Critical Mass Systems Center Stage2 anti- vibration feet

Critical Mass Systems is well known for making some of the finest (and largest) high-end audio equipment support systems money can buy. So, it might come as something of a shock to discover that CMS maven Joe Lavrencik’s best-ever product might just be an inconspicuous vibration-control foot called the Center Stage2.

Joe is being perhaps understandably reticent about discussing the inner workings of the Center Stage2. According to the company’s white paper, Center Stage2 is made by “choosing and sequencing materials that possess the perfect combination of damping, elastic modulus, and thin rod speed to lock in the desired effect.” That effect is, “a catalyst in a complex energy reaction that occurs between your equipment and its environment.” The idea is that kinetic and vibrational energy act in an unregulated and undamped manner inside a product and Center Stage2 can “change the prevailing state of equilibrium in that energy reaction and to permanently hold it in a reduced or damped state.”

According to Lavrencik, “Center Stage2 was designed to exacting specifications using material science and First Law of Thermodynamics principles. It also relies heavily on the Second Law of Thermodynamics to meet its performance objectives. There is no new physics in Center Stage2, we’re simply applying physics in new ways to an audio foot.” Lavrencik focused on three aspects: impedance mismatching to greatly reduce vibration moving upward from the floor, the reduction of the noise inherent to the materials used to fabricate the foot, and a means to transfer entropy out of the component.

What this means in real terms is a black anodised aluminium foot with an almost free-spinning aluminium foot pad on the base, and the top is covered with stiff, black paper-like material. You have three sizes of foot, dependent on the mass of the device and the size of its own foot. You need four feet per device. They are placed on the underside of the device, not on a screw-head or as a footer under the component’s own feet. It works on practically everything except turntables and loudspeakers (but including turntable power supplies).

Here’s where it gets weird: you stick a quartet of Center Stage2 under your source component and… it sounds terrible! Add a set to your preamp, power amp, or integrated amplifier and the sound gets even worse. Your hitherto full, detailed, and dynamic sound is transformed into something thin, muddy, and flat. Next day, it gets a little better, then it gets worse, then better still, then worse again, and so on. Generally, it fills itself in from the bass upwards, with the bottom end being the first to return to prior levels. You’ll get about a week and a bit’s worth of audio mood swings. And it’s at that point the transformation happens and the system blossoms.

“You only change devices when dissatisfaction strikes, and Center Stage2 helps keep that dissatisfaction at bay.”

You notice this change by a shift in your internal dialogue. “I’d forgotten just how good that really is!” (referring to both record and equipment) seems to be the first sign. About an hour later, you find yourself composing a thank-you email to the designers of the components in your system. Although it’s the bass that first comes back, it’s the midrange that seals the deal; the enhanced clarity, the walk-in detail to the soundstage, which seems to not change a thing, all the while being far more enveloping than before. This is no small change, and as the listening progresses, you begin to find this feeling of being immersed in the music, which truly transforms your listening sessions, and it becomes uppermost in your requirements for a good system. Everything just seems more natural, more real, and more like the recording engineers and the equipment designers had in mind when they got creative. And the Center Stage2 is also one for the Pace, Rhythm, and Timing (PRaT) obsessives, in that a device resting on a set of four Center Stage2 seems to keep time better than ever. But it’s that envelopment that really captivates you and takes your attention. If you were a PRaT obsessive before you put a set of Center Stage2 in situ, you become a sonic envelopment obsessive who likes a bit of rhythm afterward.

I’ve used all kinds of feet and pods and the like before. The best of them seem to align one product to another harmoniously. Center Stage2 is not like that; instead, it erases many of the impediments that hold back a device. In the process, it gives the device resting upon these devices a promotion. Even the best audio devices have hidden strengths the Center Stage2 can unveil.

