|Grand Prix Audio’s
Monaco rack is a reference, period.
|by DANNY KAEY
I often ask myself if “hype” is positive or negative. Typically,
not a month goes by without some manufacturer claiming to have discovered yet
another golden goose. From turntables to cables; from loudspeakers to magic little
digital clocks, we have all seen and heard our fair share of sensational claims. “World’s
best (fill in the flavour of the month blank)” ads grace many internet
newsletters and fancy magazine spreads. Yet analysis of the state of high-end
audio seems to prove the exact opposite: (mostly) all talk; no meat behind those
superlatively exaggerated claims. Personally, I certainly have never felt drawn
to these types of companies, much less their snake oil style salesmanship.
How refreshing then to come across companies that leave all that behind in favour
of a more discrete and honest approach to salesmanship. A perfect example of
such a no non-sense company is Grand Prix Audio, headed by Alvin Lloyd. As the
name implies, Alvin’s background is Grand Prix automobile racing; he has
had stints with world-renowned racing factories on both sides of the Atlantic.
It follows then that Alvin has zero tolerance for snake oil and prides himself
that his products are founded on science rather than science fiction. Equally
clear is the fact that Alvin will not engage in endless update cycles and frequent
marketing driven model upgrades. This holistic and truthful approach is very
evident in his Monaco modular isolation system. Alvin had simply set out to design
the world’s most technologically advanced component isolation system and
offer the scientific data to back up his claims.
The Grand Prix Audio Monaco modular shelf system is a work of modern art. To
see it in person is to instantly want it. Set up in any room this super structure
exudes style, class and makes even inexpensive components look like mega-buck
gear. The rack system combines state of the art materials including carbon fiber,
steel, aluminum, sorbothane and acrylic; all machined to the tightest tolerances
possible. Whereas one could easily design a rack with just one of these materials,
Alvin takes rack (racing?) science to a whole new level by successfully combining
them into a unique design that is measurably (and audibly) better than what is
currently available. The typical configuration is a 3, 4 or 5 shelf design. The
shelves themselves (in my case, the standard acrylic version) are sized with
non standard component sizes in mind, measuring a grand 21 x 23.3”, although
a “short-wheelbase” (17.75”) version is also available.
To most people an audio rack is nothing more than a rack on which to neatly stack
their audio components. Over the years friends have often asked me what, if any,
implications a rack could possibly have on the overall sound of a music system.
Much to their surprise, my answer has always been the same. Vibration damping
and control can, in fact, have a profound impact on the sound of your audio gear
and it’s not just a multi-thousand dollar amp or disc player that will
benefit from a well-designed and constructed rack.
During the last few years, I have experimented with several different racks,
notably, models from EquaRack, Townshend and Finite Elemente. While all these
racks perform in more or less the same way, the Monaco modular system handily
outpaces them by a wide margin. Think of lap times: when most F1 team times are
within 2 to 3/100th of a second around a lap, a car which is a full second faster
will, in fact, send the competition into a frenzy. To further illustrate the
point: it took me no less then a few seconds to realize just how superior the
Grand Prix Audio rack is to the otherwise healthy competition. Think in terms
of greater sound stage focus, height, width, extension and killer definition – extension
at both frequency extremes seems far less muddled than with any of those aforementioned
racks. To boot, dynamic contrasts appear with greater transparency causing the
Zu Definitions speakers to elicit even greater dynamic resolution. Let’s
take as an example my favorite synth band Yello’s super track “Planet
Dada (flamboyant)” off their last album The Eye [Radikal Records -B00070Q7X2].
Already an extremely dynamic, authoritative and sublime track, it rose to new
heights when the disc player (Lector CDP-06 T) was placed on the Monaco modular
rack. As I own the Townshend 5 shelf seismic rack, a direct comparison in this
case was possible. Dynamic headroom increased substantially; the sound stage
grew perceptibly wider and deeper. Bass slam and authority appeared with more
force, power and snap.
