a follow up to your excellent review, I would appreciate your advice on
the best utilization of Stillpoints.
have a Classé CP-800 preamp, a Classé CA-2300 power amp as well as a Meridian Sooloos
Media Drive 600, Media Source 600 and a Classé CDP-202 CD player. I also have a Classé
CA-5200 amp and Anthem D2v processor and Paradigm Sub 2 primarily for movies. My turntable
is a Clearaudio Master Solution. My speakers are B&W 802Ds, B&W HDM1D (center) and
B&W Series 800 wall-mounted surrounds. The interconnects and speaker cables are
Nordost Heimdall. I also use Quantum Qx4 and Qbase.
am currently using Ultra SSes under the speakers and Minis under the preamp and Meridian
units to great effect . I'm using the LP1 on my record deck -- as the motor is separate
it's not possible to use Stillpoints under the deck.
will be getting a loaner pair of Classé CA-M600s to try in place of the CA-2300 from my
local dealer in a couple of months. Apart from that I don't envisage any other changes to
my system. The combination of the Stillpoints and the newer Classé units have made a
really significant improvement to my system -- it's much more musical now and has a much
greater clarity to the sound also. I'm very pleased with it.
going to purchase more Stillpoints over the next nine months or so. I intend using SSes
under the power amps and under the center-channel speaker and Minis under the lighter
units. The SSes won't fit in my rack.
wondering if using Ultra 5s instead of SSes under the 802Ds would be worthwhile in my
setup, taking into account the very significant additional cost. As I'm living in Ireland,
I am unlikely to get them to try out for myself prior to purchase.
am using Hi-Fi Racks support units with their separate isolation platform for the
turntable. I imagine that Stillpoints Minis under the platform would not be very effective
as they would not be directly under the turntable. Is this correct?
I think that your plans are spot on. The greater electrical potential of the
power amps makes them natural candidates for the Stillpoints approach, while getting the
center speaker onto the same support technology as the main speakers will be a huge step
towards overall integration and coherence.
think that you would be surprised just how big a step up the Ultra 5s represent over the
Ultra SSes -- and the latter can be repurposed for the power amps. So yes, I would
definitely consider Ultra 5s under the 802Ds, directly coupled via their threaded
you are correct to assume that placing Stillpoints under the turntable support would not
be the most cost effective or sonically beneficial approach. I dont know the Hi-Fi
Racks isolation platform, so all I can do is refer to my own Master Reference and its
support arrangements. I use an Acapella Audio Arts platform, similar in concept and form
to the Symposium platforms. The aluminum top-plate interfaces nicely with the
Clearaudios twin chassis, and whilst I have experimented with additional couplers
from various sources, I have yet to find a practical or compelling solution. So my advice
would be that in order to improve the performance of the deck, youd need to look at
upgrading the support as a whole, relying on the turntables structure to deliver the
necessary coupling. -Roy Gregory
wife just posed a question that I thought was interesting because (a) it is
interesting and (b) because I have no clue as to the answer.
we burn a copy of a CD and play that copy on the CD player, for the most part it seems to
sound the same as the original disc. But what about if you burn an XRCD? Will the high
resolution still be captured on the burned disc? Will it still have the same sonic
attributes as the original?
XRCDs (and the various later iterations, including XRCD2 and XRCD24), the things that make
them special fall into two main categories: mastering and manufacturing. The sonic
fingerprint of the mastering should come through if the discs are ripped and burned.
Manufacturing refinements include the use of a high-precision laser to cut the Red
Book-format glass master with technology that produces more precise pit lengths. Also, the
stamper is created directly from the glass master, eliminating two steps in the production
chain but allowing only a limited number of discs to be produced from each stamper.
Obviously, when you burn a CD-R, you wouldn't be doing these things, so their benefits
would not be realized. -Marc Mickelson
horns, and a "silly" record
just read your Newport Beach show report, and I want to thank you, first, and have
a question, second.
was great spending time with you and your friend Frank, and I really appreciated the
enthusiasm you both shared about the High Water Sound room.
just need to say this, and, please, this is not intended to be abrasive, ungrateful or to
create any semblance of offense. Why would you speculate about a 9-watt state-of-the-art
amp that was driving an extremely sensitive world-class speaker and a record you didn't
hear? I guarantee you would have pissed yourself if you would have heard that
"silly" record on the system even in my room. Spending a lifetime playing drums
-- a 1957 set of Ludwigs with all vintage Zildjians -- I have an idea what drums sound
like. I definitely would not ever consider a system that carried a price as the one you
heard and could not fully reproduce the full sonic pallet trapped within those precious
grooves. I had quite a few amazing percussion records in that room, and if percussion is
what you wanted to hear, I wish you would have asked. Please remember, I played music you
and Frank requested to hear or were selected by our conversation. Never were
you again for all your kind words. As you told me how candid you are, I am also.
