It was the day after Christmas. I lowered the double accordion blinds in the front windows behind the loudspeakers and put on Human Touch. Now, Bruce Springsteen is not known for pristine recording quality, and Human Touch is no exception. It happens to be a recording that I've listened to for most of my audiophile life and it gets better with each improvement to the system. It was sounding finer than ever. The new Stillpoints Component Stand had been under my tube CAT preamplifier for months, and most of the rest of the system was supported by the new Stillpoints with Risers, point down on ceramic tiles that rested on a solid maple shelf.
The New Stillpoints
These were not the Stillpoints I reviewed a while back. As it happened, I received a phone call from Paul Wakeen at Stillpoints asking me if I would please return all my sets of Stillpoints in exchange for a new, upgraded version. Well... sure! Why not? The catch was that he needed the old ones back right away. He caught me by surprise at a very busy time and there would be virtually no time for a comparison. But it was too much of an opportunity for me to let slip away. I stayed up very late the night the new Stillpoints arrived.
Both new and old Stillpoints were in my house for about 12 hours, beginning at about 9:30 pm. After warming up the rig, I listened to three cuts from different CDs. Then I replaced all the old sets of Stillpoints with the new version. This was no easy task late at night, when the components seem to double in weight. Having one slide away from me could lead to a serious nightmare. The occasional set of Symposium Acoustics Rollerblocks in the system and the ceramic tiles under almost everything raised the degree of difficulty.
When I replayed the three cuts it was obvious the system had improved another notch in focus and also crept closer to the edge of irritability. From the 15 minutes of direct comparison I could not say, at that point, it was an unqualified improvement. Furthermore, I had no time (or energy) to switch back to the originals, so I kept listening to music with the new Stillpoints as I carefully repackaged the old ones for the return trip to Wisconsin. The next morning I had no problem with irritability. I can't imagine rocket grade ceramic balls needing a break-in period, so maybe it was just my brain that made the adjustment to the enhanced focus. The stress of the task at hand late at night probably also affected my brief initial impression.
The new Stillpoints have a fifth rocket grade ceramic ball in the second tier of balls housed inside the footer. There are closer tolerances on the threads where the riser attaches, and a greater thread length since the cylinder from which the Stillpoints are made has been lengthened slightly. A silk-screened logo on the turned silver bottom replaces the stick-on label (that contained the website address on the originals). Many of these changes were made at the request of the German distributor, and the new label adds a more professional look to the product. The Germans wanted tighter threads so there would be less play in the mechanism. But Paul Wakeen pointed out to me that the tighter the grip on something that vibrates, the more vibration gets transmitted through that grip, so there is still a sufficient amount of play in the threads. Please note that the Risers, which further enhance the benefit of the Stillpoints themselves far in excess of their additional cost, remains unchanged.
On the basis of the initial perception when I first installed the new Stillpoints, I would have to say that it is an improvement, primarily providing even more enhanced focus. (It is hard to imagine the manufacturer sending a reviewer a replacement that was inferior to the original). My subsequent long term listening turned up no reason not to like the new version. It is an excellent product. But would I rush out and buy the new version to replace the old? Probably not, as the improvement was modest.
Back To The Component Stand
But I've digressed from the new Stillpoints Component Stand. It came flat-packed in pieces in a small box, and I specifically asked not to be told the price, so as not to influence my impression of the product. The pieces were meticulously finished with the three major legs in silver anodized aluminum. Black is the other choice. It went together almost intuitively after seeing a photo of the assembled product on their website; but the minimal instruction sheet kept me in the proper sequence and expedited the task. All the while I kept thinking of the hours I spent playing with my Erector Set as a boy. This was definitely a Big League toy, judging by the fit and finish, but I kept looking for evidence of Rocket Science that never appeared. All I could come up with was a perfectly manufactured example of solid engineering.
I supposed the Rocket Science was already in the Stillpoints themselves so I mounted one at the end of each leg. Three Delrin cups mount in slots on the top edge of each leg of the rack. The cups can be slid along the leg to place it right where you want it to contact the bottom of the component. In fact, the legs themselves can be mounted at almost any angle around the stainless steel center hub of the Component Stand. To accommodate the width of my equipment shelf, I mounted the legs at the 2:30, 6:00 and 9:30 positions on the face of the clock. From my previous success with ceramic tiles, I placed one under each of the Stillpoints. (They cost about $0.15 apiece). Since the ceramic balls of the Stillpoints will slide on the ceramic tiles, I have to use reasonable precaution when attaching cables or working around the components, but I do that anyway.
The Stillpoints Component Stand with the Delrin cups replaced my reference set of Symposium Acoustics Rollerblock Series 2+ that also had Symposium ceramic tiles above and below the block and ball. I left the Stillpoints Component Stand in place for the duration of my Von Schweikert Audio VR-4jr review which appeared in the December issue.
