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Frederic Beudot
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Review Component Retail: $1,360 for heavy turntable shelf or dedicated amp stand; $2,720 for 2-tier rack, $3,400 for 3 tiers, $4,250 for 4 tiers

I like writing follow-ups. For one, they are short. Most the background work has been done already. Two, if there are bad news to be delivered, they too have been already handled. Follow-ups are really more about confirming or contrasting conclusions in a different environment, with a listener who probably has a different set of references and expectations.

When it comes to this follow-up, I really had not planned one. I purchased three HeartSong racks from Acoustic System International to finish up my music room primarily on Srajan's description of their ability to enrich tone while letting the music flow naturally – my type of gear exactly. In addition, I did find them good looking even though Srajan did comment at the time that finish wasn't yet commensurate with the price. With the racks destined to the basement music room rather than our living room, I was more interested in quality support than aesthetic perfection.

As explained in Srajan's review, the HeartSong racks are manufactured by Franck Tchang's brother Hab who happens to live a just 1.5-hour drive south of me. When Hab indicated that my racks were ready, I fired up the gas-guzzling Ford Explorer and its huge cargo space to drive to his place. Manufacturing these racks is a manual labor of love for Hab. He makes them one by one in the workshop alongside his house in Northern Washington DC. And yes, each rack will be slightly different, showing the minor imperfections of the material he starts out with.

One of the side effects of working with Purple and Yellow Heart woods is that they are finicky. They're sensitive to temperature and humidity when being worked on. Our winter on the American East coast was colder and wetter than usual. This forced Hab to stop manufacturing when the wood was starting to bend out of control. Srajan had noted some bending on his racks. I can happily report that mine show no such issues despite the challenging conditions under which Hab had to work.

The good news is that Hab will make the racks in whatever size and configuration you want. Plus, finish has progressed tremendously since Srajan first reviewed the racks last September. No more rough edges on boring holes, sanding is even and smooth throughout and the joints on the shelves are now undetectable by touch. Yes, the purple heart wood still shows minor defects that will reflect in the finish. This wood will never have the uniformity of MDF. But then neither does it sound like MDF.

All in all, these stands look beautiful and yes, cosmetics could probably be taken up another small notch. They are still not quite to the standard of Franck's Tango speakers (of which Hab owns a pair and they do look good). Still, I like this not quite perfect character. And my wife just loves the racks. I can't remember any other time when she actually commented on how beautiful anything going into the music room was. She insisted I email Hab how much she loved his work. Since nobody in their right mind argues with a pregnant woman, I did just that. As Srajan pointed out, the HeartSong rack does stand out amongst competition - and not just by its colors but also its effects on your sound.

Does it work well besides look good and put a needed touch of color in my room? (Yes, that's my wife speaking again, I'm colorblind.) In a few words, yes. It does pretty much exactly as Srajan described. The very heavy racks do not create a sense of heightened resolution through enhanced transient sharpness as do many of the Carbon/steel contraptions. Instead, the HeartSong rack really enhances tonal colors while somehow giving an impression of liberated dynamics and musical flow.

I don't know how to put it any better. It's not leading edge sharpness, it's not decay elongation. It's something in the middle. The articulation and flow of notes becomes more fluid. My only concerns when reading Srajan's description of the effect on tonal richness was that midbass would thicken or dynamics curtail. Neither happened. Although the bass seemed to slightly gain in weight and presence, it also gained in detail and speed – enrichment for sure but without an artificial bump in the upper bass. Similarly, the tonal enrichment did not lead to a feeling of weight or reduced dynamics as can be the case with excess harmonic distortion from certain tube designs.

This effect is more akin to what can be felt with a very good modern triode design. Tones are not as lean or white as with solid state yet each micro inflection and dynamic change is actually portrayed more accurately. Typically—be it in photography or music—when you increase saturation, you lose nuance. Here you get enhanced nuances and more intense saturation of tone colors. What you do not get with the HeartSong racks is the perceived increase in detail retrieval that comes with pushing the slider on 'edge sharpness' further than you should. Believe me, that's a good thing.

As the pictures of my new room reveal, one of the racks is equipped with the thicker turntable shelf . Everything at this point indicates that the effect on the Acoustic Solid turntable is very much what I am hearing with the Esoteric X03SE. Keep in mind that this is no suspended table. I have no way of knowing what the effect may be on such a design. One impression is that the overall resolution from the turntable has increased a little but I can't say for sure whether it comes from the turntable or from the Nagra BPS preamplifier being moved from an Ikea shelf to the HeartSong rack. Either way, the move is in the right direction, again with an enrichment of tonal textures especially on voices.

Wrapping up, the wife loves the ASI HeartSong racks, I enjoy what I am hearing a lot and Hab has taken finish to much higher levels than back in September. Now that was one sweet follow-up to write!

Acoustic System Int. website