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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Consonance Droplet CDP 5.0 [on review]
Amp: Deja Vu Audio custom 300B amp [on review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Druid Mk4
Cables: Crystal Cable Reference complete wire set of analog and digital interconnects, speaker cables and power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on both powerline conditioner; 2 x Stealth Audio Cables Indra analogue & Sextet S/PDIF cable; Acapella speaker cable
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell and IsoClean wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $4,048 as reviewed [$260 for 4 upright columns; $960 for four component tiers; $720 for 9 x component mounts @ $80/ea.; $720 for 3 x bearing mounts @ $240/ea.; $1,120 for 4 x bearing rack mounts @ $280/ea.; $200 for 4 x rack mount spike adaptors @ $50/ea; $32 for CMp pellets, $36 for RM pellets] - this lower pricing is factory-direct and valid as of June 25, 2005

"You did what? You made a woman meow?" Harry's assurance in the affirmative proved salvation for many males of our species. Sally's famous deli orgasm reminded one and all that women can frequently - er, amuse themselves (or at least substitute for the real thing by fooling male omnipotence). Now EquaRack's Joe Ciulla enters this picture previously dominated by Mark 'the man' Levinson to demonstrate how to make audiophiles meow. How so? His equipment support rack is the Lego challenger of audio. You want adaptability? You want parts? Okay, I give you parts (and I'm not talking fake-it Hollywood parts with your own trailer, hefty daily per diems and three personal assistants).

Arguably the greatest perceptional hurdle EquaRack faces is the sheer number of parts and subsequent assembly required to enjoy resonance attenuation the EquaRack way. Think modular, with uprights and cross members that need to be joined in perfect right angles and leveled just so in three axes before a combination of precision bearings and weight-matched viscoelastic dampers with individual mounts must be sited such as to avoid a component's stock footers. This will require adjustment of the mounts' fore or aft slide rails to account for irregular component depths.

"Not nipples, again!" That's how Diana Gabaldon, the amazingly gifted author of the Outlander series, recounts her husband's reaction after reading the manuscript of her latest installment. The lusty time-traveling heroine once
again describes physical sensations -- in response to arousal, fear, harsh clothes, cold or sickness -- by way of reference to her nipples. Monsignor Gabaldon would really get excited now at the sight of Ciulla's new damper interfaces. They are made up of aluminum cylinders drilled out with 16 holes to take from 1 - 16 blue nubs, each of which supports up to 3.1 lbs for a total per-foot rating of up to 49.6 lbs or 198.4 lbs per tier if four mounts are used (the equivalent floor mount uses thicker nubs of 8.4 lbs rating for a total of 17 pellets per mount). To properly make use of this nippled tunability, you need to not only weigh your components but also determine unequal weight distribution so you can precisely account for it with these mounts' viscoelastic weight rating.

But I'm getting ahead of the proper sequence. We need more parts to first erect the basic exoskeleton upon which these various dampers and isolators will be mounted. And before we do that, I should tell you that I'm personally and directly responsible for the nouveau nipple scenario. I had received one of Joe's original stands for review many many moons ago. I'd performed the intended comparison to my Grand Prix Audio Monaco, penned the review and submitted it to the maker for a fact-check only to be told "No!" in capital letters.

To make a long story short, certain of my performance comments had Mr. Ciulla convinced that manufacturing defects plagued certain parts I'd received under the assumption that they'd been fabricated to his precise specs and tolerances. He then asked me to return them for personal testing. Without my knowing, he went as far as purchasing the very CDs I'd listed in my review to listen to the same tracks. Lo and behold, he noted the same slight exaggeration of transients I had described. That he pronounced a design flaw. He has spent ever since to improve his interface mounts. What was wrong with the original ones? As anyone who's ever used viscoelastics already knows, intrinsic to their proper functioning is a critical range of compression or deformation. Load them with too little or too much weight and they won't work.

At the time of my first go-around with EquaRack, a viscoelastic pad became the base for the isolating bearings. The component sat atop the bearings, the bearings were decoupled from the frame via these viscoelastic pads inside the bearing mounts. However, EquaRack did not provide various grades of insert pads to match
them to the component weights. From personal ownership of the Monaco, I knew full well that a one-size-fits-all formula for viscoelastics doesn't exist. I said as much to Ciulla and went off handling other assignments. I retained the parts for the external frame in my barn until the day that I was to revisit EquaRack's new & improved parts. Little did I know how this weight-matching requirement would be incorporated into the existing design: with little blue nipples.

If assembly was time-consuming and exacting the first time around, the sheer prospect of properly calculating the requisite number of blue nubs for each of the three mounts that would support each component; of placing those nubs perfectly upright inside their holes so that the top plate with the concentric rings would fit perfectly and be vertically aligned... let's just say the task seemed doubly daunting the second time. Call it one of the benefits of so-called negative reviews though. It affords a manufacturer so inclined -- i.e. one who takes our subjective findings serious -- an opportunity to improve his product. Whenever a maker tells us that our findings conflict with his own, we give him an opportunity to test the review loaner, pronounce its shape "as intended" or "defective", make the necessary corrections and then resubmit it. In this case, I've waited since publication of my original assembly description nearly a year ago. It apparently wasn't simply a matter of sending me a different batch of correctly fabricated parts but actually re-engineering them.

