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Reviewer: Les Turoczi
Digital sources: Naim CD2 CDP; Modwright Sony 999ES Signature Truth CDP; Sound Devices 744T HD Digital Recorder.
Analog Source: Linn Sondek LP12 with Lingo, Cirkus, Trampolin upgrades; Naim ARO arm; Spectral moving-coil MCB II cartridge; Nude Denon 103 cartridge; HRS Record Clamp; ARC PH3SE phono stage; Magnum Dynalab Etude FM tuner.
Preamp: Bent Audio TAP transformer volume control, silver wiring.
Power Amp: McCormack DNA 500; two Electron Kinetics Eagle 400 monoblocks [on subwoofers only].
Speakers: Zu Definition Pro loudspeaker system [with Rane PEQ55 Parametric Equalizer for low bass only].
Cables/Wires: Various sets of interconnects, speaker wires and power cords from Zu Audio.
Power: Dedicated power lines; BPT BP-3.5 Signature Plus power conditioner.
Accessories: Sound Organization racks; "The Base" platforms; Symposium Svelte Shelves, Point Pods and Fat Padz; Walker Audio Extreme SST Silver Treatment and Reference HDL Mk. II links; various other footers.
Room size: 14' by 23' with 8' ceiling, speakers set up on short wall; carpeted concrete flooring.
Review component retail: OS-92 (92 cm tall with 4 shelves) $1295; brass spikes (set of 4) $65; additional shelf $195; PB-9 ebony cones (set of 4) $40; PB-10 ebony cups (set of 4) $35. Note: other options exist for rack width/height sizings and shelf numbers.

Context has consistently impressed me as useful, important and a key awareness-influencing factor for so many things in life. When I am in front of classes teaching some exotic or intricate aspect of biology during my day job, I attempt to provide meaningful background information and perspective as new material is being introduced. Students can typically better envision and appreciate the intellectual environment which promoted or fostered those new developments or discoveries under discussion. Without context the bare factual details seem to stand alone starkly, lacking a richness and value. With context, understanding and insight are enhanced along with memory retention. Interestingly, in audio, context also plays a significant role, coming in many shapes, sizes and styles. The gear we use for music listening has to reside somewhere and that sets the context for operational utility, visual esthetics and a sonic signature. This leads me to the topic for today, namely, audio equipment racks, most particularly a handsome Yamamoto version.

Each of us has to decide how to support, display and employ our components. Often simplicity rules. Sometimes, experimentation takes a strong hold, putting us into an exploratory mode that can be instructive, frustrating, expensive, time-consuming, or, if the stars align properly, even beneficial. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that a good percentage of audiophiles have scoured furniture shops ranging from Ikea to Roche Bobois in that quest. Others, of the Home Depot mindset, roam aisles in search of unique elements which might be constructed into something akin to successful rackage. Even a few of the surviving full service audio shops have some level of audio furniture and equipment racks to offer.

Ongoing efforts at chez Turoczi have touched upon a variety of approaches, primarily, but not exclusively, in the simple and cost-effective genre. For the past decade my gear has been supported by low, metal framed, wooden-shelved Sound Organization racks, either in two or three shelf configurations. Each of those shelves actually rests on small isolating points which are part of the rack skeleton. At the outset I merely placed equipment directly on those thin wooden shelves but gradually the call for experimentation took me in adventurous directions. Metal pointed cones, Sorbothane pucks, laminated other things and even odder devices snuggled beneath many of my components, at one point of another. Yes, there was always something different as a result of those tinkerings, but that difference was only occasionally better.

Like most of you, I have noticed what key audio reviewers use for equipment racks. Many of them own complex and atmospherically priced devices to support mostly very exotic gear. My home system is not outrageous and would probably be considered modest in terms of current trends in extreme audiophilia nervosa. [Chopped liver it ain't.] But the quest to find better methods of letting this equipment shine continues to call. It is my understanding that many serious audiophiles in the Far East prefer to place their components directly on the wooden floors of their listening rooms. Perhaps some sense of organic wholeness is behind this thinking, although the actual reason is likely based on listening experiments; at least I would hope so.

