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Dr. Sardonicus Ponders His Simian Simplification of String Theory and Concludes…
…That if it is true the universe really is composed of infinitely small loops of vibration …then the universe is really made of music. What a wonderful idea…
The Critical Mass System - Vibration Damping - System Set-Up and Initial Impressions
As with most serious audiophiles, over the years I have tried about everything on the farm under my components, stopping just short of a live cow: metal boxes with inflatable tubes, granite (real and fabricated), glass (I know, I know), metal of various types and configurations, plastics and other complex-hydrocarbon derivatives (including big chunks of Styrofoam), manufactured and naturally occurring wood of all kinds, concrete, led, points, tips, spikes, pucks … even carbon fiber, and some stuff they found in Roswell, New Mexico back in the 50s. And for the longest time, all of this stuff I just either plopped onto the floor, or dropped onto the standard and ubiquitous Justarack®.
Since I erupted back into writing this year …I would say reviewing, but the two Davids put my articles in the editorial section, as "audio essays" so I guess, technically, whatever it is I am doing is not really a review. Ah well, a rose …Anyway, since I started back doing whatever it is that I do …I have developed a need for more places to put things. And, as has often been previously observed …necessity is a mother.
I am an audio journalist …I am here to help you
You would be surprised how relatively uninterested manufacturers are in having their equipment racks reviewed. From the reactions I have received, I believe they are suspicious that it is some sort of scam to get free stuff. I know, I know! It is shocking this level of cynicism, and about audio reviewers, for heaven's sake! Oh, the humanity! [He leans forward and pushes in the irony stop in just a tad …the Leslies were fluffing my hair some on that last bit.]
I was whining about this to David Robinson. I whine to David because I know he hates it, and hating it, he almost always tries to get me to shut up by helping with whatever it is that is causing me to whine. In this specific case, "helping" means putting Joe Lavrencik of Critical Mass Systems in touch with me.
Joe is a really nice guy; polite, respectful, communicative, responsive …earnest …so, of course, I was immediately suspicious. This is AUDIO man, grow a personality disorder for cripes sake!
As we corresponded it quickly became obvious this was going to be much more complicated and involved than I originally thought. I just wanted some crap to put my crap on. He wants to make and send me serious audio stuff …sigh.
Let me explain. His products are not simply good, stable platforms upon which the audiophile places his or her equipment. In aggregate they form a "system" to help manage the deleterious effects of low-level vibration.
Unlike the typical "couple/de-couple" approach to vibration management (remember, if the entire universe vibrates, so do you and your audio equipment), Joe's system is designed to wick away vibration and convert it into heat through a series of sealed filters.
And, the products are beautiful, exquisitely crafted. If you are drawn to the simplicity and purity of classic Craftsman design (Frank Lloyd Wright, Greene and Green, etc.) …that Asian aesthetic where there is a single perfect pink flower in a white raku vase on a perfect little unadorned black lacquer table, sitting on a centuries-polished teak floor, illuminated by buttery sunlight filtering through paper screens …well, this is definitely the stuff for you. Check out the website for wood choices. [See www.criticalmasssystems.com.] Yummylicious.
But along with being beautiful (and unlike my first wife), it also works!
"Sequential filtering employs a mapped sequence of narrow, intermediate and wide frequency band filters that convert mechanical energy to low grade heat at a highly accelerated rate. Like drivers in loudspeakers designed to produce energy within defined frequency bandwidths, sequential filters are designed to convert energy to low grade heat in specific narrow, intermediate and broad frequency bandwidths. The result is overlapping energy conversion networks that work in harmony to reduce distortion. The effect of sequential frequency filtering is that your components reach their highest performance potential without trade-offs."
When he first explained this, I confess the picture I formed in my head was of my precious components sitting on a self-powered hot plate, but apparently the temperature changes are so minor as to be negligible in the big world.
In practical terms, what you get are sealed, beautifully crafted "shelves" of various sizes and construction (and weight capacity) that either sit directly on the floor for power amplifiers, or are placed within lightweight, rigid solid maple racks.
