World Premiere Review!
The foundation of any piece of equipment is crucial – and in this case, the feet upon which fine audio components rest must be recognized as a critical juncture. For me, the isolation and channeling of degrative vibration is as fundamental to exceptional reproduction of recorded music as is establishing the cleanest possible electrical power. These two cornerstones must be clearly understood before any good can come of the substantial investment accrued among high-end audio components.
When I was initially approached to assess the Center Stage2 Loudspeaker Series (LS) footers, I was slightly hesitant. Of course, I was thrilled to see and hear what they were all about, having reviewed the Critical Mass Systems Center Stage 2M component footers last year for Enjoy the Music.com, and subsequently invested in a full complement of the CS 2M footers for all my audio chassis. Still, I assumed there wouldn't be much more I could offer as an addendum to the assessment I had crafted for the CS 2M, or that would otherwise prove unique to the LS series.
That assumption was a serious underestimation, as the LS contributions to the musical gestalt would not only prove substantial, but offer a sense of live performance markedly above that already yielded by the CS 2M, providing the final link in a chain that would encircle and lift my audio presentation well beyond my imagination.
"Finding synergy among fine audio components is not unlike the synergistic gathering of fine musicians – All having earned their place, yet with no guarantee they will intuitively move as one. Like many audiophiles, my attention to 'the ensemble' has been primarily on electrical components (power, sources, speakers, conduits, etc.), with only an after-thought given to vibration control (racks, platforms, footers, cable risers, etc). In hindsight, a less glamorous but far more logical approach would be to give vibration control first consideration in the architecture of an audio system. Initially investing in a solid foundation of pieces which address unwanted dynamic electromechanical energy – Not to merely muffle or insulate this energy, but be rid of it – Seems a prudent approach towards realizing the full potential of subsequent audio investments."
If we are to find synergy, then we must create an environment that allows energy to travel uninhibited at its optimum level, allowing components to serve the greater good as they were intended. Through the process of additive synthesis, I discovered that when installing sets of CS 2M isolation footers under each audio component within my system, the components were then able to fully reveal their respective personalities. Each offered qualities – some subtle, some profound – that changed the sonic landscape. As footers were added, the 'village' community became increasingly synthesized in ways I could not foresee. Cliché though it may be, this was akin to curtains of varying fabrics removed from a window, revealing greater light.
Music reflects movement. Music is movement. Thus, the symbiosis that components must share in a fine audio system – to be construed as a true architectural system of musical reference for recorded music – must be allowed to openly flow without constraint. In order for the drainage system or channeling of undesirable vibrational energy to truly function as a continuum, the linkage should logically be inclusive of all audio components. Not being so can only compromise the intent. As the final portal of presentation, it would then seem speaker vibrational energy should receive the same attention to reveal the true outcome of the audio 'village', as it were.
Joe has often stated that he approaches his Critical Mass Systems designs from a purist's perspective. According to Joe:
"I'm a purist. What I do is take an audio component up to its engineered limit. There’s a design potential within each audio component and CMS wants to realize that. Thus, our objective is to provide as pure an audio signal path as possible, so that when it comes through your loudspeakers, it reproduces, as close as possible, reality. You get the sense of being there at the recorded event."
1. Firstly, we wanted to develop a novel approach to solving the problem of degradation from excess energy build-up caused by cabinet vibration in loudspeakers.
2. We wanted the Center Stage2 "LS" Series loudspeaker feet to bring a more consistent level of improvement to the least expensive systems and the most expensive systems. To accomplish this, we developed the height-adjustable spike cup.
3. We wanted to make sure Center Stage2 "LS" Series loudspeaker feet were beneficial across the audible spectrum rather than effective in a limited range of frequencies.
4. Finally, we wanted to develop a product that brought methodologies found in our most expensive products to the audio community. In the case of Center Stage2 "LS" Series loudspeaker feet, we adopted a "cost no object approach" derived from our Olympus support system."
