Epiphany - Model Celeste Reference Stand
|Epiphany - Model Celeste Reference Stand|
|A Moment of Clarity|
A necessary evil becomes necessary
I had held out as long as I could. I have been into high-end audio since the mid eighties and had refused to get caught up in buying an expensive equipment stand. Surely there is a better way to spend those funds, or so I thought. I could get a better preamplifier, or better amplifier, or surely better speakers could be had for the money I would have put towards a stand. I came up with all kinds of excuses to avoid that purchase, and quite frankly, lived quite content in my ignorance that I could enjoy music just as well without having made a sizable investment into some kind of specialty equipment rack.
Then the time came when I noticed that I was painting myself into a corner. As my review writing got better, I was afforded the opportunity to review better equipment. It was bad enough that better cables were beginning to show flaws in my system, but it became more obvious when I started reviewing electronics from exceptional companies like Tidal, ASR and GamuT that my thoughts on equipment isolation needed to be elevated. As I began to look at stands, I noticed things had changed in a major way.
Initially, I was introduced to high-end equipment stands by Ken Christianson and John Schwarz at Pro Musica, an audio salon in Chicago. At the time, the popular shelves were lightweight, metal stands that needed to be filled with either sand or lead-shot in order to achieve rigidity. The se were stands from companies such as Target, Sound Organization, and Premier. Pro Musica used these and some custom wood cabinets. I figured I could just get by using some of the metal stands and that's where I stood for the longest time.
All that changed two years ago when I met Doug White, owner of a high-end audio shop outside of Philadelphia called the “The Voice That Is” and the head of Epiphany Stand Systems. I had no inkling whatsoever that he had anything to do with equipment stands. Talking to him, I was more impressed with his knowledge of music, first and foremost, and also of audio equipment. But even at that point, I was still kind of uninterested in stands. I viewed them as somewhat of necessary evil.
One of my good friends, who happened to have an Epiphany Stand Systems Celeste Reference Stand on hand, recommended I give it a listen to see if it would do my system any good. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a try.
Listening to “The Voice That Is”
When my friend came by with the Celeste Reference Stand, I was surprised at how attractive and well built the stand was. The Celeste Reference Stand resembled a piece of furniture more than the stands I had been used to listening to. The stand that I was going to use was made of myrtle wood and measured at 36” H X 24” W X 22” D. The stand is quite attractive. The Celeste Reference Stand, without its shelves, is very light. Most audiophiles would have no problem lifting and holding up the stand up with one hand. We're talking about a four shelf unit, albeit without the shelves, but still very light. Pressing down on the top of the stand, and rapping my knuckles on the side, the stand felt pretty rigid and strong to me.
Now, here is where it becomes interesting. The top shelf of the Celeste Reference Stand is where a solid, heavy piece of Brazilian Slate rests. This shelf measures at 19 1/4” W X 17 1/2” D X 1 1/4” H and has to weigh somewhere around 20 lbs. The next two shelves are also made of Brazilian Slate as well, but they are 19 3/4” W X 2 1/2” D X 1 1/4” H slats which Doug White calls “support rails.” There are two of these support rails that fit inside of the stand and can slide back and forth to accommodate your equipment's feet. The bottom shelf of the Celeste Reference Stand is a solid piece of myrtle wood. Another feature of the stand is that each shelf rests on top of triangular steel “isolation rails” that run from the inner front to inner rear of the stand. This would mean that each shelf, at any point, is only resting on the top pointy edge of the triangle. Also of note is that the tolerances of this stand are very close. The slate shelf and support rails rest on the isolation rails, but never right up against the inner edges of the stand, leaving a little less than a quarter of an inch on any side of the shelf. Of course, you could always situate the shelves right up against the inner edges of the stand if you wish, but you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to situating equipment on the shelf.
Just looking at the materials used for the Celeste Reference Stand, you get the impression that the design does a good job of handling vibrations. None of the materials used “ring” or conduct vibrations and the Brazilian Slate, for all intents and purposes, appears to be sonically dead. Putting the stand together was fairly straightforward. The stand itself is already put together and what's left for potential owners to do is to decide where to put the solid maple or slate shelves, the remaining two shelves using the slate support rails. Taken as a whole, I was impressed by the stand and the ease with which everything was put together. The fit and finish of the stand is first rate. Everything, from the spikes the stand rests upon, to the ease with which the slate support rails move along their steel isolation rails.
I asked Doug to explain what he wanted to achieve in creating the Celeste Reference Stand:
“My design goals were fueled by feedback from audiophile friends and observations of their wives who disliked the looks of their equipment stand. Having gone through several stands personally through the years, I realized there was something either missing in the way of looks and or had tradeoffs in performance for my tastes. While there are many very expensive choices available, I didn’t want to break the bank financially because I had plans for other upgrades. I wanted to find a stand that achieved musical performance without delivering sonic tradeoffs and looked more like a piece of furniture. I chose the combination of materials specifically because of their combined sonic characteristics. A clean contemporary looking stand with a high wife acceptance factor was the goal. More importantly it had to be musical and have a neutral tonal balance that allowed every component tested on it to perform at it’s best. While simple in design, all materials used during the prototyping process and ultimately in production of the stands, were chosen for their musical properties first. I considered the stands passive contribution to heat dissipation on the equipment it supported. One of my past experiences was the loss of a tube preamp that began to degrade and cooked itself into failure from heat reflection. All of the stand designs are tube equipment friendly whereas any heat radiating from the equipment has an opportunity to dissipate quickly. This is due to the channel gapping and the absence of a solid shelf above it that would otherwise trap and reflect heat back onto the equipment.”
