HRS M3X MK II Isolation Base; Sugg. Retail: $2750CAD
I have always wall- or shelf-mounted my turntables over the years, but that opportunity did not seem to present itself in my new house and studio, so I went with a Target stand firmly mounted through broadloom to a concrete floor. I put the new/used turntable (and that’s another review/article to be found elsewhere on this site), a classic Technics SP-15 professional type, fitted out with my existing SAEC 407/23 arm and Ortofon Kontrapunkt B MC cartridge, with a Cardas phono cable into Sony transformers (amazingly good, better than my previous Ortofon ones), and the Bryston BP-1 professional phono preamplifier. This rack/stand also eventually came to house my Sony and Bryston amplifiers for side and rear speakers, as well as a TASCAM CD-RW900SL professional CD recorder in the lower spaces, as well as an Esoteric Sound Surface Noise reducer, used only for playing or copying problem LPs, and, in particular with the 3-speed Technics, 78s to other analog or digital media.
However, I was not entirely thrilled with the isolation qualities with the phono setup, especially at very low frequencies. Though I had worked with the SP-series turntables in my radio broadcasting days, that had never been a big worry, rubber grommets or other fairly solid isolation usually employed. The plinth that came with the Technics was of an exotic wood, whose rarity did not bless it with exceptional isolation capabilities either in the lowest and subsonic frequency areas, either. Of course, I had lived for over 20 years with a sprung Heybrook belt-drive (with the same arm and cartridge) until a year ago, when the motor, so to speak, lost its drive.
And here, perhaps, I can indulge in a brief discussion of turntable designs, of which there are infinite varieties, though usually based around belt- or direct-drive systems, with a few puck-drive relics still out there kicking around (and probably still wowing, if not wowing their owners quite so much). The classic Linn, Heybrook (which I always called, “a Linn made right!”) and other sprung- and solid-base belt drives have tended to dominate the audiophile market, joined by various other designs, notably the American heavyweight tables with various drive systems, some even isolating even the motor from the plinth and platter. These latter are all very nice, and elegant, but also space-intensive and very expensive. More affordable-but-exotic models have always been available, notably from the British makers, in various drive configurations.
But direct-drive models have been relegated to dreaded DJ use, after being quite unfairly tarred with the invented idea of “cogging”, minute variations in speed caused by the nature of direct-drive motor systems. It is one of the most persistent myths in analog audio, and one I never subscribed to (and will not further revisit now), since the better direct-drive tables always had vanishingly low wow and flutter, as well much better overall speed stability than many highly touted belt drives, and were generally much less fussy in operation and for maintenance over time. It’s just that the Japanese and other asian models often came with much inferior tonearms and other running gear, including isolation protection.
I had been using the SP-15 on the Target stand, with IsoPods underneath on the top spike-suspended wooden board, its own plinth supported by these at 3 points, 2 of the at front edges. I was not unhappy with this arrangement, but felt that the system was vulnerable, if not especially prone, to low-frequency noise from jarring the whole assembly (it failed the tapping test, though with only moderate thump noises) and, perhaps from acoustic feedback in addition. Chatting with Tri-Cell Enterprises’s Vince Scalzitti, I was offered the chance to try the HRS M3X platform, which invitation I accepted, leading to this review.
The online blurb for this product reads, in part, as follows: “The reference level M3X Isolation Base has been continuously refined by our engineers and manufacturing team sense [sic] its introduction nearly a decade ago resulting in the current MKII version of this design. It contains our most advanced materials and technology and is made from the finest materials and workmanship standards available.” Obviously, English grammar and spelling were not among the other corporate criteria, but we do get the point. Here’s some more specific information from the site:
“There are two primary noise paths that degrade audio and video signal quality. There is structure borne vibration that is traveling trough [sic] the structure and there is the air borne path coming from the energy in the room traveling through the air to the component chassis directly. The structural borne vibration is significantly reduced by use of Harmonic Resolution Systems audio stand frames and isolation bases. The air borne energy and resulting chassis noise is dramatically reduced by use of our Nimbus and Damping Plate Products.”
“The Harmonic Resolution Systems isolation bases are a primary element for significantly reducing structural borne noise in any audio or video component. All of our isolation bases are design based on a unique concept invented by Michael Latvis of Harmonic Resolution Systems. They provide significant performance gain to a very wide range of components and systems.”
