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Audio System Value = Performance + Features / Cost

The Myth of Magical Audio Components

Sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. -- The White Queen

Sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

-- The White Queen

A true audio lover seeks ever-increasing musical fidelity and audibly improving sonic performance in their listening room.  This quest tends to define us.  Our drive for audio perfection means more than simply greater musical enjoyment.  The respect we want and our standing in our peer group depend on how far we are willing to go to have great music.  

Sleek, classy marketing that audio companies feed us creates an aura of magic around shiny new gear.  The ads constantly train us to expect technology advances and product innovation to satisfy our lust for an ever-improving audio experience.   We mistake getting new components for what we are really after -- hearing musical improvement.  

That’s a lazy, ineffective, erroneous, and costly habit.

By no means am I immune.  I, too, seek the best possible performance from my system and love to hear about new developments and better gear.  But let’s face it, by depending on component upgrades too much, we can easily degenerate into abject stereo sluts, continually lurking for the next positive review touting some magical component with better performance.  Or we may fall prey to voodoo-like, black box tweaks and become tweak sluts.  As in -- so many interconnects, so little time.

Let’s fantasize a bit.  Say you fell down a rabbit hole and discovered you could not only have that next preamp, or DAC, or speakers you’ve been dreaming about -- you entered an enchanted realm where any piece of gear you want, regardless of scarcity or cost, instantly becomes yours.  Finally, you can pull together the super-system of the ages that marries all the best component technology around.  Can this total slut-out guarantee you’ll finally and forever hear the finest music possible in your listening room?  

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. -- Cheshire Cat

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

-- Cheshire Cat

Sorry, Alice.  Disappointingly, the answer is no, unless you also attend to performance factors that component selection and audio systems can never affect.  Perfection-by-components is only a dream because everything happening in your listening room affects your music.  Resonances, echoes and vibration that you can easily eliminate take a constant toll when left untreated.

You also have to deal with your room and audio furnishings (Drat!) since what you have is a system.  As the first law of general systems theory instructs, everything affects everything else.  What reaches your ears is the summary acoustic behavior of your room’s entire contents.  This may sound like bad news but it’s actually good news in disguise -- a reality wake-up call.  Systems principles indicate audibly better performance from whatever gear you already have if you work on everything else that’s going on with your room and furnishings.  

You can’t row the audio boat with only one oar.  You have to set up right, add acoustic conditioning, and install anti-vibration to achieve the best performance any given set of audio components can achieve.  Without proper setup, good room acoustics, and vibration damping, you’ll be passing up a significant portion of the performance magic possible from any components you already have and any you get in the future.  

The measures suggested here produce astounding improvements for comparatively small costs.  A hundred dollars worth of anti-vibration treatment can chase away acoustic devils that usually plague an untreated system and improve everything we listen for across the board.  I’ll spare you the usual litany of arcane audiophile adjectives.  Put an end to acoustic disruption and you’ll hear better music from your old components and any new ones you get.

ASI -- Twenty thousand happy customers can't be wrong.

ASI -- Twenty thousand happy customers can't be wrong.

If cost matters, and you spend typical amounts on components, no worries.  Just skip one component upgrade and apply that investment to “everything else.”  I predict you’ll be glad you did and you’ll enjoy a new plateau of musical delight.  Achievements with setup, room acoustics, and anti-vibration will continue to enhance performance of any and all components you acquire going forward.  In the end, the reality is far more satisfying than any magic-component fantasy, especially if you already have good-to-great components in your present system.

Presently, iHi-Fi offers the best available approach to acoustic correction and conditioning -- Acoustic System International’s whole product line -- along with the free consulting you need to get it all right.  Since inception over a decade ago, ASI has shipped over 20,000 units worldwide.  One European dealer has sold over 150 Basic Installations.  The Acoustic System success is well documented.

If you want to explore another, newer approach that has driven respected reviewers gaga lately, iHi-Fi also offers the music-enhancing resonators from HighEnd Novum, in two sizes.  Everything iHi-Fi offers comes with a money-back guarantee and a month to audition.  How could you go wrong? 

Tenderfeet from Herbie's Audio Lab block vibration from components and install in seconds.

Tenderfeet from Herbie's Audio Lab block vibration from components and install in seconds.