Cueing up the music
With the Celeste Reference Stand put together and in place, I was ready for the music listening to begin. Listening to music with my equipment placed on this stand makes me think on those times past where I'd go to some upscale audio salon, or do some listening at a friend's home who has really expensive equipment, and coming away thinking that I have been listening to music that sounded as though it was a step-up from what I've been listening to. The first impression I had was how much more detail and focus I was now receiving. More focus, more detail, and more music. It was as though the noise floor dropped, by quite a bit, and overall clarity, along the entire frequency spectrum, increased. At the same time, the bass performance took on a more refined character. Bass had more weight, more force, more impact and a more solid foundation. I don't feel like I was getting any more bass than I had before, but with the Celeste Reference Stand, I felt I was hearing a better quality of bass that was deeper and could be felt more. The same could be said of the upper frequency performance of equipment being used on the Celeste Reference. The higher frequencies were rendered with greater definition and an increase in tonal differentiation. I also felt that the midrange was more open and transparent. Dynamic performance really stood out with the Celeste Reference Stand in place. Kick drums had greater impact, the attack and decay of piano music took on more relevance and transient response was more lifelike.
A good example of this is the spatially rich CD Keepin' Out of Mischief by Judy and the Jazzmakers [Coherent Recordings CD 501]. This is disc has a soundstage that is wide and deep. When I placed my Esoteric DV50S on the Celeste Reference Stand, the stage extended noticeably deeper and outward past the corners of my room. Also from the same disc, Judy Marshak's vocals on “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Keepin' Out of Mischief”, in particular, came across as more smooth and natural than what I was accustomed to in the past.
I was particularly enthralled listening to Jacques Loussier's piano playing on his Jacques Loussier Plays Bach CD [Telarc CD 83411]. Mr. Loussier likes to take pieces by J.S. Bach and jazz them up a little with a bass and drum accompaniment and on this disc he does an excellent job of interpreting the classical great. On tracks such as “Fugue No. 5 in D Major” and “Gavotte in D Major”, he really plays the piano with verve and drive. The attack and decay of the piano is quite powerful and was even more so with the Celeste Reference Stand in the system. The quality of Vincent Charbonnier's bass-work is excellent and Andre Arpino drumming is strong and driving. Likewise powerful was Bjorn Johansen's saxophone playing on his disc Take One [Odin NJ 4021-2]. The sound of Bjorn's sax has a bit of bite to it but without sounding bright or aggressive, but what I enjoyed more was the tonal richness that was on display when I entered the stand into my system. Again, the piano sounded particularly good on this disc as provided by Cedar Walton. I like listening to Cedar because he can play very softly, then in turn around and unleash an assault on the keys. With the Celeste Reference stand in the system, the soft to hard piano playing had an added dramatic effect to the music.
The next thing I did was to see how the performance of my analog system would perform on the Celeste Reference Stand. My initial thought was of being pleasantly surprised at the increase in performance. Every aspect of the music improved as it had with my CD player, only it was more pronounced. This was especially so when listening piano music. Soundstage dimensions seemed wider and deeper and performers took on a three-dimensional type of quality.
Looking back, I really should have investigated what improvements were to be had from investing in one of the better equipment stands. With the Celeste Reference Stand in my system, I was not quite prepared for the gains provided by making such an upgrade. In some respects, I'm still gaining a greater appreciation for the enhancement a good stand provides the music listening experience. There is strong competition out there for this stand, especially from companies like of SRA and Critical Mass. Both of these companies provide outstanding products that are visually striking and sound good as well. The SRA stands are one of the few solid, heavy stands that doesn't suck the life out of the music like a lot of stands that like to throw weight and mass at the vibration and resonance problem do. Critical Mass makes one of the most well made, technologically advanced stands available.
These stands, though a bit on the pricey side of what most audiophiles may be willing to invest, do their job very well. For my own experience, I am of the opinion that every piece of electronics I setup on the Celeste Reference Stand has been afforded one of better environments available in which it could show what it's capable of doing. This has been one of those upgrades that have helped me tremendously with my reviews. Who knows, perhaps it will be another twenty-plus years before I feel the need to look at equipment stands again.
In terms of construction, innovative design and aesthetics, Epiphany Stand Systems makes some of the better stands available, especially at their price points, with the Celeste Reference leading the way. The Epiphany Stand Systems Celeste Reference is highly recommended.
Epiphany Stand Systems
Celeste Reference Stand $3500 - $4300.00
5068-R West Chester Pike
Newtown Square, PA 19073
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