Black Diamond Racing Pyramid Cones

Read about one of the great cheap tweaks, and how marital
bliss can sometimes be found on the top of a Black Pyramid.

Review by Francis Vale

We are a husband and wife review team. Now you have to understand that Gordana Vitaliano is an MD/psychiatrist, as well as a hard core scientific researcher. Cold logic rules her day. In her book, husband Francis is obviously out of his mind when he says cable changes, green CD ink, rubber isolation doughnuts, and all the rest of the El Tweako goodies can make big a sonic difference in a good audio system.

Naturally Francis disagrees, and takes umbrage when his sanity is questioned by a professional. This is the old husband/wife thing, but played out in a much more fun venue. So from Francis 's POV, it's always great when hubby wins one now and then. Such was the case with the Black Diamond Racing Pyramid Mk3 and Mk4 equipment support Cones.

Our system has that special quality called synergy (more by luck than design, we will be the first to admit) which can yield sonic satisfaction way beyond its modest -- by high end standards -- dollar outlay.

Our rig is comprised of a Cary Audio SLP-90L line-level tube preamp; a Rotel 990BX 200/watt channel amplifier; a Rotel RHT10 'Michi' tuner; and an infamous Rat Shack 3400 as CD transport, piped into an Enlightened Audio Designs 1000 Series II DAC via an Ensemble Digiflux 75 cable. Various vendors' interconnects are used, including Van Den Hul The First carbons, and StraightWire. The Apogee Caliper Signature speakers are hooked up via custom made hyperlitz-style wires.

Up until just recently, the CD transport, amp, pre-amp, and DAC sat on Iso-Bearing vibration absorbing globes from Audio Prism; which in turn all sat on top of a Standesign equipment rack. When the Iso-Bearings were first put in (the bigger 3.3 versions went under the pre-amp and Amp), there was a noticeable increase in sonic definition. The sound was obviously less tizzy, and the lower notes -- always a big issue in the bass shy Calipers -- improved. Such were things for almost a year.

Then along came Brian Tucker, President of Pro Audio, an importer and distributor (708 526 1646), blandishing some high tech, composite material-based, acoustic isolation cones. Brian is no stranger to audio gear that uses novel materials. Pro Audio imports into the U.S. the highly unusual, and widely acclaimed, carbon fiber Wilson Benesch tone arm, along with this UK company's carbon fiber speakers.

So enter into our house the Black Diamond Racing Pyramid Cones, Mk3 and Mk4, made by D.J. Casser Enterprises, Inc (414 747 8733). Even before we opened the two boxes (six cones come in each box), I knew Gordana and I would have problems with this review. She claims to have never heard the same sonic improvements as I did when the Iso-Bearings were installed. But they looked good under the equipment, so there they stayed, without further spousal protest.

But 'Black Diamonds'? 'Racing Pyramids'? Choose between the look-alike Mk3 & Mk4's for better/different tonal qualities? No, no, no, mi dolce nutcase. This is tweako hocus pocus right out at the fringe. Get them away from my scientific sight.

Of course, Francis installed them right away.

For all you husbands out there: Is there really anything better than having your wife eat her words, and say she was wrong? (To be sure, you wives also love the reverse; but such episodes only serve to confirm your already firmly-held beliefs.) Well, this was the happy case with the Black Diamonds.

Without saying a thing, Francis sat Gordana down in front of the rig. All the Iso-Bearings were gone, replaced by the Pyramid cones. He knew what he was hearing, but he was going to wait for Gordana's reaction.

Do you know that look on someone's face when his or her belief system suddenly crumbles? Like when they discover they actually prefer vanilla over chocolate? Or find out maybe Nixon really wasn't telling the truth? Well, so it was here. Gordana's face twisted this way and that, eyebrows furrowed up and down, and her body posture squirmed all over the sofa. Yes, it was a great moment for all tweako husbands when her jaw finally dropped in astonishment.