Getting it together
I think I have mentioned previously that I am not especially mechanically inclined. Actually, I would rather be tied down naked, slathered with taramosalata, and then be turned over to the tender ministrations of a hungry wolverine, than to assemble anything more complex than a salad. When I first put my Justaracks together, it took four days and several hits of Valium (and, oh Lord, let 'em be tens and not fives!). So …I was not looking forward to assembling some esoteric "system".
Now comes the cool part. I didn't have to.
The first shipment of two amp stands gets transshipped to David Robinson, cause I was not ready for them. Initially, I get the three-shelf maple rack and three "modules": one Reference (entry level) and two Masters (primary); this after a rash of shipping issues that made Joe and I both completely nuts. The system arrived at my house in one very large and three medium-sized boxes.
The big box is the rack. You open the box, remove the side packing and pull it out. It is attractive in a supporting-cast sort of way, quite light and extremely rigid. Flip it over, screw in the bottom feet with spacers to level, and you are DONE! No tools save for a level required..
The shelves simply unpack and set into the rack framework. Again, no tools. A mouth breathing troglodyte could do it!
If Joe had been there, I would have hugged his neck in appreciation.
Because the shelves are sealed units, one does have to be a bit careful to not compromise the top surface. Basically, this means no cones or sharp points, and for best results use the spacers Joe provides. Joe admits that the stern admonishment in the owner's manual not to let the component touch the top surface is a bit more cautionary than needed. But you know how audiophiles are …if you don't scare the crap out of them, they do stupid things.
Joe's products are so simple and beautifully executed, my reaction was, "Of course this is the way to do things." Jennifer Crock of JENA Labs made the same observation when she saw them.
I did suggest to Joe that he replace the somewhat pedestrian looking spacers with something commensurate with the rest of the system, say round pucks made from Oregon Myrtlewood or another good sounding, beautiful exotic. The chassis side could have a very slightly tacky surface, with the shelf side free to move. This would make placing and adjusting the component a breeze and minimize potential damage to the filter surface.
This is the ONLY change I would suggest, which is so rare from me as to be noteworthy.
Now, because this is a preview, we have to get to the bottom line quickly ...how does it sound?
Wait …this is a component rack. It shouldn't sound like anything.
A word about my favorite SACD Player - The Lindemann 820
This glorious digital player is so sensitive to placement that I get huge changes in soundstage and bass response, simply by the most minor adjustments in how it is placed. Knowing this, I was enormously curious as to what would happen on the Critical Mass.
Well, my response was immediate. I had to move those gargantuan XLH Reference speakers around, forward and apart. It was so obvious, I couldn't understand why I hadn't reached that conclusion long before. Hum …Interesting. I even knew pretty much exactly how far I needed to move them …it was just intuitively obvious. Hum, even more interesting.
When I did manage to shove those hyper-testosterone laden monsters around I got a walk-in sized soundstage; bass that sounded like it was being generated in the rock strata meters below the house, and this crystalline overall character that brought an enormous grin to my face.
And I know why.
The "why" is the same as it is with the incomparable JENA Labs products …low-level detail. I will say it again, low-level detail, that most delicate and ephemeral of all audio parameters. So frequently lost, so seldom seen, like the fabled Yeti of the Himalayas. It is from low-level detail we get the essential spatial cues that make things real, which give air and three-dimensionality.
The Bottom Line
If you are going to spend gerzillions of dollars on esoteric audio equipment, then put your precious babies on something that brings out their best …get what you are paying for …
The Critical Mass products are elegantly simple, beautifully executed (WAF of 100) …and most importantly …incredibly effective at extracting every last scintilla of performance from your audio gear. What else could one want?
More later …
Rack: $570 for a single rack.
Isolation Systems in veneer up to 24" by 24" and 130 lbs of load:
Reference: $950 for 1 system, $850 each for 2 or more.
Master: $1250 for 1 system, $1100 each for 2 or more.
Grand Master: $1700 for 1 system, $1500 each for 2 or more
Paint is available on the isolation systems for an additional charge of $250 per system. Exotic veneer may result in an upcharge, but the basics like oak, maple, rosewood, rose santos, walnut and cherry are included.
Larger system dimensions are available for an extra charge depending upon size requirement. Heavier load capacity is available for an extra charge depending upon load requirement.