The rise of glass for HiFi – vibration vs damping

If HiFi supports are solely to damp vibrations, why is glass better than dampening boards? And why do multiple levels work well? The theories are wrong.

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Mana Amp Rack and Naim 272 streamer on a full-glass stack of Mana tables

 

The conundrum – why does glass for HiFi work?

For over 25 years I’ve been using Mana tables to boost the sound of my HiFi components. These are stacks of iron frames separated by 25mm MDF boards, with a glass sheet on the top and above that the HiFi component, sitting on its rubber feet. The more levels the better – each level improves the sound quality.

The prevalent theory is that the boards dampen vibrations. But this does not explain why it is possible to keep adding boards and continue to get improvements – the effect should have dropped off.

After 17 years of absence Mana Acoustics re-emerged last year with the introduction of a new Mana Clamp. It replaces the rubber feet with spikes and suspends the HiFi above a metal frame. The jump in the sound quality is transformational. But the bigger surprise has been that if a Mana Clamp is used then there is a big boost from swapping the existing boards for 10mm glass sheets.

The effect is particularly strong for solid state electronics with external power supplies and no rotating parts. But solid state electronics don’t appear to vibrate, so why do multiple levels improve sound quality?

 

Measurable improvements

Within a stack of Mana tables, when glass is used instead of boards:

  • Sound is more detailed. This is the obvious difference. From the highest notes to the lowest ones, there’s more detail and less distortion. This is the same kind of improvement as from adding sound stages and clamps – for more, see the Sounds of Mana.
  • Transients can be held longer. Music such as electronic, organ and double basses can maintain notes that continue to vibrate heavily for a long time. Without a Mana clamp and stack of Mana tables, most amplifiers can’t handle the vibrations and the music either dies off or becomes distorted. But with an optimised stack of Mana tables using glass separators, I’ve heard modest amplifiers shine.

These improvements are so repeatable to the human ear that it must be possible to measure them in laboratory conditions.

 

The facts

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Multiple glass levels used to tame a Tannoy speaker into exquisite detail and thunderous applause

Facts and initial conclusions:

  • Boards vibrate at relatively low frequency. Supposition: that this is similar to the vibrations from transformers and rotating discs.
  • Mana tables use angle iron, which vibrates at high frequency. Reportedly early experiments include tubes, and competitors have used cast iron and moulded aluminium, but they are not as effective. Supposition: solid state electronics vibrate, but at a high frequency.
  • Glass will also vibrate, although at a very high frequency. Mana’s early experiments indicated that thicker and thinner glass was less effective. Supposition: Glass is not a neutral separator but is also vibrating.

Looking at some specific cases:

  1. Audiovector SR3 Avantgarde speakers. As with almost all speakers, they contain solid state electronics as well as the coils in the drivers. They get shaken by the vibrations in the speaker cases, and Audiovector build damping into the bases. My own use the Audiovector spikes onto a glass Mana table. There are three Mana stages below them, each with glass layers. The quality improved with each new layer, and glass works better than boards.
  2. For a while I used a Naim 250-2 power amplifier with Mana Clamp. It was unusual in that when I used glass in all levels, the sound became sharp (glassy) and painful. It worked best when putting a single board below the clamped power amplifier, and then glass levels below that. Supposition: The 250’s transformer is shaking the electronics and needs to be damped so the electronics can vibrate freely.
  3. The Melco HA-N1A “NAS” drive benefits from the full Mana treatment of clamp and multiple levels. However the Melco is ‘just’ a high-quality Linux computer and network switch. Supposition: For digital sources, it delivers ultra-precise timing of signals which helps the digital streamer.
  4. I am starting to hit points where extra levels have limited audio benefits. Supposition: I am approaching 100% accuracy on some of the attributes of music. (That was always my dream.)
  5. There are preamps and amps I’ve used that have high quality soldering. There are also others which are mass-produced and needed extra levels of support to achieve their potential. Supposition: Poorly manufactured HiFi needs more Mana tables.

 

Testable theories

The theories with research activities:

  • Hypothesis #1. That damping with a board helps counter vibrations from rotating parts and transformers. (This is largely proven.)
  • Hypothesis #2. That damping at high frequency helps HiFi with poorly soldered components.
  • Hypothesis #3. That ultra-precise timing is needed for digital sources.
  • Hypothesis #4: The electronic components vibrate with the music. (Controversial.)
  • Generic null hypothesis. That the improvements have little or nothing to do with vibration – i.e. another explanation is needed. (For example, it might relate to electrical behaviour.)

 

Next steps: why research?

  • If we understand what’s happening, the sound from existing HiFi could be improved more efficiently, and new HiFi systems can be built that outperform the existing generation.
  • From an environmental perspective, we can achieve the same effect without using so many of the planet’s rare resources.
  • It is also possible our understanding of electronic components could be influenced. This would have significant benefits in areas that have nothing to do with music.

 

Next steps: types of research

Three areas that could be explored with research activities:

  • Collate the empirical knowledge – where the Mana Effect works best, where it is weak or fails, and the impact of different thickness of boards, different types of wood, glass and other materials. (The reviews and articles on this website are a start. It is research that could be crowd sourced, but it needs to be coordinated.)
  • Laboratory testing using equipment to detect vibrations and accurately measure the exact improvements for specific sound qualities. Test for each new layer, and for differences between materials.
  • Look into existing scientific theories around solid state electronics, vibrations and electron movements. This could generate more theories that could be tested against the empirical knowledge and laboratory test results.

 

Related articles

The Mana Clamp – for a far superior contact with Mana tables than the feet supplied by manufacturers

New Mark 2 Sound Stage and Sound Frame – doubling the performance improvement, and looking better

Guide to balancing and maintaining a Mana system

The Sounds of Mana – what to listen for, and how to balance the upgrades

 

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