High Water Sound
you for reading my blog. Also, thank you for being so frank with me. I can appreciate your
comments. You're right -- I didn't hear the Sheffield Drum Record, nor did I hear
any Frederick Fennell LPs on Telarc. I like the Fennell LPs, but as seldom as I play them
I sure didn't want to hear them during my show vacation. However, along with some mono
LPs, next year I'll bring along some torture discs to see what you can do with them. It
should be fun and informative for both of us.
said that, I have owned and borrowed a number of tube amps. While none of them was single
ended, I don't consider the Marantz 8B, the Quad 2s, and the McIntosh '240 bad examples of
tube design, and the same for the currently made Luxman MQ88. In all cases, none of them
had quite the tight bottom that even a modest transistor amp, or a Technics or Yamaha
receiver, has, not to mention a modern high-end solid-state amp. I think these are all
fabulous amplifiers, and I hated to see my friend take the Luxman home with him. The way I
see it, tubes do what tubes do and transistors do what transistors do. I am also no
stranger to horns, having grown up around my dad's Altecs and my uncle's JBLs. I also know
that the output impedance of a single-ended amp is far higher than that of any push-pull
amp with a decent amount of feedback. Your sound was indeed magical, but if, in fact, your
amp succeeds where all other tube amps have fallen short, I need to hear this before I can
assume it. I'm not knocking any part of your system, but I am a skeptic who comes to this
hobby with decades of listening experience. I base my opinions on my experiences, not what
the price of the system, I tried very hard to not let the price of any gear affect my
judgment at the show. I've had many experiences both positive and negative with high-end
gear, and today's price tags have had little to do with those experiences. -Robert
"Should I pursue a new DAC or leave well enough alone?"
wrote you several weeks ago regarding the KEF
Blades. I am happy to report that they are now settled in and sound fabulous. I am
still playing around with placement, but feel I have narrowed things down very well. You
were correct that these speakers require precise placement. And I have found that being
closer to the back wall than I would prefer has not been all too detrimental. These are
truly amazing speakers.
attention has now turned to my DAC. In my quest to eliminate the "weak link in the
chain" I am giving consideration to replacing my DAC. The dealer here in Charlotte is
not only an Esoteric dealer but also a Jeff Rowland dealer. I read with interest your review on the Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC. I was quite surprised to
learn that it has no AES/EBU connection. I mostly understand your explanation why the
designers left this connection out. What does confuse me is whether or not I should be
using such a connection myself.
current setup is an Esoteric A-02 amp, Esoteric C-03 preamp, Aurender S10 music server,
and an Esoteric D-07x DAC. The AES/EBU cable I now use is Nordost Odin, speaker cables are
Odin, all interconnects are Nordost Valhalla and Valhalla 2, and power cords are Valhalla.
I have an Odin power cord on the power supply. Michael Taylor stood in my room and told me
to do that first. Man, was he ever correct. Given your past with Nordost, you better than
most are aware of the investment made for this level of cable lineup.
dealer is advocating that I look at the Esoteric D-02 DAC. I am very interested in the EMM
Labs DAC2X, although he strongly recommends against it. He referred me to an online review
that was not all too kind to the DAC2X. The Esoteric should be much better -- it costs a
lot more. I'd like to move the needle forward without buying yet another compact car.
Writing these $20,000-plus checks has become old. I'd love to consider a DAC that does not
really break the $15,000 level. The EMM Labs DAC2X and the Rowland Aeris both fit that
of this leads me to your review on the Rowland DAC, which sounds like a really
well-engineered unit. But I am really bothered by this lack of an XLR connection. It makes
me question if my current setup is all wrong. Frankly, I question if I am wandering too
far off the path anyway. The system sounds amazing right now -- better, in fact, than most
any room I've visited at the last three audio shows I've attended. Maybe this is all a
fruitless exercise, but the same suspicions led me to buy the Blades and I am so very
happy with them. I see the D-07x as now being the weak ling in the proverbial chain. I
once again am faced with uncertainty. Should I pursue a new DAC or leave well enough
glad that the KEFs are meeting your expectations. Don't underestimate how long they go on
improving with use, which might mandate further refinement in positioning -- even if it is
only by a millimeter or two.
