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Something Solid XR4 rack

[hi-tech_looks_for_a_shelf_unit]
[Italian version]
Deliberate worst case & over-loaded test

Product: Something Solid XR4 rack
Manufacturer: Something Solid - UK
Distributed by Noteworthy Audio and
Chevin Audio and available from other UK dealers
Prices: (exchange rates average Summer 2007)
Something Solid XR4 rack 985€ or 680 with 4 basic shelves
'Missing Links' feet 145 or 100 per set of 4, for racks or speaker stands
Shelf upgrade plus 3 'Dissipating Feet' 145 or 100 per-shelf with 3 DF
Something Solid racks start at around 500€ or 340
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: a year & extensive variations to September 2007

It seems a long time since you had the chance to read part 1 where I described the technology and philosophy behind this rack and its shelves, and its rack isolating feet, and its shelf isolating feet, before trying to wring the best from it. You've probably spent the Summer (or Winter for those Southern hemisphere readers) doing more important and interesting things than lying awake at night in anxious anticipation of what part 2 may bring. So revisit part 1 but do open it in a separate tab or window so you can jump straight back here and not drift off into cyberspace distractions.

I've had more time to explore and compare its various configurations with the various permutations and combinations I already have at my disposal.

What an epic task!

Then there's the existing references, which I might add, are the survivors of 20 years of noticing that specialist audio supports are not always as appropriate as their makers intend. Many have passed hastily through my system like excessive roughage. I now posses a selection of tuning or isolating feet, planks, shelves and boards, so that I know I will have one to suit whatever arrives for review. Rarely do two different components perform optimally with the same set-up, so trial and error is needed to get the best from equipment. Thus this review is ridiculously long for a rack because it offers a whole range of tuning options in one system. And each must be compared to a whole range of alternatives or this reviewing lark is not worth reading. Sadly many rack reviews by our rivals are just not this thorough. Sadly this thoroughness makes for very lengthy reading though.

Amplifiers and pre-amplifiers were tried in part 1 as they are likely to be the audiostuff least affected by supports. Here in part 2 we come to the exciting world of turntables and cd players.
"Did he say exciting world?" demand plebs, stage left
"He really has spent too long on this review!"
muffled voice from stage apron: "Now,... is this exactly the same tension as I set on this shelf before?....", ye ancient scribe is mumbling agitatedly

Enough of this OCD behaviour, let's play some tunes, and what better way to play them than on the peerless of PRaT Avondale Audio Alpha 5. The Yucca Flats cd gets another spin or three.

Sound Quality

The Avondale Audio Alpha 5 loses none of its fabled verve, pace and rhythm when supported on this rack. I can not hear much difference between the Avondale Basis 15 feet and the Something Solid Dissipating Feet under this player. On the Something Solid plank differences are too similar to call, but both are superior to any more compliant alternatives. Compliant feet (and I have 4 brands to choose from) render the rhythm chaotic and the pace sluggish on this rack, regardless of shelf tension or rack-footer option. The Something Solid Dissipating Feet are as good as Avondale's own when combined with this rack under the AAA5.

Adjusting the tension under the Something Solid shelf does not seem to have much effect with this player either. I had predicted that there would be obvious changes of pace as the chords are tightened or loosened, but there is no discernable change. Whichever feet are chosen, the AAA5 still benefits from placing a BrightStar IsoRock5 on the top surface, in the centre. Despite not being able to hear differences between foot options, the AAA5 really does give of its best on this rack, whichever feet are chosen, with the IsoRock5 on top.

Conclusions are even less clear with the modified Shanling CDT100c valve-output-stage cd player. The Shanling's best performances ever are all on the Something Solid rack.

There are, however, qualitative differences between different shelves and feet that may come down to personal taste and preference. The all Something Solid line-up (from ground up: Missing Link rack-feet; XR4 rack; shelf; 3 Dissipating Feet) is very good and I could live with it permanently. The musical essentials are there and the presentation has as much audiophile gloss as I have come to expect from this modified player in optimum conditions. Mark Orr says of his Dissipating Feet: "The DF Dissipating Feet are used between equipment and shelves. They provide some dissipation of vibrations but work mainly by allowing equipment vibration to be transferred into the shelf. They are constructed of end-grain balsa & end-grain carbon fibre. They will upgrade existing feet on many equipment, in particular rubber of soft pad feet. Their height is 1.6 cm" They do seem to achieve this similarly to the Avondale Basis 15 feet that are also carbon fibre based.