In the ergonomic category, the Stillpoints Component Stand provided a stable platform for the CAT, which did not roll when touched. This steadiness allowed for an almost no-brain approach to using the preamplifier, quite different from the gentle Zen-like approach needed with the Rollerblocks which allowed the preamplifier to sway when pushed. If you are a clumsy, ham-fisted kind of guy who is more at home with a Makita than a hand tool, I might suggest the Stillpoints Component Stand. Also, the Stillpoints Component Stand raises the component 3.75-inch above the shelf, not including the additional 0.25-inch if Rollerblock ceramic tiles are used. You may or may not have the necessary headroom for it in your current set-up.
Aesthetically, there is good news and there is bad news. And it is the same news. The Component Stand is an intriguing and beautiful piece of equipment, in and of itself, but by raising the component 4 inches, it is also quite visible. There were times I enjoyed looking at it from my listening chair, and there were also times when I thought it looked rather awkward in the total picture of my rig. Perhaps if the components next to it were also on stands, this would not have been an issue. Of course, this would not be such an issue if it is used as an amplifier stand on the floor, or under a component in a vertical array. Your choice of silver or black finish might also make a difference in your particular application. Additional arms are also available to convert the stand from three to four or five legs. These aesthetic and ergonomic considerations primarily affect the pride of ownership, but also the spouse acceptance factor to a degree.
So what happens to the music? There was something about the Stillpoints Component Stand that didn't make sense to me. I've noticed over the years that the closer to the signal path that a vibration-absorbing device is used, the more effective it seems to be. Hal-O Tube dampers work directly on tubes. Stillpoints and Rollerblocks worked very well when placed directly in contact with the bottom of a component. Vibration absorbing shelves worked well when the feet of components were placed on them, but worked even better when Stillpoints or Rollerblocks coupled the chassis of the component to the shelf. How does adding what appears to be an inert rack between the component and the Stillpoints, or shelf, improve the sound?
I started out listening to electric blues guitarist Buddy Guy with the CAT preamplifier on the component stand with the Stillpoints at the bottom of each arm and the ceramic ball resting on a small ceramic tile. The music was very close in quality to my reference level. I then took the Stillpoints off the component stand, placing the slightly rounded points of the threaded rods directly onto the ceramic tiles. The music seemed to loose very little, if any, focus. It became a little more liquid, possibly indicating a slight loss of focus, and the soundstage dropped a few inches further back behind the plane of the loudspeakers. But it was not much different. Removing the tiles from beneath the points of the component stand resulted in a noticeable loss of focus far in excess of the $0.50 cost of the three tiles.
Removing the Stillpoints Component Stand completely and placing the preamplifier on the naked wood shelf, the music still sounded great, but the positions of the musicians in the soundstage became a lot less precise and the soundstage contracted in size, being confined to the space between the loudspeakers. Adding just the tiles beneath the feet of the CAT helped a lot with improved focus and the positioning of the musicians, but the soundstage remained confined between the loudspeakers.
Adding the Stillpoints Delrin cups with Risers (not the Component Stand), with the point down on the ceramic tiles, increased the resolution, improved the spatial relationships of the musicians within the soundstage, and improved the soundstage size in all three dimensions -- width, depth and height. It also brought the singer's microphone closer to the listening position.
Swapping out the Stillpoints Delrin cups for the Stillpoint Component Stand, with the points on tiles, the sound was just about identical -- only slightly less focused, and a little more liquid. I am really splitting hairs with this description, and I'm doing so in the context of a very high resolution system. Adding the Stillpoints cones to the feet of the component stand once again, brought a little more refinement to the music, but I would be hard pressed to identify the combination of Component Stand and Stillpoints cone in a double blind test.
Removing the Component Stand and returning to my reference with the CAT, (the Symposium Rollerblock Series 2+ with the ball up and tiles between the ball and the bottom of the CAT and beneath the Rollerblock itself), the music was very slightly more liquid, very slightly more focused, and very slightly more transparent. The notes were sustained a little longer with the Rollerblocks, and there was slightly better timbre. Could I tell the difference in a double blind test? Probably not with consistency. Would I notice the difference if they were secretly swapped without my knowing it -- and I was unable to see the difference? Probably not.
Check, Double Check
Thinking I might possibly be missing some major improvement, I placed the stand under one of my Mahi monoblocks and pulled out my monaural Vox recording of Horenstein conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 1 (Vox CDX2 5508) By panning left and right, I could directly compare the effect of the bare stand (without Stillpoints) with the new Stillpoints themselves. At first, the new Stillpoints Delrin cups seemed to outperform the new stand. I then realized the Stillpoints were on ceramic tiles, while the stand was merely on top of the 2-inches thick architectural slate that I use as a solid base layer above the carpeted floor. Adding the small ceramic tiles under the points of the stand brought the performance up to par with the Stillpoints Delrin cups -- an amazing feat for a $0.50 tweak! Additional listening found no major difference differences that couldn't be attributed to the offset of the loudspeakers in the room, or the Christmas tree that stood to the left of the listening chair.
