Review: Boston Audio Tuneblocks Tweak

Category: Accessories

Short (reader’s digest) version:

I originally came across Boston Audio and their Mat-1 product through discussions on Audioasylum’s vinyl forum. It’s true what they say, the Mat-1 is a great and relatively inexpensive tweak for your turntable. It brought out the clarity and dynamics that seem to be a bit lacking in my turntable set up. I apologize for that tangent but this review is about their Tuneblock’s. I have been fooling around with various cones and other tweaks throughout the years and still have a variety of them in my current system setup. Besides the devices tested here I have tried, Black Diamond Racing cones (older version), Brightstar air mass 3 and a few other vibration isolation pads. None of those are currently in my system. I’ll list the relevant current configuration info and leave the rest

Amp/Pre-amp: Jeff Rowland DG - Concentra 2 (with Phono).
Universal (CD) player: Exemplar Audio - D2900.
Standesign 5 shelf rack, heavy-welded single piece with drop in MDF shelves (with ACI Blackchrome points).
Speakers: Avalon Acoustics – Arcus (with Apex steel couplers).
Sub-woofer: North Creek Music - Poseidon.
Speaker cables: Ridge Street Poeima (on Mapleshade triad cable lifts).
Power cables: Siltech SPX-30 to amp & CD, FIM Silver to sub-woofer.
Interconnects: Siltech G5 SQ28 to D2900, Bogdan Silver Spirit to DCM-370, LAT International IC-200D to subwoofer.
Power conditioning: Equi=tech - 1Q (sitting on ACI brass points on a Maple cutting board).
Room treatments: DaaD’s & Echo busters.
CD changer: Denon DCM-370 (sitting on a Gingko Audio Cloud 10).

Overall conclusion:
I tested the Tuneblocks against Apex Couplers, Mapleshade Heavyfeet v.3 and a Gingko Audio Cloud 10, using an Exemplar D2900 and Denon DCM-370 CD players. The competition boiled down to the Gingko platform and the Tuneblocks. I found that I prefer the Tuneblocks for this application. While the low noise floor, clarity and soundstage were similar for these two devices. The real
difference in the timbre and dynamics gave the Tuneblocks the edge. At roughly half the price the Tuneblocks are a winner. I was also fortunate enough to discover that the Tuneblocks also had a very positive effect on my amplifier as well.

Addition details…long version:
My listening room is a suspended wooden floor (beam & post) covered by thick carpet. It has caused me a fair amount of frustration trying to stop the vibrations from getting to my turntable. I mention this because I have a Nottingham Interspace Turntable sitting on a Gingko Audio cloud 10 (with integrated cover) and I would not have a turntable if it weren’t for the Gingko product. I have tried several solutions but only the Gingko made it work, along with adding spikes to the rack.

Test 1:
I would have liked to test these things with 1 CD at a time, changing out the test components before moving on to the next CD. However with the limited space and difficulty changing these devices I chose to play specific cuts from 4 CD’s rather than the usually 7 or 8 CD’s. Here is what I used:

Diana Krall – Love Scene’s: track 10- How deep is the Ocean (How high is the sky) and track 11- My love is.
Sandrine Cantoreggi – Pietro Antonio Locatelli [SACD]: track 3- Andante Capriccio (n.22).
Euforia – Euforia: track 11- Portrait of Cidinho and track 14- Caribe.
Delerium - Karma: track 1- Enchanted, track 4- Silence and track 7- Euphoria (Firefly).

Again I had to cut the list short because of the difficulty of changing the cones out. Tested devices: Boston-Audio Tuneblocks, Mapleshade Heavyfeet v.3 and Apex couplers. I was going to include the Gingko Cloud 10 but this would have been even more difficult still. More on this later…. The reason for the sub-woofer is that my listening space is very large being 20 x 45 with a high arching ceiling averaging well over 12 feet. Thus the sub was necessary to get to the lower frequencies as well as add weight to the music.

Step 1, Baseline - no cones under the amp or CD player. As I have been using treatments for over a year I really missed them when I removed them.