on to your XLR and DAC anxieties. The audio industry as a whole just loves the notion of a
silver-bullet solution to any give problem. Manufacturers love the great stories they can
spin, reviewers like the authority it gives their views and readers love the certainty
they bring. Don't be fooled: There are no silver-bullet solutions in hi-fi! It is not what
you use but how it's used that counts. Don't get sucked into the question of whether a DAC
or source component does or doesn't have an XLR (or any other connection option). All that
matters is how the unit in question works connected into your system with whichever cables
it uses. So, the Rowland DAC either will or won't offer an improvement, using the
RCA-to-BNC cable that will suit your setup.
you listen to the Rowland? Absolutely. It's a very different animal from the Esoteric,
while it also offers an interesting possible upgrade path. Whereas the Esoteric is a
dedicatedly digital component, aiming to maximize the sonic benefits of the digital
formats, the Aeris has a far more analog character, instead acting to minimize digital
weaknesses -- a path it treads with considerable skill. Flow, musical momentum, phrasing
and instrumental color -- all things one normally associates with vinyl -- are things the
Rowland does really well.
my suggestion would be that it is time to take stock. First, let the KEFs settle in and
enjoy the benefits they bring. Second, install the Rowland DAC into the system (make sure
you use an Odin cable) and compare what it does to the Esoteric. That should tell you what
direction to take. If you like what the Rowland does, it offers the ability to drive a
pair of 725s directly to excellent effect. It is one of the very few DACs I've heard that
will work better than a good line stage in this scenario. It does impose some switching
and control limitations that you need to assess, but in financial terms it would give you
a three-in/three-out situation.
you prefer the nature of the Esoteric, before rushing to change the DAC, I'd look at two
other areas: the power amp (because the KEFs are so critical in this respect) and I'd also
look at adding an external clock to tie the DAC and server together. This second course
could be seriously beneficial, especially if you get a chance to try it in your own
system. Don't overlook the quality of the clock cables. My experience with dCS suggests
they are just as critical as the main digital feed.
on the subject of cables, I'd like to think that Nordost and/or your dealer would look
very kindly on an established Odin customer, so if it became necessary to swap your
AES/EBU for a BNC- or RCA-terminated digital lead, you could expect an excellent exchange
rate. -Roy Gregory
music as performance art occurring in a specific context, there are too many variables to
ascertain identity between two performances, much less between a performance and its
reproduction. Let's simply stipulate that a given performance will never be reproduced,
electronically or otherwise. Yet, if you listen carefully to enough pianos played on
enough different days, you may come to a familiarity with the sound of "a piano"
played live. Allowing the absence of performance identity to preclude use of live music as
a benchmark is the straw man poster child for the perfect being the enemy of the good.
familiar with the sound of live music say that some stereo systems reproduce recordings in
a way that sounds more like live music than other stereo systems. For a reviewer to claim
component X "sounds more like live music" than component Y is a viable and
informative means of comparison as long as he can articulate the differences he hears in a
way his readers understand. But we don't need a review to tell us the difference between a
harmonica and a saxophone: There is enough commonality in the human hearing mechanism for
a live-music benchmark to be a meaningful referent for describing reproduction systems.
Whether having a benchmark matters in your priority scheme of sonic goodness is for you to
gauge, but there is one to be had.
With "There is enough commonality in the human
hearing mechanism for a live-music benchmark to be a meaningful referent for describing
reproduction systems" I think we largely agree. As I pointed out in my initial
response below ("Live music versus reproduction"), audio reviewers do have
"a conception" of live sound in their heads when they evaluate audio equipment.
However, as the reader who prompted my mini diatribe seemed to imply, I don't agree that a
strict comparison of the sound a piece of audio gear makes to live music is practical or
worthwhile. -Marc Mickelson
music versus reproduction: "more to say"
perhaps more to say about the difficulty of making a recording mimic live music
convincingly [see below], be the music unenhanced, as is most classical and a good deal of
jazz, or amplified. Let's say that you're strolling past an open window from which emerges
the sound of a grand piano. However good the recording and the sound system on which it's
playing, you'd have little difficulty determining that you're listening to a recording.
Were the grand piano and pianist in the room -- a large, elegantly appointed room -- you'd
likely know that too.
the finest recording equipment, the most sophisticated of production values and the best
of intentions, a recording is a thing unto itself. It enters the listening space's
acoustic with its own set of acoustic properties. In listening to a recording, we listen
to sound within a space imposing itself on another very different space -- that of the
room. Given this inalterable condition, it's the rare recording that the passerby is
likely to take for live. Not that that's a problem. Discophiles, even those of us
afflicted with audiophilia, relish recordings for what they are, not for what they cannot
more on Stillpoints
just read Roy Gregory's Stillpoints review. I currently have Ultra SSes under my
B&W 802D speakers and Ultra Minis under my Classé CP800 preamp and my Meridan Media
Drive 600 and Media Source 600. Because I am using Classé power amps and they are too
heavy for Minis, I was keen to read Roy's review before proceeding with further purchases.