You can even gauge the magnitude of improvement to be had by the level of initial awfulness of the system sound, and this is also a gauge of equipment quality – things that can never blossom will never have much of a shine knocked off their performance at first, but that’s pretty rare. It’s also self-sealing as the kind of product that is unlikely to resolve enough to show what the Center Stage2 can do usually costs less than four Center Stages, and I doubt anyone is ever going to put a £500 device on £900 worth of Center Stages. Once you get to £5,000 though… Center Stage2 makes a hugely convincing argument.

Unless you are pathologically impatient (or a reviewer/inveterate box- swapper who changes components in a system on an almost hourly basis) there are no downsides. OK, so if the underside of your component is more screw-head than base-plate, then there might be installation issues, and you might find your system might need a spot of speaker repositioning to accommodate the system improvement, but that’s it.

Most audiophiles have a drawer filled with magic cones, domes, pods, and pucks. All of these devices were bought initially claiming a lot, and all tried, praised, used… and removed. The Center Stage2 – I feel – is different. They have staying power. I suspect those who try them will never look back. Instead

of being next year’s drawer fodder, the Center Stage2 makes you enjoy your system more and does so for longer. Judging by my reluctance to unpack components in a Center Stage’d system (which, to me, means empty pages and ultimately no job) I’d go so far as to say the Center Stage2 will make the MTBF (Mean Time Before Futzing round looking for a new audio product) stretch out longer. You only change devices when dissatisfaction strikes, and Center Stage2 helps keep that dissatisfaction at bay.

In truth, I’m envious of those who don’t have to put their system into a permanent state of flux because they can gain the most benefit from a set of Critical Mass Systems’ Center Stage2. Let’s not understate their importance… all other things being equal, I’d be happier using a comparatively inexpensive system resting on a quartet of Center Stage2 than I would a more esoteric system just sitting on ‘regular’ equipment supports. Although I’m generally a ‘different paths up the same mountain’ kinda guy, I can’t help thinking that this is the best of the best. If you can take the short-term pain, the long-term gain is more than worth it!

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Product of the Year Awards 2017: Accessories

Critical Mass Systems Sotto Voce Equipment Rack

CMS Sotto Voce racks are not just vastly less expensive than the firm’s state-of-the-art efforts; they also offer comparable performance in a more traditional and appealing package. The frame and shelves are made of gorgeous Sapele African hardwood (natural or optional black finish) with sturdy metal connections milled from billet aluminum. The sonic improvements are not subtle—bass tightens, transients gain more verve yet maintain better control, rhythms sharpen, and low-level noise plummets. It’s that last factor that opens the soundstage and is key to the SV’s remarkable ability to elicit dimensionality from a recording. Fully upgradeable to accommodate CMS’ upscale array of “filters” (they replace the stock shelves but are mechanically far more complex). The filters provide further noise reduction, while the “purity quotient” takes a sizable jump. Available in three heights, the tallest, at 38″, is a four-tier unit that offers 10″ spacing out of the box yet is easily adjustable.

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理論與實踐的完美結合 – Critical Mass Systems Olympus – V12 承架 + 層板

玩Hi-Fi玩得時間愈久,發覺自己對各種音響輔件可以提升整套音響系統音效的能力愈難理解,因為這些輔件在使用上與器材裡負責傳輸音頻訊號的電氣通道扯不上任何關係,換句話說用與不用理應同音響器材的發聲效能無關,但實際上耳聽為憑的親身體驗卻又並非如此,有一些輔件的效用顏為出色,而且經過不斷改良和提升效能之後,在一套音響組合裡所起的作用更加明顯,就算是身經百戰的我,聽到這些音效上的改進也會感到有點莫名其妙,甚至是匪夷所思!