Step 2, enter the Tuneblocks.
Let’s go right for the gold here or rather the Carbon Graphite. Overall there is a wonderful clarity and separation between the instruments and voices with these under the CD player. With the lower noise floor, things come out of the background more clearly and the soundstage seems to have grown. I can now place the performers more accurately in a 3D landscape. While playing Ms. Krall’s Love Scene’s recording I could pull out those subtle differences in the touch of different fingers on the keyboard and Christian McBride’s playing on the stand up bass (this guy is awesome), as well as being able to delineate the use of the different pedals on the piano. Moving on to Ms. Cantoreggi’s absolutely fabulous performance of Maestro Locatelli’s compositions, I could
distinctly feel the delicate change with the rise and fall of tempo and the weight of the instruments throughout this track. I believe it is important to note that the additional clarity and soundstage did not come at the cost of a sterile and cold presentation. The texture and life of the music was still present and even more so.
When playing the first release from Euforia, one of Mapleshade’s recording specialties, the finger slides on the guitar and ring of the cymbals was distinct no longer muted into the background of the performance. The lively percussion, sustain and decay of the performer’s notes were all distinguishable adding to the energy of this recording. Using my long-time test staple from Delerium’s
Karma CD, the soft passages were still soft but had additional texture and gentleness that I missed. Whispering vocals were clear and understandable where before I had trouble picking out all the words. The chorale voices were now clear and separable, the bass notes distinctive rather than just an indistinguishable thump. This CD displays a complex and wide range of instruments, it’s a great recording for testing as well as listening.

Step 3, Swap the Apex couplers in for the Tuneblocks.
I will say that any of these treatments are noticeably better than without any. They are all somewhat competitive and in some systems the differences may be less than others. Overall the results of using these steel couplers were a little less clear and a little less quiet than the Tuneblocks. Still these have similar benefits as the tuneblocks just not to the same level. When I played the
SACD of Sandrine Cantoreggi and the Delerium CD, the differences seemed less notable. Let me add to that as there was a small loss in dynamics for acoustic instruments and some clarity was lost in the lower octaves, the latter being more pronounced with the two jazz recordings.

Step 4, In go the Heavyfeet.
Now things were much more like the Tuneblocks, most of the clarity was back with a touch of warmth. This is going to be close. My wife was down with a cold but stayed in the room for most of this test session. This is somewhat surprising because after a while, like the fifth time the same song is being played she’ll move on to another room. She preferred the touch of warmth that the Heavyfeet had, where as I leaned toward the tuneblocks which I feel has an ever so slight edge in quietness, timbre and clarity. (I like to be emotionally involved in the music not just listening to hifi.) This was consistent through out all of my test recordings with the Heavyfeet. The exemplar CD player is a hybrid (meaning solid-state & tube) that has received rave reviews and is very neutral even considering its SET output stages.

Step 5, was to place the Tuneblocks back under the Exemplar and try a couple of additional and different songs and artists. However, first I thought I would try the Tuneblocks under the amp for a bit. I have tried several other solutions under the amp, except for the Heavyfeet (because they won’t fit) and the Tuneblocks, and nothing has had any noticeable effect when I did this. In
fact I gave pretty much gave up finding any tweaks for it and I expected no difference here. What a delightful surprise as the Tuneblocks really lowered the noise floor here too. I revisited all my test tracks and added R. Carlos Nakai’s must-have Sanctuary CD. This fantastic recording captured in a Canyon in South Western Colorado really came to life. The echo from the canyon surrounds gained a life of their own and the sweetness of the Cedar bass flute was full and palpable. Seriously this recording never sounded so good in my system before.
Well it was getting late and I had to get some sleep, I have a real job to get to in the morning. So the test had to stop and the Tuneblocks are staying under the amp! I’ll just have to get another set. I think I’ll try the testing with the DCM-370, between the Tuneblocks, the Cloud 10 and the Heavyfeet. It will be interesting to see if I can discern the differences with a player that has less resolution.

Conclusion 1; The Tuneblocks are highly, strongly recommended under one’s amplifier or preamplifier. For CD playback the tuneblock is also highly recommended and with the 30 day trial there is nothing to lose. I will be following up with a second test next weekend on the DCM-370 after I pull it out of the rack.

Test #2;
I took the Denon DCM-370 changer out of the rack and placed it on top of the Equi=tech because there is nowhere else to go with it. I placed the Apex couplers under the Rowland Integrated just to keep it up in the air (read - being lazy). I did not use the Apex couplers for any additional tests. The Denon is interconnected to the Concentra 2 with Bogdan Audio Silver Spirits, not the newer sand filled version.

