The StillPoints Ultra Five Isolation Feet and The LPI Record Isolator
Visiting the StillPoints suite at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and at The Home Entertainment Show is always a revealing experience. Their “technology,” small ceramic balls in four layers with a spacing that largely converts vertical motion into horizontal motion that can only be converted into heat, continues to be applied to new products. In this review I will consider the benefits of their new LPI Record Isolator or record weight with further benefits and their new Ultra Five Isolation Feet.
The LPI weighs 1 ½ lbs and is about 3” in diameter and 1” thick. It has five of the technology devices inserted on the bottom to convert any vibrations on the record surface into heat.
The Ultra Fives weigh 4 lbs each and come in two sections. The top hat is also about 3” in diameter and is 1” thick with the five technology units inserted into it. The mount is about three quarters of an inch thick and the same diameter as the top hat.
Of course, the LPI is just placed on the record. The Ultra Five are best mounted on components and speakers, but may be just inserted under the component, preferably with the screw hole upward as the technology is then closer to the component. Under my Tidal speakers, I used adaptors available from StillPoints to screw them onto the speakers with some separation between the Ultra Fives and the bottom plate of the speakers. Fortunately, these speakers have three alternative inserts in each corner that allowed me to have them at the outer edge of the speakers at the sides and just outside the front and back of the speakers.
Listening Impressions on StillPoints Ultra Fives
It took me some time with the speakers in position, to remove the StillPoints Ultra SSs I had been using along with their threaded adaptors and retread it into the Ultra Fives and then mounted under the speakers. I carefully maintained the same position for each speaker. Nothing else was changed.
I must say their sonic impact was immediate. The bass was both profound and defined. Secondly, I noticed the precision of the soundstage. Depth was evident at the extreme left and right sides as well as in the middle and on some piano recordings, you could really have the impression that you could tell when the key hit by the pianist was further to the right, how far from the vocalist the audience cougher was, or the separation between the piano accompanist and the singer. The soundstage also was raised or had a vertical aspect, as Diana Krall was above where her piano was. There was a great increase in the details evident in the recordings. Each vocalist in a choir was distinct as were the instrumentists in symphonies or at least first and second violins. The recording venue was just vividly before me. I had thought that I had come about as far as I could go in getting a holographic presentation before me, only to realize that there was much more possible. Clearly tiny vibrations are greatly muddling our reproduced music.
I recently had the good fortune of getting eight additional StillPoints Ultra Fives. It turns out that the original design required activation by loosening the transport screw between the two halves. But some had apparently loosened it too much or it vibrated so loose that the two halves came apart. Thus, StillPoints redid them to require no such loosening. These eight were replacements. I did have the good fortune of getting the original eight returned once they had been updated.
My first experience with the Ultra Fives under electronics, focused on my BMC DAC1 PRE, which combines a dac and a very neutral preamp. I had had this unit on four Ultra SSs and on my StillPoints Rack. Given the three-inch diameter of the Ultra Fives, I only used three under the unit. I also tried three under the Weiss DAC202 replacing three Ultra SSs again. This was really fruitless as the Ultra Fives are so large and the Weiss so small.
What always amazes me is that my cabling apparently does not like to be moved and installing the Ultra Fives did move them. So after about an hour, I got a very substantial improvement in the sound. Everything in the high frequencies, such as high hat, violins, and trumpets just seemed so right. The subtle details emerged from the recordings and allowed a more precise holographic image. This was quite evident in symphonic recordings, such as Amerset Swan Lake Duo selection on the K2 Sampler This Is K2 HD Sound [FIM K2 HD 078]. All the instrumental locations were vivid, as though I had a center seat ten rows back. This was also the case in the studio recording of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” on the K2 sampler. This is an entirely percussion performance. The top end strikes were just so sweet and real and one could easily visualize the marimba player’s movement down the instrument. Little did I suspect that there was further benefits to be had.
I replace the BMC DAC1 PRE with an Exemplar Audio XP-2 tube line stage, using the StillPoints Ultra Fives. Again the width of the Ultra Fives entailed putting them toward the center of the unit. The Exemplar comes with StillPoints Ultra SS installed precisely where they can be directly used with the StillPoints Rack, but initially I installed it on the shelf where the BMC had been tried on the Ultra Fives. Again, I heard a better defined and deeper bass, the clean top end, and precise sound stage.
