I’d be a rich man if I had a nickel for every time an accessories manufacturer told me that his product would make a “dramatic” or “jaw-dropping” improvement in my system. Adding accessories usually renders a marginal improvement in sound—an improvement that is not always commensurate with the asking price. In my experience, accessories tinker at the margins rather than fundamentally influence a system’s sound.
So it was natural that I regarded the claims of Stillpoints’ Bruce Jacobs with a wary—and weary—eye. Jacobs suggested that replacing the spikes beneath my Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers with Stillpoints Ultra feet would result in a “shocking” improvement in sound quality.
There’s only so much time in a day, but I gave the Stillpoints a try largely because my neighbor, Rick Brown of Hi-Fi One, is so enthusiastic about all Stillpoints products. (Rick sells a few very select lines of esoteric gear, is a great listener, and gets terrific sound at his place.)
The Stillpoints Ultra is a cylindrical metal structure with a threaded insert on one end and a concave surface on the other. The threaded insert accepts an adapter, also made by Stillpoints, that screws into the bottom of your particular loudspeaker in place of the stock spikes. You must specify your loudspeaker so that you get the correct adapters. When the Ultra is placed under components, such as a power amplifier, you simply forego the adapters and allow the component to rest on the Ultra’s flat top surface.
The Ultra appears to have two parts: the main cylindrical structure and a loose-fitting “cap” on the end. It is actually composed of ten internal components that form an elaborate vibration-dissipation system. The internal structure includes tiny ceramic bearings that dissipate micro-vibrations. The Ultra is a two-way device, meaning that it dissipates vibration entering from either direction (from the floor or from the component resting on the Ultra). Moreover, there is no vertical path for vibration through the Ultra. This device is the highest implementation of Stillpoints’ technology, which is reflected in the price—$900 for a set of four. An aluminum version, identical in every way except for the metal, is $640 for a set of four. According to Stillpoints, stainless-steel more quickly dissipates vibrational energy. Less expensive versions have fewer internal energy-dissipating components. Stillpoints products are designed and made in Wisconsin.
I replaced the hefty stock Focal spikes with Stillpoints Ultras, sat back, and was shocked by what I heard. With the Stillpoints, the soundstage opened up with greater width, depth, and bloom around images. The sound became even more detached from the loudspeakers, with a greater solidity of images between and around the Focals. On the familiar “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” from Paul Simon’s Graceland, the spread of voices in the unaccompanied opening passage extended more widely, and the sense of the voices hanging in three-dimensional space increased. The impression of height was more tangible, adding to the increased perception of a three-dimensional soundstage in front of me.
The bass improved to a similar degree. The bottom end became tauter, better defined, and cleaner. The Stillpoints made the midbass a bit leaner, but more articulate. The improved midbass conferred greater clarity in the midrange, as well as in the bottom octave, where very low bass notes were more audible and defined once the midbass was better controlled. Bass dynamics were also improved; notes seemed to start and stop more quickly, giving the presentation greater dynamic agility and conveying more of the musicians’ dynamic expression.
Finally, replacing the stock spikes with Stillpoints make the background “blacker” and quieter, allowing greater clarity and
resolution of very low-level information. Sounds that had been somewhat undifferentiated with the stock feet became vividly clear. For example, percussion instruments that produce a series of very fine transients (shakers and guiros, for examples) sounded much more real with the reduction in transient blurring. Moreover, it was much easier to identify exactly how the instrument produced its sound. All this added up to a more lifelike reproduction.
At $1800 for a set of eight Ultra Stainless-Steel feet, these devices are not inexpensive. Nonetheless, in the context of a high-end system they provide a huge sonic return on the investment.
Price: $225 each
573 County road A, Suite 103
Hudson, Wi 54016
By Robert Harley
My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.More articles from this editor