Scot Hull and I have discussed my high-end audio past a couple of times, and how I used to be an importer and distributor but now I’m on the other side of the industry as a reviewer. I’ve always been reticent about saying too much about my past business partners while wearing the editor-in-chief cap at PTA–I hope to never hear the words “conflict of interest.” Scot initially told me he had no problem with it as long as I offered full disclosure, and eventually we came to the compromise that it would be more than okay after a significant amount of time lapsed. That’s why I’ve decided to revisit Les Davis Audio after more than four years with PTA.
There’s a good reason to check in with this Australian company headed by an Englishman who knows way too much about music–even in this hobby. I met Les Davis when I traveled to Sydney to assist my friend Brad Serhan in the final voicing of the Brigadier Audio BA-2, a substantial two-way monitor that has been my reference since 2015. Les stopped by Brad’s house during my visit, showed me the constrained layer damping material he had been testing for audio applications, and we fashioned a few makeshift A/B comparisons to the best of our abilities.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Les had cut the material into small squares for placement under component feet. Les also liked to place the squares between speakers and stands. There was no doubt in my mind that I heard a bigger, fuller sound with the pads in place, with subtle gains in overall clarity. We had quite a few of the Down Under Audio crew stop by during my month-long visit, and we all agreed about the sonic improvements.
Before I returned to the states, Les asked me if I thought he was onto something. I told him yes, and that I’d help anyway I could. Unfortunately, three short years later Colleen and I reluctantly decided to leave the distribution and importing business we had with Colleen Cardas Imports. I moved to PTA, saying goodbye to many of the brands I’d represented–including Les Davis Audio. Since that time, however, Les has continually improved and expanded his product line, and now he’s being represented in the US by Dennis Ashendorf at Ocean Audio.
Ever since I decided to put the Les Davis Audio products in my first Buyers Guide, I’ve heard from a fellow named Dennis who kept telling me I had to hear the new LDA products, which were more effective than before. I finally met Dennis at last year’s show in Seattle, and re-connected with my mate Les Davis. And yes, he has a lot of new ideas that have found their way into his latest generation of products.
A Little History
When I returned from Sydney in 2015, I started receiving all types of prototypes from Les Davis Audio. Les had discovered constrained layer damping when he learned about CLD materials that were used in aviation to reduce vibrations in the instrumentation, and he thought these same concepts could be applied to high-end audio. At first Les was working primarily with the thicknesses of 3D² pads–he built some with a single layer, some with a double layer, all the way up to a 6X device. The thicker pads could soften the sound somewhat, right on the edge of sounding blurry, so he pulled back from the thickness factor. Then we discovered a truth about 3D²–two 1X pads stacked on top of each other seemed to be more effective than a single 2X pad, and that became the ideal approach to the configuration for the first generation of LDA products.
After that, Les started working on different colors–he even tried some faux wood prints and various decorative colors. As you might imagine, I still have plenty of these prototypes around the house, waiting for their turn to shine.
Les finally came up with a finished product, and we put 12 of them in a box and sold it for $125. (There might have been a $99 introductory price at one point.) Sales were slow to start–again, audiophiles aren’t generally interested in adding an accessory this affordable because it couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. But I had at least a couple of dealers who did very well with the 3D² and were able to sell them easily once they were properly demonstrated. We started gaining momentum in the US, while hi-fi markets such as Australia, New Zealand and the UK were actually flourishing.
After Colleen and I phased out CCI, I was worried about the brands continuing their presence in the US–especially in the case of Les Davis Audio, one of our newest lines. Fortunately, Les Davis Audio has kept up the momentum and now–as I mentioned–there’s a whole new line of products that are even better than I remembered, and I’m very happy to report that.
What’s New About Les Davis Audio?
As I mentioned, the entire line is new and different compared to what I’ve used in the past. The line consists of the following products:
The Les Davis Audio 3D² “wafers” are $121 for a box of eight.
The Les Davis Audio Entropic Isolators, also listed as “blocks,” retail for $88 each, with a box of four costing $350.
The Les Davis Audio LP Mat is $160.
There are other Les Davis Audio products appearing as we speak. Les has recently announced the Vibrare Fermata, which looks like one of those wooden shims you use to level furniture, except that it’s made from a strip of maple and two layers of the constrained layer damping material. The Vibrare Fermata is designed to be placed under power strips. “It has the ability to convert a board into a high-quality power filter,” Les claims.
One more product that Les has developed as sort of a B2B venture is constrained layer damping applications inside of speakers, as evidenced with LDA’s partnership with Brad Serhan and all of his current speaker models, which are now manufactured under the company SerhanSwift and also represented in the US by Ocean Audio. (The latter name refers to Morris Swift, an engineer and president of the Sydney Audiophile Society who has been teamed with Brad for the last few years.)