After a day’s use in this configuration, I removed the Ultra Fives and used the installed Ultra SSs again on the shelf. This was not a loss of most of the improvement in sound, especially when I centered the StillPoints Ultra SSs over the screws holding the acrylic shelf to the cross rails of the StillPoints Rack. Each screw has the “technology” isolating it from the rack rails. I next removed the acrylic shelf and replaced the hard hats on the Ultra SSs with special pins that would slide into the rail isolators. Now I would have to say that the sound was far superior. I would attribute this to removing the adverse impact of acrylic. A haze was removed giving greater clarity, and the leading edge of the sound was sharpened, resulting in a “magical” presence of the performers. I had seen the Exemplar Audio XP-2 used like this at various shows but never had the experience of comparing it with the unit just sitting on the shelf. What an improvement it makes! But note this is only with the Exemplar used on the StillPoints Rack.
I also tried the Ultra Fives under my BMC phono stage. Again the problem was getting the Ultra Fives under the unit between its feet. Again, this meant that they had to be entirely on the acrylic shelf between the support rails of the StillPoints Rack. This was also the case with the Ultra SSs. Once more I did not find the Ultra Fives were much, if any, improvement over the Ultra SSs.
In both of my comparisons under the source components, I thought the acrylic shelves impeded the performance of the Ultra Fives as compared with the Ultra SSs. Unfortunately I have no other audio shelving to assess whether this is really true. Given my prior experiences with acrylic shelves, however, I am very suspicious of this material deadening the sound.
My final experiment was using the Ultra Fives replacing the Ultra SSs under my BMC M1 amps. I had each amp on a StillPoints Component Stand with four legs. Each leg had an Ultra SS screwed on its slider and the amp on top. My comparison entailed removing the Ultra SSs and screwing on the Ultra Fives. Once again the 3” diameter of the Ultra Fives forced positioning them under the amps to avoid their feet and in this case fan intakes. Ultimately I had to move one of the component stands legs to position it going straight back under the amps, so that the Ultra Five on it was between the two fan intakes.
As I could easily try three Ultra Fives using only three of the Component Stands legs versus four using all four, I did so. I should note that it is more difficult to use four than three as three are always in contact with the component but four may well leave one without contact. Obvious four with one not in contact is the same as three. I did try three under the BMC DAC1 PRE and thought four were somewhat better. Four under each amp, however, is greatly superior.
With four Ultra Fives properly installed, one is enveloped in the sound stage, with many details quite evident. OnHarry Belafonte’s Returns to Carnegie Hall [RCA Victor LSO 6007-Classic Records Quiex SV-P], not only do you hear coughing precisely located to the individual and hear the subways approach the nearby station, stop, and then depart, but you also hear performers talking, traffic in the street, and the air conditioning system. You also precise locations for performers, Bellefonte turning his head, and other details that convince you of their presence. The realism of live performances was strikingly holographic and thrilling.
On a digital source from FIM with an older recording of Swan Lake by Amerset mentioned earlier, the absolute clarity and timbre of the instruments totally captured which instrument was responsible and its precise location. I thought that the StillPoints Ultra SSs had yielded all the information that was in the recording, but the Ultra Fives are a magnitude of improvement better. No longer will I say nothing is better than the Ultra Fives, which I thought was true of the Ultra SSs, but I certainly cannot see how it might be achieved.
Listening Impressions on StillPoints LPI Record weight
I compared the StillPoints LPI on my Bergman Sindre turntable with an Ortofon A-90 cartridge, Exemplar Silver balance Portal interconnects, and the BMC MCCI phono stage. The Bergman comes with a screw down record holder. This holder can easily be over or under tightened, so I was very careful in tightening, as I have learned to do so in my two years using this turntable. The StillPoints LPI is merely placed on the record with its weight being enough to hold it tightly.
I listened to primarily three recordings: Rob Wasserman’s Duets[MCA-42131], Dave Brubeck’s Time Out [Classic Records 45RPM rerelease of Columbia CS 8192] and Harry Belafonte’s album that I mentioned earlier. My listening observations were the same for all these records.
With the StillPoints LPI, the soundstage was just more vivid and defined with those performing more present. There was more detail, especially on the Belafonte recording. A live audience is noisy and Carnegie Hall has a subway beneath it. Both are quite evident, especially with the LPI. But this is not the only detail you gain. Mr. Belafonte turns at various points which were quite evident, as is the spacing between the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Miriam Makeba’s clicking in the “Click Song.”
On Take Five, Brubeck’s piano has always seemed poorly mic’d to me, but not in this playback. One knows exactly where each performer is both in depth and left to right. All of their instruments are very realistic sounding.
The best analogy that I can think of is that improved isolation is much like the fog lifting. The more it lifts, the more musical detail as well as audience noise and music you get. Everything becomes vivid with more of a sense of being there. These isolation devices are quite expensive, but they are also unrivaled in performance. I view them as an investment of use no matter what components I might have. I cannot recommend them more strongly.
StillPoints Ultra Five (single): $650.00, LPI Record Isolator: $495
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