Stillpoints (Part One)

Equipment racks and stands
Stillpoints LLC Ultra Five,
Stillpoints LLC Ultra Mini,
Stillpoints LLC Ultra SS

The final resonance control support is the Ultra Five. This chunky and very heavy filter system is a three-inch diameter, two-piece, solid stainless steel puck that houses five technology pockets, like those found in the Ultra SS. You wouldn’t want to drop this one on your foot, believe me. Again it can be used beneath components or speakers but cannot be independently levelled except when coupled with a Base. Stillpoints also manufacture the LPI record clamp, equipped with five technology pockets. I have also found it to be a very useful freestanding resonance control filter that can be employed in limitless ways when not in use on the turntable. Sitting atop a CD player or an amplifier for instance or employing a pair of them with loudspeakers to drain energy from the cabinets. Again, experimentation with positioning is absolutely essential. I should add that the current LPI is unsuitable for sprung sub-chassis turntables like the Linn LP12 as it is just too heavy and throws the suspension way out of balance.

All Stillpoints products are beautifully made, finished, packaged and laser etched with the company’s logo. The grade of stainless steel has been specifically chosen for purpose and every single metal part that Stillpoints use has been cryogenically treated at the factory. The beautiful and rather exotic ESS rack is still in full production but I decided I would discuss that and how it can be used to interact with the individual technologies in the next instalment of the review when I will bring everything together in system-wide context.

If you are thinking that these are just audio accessories to stick under your CD player then you are really going to have to think again. Even a brief exposure to them will leave you in no doubt that the importance of equipment supports has been seriously undervalued for years. My own lengthy Stillpoints experience changed when last summer I received enough products to float my entire system. This left me in no doubt as to just how limited those early but lengthy listening experiments really were and how I had previously only really scratched the surface of what could be achieved musically - without changing a single component. I think this is both the critical point and the very essence of the whole Stillpoints equation. Having virtually unlimited access to the whole range of Paul’s devices has certainly resulted in me enjoying the best music I have ever heard from an audio system, but it also threw up any number of questions and as we know, where hi-fi is concerned, there are as many of those as there are opinions.

So, what is actually happening here that yields such startling results? I think it is easy to rationalise explanations that fit different theories and viewpoints. There is no Stillpoints white paper and to do the detailed science would be a huge and costly undertaking, but what seems certain is that the products are able to drain resonances from equipment to differing levels of efficiency, leaving a more pristine, less polluted signal, depending on exactly which of them you employ and exactly how and where you couple them. By far the most important thing though is the truly significant musical benefits that they bring.

This review grew and grew as the scale and depth of the products themselves and the implications of their worth as a system-building tool has become more and more apparent to me. So let me start the listening experiences with a simple four-box system comprising of the Moon 260D CD player and the 250i integrated amplifier. These are a pair of very reasonably priced components that are clean and quite explicit in their character without any performance foibles. I chose to use a pair of Focal Diablo speakers to provide an open window and used a loom of Crystal Piccolo cable for the same reason while the electronics were sat on an Atacama Eris Eco Bamboo rack.

Herbie Hancock’s The New Standard and the Peter Gabriel song ‘Mercy Street’ starts with a tight percussive burst before Dave Holland’s wonderful bass line enters and sits underneath the rolling sequence to invite us in. Without resonance control it slips by almost unnoticed, and the timing is hard to pick up on as if it is tripping forward and over itself. But slip four Mini Ultras on bases beneath both the CD player and the amplifier and the difference is incredible. Now the percussion has shape and the tabla and bongo patterns and pushes emphasise and establish the coming tempo and rhythmic feel before the bass, so murky before, now weights the tune superbly. As the piece gets into full flow the gains in musical structure are not just different, they are vital as the precision and freshness of the time signature is established and forces its way into your head. The energy of the piece is transformed into a much deeper, faster and more involving view of the song and when the subtle horn section begin their work, the possibilities of where this may go are starting to become apparent. Slide four Ultra SS filters, with no Bases under each speaker (four is better than three) and the music becomes liberated as the percussion now has an even greater sense of dynamic shape, snap and bite to it and the bass bounces further into focus and moves outside the confines of the cabinets and sits in the room, anchoring the whole harmonic route of the tune. The horn section that sounded so morphed together without resonance control gains a level of resolution and independence that makes identifying each instrument much easier and the sliding arrangement that the players use as they slip rolling waves of brass colour through the piece are a thing of beauty. There is more space and air too as the soundstage has expanded. The essence and direction of the piece is the expression of Hancock’s playing and his extraordinary touch eloquently shows that piano keys are not on/off switches. They are highly pressure-sensitive links to controlling the string hammers and the way that he can “shape” a note is pure feel and sensitivity.

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