Many styles of equipment racks exist in the marketplace so I tried to identify those that had attributes which would satisfy a list of important parameters including an appropriate sonic signature, visual appeal, competent construction, durability and cost-effectiveness. In that search, the name of the Yamamoto Sound Craft Corporation drew my attention. I had already purchased one of their HA02 Headphone Amplifiers and found it to be an excellent unit on all fronts. Based on the artisan wood craftsmanship apparent in the HA02 along with other references seen on the internet about the shop skills at Yamamoto, I began an inquiry into their racks at Thanksgiving time of last year with Brian Bowdle at Venus HiFi. He is the American importer of these products. While there was a very long delay in finally getting the OS-92 rack with four shelves due to personal but now resolved issues with the importer who had taken some time out, it arrived directly from Japan and in fine condition.

After unpacking all of the rack system pieces, it was apparent that this was a beautiful example of excellent build quality, revealing a simple but elegant design utilizing gorgeous Asada Cherry wood materials. Everything went together smoothly and I extend sincere thanks to my good friend Mike who offered much help in the assembly and installation of the rack. The OS-92 came with spikes which were short and not highly pointed. This presented some concern since my listening room is covered in deep, thick wall-to-wall carpeting. Clearly these spikes could not penetrate to the concrete slab beneath and its underlying padding. I asked Brian if there were longer, sharply pointed spikes available but he noted that there were none. His advice was to use the enclosed rounded spikes, leaving the shelving bolts merely lightly tightened at first. The provided Allen wrench came in handily for retightening and fully securing these shelf bolts after about a week's settling-in time had passed. With the weight of all of the electronics on board, this indeed did come about. Since I was concerned about stability and anchoring the rack, I elected to put my hefty McCormack DNA500 on the bottom shelf. That actually worked well although it consumed one shelf space of the three available. This generated other concerns which will be explained shortly. Incidentally, the factory supplies a small flat wrench which slips under the upright posts to allow for spike height and leveling adjustment. Mike was able to get the entire rack into a reasonable degree of levelness, allowing for adequate clearance of the lowest shelf above the carpeting. After one variation yet to be explained, a solid arrangement persisted over the review period. I speculate that Brian was right about not needing to worry over having pointy spikes directly contacting the concrete slab of my room floor. Yet, I do wish I could have experienced that added level of anchoring. [My speakers and other racks are spiked solidly to the slab so that is the basis of my bias.]

From the photo above it can be seen that I placed the Yamamoto rack forward of my existing three Sound Organization racks. This was a convenient and useful configuration and gave an acceptable look to my room. Since I have 12 pieces of componentry which need support, keeping several of the items on the old racks in this adjacent location allowed things to be connected and operated smoothly. The logic behind which components to place on the new wooden rack was driven by the idea of component characteristics such as mechanical complexity and tube-ed-ness. Clearly my turntable system would sit on the top shelf for easy access and functionality. The DNA500 amp sat on the bottom because of its heft and weighty contribution to anchoring the whole package. This resulted in having only two shelves free. They carried the ModWright Sony 999ES CD player and Bent Audio TAP line stage, at least initially. During this period the Sony CD player needed some work so it went back to the west coast, leaving my trusty Naim CDP to take over the role of digital playback. The ARC PH3SE phono stage continued to sit on the Sound Organization rack just to the rear of the Yamamoto stand but I really felt the need to get it onto the Yammy. This lead to another call to Brian Bowdle with a request for additional shelving. The clever modular design of the racking system allows for shelf placement at any of many heights and I saw that at least one if not two extra shelves could be accommodated. While there was another long wait, two more Cherry shelves eventually arrived from Japan in fine condition. After careful component height measuring it became obvious that only one of them could be used. With this fifth shelf in place the most sensitive components were now on the rack, including the phono stage.