In a set-up variation similar to the preferred SET300B valve support architecture of (ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser on ERaudio cones on Something Solid shelf on Something Solid Rack on Something Solid Missing Link Feet) the Shanling exhibits a similar transformation. It acquires a euphonic bloom that suits classical and vocal programme. Pitch and tuning are particularly clear and enjoyable with this arrangement. However, returning to 3 Dissipating Feet (2 at rear and one under the transport axis) directly on the Something Solid shelf the bloom evaporates and leading edges and transients become clearer.

After many experiments with permutations & combinations, using the quick A-B tests I usually despise, I reach what must be the ultimate configuration for the Shanling. It is ridiculously complicated and excessive and was arrived at by A-B comparison of each individual change:

  1. Shanling CDT100c rear feet each on a Something Solid Dissipating Foot, triple-nipples upturned
  2. Polychrystal Reference footer under CD transport axis at front
  3. Standing on an ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser, standing on upturned ERaudio steel cones on the extreme corners
  4. Standing on the Something Solid shelf, supported by
  5. Something Solid cord nearly taut
  6. Something Solid Rack on Missing Link feet

I've bored you, dear reader, with such trivial detail of the ultimate vibration control support set-up for one of my favourite cd players to emphasise just how great the gains can be when any system component has its support optimised. It is also a warning that A-B tests will frequently lead to increasing complexity, when the original simple set-up was good enough. The extra-tuning does enable an extra dimension to be enjoyed on every disc, but it really is obsessive to go this far.

The Missing Link feet contradict my expectations too. I had expected my concrete floor, cast directly on the ground below without intervening insulation, to be optimum with spikes. Mark Orr states: "The Missing Link feet provide an upgrade alternative to spikes for supporting racks & speakers. They use a coupling of special pre tensioned cord to provide additional vibration dissipation and isolation. They raise equipment by about 6cm that is about 5cm more than spikes."

The Missing Link feet do reduce interaction between components on each shelf (already extremely low level due to the shelf suspension cords) in addition to isolating the rack from any impact noise through the floor. The have no detrimental effect on rhythm with electromechanical sources (turntables & cd players) either; I had anticipated they might interfere destructively with suspended subchassis turntables (as has been my past experience with many compliant supports) but their effects were wholly beneficial on noise, soundstage and timbral accuracy with no ill effects on PRaT. bigfoot_or_missing_link?

The biggest shock comes with my Mitchell Orbe SE turntable and Hadcock GH242SE arm. My reference Origin Live Ultra shelf was originally designed for a subchassis turntable (the Linn LP12, like I used to use when I bought it) and mine gradually evolved to suit my Mitchell Gyro SE, so I did not expect the Something Solid rack to come close to this optimised system. I sat down with my judging system notepaper ready to mark a list of subtle minus points.

Instead, I just enjoyed LP after LP after LP. There is a likeable rightness about the music that precludes analytical deconstruction until the initial pleasure is passed. Rhythm is intact, indeed the pace and regularity of the rhythm is identical to the Origin Live at its best, but I have not yet optimised the Something Solid. Timing seems spot-on too. Pitch is also as accurate as one expects from a subchassis turntable.

The complex rhythms of Bobby Montez's Titoro (track 2 on side 2 of Jazznova's Blue Note trip) are explicitly delineated and timed beautifully. The presence region (upper midrange centred about 2kHz) seems to be a little sucked-out compared to my reference, but it may just be that my ears have become adapted to too much upper-mid glare. Which is more correct? More listening is needed, so I'll dig out some more old familiars after I've enjoyed this through to side 4. The last track on side 3 proves especially diverting and I listen to it twice.

"Willing", on Little Feat's Sailing Shoes is a busy, dense, forward mix. I could listen to this LP hundreds of times; oh yes, probably listened thousands of times since I bought my copy in the late 70s. Spatial cues seem slightly altered, different instrumental parts are spotlighted by each support system, but both are wholly enjoyable musical experiences. I could live with either and not miss the other. The only downside, at first hearing compared with my reference, is that certain bass lines seem to lose definition as they gain warmth, in equal measure. Perhaps the laminated glass shelf I have installed in place of the Origin Live's 18mm mdf is responsible for this difference. More investigation needed.