I also have the Ultra LPI, which I use on my Clearaudion Master Solution turntable.
added complication is because I live in Ireland I have to pay up front for the units with
a promise from the dealer that I can return them if I don't like them. Needless to say
this hasn't happened!
improvement has been pretty staggering, and the Ultra Minis made a huge difference. My
first step was to put the Ultra SSes under the speakers. I'm very impressed and will
gradually increase the number of Stillpoints units as budgets allow. I'm going to use
Ultra Minis where possible and Ultra SSes under heavy amps.
Stillpoints review is another excellent piece of audio writing. Your descriptions of
how the component under review works and sounds are clearly written but so dense in their
content such that I have to read and reread.
would like to describe what I have done with Stillpoints and then ask you a few questions.
I have put Ultra SSes under all the electronics, although from your article I now realize
I need to treat the line conditioners as well. The positions of the Stillpoints have not
been optimized, but there have been clear sonic benefits to date.
am up to treating my speakers, which are stand-mounted TAD CR-1s, an excellent
high-technology speaker. The upper, speaker portion, weighing about 100 pounds, is bolted
to the lower stand, weighing about 35 pounds, with a single machine screw. I am about to
put Ultra LPIs between stands and the speakers, with the technology pockets against the
Having the speaker bolted to the stands provides security against the speaker
sliding or tipping. However, my perception is that such a rigid mechanical connection
might interfere with the action of the Ultra LPI; that is, the speaker-Ultra LPI interface
should allow freedom of movement to best dissipate vibration. In order of decreasing
mechanical coupling between the speaker stand and speaker, I can (1) only engage three
threads of the bolt going into the speaker, thereby limiting the mechanical contact; (2)
file off only the threaded portion of the bolt going into the speaker so that an
unthreaded length of bolt sticks up into the speaker, which allows movement of the speaker
but prevents its sliding; or (3) do not couple the speaker stand and speaker together with
any bolt and just be extra careful to prevent sliding or tipping.
My preamp, amp and DAC/CD player are all quite heavy, so it is not obvious to me
where the transformers are located for purposes of optimizing the placement of the
Stillpoints. Any suggestions for locating them, short of taking apart the enclosures and
inspecting their innards?
The speakers have provisions for spikes, which I have not installed yet. Is there
any benefit to installing the spikes in addition to the Ultra LPIs?
for the positive response -- and the idea of using LPIs between speakers and stands; I
never thought of that one but the lower stack height certainly makes considerable sense,
while I suspect that the gently curved edge profile will really work with the TAD's shaped
Taking your questions in turn:
I'd keep solid connection between the speaker and stand to a minimum. The
easiest solution is to avoid using the securing bolt at all, but if the mechanical
arrangements allow, then leaving it in place, but loose is a good halfway house. That
might involve shaving the threads where they pass through the stand, or enlarging the hole
in the stand, maybe using a longer bolt with or without a washer (glued to the bolt head
to stop it rattling).
Locating transformers can be a tricky task, but it is worth working from two
bits of evidence: the position of the AC inlet and the fixings on the underside of the
chassis. The AC inlet is not always adjacent to the transformer, but it can act as an
indicator. Toroidal transformers are generally fixed with a large central bolt, where
frame-type transformers usually employ a square of smaller bolts, one in each corner. If
in doubt, you can always ask the manufacturer.
Spiking the stands has two benefits: It ensures absolute stability and solid
grounding for the stand, and it allows you to get the speakers absolutely vertical and set
their rake ankle precisely -- both critical with the TADs. However, not all spikes are
created equal, and if the speakers are being used on a carpeted floor I'd consider the use
of Track Audio stainless-steel spikes (available in a range of metric and US sizes). In my
experience these offer two benefits: They sound better and make it far easier to achieve
precise adjustment -- which possibly explains or at least contributes to the better sound;
if on a hard floor, then consider Stillpoints Ultra SSes with the appropriate threaded
adapters. It's an easy trial to make, and I think you might be surprised by the results.