Again, Mike lent a big hand and the intermediately located shelves were readily repositioned so as to allow for the one new shelf. Much to our pleasure, the mechanics of sliding shelves into and out of the side supports was a piece of cake. This speaks volumes to the care and attentiveness at the factory in maintaining tight tolerances. So, finally a five shelf rack was complete and the photos you see reveal it that way.

I should note that during its residence at my home the Yamamoto rack system was seen by many friends and audio buddies. The overwhelming response to the visual presentation was quite positive. Women in particular appreciated its clean lines, lustrous finish and warm, inviting color palette; hopefully this WAF extrapolates to most situations. I think the one contrary opinion voiced probably could have been satisfied a bit more easily if all the gear saw a consistent Yamamoto racking context; the mix and match look in my room might have been a confounding variable. This was indeed a minority opinion. I think the visuals, the feel and the functionality of this all-wood construction were excellent. Are we ready to talk about impact on sonic performance yet? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Read on.

From the beginning I knew that I wanted to see how my components would behave when placed directly onto the Yammy rack shelves - minus any kind of footers. I made it so. Listening this way the overall sound manifested as overly warm and dark for my taste. It was not murky or cluttered sounding but it lacked a vibrancy and energy that I had known and enjoyed from the past. [I'm referring to the sonic signature that previously existed when everything was dialed-in on my Sound Organization racks employing a variety of supplemental footers and other add-on shelves.] Interestingly, now under this new context, the sense of dimensionality was larger while the soundstage felt broader, deeper and even taller, in spite of the darkness. This improved sense of scaling certainly opened up the sonic vista in a way that all came as a pleasant surprise.

It was tempting to immediately try placing ancillary things under every piece of gear, but I resisted. When the rack was delivered it came shipped with a set of Yamamoto two-part ebony footers known as the PB-9 cones and PB-10 cups. It seemed natural to place these good looking and well made feet under the most mechanically sensitive component I had. So beneath the Linn turntable they went. At first the sound did indeed tighten up in a good way but it still needed to get clearer and less dark. After several trials involving different positions beneath the LP12, I found placements which aided resolution and tonal balance. Now my only dilemma was that no other sets of these Yamamoto footers were on hand.

I tried these ebony cones and cups under my ModWright CDP for a short time and found a small, but useful improvement. My guess is that the tube circuitry in this modded Sony 999ES player found the Yammy footers to be simpatico. As previously mentioned, when that player needed to go off for servicing, and an upgrade to its power supply, my non-tubed Naim CD2 was substituted for the remainder of the review period. The ebony footers made less of a difference now. After a few other experiments it became clear that the PB9&10 combos yielded the most valuable improvements under my turntable, so there they stayed.

Further twists and turns incorporated some of the other devices I had on hand for trials in conjunction with the Yamamoto rack system. Curiosity about the chunky Myrtle Wood footers
from Cardas prompted me to buy two sets of their larger blocks from Audio Advisor. Unfortunately, where ever I tried them under my gear the sound became darker and duller than when no footers of any kind were in use. That put an end to that configuration.

Other footer type products were here, so they came into play. These included Fat Padz from Symposium Acoustics, IsoNodes from Bright Star, plus Cones and Isolators from Vibrapod. After a tedious series of permutations and combinations with these devices, I found that each had its place when used in conjunction with the rack. You can see some of them showing beneath my components in the photos, although not everything is clearly visible. For instance, the Naim CDP performance improved nicely in terms of bass clarity and ambience when the Fat Padz were employed. The big message from those trials was that each footer style does make a difference, depending on implementation and orientation. Based on personal taste and expectations it is possible to create combinations that make sonic sense, assuming one has the patience and dedication to try lots of things. I know that sounds a bit vague, but it just comes down to trying all the variations until things gel.

