The Stillpoints Component Stand

                      

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The standard Stillpoints Component Stand, retailing at $799, consists of 3 specially shaped and treated radial aluminum arms that are connected and clamped into a central stainless steel hub. The result is a tripod stand upon which the component or loudspeaker is placed. An additional fourth arm is available as an option, as is an expander to increase the overall size of the stand, if necessary, to match out-sized components and loudspeakers. The bottom end of each arm of the stand rests on a Delrin inverted cup, (called a Mini-Inverse-Riser, or MIR,) which then rests the stand on the floor or on one’s shelf. This Delrin cup is threaded into a miniature version of the original Stillpoints damper contained inside the end of each radial arm. The shape of the bottom part of the looped structure of the arm itself is staggered in 3 steps to offer differing resonances, and the entire arm structure is clamped and damped into the circular stainless steel central hub, whose differing material and clamping action damps resonance in the aluminum arm similar to the way fingers gripping a cymbal will squash its ringing.

The top of each arm is slotted with a channel into which an upward-facing cup, also made of Delrin, can slide, allowing varying the position of the 3 cups and thus varying the size of the support to mate with a variety of component and speaker sizes. Once adjusted, these upward-facing cups (Mini-Inverse-Risers) can be tightened on their threads to hold their position. The $799 standard Component Stand’s physical appearance evokes the Greek tetrakys, that 3-legged symbol in which legs and feet revolve within the interior of a circle around a central point, signifying motion and stillness simultaneously.

But that’s not all. One can significantly enhance the effectiveness of the standard Component Stand as far as one wishes to take it by using Stillpoints’ elaborate and expandable optional ancillaries. One can place the Component Stand on a separate set of upward-facing Stillpoints Universal Resonance Damper (URD from now on,) and then augment that by attaching the URD’s to Risers. To optimize that interface, the folks at Stillpoints recommend the use of their Hard Coat Aluminum Mini-Inverse-Risers in the bottom of the Component Stand arm, designed to maximize the effect of the top exposed ball bearing of the Stillpoints URD’s. Conversely, one can remove the Mini-Inverse-Risers from the bottom of each Component Stand arm and thread an individual URD onto each leg, and then either place the now downward-facing exposed bearing directly on a surface, or optimize it with the Inverted Riser, or an hardened aluminum mini-riser.

There’s still more! One can remove the Delrin MIR’s from the top of the Component Stand arm and screw in an URD ‘volcano’ which will then bear on the bottom plate of the component-to-be-isolated’s chassis. Another option is to replace the component’s existing feet with a set of Stillpoints URD ‘volcanos’ pointing downwards into hardened aluminum Mini-Risers. Since most components use 4 feet, this will necessitate adding a fourth arm to the standard Component Stand’s three. This last technique is the company’s recommendation for optimum results when the Component Stand is used with floor-standing speakers equipped with threads for using spikes.

Although the number of possible set-ups might initially appear complex, there is indeed a very sophisticated inner logic to these set-up and application variations. The standard Component Stand uses one set of URD’s (minis, in this case.) Adding additional Stillpoint URD’s increases the isolation of the component: a fully “tricked-out” Component Stand – the Stand resting on URD’s on Risers, with URD’s threaded into the top arms of the Stand - will have 3 levels of URD isolation. The difference between the Delrin and the Hard Coat aluminum Mini-Risers allows optimum interface between surfaces. Thus the Stillpoints line of isolation devices allows one to tune the level of isolation and the interface with components and the surfaces on which they ultimately rest. They offer a continuous series of isolating steps in an increasingly effective system that is easily the most sophisticated on the market.

Although there are plateaus in performance among these variations in the Stillpoints system, what particular variation one ends up using ultimately will rest on the individual component, the context of the entire system, and an aesthetic judgment about the overall effect. As with the original Stillpoints URD, judging the overall effect is more rational when all the components in the system are isolated. The ultimate resolution of any system is, after all, limited to that of its weakest link.

So an entire system (speakers included) isolated with the original Stillpoints URD’s will likely out-perform a system with only a single standard Component Stand under one component. The next step in the Stillpoints system would be to place the URD’s into the Risers. From this level of isolation one moves to the plateau of Component Stand applications.

The first step would be to isolate the entire system on the standard Component Stands. The next step would be to place all the standard Component Stands on a set of URD’s. Next would be to place all the URD’s into Risers. Then one would replace the Delrin Mini-Risers into which the top ball bearing of the URD’s rests with the hard-coat aluminum Mini-Risers. Then one would swap the top Delrin Mini-Risers to URD’s, yielding the Full Monty, fully tricked-out Component Stand. This ‘plateau’ method raises the isolation of all the components at the same time. Alternatively, one can follow an incremental method by making each change one component at a time. The flexibility of the Stillpoints isolating system allows one to make dramatic jumps and also to fine-tune those dramatic jumps.

