My ultraRendu is many things, but heavy enough to sit squarely with 3 audiophile-grade cables sticking out the back is not one of them.
I got to thinking that tossing something heavy on top of it would stop it from rearing up like a scared stallion, and might even improve sound quality a smidge.
To this end, last October I asked Jeff Roland of Audio Philosophy to ship me something small enough to fit on the ultraRendu, heavy enough to do the job, but soft enough not to scratch it, and ideally more auspicious looking than an old brick (the latter being a stretch goal). 😂
Several weeks later (not Jeff's fault -- the package was drop-shipped to me by an Artesania distributor), an unassuming Priority Mail package arrived at my door.
~~ UNBOXING ~~
Inside the diminutive box was a mystery covered in bubble wrap:
Inside the wrap was something even more mysterious!
... a bit of cloth with a rather awkward stain on it. What an oddly shaped thing. What could it be?
Is it the tell-tale heart?
Or a salvaged kidney?
A dirty diaper? (Sorry if that's crass. As a parent of small children, my mind sees that shape and goes there immediately).
With a lump in my throat, I carefully unwrapped the package to find...
... a 4" Damper from Artesania Audio!
~~ SIZING IT UP ~~
My fears tamped down, I proceeded to place the hefty helper upon my ultraRendu to evaluate the fit and feel:
Well, what do you know? It's a perfect fit! And the little foam pad on the bottom keeps all fears of scratching up the component beneath it at bay. It affords easy placement and confident adjustment (just slide it around, twist it, nudge it... at worst all you're doing is cleaning the surface, so long as you didn't trap any grit in-between.
Et voila the goal is achieved! At 3 pounds, there would surely be no more rearing of my Black Beauty!
~~ LISTENING ~~
Oh, sure, it looks sharp... but [how] does this thing affect the sound?
I queued up a number of things and did a few hours of Damper-off, Damper-on listening and re-listening... What follows are the standout moments:
Track: San Jacinto, 3:27-3:40.
Without the damper, the drums in this section seem to break up more. The timing seems a bit smeared, to borrow from Ken's parlance.
With the damper in place, the drums tighten up and the mix overall is less muddled. This is a really crowded mix, but the individual instruments top to bottom became a tad easier to follow.
Track: String Quartet, 'Heiliger Dangesang' from Op. 132
Without the damper, I thought this sounded really good. Certainly as good as I've heard it, and I've heard it a lot. As an aside, the Chord Qutest and an ISO REGEN really do make for a stellar combo. :^)
With the damper, the sense of the volume of space they recorded in (a lofted church) is increased. There's a bit more nuance and texture to the instruments, and their relative positions in space are more clearly felt. What was good is now better.
Track: Just a Little Lovin'
Without the damper Shelby's voice is sharp and forward and Kevin Axt's hand movements on the bass are a bit softened, if not outright veiled. The bass is good, but a little tubby on the bottom end. Greg Field's delicate drum work actually sounds quite good.
With the damper, Shelby's voice relaxes and softens. Kevin Axt's bass work is more clearly defined; even the sliding of his hand along the neck of the guitar is easily heard. In the latter section, his work is much easier to follow, and there is more tautness, punch, and weight to the bass. Greg Field's cymbals have a sheen and shimmer to them that just brings his understated kit work to life. Wow.
Track: Break Bread
Without the damper, the thunder peel that opens the track seems to lack authority. It seems more distant and less full than you'd expect from thunder. The drum roll at 0:40-47 is a bit smeared. I can hardly make out the strikes and the sound from the drum bodies just muddles together. His main vocals sound fine, but some of his backing vocals get lost in the mix or become difficult to follow.
With the damper, this track opens up quite a bit. The thunder roll at the start sounds even bigger and rolls on and out like actual thunder. It still lacks the feel-it-in-your-bones that real thunder gives, but that's probably due to my listening on headphones (HiFiMAN HE-1000s, first gen). The percussion work is tight and crisp -- I can hear the membranes on the drum roll and the strikes don't get lost in a jumble like it does without the damper. Guitars sound clean and bright, and there's more punch accompanying the attack, and more voicing of the pick on the strings. Vocals are trademark Josh, lilting and soaring while open and airy. His backing vocal tracks are easier to find and follow in the mix.
Track: You Are the Beauty
Without the damper, this song is just plain fun. Great harmonies, a driving, stomping, raucous beat, people clapping along paired with up-tempo strumming and tambourine slapping. Michael Gungor's guitar work starting at 2:40 to 4:20 is just awesome!
With the damper, I've got goosebumps just from the intro. Everything comes into better focus, there's more room in the concert hall. Mostly I just want to get up and dance! (Warning: I'm not much of a dancer). The guitar work gains added presence, depth, and texture, along with tightening of the transients (especially pick attacks). Less smearing overall. Heavier drums. Bigger sound overall. I feel like someone just pushed the "epic win" button, especially as we move into the end of the track (5:00 to the end).
I forgot how much fun this album is! The following track, Heaven, is just bluesy, funky bliss.
~~ OTHER OBSERVATIONS ~~
It could have been my mind playing tricks on me, but I thought a number of times I heard the effects of the damper briefly after removing it, and it would sometimes take a second or two for it to "kick in" and provide the same level of enhancement. I wonder if this is due to the RFI reduction they claim it performs. Perhaps it takes a second or two to "soak up" excess RFI in an area and then, once it's applied, it takes the device a second or two to build up enough RFI for it to start impairing its own functioning? I'm reaching here, but it was a semi-repeatable phenomenon, reliable enough that by the end of my listening time I was waiting a second or two between each comparison for things to adjust.
~~ PUTTING A (SLIGHT) DAMPER ON MY ENJOYMENT ~~
If I could offer some areas for Artesania to improve upon, they would be:
Fit and finish #1: The sticker logo sticker on my unit is off-center.
Fit and finish #2: There bits of debris trapped under my sticker. It's a glossy sticker, so from the right angle, it looks like mine has a bit of acne.
For the money ($200+ each), I'd hope for them to have developed a more reliable process than hand-labeling. More importantly, I would have hoped for them to perform the labeling in a dust-free box to avoid trapping debris under a glossy label. If they have to hand-label, then at the very least they could perform a little better QC to ensure they don't ship out glaringly imperfect units!
That said, having seen this little puck of joy nearly every day for six months now, I have to admit I don't notice the flaws anymore. Much like a loved one, you learn to accept these little blemishes because you value who they are so much more than what they look like. The flaws won't help the resale value, of course. (But I don't plan on letting mine go).
Finally, I must admit that was really hoping for a nice product box. Maybe something with the Artesania logo on the outside and a bit of shaped foam inside to cushion and protect the damper in transit, all while making for a nice unboxing experience, along with the knowledge that someday, should I move, it has a perfect container.
Let's be frank, though -- anything would be a big step up from the dirty cloth diaper and bubble wrap that it actually arrived in! 😆
~~ CONCLUSION ~~
Despite the cosmetic issues with my unit and the mundane packaging, I'm giving the Artesania 4" Damper the VERY FIRST Captain Jean-Luc Picard Seal of Audio Approval!