To cover anti-vibration, I’m rapidly developing a beautiful, affordable, optimized audio rack and matching custom speaker stands for studio monitors.  They come with anti-vibration built in.  If you like to fiddle and customize, these devices are designed to make that easy.  This is the beginning of the Masiv product line, which includes two dozen optimized furnishing concepts already.  I continue to give form to these ideas and make my own dream-performance audio furnishing designs available going forward.  

Why not think different?  Un-focus from habitual lazy attachment to component upgrades.  Apply some proven engineering and materials science to your listening environment.  I predict your ears will be delighted and your friends will be astounded.  They may be a little jealous about what you accomplish while they wait around for the next new component.  No worries, iHi-Fi has plenty audio perfection available for all.

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iHi-Fi.com is your online high-end audio store.  Shop from anywhere in the USA without leaving home.  Receive expert advice and audition whatever you buy with return and refund privileges. All the computer audio gear at iHi-Fi.com delivers exceptional to stunning performance at value prices. Authorized Dealer for Audioengine, Acoustic System International, Bravo Audio, and HighEnd Novum.

Audioengine D3 -- the Dragon(fly) Slayer

Audioengine has reduced the price of their outstanding D3 Portable 24 Bit USB DAC to $149 as of today (July 1, 2014.)   The Audioengine D3 DAC with internal headphone amplifier is the lowest-cost way to make computer audio music sound fabulous.  The D3 drives headphones without an additional headphone amplifier.  If you want to use a head amp, it works with it.

When using your desktop computer or laptop at home, the D3 will drive your powered desktop speakers and sound like a DAC costing many times more.  

The D3 is the best way to discover just how good computer audio can sound.  If you have been listening to typical low-fi downloads through earbuds, break out of the rut with a D3 and a good pair of cans or powered speakers.  I predict you'll never want to go back.

Check out some positive review comments below --

"If you're looking for the easiest, cheapest way to make computer audio sound great through headphones, this is it."

Sound and Vision Top Pick

"Audioengine's mighty midget . . . the D3 is refined, dynamic, and highly transparent and bass prowess is impressive."


"Virtually the same size as the Audioquest Dragonfly, it's just as convenient, sounds better, and plays files up to 24/192."

San Francisco Classical Voice

Superior performance Guaranteed.

Audition an Audioengine D3 Portable 24 bit USB DAC today from iHi-Fi.  If you are not satisfied with your new D3, return it within 30 days (in new condition with the packaging) for a full refund of the purchase price.  

Your thoughts?  Click to comment.

iHi-Fi.com is your online high-end audio store.  Shop from anywhere in the USA without leaving home.  Receive expert advice and audition whatever you buy with return and refund privileges. All the computer audio gear at iHi-Fi.com delivers exceptional to stunning performance at value prices. Authorized Dealer for Audioengine, Acoustic System International, Bravo Audio, and HighEnd Novum.



Acoustically Functional Audio Rack Update

iHi-Fi 3D CAD development for Masiv Acoustic Isolation Rack.  Front (L) and side (R) views.  Leveling feet with anti-vibration are included (not shown.) The whole rack is vibration-damped and so is each shelf, individually.  Means are provided to easily isolate each system component as well.  Click the photo for a larger view.

If you care how your music sounds, it’s time to stop thinking about audio racks and speaker stands as simply furniture -- these are also audio components.  Speaker stand and audio rack versions abound, yet fashion values dominate while little effective design effort goes to musical performance.  Great-looking, massive speaker stands and an adjustable, anti-vibration audio rack are fundamental furnishings audio lovers need.  Why settle for audio furnishings that only please the eye when it’s really your ears that want to be happy with music in your space?

You may wonder how a mere set of shelves can actually improve the music coming from your audio system.  As with speaker stands, audio rack design is another opportunity to tease out the best possible performance from an audio system -- if the right functional features are built in.  Specifically, a rack needs sufficient mass for good mechanical grounding, combined with highly effective, broad-spectrum vibration control.  These features purify music playback audibly across the board, as a trained ear perceives it.  Everything we listen for in the quality of music gets better.