As you can tell from the combined photos, I wasn't kidding about the parts count. This is not an assignment for the shake'n'stir instant gratification crowd. But part of the audiophile credo is that we work for better results. It here means to precisely calibrate your equipment stand to deliver its utmost performance. The concept is sound. Whether you agree with its execution depends on your patience and how often you swap out components.

What with fake orgasms and blue nipples, I simply couldn't help myself with this headline. What us audiophiles do to amuse ourselves, no? To properly evaluate a performance rack means you have to compare it to another. To do that is more work than you may think. One glance at the -- non-staged -- pictures above from my first evaluation should explain why you don't see this sort of thing attempted more often.

My final evaluation is to follow in a few weeks. You will see that my system has changed just a bit since last year, with the Duos temporarily crated up to make room for the Acapella LaCampanellas currently in for review. Now that I know how to put the EquaRack together, it should go pretty quick except that I will have to purchase a scale to obtain precise weights for all of the components and really go to town on the blue pills - er, pellets. Their window of efficacy is 2.25 - 3.1 lbs, with optimal self-damping achieved as close as possible to their max rating. To evaluate this feature's sonic benefits will require precision on my part and I'm committed to doing a fair job of it - again. I have not published my original findings because that particular version of the mounts had been retired from production directly after my evaluations when its maker decided to revisit the design. To be honest, I marvel at Mr. Ciulla's commitment to excellence. He rather embraced nearly a year of stalled operations than bringing to market something he realized he could still improve upon. That's highly commendable and in utter contrast to certain Internet postings that accuse audio manufacturers of being into it only for the quick, easy and drastically inflated buck. Whatever businesses those posters refer to I don't really know. I do know that they can't possibly be talking about most of HighEnd audio and certainly not about EquaRack.

During my first approach, the conceptual focus of EquaRack as I understood it was on their precision bearings. The majority of currently submitted component interfaces are viscoelastic dampers, not bearing-based gyroscopic stabilizers with added viscoelastics. Ciulla feels that especially CD players, digital transports and turntables benefit from the additional lateral isolation his +/- 0.5 micro-inch accurate Tungsten Carbide ball bearings afford. He thus included enough to allow experimentation with up to two components. He also included a set of four special ones to become the interface between stand and floor, with their larger blue nubs capable of supporting the combined weight of rack and components.

Bearing-based isolation (energy conversion via lateral
freedom of motion) without self-damping of course results in oscillatory problems. It's what happens were you to simply float a component atop three ball bearings and push the component. You'd see it swaying to and fro before it eventually comes to a full stop. The seniority ranking of isolation addresses here is thus viscoelastic damping first, ball-bearing plus viscoelastic damping second for the next level of performance.

An interesting tidbit about the blue nubs: They're not Sorbothane. Their shape/size is the result of endless computer modeling to optimize the operative bandwidth and extend it as low as possible into the bass region where the highest amplitude disturbances occur. Ciulla shared that his patent-pending pellets offer a shape factor of 0.24, said to be superior to what could be accomplished with Sorbothane for which even the highest durometer is softer than his blue material. Shape factor refers to how a viscoelastic deforms under load and how the resultant shape affects its resonant frequency and thus effective bandwidth.

Ciulla also felt it important to use proper terminology when talking about vibration attenuation. "Vibration" and "resonance" are not interchangeable terms though they're often used like synonyms. Resonance is the result of a vibrational input whose frequency coincides with the resonant frequency of the affected material. Resonance only occurs when those two frequencies match. Then resonance continues well beyond the original activating event. Hit a bell (original vibrational/shock input), it rings forever (resonance). Now hit a bell but hold on to it while you do. Resonance is impeded or doesn't develop at all but vibration still occurs. [Below, EquaRack at HE 2005 where the blue nipples were introduced].

"Damping" refers to the conversion of energy from one state to another and, with a ball inside a bearing race, occurs even when there is no visible motion. To physically displace a loaded stand terminated in four ball bearings instead of simple spikes will probably take more energy than floorborne vibrations from your loudspeakers can activate. While even 95dB peaks of 25Hz bass notes might not prompt your rack to visibly sway, energy conversion still takes places as work trying to displace the ball inside its race. Think about pushing against a car with its brakes on. Though you may not be able to move it at all, you're certainly converting energy, burning calories and heating up your muscles trying to move it.

The two interfaces promising the greatest audible returns for the addition of EquaRack's precision bearings to the load-optimized viscoelastic dampers is the floor/rack barrier and underneath those components with "centrifugal" or spinning parts. Those are the areas where the necessary surcharge for the precision bearings would likely be best spent.

The only item I'm not sure about yet is the protracted complexity of assembly here and whether most music lovers will understand its necessity which is a direct outcome of choosing to work with viscoelastic dampers and optimizing (precisely load-matching to within 3lbs) their operational efficiency. From a convenience standpoint, this Equa rack would have to truly outperform my Monaco -- which sets up very quickly -- to make the far lengthier setup protocol a necessary rather than unnecessary taxation of good will and patience. The flip side is naturally the extreme modularity of Ciulla's solution. This shelf-less rack can support even the largest and heaviest components, adjusts tier spacing and front/aft positioning indefinitely and -- unlike most wooden furniture-grade stands -- easily grows or morphs with a system over time and through endless upgrades (or sidegrades as it sometimes turns out to be) to become a solid long-term investment. Integral to the EquaRack approach also is a decidedly industrial and oversize appearance. That will have admirers and detractors just like any particular aesthetic statement and is neither here nor there but just is. Bottom line? EquaRack bills itself a hard-core performance-centered solution and will be reviewed as such.