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KIH #88 – Rack ’em up

  • Furniture or funiture? When it comes to audio racks, one could wonder. Does it have to be one or the other? What makes for a serious hifi rack? And if it’s serious, can it still be fun?

    Hello utility, howdy looks. At its most basic, furniture which houses hifi components must support them. Given that hifis come in all shapes and sizes, we should want some modularity. That’s also because systems tend to morph over time. We add or subtract components. Today it’s half-size Naim, tomorrow could be oversized d’Agostino. If the latter, weight ratings enter. How much weight can the rack under consideration handle?

    If we prefer to take up less not more space, we’ll want adjustable shelf spacing so we control how much empty space we leave above/below each tier. Ideally, the uprights swap out to scale up or down. Else we could end up with a low-rider rack surrounded by silly flag poles.

    Did this cover all relevant utility? Perhaps for a normal user who stays put. For a reviewer’s endlessly revolving hardware doors, a hifi rack must also move easily across the floor to create access to its back. That’s where we rewire components after all. 200kg medieval contraptions on pointy spikes will be torture unless their spikes rest in sufficiently deep spike shoes which themselves rest on furniture glides so the whole rig pulls safely away from the wall then back (it’s precisely how it works for my Artesania and Hifistay racks). That’s if one has smooth hard floors. Uneven tiles with deep grout gaps will be serious trouble. Ditto for carpet of pretty much any persuasion. Now castors might be the only solution. Can those be fitted?

    If you’re dust phobic, you may want your hifi kit behind closed doors. To retain remote control, those must be glass. Does your dream rack have that option? Given that your rack could well be the largest single hifi item in the room, looks are key just as they are for loudspeakers. Some interior décors could want wood, others steel and glass, others granite or custom colors.

    If we hope to swat a few utility flies at once, we could want component isolation as a performance consideration. That needn’t be solely about resonance control. It could extend to shielding and grounding. Shelving made of carbon fiber for example can insert EMI/RF shielding between stacked components. If engineered for purpose, shelves can contain virtual ground stations which the components get wired to. Even power filtering can be integrated.

    Back at resonance control, we spot two basic camps just as they exist with loudspeakers. To couple or decouple, to spike or to rollerball? If isolation involves viscoelastics, those tend to be weight-rated and compress over time. That creates a certain maintenance. For optimum performance, you’ll need to replace the viscoelastic elements every year or two.

    Like certain speakers again, some racks apply extreme mass to get ridiculously heavy. If they’re unibody affairs that won’t disassemble, shipping and installing them can be nightmarish particularly with walk-up apartments sans big elevators; and with thinner suspended wood floors. Now the smart money insists on modularity so the final structure breaks down into manageable bits. If you go after rollerball constructions, investigate how much play is involved. You could quickly tire if each time you press a component switch, its entire shelf wobbles.

    If you go shelf-less whereby a rack’s own footers replace those of your components, insure sufficient adjustability. That goes extra if you plan to put two half-width components side by side. Those will need a minimum of six footers whilst the rack designers may have only accounted for four. What about if you mean to mount a component diagonally so its display faces your seat rather than the opposite wall? Now your shelf-less rack needs a shelf option for certain tiers.

    If you change components on a regular basis, you may want shelving with extra-durable surfacing so you don’t scratch it all to hell. And you’ll definitely want a means to level the entire structure. Few floors are perfectly level after all.

    The more complex your system, the more wiring is involved. This could want a built-in or at least optional cable routing system so things remain tidy and allow for the closest possible wall spacing. This could also help with particularly lightweight kit which tends to go airborne from the weight of the cables hanging off it.

    There’s also the question of whether to go double wide or tall instead. A typical rack has four tiers. Those can go 2 x 2 or 1 x 4. Is a low rack convenient if you need to bend down too far to change an LP? Also, where should the rack go in the first place? I’ve had racks against the front wall so between/behind the speakers. I’ve had them on the sidewall. From experience I’d say that the more stuff clutters up our virtual soundstage, the more of an at least psychological barrier it erects. If you think in terms of acoustic energy distribution and nodes of high vs. low energy, a rack between the speakers really isn’t the greatest idea. Also entering the location equation is cable length. A sidewall rack may be the acoustically and visually best option but could entail unduly long cables either to the speakers; or as an interconnect between sidewall source stack and the amp/s between the speakers.

    To reiterate, shopping for a hifi rack should consider placement, modularity, physical adjustments, extra features like doors and grounding, isolation vs. coupling, possible maintenance elements, movability to get at its back and finally or foremost, looks. From personal experience, I’ll add that a properly engineered performance rack that addresses broadband resonance attenuation is possibly the most overlooked aspect in our playback culture. It can reap very unexpected rewards especially as our systems and music do ever lower bass at ever-higher volumes. The acoustic energies this releases into our room to assault our gear is considerable. Effective antidotes become very audible indeed!

     

    Written by Srajan Ebaen

    Srajan is the owner and publisher of 6moons. He used to play clarinet at the conservatory. Later he worked in audio retail, then marketing for three different hifi manufacturers. Writing about hifi and music came next, then launching his own mag. Today he lives with his wife Ivette and Nori and Chai the Bengal cats in a very small village on Ireland’s west coast, between the holy mountain Croagh Patrick and the Atlantic ocean of Clew Bay in County Mayo’s Westport area. Srajan derives his income from the ad revenues of 6moons but contributes to Darko.Audio pro bono.

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