問題是這些輔件的身價隨著音響效能的不斷改進而水漲船高,有個別產品的售價更是貼近甚至超越中高級別的音響器材,但它們在整套音響組合裡所扮演的角色卻又同樣是舉足輕重,實在令發燒友又愛又恨……這一類型的輔件首推近年在香港音響圈熱爆的地盒(說句題外話,是否全球我不敢說,但我肯定「音響技術」是全亞洲第一家實試地盒,並且認同具有真正效用而向讀者全力推薦的音響雜誌),其次便是承載音響器材的音響承架。

嘆為聽止
我在本刊2013年5月號的[草言草語]專欄裡報導過,我做了一個從未做過的決定—在沒有作任何試聽的情況下,訂購了兩塊給我的 Audio Note Gaku-On 後級使用的 CMS (Critical Mass Systems)頂級 MAXXUM 承板,要知道這款承板當日的定價高達6萬港元一塊,單從牌面來看這個決定當然是充滿冒險成份;但實際上我內心卻是胸有成竹!我如此充滿信心有兩大原因:其一是同文Lee388 兄在實試過 CMS 的 Black Sapphire 與 Black Platinum 兩款中級層板之後向我大力推介,他這個人玩音響的認知與熱誠是我信服的其中一位高手,既然CMS的中級產品已經有如此能耐,頂級的 MAXXUM 自然是毋庸置疑了。另一個原因是 CMS 的老闆兼設計師Joseph Lavrencik, 曾經向我詳盡解釋 CMS 的設計理論,物理定律的應用和產品的設計詳情,經過深入了解之後,對於Joseph的消震理論我完全受落“事實上當我把後級承上 MAXXUM之後,重播音效的大幅提升簡直令我和幾位寫手兄弟們嘆為聽止,亦顯示我作出了一個大膽而明智的決定。

熱力學第一及第二定律
Joseph 設計 CMS 產品的概念,是基於熱力學 (Thermodynamics)第一和第二定律的物理現象而研發出來。第一定律是能量守恆;能量既不能憑空產生,也不會無緣無故地消失,只能從一種型式轉化成另一種型式,而能量的總和是保持不變。第二定聖能量傾向於從集中的狀況散發至逐漸消散犬況,而且不可逆轉。Joseph 認為在一個聽室開動一套音響組合,從揚聲器發出來的聲 ·能量除了會傳到我們的耳朵之外,聽音室勻的其他位置包括牆壁、天花、地板、傢具甚至音響架上的器材,都會無可避免地受到聲音能量的影響從而引起震動,這些震動不但會影響對諧振非常抗拒的黑膠唱盤、唱臂和唱頭組合,也會波及對震動極之敏感,位處器材機箱內的各種電子零件和元件例如電阻器、電容器、電感器、變壓器、晶體管和真空管等,因而影響重播音樂訊號的質素,更甚的是,上述的各種電子零件和元件在通電工作的時候,自身也會產生輕微的機械性能量(震動),在雙重震動夾擊之下,器材的重播音效當然會大打折扣!

專利設計
既然明白到音響架上的器材,是無法避 免從喇叭傳來的聲音能量轉化而成的震
動,Joseph 便深入研究如何透過音響架 承板來轉化這些能量,以減少對器材的負面影響,結果 CMS 研製出已經成功取得專利註冊,廠方稱為 Filter System 的層板把外來的震動能量轉化為熱能消散。這些 Filter System 由上下兩層阻尼結構夾著一層厚身的特製彈性體緩衝物料(Elastomeric buffer) 組合而成,由於上層與下層需要應付的能量轉移有所不同,所以兩者的阻尼結構亦不盡相同,上層是要把所有承載的器材因為受到聲波能量影響而產生的震動,經過機腳迅速通過阻尼結構而下傳至彈性體層轉化成熱能消散,而下層則是要把從地板和音響承架接收到的震動,同樣通過阻尼結構而上傳至彈性體層轉化成熱能消散,這樣便能夠令層板上的器材因為大幅減少受到震動的影響而發揮出自身應有的重播質素。當然了,CMS這些層板會因應不同的等級而有不同的構造和效能,就以我買下來的 MAXXUM 層板為例,它的承受重量為110公斤,層板厚3吋,彈性體夾層厚 2.5 吋,外框用鋁合金製造,上層的構造是由 20 層三文治結構並以 6 種不同阻尼物料製造的阻尼層組成,頂板用三種不同物料製造以增加承載器材的能力。下層的構造則是由12層三文治結構並以5種不同阻尼物料製造的阻尼層組成,底板用特殊物料製造以增加耦合音響承架的能力。

