Feb 042011
 

Back in September 2010 at the Whittlebury Hall Show I came upon a new company called Track Audio who had a range of new speaker supports on display. The items were very interesting but sadly there was no information about them, in their exhibition space and being pressed for time I had to move on. Mentioning this lack of literature in my show report solicited an Email from Mike Butler in which he explained that the printers who were putting their show literature together had let them down big time. I think we have all been put in that position from time to time.

Anyway after a series of Email exchanges and a phone call he offered to send me a pair of speaker stands, large and small top plates and isolation spikes for review. Several large boxes arrived a few days later + literature and I rather excitedly opened these boxes as a small child would his or her Christmas presents.

The contents were every bit as nice looking as I remembered them from the show but to be honest and I offer my apology here to Mike and Track Audio my lack of time at the show meant that I really didn’t fully take in exactly how A beautiful and B how well made these products are. All a cursory look will do is confirm how well finished they are but unless you study them more closely you will not fully grasp just how special these products are and the quality of engineering in and behind them. They call them Precision stands and the fit and finish of them is just that, precise!

In all my years of selling stands in a retail environment and seeing items at shows I have never before seen such quality in a pair of speaker stands or isolation spikes. Now I must be honest here and say I have not seen or handled everything on the market but I have seen a lot of kit in my audio lifetime and I have not seen this sort of engineering put into speaker supports before.

The question though is “are these products just about quality (precise) engineering ?” Before looking at how they sound I think its worth while looking at Track Audio in more detail.

As I mentioned earlier Mike and I exchanged quite a few Emails and we have also had a number of fairly long telephone conversations about audio matters, Track Audio, their products and how they work.  Below is an extract from our conversations about the company.

“Track Audio was formed in June 2010 by a engineering company with thirty years experience designing and machining  parts for the automotive , aerospace and medical industries. As Hi Fi enthusiast for many years we wanted to design and manufacture in the UK high quality isolation stands”….

Mike then told me about their aims which were to “produce each stand is using the finest materials and machined on modern C.N.C. machining centres to close tolerances.”

You can see in these photos some of the process used to make Track Audio speaker stands….

Mike Butler goes on to explain what makes their speaker stands and Isolation Spikes special….

“All our stands have stainless steel spikes, height adjusters and lock rings. The spike is isolated using a low density material which has been design to decouple the spike when in use. The stand mounts are supported using solid aluminium legs that are diamond turned before anodizing , with the top and bottom plates C.N.C. machined from aluminium plate.”

Just looking at a pair of Track Audio stands does not allow you to see how they are constructed, so not wanting to take a pair apart Mike told me that “Each stand is hand built to customer requirements with over one hundred sixty parts needed for a pair of Precision 600 stand mounts.” He also informed me, with great pride, that ” All our stands are ready to use straight from the box and are guaranteed for ten years .”

Mike also informed me that Track Audio intend that all their stands are exactly the same in quality and materials used throughout the company’s operating life. “Put simply” Mike said “I want a customer who buys any of our products to be able, should the need arise, to be able to obtain parts that are indistinguishable from those originally purchased ones. We want this to be so at any point in time, be it months or many years after that purchase”

The passion for the product and engineering was evident each time I talked with Mike and during our chats he also told me that the design goal of these speaker stands was to allow the end user to hear the speakers and not the stand. Over the years I have played with any number of stands and found that certain stands suit certain types of speakers better than others. Light open frame speaker stands suit some speakers better than high mass ones but all stands have in some way imparted a character to the sound of the speakers sat on them whether via upward facing cones, spikes or blue/black/white tack.

Sadly I have no way of verifying Track Audio’s claims A because I can’t measure the acoustic effects of different stands on different speakers and B I only have a small selection of speakers I can try. However I can tell you subjectively how the Track Audio Precision T600 speaker stands effect the sound of my Reference 3A speakers when they replace my normal reference Atacama stands.

The importance of the stand your speaker sits on.

Any audio enthusiast who undervalues the importance of the stands they use under their speakers is frankly short changing themselves and their system very badly. Over the years I have tried many types of stands and they do all have an effect on the sound of the speakers used on top of them.

The relationship between speaker and stand is foundational, it is the very foundation on which a pair of speakers have to work. Firstly speakers are pistonic in action, moving air with their drive units and as such they need to be held rigidly so as not to work against themselves and Secondly many generate a lot of vibrational energy which usually ends up in the cabinet and is then pumped into the speaker stand and floor.

Doing this review has reminded me of just how important stands are to the final sound your speaker makes.

Reference System used….

