A couple of years ago, I reviewed Critical Mass Systems’ CenterStage2. These clever feet took the longest time to work their craft, often sounding awful for a few days before turning into something consistently remarkable. When the new CenterStage2M (hereafter referred to as ‘CS2M’) arrived, I mistakenly thought that perhaps the change would speed up the process of working with the product. I was wrong; you need to devote a week to 10 days of things sounding just plain ‘wrong’ before they go so very, very right.
Aside from the change to the name on the side of each foot, there are few clues as to what’s changed from the outside. Inside, things are different. In developing the original, it became clear that what applied to making electronics sound superb didn’t quite work so well for loudspeakers. Ultimately, where making gasket material down to one-thousandth inch tolerance was fine for electronics, the loudspeakers required tolerances an order of magnitude tighter… and when that sort of gasket tolerance was reapplied to the devices sitting under audio electronics, the improvement was so significant the CS2M was born.
Not so simple
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. I spoke to Joseph Lavrencik, the sharp-of-mind guy behind Critical Mass Systems. He suggested, “The original CS2 was finalised using an additive approach; keep adding material until there was enough grip to control the soundstage. CS2M was developed using a subtractive approach; remove material until images were solidly layered and musically accurate.” This proved not to be a subtle change, he says, adding, “Using this approach, we could move the centre image backwards and forwards in space until the detail was precisely correct relative to the size and ‘weight’ of the ancillary images across a broad spectrum of music.”
The essential operation of the original CS2 holds with the CS2M. They act to mitigate surface-borne vibration while cancelling out their potential to add noise. While they make things sound worse, the long wait is because – as Critical Mass Systems suggests – they transfer entropy out of the component itself. Once in a state of equilibrium, they stay that way, which brings me to my biggest problem with both the CS2 and CS2M; the impatient box-swappers of audio will seldom give themselves ten days grace to let the system deroogelate itself (no real terms exist for this process, so I knitted my own). And those with a high review churn rate will enjoy what the CS2M can do to an entire system about once or twice a year.
Well-built and honest
Here’s the deal. If you have a good system on a well-built equipment table and using ‘honest’ neutral cables, put the right-sized CS2M footers under one or more components, then wait a week to ten days to let them do their thing. If your system sports any tweaks, strip it back to basics before you try the CS2M. You probably won’t be able to spend a week to ten days without listening, so you might find your system moving between sounding focused and excellent and sounding like it sunk a bottle of port the night before and isn’t feeling too skippy right now. Anyone used to running in Naim amps will feel right at home here. After a few days, the amplitude of those good/bad oscillations begins to get smaller, and it now varies between how the system used to sound and how it will ultimately end up sounding.
And how it ends up sounding is very good indeed. The significant change is a considerably more holographic sound, coupled with a sense of balance and order, making the system seem less ‘untamed’ than the raw products. This is no small change; it’s like your electronics just took a very big step up in performance, and while it’s unlikely that someone is ever going to use a set of feet that cost more than the thing that sits on those feet, it works exceptionally well across the board. My go-to Primare I35 Prisma is a perfect example; partnering it with four 0.8 feet works out at about 1/3rd the amplifier cost. That might seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but if you try it, the level of improvement in soundstage space, refinement, and focus on the sound make it an easy choice. Of course, the better the system, the more elegant the sound and the wider the soundstage, but the improvement seems consistent from product to product, and those with more petite price tags can sometimes have a surprising amount to give.
Comparisons between old and new are inherently complicated here; you essentially need to listen to your system’s original sound and log that away for ten days before you compare it to the new feet. There is no provision for A-B swaps, especially as the product seems to hold its equilibrium for as long as a day after being removed from either set of feet. Nevertheless, despite the inherent hiatus, it’s clear that the CS2M does everything the CS2 does and does them better. Often a lot better. The sound has greater dimensionality and weight; it’s also even calmer than before.
Relax, refine and reflect
The oddest thing about the difference is how it makes you feel toward the music being played; both make your system more relaxing, but CS2M makes that a more reflective process. Music is a cerebral yet impassioned experience through both sets of feet, but where this was a ‘refinement’ process with CS2, it’s a ‘refinement and contemplative’ process. Beethoven has a calming, blood-pressure-lowering effect on me at the best of times, but the CS2M made me even less inclined to chew through the restraints.
Critical Mass Systems made something remarkable with the CenterStage2 an,d with the CenterStage2M, the bar gets raised further. ‘M’ takes your system to the Max!
Prices and Contact Details
- CenterStage2M 0.8 (20×38mm): £275 per foot
- CenterStage2M 1.0 (35×38mm): £525 per foot
- CenterStage2M 1.5 (38×51mm): £775 per foot
Manufacturer: Critical Mass Systems
UK Distributor: Select Audio
Tel: +44(0)1900 601954