對症下藥
CMS 為了承托 Filter System 層板而設計的音響承架當然也不會掉以輕心,相反,這些承架的設計與選用的物料是經過精密計算,並且參考彈性模量(Elastic Modulus) 和幼棒音速 (Thin Rod Speed of Sound 聲音能量在幼金屬棒內的傳遞速度)的數據才拍板決定。CMS 承架的水平支撐與多層承架的支柱,都是採用純度高達 96% 至 99% 的鋁合金製造,EM 為 64GPa,傳遞速度約為 5014m/s。釘腳、釘墊、放於器材機腳底部的墊片與鎢珠承帽是用純度高達 99%的鈇合金製造,EM 為105GPa,傳遞速度約為 5090 m/s。作為耦合承架與層板的圓珠用碳化鎢合金製造,EM 為 550GPa,傳遞速度約為 6220m/s。承架的內部也採用一種較軟的金屬作為阻尼物料,它的 EM 為 117GPa,傳遞速度約為 3810m/s。我訂購的單層 MAXXUM 層板採用大型的鋁合金x承架,配上4隻大型重量級釘腳腳座,放上我的Gaku-On單聲道後級之後,不但在外觀上帶來穩如泰山的感覺,實際聆聽音效更令一眾寫手兄弟和我驚訝得目瞪口呆,因為使用前後的分別之大完全超出我們的想像(我原來是使用特別訂製的2吋厚實心黑檀木板配不誘鋼釘錐!音樂的訊息聽得更多細節,能量感大幅增強,音場的結像紋風不動,人聲和樂器的線條更加立體鮮明“耳聽為憑,Joseph 和 CMS 開發團隊的設計理論與產品的效能完全能夠對症下藥。最令我感到驚喜的是;雖然我們都知道膽機對於諧振非常敏感,但今次只是單單換上這兩塊承放 Gaku-On 後級的承架和 Filter System 層板,便已經可以明顯提升草廬整套組合的音效和層次,實在是超出我的期望。經過幾年光景, MAXXUM 承架在草廬的地位仍然穩如泰山,直至今年 (2017) 年中……

更上一層樓
經過累積長達17年設計層板和承架的深厚經驗,Joseph 決定不惜工本開發一個效果完美,比 MAXXUM 更高階的新旗艦系列Olympus一V12,並且在今年的慕尼黑音響展作全球性首展。外觀上,Olympus一V12 音響架的支柱,x形水平承架與及釘腳腳座比起 MAXXUM 更大更粗壯,而層板的厚度卻是相同的3吋,外表也看不出有什麼明顯的分別,不過製作工藝的精緻度和打磨的滑溜光亮度明顯更勝一籌。Joseph 以充滿自信的姿態向我推介 CMS 的新旗艦,他表示 Olympus一V12 的 X 承架,多層承架的支柱,鎢珠,墊帽,墊片和釘腳腳座採用的金屬材料和它們的物理特性,是與 MAXXUM 完全相同,只是承架的x橫袒更潤更厚,支柱和腳座的直徑也由3吋增大至4 吋,換句話說承架有更重質量便會更加扎實和更穩固,好處顯而易見,但另一方面傳導能量的幅度則會更大,所以層板的設計要有更強的消震效能和更有效率才可達致預期的全面性效果。Olympus一V12 層板的外觀雖然看似和MAXXUM 相若,但其實內裡設計已是大幅補強—承重量仍為110公斤,特製彈性體夾層同樣厚2.5吋,但上層阻尼層的三文治結構增加至 27層,下層阻尼層的三文治結構則增加至18層!頂板和底板的結構則沒有改變。Joseph 聲稱 Olympus一V12 層板的阻尼能力是 MAXXUM 的兩倍,而且沒有任何負面影響!

