jolida) in Maryland are great to talk to and
have responded to questions easily.

At $400, I think this product is a unique steal.  In a single unit, you can
control variables that are not addressed by any other piece of electronics that
I know of.

It very simply does what it claims to do!
I have been a SS guy since high school but since I set up a stereo system in my kitchen I have thought about making the leap to tubes or at the very least a intergrated hybdrid. I saw a Jolida intergrated tube amp on this site for a great price. In my research I reached out to the folks at Jolida and spoke with the owner Mr. Allen. He highly recommened going with the For SS-X as a great introduction to the sound of tubes, well one in this case.

I hooked it up earlier this afternoon and the spacing setting made a great first impression on me. It may need 20 plus hours or more to warm up so I will post an update in a week or so.
Any further updates on how you're enjoying the SSX?
It is now a permanent part of the landscape, meaning it has disappeared as a new component.  I have it dialed in and just enjoy it.  Really a good buy for my purposes.  
I just now realized you were addressing the other poster.   
I am surprised.  I thought it would be fun to
listen to the same cd and vary the settings.
Or, change the settings with different discs.

"Set it and forget it" is working very well,
thank you!
I have to concur with these observations. There is more “there” there, “more meat on the bones” and once set - “forget it”. The only exception is with acoustic bass-shy jazz recordings that benefit from a bit of boost.
HA! I have found one thing that bugs me. Seems that a spot of silver paint on each knob will give me 'at a glance' idea of where the knob is positioned. Can't see them well enough unless all the lights are on. What this actually means is that I have absolutely no remorse about this product being in my system. Come to think of it, I could just find find really cool looking knobs to replace the black ones. 'Nuff said.
Very interesting indeed.

May have to give one a try on my Maggie's.

After all $400 is not a fortune.
One is on its way.
Found a trade in at $300 so not painful at all.
We will see.

I am presently using an iFi audio itube buffer which gives me a good result on my cassette deck and an el cheapo Chinese tube buffer on my R2R tape deck.

Will be nice to run both decks into just one unit.
Received my unit today and have to say first impressions are well, not impressive at all.

The sound I had running through my iFi iTube buffer on my Nakamichi 660zx was considerably better than through the Jolida.

Bass was much more stout and clearer, the Jolida almost seems to put a veil over the bass and leaves it more a one note muffled affair no matter where I have the bass dial.
Now the dimension is fun but that is about it.

Overall unless it gets much better the longer the unit is on and warmed up it is not a keeper.

Even though it is nice to have just one unit to run both analog sources through, I think I would just buy another iFi iTube buffer for the open reel deck.
Interesting....
Maybe the Nak is just not a good match to the Jolida.

I say this because I have just sat down and am playing Janis Joplin through my Pioneer R2R through the Jolida and it is night and day.

This sounds spectacular!

So different from the Nak through the Jolida.

Most odd.

Be worth keeping just for the sound from the open reel through it but I will likely put the Nak back on the iFi iTube unit .
Suggestions:

Use quality power cord and interconnects
Isolate for vibration control

To get the best sound, attention to detail
with SS-X is very critical.  The effort and
associated costs will be worth it.
Using good power cord.
Using same interconnects as rest of system which are more than good enough imho.
It is sitting on its own shelf and vibration should not be an issue.
Looks like this is one of those units that needs to be on for many hours to sound its best.

Last night after 12 hours power on it was sounding better.

This morning after nearly 24 hours it is a LOT better.

Think I will just leave it on all the time, after all only 1 small 12au7 tube.

And I just bought a Bugera tube so will see if tube rolling has any impact.

More updates later.
Tube rolling definitely has a huge impact even with just the one little tube.

I am very fortunate to have a local audiophile friend ( thx Rick) who has a good stash of tubes so......

TungSol .... Bottom of the pile, too rounded, lost detail and impact.
Sylvania .... Nice neutral tube, nothing to say bad, but nothing to make you dance too either.
Mullard long plate .... Plenty of impact but top end detail not as refined as I would like.
The winner from my little pile is....

RCA ... Has it all, nearly. Not quite as insightful bass and mids as the Mullard but very nice highs and piano is to die for.

Pretty interesting that a few simple tube swaps can change the character so much.
I do appreciate your honesty, and understand how tube rolling would make a difference. No doubt, I will be trying an RCA tube soon enough. RCA impresses me if the tube is well selected by the seller for performance, noise, and so forth.
 FWIW, I changed the knobs on my unit to ones with markings. Pretty simple fix I'd say.
4KROWME
Very good idea on markings for the two knobs, would have been easy for the factory to do along with a center "null" position detent on each one.

Overall I would say it is well worth the $299 shipped price I paid.
Couldn't resist. Got a Gold Lion re-issue on the way from the Tube Store. After it arrives, I will be ready for it to audition. If I don't care for it, on we go to another tube. Second choice will be a special selected GE from Antique Audio Tubes? Andy is the owner, and I have had great results with his discrimination/selection process. 
Good deal!
I have a Bugera tube on it's way as well, just to try because I can.
I have been very happy with the the over all performance of the unit. I have a loudness switch on my Nikko and some times I have to dial the bass back.