For any audio system, an optimized rack would be the most sensible and effective upgrade possible because only then can a system can reach it’s true potential for musical fidelity. Conversely, audio components sitting on something without sufficient mass and damping optimization are under-achieving to some degree.  Once you optimize your furnishings, anything staged on them from then onward will perform better than otherwise.

Why Acoustic Damping?

Here's why anti-vibration matters.  Ironically, audio playback comes with a tragic flaw.  The musical energy from your speakers also flows through two feedback paths -- one through air and another via structures -- right back into your audio gear, manifesting as vibration that interferes with sensitive components.  This vibration degrades both electronic and mechanical functionality in audio components, including speakers.  So no matter how good your components, your playback tends to step on itself.

Musical fidelity also suffers from your audio components’ internally generated vibration.  Some electronic devices have the unwelcome behavior of generating vibration.  Power transformers hum, rectifiers squeal, motors sing, relays click and capacitors chatter.  There is also constant, low-level vibration coming in from sources all around an audio system, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, fans, heaters, and even a wall clock, home aquarium, or freeway several blocks away.

Hollow tempered aluminum frame members are lighter to ship and can be filled with ballast.  A smooth, satin-anodized, silvery finish is standard.  Black is available.  Premium hardwood fascias can be added.

Even unheard and not even felt, vibration interferes with your music.  Micro-vibration seems subtle to humans yet it’s an archenemy of high fidelity.  When it shakes sensitive electronic components enough to distort sound, we don’t usually hear how much the music is suffering until the vibration is removed.  Then it becomes obvious as we feel wonder at the improvement, often with a sense of relief.

To the degree you eliminate micro-vibration, audio fidelity improves across the board. A good example is when tube lovers place odd-looking little devices on their electronic “valves” to dampen micro-phonics.  The music can get audibly sweeter and more clear, appearing more vividly on a blacker background, with better instrument separation, expanded soundstage, greater detail, and other improvements.  

Solid-state electronic devices also suffer from vibratory feedback so they also improve when vibration is well-controlled.  Then you find new delight in all you perceive in music and you enjoy a more involving experience with a greater psychoacoustic illusion of “being there” at an original performance.

If an audio rack design is going on, why not take the opportunity to make the music sound better?  Well, it is going on and iHi-Fi is taking the opportunity.  I’m leveraging my product design skills to make the audio rack of my dreams and also making it available to you.  The 3D CAD model is well under way.  The Masiv Speaker Stands recently completed are already going into production. 

A respected audio anti-vibration expert, Steve Herbelin, is consulting on the Masiv audio furnishing designs.   Steve is sought after for elegant, low cost, highly effective audio anti-vibration solutions.  He’s providing vibration control expertise and components for iHi-Fi’s production.  

Over the years, Mr. Herbelin has amassed over 10,000 happy customers. His solutions are by far the simplest I have seen and easiest to design-in.  I looked around and found several contenders that don’t provide as much cost/performance, simplicity, effectiveness, and versatility.

Design Features

Value-engineered -- the Masiv Audio Rack provides beauty, extraordinary quality, and advanced performance and features for the cost.  A great audio rack doesn’t have to be luxury goods.  But if you want gold trim and jade fittings we can do that as a custom.

Function-forward -- perceived needs of audio lovers rule this design.  It pleases the eye and looks compatible with the whole Masiv product line.  The wood-and-metal look works visually with typical audio gear in any décor.  As with the entire Masiv line, mechanical grounding with physical mass and proven anti-vibration are designed-in.

Flexible -- adjustable, modular, and configurable to support any audio or A/V component system setup, from the most modest and lightest to the most complex and heaviest.  More than a rack, it’s a rack system, with an adjustable shelf set and options for horizontal attached or stand-alone shelves and amp stands.

Three shelf rack with a pair of amp stands for big monoblocks.  All components in the system mix and match and connect or stand alone.

Neutral Aesthetic -- a metal-and-hardwood, contemporary look and feel.  Frame structure is tempered, satin-silvery anodized or black 6061-T6 alloy aluminum extrusions.  Hardwood fascias are optional.  The look is fine furniture.

Ample Cooling -- an open, convection-cooled arrangement that can support any audio system.

Acoustically Neutral -- it ships with a standard anti-vibration isolation treatment that’s easily and economically adaptable to the user’s preferences, room, and system. Users can easily tune the anti-vibration setup using different components available from Herbie’s Audio Lab.  We are also designing-out potential resonances that might cause reverberation.