Next I compare the racks themselves using ERaudio SpaceHarmonisers as the common factor (because I happen to have 2 sizes that fit both racks). The SpaceHarmonisers are amazingly enjoyable, musical planks, but they are not the last word in accuracy. Indeed, they claim their secret is 'Resonance reproduction' so it's no surprise that they're not even the first word in accuracy. They are deeply musical though, so they should reduce the differences between support racks, rather than exaggerate differences. Trying the Orbe SE on SpaceHarmonisers on both the Origin Live shelf and the Something Solid rack illustrates some fundamental differences in their quality of reproduction. The SpaceHarmonsier does its physically impossible trick of seeming louder than the glass shelf or Something Solid platform.

Pace and bass transients are more explicit on the SomeThing Solid rack, while rhythm is just as meticulous, but slightly slower, on the Origin live. Female backing vocals are much clearer on the Something Solid, though placed slightly further back on the soundstage. Both racks have similarly dimensioned soundstages, presenting the slender 3d elipsoid, strung between the speakers, that is typical of multitracked recordings. Lateral position tends to come from the volume precedence effect of the mixing-desk pan-pots, while any spatial cues, particular to each individual voice or instrument, comes from the relationship of that spot-microphone (or D.I.) to its source.

The areas of difference are precisely those one might least expect from a double-isolated plinth-less turntable. The midrange noise-floor seems lower on the Something Solid XR4rack, this may be purely a psychoacoustic phenomenon as I doubt there could be any measurable difference. Timbre seems to be better expressed; I am more aware of the woody qualities of some instruments.

The shape and size of the soundstage is altered on a few tracks, but not consistently. Some lps exhibit more depth, but less width, while others the reverse. In colouration terms, some lps lose jangliness, while others lose stridency, when the Orbe SE sits on the Something Solid XR4, but using the SpaceHarmoniser as a common shelf type to remove one variable also limits the capacity of either to offer it's best performance.

Shelf Materials

I wonder if the shelf materials may be having more effect on timbre, than the racks, under the Orbe SE. My experiments with the Gyro SE led me to use thick Laminated Glass (NOT normal domestic toughened glass, or plate glass, which both sound truly dreadful under audio gear), in comparison to various woods, fibreboards, and other branded specialist audio shelves, including Origin Live's own.

Without altering the support cable tension, I replace the Something Solid end-grain balsa shelf with the laminated glass shelf, on the Something Solid rack. No contest: the end grain balsa is a much more pleasurable listen than the laminated glass. The latter initially impresses with detail and an almost exaggerated note envelope from transient attack to diminishing decay, but soon becomes fatiguing in comparison to the balsa.

I try the same comparison on the origin Live wall frame. Here I find the glass more lively and the end grain balsa reminds me of the original Origin Live triangle of 18mm mdf (dense enough to be bordering on hdf), but I cannot make that comparison with the Orbe SE as the Origin Live shelf's shape does not support the Orbe SE motor.

I try the ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser under the Orbe, but directly on the cable of the Something Solid rack. Fruity and over rich compared with the end-grain balsa Something Solid shelf.

All these experiments are conducted at the same support-cable tension or wall-frame outrigger preload. Given that the Mitchell Orbe is one of the turntables least sensitive to its support, the big differences heard here would have been even bigger with platform-paranoid lp spinners like the Linn Sondek.

After numerous trials I realise that the Something Solid XR4, together with its extra-cost accessories, the Missing Link rack feet, end-grain balsa shelves and Dissipating Feet really are a system. Mucking about substituting different parts to try to analyse what does what merely stops the Something Solid system from integrating.

shelf tuning

More room for audiophilia paranoia. Make the shelf so tight under the Orbe that it becomes positively boingy, and the leading edges sharpen up but bass loses body (the opposite of increasing tension on the Origin live outriggers' preload. Slacken the cords until the shelf sags between them, and the sound changes to become bigger, but not in a good way. The soundstage grows, but becoming bloated, like enlarging photographic images beyond their resolution limits.

The cord tension will avoid similar bounce frequencies as the turntable suspension, only becoming bouncy when excessively tight, so it should be a lossy subsystem at those frequencies. What about the relationship with cartridge-arm resonant frequency, though? The results are identical between the uncompliant Decca London and the above averagely compliant Cartridge Man MusicMaker II.