For years Brad has been telling me that my reference Brigadier Audio BA2 monitors needed the Les Davis upgrade–constrained layer damping placed inside the cabinet, under the crossover and around the drivers. One day I’ll get that upgrade, I promise.
Les Davis Audio 3D² Constrained Layer Damping
These are merely the latest configuration of the original 3D² dampers that I’ve been using for years, taken to new levels of effectiveness. Here’s a quick description from Les:
“The starting point for the journey of neutral vibration control. Can be placed under any audio component, cable , layered through a stand etc, etc. Extremely versatile and can fit anywhere.”
These 3D2 dampers are the constrained layer damping material in its purest configuration. Here is Les’ description of the material itself:
“Constrained Layer Damping is a well researched scientific innovation with many applications. Involved is the simple process of having a viscoelastic material (simply meaning flexible) pressed between two layers of a more sturdy material, which ultimately regulates the vibration output of the target component.
“All electronic components including speakers and CD players inherently suffer from wasted potential due to the vibrations caused by the electrical and mechanical process by which they operate. In a home audio system, at every connection, from power socket to CD player to speaker, there is a gradual loss of energy and potential, which ultimately leads to a completely avoidable, inferior experience.”
Since I still have all those original 3D² pads, I was able to address Dennis’ admonishments that I should get rid of them once I hear the improvements of the new versions. So I was able to perform strict A/B comparisons–or at least as strict as I can manage. One of the problems that Les has solved is the amount of 3D² you need in a single pad. You can try them stacked, or put on the front two component feet, or anything else you want, but the results are fairly consistent. In other words, the old 3D² pads forced you to experiment to find the most effective application, but these new ones are good to go.
With all my recent forays into grounding and reducing noise levels and inductance, I’ve discovered that the effects are cumulative–simply add more to get less noise. So I expected the same findings with the new pads–more lowering of the noise floor, yada yada yada. But in addition to that trademark sense of everything sounded bigger and fuller and louder, I felt that the new Les Davis Audio 3D² devices were more focused on providing more detail within an ever bigger landscape. With the original devices, I never once thought the size of the actual soundstage had increased. But it had with these new 3D² pads.
I did get the sense that the difference between the old and new Les Davis Audio 3D² pads delivered the same amount of the improvement as the difference between the new pads and the Entropic Isolators. We’re back, of course, into the scalability of noise suppression tactics, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what these products do, and it’s what you will hear.
Les Davis Audio Entropic Isolators
The Les Davis Audio Entropic Isolators are new, at least to me. I’ve seen this type of footer many times, a sort of thick sandwich of layers. Les describes them further:
“A multilayered device that provides a higher level of performance. Three separate layers of 3D(2) material sandwiched between a maple core with an aluminium top plate that offers stability under heavy weights. A device to used under speakers and speaker stands. Greater degree of resolution is offered under electronic components.”
This was the first product from the new Les Davis Audio line that I tried out in my system, mostly because I had a specific need for it. When I received the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition with the Focal Celestees for review, I built a comfy little corner in my living room next to the balcony door and within five feet of our wireless router. My only issue, of course was setting the Naim on a surface that wasn’t audiophile-tested, i.e. my massive Fern & Roby equipment rack that I use for my reference system.
I had a small, low tile-covered table in the room that wasn’t serving a particular purpose, and it seemed perfect–even the wooden legs were perfectly cut so the table was level. But I also remember those days back in Brad Serhan’s workshop where we tried Les Davis Audio products on everything we could find. Many of us came to the same conclusion, that the 3D2 was most effective with digital transports and players and all-in-ones, perhaps due to all the moving parts inside such as automatic loading trays and laser assemblies.
With the Les Davis Entropic Isolators underneath the Naim, I had a sense that the music sounded more stable because the Naim was more stable. Imaging was sharper, with more distinctive transient edges and a greater sense of inner detail. While the Ansuz Digitalz D2 ethernet cable ($9,900) and the Ansuz PowerSwitch D2 ethernet switch ($6,600) offered much more in the way of a lower noise floor, it was at several times the cost. But the noise floor was reduced significantly with just the Les Davis Audio Entropic Isolators, at a cost of $350. The Audio Group Denmark gear got me further down the road, but it was still the same road.
I wondered if the Les Davis Audio Entropic Isolators, due to the aluminum content, would hinder the two more expensive products–aluminum is more effective at heat dissipation than noise reduction, where it can cause hysteresis. I discovered that the Entropic Isolators still offered a small degree of improvement when used in conjunction with the Digitalz D2 and the PowerSwitch D2 and did not take things in the opposite direction. But the improvement was nowhere as profound as when the Entropic Isolators were used with the Naim plugged directly into the network with ordinary cables and no switch.
