|But first, M&M time. In each of the Ziploc bags, Alvin had enclosed color-coded Sorbothane dampers. Their 21-40, 41-65, 66-100 and 101-150 pound ratings were contingent on diameter, thickness and density. Calculating 11 lbs for the ½-inch acrylic shelves and ¾" Formula platform, 15 lbs for my two stock 3/4" acrylics, I could now attend to each stand module individually. Dividing each weight class by a factor of 3 to determine the tolerance per damper (for ease of use, GPA sorts them totaled up for three since that's how you'd use 'em), I re-tuned my Monaco with precision, then placed the Carbon/Kevlar shelf on top like sticking a Maracchino cherry into whipped cream for the crowning touch. Before the actual physical reshuffling, I listened to a few saucy rancheros and tangos on Elliot Goldenthal's 40-carat soundtrack to Frida [DG/Universal 289 474 150-2] to establish the patient's pre-op condition.
|Tired of hyberbolic review language? Get ready for hibernation then. I hate to admit it, but swapping out the poorly squashed, pressure-hardened Sorbothane discs for juicy fresh ones and getting the tube monos 'carbonated' and sparkling with Formula did quite a number on the sound.
|You've heard it all before - the squeegee treatment; the peeling away of the window tinting; the heightened acuteness. Predictability can be cruel and a bore when you're a reviewer forcing old wine into new bottles.
|But this was more a matter of Mexican Tequila potency than Napa Valley designer wine. Far stronger than CD treatments. Far stronger than molecular gold plating of electrical connections, with those Japanese shark liver oil dispenser pens brother Bill Cowen just beat me to the punch with.
Definitely stronger also than cable swaps if you started out with something good to begin with. Stronger too than upgrading from the Bel Canto PRe1 to the PRe6 which, as described in the latter's review, operated purely in the domain of transparency, micro-dynamics and tactile thereness. That's exactly where these changes occurred, too - except intensified by close to a factor of 2. It's the thing all audiophiles want - dead-obvious resolution gratification without the frequency domain shifts and unpredictable impedance interactions inherent in cable tuning. Or, mucho mas clarity without the dreaded and often coincident bite or edginess.
This is why I firmly believe that a systematic resonance control address is far more vital to ultimate audiophile success than endless component upgrades - once you've arrived at a well-balanced, simpatico ensemble of hardware. Naturally, you first got to have something that produces vibration before you can start to work on removing it again. But then it becomes a number's game because resonance creates its own interactions and intermodulations with the signal. Clearly most critical is the front-end. Signal aberrations there get amplified, enlarged and compounded in more stages than with subsequent electronics. Which, if you think about it, means that my personal stack is oriented upside down. The Monaco's top shelf is the one most isolated by the successive True Vector interfaces interrupting the flow of the upright columns. That's where the most critical components should be sited.
Alas, the size of my AUDIOPAX amps mandated they sit atop. For cable routing reasons and to keep 'em short, the remainder of the components simply followed suit. This has the source components occupy the lowest-most tier. As Alvin Lloyd would love to point out, what I really need is two amp stands, to isolate the monos channel-to-channel, then tier the other electronics from the top down. I'm quite certain he's right, too - but my pocket book isn't. While we're at it, stacking components atop one another isn't too kosher either. More Dobby-style self-administered whipping. There really's never an end to any of this. Argh!
As reminders go, today's exercise thus far also reconfirmed how, as with any high-performance machine, ultimate success with audio devices is contingent on maximizing all of their operating parameters. In my case, 'twas the spring rate of the dampers, as just one of nine "anti vibration migration" blocks designed into the Monaco system. In your case, it could be tightening the driver mount screws in your speakers; cleaning your connections; rerouting your cables; moving your equipment stand away from a high sound pressure area; matching speaker path lengths to within 0.2 inches; 'moving' the room's central axis sideways to avoid symmetrical reinforcement of side-wall room nodes. Needless to say, if you currently owned a GPA or any other stand or device that employed visco-elastic dampers? Make sure they're "tuned" to their applied loads. Otherwise you're unequivocally shortchanging your investment.
I decided to live with the changes wrought for a day before replacing the Carbon/Kevlar Formula platform for the stock acrylic shelf, to isolate the extent of the former's specific contribution and likely screw things up again. Since this review ostensibly was about the Formula platform, that really was the crux of the matter: How much performance enhancements should one expect by upgrading with this $850 option? Seeing how thoroughly thru-engineered the Monaco stand is, using this -- or a smaller -- Formula shelf on a less effective stand (i.e. one that attenuated far less in the actual support structure prior to the shelf proper) should at least duplicate if not accelerate my personal results. One could also elevate mono blocks off the floor, with the platform itself riding on Apex footers... so insert hours of self-absorbed, completely indulgent listening gratification now ... then a few minutes worth of disconnecting the amps' interconnects to park 'em on the floor, still powered up and connected to the speakers to insert the other shelf on the fly ... then a quick yet worried glance at the check book ... then:
That wasn't me but my check book. Hey, curses should be colorful. Otherwise, don't bother at all. What happened? Quite a setback, by more than 50%. With the acrylic shelf, the fabulous "Burn it Blue" duet between Caetano Veloso and Lila Downs, on the Frida album, had considerably less pop. It sounded softer, more remote, not as crisp and articulated. The Formula platform, as much as it pained me to confess, acted as the proverbial zoom lens, better optics and superior focus. The notable aspect? This gain in clarity and intensity wasn't accompanied by the unnatural razor-edging that often goes for red-lined resolution. Now you might wonder. Couldn't one overdo this stripping away of gunk and debris, to eventually make things - too real, too stark, too nekkid? Unlike certain devices purported to just attenuate vibration but, somehow and somewhere, adding a voice of their own in the process, the Grand Prix Audio solutions appear to work purely in the negative domain. They subtract bad stuff. They don't add personal notions of better which could be anything but. As a result, these solutions allow you to hear more of the music, less overlay of mechanical interference.
Extrapolating from how each Carbon-fiber-based addition to the system thus far had netted profound advances made me shiver. The prospect of eventually decking out each tier of the Monaco in high-gloss weave was terribly tempting yet financially forboding. Which brings me to the value consideration. Clearly, $850 for what could be characterized as 'just a bloody while fancy shelf' isn't a casual commitment. It's not something even worth talking about until the basics have been attended to. However, for those whose systems have grown over time to be stable and mature, the resonance game becomes the arena of the most potent returns. Once you start playing dem ponies, you'll never lose - but an end to worthwhile advances won't be in sight for quite a while either. It really is a number's game then, chipping away in building blocks here and there to continue being amazed and stupefied. So then, is the Formula platform worth its asking price? It nearly is a work of art as far as execution and appearance goes. But does it deliver where it matters, sonically?
Most frustratingly and definitely? Yes! But again, only if your system's already mature and saluting you with a straight back. Before that, this Formula is like a fancy car without any wheels under it. Afterwards, it affords a greater percentile sonic improvement than the same money spent on component upgrades would yield, certain performance mods by the likes of ModWright and The PartsConneXion excepted. To report on how GPA devices interface and compare with other, far more modest stands, both John Potis and Paul Candy are lined up to investigate specific items from Alvin Lloyd's growing menu. Stay tuned then as the merry knaves of 6moons keep spending your money - wisely if you heed the qualifications...