That's just the experiments with the Orbe SE.
The Garrard 401/SME3012 was great with the Funk Firm Achromat and slack Something Solid cord
The Thorens TD160/SME3009imp enjoyed the same tuning as the Orbe SE.

Now, what about...oh, I'm losing the will to live here. I'm just not obsessive enough to be a reviewer anymore. I just want to listen to some more lps.

And while I'm also reviewing the Funk Firm Achromat I find that turntable mats seem to interact with turntable shelves. True, I'm afraid to tell you, poor reader. I have 5 mats here and the manner and scale of changes each one makes to the sound alters with changes in turntable shelf. Just changes to the shelf material, not the support. More audio paranoia to add to the poor audiophile's insomnia.

So I am very tired and bored with endless fiddly tweakery and I just listen to some more music. Then I just want to hear another lp. Then, when that finishes, I want to hear an old favourite. Then I remember a cd I'd like to hear and then I notice how late it is. That is what this rack does. It demands that you spend more time listening to music, and less time faffing with the minutiae of system tuning, which is deeply ironic.

My floor is solid masonry. In my current listening room, the concrete is cast directly on the ground without an intervening styrofoam insulation layer. How this rack might perform on a springy suspended wooden floor would need another review. Intuition suggests that the Missing Link feet might render this rack more suitable than most other rivals on a wooden joist floor. Also may be good under other four-footed stands to bring them closer to tripod stability. Your mileage may vary, as our esteemed editor notes.

turntable trio to test

Conclusion

For an equipment rack this may seem like a very long and detailed review. Part 1 ran to 2915 words and part 2 is over 4000, the length of a first year masters degree essay. It is long, because effective tuning elements offer the best quality/cash ratios in the audio business. I have written multi-part reviews comparing nothing more elaborate than footers, so a whole rack, costing far more, requires equally thorough analysis, hence the ridiculous scenarios described and shown .
"Does any rack deserve such thorough analysis?" demand plebs, stage left,
"Bang-per-buck, vibration control is the best value audio tweak folks. The Something Solid rack does exactly what it's maker claims, so this review deserves as much effort as any bits of wire ever could", replieth ye ancient scribe, humbly as usual.

This rack is my new reference in optimising vibration control in my audio system. This rack is a much more effective system improver than cables and wires of the same value. I have not compared any similarly priced multi-shelf racks, but I do have a variety of other alternative approaches with which to make comparisons (especially the traditionally favoured one-table per-component situation, that costs about the same with isolating feet and specialist shelves) and the Something Solid rack with Missing Link feet sounds better. It is also more compact and aesthetically pleasing.

It all works so well together that purchasers who can only muster enough cash for the basic XR4 rack should regard the Missing Link feet and end-grain Balsa shelves with Dissipating Feet as upgrades as obvious as external power supplies for a Naim pre-amp.










Music enjoyed during this review

  • The Good, The Bad, and The Queen best new lp of 2007 so far, on Parlophone like the Beatles, with a gatefold sleeve and a poster!
  • The Good, The Bad, and The Queen best new cd of 2007 so far, supergroups are back
  • Jazznova: : Mashed, Blue Note LP 946 36 10011 (at last the EMI group press decent slabs of vinyl, just as they get in financial trouble, after contributing to vinyl's desired demise with their incompetent 70s pressings & cuts. Deeply Ironic.)
  • LTJ Bukem: Journey Inwards, Good Looking Records GLRAA001LP (8 sides of the finest homegrown drum'n'bass, regularly on my turntable since 2000)
  • Little Feat: Sailing Shoes, (one of my references since the 70s)
  • Korn: ###, (vinyl selected by my 11 year old son)
  • Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask replica, excellent 180g vinyl reissue
  • Captain Beefheart: Magneticism, live 1972-81, I wish I'd been there The Streets: The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, great 2006 release on HEAVY vinyl
  • The velvet Underground: Head Held High, lp RMS 526308 (Atlantic studios NYC out-takes 16th April 1970)
  • White Stripes, Digital is evil (contemporary makers of fine vinyl)
  • Yucca Flats: , cd Mapleshade (demonstrating that digital is fine too, when done right)
  • National Razor: Naked Before god & Country, cd Mapleshade

© Copyright 2007 Mark Wheeler - www.tnt-audio.com

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