Since Les Davis Audio recommends the Entropic Isolators between monitors and stands, I gave them a try underneath the Neat Acoustics Ministra speakers I reviewed earlier in the year. I was reluctant to place them underneath bigger, heavier speakers because I thought these little sandwiches would get squished. (I noticed that when the original 3D²s were placed under very heavy components, such as amps, they would curl around the footers and look like those little pleated cupcake liners.)
The Ministras were not heavy, however, and the Entropic Isolators survived the ordeal without getting flattened, scratched or turned into something you might find in a pastry shop and not a hi-fi store. (Dennis Ashendorf said, “The top of the Al block is 1 mm thick, and the added bottom is 1 mm thick Al also. Four have handled every speaker Les has tried.”) I did suspect that many of the changes to the sound were due to change in height of the speakers, and I had to careful separate that from the effects of the Isolators. But I did hear subtle changes in the lowest frequencies–they didn’t reach lower, but they did tighten up the bass somewhat. I also heard a slightly larger soundstage, but that might have been due to the lifting of the tweeter to just above my ear level.
Speaking of placing Les Davis Audio products, I almost forgot about the adhesive option. You can get 3D² that’s sticky on both side for this application. I had a sheet of the sticky 3D², probably still do somewhere, hacked to bits, and I placed them on every speaker stand I had. Dennis also told me, “In the US, the second most popular product after Entropics are 3D²s with adhesive on both sides. They make Blue-tak obsolete in connecting small speakers to stands.”
Les Davis Audio 33 1/3D Turntable Mat
This is the newest product from Les Davis Audio–a turntable mat! Once I heard that Les had applied his knowledge to a mat, I wanted one. I’m not the biggest proponent of turntable mats, since I usually stay with the stock solution–even if it’s no mat at all. Nevertheless, I was intrigued.
Here’s the summary of the mat:
“A record mat to isolate the vinyl record from the internal noise that is inherent in any turntable. Open, more clearly defined and accurate bass , better timing. Works extremely well on a turntable at any price point.”
I have to admit, first of all, that the Les Davis Audio turntable mat is a looker. It’s not classic and subdued like a simple black felt mat. No, it’s shiny and dynamic and leaps out at you. From the other side of the room, the mat looks like an LP, so it doesn’t appear out of place. On my gloss black Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard turntable, the mat looks downright exciting and dynamic.
The LP mat isn’t as revolutionary of a product for Les Davis Audio as the Entropic Isolators are–it’s basically a round sheet of the 3D2 constrained layer damping material with a hole cut in the center for the spindle. But when I heard that Les was working on a mat many years ago, I said to myself, “Of course that’ll work!” I made a mental note to buy one when they came out.
The effect of the Les Davis Audio turntable mat is consistent with my impressions of the 3D² material in general, which shouldn’t be a surprise. We can talk about the lowered noise floor and more music getting through, a descriptor that’s accurate and now, officially, overused by me. But I will say one thing I noticed about the mat–with it on, the volume levels seemed to jump up a bit. Everything sounded louder. I’ve heard this before, of course–that’s the sound of the noise floor lowering and more music getting through. But let’s just say the mat creates just a bit more excitement in the grooves with a fuller balance from top to bottom. The Kid Howard is a very relaxed, musical turntable, and the Les Davis Audio LP mat made the music jump forward with a little more enthusiasm.
I have had some reservations about using aluminum as the main material of the Les Davis Audio constrained layer damping devices. After my time with Audio Group Denmark, I’ve been very conscious of the effects aluminum has on such things as reducing inductance and, quite frankly, of adding a sound that wasn’t there before.
Yes, you can probably achieve much greater results in lowering the noise floor if Les Davis Audio experimented with metals such as copper, titanium, silver or even zirconium, which costs approximately 30,000 euros per kilo. That’s why you can spend a minimum of $400 for each Ansuz Darkz isolation feet. (Each, not a set of three or four.) You can go with the zirconium Darkz for $4,000 each. Would you get better results? Probably. But as you can see that would put the relatively affordable LDA products into a category that would tripe or quadruple the prices quite easily.
But that’s missing the point of Les Davis Audio constrained layer damping products. First of all, they work. You can hear the differences primarily in the lowering of the noise floor, and when you add up the cost for these kind of results, you suddenly discover that this is a product for most audiophiles, not just those with plenty of expendable income.
Therefore, the Les Davis Audio line is one of those cost-efficient audio products that might introduce a larger number of audiophiles to the necessity of lowering the noise floor, of letting more music come out of your speakers and get to your brain unimpeded. LDA might be the entry point into the world of grounding, noise reduction and much more. Or it can be an endpoint for many of you–I’ve used the Les Davis Audio products consistently since I returned from my trip to Sydney.
That loyalty, however, was with the first generation of products. This new generation shows that Les Davis has never stopped developing his very special product into something that’s grown more effective with time. Highly recommended, and I’ll always have a place for LDA in my reference system.