Step 1: Baseline, test player without any devices installed.
I used the same CD’s and cuts, also adding the R. Carlos Nakai Sanctuary CD into the mix and playing tracks 1 (Alpine Dawn) and 2 (Raven Dreams). Overall this player is not going to be close to the exemplar in performance. Everything was a bit soft and kind of dull sounding, that is not to say that this is a terrible player it’s just not in the same league as the exemplar. It is a bit better with acoustic instruments than electrically amplified versions.

Step 2: Add the Tuneblocks.
While these won’t raise this player up to the lever of the exemplar they did provide a noticeable and welcome increase in performance. The over all clarity and definition was raised out of the quieter background. I can no longer say this is dull but the dynamics and range of the player were still a little soft and it would not get much better as we continue with the other devices. This
not an SACD player so we can’t get any benefits from that while playing the Cantoreggi CD. As previously mentioned the Tuneblocks improved the performance quite a bit over the standard player. The performance of the Euforia trio was lively and I noticed more air around each instrument and you can start to feel what is playing as much as hear it. On the Karma CD, I could again hear the lyrics of the whispered vocals again, but the bass was still a little loose and undefined. The canyon echoes of Nakai’s CD started to have a life of their own again now that I could separate them out of the mix.

Step 3: Enter the Gingko.
It didn’t seem fair to exclude this device from the testing although I was not sure how it would compare to the other devices. I am really glad I did add it in as it had some unforeseen benefits. I did not expect it to be as sharp in the lower octaves as it is, nor did I expect the definition to be so good and the quiet background. In any case I have a Cloud 10 with 3 balls under it, having used one to add to the Cloud 10 my turntable sits on. The bass sounds tight although I don’t know that it is as dynamic of a presentation as the Tuneblocks. Interestingly I found that as I kept playing the different CD’s and song’s I found my self thinking that one would better on this song where the other would be better on the next song. In the end I preferred the Tuneblocks on the Krall & Cantoreggi CD’s and the Gingko on the Euforia & Delerium CD’s. It was a tie on the Nakai CD. I listened to extra tracks and took
more time but still had the same conclusion.

Step 4: Return of the Heavyfeet.
From the beginning I knew this was going to be close, but surprisingly I found the bass on the Gingko to surpass the Heavyfeet and the overall dynamics of the Tuneblocks to a touch better than either. The high frequency definition was best on the Heavyfeet and the Tuneblock, with mids matched up on all 3. Again I found myself choosing one over the other per the CD and the song. The Tuneblocks still the best on the Krall & Cantoreggi CD’s, the Heavyfeet on Euforia, the Gingko for Delerium and finally still tied on Nakai but I think the Heavyfeet would end up third on this one.

Conclusion 2: It has gotten obvious to me that you can use these differing treatments to tune certain characteristics in or out of your disk players. There wasn’t a clear cut winner here which bothered me enough to retest on the Exemplar…after a little lunch break.

Test 3: Back to the beginning.
I pulled the D2900 out of the rack and put in place of the Denon, using the Siltech interconnects instead of the Bogdan’s. I skipped the baseline this time choosing to focus strictly on the differences between each treatment. I also chose a new set of recordings to start with although I added the old ones in later as you will see.

Lara St. John – Gypsy [SACD]: 7 (Tzigane) and 8 (Czardos Caprice).
Keb Mo- Slow Down: 11 (Love in Vain) and 13 (I’m telling you now).
Alan Parson’s Project – I Robot [HDAD, using the 24/192 side]: 1 (I Robot),
2 (I wouldn’t want to be like you), 6 (The Voice).
Jonny Lang – Wander This World: 1 (Still Raining), 3 (I am).

Step 1: Tuneblocks serve first.
Gorgeous, it just sounds gorgeous after hearing the old changer for a while. So now this is the baseline for the others to meet or beat. Let’s move on to the challengers.

Step 2: Heavyfeet stomp onto the court.
Also gorgeous. The Tuneblocks are a pinch quieter and honestly a little better defined, particularly in the lower octaves on the SA and HD CD’s. The differences are not as noticeable on the others, dead even on the Jonny Lang recording. However, its advantage Tuneblocks.

Step 3: The Gingko enters the ring.
I can say that I prefer the Gingko over the Heavyfeet, initially not sure how it compares with the Tuneblocks yet. After going through these recordings I added the old ones back in and added more songs as well. I found I prefer the Tuneblocks over the Gingko for Delerium-Karma (opposite of the DCM-370 in Test 2), the Eagle’s – Hotel California and the high definition CD’s (Gypsy, Locatelli
and I Robot). I favored the Gingko for Horowitz – Reminiscence, Nakai - Sanctuary and Jonny Lang. In desperation I started playing other CD’s and tracks, clearly finding it difficult to find an absolute winner.