As my main system is designed around a set of floor standing speakers (Anthony Gallo Reference 3.1’s) I initially decided to use my upstairs system which uses an excellent pair of mini-monitor types from Canadian company Reference 3A. The speakers in question are their entry level model the Dulcet (strange I should end up with speakers with similar names). They may be the entry level for Reference 3A but they are far from being entry level in performance.

During my initial chats with Mike I asked him to send a pair of the small top plates (as well as the regular ones) they do for the T series of speaker stands and these plates fitted the bottom of the Dulcets well.

I used blue tack to fix the speakers to the stands and as Reference 3A suggest I used four small blobs at the corners of the stands and three along the middle top of each stand. This arrangement works well for all stand mount Reference 3A speakers.

The system comprises of an AMR CD 77 CD player, EAR 864 pre-amplifier, Music Reference RM200 mk1 power-amplifier and the afore mentioned Reference 3A Dulcet’s. My normal speaker stands are  Atacama R247, which have been a reference for me for many years. Cabling was via Audience AU24 RCA to RCA and XLR to XLR, with XLO Type 6 speaker cable (an oldy but a goodie). Mains cables were a mixture of TCI Boa Constrictors, TCI Constrictor, Mark Grant 2.5 and Kimber. Telos RFI Caps were used to block unused output and input sockets.  I supported the RM 200 amplifier on a wood board with Track Audio Isolation spikes under this board and RDC Cones under the amplifier.

I also used an Ikea Lack table, without the legs fitted. I found that a Lack top + Track Audio Isolation spikes worked very well as an amplifier platform.

Music Used during review….

Rain Tree Crows – Rain Tree Crows

Nitin Sawhney – Beyond Skin

Nightmares On Wax – Carboot Soul

The Orb – Adventures Beyond The Ultra World

Kim Mitchell – Shaking Like A Human Being

Saraya – Saraya

Toto – Tambu



Let battle begin…..

I began this review by playing a lot of music with this system as I normally use it and then replacing the speaker stands only, but just before I was able to do that I encountered a slight problem; not I hasten to add a Track Audio related one. Let me explain.

The upstairs listening room, in what is an old Edwardian house, has a fairly poor floor, made up of what are probably the original floorboards; they are uneven, creak a lot and even move slightly under foot. Now this floor like the previous one, in the house I used to live in, have always caused bass related issues because of their lack of rigidity. Sadly I have never had the benefits of a rigid bison (be it single or double) slab floors upstairs in any of the houses I have lived in. Therefore I have had to deal with poor floors and come up with solutions, for the problems they have caused.

In my previous home, I solved the floor issues by placing my speaker stands on large, heavy granite slabs and when I moved house I found that the solution for the original problems also worked well in my current house. By using a granite slab under the speaker stands I cured the bass boom problems I had been having and achieved a tight well extended bass.

One other problem these granite slabs solved was the issue of correct ear to tweeter level. My listening chair, that I use was a gift from my parents and as comfortable as it is, it is also slightly high so the addition of the granite slabs under the speaker stands also gave me the correct tweeter to ear level both with my original ProAc Super Tablets and my current speakers the Reference 3A Dulcets.

The Reference 3A Dulcet speakers I use in the upstairs system like to be used slightly higher than many other speakers (the tweeter should be just above ear height) so I had to use the granite slabs, not only to solve the bass issues this rooms floor creates but also to raise the speakers tweeters to the correct height. These slabs were going to cause me a problem.

The Track Audio 600 Precision stand mount speaker stands footprint is just slightly wider and deeper than the top of the granite slabs I use….opps ! So I had to use a pair of wood shelves from an old Target equipment stand (I don’t use any more) to allow the 600 speaker stands to sit on top of the slabs;  to provide more width and depth. I realise this is not perhaps an ideal solution but it was the only one I had readily to hand.

This solution was a cause of unease during the listening tests, as frankly I was concerned I was not hearing the stands work to their full potential(1). However  despite this potential handicap first impression were very interesting, well actually more than interesting ! However my unease remained. More about this a little later on as I feel its important to read my experiences as I had them. Therefore I will present things as they happened rather than jumping ahead to much.

Beginning to Listen.

The sound I have in this room normally is excellent and quite amazingly so as it is a very small room; in fact Tash Goka of Reference 3A expressed surprise when I told him a few years ago, at the London High Fidelity Show what I had achieved with his speakers in this room. Frankly he felt the room was probably too small for them to work well in the area of the lower frequencies. After a lot of fiddling about years ago I had managed to get a very good sound and it was from this starting point, that I started this review.

Sometimes in audio you don’t know something is broke/wrong or can be improved until you fix it and sometimes by accident or chance rather than design. Looking at the Track Audio speaker stands and their lack of mass (compared to the very heavy dry sand filled Atacamas) my second thoughts after admiring the fit, finish and design was that their lack of mass would lead to a drop in the sound quality of this system. I was wrong !

