Limbs and limbic systems

Right off the bat, I'm pulling a Shirley McLaine today. I'm going way out on a limb: If you don't believe in past lives, you're never gonna believe how much of a difference an audio equipment support can make. Period.

Been Cleopatra way back when? Mata Hari? Ghenghis Khan? Wolfgang Amadeus? Welcome to the club. Now we can talk. Come closer so nobody else can hear us.

Remember when you were a Neanderthal chasing mammoths, berries and babes in furs? Didn't all amplifiers sound the same to you then? Unfortunately you were impaled by a sabertooth before you could atone for that sin. You spent a few eons in audiophile limbo (what Hindus call the lower hells) only to reawaken as a henchman during the Grand Inquisition. There were heretics claiming cables made a difference. All you knew was this - that wire on your guillotine better be oiled. What brand didn't matter. As long as those darn heads came off like greased lightning, you were in business.

Now you're a reborn audiophile in the 21st century. Cables have arrived. Companies like Discovery, Kharma, NBS, NordOst, Purist and Siltech play in the high-roller suites of the Bellagio. $38,000 speaker cables? $10,000 interconnects? Sign here please. How would you like delivery? In a wooden crate? In a silk-lined purse? Did you know that we can engrave your monogram on the black chrome plaque for a small surcharge?

How about equipment supports? As a well-accepted notion that they could significantly impact your sonics? They're just beginning to show up. Cones, pucks and bearings have the clear advantage here. By attacking the visible tip of the iceberg (or the leaves of the tree, rather than its trunk and roots) they'd perhaps rather you keep the lid on this subject. You see, they have already arrived. En masse. With a burgeoning cottage industry applying new shapes, materials and impressive claims to its Internet commerce.

Meanwhile, a few equipment stand manufacturers like Finite Elemente, Symposium, pARTicular, RixRax and Zoethecus battle the uphill struggle. Against the various Lovan and Target racks that many audiophiles consider "good enough". Meaning it's a place to stow away the black boxes. Be done with it. Spike said metal contraption to the floor. Appease the Gods of one-directional energy drainage. Offend Newtonian physics that every action inspires an equal reaction of opposing force. So you spent a few hundred bucks. Precious little for so much, affronts to common sense included. The equipment is tucked away. Audiophile sensibilities have been preserved. Your interior decorator's resistance's been successfully stonewalled. End of story. (But bubba, do you think I should upgrade my cables, get a smidgen more meat on that upper midrange?)

The market for upscale "racks" embraces the rigid high-mass ideal more than any other. From hard-rock maple to contrained-layer bolted or welded "solid steel" metal affairs, this theory holds popular attraction. Just make it heavy and inert enough and nothing will faze you. Perfectly sensible upon cursory inspection!
Into this chummy scene of audiophile isolation -- the small pond with its big predatory fish
-- now intrudes one Alvin Lloyd. He was deeply involved with Swift Engineering's high-speed moving ground plane wind tunnel project. At the time of building Swift 007.i, the first US Indy street rocket to win an open race in 14 years with Michael Andretti behind the wheel, it was the most advanced and radical race car testing facility in the world. Even though the machismo of racing etiquette forbids him from gloating, Lloyd was there, sweating the seemingly most ridiculous details to chase after ever-elusive "unfair performance advantages" and help build that famous winning projectile on four big fat tyres.
Consider the millions of corporate sponsorship dollars thrown at hopefully winning high-speed open wheel competitions. Contemplate the fact that mistakes not only cost vital seconds but endanger lives. Remember that vibration control, not just in motorsports but in automobile and other industries in general, is a well-established, empirical hard science. In cars, it has facilitated certain modest advances - from the original Model T to today's ultra-smooth cocoons traveling at autobahn speeds without spilling your frothing frapuccino or even quaking its cap of whipped cream around a brisk bend that would have derailed a lesser car (and driver, you immodestly think to yourself).
What if you took the lessons learned on the race track? What if you blatantly culled from the applied R&D data compiled over the last 60+ years, in industries that dwarf audiophile High-End like the Himalayas tower over a pesky backyard mole hill ? What if you applied them, systematically and from the ground up, to audio equipment supports?

