Review: Neuance Alpha & Beta shelf / Apollo Aria 455 rack Stand

Category: Accessories

I was first introduced to Neuance isolation platforms,, from by my Audiogon friend Redkiwi. He has spent years testing shelving materials and rack systems. He was the first to introduce me to the "light rigid theory." Light rigid steel racks, NO SAND/SHOT FILL spiked firmly to the floor with a light rigid, well-dampened shelf, supported on upturned spikes. Redkiwi tested most of the materials possible for shelving including MDF, butcher block, Corrian, glass and stone. It was the discovery of the Neuance shelf that was the true breakthrough in the realization of the light/rigid/dampened notion. The old theory of mass loading either the rack or the component was adding energy storage, and therefore smears and lowers the resonant frequency. The light/rigid/dampened philosophy provides less smearing, by that giving better PRAT and resolution.
Ken Lyons of Greater Ranges discovered Neuance quite by accident. It has an extremely hard, rigid, thin and lightweight shell made from ceramic laminate. The core is a rigid foam board subjected to a controlled pressurization to create a low mass core of variable density that has very little energy storage. This allows the shelf to react to a large spectrum of vibration frequencies. This is the only shelf produce I am aware of that can control such a large spectrum of vibration, without influencing the signal with its own dispersion of energy.
They designed Neuance and sounded it using the Mana rack system. Mana is a light rigid rack with complete isolation designed as part of the system. Ken Lyons researched several rack systems. He found the Apollo Aria model 455 rack from May Audio Marketing 716-283-4434 to provide most of the benefits of the Mana system, but for a fraction of the cost. This is a light rigid steel sectional rack that is easy to use and can be configured to allow for as many shelves as wanted. Each tower starts with a base unit that spikes to the floor and additional shelf sections as needed. Each shelf section has four upturned steel spikes to support the shelf itself. The Apollo and Neuance are the cornerstones of my equipment support.
Effects of the Apollo/Neuance combination are quite noticeable. The signal is fast and articulate with a reduction of distortion, but somehow providing more tonal color. The leading edge of each note appears more defined with the proper amount of attack and pace. I notice better transparency, extension, dynamics and detail. Sound is stunningly open throughout the spectrum, but perhaps the most striking feature is that treble details are just absolutely fabulous, with no hint of smearing, glare or grit. Neuance simply highlights my system allowing me to hear my components for what they are. In my case they allow the tonal neutrality of my components to voice correctly without adding artificial color or bloom. Do not expect the Neuance to blow you away. Using it just seems to subtract subtle noise from the music. It does not add romantic qualities, as many vibration control devices do. Artificially warm or euphoric qualities added to the music often sound great when first heard, but over time the smear and bloom will get old.
When we use a Neuance shelf for the first time, the sound is quite warm and woolly, but the sound clears up after a few days. Allowing the shelf and component to settle in for up to a week is extremely important before we make any adjustments. For whatever the reasons, the Neuance takes time for the core to settle to the load.
If its found "tuning" the sound is necessary, playing with footers is the best way. Understand this will be adding resonance and smearing that will emphasize or de-emphasize certain parts of the spectrum - the result being a loss of PRAT and resolution. So be discriminate with the footers used. Redkiwi recommended E-A-R feet feeling they will "reduce distortion and add warmth and fullness to the sound, without any loss of detail or speed." He found E-A-R to be "evenhanded and better than any stock rubber feet, and more neutral than Vibrapods." I have taken that advice and found the E-A-R to provide a rightness to the sound with immediacy, openness and a warm liquid smoothness without upsetting PRAT and resolution. I have found some components do not react as well to E-A-R as others. In some instances the pace seems to slow and the sound becomes thick. For example I have found the factory feet on the Sony SCD-1proform better than any footer I have tried. With my Plinius SA-102 amps I am using Orchard Bay titanium cones and titanium pucks. These are extremely liquid and detailed and literally build on the merits of the Neuance. This is very unusual to find cones that improve the Neuance performance. I have tried several cones and footers with the Neuance, only the E-A-R and OB titanium have been successful. "Tuning" requires trial and error with your particular system, remembering again to let the shelf settle after we make a change.
One issue with Neuance shelves is that the heavier the component, the more they enhance unwanted warmth that creeps into the lower mid and upper bass. Consequently Neuance makes two products, an alpha (for light components) and a beta (for moderately heavy components). I hope Ken is still working on a shelf for very heavy components. At any rate, be sure to get the right grade shelf for the weight of the component to avoid any coloration.

