[Review] Cleaning the ground with Montaudio’s Ground Series

The Montaudio team has developed another impeccably styled audio system enhancement product – a grounding device that’s an engineering unit made to compliment a home audio system, so it does a worthwhile job and also looks good.

The fully passive Wanaka Noise Reduction Ground Reference Unit incorporates a proprietary multi-stage process of frequency-tuned noise reduction, dissipation, stray-signal attraction and recombination, to simulate an ideal natural ground. By carefully attracting and discharging stray high-frequency electrical noise on the signal ground from Radio Frequency interference and stray magnetic fields, the signal-to-noise ratio for the sound system is optimised, resulting in enhanced depth and clarity of music rendering.

The Wanaka is available in two models – the G1 and the Reference grade GR. The G1 is suitable for entry and mid-level Hi-Fi audio equipment, and I’ve been trying one in my system. It’s clad in elegant Walnut and Birch wood, hand-built, in-house, and at 220mm x 245mm x 85mm, it weighs about 4Kg. Hardware is premium Red Copper, which is pure Copper that has a reddish tarnish from exposure to the air. Connections are Rhodium-plated or 24K Gold-plated. A 1.5m G1 Silver-plated plug and Non-Plated High Purity Copper Ground cable with RCA and BFA connector is supplied as standard. Other options are available. Special dedicated cables for the Wanaka have been carefully designed to provide a range of connection options to both analogue and digital Hi-Fi audio equipment (for example, network switches).

The Wanaka G1 is fitted with an audiophile-grade Rhodium-plated binding post for the incoming ground signal. The signal then passes through the in-house hand-built nano Noise Reduction Module (nNRM) developed specifically with nano-sized materials to handle frequency-tuned noise reduction. The signal is further processed through three carefully orchestrated stages to dissipate the noise energy. All stages are connected via Silver hybrid cables that are cryogenically treated in-house in a state-of-the-art facility.

The device connects to the preamplifier signal ground via an input or output RCA socket (not the chassis ground, and definitely not to the electrical circuit earth ground!). It can alternatively be connected to a source component. Montaudio recommend trying various signal outlets to find the best results, including source components.

The Wanaka G1 can be operated in two innovative multi-unit modes with the proprietary W-Link, which is a push switch controlling the grounding or isolation of its feet. When multiple units of the same model are stacked, they can share the same ground or operate in isolation mode with no direct shared ground.

Montaudio claim that the Wanaka Noise Reduction Ground Reference Unit is the most versatile and effective reference ground system on the market due, in part, to combining both stray signal attraction and dissipation in a single unit. That I can’t confirm, as I’ve not tried other grounding units. What I can say is the image is noticeably more impressive – crisper, more forward, more nuanced with differing timbral characters and layers rendered more distinctly, especially drums and bass guitar. Dynamics and detail are enhanced, delivering a more natural sound. When I disconnect the unit, that enhancement recedes.

Overall, the functioning circuitry of the unit is well hidden by the stylish case, so it’s a worthwhile system enhancement without going too far into over-priced ‘arty’ lavish luxury excess. The Montaudio team have an obvious talent for stylish accessory design with a thematic link to inspiring Aotearoa landscapes. The artisan aesthetic with careful engineering is evident throughout the product range. High quality is always a delight. This immaculately produced one fits my system in my listening room very well.

To understand how the unit is effective, I went back to electronic circuit design principles.

For the maintenance of signal integrity through an active circuit, a clean ground is required to ensure the correct potential for the sub-circuits to operate at the designed performance.

It’s crucial to recognise that the ‘ground’ referred to here is not earth, but a circuit reference point for electrical potential in an electronic circuit, with a voltage of 0V. Such a stable signal ground free from fluctuations is crucial to the correct operation of a circuit, otherwise some unusual conditions can be created. In circuit design, the relationship of a signal to ground is of fundamental concern. Issues develop because the “zero” voltage of ground isn’t near zero. A clean signal ground, or a ground connection without injected noise, is essential to electrical equipment that must accurately detect very small voltage levels or differences. When there are multiple paths for electricity to flow to ground, the duplicate ground paths pick up interference currents and transform the currents into voltage fluctuations. The ground reference in the system is then no longer a stable potential and noise becomes part of the signal. Signals can suffer from ground-injected interference. An audio system of connected components is a network of circuits which may have differing ‘zero’ potentials. Since devices are usually powered separately, there can be small differences among their potentials, causing small currents to circulate. These currents add to the background noise, obscuring low-level detail in music reproduction. As there are usually multiple signal ground paths in a system, these can pick up each other’s interference.

Each input signal is a voltage between two points (“signal” and “reference”). The reference is frequently called “signal ground” in a single-ended connection. The problem arises when the signal source (preamplifier or volume control) has a different signal ground from that of a power amplifier – and it always does. The voltage difference between signal grounds leads to current flowing between them when connected. The voltage drop of that current on the impedance of the interconnecting cable adds to the signal as noise, buzz, hum, or distortion.

Power amplifiers usually have their own local signal reference, connected somewhere to the reference (“power ground”) end of the load, as this is almost always required for stability. When the power ground is connected to other “grounds” (e.g. the midpoint of the capacitor bank in the power supply) with wires carrying return supply current, the signal ground of the power amplifier will be different from those other grounds. This is a “dirty ground” (one very different from some other ground point), and “quiet ground” is one not much different from some other ground point.

The Wanaka unit attracts and dissipates the problematic noise to clean the ground for optimal circuit performance.

After investigating the technical function and auditioning the effect in use, I went back to Montaudio’s chosen name for this device. Wikipedia tells me that Wānaka is the South Island dialect pronunciation of wānanga which means sacred knowledge or a place of learning, or the lore of the tohunga. That does seem fitting. As my system is more cleanly grounded, I listen to recorded music and know more of the art that is rendered.


Update: To support the heavy unit, I’ve used Rangitoto R1 solid Stainless Steel vibration dampening pods with the rubber rings removed to ensure conduction for proper grounding of the spikes, and the point centres easily in the conical indentation on the top surface of each. I don’t hear a change in the sound quality with the ground box on a set of Rangitoto footers, and it’s now on a firm and stable support with no further denting of the soft Pine it stands on. The spikes are hard and the substantial weight of the box creates much pressure at the tips, so care is needed to avoid dents and scratches, as I’ve now learned!

Following advice from the Montaudio team, the grounding unit is now on the floor with the W-Link activated. This grounds the spikes to dissipate any stray energy captured by the Wanaka circuitry.


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