The adventuresome and impatient might try jumping from no isolation to all the components on “Full Monty” Component Stands. Since the Component Stand’s isolation is additive, one can imagine ridiculous stacks of Stands rising up into the heavens, creating Jacob’s Ladders to allow the celestial angels to descend, bringing with them the sublime Music of The Spheres.


The Ridiculous Is the Sublime

I first tried the Component Stand under what might be considered a ridiculous system: a $139 integrated amp, $289 a pair speakers, and a $150 used CD player. I placed the speakers/stands on fully tricked-out Component Stands and placed the electronics on a standard Component Stand.

“- Transmogrify: to change or alter greatly. Synonym: see Transform.
-
Apotheosis: elevation to divine status.
-
Sublime: a. lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner. b. of outstanding spiritual, intellectual or moral worth. c. tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence.”
- Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

It is impossible to describe the effect of complete isolation of this humble system without using those three words. Played ‘neat’, that is, without isolation, this system produces well-timed, rhythmic, and involving music with quite a bit of coloration, blurring, opacity, and lack of ultimate detail. When isolated, this inexpensive system musically and sonically out-performed a non-isolated $10,000 system of High End pedigree. To those three descriptive words must be added ‘gob-smacking,’ ‘mind-blowing’ and the secondary meaning of ‘transmogrify’: “to change with humorous or grotesque effect.”

The speakers, Celestion 3’s, lost their mid-bass coloration and produced tight and controlled bass tones. Opacity was eliminated and the speaker gained a transparency and clarity all across its bandwidth astounding for such an inexpensive design. Cabinet-induced coloration was reduced to the threshold of audibility. The amplifier, the Sonic Impact Super T Amp, which I recently reviewed, revealed at least two levels of resolution that I had never heard in my previous auditions. I realized that I had under-estimated it in my review. “Mea culpa!” The Marantz CD67SE CD player, a fine if limited budget performer, began swinging for the fences.

The overall music-making, already good, went to great – rhythm and timing greatly improved, individual instruments were more clearly rendered, the gained clarity was maintained for all the instruments playing. Sounds emerged from the ambience of the recording site rather than from the Black Heart of Darkness. The sound stage, well anchored and focused between the speakers when played neat, went from 19-inch TV to full Movie Theater screen, clearly larger than the boundaries of my listening room.

Then I pulled the Component Stands out of the system. It was like letting the air out of a balloon: the shriveled and wizened remnants were pathetic by contrast, collapsing into an indifferent gray mélange.

Aided by long Minnesota winter nights and fueled by excellent coffee and English pipe tobacco, I systematically ran through the variations of the Stillpoints Component Stand in three different listening rooms, encompassing a wide variety of components and speakers. They included 4 turntables, 2 integrated amps, vintage and modern tube preamps, a vintage tube power amplifier, 3 solid-state preamplifiers, 2 solid-state power amplifiers. 3 CD players, a variety of phono stages, and 7 sets of loudspeakers (plus one powered subwoofer) were included in the auditions. Winter nights in Minnesota are long and there are very many of them.

I also auditioned their effect on systems located in a downtown St. Paul hi-rise building apartment and a western Wisconsin farm home. I was able to try all of the Stillpoints combinations except for directly threading the URD’s into the component chassis or into the spike receptacle of loudspeakers. Due to the inability to get unlimited numbers of additional Component Stand review samples, I was not able to try to build Jacob’s Ladder.

Working through all the variations and permutations of the Stillpoints Component Stand system was a fascinating intellectual, sonic, and above all, musical exercise. Rather than regale you with a minute recount of each of these permutations in each system context, let me say the general pattern of incorporating each variation in the Component Stand system was a consistent rise in performance at each change, resulting in an ever-ascending musical and sonic perspective. The fully tricked-out Component Stand was the pinnacle of this ascent.

It was immediately obvious that the state-of-the-art performance of the original Stillpoints URD’s has been considerably advanced and surpassed by the Component Stand. The fully tricked-out Component Stand – the standard Stand augmented by the Stillpoints URD’s top and bottom (the bottom set interfacing with the hardened aluminum Mini-Risers and supported on Risers) - sets the ultimate standard by which all other isolation devices must now be judged.

As one might expect, the effect on components whose job is transducing a signal, i.e., transforming it from one form to another – turntables, CD players and loudspeakers - was so striking as to appear cosmic. The effect was similar on tube electronics (both vintage and modern) and with solid-state electronics. Price and superficial aspects of ‘build quality’ bore no correlation to effectiveness. Indeed reports from the field (and my own experience with excessively high-mass turntables) indicate that use with high-mass “High End” designs is often even more impressive than with components of more rational mass and size. This stands to reason: the prime effect of raising mass is to lower the resonant frequency of the component, making it more susceptible to subsonic interference.

