The Entry Level #9

Natalie and I spent this afternoon searching for treasures at Iris Records, on Brunswick Street in downtown Jersey City. It had been weeks since my last visit, and I was happy to see that things had been busy. The small store was overflowing with new arrivals, crates and boxes covering almost every square inch of the floor and arranged neatly on several tables, all titles meticulously organized by genre and price. To offer all of this new stock in the best possible condition, store owner Steve Gritzan has even purchased a VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine—an indispensable tool that every record store should have on hand. Even better: In addition to all their great used titles, Iris now carries a small selection of new LPs. Gritzan says he can order just about anything I might want—if I bring him a list, he'll get started on it. This is dangerously convenient; Iris is only a few steps from my apartment.

I'm finding it harder and harder to leave Jersey City at all. Everything I need—friends, family, records, hi-fi, maybe even love—is within blocks of my home. I've already started on my first list for Steve: the entire Matador catalog, the entire Domino catalog, the entire Type catalog, everything distributed by Forced Exposure . . .

Back at the girls' apartment, Nicole had the television turned on for background chatter while she dusted and swept.

"Would you like to listen to one of my new records?" Natalie asked.

"Sure," said Nicole.

Of IsoNodes and Q Feet
Natalie flipped through her new treasures and selected a two-LP set of Sly and the Family Stone's greatest hits. We were all enjoying the music until the record started to skip—an all-too-familiar sound. In our June issue, I talked about using a set of Bright Star Audio's IsoNode anti-vibration feet ($24.99/four) to isolate from footfalls Natalie's Music Hall USB-1 turntable ($249). As long as they're carefully centered under the Music Hall's own feet, the IsoNodes work wonders. But centering the small half-spheres under the USB-1's large, pivoted feet requires patience and luck, and leaves the IsoNodes still fairly easy to knock out of place.

I stopped the record, inspected for scratches, and found that it was fine. A glance under the turntable, however, revealed what I'd suspected: Over time, two IsoNodes had shifted out of place. The problem was easily solved by repositioning them, but I wanted a more permanent solution.

AudioQuest's Shane Buettner had sent me a set of that company's Q-shaped SorboGel Q Feet ($135/four) to try. Like Bright Star's IsoNodes, AudioQuest's Q Feet are black, squishy, and somewhat sticky. (I wonder if they're made of the same material.) One small IsoNode fits almost perfectly within the center of a Q Foot: A conspiracy theorist or skeptical audiophile might suggest that an IsoNode is merely what remains after the center of a Q Foot has been carved out. (Mmm. . . donut holes.)

AudioQuest's handsome, shiny packaging tells us: "Q Feet improve sound by both isolating and damping. Building vibration, speakers and subwoofers all put undesirable energy into electronic components. SorboGel Q Feet isolate a component from external vibration, and they absorb resonances from the component or speaker above."

Cool. But what the heck is SorboGel?

"SorboGel is a dense visco-elastic polymer in a semi-liquid/semi-solid state. Very long molecules are able to 'wiggle,' turning incoming kinetic energy (vibration) into an insignificant amount of heat."

Wiggling molecules? Also cool—and weird.

Because SorboGel "will damage the finish of whatever it touches"—I didn't test this, but I'll take AQ's word for it—each Q Foot is equipped with a PVC holding tray. Happily, the Q Trays are slick and ever so slightly rounded to conform to the shape of their Q Feet, making it easy to slide the assemblages in place beneath a component. AQ cautions against using the Feet without their Trays, and I caution against smelling the Feet: SorboGel kinda stinks. Ick.

Because of their larger size and the Q Trays, the Q Feet were far easier than the IsoNodes to properly place under the Music Hall USB-1. Atop the Q Feet, the turntable also seemed more stable and less susceptible to shifts. I played the Sly record again. It sounded great and didn't skip once. If Nicole or Natalie decides to dust under the turntable, she can quickly remove the Q Feet and easily and accurately reposition them afterward.

I know this all seems kinda silly: At $135/set, AudioQuest Q Feet cost more than half as much as the Music Hall USB-1 itself. Oh well. Hi-fi can be a silly game. But if you're having trouble isolating your turntable from vibrations or footfalls, I recommend both the Bright Star Audio IsoNodes and AudioQuest Q Feet—either should work well in the right application. The more DIY-oriented audiophile might consider carefully setting his or her turntable atop a bicycle tire's inner tube, or try a few rubber balls that have been sliced in half—neither option will be as elegant as the Q Feet or IsoNodes, but they might prove effective, and will certainly cost less. Meanwhile, keep in mind that AudioQuest and Bright Star promote their isolation devices for use with amplifiers and electronic components. Discovering that they also worked well with the Music Hall turntable was the result of a desperate shot in the dark.

Once we had Sly and the Family Stone spinning again, Nicole, who remains entirely uninterested in hi-fi, offered a surprising opinion: "This is the best record you've ever brought home."

"Do I sense a little sarcasm there?" Natalie asked.

"None at all," Nicole replied.

"One can never be sure with you, Nicole," I put in.

She smiled. "I like to keep you guessing."