Paul, What's Up?
Still skeptical that I was missing something, I called Paul Wakeen at Stillpoints after he returned from CES in Las Vegas. And boy, did I get clued in! You've read about those little TV cameras that clip to the frames of your eyeglasses for the ultimate in video-verite? Well, picture a miniaturized Stillpoint built into the foot of each leg of the Component Stand! I also learned the combination of aluminum legs and stainless steel hub comprises a mechanical compression joint that further limits the transmission of vibration, much like constrained layers of differing materials. This joint is strong enough for people of reasonable weight to stand on, and it didn't flex at all when I stood on the hub fully clothed at 170 lbs. And the stand itself can handle equipment up to 300 pounds.
Paul also suggested that the Component Stand performs much better when the Delrin cups and the slider that they attach to in the groove of each arm are free enough to slide around. (The instructions say to snug them down, presumably for liability reasons). The design allows for adjustability, of course, but tightening down the parts limits the effect of the vibration dampening technology. The threaded points of the miniature Stillpoints that contact the shelf should also be slightly loose, just like with the individual Stillpoints. Furthermore, the addition of the big Stillpoints to the miniature Stillpoints built into the legs will also enhance the sound quality by adding yet another set of shock absorbers or vibration dampers. Likewise, a second set of Stillpoints can be used to replace the Delrin cups to make direct contact with the bottom of the component's chassis. As I suggested above, the closer to the component you can get the vibration damper, in my experience, the better the effect. To better understand the possible combinations, examine the photos on the Stillpoints website closely.
Check, Triple Check
So... back to the listening room I went. After loosening up the appropriate parts, I ran another series of tests with my monoblocks, panning left and right, comparing the amp on the Component Stand with the amplifier on the Stillpoints with Risers. The results were sufficiently impressive that I enlisted Linda's help to return the Component Stand to its original position beneath the preamplifier, where first I tested it without Stillpoints, then with Stillpoints on the bottom (contacting the ceramic tile on the shelf), and finally with the Stillpoints replacing the Delrin cups (contacting the bottom of the preamplifier's chassis). Unfortunately I had maxed out my supply of Stillpoints and could not try the Component Stand with Stillpoints on top and bottom without altering the reference system.
The sound became even more focused and more transparent when the built-in Stillpoints and Delrin cups were loosened up. And the soundstage receded a bit further behind the plane of the loudspeakers, as well as gained additional depth. There was more air within the soundscape. The music became more transparent when I added Stillpoints aimed down, and even a little more transparent, when I switched to Stillpoints aimed upward, reaffirming what I've said about getting the vibration absorbing technology as close to the signal path as possible.
In the final position, with the additional Stillpoints facing the component, the tonal balance took on a slight upward tilt that brought me seemingly greater transparency, but possibly more long term listening fatigue. Not to worry. It might be a plus in your system with your components, and if it isn't, simply move the Stillpoints to the downward facing position, or remove them altogether. Sliding the Stillpoints along the Component Stand arm to a different location might well prove to be another tuning variable of the stand. Unfortunately, there is a limit to my time.
This has been a comparison of three titans in the field of resonance control. The music was supremely enjoyable with each of them. Only with the addition of the Stillpoints to the Component Stand did the balance of power tip towards the Component Stand, particularly in the area of transparency. Otherwise, their ergonomic differences are probably more significant than their differences in acoustic impact on the music, except to the most discerning among us. And the most fastidious will have to try it for themselves, since all of our rigs will differ. The adjustability of the Stillpoints Component Stand will make it appealing to many, as will the steadiness of the component placed upon it, once it is properly aligned. The aesthetics and prominent visibility of the stand raising the component high off the ground or shelf may be a positive or negative for some people and for some applications.
I specifically requested not to have the price of the Component Stand revealed to me before I wrote the review so as not to skew my evaluation of it. It is obvious to the beholder that it is a magnificently engineered stand with outstanding fit and finish. But I was taken aback by the price in light of its performance. It performs very well, but it costs a great deal more than other solutions in its performance league, two of which I have compared in this review. Additional sets of Stillpoints added to the Component Stand will up the ante even further. To be fair, there are other solutions that cost even more. Nonetheless, it may be a cost effective alternative to upgrading a major component, or a significant tweak to the finest of systems. Our culture in general and high-end audio in particular, benefits from diversity and the Stillpoints Component Stand expands our options at this very high level of performance.
Type: Vibration Control Device / Equipment Stand
Component Stand Specifications
Dimensions: 3.75 x 18 x 18.0 (HxWxD in inches)
Gross Weight Capacity 300 lbs
Unit Weight 3.5 lbs
Price: Component Stand, standard three legged, black or silver,
Height of Stillpoint (alone): 1.03 inches
Height of Riser (alone): 0.380
The height together with space so that they are not tightened down onto each other: 1.425 inches
Price: Stillpoints set of three $299