Conclusion 3: I could have added another ball under the Gingko and that might have tightened up the bass and changed the results a little. However, after a lot of messing around and going back and forth with these final 2 treatments and recordings, I decided that the Gingko was better used under the Denon changer and the Tuneblocks were better under the Exemplar and the amplifier. Considering the price of the Tuneblocks I think that’s a strong statement for the Tuneblocks and these were using the standard steel bearing not the tungsten-carbide units. Now I have to order another set of Tuneblocks, at least I’ll get a chance to clean up my audio rack cabling a bit since I pulled most of it apart now.
I have talked to both Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio and Austin Jackson of Boston Audio in the past and both are first class people that are very enthusiastic about their products and audio in general. These are competitive products with a different way of achieving similar results. I can see situations where one may work better than the other. I can only encourage everyone to try them and see where they can help to improve your overall system performance. While improvement in quietness, clarity and soundstage were similar for these tested devices, in the final analysis of my testing I can say that I favor the Tuneblocks over the other devices for their superior performance in timbre, dynamics and lower noise floor. I was also fortunate enough to discover that the Tuneblocks
also had a very positive effect on my amplifier as well.

All the best and happy listening, Z.

Associated gear
Amp/Pre-amp: Jeff Rowland DG - Concentra 2 (with Phono).
Universal (CD) player: Exemplar Audio - D2900.
Standesign 5 shelf rack, heavy-welded single piece with drop in MDF shelves (coned/spiked with ACI Blackchrome points).
Speakers: Avalon Acoustics – Arcus (which ship with Apex steel couplers).
Sub-woofer: North Creek Music - Poseidon.
Speaker cables: Ridge Street Poeima (on Mapleshade triad cable lifts).
Power cables: Siltech SPX-30 to amp & CD, FIM Silver to sub-woofer.
Interconnects: Siltech G5 SQ28 to D2900, Bogdan Silver Spirit to DCM-370, LAT International IC-200D to subwoofer.
Power conditioning: Equi=tech - 1Q (sitting on ACI brass points on a Maple cutting board).
Room treatments: DaaD’s & Echo busters.
CD changer: Denon DCM-370 (sitting on a Gingko Audio Cloud 10).

Similar products
Mapleshade Heavyfeet v.3,
Gingko Cloud 10,
Apex Couplers,
Black Diamond Racing cones (old version), Brightstar Airmass 3, Vibrapods.
For the second set of Tuneblocks I got the Tungsten Carbide Bearings in addition to the standard steel set. Upon receipt I immediately placed the new set under the JR Concentra 2 but mistakenly used the TC bearings. I was going to try them under the Exemplar first.

The next day I discovered my mistake and swapped in the steel balls for the TC units. I noticed the small drop in performance right away. Next I ran a test on the Exemplar D2900 using the same tracks I used in the initial review/test. Swapping in the TC bearings took the performance of the Tuneblock up another notch. The noise floor dropped lower, the edges of the notes and transitions were even cleaner. Again the separation and clarity notched upward. The timbre was still accurate and uncolored.

I will conclude that the TC bearing upgrade would probably be somewhat lost on my DCM-370 or any average disk player but do not know that for fact. Regarding the Exemplar or any other high performance disk player, the TC upgrade would be worthwhile. If you are trying to get the most out of your equipment (who isn't) I would recommend you give the TC bearings a go. You should also consider this for your amp & pre-amp as well. These Boston Audio tweaks are great!
Using TuneBlocks (XT version with the tungsten carbide bearings) is my first attempt to tweak by using high tech footers. For years, I've been satisfied with cheap solutions such as cut up mouse pads and sorbothane under my mid-fi equipment.

Recently, I upgraded the heart of my audio system to an Eastern Electric M520 tube integrated amplifier. Something about the TuneBlocks' simple sophistication appealed to my rational mind. Would they also satisfy the subjective side of my nature? With a thirty day trial period being offered, I had little to lose by experimentation.

Already familiar with the sound of the M520 standing on its stock feet, I was startled at the subtle but obvious improvements in performance when the vacuum tube rectified amp was placed on the TuneBlocks. They unlocked a little more of the performance potential of the M520's great Mullard inspired circuitry and the many wonderful combinations of NOS tubes that I'm very fortunate to have in my possession.