 

押下重注
既然有 Joseph 的拍心口音效保證,我亦毫不猶豫度身訂造了兩套特別尺寸的Olympus一V12 承架和層板來代替草廬的 MAXXUM。到了十月中旬,兩套全新的Olympus承板便正式進駐草廬,當我們把兩者的組件作新舊交替之際,它們的分別便非常明顯,兩部 Gaku-On 後級坐鎮於 Olympus一V12 承板之上更顯得台型十足,貴氣盡露,不過始終是珠玉在前,MAXXUM當日在草廬開聲帶來的震撼仍是歷歷在目,雖然是押下重注,不過始終都只是把後級承板換高一級,音效還可以再有多大進展?內心難免會有點志怎……當一切準備妥當,按下CD機的Play鍵之後,熟悉的張學友一曲〈怎麼捨得你〉從 Tidal Contriva G2 播出,我頓時放下心頭大石,心底裡不禁要對 Joseph 喊一聲大大的 “Bravo”! 因為我清楚聽見小飛俠彈奏的鋼絃結他,不論是勾、是彈、是掃,演奏的力度,按絃手指的跳動!絃線的發音與顫動的餘韻,琴箱的共嗚與豐滿的泛音,學友演唱的咬字吐音,喉底的顫音,運氣的呼吸吐納,掌握歌曲的抑揚頓挫與及唱功的發揮,真的再多很多極細微,以前若隱若現的細節,動態對比更明顯,微動態更清晰,是這首歌曲在草廬的一次最佳演繹!播 Anne- Sophie Mutter 的嶄新錄音 [鰾魚五重奏」,哇!鋼琴、小提琴、中提琴、大提琴和低音提琴五件樂器在流暢地對答,在互動,樂器的音色條理分明,線條清晰,而且在音場內分佈的位置有條不紊,清清楚楚,就像在我眼前演奏一樣,聲音的像真度是前所未有!重播 RR 大植英次的「圖畫展覽展會」,樂團的能量感更盛,氣勢更加澎湃,但樂器的音色卻更加細緻,線條更清晰。

總結
要知道,原本當我轉用 MAXXUM 承板的時候,已經對於它們提升整套系統音效的能力拍爛手掌,憑心而論以聲論價我認為絕對是物有所值,直至執筆這一刻我仍然堅定地向有要求的發燒友推薦(已經改良至 MAXXUM MK3)。不過本著沒有最好,只有更好的發燒精神, Olympus一V12 能夠在MAXXUM 之上再有明顯的進步當然是難能可貴,只是高昂的售價或許會成為銷售的瓶頸了。由於我證實CMS產品的設計理論正確,而同文 Lee388 兄也經過實試有效, CMS 的 PXK 和 QXK 承架,與及採用和 MAXXUM 相同設計理論的專利 Dual Zone Damping System Filter 之 Black Diamond MK3,Black Platinum MK3 和Black Sapphire MK3 層板同樣值得大家考慮。

轉載自 “音響技術” No 436 Jan 2018

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Critical Mass System Sotto Voce Equipment Rack

CMS Sotto Voce racks are not just vastly less expensive than the rm’s state- of-the-art efforts; they also offer comparable performance in a more tradi- tional and appealing package. The frame and shelves are made of gorgeous Sapele African hardwood (natural or optional black nish) with sturdy metal connections milled from billet aluminum. The sonic improvements are not subtle—bass tightens, transients gain more verve yet maintain better control, rhythms sharpen, and low-level noise plummets. It’s that last factor that opens the soundstage and is key to the SV’s remarkable ability to elicit dimensionality from a recording. Fully upgradeable to accommodate CMS’ upscale array of “ lters” (they replace the stock shelves but are mechanically far more com- plex). The lters provide further noise reduction, while the “purity quotient” takes a sizable jump. Available in three heights, the tallest, at 38″, is a four-tier unit that offers 10″ spacing out of the box yet is easily adjustable.

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