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System N°14

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here

Systematically. It's how we'd like to assemble a satisfying hifi. The actual route to it is often more haphazard. Even reviewers can chance upon an unexpectedly winning combination well after a review first published. So these short features grouped under the same constellation logo are about the grace of hindsight, occasionally from sheer dumb luck when certain items just so happened to be on hand and produced unexpected sparks. In all cases, our archives will already have published feature reviews on the main components. But those reviews are about parts. Today's report is about proven combinations. Often the key players will be the amp+speaker pairing. After the room, that's the biggest variable. Adding a particular digital source (I don't do vinyl) won't markedly tip the balance or wipe out the winning bits. Neither will cables past a base level of competence. So don't expect complete itineraries. This is about locking in a particular sonic flavor or presentation with the most important determinants. Sorting out the secondary and tertiary players remains at your own discretion.

Main system with Artesanía Exoteryc double-wide rack and amp stands from Spain.

Bottoms up. It's the global prompt to get happy; if getting fuzzy really is your notion of happy. In hifi, cheers signifies building from the bottom up. Once you have sound, the makers of sound are in place. Now it's time to handle the improvers of sound. Without the first, there's no sound. Without the second, there's sound but less good. During remodels, the foundation of a house isn't revisited though one might break through walls or add windows. That's the thing about foundations. They remain in place. So it is for a hifi's mechanical foundation. Once laid, it tends not to be revisited or judged. Like a slab of concrete, it's neither sexy nor exposed to the vagaries of fashion trends. Unlike continued shopping for shinier amps, snazzier DACs or louder speakers, racks don't make the rounds. In fact, very few people go out to audition them in the first place. They buy something with enough surface or shanghai into service an apparently suitable piece of household furniture.

So do most reviewers. Plus, reviewing racks is a major pain in the royal. It's why today's subject gets short shrift in the press and doesn't ping the radars of sonic performance hunters. That pervasive silence is no good thing. The silence that comes from handling the subject very much is.

Smaller system with Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame rack from South Korea. Room treatment compliments of TJMaXX wool coats.

Today then let's apply the systemic view to equipment racks and speaker isolators. These are mechanical items outside the signal path. When chosen properly, they'll improve your sound to a profound degree. It's a truly interactive solution that takes a hidden foot off the brake. Alcoholic bottoms up dulls your senses whether you notice it or not. Hifi's version sharpens your hearing to a keen edge you'll notice no matter how much it funks with your mind. It addresses mechanical jitter whose consequences are far more pronounced than digital jitter. This isn't an apples to apples affair. It's a melons to berries crunch.

Having poured foundation concrete many moons ago with two Grand Prix Audio Monaco modular racks, I'd later replaced them with the Artesanía Exoteryc for its shallower depth. Ever since, I've not given the subject a second thought. Done and dusted. Then Mr. Pyun of Korea's Hifistay requested a review of his – er, top-shelf Mythology Transform X-Frame rack. Because it's modular to break down into easily manoeuvrable elements, it could carry upstairs to reassemble in bite-size chunks. Rinse and repeat. Here it went against a €60 wooden foot stool made in India or Thailand. The story of that massacre can be found here. Done and busted. I should have known better of course. Having never yet racked in this room—it'd take professional movers to get the one-piece Artesanía up the stairs around a narrow bend and then only with colorful Irish cussing—theoretical predictions simply held no water against actual experience. Ouch!

Speaker stands on Hifistay Gyro Tension decouplers, Zu Submission subwoofer on Hifistay Stella60 ball-bearing isolators.

Downstairs Korea battled Spain to win again, now with a naturally narrower lead. If you thought all racks sound the same, think again. But that's not the point. The point is to get something that properly attenuates mechanical micro resonances. The obvious players are Ansuz, Artesanía, Finite Elemente, Grand Prix Audio, Hifistay, HRS and Silent Running. No matter, none of it will be cheap. If your total system investiture feels disproportionate to slam that door shut then dead-bolt it, the plan could be an Atacama-type bamboo rack eventually augmented by ball-bearing isolators like Finite Elemente's €240/4 Ceraball footers on the floor; and/or as shelf/component interfaces. That multi-stage strategy works both functionally and financially to lower the cost of entry and become proportionate to simpler systems.

No matter what performance not furniture rack you end up with, today's moral is plain. Such wholesale vibration attenuation is sonically far more effective so audibly more significant than most upgrades past an already quality DAC for shinier specs or more current firmware code; more relevant than moving up an amp model or two within a line. This subject holds particular appeal for making what you already own better. You won't change a single piece of signal-path hardware. You merely change what it sits on, speakers included. Once handled, you'll never have to do this again. If you know yourself to be an inveterate upgrader, get a rack that's modular so it'll grow or shrink with your changing electronics. Having a proper rack will also be far more telling on whether/how a new component under consideration really beds in. The efficacy of racking it in properly is why upscale speaker brands like Magico and Wilson have now begun to offer their own isolation footers, even racks. If their dealers and customers are deaf to the topic, best handle the earwax removal in-house. So, for all that's unholy in hifi, get thee thy own proper rack in-house. You won't know what you've left under the table until you do. I'd forgotten myself. So, bottoms up, yeah? The only one having a hangover here will be your wallet. Your hearing however will be sober like after a brisk morning's run. You'll hear more subtlety, more microdynamic fluctuations, higher dynamic contrast, superior soundstaging, more focused imaging. And doesn't all that make it worthwhile? In a very actual sense, it's hearing what your system can really do for the first time. I'm as dead serious as one should allow oneself to get in this harmless but fun hobby!