In 2010, I expressed great appreciation for the Stillpoints ESS-28-40-3 doublewide rack. That one experience caused me to think about the use of acrylic shelves on a rack. I thought about it again when I received an Exemplar XP-2 balanced and tube linestage about one year ago and reviewed (here). The XP-2 uses StillPoints Ultra SSs as footers that are spaced to align with the “technology” isolators on the rails of the StillPoints Rack. Recently I received the new StillPoints Ultra Fives. After concluding that four of them under the line stage did not sound as good as merely using the four StillPoints Ultra SSs, I thought about how this might be. In all other cases the Ultra Fives were clearly superior. I thought to put the StillPoints Ultra SSs directly on the screws into the technology that isolates the acrylic shelf from the rails versus shifting the feet backward so they were only on the acrylic shelf. My suspicions were confirmed. The latter gave poor sound. Later yet, I got the necessary shaved screws to allow directly mounting the XP-2 to the rails with no shelf. This was better yet. I long regretted that no other component could be directly mounted to the rails.
This prefaces my review of the StillPoints Grids, which replace the acrylic shelves on the StillPoints Rack.
The StillPoints Grids are not a shelf but rather a double overlapping stainless steel crossbar. In addition, the overlap and the outer portions of the crossbars are supported by screws assigned to a shelf. The Grids are made of 3/8 inch thick, each with four threaded ¼" holes. Twenty holes are visible in the likelihood a multitude of StillPoints dampening feet, such as hard hats, Ultra Minis, Ultra SSs, and Ultra Fives, might be used under various components. It is possible to support two small components with each on one of the crossbars, as I did with my Mac Mini and TuneBank from Empirical Audio Legacy. The photo above shows a Grid mounted on the Rack with the left crossbar with mounted SP Ultra SSs.
In the interests of the review of the Grids but not of the pocketbook, I thought of trying the Ultra Fives under components, but their diameter would entail placing them in the innermost threaded holes. None of my components would fit on the Fives in these threaded holes. The innermost threaded holes with the Fives would need a space of 8.25 by 12 inches. My Exemplar XP-2 would probably just fit. While I would concede that one could possibly slide the component backward or forward just the perfect amount and use one set of the inner screw holes and one set of the outer screw holes, but I used Ultra SSs on the Grids to avoid these restrictions. Obviously, the Grids impose some restrictions not there with a shelf but the shelf does not give the sonic improvements.
I use a StillPoints ESS doublewide rack that has six acrylic shelves on it. My listening was punctuated with one by one replacement of the shelves with Grids. This began with my music server, a Mac Mini and a TuneBank. Previously they had been placed on the acrylic shelf with Synergistic Research MIGs under the computer. Now each occupied one crossbar of the double Grid and both used the innermost threaded holes. Initially, I could not use the SP Ultra SSs under the TuneBank and thus resorted to the SP hard-hats. The recent availability of the Ultra Minis allowed me to use them. The isolation with the Ultra Minis was a great improvement. The SP Ultra SSs are overkill for the Mini and I will soon try the new Ultra Mini feet on both units. I tried a weight on the Mini, but it added nothing.
What I heard was greater speed, improved transients, and greater dynamics with the music server isolated on the Grids as compared the acrylic shelf.
The Exemplar prototype Exception DAC came next. Like every component, the DAC sat on four SP Ultra SSs on the acrylic shelf on the SP Rack. What I heard was a typical characteristic of the StillPoints’ technology, namely better isolation’s attributes of clarity, dynamics, a precise soundstage, defined and profound bass, and a greater sense of the decay and ambience in the recording venue. Generally, I enjoyed greater and greater realism with each Grid installed.
When I reached the last of the five Grids to install, I had achieved a very open, involving, and realistic sound stage and probably realized the real strengths of the StillPoints Rack. Two SACDs which are now DSD files on my music server were vital to assessing this. They are The Dave Brubeck Time Out (Columbia: CS 8192) and Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto Getz/Gilberto(Verve: 589595). Both of these are realistic recordings with much information obscured in the mastering for both vinyl and CD Redbook.
I have had a man ask if his many SP Ultra Fives on a shelf were the equal or better than my five Grids on the SP Rack and using their Ultra SSs. Certainly the sonic improvements I got with the Grids on the SP Rack are like those I got with my amps on SP Ultra Fives on SP Component Stands. Being neither able nor willing to move my components to another rack and support them on SP Ultra Fives, I guess I will never really know.
There is one caveat that I need to add. I got the best sound when I used four StillPoints Ultra SSs on the Grids. Three points obviously define a plane and would always be in contact with the component, but four Ultras in contact with a component are far superior. Getting this achieved with the SP Ultra SSs, however, is not easy, especially on the Grids. You have two screw adjustments. One is on the threaded bolt connecting the SP Ultra SS to the Grid and the other in the head of the SS where its Hard Hat needs to be unlocked by a slight unscrew. Changing a power cord or interconnect not infrequently resulted in a slight movement of the component and one of the StillPoints Ultra SS being not in contact with its bottom. You will lose the magic in your sound. Yes, I am not willing to give up the magic.
I am amazed by the improvement I got with replacing the acrylic shelves with the new Grids. Ah, nothing is like being free of acrylic!
Grids for the 20” or the 40” ESS Racks are $370 per shelf
Grids for the 26” ESS Racks are $390 per shelf
Six ½” ¼-20 set screws to mount to the rails and four ¾ ¼-20 for the Ultras are provided with each set of Grids.
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