Turning to my Frank Sinatra 3 disc set The Capitol Years [Capitol - CDP 794317
2] for further evaluation, I was struck by the immediate improvement in definition
compared to that achieved with the Townshend. By this time, all my reference
gear had been moved onto the Monaco modular rack. Strikingly, Sinatra appeared
to have more articulation and space in which to perform, while the orchestra
took on a greater, more believable size. The same tracks displayed far more apparent
flatness and less specificity when played on components placed on the Finite
Elemente Pagode Signature rack.
This heightened sense of overall resolution was akin to lowering the noise floor
by several decibels or more like going from hissy 60db S/N track pre-recorded
reel-to-reel tapes to 90db S/N compact disc. Speaking of reel to reel: for kicks
I placed my Technics RS-1700 reel-to-reel juggernaut on top of the Monaco modular.
Inherently mechanical in its operation, there are many external influences that
could adversely affect the performance of this legendary tape deck. Any time
you deal with an all-analog mechanical playback device, precision is one of the
paramount factors determining how good the overall sound quality will be, all
other things being equal. Imagine then my surprise when the Technics performed
that much better sitting on top of the Monaco rack! Free from any vibrations
and negative interaction thereof, the Technics appeared to play tracks I know
very well with more authority and scale. Some of my best pre-recorded Barclay-Crocker
classical tapes sounded so damn fine that I cued up tape after tape in anticipation
of ever escalating audio nirvana. Think of it as moving from a 6 mega pixel 1.5x
crop factor digital camera sensor to a full frame 12 mega pixel sensor. Yes,
the resulting image is the same, but with that much more resolution and size.
You can make out more detail without the need to crank up contrast or the infamous
Photoshop unsharp mask filter.
Synopsis and Commentary
Going into this review I was already very familiar with improvements made possible
by various racks, roller-balls, pucks, rubber feet and other such devices. Vibration
control and damping are key to optimizing the sound of a system. All racks that
have passed through my system improved the sound to varying degrees. Clearly,
you are better off with any of the aforementioned racks then simply dropping
your gear on that $49 Ikea media center. However, the Grand Prix Audio Monaco
modular rack took performance to a whole new level. Call it best lap time, quickest
0-60 performance, or whatever your fancy may be, the Monaco modular was decidedly
Further, the simplicity of assembly (virtually none required) and “set-and-forget” design
approach make this a reviewer’s dream come true. No fussing around with
bladders, counter weights or fancy de-couplers when setting up or changing components.
Once in place, the Monaco modular guarantees improved sound from all your gear;
in particular components which are inherently mechanical in nature: your disc
player, cassette / tape deck, turntable, etc. I was simply stunned by how much
the performance delta improved within seconds of placing a component on the rack.
Cliché’d as it may sound, the reality is that Alvin Lloyd took on
the best of the best with a clean sheet of paper and scientific knowledge as
his guide. The results speak for themselves. Finally, in case you haven’t
yet heard, over the last few years Alvin and his team have been working on an
equally genre defining turntable – the Monaco Turntable - I already know
that it’s killer!
|Grand Prix Audio Monaco modular rack system
||Grand Prix Audio
||Grand Prix Audio
PO Box 1948
Durango, CO 81302-1948
|Starting at $3,625 US for the 3 shelf model
To tackle the vibration problems to
which audio and video components are subject, Alvin applied scientific
principles to the design of the Monaco modular rack, concentrating
on a multi-stage design and 11 step isolation system. Having spent
hundreds of hours in computer labs measuring existing, competing
product as well as his own design ideas, the end result is the
visibly striking Monaco modular rack system. Each shelf couples
to the other via a True Vector stainless steel coupling system.
One can easily upgrade or downsize the Monaco system to meet the
needs of the system. The total weight bearing capacity of the Monaco
modular stand is in excess of 600lbs. Each stand is hand-made and
assembled in Colorado and custom options are available. A most
excellent and informative manual (including set-up pictures) as
well as a website containing white papers and all the technical
information you could possibly want, round out Alvin’s supreme
For those aspiring to even greater performance Alvin offers two key upgrades
to the Monaco modular: Apex footers and a carbon-fiber shelf to replace the stock
acrylic. I am told that as good as the Monaco modular rack is in stock form,
these upgrades further improves the performance. Wow!