Perhaps offering an analogy with visual imaging is useful in attempting to clarify some of these ideas. Just about everyone has played with setting up a television in order to yield an acceptable if not excellent representation of that condensed representation of the visual world. Yes, a screen of 17", 60" or even Imax size can do neat things but to think it can make one believe they are actually in the Grand Canyon is stretching things quite a bit. In spite of this disconnect from reality, it is feasible to fine-tune any TV to give a more accurate, appropriate, truthful and satisfying picture. Adjusting the color balance, contrast, brightness, sharpness and so on is all in the game. I bet there are many of us who still cringe when visiting others who have green-fleshed humans prancing around on their TV screens. It takes time, energy and awareness to get that screen to effectively deliver the goods. For those of you who tinker with Adobe Photoshop, most of this may come across as the Sesame Street explanation, so forgive me for simplifying. One related consideration parallels this idea in the form of a photography analogy. Fans of black and white nature prints readily admire the sophistication and detail seen in the extensive works of Ansel Adams. While artistic creativity resonates in those images, there was a very strong effort by Adams to document stone outcroppings, clustered trees and so on. Every time I see one of his shows I feel the harmony and glory in nature in addition to all those neat things that go along with such beautiful interpretation. On the other hand, for photos of the human condition, still also in black and white format, Henri Cartier-Bresson takes me to another place. Even more interpretative, perhaps less documentarian but evocative as all get out, these images stir one's heart, mind and soul wonderfully. Finding truth, beauty and worth in any of these endeavors has to be a significant part of the enjoyment in life. Sadly, getting lost in minutia often takes us astray - but no more philosophizing, I promise.

Working with audio gear generates similar perceptions and demands. I have heard lots of very fine sound systems over the years. Even the very best never allowed me to completely suspend willful disbelief or convinced me to think I was at the actual event. Granted, I do listen to a great deal of live music, especially truly acoustic, non-amplified performances, so that may set the bar a bit differently from those who get subjected to lousy PA systems, in poor settings. I can say, however, that a well tuned audio system can bring much happiness and satisfaction, particularly when the result has been achieved through diligent, conscientious and aware machinations. Working with this rack has certainly moved things in my sound room in that direction.

So, with multiple experiments behind me, the most sensitive components were suitably in place and it was now possible to spend real listening time with this five shelved, handsome Yamamoto-plus package.

One of the really good things to manifest was the ease with which it was possible to shift out of the reviewer's mindset into the music lover's domain. Whether it was analog or digital playback, the sound was expansive, rich, tonally balanced and engaging. Clearly, this was an improvement over my previous, years-old, configuration. The largest characteristic to improve turned out to be the dimensionality of the soundstage, including width and depth of the soundfield. On orchestral material this was a real bonus. For studio recordings, this was not as big a deal, but with well done discs, it was beneficial. The other parameter
gaining benefits would have to be richness of tonality. This meant a density to the sound, whether alto saxophone, piano or human voice. A few examples might be instructive.

Exotic Dances From the Opera on Reference Recordings [RR-71] has been a long standing favorite. The width and spatial expanse now emanating from this CD was glorious. Instruments felt tonally complete. When you sometimes hear systems that are not strong in this ability, instruments can often come off as sounding as if they were made of plastic instead of wood or brass. This was not the case with the Yammy context at work. In the "Dance of the Tumblers", the pace and agility of the orchestra felt right and helped convey the excitement intended in the score. Coupled to the believable tonality, this piece seemed more engaging than I had heard it for a long time. Tangentially, I'd like to mention that some of the more recent Reference Recordings releases continue to reflect the tasteful technical wizardry and esthetic prowess of Keith Johnson as recording engineer. I do admire the results he and his colleagues create. Particularly enjoyable discs include [1] Symphonic Dances with Keith Lockhart and the Utah Symphony, [2] the 30th Anniversary Sampler and [3] Serenade by the Turtle Creek Chorale.

The recently released Neil Young CD Live at Massey Hall, 1971 [Reprise/WEA] is a neat disc. While originally recorded to analog tape, this live concert captures a youthful, rambunctious Neil in an enjoyable and vibrant style. His voice is delivered with a sonorous richness and energy that helps the listener feel the excitement and involvement occurring during the event. In earlier auditions on my old rack that sonic sense was hinted at, but now the room feel and emotion were more obvious, on practically every track. For fans of classic rock, this is a must have disc.