Rather than a drop in quality particularly in the area of bass and the lower mid-range, music played through the Reference 3A Track Audio 600 Precision Stand Mount speaker stands (from here on PSMSS) pairing had gained bass and the bass, mid-range and treble had also opened up. I was quite surprised, nay shocked at this.

A number of years ago an opportunity had presented its self to me to actually use a pair of  stands that Reference 3A make for their speakers (one model which works with the whole range of stand mount speakers) and the results had been less than impressive in this room with the Dulcets; compared to the Atacamas. Those stands were a light weight design, which look a bit like a tuning fork and are height adjustable. So I was expecting a similar result from the Track Audio stands.

I put Rain Tree Crows one and only album on first and instantly knew things were a lot better than before.

This is a very nice recording, with a lot of interesting sounds, percussion and instrumentation and using the Dulcet’s on the Track Audio stands opened everything up in a quite an amazing way.

My reference tracks on this album are Red Earth and Cries and Whispers , though I love all the other tracks (these two have been constants in all the many years I have been evaluating audio equipment) all showed marked improvements over how they normally sound. Any initial fears about a drop in bass did not manifest themselves on this album.

All the bass on Rain Tree Crows is fairly natural and not over modulated so any lack in this area would be immediately obvious.

Red Earth started with its usual gently haunting ebb and flow punctuated with rumbling bass and little bits of percussion here and there. What took me my surprise was the width and depth of the soundstage and the clarity of sound. However this clarity was not at the expense of the ebb and flow of the music, nothing was spot lit, the musicians playing along with each other as one and also in their own space. Towards the end of the track as the percussive elements take over the ring of each bell had a reality that I have rarely heard before.

Moving onto Cries and Whispers, the low rumbling bass and a richly percussive swirling sound-scape gently under girds David Sylvian’s plaintive vocal. Little swirls of synth and guitar punctuate the droning bass lines and again towards the end of the track, like on Red Earth percussion takes the lead. I know this track so well and yet it was like I was hearing it again for the first time. The air and space round cymbal strikes and the following decay into space left me amazed.

Moving onto an old favourite of mine, Nitin Sawhney’s Beyond Skin album was on next. The Pilgrim, Tides and Letting Go sounded quite amazing, being more open, detailed and focused than in the past with the Atacama speaker- stands. Bass was deep articulate and the openness and air was quite breathtaking.

The piano on Tides was more solid, three dimensional and it was much easier to hear this instrument as it stood now more in its own space, as did the other instruments as separate entities within the soundstage. This was not at the expense of cohesion though.

Robert Downey Junior’s wonderful, but dark and introspective album the Futurist was on next. Once again this is an album that I know so well on this system and it now sounded, again, as with the other music played so far, much more open detailed, spacious and with better bass.

The bass solo during Kimberly Glide was superb, being both texturally rich, deep and articulate. Double bass playing on this album was as good as I have heard on a small scale system.

Each album I played over many weeks never failed to impress me and switching back to the Atacama stands made the system sound closed in and opaque compared to how it was with the Track Audio stands.

Eating humble pie, further listening and a new revelation

As mentioned earlier, my use of granite slabs under the Track Audio stands and the medite board I had to use to allow the stands to sit on the granite had been and continued to bother me.  Being frank Mike Butler had gone to great lengths to explain how their unique spike design worked, both in conjunction with the stands and floor they sit on and I felt that my Heath Robinson arrangement might well not be letting either the spikes work properly and as a result of this not allowing me to hear the stands to their fullest. As good as the results were and as you can read above I was more than impressed my nagging doubt would not go away.

I contacted Mike and asked him if he would send me some additional segments (1) for the 600’s (which I guess has turned them into 700 PSMSS ) which when screwed into place raised the height of the stands enough to allow the Reference 3A Dulcets to sit at the correct height; without the need for granite slabs underneath. I should say that overall the speakers did now sit at a slightly lower overall height to the first listening period but not by much.

I measured the positions of the speakers as they were during the first phase of the listening test and marked the position of the granite slabs with parcel tape and then set the 600s up very carefully so as to keep all the original parameters the same.

I should really say at this point that the Track Audio isolator spikes are a joy to use, as they adjust quickly and accurately and a lovely design detail allows you to tighten them with a supplied wrench in seconds. I will be going into these products in more detail in a future stand alone review as these are available as a separate products for £300.

Being honest I was not really sure what to expect with this new arrangement as all my past attempts at using speaker stands directly on the floor in this room had led to very poor results.

I started with Rain Tree Crows and to not put to fine a point on it, I was both surprised and shocked at what I heard. As good as the sound had been before a whole new level of refinement across the frequencies was now obvious. I listened to all the other music I had used earlier on during the test and the results were the same.