As is understood, there is a significant and complex level of vibrational energy that exists within any given speaker cabinet design, which coincides and affects a similar level of energy surrounding the cabinet and listening space. The CS2 "LS" serves as a catalyst within this vibrational energy, changing the prevailing state of equilibrium in this energy reaction and permanently holding it in a reduced or damped state. What remains is intended vibrational energy, a collective of recorded source material, carried through the component chain, to an acoustic sound field, in which the listener is immersed and surrounded wholistically – What Joe describes as a "Total Immersion Effect," or "Knocking down the 4th wall that separates the listener from the musicians at the front plane of the loudspeakers." Within highly refined audio components, this must be electromechanically manifested through an amalgam of engineered constructs working synchronously to place the listener in the middle of the recorded venue, surrounding them in the moment, making them a part of the moment.
I am quite familiar with this design objective, as it is fundamental to the Von Schweikert Audio speaker designs via CEO, Damon Von Schweikert and Chief Design Engineer, Leif Swanson. As I had noted in my May 2022 Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor SE floorstanding loudspeaker review (my current reference speaker), the primary objective of VSA is founded and focused on the "live" music performance model, constructing every design outcome, regardless of price point, towards the authentic re-creation of the live performance event in every detail, as it was recorded.
Indeed, understanding the specifics and applying the psychoacoustic variables of live performance is the ultimate challenge in defining the mechanical science that authentically reproduces recorded music. Consequently, it made sense that Joe would ask the VSA team to serve as a beta-tester when assessing the "LS" series in 2020 (initially evaluating them on their VR55 speakers). You can imagine my surprise and absolute thrill when adding the CS2 "LS" series under my ESEs. The "Total Immersion Effect" had indeed found its soul mate in my review room!
LS 0.8 Maximum operational weight of cabinet – 200 lbs.
LS 1.0 Maximum operational weight of cabinet – 800 lbs.
LS 1.5 Maximum operational weight of cabinet – 1,600 lbs.
Additionally, there are three mounting options to accommodate a variety of cabinet designs:
1. Placed flat, directly under speaker cabinet/plinth (similar to CS component footers).
2. Threaded titanium adapters provided to fit specific loudspeaker cabinet specifications.
3. Threaded titanium adapters mounted into custom airplane aluminum outriggers.
The CS2 LS is essentially a two-piece spike / cup design, whereby the lower massive spike cup raises and lowers the foot under load by turning the spike cup – clockwise raises the loudspeaker, counter-clockwise lowers. There is roughly 0.75" of adjustment available. The cup in contact with the floor has a raised grip edge for ease of rotation. There is also a visible "stop" marker near the top of the spike to note the maximum adjustment limit. The black outer shell is separate from the internal structure of the foot. Consequently, vibration cannot pass upwards through the foot via the outer shell. Floor vibration moving upward is forced into the foot through predetermined channels where more of it can be reduced. Conversely, the outer shell is designed to reduce cabinet entropy by pulling resonances out, dissipating as thermal energy. Essentially, the inner / outer shell design works as hand-in-glove with the objective of mitigating distortional vibrations incongruent with those of the musical signal. In summation, Joe states:
"The invention of the 'LS' Series loudspeaker foot required the selection of the right materials; the correct sequencing of the materials; the correct proportioning of the materials; and finally, the addition of the correct amount and type of damping in exactly the right locations as the last step in the process. Derived from the Center Stage 2 component footer, a comparative material ratio example would be one LS 1.5 speaker foot is equal to approximately five Center Stage 2 1.5 feet. Our approach is not a mystery or anything abstract, but rather, solid engineering using material science."
In conversation with Damon Von Schweikert, he emphasized that:
"Center Stage2 LS technology is not exclusive to VSA speakers, but rather VSA serves as the point source for the product. There are owners of many other fine speakers who are employing the LS footers with amazing results. It is a design intended to dramatically raise the bar on every high-end audio system. In fact, I would estimate that, to-date, more than half our sales of the LS series footers are to non-VSA speaker owners."