Bear in mind also that whether spiking or Stillpointing, you will be lifting the speaker
away from the floor, so you may well need to rebalance the bass/position of the speaker
relative to the wall behind.
hope that helps, and good luck with the "final steps" on your personal journey
to a coherent support strategy. They always seem to make the biggest difference! -Roy
music versus reproduction
was interested to read your review of the Esoteric K-01. I have been using one of
these players for two years now, an upgrade from their P-05/D-05 transport and DAC, which
it comfortably outperforms.
I always find missing from audio equipment reviews, and the reason why I take virtually no
part in high-end audio these days, is the comparison of a piece with live acoustic music.
This surely is the gold standard of any audio equipment.
reason I chose K-01 over other high-end players was the effortless way it approached live
music in speed, transparency and instrumental timbre. By comparison I found the Ayre
player somewhat dry, the EAR Acute too euphonic and the Krell SACD player a tad hard and
forced. I am in daily contact with live orchestral and chamber music, so what I look for
in audio equipment is a seamless and effortless transition between the two (sadly, a
comparison that in the UK at least appears to be way beyond the horizons of most
this respect K-01 is in a different league.
comparison -- or lack thereof -- in my review of the Esoteric K-01 seems to be a hot topic right now. I have to say that I have issues with a strict
comparison of the sound a piece of audio equipment makes to live music, which is more a
theoretical than a practical standard when it comes to evaluating audio equipment.
what you're listening to through an audio system is not live music. It has been recorded,
sometimes with subpar equipment and techniques, and then reproduced through a collection
of electronics, cables and transducers that represents a convincing compromise at best.
Second, given that we are almost always not present during the recording of the music
we're listening to, we wouldn't know how it sounded before it was captured, so a
comparison to it would be conjecture at best. There is one CD -- Warren Zevon's Learning
to Flinch -- whose recording I attended, sort of: I was present at one of the shows
from which the CD's material was culled. Even in that case, I can only make the most vague
connections between the concert I heard (and remember well) and how this CD sounds when
reproduced. Again, I'm comparing two very different things, no matter if the musical
material is identical.
also question (though not completely condemn) the value of live music as a sonic benchmark
to begin with. While live classical concerts mostly sound pure and unambiguously real,
amplified folk, jazz and rock can sound equally great, just good or truly dreadful. I
remember a Proclaimers concert I attended in Milwaukee many years ago whose sound was so
awful that it was impossible to understand what Craig and Charlie Reid were saying to the
audience, let alone what they were singing. And this wasn't due to their Scottish accents,
but rather to the horrible PA system. This was certainly live music, but even the very
best recording of that concert wouldn't tell a listener much about the system with which
he was hearing it.
this said, I do think that all conscientious audio reviewers have a conception of live
music in their heads as they evaluate and describe the sound of a piece of audio
equipment, and it certainly aids in understanding what they're hearing. However, at its
best, reproduction still lags far behind the live event in terms of bandwidth, dynamics
and sheer output capabilities, just to name a few areas, and audio reviewers need to be
mindful of this as well. -Marc Mickelson
just wanted to say thank you for Roy
Gregory's Stillpoints review. I recently bought some Ultra Minis and Ultra SSes for my
system, almost without reading a review, just a recommendation from a dealer. I took them
initially on a home-trial basis and they were not going back once I heard the difference
have four Ultra SSes under my Simaudio Moon 700i and four Ultra Minis under my Marantz
SA-7S1. I have not figured a way to put any directly under my turntable, which is an Avid
Acutus SP. Maybe I can put it on a platform supported by Stillpoints? Granite? I don't
neglected to mention that I have the Stillpoints Ultra LPI as well. It works as well as the Acutus screw-down
clamp, with extra convenience. When not in use, it sits over the transport section of my
Marantz. It has tightened up the sound in both places.
you, I bought a set of Stillpoints Ultra SSes based on no prior experience or research. I
use them with my TW-Acustic Raven AC turntable, where they replaced original Stillpoints,
which came with the 'table. It took all of two seconds to hear the difference. The music
emerged from a deeper blackness and displayed greater detail and focus. My 'table rests on
a Silent Running Audio rack, which is a very effective vibration sink, and the Ultra SSes,
as Roy describes, seem to draw the noise out of the equipment and dissipate it more
effectively than their predecessors. Like you, I'm very happy with my purchase. I can't
imagine using my turntable without the Ultra SSes.
your turntable has built-in feet that you can't remove, you could probably use the Ultra
5s under each of them (provided the Ultra 5s are large enough in diameter for the feet).
That way you'd get intimate contact between the Ultra 5s and your turntable's feet. If
this won't work, a platform of MDF, granite, acrylic or Corian with Stillpoints underneath
would surely work, although I'd still opt for the Ultra 5s alone. -Marc Mickelson