Firstly I should state that the overall tonal balance  had not changed as such only that there was now every so slightly more bass and a very slight increase in mid range richness. The openness in the treble, mid and bass heard first time round was unchanged and if anything slightly more transparent. However the thing which frankly blew me away was the lack of any kind of bass boom or lack of control in the bass. With the Dulcets on the Track Audio stands sitting directly onto the floor….well the floor was no longer an issue; something Mike had hinted at, in an earlier conversation. He also told me that their spikes would also limit bass transmission through the floor to the room below (assuming your using a system in an upstairs room), again he was correct. In the room below my upstairs listening room while you could hear music there was an absence of heavy thumping bass; even when playing the likes of Nitin Sawhney’s album Broken Skin, an album well known for its quality bass.

As well as the improvements in the areas I have just mentioned there was also a slight increase in sound stage depth and width. It might be easy to just put these changes down to me re positioning the speakers but having taken great care in making sure they were positioned as before I don’t think that is the case. I can but only think that the granite slabs plus medite boards were not allowing the Track Audio Isolator spikes to work correctly. However the extra clarity and improvements noted above are frankly staggering if they are due to me moving the 600s onto the floor and truth be told I believe that this is exactly the reason for the improvement. Everything Mike had told me earlier was correct and as I sit here typing I feel I am very much eating humble pie. How often do reviewers tell you that in a review ?….not often!

Conclusions

In the context of this system and room (please keep that in mind), the Track Audio 600 precision speaker stands have performed in ways that frankly I did not really think was possible. Being very frank they have transformed the way in which my Reference 3A speakers perform in this system/room and this experience has opened my mind up further to the possible issues of speaker/stand/room interfaces.

Now as to whether, as Track Audio claim, ‘I am now hearing the speakers only’ I still can’t say with 100% certainty that is the case but based on my experience so far and the ways in which Mike Butler has been correct in how he has described the ways in which their stands/isolator spikes work and should work I am inclined to say that just possibly I am hearing what Track Audio say I am.

Regardless of this slight uncertainty what I can say with 100% certainty is that the T600s are an amazing product in terms of fit, finish, build quality and design and the improvements in sound quality that I experienced with my Dulcets in place on them has been staggering.

One aspect of things I have not talked about so far is cost. Quality innovative designs, with exceptional engineering, fit and finish don’t come cheap and the T600 speaker stands are no exception to that rule at £1300 a pair.

However in my opinion they more than justify this cost by really offering excellence in all the areas I have just mentioned and exceptional sound quality improvements to the speakers I used on them.

I feel very privileged to have been able to do the first UK review of these speaker stands. Its also fantastic to be in at the start of a new company and I have no doubt that Track Audio will become an audiophile household name and watchword for the very highest levels of quality in what for me should never be an afterthought; the stand your speaker sits upon.

The Track Audio 600/700 Precision Stand Mount speaker stands are now my new reference and I for one will be finding away to hold onto them.

Neil


(1) These extra segments six in total arrived next day after are conversation. Now that is what I call service. They can be bought for £87.50 (the difference in cost between the different models of stands) and fitted yourself but Track Audio would be delighted to do it for you, service the stands and return them to you for that amount plus carriage.

(2) Mike Butler had gone into great detail to explain how their unique design works and while I can’t go into written detail here or show you the detailed photos of how the spikes are constructed, Mike did tell me that using them directly on the floor was going to give the best results. This was the way they are designed to work. I had or so I thought based on past experience with the room no choice but to try them as I had other stands. I was wrong.

Source of  Review Product Loan….. Track Audio, Unit 3 Corinium Industrial Estate, Raans Road, Amersham, Bucks, HP6 6JQ

Contact:T: 01494 723755 or sales@trackaudio.co.uk or www.trackaudio.co.uk

Retail Prices…. Track Audio 600 Precision Stand Mount Speaker Stands £1300 for a pair of stands in black or silver. Final review stands 700 Precision Stand Mounts £1387.50. Six extra segments for raising the height of the stands can be bought for £87.50

Specification:Height adjustable stand mounts
Ball locking finely adjustable feet
Uniquely designed spikes
Built in bubble spirit level
Stands come complete with hard floor spike protectors
Designed and Manufactured in the UK
CNC Machined
High specification certificated materials
Manufactured by an ISO 9001 registered company
10 Year Manufacturers Guarantee on all parts

All stands can be purchased in pairs or single units for use with AV centre speakers.
Bespoke colours are available on request.

Website: http://www.trackaudio.co.uk/

© Text and Photos Copyright 2011 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio…..except for Track Audio product photos and album covers; Copyright belongs with their original publishers.

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.

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