Mechanical Grounding -- including leveling feet with anti-vibration isolation pads that work on either smooth or carpeted floors.  Forget spikes -- they are simply not needed.  They would contribute nothing but unnecessary cost and complexity to this rack and possibly defeat the effective, built-in anti-vibration features.

A “Masiv” Build - this Rack is lighter to ship yet it’s easy to add ballast at the destination.  Hollow vertical corner columns are filled with sand, or sand and lead shot mix, after arrival.

Premium Shelves -- MDF is just not good enough for this design.  Solid stranded bamboo composite is standard.  It’s 16% harder than red oak, rigid, massive, and strong.  Each shelf weighs around 10 pounds unloaded.  These 1.5 in. thick shelves float and can be turned over. Or any shelf material a customer desires can be ordered custom.  Vibration control is included for each shelf individually.  

Versatile Organization -- the standard 19-inch (nominal) rack opening will accept just about any typical component and most oversize gear, with 20 inches of clearance between the uprights and shelves about 22 inches deep.  The 4-post design allows you open access to controls, cables, and connectors on rear panels.  Heights available come in six-inch increments from six inches to five feet tall.  A larger top shelf accommodates big components.  One to five (or more) height-adjustable shelves allocate vertical space where you need it.  

Environmentally Responsible -- the pretty anodized aluminum and Moso bamboo composite materials are also recyclable and highly sustainable.

Rack, Shelf, and Footprint Options

Standard Main Rack -- usually three to five shelves.  About 4.5 feet tall (nominal.)  Shelves can be moved up or down any amount and added or removed.  

Four shelf rack with a pair of attached two shelf units for an A/V setup.  It's even possible to configure these modules so they wrap inside a corner.  When you move, upgrade, or expand, re-configure to suit your needs.  

Short Main Rack -- about 36 inch (counter height) is also available, as are custom versions.

Other Main Rack Options -- any height and any number of shelves desired as a custom.

Horizontal Rack -- Attaches on either side, or both sides, of the main rack.  Can also stand alone.  Two shelves each standard.  A wide, low, horizontal rack of any maximum width can be configured with 19- or 24-inch depth.  A 90-degree corner setup is possible to wrap the rack inside a corner.

Component Alignment -- all your components' front panels can align with each other near the front edge of the shelf regardless of size, weight, or weight distribution.

Masiv Mini-Rack -- a half-scale, 12 to 30-inch tall version intended for counter, desk, or tabletop applications, to suit the newer breed of small digital or computer audio components popular these days.

Wiring Organization -- movable tie points or wire looms are included at the rear.

Tri-Level Anti-vibration Isolation -- shelves and leveling feet are equipped with simple, proven, highly effective vibration control.  Very affordable means are available to isolate your audio components.  When set up as designed, all vibration paths are damped in a manner that can easily be tuned to your preferences.

Facilitated re-arrangement -- you may not want to reveal to your spouse the anti-vibration feet are Gliders that make it easy to move even a heavily laden Masiv Rack to different locations.

Masiv Amp Stands-- matching anti-vibration, 6-inch leveling floor stands for large, stand-alone mono-block amps.

The specific features mentioned in this article may be developed further as the designs continue.  Advance pre-orders can be booked on iHi-Fi.com.  Please use the online contact form to message iHi-Fi about your interest.

If you’re going to get a premium audio rack, why not include anti-vibration?  A decent quality audio system placed on a well-designed anti-vibration rack instantly and audibly sounds better than when sitting on an un-isolated shelf.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  Try it out for yourself during the standard iH-iFi thirty-day audition period with money-back satisfaction guarantee.

[Note: this post originally appeared under the title “Acoustically Functional Audio Rack Development."  It has been re-written and updated to reflect further progress.]

Your thoughts?  Click to comment.

iHi-Fi.com is your online high-end audio store.  Shop from anywhere in the USA without leaving home.  Receive expert advice and audition whatever you buy with return and refund privileges. All the computer audio gear at iHi-Fi.com delivers exceptional to stunning performance at value prices. Authorized Dealer for Audioengine, Acoustic System International, Bravo Audio, and HighEnd Novum.