The Stillpoints Universal Resonance Dampers
|The Stillpoints Universal Resonance Dampers|
Great News For The Society For Putting Things On Top Of Other Things
8 December 2002
Resonance/Isolation damping feet.
Price: $275 for set of three.
2660 County Road D
Woodville, WI 54028
Although the Monty Python sketch lampooning a British society concerned with putting things on top of other things disintegrated with the participants deciding it was all too silly, those listeners paying attention to the placement of audio gear know that it's no joke. Components simply sound different based on what they are placed upon. Not only does the surface have its own resonant signature, it is also the medium for transferring structural-borne vibrations from the Terra Infirma of the environment. The component is also prey to internally generated vibration. The effects of these spurious vibrations are catastrophic from both a sonic and musical standpoint. Some sonic effects of the contamination are blurring, ringing and smearing - an overall homogenization of volume levels and transients, often accompanied by general edgy electronic hash.
Having reviewed a variety of isolation devices for The Stereo Timesover the years, I continue to keenly follow the advent of new products. So significant are the changes and improvements to the performance of a component when effectively damped and isolated that I am forced to accept the conclusion that isolation is primary and fundamental, preceding and superceding cabling, power cords, AC power treatment, and the other common attempts to tweak and improve a system. Until the fundamental issue of isolation is adequately dealt with, the common tweaks are mere shots in the dark. Solve the core problem and the effects of other tweaks become far easier to judge. Most components used 'neat' - un-isolated/damped - are pale shadows of their capabilities when effectively isolated, the equivalent of test-driving a Ferrari or Porsche without suspension and tires and forming opinions of their performance thus. Yes I feel it's THAT important.
Moreover, high price and high-end "build quality" are no guarantee that the vibration issues have been adequately addressed. One might expect only budget-priced and rather flimsily built components to benefit greatly from isolation, but the over-built High End product is also prone to interference, leading to the impression that most of the expense of "build quality " is just an illusion to impress the naive. A new paradigm has arisen as a result of these isolation devices, namely that isolation is at least as important as the circuit and parts choice in a given piece of gear, and often times more so. After all, the finest circuit amounts to nothing if its potential is swamped in a sea of vibration and resonance. Viewed from this new paradigm, it is impossible to take high-mass turntables with no suspension, components as heavy as bank vaults, and ultra heavy racks and shelves seriously. Heavy weight does not guarantee immunity to vibrational contamination; in fact, it invites it. Since most of the structural-borne vibration occurs in the sub-bass and bass ranges, heavier mass only serves to lower the resonant point of the gear into a realm where it will be affected. I find it doubly disappointing when very expensive components are susceptible to this interference: after all one expects a Porsche suspension from a Porsche, and not those of a Chevy Chevette on bald tires.
Doubly puzzling is the fact that the physics behind the phenomenon is straightforward and well known: nothing exotic or esoteric here, nothing tweaky or reeking of science fiction. Everything placed upon the Earth will be affected by the vibrations of the Earth, be they naturally or technologically caused. Conceptually, perfect isolation then would involve levitating the component above the Earth in a soundproof vacuum chamber. Practically speaking, real-world isolation devices can be understood and measured as mechanical filters, the width of their bandwidth and their amount of attenuation in all physical planes of isolation offering concrete indication of their effectiveness. Since the goal of hifi is to produce only musically relevant vibrations into our vibrating universe, isolation and damping are critical to keep these non-musical vibrations from corrupting the audio signal.
"Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance."
-T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets.
The Stillpoints are a new resonance/isolation product developed by Paul Wakeen (ex- distributor of Aurios,) Larry Jacoby (ex-principal of Wadia) and CAD design wizard Deb Folz (also ex-Wadia.) The Stillpoints resemble a small black volcano with a white ceramic ball exposed at the top of its "crater." Inside the walls of this volcano, the exposed top ceramic ball contacts a group of 4 smaller ceramic balls held within in a flower-like calyx. The "petals" of this calyx, formed from Delrin, have a specifically determined amount of 'give' to them, to handle weight, maintain positioning of the balls and to damp energy transferred to the balls. The base of the Stillpoints is flat and covered with Lexan to prevent surface marring and are said to help damp any ringing in its metal bottom. To further improve the performance of the Stillpoints, the center of the base is tapped and threaded to allow attachment via a threaded rod (not included) to either the shelf on which they are placed, or to the component or loudspeakers.