I really love the dimension control as it really has improved the spread vof sound in my kitchen.
Having left the unit on for 24 hours after putting in the new Gold Lion ECC82, I decided that this enough time for a better listen to the unit in my system. I am not stating a very long review because I only listened to one album, bot before and after, i.e. Pink Floyd's Wish you were here. I felt that the recording was not going to let me down, and I could just concentrate on the music. One tell tale sign for me that I am impressed, it the inability to move once the album staterted. I didn't want to miss one single note. I think that it is also important that you know an album well enough in the first place in order to at least have a sense of what you expect.
 So, in a word, this tube (and maybe the unit itself) has the clarity that I am looking for. Bass is not only well defined, but I hear no strain for it. In that aspect, things are the same before and after. Midrange is a touch better when it comes to sibilance, and that is always appreciated. The treble is not more open, but there does seem to be better extension. I hear higher up than normal. Yes, this may be a bad thing for someone with exquisite hearing, but I am more than happy for this  improvement. No doubt, I need to listen to quite a few more albums, but this is my initial impression.
Glad to hear you are finding tube rolling to give an improvement.

I now have a Bugera tube in mine and I am liking that one quite  a lot so far but early days as it was brand new and need to get some hours on it.

Bass definitely does seem to be more taut but still deep and powerfull.

Its a great little box imho, whether it offends the purists because it is another item in the signal path well oh shame.

I have no intention of removing it from my system anytime soon.
Hi there, I recently purchased this item, to try it as a replacement for my WLM EQ (between music server and integrated tube amp). It does everything as advertised and mentioned in this thread. I struggle with one drawback, however, and that is slightly more emphasis on sibilance (I can't stand that). There is no change in the high quality interconnects and power cable connected to the unit (same as to WLM) so the problem is in the new unit. I am trying tube rolling without major improvement. Any advice?
It should disappear with use. 
Mine is very well burned in as it was an ex demo unit before I got it.
I have tried several different tubes and I cannot say as sibilance was ever noticeable at any time.

Keep piling hours on it!
Oh and as per an earlier Post of mine I suggest leaving it powered on all the time,I definitely saw a large improvement that way.

After all its only one little tube.....
I’ve been wanting to try one of these for a while and I finally was able to find a used one for a great price. Here’s my experience with it:
The purpose of purchasing was mostly out of curiosity and I had low expectations because the unit seemed gimmicky. I have the SS-X in between my McIntosh MP-100 Phonostage and my Yamaha A-S2100. Having two sets of outputs on the back of the MP-100, I was able to instantly a/b with/without the SS-X.
Two things immediately stood out: First the SS-X pulled out bass detail that I have not been able to extract with tone controls or my sub. This alone, makes the unit worth it for me. It’s interesting because, as others have stated, it adds "weight" to certain low frequencies without changing the tone. This translates to low frequency detail I haven’t experienced from my speakers before.

Second, was what someone else described as removing "glare" off the top end. I totally agree with this. It’s hard to describe, and I would also say it removed harshness from some recordings, but I definitely don’t consider it a high-end roll off. Detail and presence are still there. When I bypass the SS-X, my original system just sounds drier. With the SS-X the top end is more pleasing and delicate.

The soundstage expander section is incredibly useful and fun. I already have a very wide soundstage with my system, so I was curious what this would do. I found the the expander neither added width nor narrowed it, but rather pulled depth from the center or pushed it back. For me, it was more like, how close to the sound do you want to be? To the narrow side, anything that was mixed to be center was pulled forward while the width of the stage remained the same. Imagine stretching a rubber band between your speakers and grabbing the center of it and pulling it toward you. It gives you a more intimate feel. To the wide side, the center is pushed back, giving the impression you are sitting farther back. I found this particularly useful for tracks where vocals or instruments are mixed too forward or too hot. I found my sweet spot to be about 1 o’clock for general use. On Nora Jones’ Come Away With Me album from Analog Productions, where I find the vocals to be too hot, it was particularly beneficial at 3 o clock and really tamed her voice. No fatigue now. At max "wide" settings, my speakers completely vanish. This extreme setting was neat, but it made it harder to pinpoint sounds whose location my ears wanted to know. I think moderation is key with this unit.

Wrapping up, I find that removing the SS-X from my system makes me sad. In a world where I am often trying to convince myself something is good or doing something positive for my system, this one was an obvious and relieving yes. I’m not a purist and don’t care what was "intended to be heard". I want to hear what I want to hear. I realize that I am adding coloration to my sound and the SS-X makes me really happy to do so. I am also happy to report that the unit did not take away from the things my system already did very well, like the general imaging or dynamics.
Checking in on this thread to see if those of you who had this device in your systems more than a year ago - keesue, @4krow - have stuck with it?  Or has it moved on, as another commenter above thought might happen?

Any long-term observations to share?
Very happy with my unit, a definite keeper.  I thought I
would want to "play" with the bass and soundstage knobs, and
I was wrong.  For me, it is "set it and forget it."

The unit is sensitive to vibration control and good cabling.
I have not replaced the tube and leave the unit on for a
few days at a time.

Like Coach said, "They are who we thought they are."
Yep, still going strong and enjoying it immensely. I completely agree with the other posters’ observations: A great addition and frankly I couldn’t see/hear my system or live without it. I did bypass it for a listening session one night and at the end put it back in. Very demonstrable and very satisfying. My Maggie 3.7s sing from bass to treble - deep, rich, airy and very seductive. I consider it the icing on the cake.
I picked one up a few days ago and am still trying to dial it in.  I find myself fussing with it too much, I can’t leave it alone.  It may be that my OCD psyche can’t deal with a device like this, LOL!
You’ll find yourself doing this initially. I ultimately found one setting great for live acoustic music and another setting for studio recordings. In general however, I leave the setting in the middle of these two settings and leave it until I feel the need.