Sistrum Platforms SP-101 – ONE MAN’S JOURNEY
A little over a year ago I took the plunge and had my Wadia 860 CD player custom modified by Steve Huntley at Great Northern Sound. This was a pivotal decision in enhancing my current listening experience. It not only took my listening to a completely new level, it had me listening more and more, each and every night. (For a full discussion of what Great Northern can do for your equipment, read my review at www.greatnorthernsound.com/testimonials.html - entitled "12/14/05 Wadia 860 Reference /SE Upgrade.") In addition to bringing great joy to my listening sessions, this modification experience also increased my appetite for finding new ways to unlock the hidden potential of the equipment I already owned. (The GNSC Wadia atop Symposium Rollerblocks Series 2+, direct into a Levinson 332 amplifier driving Thiel 3.6s with Cardas Golden Reference cabling and power cords.) This review discusses my next pivotal move – experimentation with Sistrum Platforms from Star Sound.
At the time of my Great Northern upgrade, I had purchased a pair of Sound Anchor Stands for my Thiels. Previously, my speakers were spiked to the wool carpeted, suspended floor of my listening room. For a mere $235, the Sound Anchors tightened up the bass of my Thiels beautifully. The bass just purred. I was amazed that speaker manufacturers had not endorsed such an inexpensive upgrade for their equipment. (A colleague purchased similar stands for his B&W 803's and was equally impressed). How had I listened for so long with mere spikes supporting my speakers? The Sound Anchors started me on a path of realization that resonance control was an extremely important part of the audio equation. "What else is out there?" I asked myself. Thank god for internet search engines.
In this discussion I will refrain from using the customary audiophile jargon for describing my perceptions of the listening experience. I will also not try to explain any of the scientific underpinnings of what the Sistrum Platforms were doing to my system. I will leave that to Robert Maicks and his engineers at Star Sound Technologies to jump in and critique my observations.
After a few lengthy conversations with Robert, I decided to bring in a pair of their top of the line SP-101's to audition. When the shipment arrived, I took Robert's recommendation and hoisted my Levinson amp on top of one of the platforms and left my Thiels on their Sound Anchors. The effect was immediate. What I first noticed was more bass energy in the room. A day later it felt as if I had added a subwoofer to the system. The system played with more bass weight and with more overall ease. I initially really enjoyed the effect. During that first week, as I continued to listen critically I felt that the additional bass energy was sounding somewhat bloated – as if that "phantom sub" I had added was a "mid –fi" addition to the system. To a trained ear, the more, was not necessarily better. I speculated that perhaps my Levinson amp was operating more efficiently resting on the Sistrum platform, but my Thiel drivers were unable to handle the load with prowess? It was time to place the Thiels on the platforms.
The bass bloat immediately disappeared, and the sound was leaner. Tighter but leaner. Hmm, was I going to have to buy a 3rd stand for the amp? Robert told me to be patient with the bass. During the week things started to develop. The system had a deeper soundstage and slowly increasing bass weight. Now here is where the cool stuff begins. On a Saturday night I decide to make an adjustment to my right speaker. I removed it from the stand, placed it on the floor and tightened the cable connection. I then placed it back up on the stand, adjusted toe in and took a listen. "OK - where did all the bass energy go? Everything is leaning to the left." I first checked all the connections, and then checked the woofers - did I puncture something? Everything appeared intact. I then tried reversing the connections, but the sound continued to lean to the left. I went to bed frustrated. The next night I sat down to listen again, but unfortunately there was no change. Balance controls on the Wadia did help the situation – the lean was too severe. "I'm done for the weekend." I thought. "Let's call Robert in the morning. "
On Monday morning I reported to Mr. Maicks that I had had a problem. After describing that I had temporarily placed only the right speaker on the floor, he replied, "So the sound collapsed on that side of the system. Right? Be patient. It will come back in a few days." Come back? Where did it go? Was it somehow sucked into all of those tiny carpet fibers? Sure enough by Wednesday the sound migrated back to center by about 80% and by Friday, it was all normalized. This is weird. Really weird.