The Stillpoints are designed to bypass the component's existing feet. The extremely hard surface of the ceramic balls guarantees the smallest of contact points with the component. Energy applied to the point of the top ball is dissipated through the point contact of the other balls and vice versa, leading to both isolation and resonance control. Unlike current ball-bearing based products, the Stillpoints also offer vertical isolation: there is no direct vertical path for energy to pass. The point of contact and thus the transfer of energy are both still and moving, hence the naming of the product and the allusion to the TS Eliot poem.
Having lived with the Townshend Seismic Sinks, the Aurios MIB's and the Ganymede VCS isolators as essential components in both my systems and thus prepared for what the effect that first-rate treatment can achieve, I was still mightily surprised with the sonic results of using the Stillpoints in these systems. Past experience with isolation devices convinces me that the entire system should be isolated to gain full measure of the effectiveness of the device. After playing the system 'neat', I snuck the Stillpoints first under the preamp, then the power amp and finally the speakers. It was like watching the sun come out and dissipate a cloudy, rainy, gloomy day.
The overall sonic effect of the Stillpoints is an obvious, and at times, stunning improvement in the tracking of the transient envelope for each note: the initial transient, which serves psycho-acoustically to place the instrument in space; the unveiling of the harmonic structure of the note, which serves identification of the instrument; and the note's decay, which reveals the acoustics of the space where the instrument resides. Mated with an equal improvement in the tracking of the volume levels of the transients and notes (and their starts and stops), there was an across the board and across the bandwidth improvement in clarity, transparency, and naturalness. This sonic improvement led directly to a wholesale improvement in the articulation of the musical performance. Extremely noteworthy was elimination of any electronic hash and glare, the increased clarity and transparency attained without the false brightness often associated with ersatz "resolution." Equally important was the revelation of the fullness of each instrument's harmonic structure. Not only could one perceive the identity, integrity and gestalt of each instrument, one could, at will, follow any instrument within the group and yet still follow, simultaneously, the performance of the whole ensemble. Bass response gained equally in clarity, with individual notes, melodies, and rhythms clearly articulated in the bass range, eliminating boom, thud and mud.
Moreover, this sonic improvement occurred in all manner of electronics: from budget-built components, to vintage tube gear and to high-end products alike. I personally tried the Stillpoints under 6 preamps, 4 power amps, an integrated amp, 3 phono stages, one CD player, one turntable and a subwoofer. The sonic results were consistent. The only components that did not show much change were extremely lightweight phono sections with separate, outboard power supplies and transformers.
Using the Stillpoints under loudspeakers was a bit more complex: the elimination of boom, thud and mud could require repositioning of the speakers to restore the requisite low-end balance. Bass was linear with tight control of transients and no diminution of rhythmic pulse and rhythmic nuance. Use under a subwoofer converted typical subwoofer thud into articulate pitch and notes. These comments are based on use on suspended wooden floors. The gains in clarity, the fullness of harmonics and the overall improvements in musical integrity and stereo effects were apparent with all the speakers I tried, but an ailing back prevented me from making as many and as comprehensive comparisons as I wished.
I did most of my auditioning with the Stillpoints mounted single point up. Selective listening with the point down revealed that certain components benefited by this alternative set-up. Although I did not have the ability to fasten the Stillpoints to the shelf via a threaded rod, I did experiment with double isolation (Stillpoints, small wooden shelf, Stillpoints, component) and found that under certain components, the effect of these double Stillpoint layers was additive.
The Stillpoints do not transform the component: they will not transmute lead into gold. They do, however, allow the component's innate capabilities to more fully emerge, often with results so striking that one is tempted to surmise that one is hearing the 'real' component for the first time. I was struck again with how good some lowly components could sound, regardless of vintage and price: a good design is a good design. As with other premium isolation/damping devices, there is some variation in the amount of change due to the unpredictable idiosyncracies of any given component, so, as always, audition is necessary. The flexibility of set-up of the Stillpoints - point up, point down, attached via threaded thread, double sets, and even mixing point up/down within a single set - should allow optimum tuning of any given component and also allow integration into a complete system context. I highly recommend auditioning the Stillpoints under the entire system, speakers included, to truly perceive and appreciate the Stillpoints' ultimate effect. By systematically removing them one component at a time, the effects on a given component are thrown into sharp relief.
The highest of recommendations for the Stillpoints: a terrific, extremely effective, easy to use, and eminently affordable product.
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