With a few combinations of components the ascent of the Component Stand ‘mountain’ reached a point where there appeared to be no further gain in musical communication even though the sonic landscape and particularly the sound stage dimensions continued to enlarge. These occasions, though few in number, always occurred when using CD as the source. They did not occur when using turntables. This was very much a personal aesthetic determination: I always judge sonic changes by the increase in the quality of music-making. By this criterion, the change from a 25-foot side soundstage to a 35-foot one doesn’t necessarily involve increased musical comprehension, though it can make the performance picture more literal. I found nothing in this elaborate series of sonic experiments that contradicted the assumption that effective isolation increases the integrity and accuracy of tracking the complete dynamic and temporal envelope of each and every sonic event.

Some insight proves helpful when auditioning isolating products. Since we choose and set-up our components while immersed in the seismic soup, some adjustment is necessary when we leave the mire and ascend the isolation mountain. The increased clarity, tautness and control of bass response, for example, might lead to the necessity to re-position the loudspeakers in the room to restore bass balance that has changed through the loss of false boom and thud. Similarly, the additional sound stage information, width, and dimensionality might require re-adjustment of the speaker’s focus by manipulating toe-in or out, and/or the distance between the speakers. Since, without isolation, we are listening “Through a Blanket Deafly,” interconnects and loudspeaker cables chosen to attempt to extract detail from the murk might need to be changed to something more neutral once the fog has been removed. Since this will usually involve changing to far-less expensive cabling, this is unlikely to be considered a difficulty. And, ultimately, isolation will not change a turkey into an eagle; musically inept components will not be magically changed into musical virtuosos. The good things that each component can produce will be brought to light, however, and determining the ultimate limits of resolution of a given component more certainly judged.

A fundamental uncertainty facing all isolation products, and particularly one with the flexibility and sophistication of the Stillpoints system, is predicting exactly which combination will work optimally with a particular component. The degree of susceptibility to structure-borne vibration varies from component to component, based on the competency of its design and construction. And there is no way of telling how competent the design is except by audition. The integrity and sophistication of component construction varies widely – from the non-existent, to the completely wrong-headed (extreme mass and high weight,) to the barely competent. I have, however, heard some recent products that have been intelligently designed and show only minor change when isolated. The only solution is to experiment.

While the Stillpoints Component Stand produces the same general effect on whatever type of component is isolated, its effect on loudspeakers deserves special mention. I was pleasantly surprised to find that colorations and other sonic flaws that I had attributed to the faults of individual drivers were in fact due to seismic interference: high frequency quality, bass control and vocal clarity all improved so strikingly that judgments that I had previously made about a given driver’s capability proved ill-founded. Similarly, the effects of less-than-perfect cabinet resonance design were largely vanquished by mounting the speaker on the Component Stand. The assumption that only ultra-expensive speakers can maintain dynamic resolution for all the instruments playing also proved unfounded. Finally, the negative effect of placing too-big a speaker in too-small a room – the most common error in US audiophile systems - was largely ameliorated by not inciting and not compounding most of the bass colorations that these mismatches produce.

The Stillpoints Component Stand released a natural ease in reproducing all the fine details of performance, instrumental timbre, and soundstage recreation. This was particularly true of the fully tricked-out Component Stand. The ultimate quality of a artificial technological device reaches its acme when it ceases to sound like artifice, and approaches the natural. A high-quality system completely isolated on the Full Monty Component Stands had that effect. Listen to a cello or violin live and compare it to the sound of a hi-fi system. One of the immediate differences is the effortless way the live instrument releases its transient energy, timbre, harmonic structure, and pitch. Use of the Stillpoints Component Stand allowed that ease to occur so readily that it made un-isolated components sound broken.

Congratulations to Paul Wakeen, Larry Jacoby, and the rest of the folks at Stillpoints: they have brought us the finest isolation system available. If you do one thing this year for the cause of improving musical listening in your home, make it a full audition of the Stillpoints Component Stand system. Prepare to be astounded.

Paul Szabady

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Address:
Stillpoints
823 Main Street
Boyceville, WI 54725


Price: Component Stand - $799. Universal Resonance Dampers - $299 (set of 3), $399 (set of four.) Black Hard Coat Aluminum Mini-Risers - $15 each.

Contact: Telephone: Toll Free 1-877-410-2567 – Phone (715) 643-7110
Fax: (715) 254-0653

Email: mailto:info@stillpoints.us
Website: www.stillpoints.us