On vinyl playback I really came to appreciate another 1971 oldie-but-goodie in the form of David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name [Atlantic Records]. This worn but serviceable album revealed its dimensionality on the Yammy stand in an almost ethereal way. Hard to believe that a studio production could do this and the tinkly percussive details shined. Bravo!

My interest in hearing more vinyl was piqued as a result of this configuration. One LP after another demonstrated the benefits of this new context. I won't bore you with a litany of details but suffice it to say that classical, jazz and rock music had a sweetness and bigness that kept me wanting more. I hesitate to use this terminology but it appeared that on the Yamamoto rack, the sound felt magnified in a good, balanced and appropriate way. Through my previous setup I had not perceived LPs sounding minified but with this new context, that was the inevitable conclusion. Yes, pace, rhythm and all of that stuff was intact, tonality felt right and the warm smoothness was not a distraction.

In addition to many different commercial LPs and CDs I was able to audition CDRs of recordings I have captured myself. Those who've read some of my other reviews will know a bit about this so I'll keep the details brief. In the last seven years I started recording local musicians, both amateurs and professionals, using either a DAT system or more recently, a hard disc system. The recorders are fed by microphones primarily from Schoeps but a few other types come into play on occasion. I am really pleased with my Sound Devices 744T recorder since it allows 16 bit/44kHz as well as higher resolution captures at 24bit/96kHz. I specifically record unamplified music, typically in good acoustic spaces and the range covers things from solo piano, to small jazz and classical ensembles, large and small vocal groups, orchestras and pipe organ. The benefit of doing all this is that I sit in the audience next to my equipment and actually get to hear and enjoy the concert at the same time it is being recorded. After making the transfers to CDR with no processing of any kind, it is instructive to see how this very natural, purist recording approach translates into playback on two-channel stereo systems. Happily, I can report that the sound in my listening room blossomed in dimensionality and honesty via the Yamamoto context. Space, sonic density, ease of presentation and the aforementioned tonality, PRaT and other parameters benefited nicely.

Trying to describe how an equipment rack sounds may be an act of futility. So much of the context in question depends on multitudes of variables including, at the very least, the nature of the gear being supported, ancillary elements like footers and spikes, room location, power quality, personal mood, etc. I think you can see that I was impressed with what this equipment rack did in my sound room.

I close by noting that the Yamamoto OS-92 system, as configured, taught me a few new things about optimizing music playback in a listening room. It is beautifully executed, and possesses an under-stated, appealing and cohesive look. The attention to detail, both in construction and assembly, lets its functionality happen easily and without fuss. Relative to other high quality equipment racks I consider it a cost-effective solution. Its sonic benefits can accrue as one takes time to customize the context. That is to say, finding appropriate interfacing between each component and each shelf in the rack may be tedious, but it is worth doing so as to get the final beneficial results. This is a successful product and should be sought out by those who want to upgrade their sound without spending a fortune. Certainly I have not had a $5K, $10K or $15K rack in my home, but I have seen and touched them at shows and other locations. I think the Yamamoto OS-92 takes you a long way toward that kind of performance, with a lot less fuss, complexity and cost. Highly recommended.

Quality of packing: Simple and effective enough to survive transcontinental shipping.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Straight forward.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: The product arrived as promised but after a long delay.
Quality of owner's manual: Brief instructions included, although additional useful details appear on the Japanese website.
Website comments: The Yamamoto website offers modest software-generated translations, which are adequate after a bit of creative interpretation.
Warranty: Not specified.
Global distribution: With direct delivery from Japan as I experienced myself.
Human interactions: All arrangements were made via the American importer, Venus HiFi.
Other: Handsome appearance, excellent build quality, effective performance.
Pricing: Reasonable and good value for the money.
Application conditions: Deserving of the care and respect one would lavish on fine furniture.
Final comments & suggestions: The Yamamoto rack system performs admirably on all fronts. Worthy of strong recommendation.

US importer's website