China Cones are an isolation device used to decouple monitor speakers from the console, stand, or surface supporting them. Made of ceramic, the manufacturer claims China Cones vibrate in a frequency range outside of human hearing, making them a better isolation solution than brass or other commonly used materials. Each set comes with six cones. Each monitor gets three. A thin, double-sided tape can be used to keep the cones from moving during setup.
The general theory behind isolation cones is that monitor speakers couple with their supporting surface. This is bad for two reasons. First, it dampens the cabinet resonance of the speaker. It's similar to putting duct tape on a cymbal; that's not what the designer intended it to sound like. Second, the vibrations from the monitor transfer to the support structure, causing it to vibrate and sometimes resonate at certain frequencies. This can result in phase, image, and frequency distortions.
I tried China Cones on three different speakers. On our JBL LSR4328s, I noticed a tightening of the bass, a slightly tighter stereo field, and a better sense of instrument placement and depth of field. We have the JBLs on a set of metal stands that hang over the console. In a way, they are already more decoupled that most. When putting the China Cones under our Samson Rubicon Ribbons, there was more of an improvement. I suspect this is because the Samsons sit on the meter bridge of our Sony MXP-3036. From that setup, they do cause a bit of resonance with the board. Finally, I took the China Cones home and put them under my Infinity bookshelf speakers. All I can say is WOW! It was a major improvement. I thought I got better speakers.
This whole experiment reinforced just how important our monitoring systems are to our recordings. You just can't throw up two speakers and start mixing. I'm not saying you have to buy a set of China Cones. I'm saying you have to really examine your setup from every perspective. It's hardly as sexy as a new piece of rack gear, but your monitor chain is probably the most important thing in your studio besides your own ears.
There are many devices that purport to improve sound reproduction in audio systems. Unfortunately, a majority of such products do little or nothing but separate buyers from their money. The China Cones do not fall into this category as they actually do improve the sound of your monitors. Depending on your monitoring situation, you may want to call the good folks down at Atlas Pro Audio (who supplied the review units) and get a set to try. And if you have the means available, I definitely recommend a set for your home stereo system. The improvement there can be nothing short of amazing. ($225 street; www.chinacones.co.uk)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.