Now that things seemed stable I was curious to see how well, from a physical perspective, the Sistrums were transferring energy away from the speaker. Most manufacturers talk about how "dead" they want to make their cabinets and the Thiel 3.6s are no slouch. At 107 lbs each, Jim Thiel did a good job with the front baffle and internal bracing. I had tested this physical phenomenon when I purchased the Sound Anchor stands. While playing some loud music, I placed one hand on the stand and one hand on the speaker cabinet. You could feel the Sound Anchor vibrating, but you could still feel the cabinet vibrating more, and they were both vibrating at about the same pace Clearly the stand was absorbing some of the vibration. I later performed this same test with the Sistrums, by placing my hand on the vertical steel support rods. Here the speaker cabinet felt much, much quieter, while the steel rod was vibrating furiously. Any vibration felt in the cabinet was also at a slower pace than the vibration felt in the rod. I figured this was pretty efficient energy transfer.
After a couple of additional weeks of listening I was enjoying the experience immensely. Deeper and taller soundstage (how did Stevie Ray Vaughan wind up near my ceiling on "Little Wing") and tight, punchy bass (the intricacies of Peter Gabriel's bass, synthesizer and drum lines were deciphered with ease.) With my Great Northern mod I really loved the detail and sweetness of the sound. Things felt close enough to touch. I had a great sense of width to my soundstage, but not necessarily depth. I always attributed that to my room configuration. Due to family and decorating constraints, my speakers sit a mere 2 feet from the rear wall in a large 20x28 room with an 11 foot tray ceiling. I often wondered how much better my system would sound if I could get the Thiels further from the wall. Well the Sistrum's definitely gave me more of that depth with identical speaker placement. I was quite happy with that effect. But in that search for audio nirvana, I was still wanting a bit more bass weight. "Robert – shoot me another platform".
Night One with the mighty Levinson atop the platform – was I blown away? – not really. I kept hearing the voice from "Field Of Dreams" whispering to me "ease his pain." I tried to relax and remembered what Robert had told me in the past – patience is important. By Night Three it was as if someone had steadily turned up an equalizer, providing me with the additional bass weight I was searching for. The bass was heavier with no compromise on quickness. Prior to the Sistrums, some of the very deep bass lines from the "American Beauty" soundtrack felt as if the sound was emanating from everywhere in the room. I used to think that was a neat effect. Now the bass energy appears to come from an instrument specifically placed in the room. Now that is realism. After a week, I was more than satisfied. Interestingly the Wadia volume controls are now set lower to achieve pre-Sistrum listening levels and the Levinson is running about 10 degrees cooler (measured with an infrared thermometer.) I also love the attack and decay from instruments while my gear is perched on these design wonders.
Now I forgot to mention something that I wrote about in my earlier Great Northern review. Oftentimes audiophiles want to hear things when they tweak their system because after all, a lot of money is spent on these purchases and its not easy lifting 150 lb amps and 107 lb speakers. There must be some return for all that hard earned money and heavy lifting. So I always recruit the finer hearing talent of my 14 year old son/aspiring rock guitarist when I make these changes to my system. This is the kid who asked "How does changing the power cord on an amp and CD player make the sound feel like it is coming from everywhere?" (He was amazed by what George Cardas could do to a system.) He later asked the question, "So just by putting the amp on that stand gave us all that additional bass weight? Cool. And hey, the voice now sounds like it is almost behind the rear wall – Is that from the amp stand or the speaker stands." Not a clue I am afraid. Whatever the answer, thank Robert Maicks and the engineers at Star Sound.
By now you realize I will not be providing you with a standard audiophile description of what a Sistrumed system sounds like. (I always had problems hearing things like "more truthful timbre.") For the price of shipping, what do you have to lose in trying these marvels in your own system? I can't wait to get my GNSC Wadia up onto one of these babies. If I can draw upon a car analogy - you will never truly achieve the type of driving experience you might expect from a finely tuned Ferrari by mounting a set of worn, under-inflated Michelins on your rims. The same goes for your high end audio system. Sistrum platforms will unlock the performance built into the equipment you currently own. Pros like Steve Huntley and George Cardas have enhanced my listening by approaching things from an electrical engineering perspective. Now give the pros at Star Sound the opportunity to use their mechanical engineering expertise to widen the grin on your face during your next listening session.
Wadia 860 with GNSC Reference and transport upgrade (atop Symposium Rollerbocks Series 2+)
Mark Levinson 332 amp
Cardas Golden Reference cables and power cords
Sound Anchor Stands