Precisely what Alvin Lloyd wondered during the latter days of his Swift gig. Grand Prix Audio and its top-line Monaco stand is his answer. But more's on the burner, he warns.
You can't imagine how yet, he sez - but it's stuff that'll add on to take the basic design yet farther.
Seeing that I purchased my review unit, I'm not at all concerned with whether you consider the skimpy branch I'm calling my perch today perilously close to snapping. I hear what I hear. Don't you hate such reviewer self-righteousness? I'm amazed. Stunned, nearly. According to its maker, the eventual descent of his carbon-fiber shelves onto my little high desert scene -- to replace my standard acrylic shelves -- will "merely" yet double again the gulf that now separates this new acquisition from my pARTicular Novus stand (since relegated to social duty in the living room system).
If true -- and I have little reason to doubt seeing that my ears just confirmed existing claims and testimonials for his product -- such awed double-whammy observations, about that much of an improvement from a "bloody rack for Goodness' sake", might well strain your credulity. Crack my limb. Wreck my crack. Hence I'll approach this review in two stages. Report on the standard Monaco vis-à-vis my Novus stand today, revisit the Monaco when the F-1 shelves and certain other GPA performance enhancements arrive later.

Ready? You've got one final chance to exit the building before Elvis arrives - ahem, Srajan tells you that a component stand affected his system to a more pronounced degree than upgrading a regular component. Stick around. Risk permanent damage to your limbic system. That's the ancient-most part of the brain where the more primitive reptilian impulses hide. Such as "rigid's good, stiff is manly". "Sorbothane is soft and for wimps only". Or the true kicker: "Who cares anyway, a stand's a stand, let's move on to something more sexy - the next gleaming tube amp, the newest flagship speaker with Beryllium domes". You want sex? The Monaco's got it. You want performance? It's got tons of that. You want conformity to expectations? That's where you might get into trouble. You want cheap? Fuggedabboudid. But! Considering the sheer impact on the sound and the flawless, immaculate fit'n'finish, it's very fairly priced. You could spend the same $3,495 on a new amplifier and get stuck in gridlock traffic. Wonder whether the off-ramp to higher performance you just took so recklessly isn't merely moving forward at an alarmingly antlike rate.
Assembling the 3-part Monaco (2-shelf base, twin single-shelf segments) is straight-forward. The acrylic shelves come in 1/2" and 3/4" tolerance depending on the weight of the component. Ditto for the squishy Sorbothane discs that rest inside a round hollow in the triangular bases where the Carbon fiber cross joists come together. These shelf dampers arrive weight-rated and are supplied after consulting with the new owner about the precise weight of each component to be housed in/on the Monaco structure.

The pyramidal 6061 aluminum ends that plug the hollow stainless steel uprights can be easily removed to fill the tubes with sand or leadshot (I bought a 100 lb. bag of fine Silica sand from my local hardware store). While "sanding" away, I noticed two rubber O-rings that decouple these column closures from the uprights. The triangulated Carbon fiber struts don't bolt directly to them either. They first encounter an intermediary viscous layer - a whole lot of dissimilar hard/soft materials junctions to presumably act as damper barriers against the bi-directional flow of micro vibrations.

Inside the top of each pointy column plug is a threaded insert. It receives a short shaft whose diameter is cunningly reduced to screw in but retains a modicum of play. Sticking out of the top, you place the pierced bearing around it. This still leaves a bit of the shaft protruding. That's what the next story rests upon. Everything's precision-crafted to fit without requiring any kind of force.

What the pictures don't show? How easily you can displace the entire structure once loaded with your components. With the Monaco, rather than being stubbornly rigid, Grand Prix follows a more Taoist line of thinking. Give. Be supple. Bend like a sapling that doesn't break in the storm. Without applying undue effort -- but simply to test this innate range of motion -- I estimated 1/4" of play from the still center, 360 degrees in the horizontal plane. Displaced such, the structure took about three back-and-forth sways to visible settle down. Nothing that would occur in real life even with a speeding semi-truck shaking up the foundations of the neighborhood. With an earthquake? Perhaps, but then Northern New Mexico isn't known to be an epicenter for this type of scare.

The 304 stainless steel foundation spike with 3/8" stud is counter-intuitively long and impossibly skinny for such a tall and -- apparently -- heavy superstructure. Leveling is easily accomplished with a straight key that fits a throug-hole in the spike. A hex locknut tightens down your final adjustment. Gloves and a cleaning spray for the acrylic shelves are provided. The assembly instructions are uncommonly comprehenive and precise. Someone clearly attended to all conceivable details in perfectionist Germanic fashion (which I consider to be a true disease when it intrudes into having fun but which, when applied to motorcars, cameras, watches and other mechanical items, is a real joy to behold).

Now follow me out on my sky-high branch. It's far sturdier than it may look. Where's my li'l pocket saw when I need it? ...