Associated gear
Sony SCD-1 SACD player
Placette active pre-amp
two Plinius SA-102 amps
Dunlavy IVa speakers
Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker wire
NBS power cords

Similar products
Mana rack
I heard about the Neuance Shelves from Redkiwi too, and now have three, and consider them one of the great bargains in high end audio. I can add nothing useful to Jadem6's excellent and highly informative review, for which I'm grateful. But I can testify that, after trying various isolation methods for several decades now, the superior results are just as he describes them. Ken Lyon is a great person to work with, to get detailed advice from, on the crucial underpinnings of his Shelves, which is an area that prospective users should look into if they don't simply plan to let a Neuance Shelf replace a stock shelf in a spiked stand.
This is a follow-up of a new shelf support idea. I was sitting in my music room the other day looking at a pile of bubble wrap that was protecting my latest toy (another story) when I got to thinking that bubble wrap might make a great support for the Neuance, allowing the shelf to act on the component alone. The vibrations from the rack would be isolated from the shelf by air! After trying a few sizes of bubbles I settled on the 1" diameter wrap. First off I used a MDF shelf supported by the up-turned rack points. Then a sheet of bubble wrap (bubble side up) that covered the entire shelf, next the Neuance. This provides an extremely even weight distribution, thus even pressure to the under side of the shelf. The equipment sits on the Neuance as it did in my review. I first tried the pre-amp, this was good so I went to the cd player. I listened for a day and decided to do the amps and power conditioner too.
The results are stunning. The depth of the sound stage is at least twice as deep. The bass is deeper and better defined, midrange and treble are not as noticeably altered in this regard. What is most noticeable across the entire frequency band is the clarity. Now I'm sure you've all read about the removal of layers of fog or haze from the presentation, this is quite different. I'm talking about the focus, like a camera. Everything appears clearer and much crisper. Now this is not subtle, it's stunning! The space between images is clear, the image itself is better defined, everything is simply easier to see. The bass is tight, I mean it's pin point now where it was a round note before. It's not like anything I've experienced before in audio, maybe like a different speaker with the exact same tonal qualities as before. All this but not artificial in any sense, no simply more palpable, more life like.
Yes, the tone has not changes what so ever. The system simply is better by a large amount. I wrote Ken Lyons of Neuance with my findings and he had stated that he has tried air suspension and he found it smeared the leading edge of the notes. He feels that any sideways motion will effect the signal, especially with the digital. I have experienced just the opposite. The pace is superb, the music is alive, exciting and extremely involving. More so than at any time in my past. I believe it's the bubbles and the size. My theory is the bubbles are large enough to produce separation. The bottom of the bubbles is fixed so the walls of a bubble when weighted are in tension in an outward direction 360 degrees. The bubble next to the first bubble is also in tension in the opposite direction. Given that my shelves are 15"x 17" that makes for approx. 250 bubbles working with opposing forces to each other. I'm thinking that the sideways motion is not possible, I know it takes a lot of sideways force to make the shelf move with my hands. I believe the smaller bubbles had much less side wall to work with and thus the lesser result with them.
I'm wondering if simple MDF shelves would experience similar results if set up in a similar fashion, or are the qualities of the Neuance enhanced by this form of isolation?
One concern, I have had this up for a week now. I see no signs of the bubbles deflating, but I'm thinking they might. This could make for a real pain if it happened too often, time will tell.
The year of 1980 Linn Sondek sold to me a light weight, low mass platform on points to put under my LP12 turntable. Back then it did improve my vinyl. Since then I have found my vintage Linn has been resurrected and is even more tuneful when placed upon a Sistrum platform.. Way more dynamic, much blacker backround, huge soundstage. I have found mass dampening and isolation to be more interfering than to be revealing.
So J-D it's E-A-R's under the component & bubble wrap between Neuance and support? I'd like to try your bubble wrap trick.

I have my cdp sitting directly on a beta, stock feet, the beta on 4 upturned ceramic cones. The cones are on a lightweight rigid wooden table w/out a top (it's a skeleton structure originally intended to use a glass /granite top).

Following your findings, there are three alternatives in my case: a) placing Neuance directly on bubble-wrap, cdp on directly on Neuance; b) top down: component directly on Neuance (I don't have E-A-R's at the moment), Neuance on upturned bubble-wrap, b-wrap on mdf shelf, mdf on 4 upturned ceramic cones; c) cdp, beta, cones: as is. Cones on mdf/or glass shelf, shelf on upturned b-wrap, b-wrap on table...
...unless you advise otherwise; advice is welcome, my cdp weighs ~50 pds with uneven weight distribution & I need two extra people to conduct experiments! Cheers
Hmmm...not sure I understand. Do you use JUST ENOUGH bubblewrap to squeeze into the gap between the Neuance and the upturned cones, but without unweighting them?
If you mean to use JUST the bubbles to support the Neauance then I would predict a completely deletarious effect! Wouldn't the bubblepack by itself allow lateral vibration.
With a 44lb EMC-1 tle last thing I want is a spongy suport under the Neuance....I'll use the cones or spikes for now.
Hi Greg,
The EAR feet would not be a great match for 50 lbs, so your thoughts are going in the right direction. Simply experiment to find a solution that works. I never found a footer that worked better than the stock "very well designed" Sony footers until recently. I'm using Aurios Pro isolation devices with titanium Orchard Bay cones between the Pro and cd player. Bob Bundus tells me the Nordost titanium points are better yet, and Bob and I have very similar experiences in isolation so I trust that input. The Pro and points will add about $800 to your isolation program so it may not be worth it to you.