For once, everything in a PR promo matched reality. With the Cones in place, there was a significant increase in clarity, detail, imaging, and soundstage, including a tighter, deeper bass (a good thing to have with the Calipers), plus an extended, sweeter treble. Things never got too bright, or more harsh; just better.

But probably the most important benefit afforded by the Cones was the sudden upsurge in our system's musical rhythm.

It is hard to define exactly, but we all know that experience when a system suddenly goes from sounding good to sounding like music. These two sonic qualities are often not the same, and sometimes even contradictory. The best indicator of this unexpected changeover is when your feet unconsciously start tapping more than usual. Such was the reflexive case with the Pyramids.

Gordana and Francis go to lots of concerts here in Boston. New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall is one of their favorite venues (probably surpassing even the BSO Hall when it comes to small orchestral groups and solos). The ability to focus one's attention on a single performer, without losing acoustic sight of the whole, is one of the great things about attending live acoustic events.

With the Black Diamonds, such focused attention became not only possible, but quite easy to do. It now appears that acoustic vibration had been doing a Veg-O-Matic to our system's sound, despite the best efforts of the Iso-Bearings. It just wasn't obvious until these wunderkind Cones were put in.

A couple of CD playing examples: Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax did a wonderful ensemble recording of Beethoven's Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 (CBS Records-Masterworks, MK 37251). With the Cones installed, Yo-Yo's cello playing clearly held its own singing line, easily working in harness with Ax's scale ascending piano playing. The overall effect of the Cones was a much more musically satisfying experience.

A good test for sorting things out on your system is Andreas Wollenweider's Book of Roses CD (Columbia 4CK 8601). On this recording, you have classical guitars, accordion, solo voice, Chinese lute, acoustic bass, skin percussion, The Bulgarian Men's Choir, and a host of other things, including a fly-by crow, creaking doors, and chalk being drawn across a blackboard. When this music gets busy, it gets really busy.

Before the Cones, it was fairly easy to see what was going on, but this recording's inner mysteries always seemed somehow veiled. But with Pyramid power at work, the piece suddenly gelled together, individual players were more distinct, but yet were still part of a cohesive mystic fabric. Black Diamond magic, indeed!

The company's literature states that the Mk4 model "was designed to be linear in performance, with even emphasis throughout the bandwidth." According to Casser, it is the high linearity of the Mk4 which primarily differentiates it from the Mk3. But the Mk3 is none too shabby in this regard, either. The user is encouraged by the maker to try the two models in various combinations to see which setup they prefer. E.g., you might want to try the Mk4s under tube gear, and the Mk3's under transistor stuff. Francis and Gordana are still playing with different Cone configurations, but so far with nothing definitive to report, except they keep sounding great.

The small, 1.618" diameter by 1" high black Cones are comprised of composite materials selected for extremely high rigidity, with high damping characteristics, and are molded. The Cone material mix, design shape, and manufacturing process can all be 'tuned' to yield different sonic characteristics in the quest for optimum performance. Needless to say, figuring out all these endless variables can be, as Casser probably understates, "quite maddening."

The fact that Casser has achieved these goals with the Cones is testament to his patience, and tight hold on reality. Casser also makes an equipment shelf (called, appropriately enough, The Shelf) made of this composite material, and which can be used in conjunction with the Pyramid Cones. The Shelf has 25 times the resonance resistance of 8 inches of granite.

The ability of the Racing Cones to clearly and musically draw out the sound was not a happenstance affair. This happy acoustical phenomenon was occurring across all our recordings. Even the Rotel RHT10 Michi tuner (a beautiful piece of sonic craftsmanship) sounded much better. Quite frankly, at just $60 for a set of three, these devices have to be one of the great high end bargains. So get into your Mario (or Maria) Andretti racing suits, and charge on down to your local dealer for a few pair.

And by the way, if you want to acoustically isolate your mobile home from all that trailer park riff raff, each small Cone can support up to 10,000 pounds. A set of six should do it.

Back to: Apogee Caliper Speaker Review

Copyright 1996, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

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