Speaker stands; you need them but they’re hardly something to get excited about, right?
Maybe not, but they can make a big difference. Certainly visually, don’t underestimate how distracting an incongruent look can be. They impact sound quality too, even tweaking them can make a difference. As my son found out when I suggested he fill the columns of his stands to add mass. That translated to better clarity and firmer bass (hold that thought) all for the cost of a bag of sand. Cue one surprised yet happy bunny (HiFi Starters Club was born out of that conversation).
My own Graham stands are open and have no top plate, as generally recommended for BBC-design speakers (the Graham LS6 in my case). When using the stands to review other speakers it works sonically. Not aesthetically though, particularly when smaller speakers have to sit on the stand’s crossbar. It’s a mess (see below). Hardly ideal, review photography being difficult for a start. More importantly it’s not a look I’d live with.
There’s also the price. At £600 (before the IsoAcoustic Gaia feet they sit on) the Graham stands are hardly beginner’s fayre. Shouldn’t I just use more suitable stands when reviewing speakers? The Bristol Show was imminent so I bit the bullet and went shopping there. I wanted stands as universal in fit as possible. That looked good. And that weren’t too expensive. Atacama’s NeXXus range stood out, not least for their interchangeable top plates (more below). A week later a pair duly arrived at their new home.
The NeXXus range
The models reviewed here are NeXXus Essentials, the entry-level to Atacama’s three-strong NeXXus range. All models have 2 columns supporting the top plate. As you move up the range the columns just get bigger. Even I can get my head around that.
- Essential models Two 2” diameter columns
- HiFi models One 3” column and one 2” column
- Pro models Two 3” columns
There’s also a variation on the HiFi model called CM, with holes in the rear column for cable management, which could be handy. Available heights are 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 and 1000mm. Apart from the CM range, which is limited to 500, 600, 700 and 1000mm.
Prices range from £140 to £230 for the most common 600mm height. The 600mm Essentials stands reviewed here cost £140. Go for some of the optional extras detailed below and the price can rise quite a bit. Overall though the NeXXus Essentials are good value.
Particularly given the quality on offer. The stands arrive flat-packed, so you need to invoke your inner-IKEA. Once put together (not difficult) everything feels solid and reassuringly heavy. They look good too, whether in Satin Black or Diamond White.
Interchangeable top plates
As standard all NeXXus models come with a 130 x 170mm top plate. Other sizes are available as chargeable extras, allowing a range of speakers to be accommodated.
The options are 140×210, 160×220, 180×150 and 190×305. At £30 each (£35 for the largest) they’re not cheap, but longer term could well save you money. Come the inevitable speaker upgrade you just swap out the top plate, not the whole stand. Atacama also suggests bolting the spare top plate underneath the bass plate to add mass to the overall stand. A sensible idea.
I can’t help think supplying the 160x220mm plate as standard would be better; it’s a more universal size. For my stands I ordered two extra top plates (160×220 & 190x305mm) to handle the various speakers I’ll be using them with. Slightly extravagant, but it’s going to be sooo handy for reviews.
I mentioned Oli filling his stands with sand. It’s a common audiophile trick that tends to work well. Atacama’s Atabites are an alternative; zinc coated steel micro-discs 2-4mm in diameter, used instead of sand. The zinc coating adds mass so Atabites are 3 x heavier, and very inert. The zinc also prevents oxidisation – no more oven-drying your sand.
£35 buys you a 7 kg tub of Atabites, with guidance on the website on how much to use. Filling each column half to two-thirds full is recommended, any more can dull the sound apparently. Although Atacama does say to experiment with your specific speaker.
I used two tubs, so 14 kg in total. Which added a hefty (!) 50% to the price of the stands, so rest assured I did plenty of listening without Atabites as well. Once in place the Atabites stayed there though; no way were they coming out again (they get everywhere – like kids playing with glitter).
Completing the picture
Large 8mm spikes are provided for underneath the stands. Those with hard floors might want to buy the optional spike shoes. The spikes themselves are very solid, even if narrower ones might pierce carpet better.
As standard you get eight small gel pads to go between speaker and stand. They work well and save you faffing with Blue Tack (which is worryingly good at pulling veneer off speakers).
Finally, the maximum weight my specific stands can support is 15 kg each. Enough for most; if your speakers are heavier look further up the NeXXus range (the Pro can handle 30 kg).
