This was removed to hide all the equipment in the basement. This unit is in amazing condition. This is the 4 shelf model.
Of course, equipment racks make a difference; and to my way of thinking, everything does. The degree of difference that they afford can vary wildly from brand to brand, often from model to model within that same brand. Over the past two decades, excluding a host of DIYs, I have auditioned or owned audio furniture from the likes of Arcici, Audio Points Systrum, Billy Bags, Plateau, Room-Tunes, Salamander Designs, Sound Anchor, Target, and Zoethecus, to rattle off those I most clearly recollect.
Stand design, like most aspects of our industry, has steadily marched forward, sometimes with only baby steps, while at others taking leaps forward with the introduction of a single design. I admittedly found many of the early contenders to be very solid and to be considerably more effective than the Ready-To-Assemble furniture most of us had used through the early 1970s. The first dedicated audio furniture I heard that offered fundamental sonic improvements were those to utilize constrained layer dampening techniques. However, nothing in my experience has arrived upon the component stand scene to achieve any drastic improvement over those rigid systems until the arrival of the remarkably engineered, elegantly simple Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular Isolation System from Alvin Lloyd.
Though Alvin tends to down play his achievements in racing, preferring to be measured by what he has so far accomplished in the audio world, I want to briefly point out some of the key achievements from that period of his life. While modesty may be a virtue, I think it important that the audio public know what a strong and remarkably successful engineering background Alvin brings to our comparatively diminutive world of high-end audio.
In 1978, Alvin Lloyd began spending his days as a crew chief and team manager for several well-known auto-racing teams, competing in categories ranging from Formula Ford to IMSA. Joining Swift Engineering in 1987, he served as their production manager before being elevated to the Vice President of Operations. His rapid advance through the ranks—on his own—from mechanic, to driver, to teacher, was due to both his remarkable innovation and innate abilities.
If you are not a motorsport fan, you might be interested to learn that Swift is one of the most successful racecar manufacturers in America, having established their success both on the track and in business. During Alvin's tenure, Swift produced the DB-4 Atlantic car, the DB-5 Sports 2000, the DB-6 FF 2000, and the Swift 007i Indy Car. In addition, from 1994 to 1995, Alvin coordinated the construction of the Swift Aero wind tunnel.
Self taught and motivated in the physics and engineering of racing, he has now undertaken the similarly formidable task of learning electronic engineering. If his contributions to the racing industry and the dramatic success of the Monaco are any indication, he is on track yet again.
Blocking and Blueprinting
Alvin's design approach addresses the inherent, all-to-obvious, yet openly overlooked flaws of the high mass, structural rigidity approach. To illustrate, he cites the well-know practice of being able to simply put your ear to a railroad track to hear the approaching train still miles away. He further relates the habit of native American Indians and early white settlers to put their ear to the ground to hear approaching cavalry still out of sight.
To expose the flaws with rigidity, he points to the highly effective use of visco-elastic dampers (sorbothane) to make a modern Trident submarine running at full speed quieter than a tiptoeing school of shrimp. Closer to home, he cites the use of compliant suspension and integral damping on every single computer hard-drive in existence. They simply would not work otherwise.
Those of us who have any length of time in high-end audio already know that the cream of the crop of CD/DVD player makers incorporate additional damping/suspension to isolate their OEM transports from Matsushita, Phillips or Sony to enhance performance over stock units and that better circuit board standoffs are compliant rather than rigid. How about the fact that advanced tube amps use compliantly suspended power tube sockets to minimize or eliminate the effects of tube microphony and that transformers are often mounted on viscous substrata. With turntables, what separates entry-level from upscale models, often even within a particular brand, is primarily the sophistication of the suspension.
Why do all car and motorcycle manufacturers use visco-elastic engine mounts to decouple their motors from the chassis? Have you ever driven an old Harley Davidson hard-tail? They tremble so violently that the rear-view mirrors are useless. Moreover, do I even need to mention the transfer of those forceful vibrations from the engine throughout the entire motorcycle?
To translate this example to audio, think of the road condition as your room's acoustical and spatial properties, and how they influence the overall sound. The motorcycle engine would be your loudspeakers and all other extraneous excitations in the household (running furnace or A/C, family members moving through out, traffic from nearby highways, etc.), generating constant vibrations. Without the visco-elastic interfaces between these sources of vibration and your gear, your equipment gets taken for the equivalent of a ride on an old hard-tail Harley, with the aural images as blurry as those in the motorcycle's rear-view mirror.
Alvin has been brazen enough to question the simple yet routinely ignored premise that if rigidity, in this case defined by high-torque bolting of metal-to-metal or plastic-to-plastic, were the solution, wouldn't all the corporate giants and high-performance specialty manufacturers use it? Of course they would. But clearly they don't. What to do?
Pushing the Envelope
The Monaco is as visually breathtaking as it is aurally pulse quickening; it is a magnificent combination of function with form, comprised of an amalgam of materials. The stock 21" by 23.3" shelves are available in .5" or .75" thickness, depending on weight bearing needs, and are fashioned of transparent acrylic with a chamfered top edge.
Supporting each of these shelves is a troika of user selectable sorbothane damper pucks, again, dependant on, and variable with weight bearing needs. These dampers are placed at predetermined molded positions on the carbon composite triangular supports, which have an inverted U shaped cross section. Carbon fiber structural composites have taken over in nearly every arena where cost is not prohibitive, from racing car suspensions to air and spacecraft components, because of the remarkable strength to weigh ratio achievable. These composites are made of bundles of fibers, each carrying a load. Controlling the directions of individual bundles inside the composite element allows for precise managing of the stresses placed upon the element.
These gorgeous horizontal carbon composite supports are attached to each of the three approximately 2" diameter 304 grade stainless steel vertical support columns at each tip of the triangle, (two at the front sides and one in the center rear) by a pair of steel hex-head bolts. The application of an aerospace-derived damping compound further improves this joint. These small bolts represent the only ferrous metal employed in the Monaco.
The four-shelf component is comprised of three modules that stack atop each other, with the two identical upper modules having a single shelf support attached at the top of the three uprights and the slightly taller base module including both an upper and lower shelf support.