“The M3X Isolation Base is the latest generation of reference level isolation bases from Harmonic Resolution Systems…This unique design utilizes six different materials to optimize stiffness, geometry, mass, and impedance characteristics. Each material is carefully selected for optimum performance and functionality. The M3X Isolation Base also uses two different proprietary HRS elastomer formulations. The first was developed to maximize isolation efficiency, and the second was developed to control and eliminate residual energy. A finely polished black granite contact plate is combined with two custom resonance control stages in a billet machined aircraft aluminum frame with a craftsmanship finish and black anodize coating. This exceptional design was created to offer maximum performance, cosmetic elegance, and a durable scratch resistant inlay design that will provide years of maintenance free service.”
The M3X Isolation Base is available in four standard sizes, with three different load ranges to optimize component matching. Our review sample was 21 x 19 x 3″ (53.3 x 48.3 x 7.6 cm), optimized for a load of up to 52 lbs (23.5 KG), a couple of inches all around more than we actually needed. This was, in fact, better than it being too small (one cable manufacturer recommends that cable lengths be longer rather than shorter than the required distance between the two connection points, wryly noting that performance is notably improved by this attention to detail), and a slightly less expensive version would have sufficed. However, we soldiered on, knowing that overkill was also better than underkill in the isolation business.
Having lived with the Heybrook for over 20 years, a new/old turntable of broadcast quality and design took me back to my radio days, when the SP-10 quickly replaced the old puck-drive McCurdys that rumbled their way from the shellac era into the vinyl age, and not a moment too soon, I thought at the time, as rumble had become a part of our FM stereo listening experience if we had full-range speakers at home in the late 60s and into the 70s. But the firm mounting of these new designs also presented its own occasional thump problems to the listener, as DJs swiveled around with great panache on their caster-bottomed chairs in the studio, bumping into all structures around them. Thankfully, too, those monstrous steel viscous-damped Gray tonearms were also being gradually replaced by something less likely to leave their mark on LPs through the cheap Shure M-44 series cartridges that could stand up to constant back-cueing, but were rather hard on records in terms of wear. Also somewhat robust was the sound of these record reproducers.
At CKFM, Toronto, where I did my Audio Ideas radio show for 13 years, the record librarians were constantly replacing their most played and popular 45s and LPs until they refined their studio record playing gear. Of course, I was using audiophile-quality tables in my home studio, with MC cartridges, for my CKFM SuperSound Show of audiophile discs that I recorded to 15 IPS tape on large reels. At the radio station, they greeted the arrival of the CD as The Second Coming, simply for immediate convenience and apparent durability reasons; they would soon know better, as the silver discs started to skip and lock up on air, or become unplayable from scratches in the direction of the bitstream, though the lesson of degraded sound quality was a longer learning curve for all broadcasters, most of whom didn’t ever notice, nor care. It’s perhaps ironic that their embracing of the CD has helped develop a whole new young audiophile class based around the superiority of vinyl, while their earbud-dulled young contemporaries have conversely become largely deaf (what other reason would they have to embrace MP3?). But there is hope for our youth in audio terms.
A recent New York Times article by noted music writer Allan Kozinn notes that, “These days, every major label and many smaller ones are releasing vinyl, and most major new releases have a vinyl version, leading to a spate of new pressing plants.” The “new” pressing plants now in business to meet the considerable demand are buying up and refurbishing old presses, since the cost of designing and building new ones is prohibitive. A quote at the end of Kozinn’s piece is telling: “We get kids calling us up and telling us why they listen to vinyl, and when we ask them why they don’t listen to CDs, they say, ‘CDs? My dad listens to CDs — why would I do that?’ ”
So the worms turns, as does the record. And your children will appreciate inheriting a really good mounting foundation with your turntable when you pass on to that great record library in the sky. Is that a recommendation for the HRS M3X base? Let me count the ways, as it were, that this product improved my vinyl listening experience. Mass is good when it comes to mechanical reproduction systems, and there’s nothing like a marble slab to quiet vibration from below. Mounting it with proprietary dampers in a solid metal enclosure also helps in the process, and adding large damped feet helps a little more.
If expensive, the HRS M3X Mk II, and its sibling models to various degrees, I suppose, do make a real contribution to listening pleasure and comfort, giving the confidence that your stylus will not skip across the LP as you dance around the room. More important, they do indeed improve recorded sound by eliminating vibration and resonances that degrade music reproduction. If that’s important to you, and if you have any number of vinyl discs approaching my own 4000 LPs, maybe for you, it’s worth the price of its real physical and emotional support.
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