I now don’t believe you could listen and understand the transient maelstrom of Vicente Amigo’s Paseo De Gracia without Stillpoints. To open the sheer density and power of the musicianship without considerable resonance control in place seems impossible. With Vicente’s incredible flamenco technique he can take the music on a voyage in one small section of playing. His dynamic control and ability to highlight a note and embellish it with several smaller suggestions is completely off the scale. To combine such focused discipline with nostril-flaring exuberance and sheer joy perhaps takes you somewhere near the essence of Duende itself. To really understand and ‘feel’ the power you might need to open your mind, stop thinking in straight lines and let go. I think that a floated system has a huge advantage here as the fast, fluid runs, the pauses and the whole intensity and dynamism of the right hand technique power and slide in and out of the barrage of interwoven rhythms, bringing a sense and coherence that unsupported systems simply cannot match. By allowing existing equipment the chance to discriminate with a dynamic freedom that allows individual instruments to grow in volume without taking the whole of the band with them is the difference between understanding and confusion, never more so than with Flamenco music.
For the past year I have been completely fascinated with the music of Melody Gardot. When I listen to her on a Stillpoints floated system like the one I outlined above I obviously hear better, finer resolution and the way that the musical layers are so beautifully constructed. All the musical nuances, textures, shades and flavours bring with them an intensity and individuality that great audio systems simply must reveal to be remotely credible. That close-microphone recording and techniques are really an incredibly powerful emotional tool in the right hands and a disaster in the wrong ones. Melody seems to have perfected it to a point where her breathing itself has become a marvelous dramatic textural counterpoint. She breathes and enunciates in a musical way. Getting this close to the performance is made all the simpler by adding Ultra 5’s to the system. Their impact is profound. Melody is a wonderful name for her as her endlessly lyrical style harks back, evoking singers from the 1930’s. Layering Stillpoints, where four Ultra 5s give you 20 pockets of resonance control beneath the Paganini transport, upon those in the support bars gave me access to her recordings like I have never known. The resolution, the closeness, the lower noise floor, the solidity of the soundstage and the focus and character of the instrumentation throughout the bandwidth are all immediately apparent. But, while these might be the raw ingredients for immediate system success and the things that grab you when you first begin to experience what Stillpoints can bring to your system, what impacts me the hardest and with the most insistent force is how this woman can expose herself emotionally like this through her lyrics.
The Stillpoint’ed system I constructed at home can take you to that edge of emotional intensity and while all the detailed improvements are the components of the upgrade, the really worthwhile result is that the space between you and the artist closes dramatically. Close your eyes and if you are open enough it will feel as if she is telling her story to you and this, though not always comfortable, is what a great system and a great singer can and should do. This cannot be measured on any test-bench. This is what truly great home audio does. Anything less and surely the system is a collection of components. Without a listener, a hi-fi system is useless. With a listener it can be a powerful tool for emotional connection, understanding and even a strong force for positive things within your life. But it should always be interesting and fascinating.
For me, fully floating a system elevates all these things and Stillpoints products are certainly one of the most important and interesting audio developments to have come along for quite a while. The fact that they can achieve such interesting and profound musical influences without component changes is really something and their applications are wider spread than I imagined. You will certainly notice aspects of recordings that you my have heard hundreds of times before. This can be good or bad as I found out when listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter do horrible things to the Sibelius violin concerto on DG with her unsympathetic, but no doubt technically perfect playing. Detached from the soul of the music, she drove me crazy with her fluttering vibrato, rolled out at every opportunity. This was music-by-numbers and I hated it.
We spend thousands on assembling hi-fi systems and then people like me install and configure them with detailed attention striving to remove the processed, mechanical characteristics that so many of them have. Most high-end systems that I have heard are quite, quite awful in this respect. Stillpoints can help. But it is important to reiterate that they are not magic. They can work amazingly well and open your ears in a quite enlightening way, but to get the best out of them they really must be deployed in a system that has already been installed to the highest standards.
This means where special attention has been paid to the mains supply and signal grounding, the distribution block, support system and cabling. Each of these disciplines brings their own rewards and incremental musical improvements. Add them together and they lift core performance dramatically and then build on that. Float this system on Stillpoints and it will make it virtually unrecognisable. Tuning a system can be a fine balancing act where attention to detail makes all the difference. I do feel compelled to add a caveat here though to mention that, if you judge your system by the amount of bass or slam it manages to pump into the room, then the Stillpoints route is probably not for you. Reviews are, by their very nature, a personal opinion.
The ESS rack is extraordinarily good. As with all Stillpoints products it is certainly pricey but, on the other hand, is beautifully made and finished, won’t wear out and it really works. What Stillpoints racks and filters do today, they will be doing for years to come. I would urge you to give them a try, bearing in mind the general rules of application that I have discussed throughout these two articles. Your Stillpoints dealer is your friend here. With an open mind and a love of music, I doubt very much that you will regret it.
Prices: Ultra Stainless Steel: £760 (set of 4); Ultra Mini: £440 (set of 4); Ultra 5: £570 each; LPI: £440 each; Ultra Base: £59 each
Many configurations are possible for the rack. Best to consult your dealer for a quotation on price and load ratings. As an example, the model I used was a 42-26-5, priced at £11,245. Also available are many different sized adapters for replacing spiked feet on speaker cabinets to accommodate Stillpoints. Too numerous to list, these options should again be confirmed through your Stillpoints dealer.
573 Country Road A, Suite 103,
Hudson, WI, 54016
PO Box 5260,
Coventry, CV4 OGB
Tel: +44 (0) 02477 220 650