The acclimation period is generally 7 to 10 days, but it can be longer. Joe recommends giving the system at least 14 days before assuming it has reached equilibrium (Playing a system 24/7 is not necessary, but the more playing time the better). The soundstage will begin to reconstruct itself by gently tipping upward and downward as it establishes a new and improved equilibrium point, minimizing the obstructions of entropic vibrational energy. Indeed, good things come to those who wait.
One of the hallmark sonic improvements noted last year with the installation of the first set of CS 2M under my VAC Statement 450S iQ was a dramatic reduction of noise floor, allowing for an increased identity of individual musical character, three-dimensional positioning, height, and width. With subsequent installations under all components, the absence of noise floor became all the more dramatic. Now, having completed the chain with the recent addition of the CS2 LS footers under my Endeavor SE., the noise floor has virtually disappeared, to the degree that music literally seems suspended in air, significantly raising the level of realism to a visceral level, and creating a sense of blackness upon which the most subtle of organic substrate, particularly as reflected in human qualities, exists within the listening space.
Every stat traditionally used to assess fine audio output is on the next level (or perhaps several levels up): Microdynamic shading, expressiveness (or nuance), lower frequency "slam" & definition, transient speed across both the dynamic and frequency spectra, organic mids, lack of hash, grain, upper-frequency glare, etc. Summatively stated, the CS2 LS footers have now contributed to the greatest sense of system resolution and dynamic authority I have experienced.
All the more significant, the tactile sense of 360-degree listener presence within the performance venue - the psychoacoustic immersion of the recorded moment – has snapped into place with the inclusion of the CS2 LS footers, fully rendering the performance space and other acoustical properties of the recordings.
Stretto / Return
All the same, the CMS and VSA teams have made available a loudspeaker isolation footer designed to significantly improve the output of practically any full-range cabinet. It should be added that its success is not predicated on the presence of other CMS isolation products. Being a design affecting the critical juncture of system output at the loudspeaker, the CS2 LS produces a degree of profound and consistent improvement unto itself, and to which I have not experienced with any other loudspeaker footer. This, coming from someone who has test-driven dozens of such products over the past several years.
I had no idea what completing the 'village' in my audio system would look like in terms of a full reveal of musical life in recorded music. The final link – the inclusion of the Center Stage2 LS footers – proved more than an accouterment to the already tremendous involvement wrought by the CS 2M. They proved to be, as did the CS 2M, an essential component unto themselves, contributing to the chain in ways no other link could offer.
As a result of the CMS isolation chain in place, the character of each component within my audio system has taken a quantum leap forward, imitating major upgrades at every point along the chain, yet through a fraction of the investment. Each audio component has now been given license to demonstrate its full potential, with the collective ability to accomplish that grandest of deceptions – that of permitting us to believe we are in the presence of live music.
This isn't to suggest satisfying listening is predicated solely on a learned awareness. However, to recognize that listening to music – live or recorded – is in fact a corporeal experience, wholistically transcending the body on a multitude of levels, offers a first step towards moving into a previously untapped domain of the human condition, and ultimately, an expanded understanding of musical aesthetics. Above all else, the audio journey is a path of self-discovery.
Friends, there are audio designs that claim to do things… and there are designs that do things. Then there are those rare designs we revere in the audio world that are consistently doing things well above the rest. This is where you'll find the teams of Critical Mass Systems and Von Schweikert Audio, busy and focused on making the next "what if" a reality. This is where audiophiles and other engaged listeners will always find the presence of live music.
As with my experience with and subsequent review of the Critical Mass Systems Center Stage 2M isolation footers, I now cannot recommend the Center Stage2 LS Series footers highly enough towards the objective of highly refined listening in recorded music. Like musicians themselves, if you start with a solid foundation, your output will grow exponentially.
Center Stage2 LS 0.8: Body Diameter: 1.5"
Center Stage2 LS 1.0: Body Diameter: 2.75
Center Stage2 LS 1.5: Body Diameter: 3"