Your prediction is incorrect. My theory of why ‘Bubble Wrap' works is the design itself. The base of the bubbles are fixed at the equator so first of they are un-able to "roll". Secondly the fact that there are bubbles surrounding each other, and when weighted each bubble has a physical outwardly force acting on the bubble in direct opposition to the neighboring bubble makes the ‘Bubble Wrap' sandwich extremely stable. It requires a great deal of lateral force to move the Neuance, far more than the vibrations you will encounter. I highly recommend you try it in that my 85 lbs amps and 55 lbs SCD-1 player have no problems.
Thanks, Jade. I already started with bubble under the power supplies of both cdp & pre: ~25pds each, sitting on a "bee-hive" composite shelf (I'm going to replace this w/ a Neuance). I have better clarity WITHOUT sacrificing low-end -- i.e., the tonal balance has NOT shifted upward. Also, strangely, the volume has increased. Not brighter, simply louder!!?? We (wife & I) went back to PS directly on shelf and, bingo! a light curtain fell and the volume. Very strange; were it brightness, I would understand it... Cheers!
I first became aware of Neuance Shelves through the 47 Labs site about a year ago.I ended up buying the Gaincard (which I love) and just using MDF shelving on my Apollo Aria rack; thinking that someday I'd have to give the Neuance stuff a try.Well,a good year went past and I finally stuck a Neuance shelf under my Wadia cdp.I have always enjoyed the sound of my system(excluding some psychologically painful but extremely rewarding OTA break in); but I must say that I am blown away by what the Neuance shelf has done for my sound. I regret having waited so long. The shelves seem very good at providing an environment that lets my equipment do what its suppose to do.There is also a synergy present in my system that wasn't there before.The music seems to have a more authoritve grip and at the same time a certain effortless delivery that is endorfin releasing.I mean, I just sit there with a big grin on my face,head bobbing and foot tapping, happy. I wont further attempt to describe what I'm hearing except that the music is finely detailed, emotive, non fatiguing,and very enjoyable.Thats what I want.The whole reason I embarked on this crazy stereo science adventure was to obtain an honest tool for listening to MUSIC.The Neuance shelf is a big part of that. I'm getting another one for my Gaincard and power supply.
I have found another use for bubble wrap. I put a layer in front of my stair case to the third floor bed rooms. This is to alert me when my kids kids are past their curfew. Makes for some late night excitement..
Just a comment:-
Looks like all you guys experimenting with bubble wrap under Neuance shelves are experiencing what many others before experienced with products like the Townsend Seismic Sink. So, the concept of using air is not new - just that you all have a different rendition of that old tweak. Still others have successfully used bicycle inner tubes sandwiched between 2 MDF boards to improve turntable & CDP sound.
Looks like air (be it contained in bicycle inner tubes or in bubble wrap) still remains as a very good isolator!

J.D:- how are the bubbles in your bubble wrap faring with the heavy equip?

I now have over two and a halfcmonths under the 85 lbs amps with about 50% compression. Under the 55 cd player is about 25% compressed. The "Aircap" antistatic bubbles are the way to go!
As far as the similarity of bubble wrap and Townsend Seismic Sink or innertubes is the bubble wrap does not allow for laterial movement. The inner tube and TSS both tend to cause smear on the leading edge of notes, the bubble wrap has great focus.
Bomba, yes, but the problem is that the air mattress allows horizontal jiggle, muddying up bass portrayal. No kidding....
Just a comment:-
Looks like all you guys experimenting with bubble wrap under Neuance shelves are experiencing what many others before experienced with products like the Townsend Seismic Sink. So, the concept of using air is not new - just that you all have a different rendition of that old tweak. Still others have successfully used bicycle inner tubes sandwiched between 2 MDF boards to improve turntable & CDP sound.
Looks like air (be it contained in bicycle inner tubes or in bubble wrap) still remains as a very good isolator!

J.D:- how are the bubbles in your bubble wrap faring with the heavy equip?

Hi Jadem6, I hope you don't mind if i respectfully disagree with the bubble wrap idea. Maybe I did not follow your instructions to the letter. IMO, the bubble wrap robbed everything so wonderful the Neuance did before BW. I will try again, but I fear I will lose the magic the Neuance does so well. Just an opinion that many may disagree with. For me BW and Neuance is a nusiance. Again, no disrespect meant. Just two different views.
No disrespect taken Brulee. Your findings intrest me in that you are the first one I've heard to have this reaction when they ARE using Neuance. What equipment are you using? How do you have your equipment set up?
Hi Jadem6, I will email you tomorrow. I will find out if I followed your instructions. It will be good talking to you.