And so to listening. I used three pairs of speakers (and matching electronics) covering a range of prices: –
- Elac’s Debut B6.2 with Marantz PM6006 amp & Wiim Pro streamer. Speakers £270, electronics £570
- Graham LS6 speakers with Mytek Liberty II DAC / Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra streamer and a Prima Luna EVO 300 Hybrid amplifier. Speakers £2,400, electronics £8,500
- Acoustic Energy AE1 Actives (in for review) fed by the Mytek / Pro-ject combo. Speakers £1,050, electronics £2,000.
Comparison was to my Graham stands; £1,100 with IsoAcoustics Gaia feet (gulp). Admittedly that’s not a real world comparison. In review mode the Graham stands brought out the best from all three speakers though. Could the Atacamas get anywhere near them?
Simple yet very effective gel pads keep the speakers very stable
He Ain’t Heavy……without Atabites
First up, the Graham LS6 on the Atacamas. And basically everything sounded pretty darned good. Detail was clear, the soundstage wide, bass solid and extended. It all sounded very realistic.
Good enough for 2023’s Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd) to stand head and shoulders above other versions for example. I don’t like record companies milking consumers with endless reissues of classical albums. I’ll make an exception for James Guthrie’s 2023 remaster though, it’s the dog’s whatsits. Stronger bass, instruments that sound much more like real instruments and a palpability way beyond previous versions. Better delineation between players as well, Roger Waters’ bass lines more noticeable for example. It’s getting a lot of playtime here, and the Atacama stands were more than capable of highlighting it’s superiority.
True, the Graham stands took things a notch or two higher. The opening heartbeats on ‘Breathe’ delved even deeper, the panning of the synths that follow – from right to left and back again – clearer. And so on. Even taking the Isoacoustics Gaias out of the equation the Graham stands still justified their 4 x price.
A similar picture emerged with other tracks; Kham Meslien’s ‘Ta Confience’, Manuel Barrueco’s ‘Koln Concert IIIc’, Theessink & Evan’s ‘Talk To Your Daughter’ and more. The Graham stands had a slightly richer tone. There was more texture to instruments, coupled to better clarity and firmer bass. In comparison the Atacamas masked a little detail and didn’t sound quite as composed when music got frenetic. The sound through the Grahams was more tactile too.
Essentially the Atacamas were slightly less refined, which given the price differential is to be expected. Stepping out of review mode the NeXXus Essentials sounded anything but entry-level though, holding their own in a £10k+ system. I had no complaints whatsoever; at this stage that I became sold on them.
Repeating the analysis with the Elac Debut B6.2 speakers only served to confirm the findings. The Graham stands sounded better but were complete overkill on cost grounds. Versus the Atacamas that were very price-appropriate – £920 for streamer, amplifier, speakers and stands – and allowed the system to really sing. I trawled through lots of music, familiar and new, with analysis quickly giving way to enjoyment. ”Who needs a dearer system?” whispered the little guy on my shoulder.
Heavy Metal….with Atabites
Thoughts that were reinforced when the Atabites went in. A right royal PITA of a task that took a good 45 minutes. The impact of an extra 7 kg a side was immediately obvious though. Most notably in the bass; it didn’t go deeper but was decidedly firmer. Treble was slightly sweeter too, detail more apparent, the sound more refined. Palpability also benefited. In no areas did sound quality take a backward step.
Findings that applied equally to the Graham LS6 and Elac Debut B6.2 systems. At which point I was sold on Atabites too. They’re not cheap. Even with them the Elac-based system stays just the right side of £1,000 though.
Optional, but I’d have felt churlish leaving it off !
The Acoustic Energy speakers arrived during the listening period, after the Atabites were in place. I can’t therefore comment on the sound with the Atacama stands au naturel. I can say – without giving too much away – that the AE1 Actives sounded really good atop the Atacamas. At £210 (stands plus filler) some might consider them pricey for a £1,050 speaker. Not me.
To be fair, switching to the Graham/IsoAcoustic stands elevated the performance quite further. The cost of the stands made it an academic exercise though.
I really enjoyed my time with the NeXXus Essentials stands and look forward to using them further. Their price and flexibility make them a good reviewer choice. They’re also ideal for the HiFi Starter, providing a solid platform to get the most from your speakers.
The option of swapping out the top plates is really handy, potentially saving money in the long term. And adding mass by filling the columns makes a real difference. Atacama’s Atabites are brilliant. If you can’t stretch to them initially, then consider using (properly dried) sand.
My only question would be the perennial HiFi one – should I spend a bit more?! The NeXXus HiFi models – possibly the sweet spot in the range – are only £40 more. And those NeXXus Pro models do look really solid don’t they?
Whichever you go for you’ll get a pair of well-made, no-nonsense stands that should provide years of service. All for sensible money. Like I said, I’m sold.
Sounds great, visually a dog’s dinner