Of swagger and sway
On my way home, I turned left onto Third Street and right onto Coles. I passed the Lucky 7 Tavern and waved hello to Charles, our favorite barback and DJ. I continued on a few paces and was caught by the sounds of Latin percussion, deft tres, bright and nimble horns, a dark and sexy piano vamp. I was standing outside the festive blue walls of Santos y Ana's Latin-American Social Club ("MEMBERS ONLY")—a remnant of the days when Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants joined together to create some semblance of home in their new urban environs. The music mixed with the sounds of laughter, the scrape of old bar stools against tile floors, the thud of pool balls against felt. Through it all, I recognized the music. I waited for the voice, and heard what I was hoping for: Henry Fiol, a graceful and unmistakable tenor, a lovely mix of Lower East Side swagger and sway, of Italian and Puerto Rican blood—my favorite of all soneros. No one sounds like Fiol, or matches his quality of passion and soul, his brand of heartache and desire.

The song was "Picoteando por Ah°," from Fiol's 1985 album, Colorao y Negro, a brilliant and seductive example of traditional Cuban son. This is perhaps my favorite of all Fiol's records—my copy (LP, Corazón HF777), a pristine promo and a gift from Fiol himself, is a perfect record for summer, and something I'll always cherish. But Henry is never one to dwell on the past. He'll be the first to remind you that his most recent release, this year's Salsa Subterránea, is available as a free download from


vclements's picture

There are plenty of cable naysayers that insist changing cables cannot change the sound.

There were also plenty of naysayers that insisted there was absolutely NO WAY THE WORLD WAS ROUND. A round world??? What a silly....nay...insane thought!!!!!
We all absolutely KNOW that if the world was round some people would fall off.

Boy....the flatlanders were wrong on that one!

To those that seem to KNOW cables can't make a difference, I say, enjoy your flatland and be careful not to fall off the edge, I will enjoy learning and discovering new things in my round planet.


soulful.terrain's picture


I hate to burst your jubilation, but the Earth is not round. The Earth is an oblate spheroid. Basically, spherical with a bulge at the equator.

..Don't you just hate smartasses.  only joking.. :-)

By the way, I agree with your quote.

barnyard's picture

It's not that anyone really believes that upgraded cables don't make a difference; it's that most of us know that upgrading from the flimsy cables (that are included with new equipment) to those costing $20 a pair from Radio City or Circuit Shack are the "best buy".  Beyond that is purely "emperor's new clothes" territory. If you're real cool, you can tell that super-expensive cables are better than regular expensive cables.

Wanna impress me? How about double blind listening tests?

To turn a phrase from P.T. Barnum: There's a audio tweak born every minute.

kencreten's picture

Any field that claims to make changes in physical phenomena should be able to be tested. If it cannot be tested, then it's out of the realm of Science and into the realm of something else, call it what you will.

I have written to two people at this magazine, one of which should know exactly what difference cables make. Paraphrasing, he implied that there was no reason why usual tests should not be conducted So I suggested that the magazine do it. Of course, I don't make decisions about the stories.

This type of testing of speaker cable has been done many times, and people cannot tell the difference. Hearing can easily be fooled and personal bias can dramatically affect a person's judgement in regards to audio quality. We've known about this in different ways since the late 1800's However, People who think that cable makes a difference do not seem to be skeptical of their position, even in the face of opposing fact.

All I want as a cable naysayer is for some reputable audio news source submit various cables for scientific testing to see if people really can tell the difference, and then publish the results. Too much money involved for that. 

I have Audio Quest cables. I got them out of a dumpster behind a hifi store in perfect shape. I've done my best, as a long time musician, and an audiophile, to tell any difference between Audio Quest and "regular" cables, but I cannot.


vclements's picture

"Any field that claims to make changes in physical phenomena should be able to be tested. If it cannot be tested, then it's out of the realm of Science and into the realm of something else"
Indeed, 100% agreed.
Science is also about questions, discovery and investigation - and then proving or disproving those questions or discoveries through investigation. Turns out a funny thing happens when we investigate....we wacky humans learn things that we previously did not know.
Obviously it takes time to go from discovery to proof. We humans have not reached the proof stage yet and are in the time consuming, snail's pace moving investigation.
If we were to instantly close the door on every discovery, question, curiosity because we could not instantly scientifically prove it, we would not learn anything .

I too am a longtime musician and audiophile, but I am on a Radio Shack budget. If I were to spend on a set of high dollar interconnects,  spousal "issues" would soon follow.
Out of curiosity,  I took a few minutes and made my own cables  for less money than Radio Shack cables using one of many cable designs out there. No great cash investment nor investment in time - so the only personal bias should be curiosity and an open mind. I could hear a difference.  Not a huge difference. Obviously my personal experience is in no way a test, merely a personal anecdote.

Do I even care if cables make a difference? Nope!
It would be certainly be better if they didn't as cheap Radio Shack cables would be the way to go!
However I cannot say that I know everything there is to know about electronics nor can I prove that cables don't make a difference, and therefore there is the possibility that they could make a difference.

I am merely aware that it is highly unlikely we silly little humans know all there is to know about electronics or cables and to that end, until proven one way or the other, I prefer to keep an open mind - much like those crazy lunatics that said the world was round.

Of course this could go on and on and on as both views are valid.

It all boils down to:
Is the cup 1/2 full or 1/2 empty? Who cares, just grab a drink from the cup and enjoy the music!

anodizer's picture

The first & best way to improve the sound of your turntable IMO is to fix it to the wall.  Get some steel supports and a fat slab of MDF and you're good to go.  No more interference from footfalls and the like.  It's the oldest, most basic and best turntable tweak ever.  Maybe it's not always workable, but if you listen to alot of records, it's worth the effort to rearrange and make room for it.