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Audiav Zirconia - Nice Rack!

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by Robert Learner on January 14 '10

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Manufacturer: Audiav

Country of origin: USA

Model number: Zirconia 4/5 shelf rack

Price: $2145 4 shelf/$2380 5 platform configurations with standard shelves, options additonal

Website: http://www.audiav.com

NOTE:  The pictures in this article don't do justice to the quality of the rack


BACKSTORY


My rack was rickety.  Its bolt-into-twisting-camlock construction was protesting the burden of over a hundred pounds of gear.  And now, with my long planned return to vinyl, a heavy turntable was slated to crown it.  Rickety won’t do. 

The target: something solid, attractive and flexible.  As I swap in and out review components, the only feature sought of a rack was infinitely adjustable shelves, i.e. no fixed height points for them.  Simple right?  And then I started reading the sound quality claims.  You can spend $10,000 on a rack.  Easily. 

I can understand the value of a rigid platform for a mechanical device like a turntable.  Electronics? Reading reviews and testimonials about the major sonic improvement an expensive rack wrought, I go to BS Alert Level: Orange.  Orange  too on hyperbole about the transformative effects of cones, points, spikes, blocks, pucks,  pods, rollers, bladders, and quantum quieters.  If the effect was transformative, either a): the component was screwed up to begin with, b):  the change is likely for the worse, or capital C): the power of suggestion is strong.   Further, the expensive components that will go on a top tier rack are likely of robust build or even overbuilt – do they need more vibration control?  For the curious, I'd start with a $20 set of Vibrapods.

Some racks claim multiple resonances that cancel each other out.  Others have a series of points/cones that either drain vibration or isolate the component from it, couple or decouple, depending on who you ask.  And when.  Only thing I know cones do do is make the components appear heavier at their contact points with the shelf – effective mass loading.  Pressure = force/area.  When in doubt, physics.

As with all things audiophile these days, simple can get complicated fast.

STORY

Enter the Audiav Ziconia rack which falls into the shelves-on-metal-frame genre.  Think of the i-beam skeleton of a five story building.  Now lay shelves on each floor as defined by the horizontal box of crossbeams.  Like most infinitely adjustable racks, a tongue and groove system is employed.  For the Zirconia, this means an octagonal post at each corner, cut to any height the customer requires.  Running the length of each side of the post is a groove into which the ‘tongue’ of the horizontally running struts fits.  Turning the screw next to the tongue causes it to expand in the groove, locking the strut in place.   Very neat and well executed.  Clever too in that the octagonal post design allows the addition of load reinforcement or shelving in eight directions – it’s an easy-to-customize system.

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Using the supplied torx wrench, a 180 degree turn secures the mechanism.   Pressure increases toward the end of the turn then quickly releases, letting you know the strut is locked.  There’s no guesswork as to how tight to make the connection.  And torx is a good choice here – even with frequent reuse, it’s difficult to strip.






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The finished frame reminds of a shark cage, it’s that tight and rigid despite no screws or connecting welds among the components.  Those are some strong-tongued struts.  Repeat that ten times.

Each strut is fitted with two visco-elastic domes, larger but similar to those you can find on the inside of a cabinet door.  Laying a shelf on these decouples it from the metal structure.   Two struts typically supports a shelf, but if you need more load bearing ability, extra struts can crossed underneath.

Tolerances are tight too.  Within a pair of joined posts, the struts slide up and down cleanly with no wiggle.  Lock one side, and the other is at exactly the same height on the opposite post.   The practical gain of this precision is that the shelving is easy to level.   Coming from Salamander-style rigs where you have to level four independent nuts or sliders, it’s a godsend.

As for shelving choices, stock includes carbon fiber, maple, acrylic, and the base composite (cellulose/resin) I chose.   Sonically, they all have different resonant properties which may interface differently with components.  You can also move up the ladder with thicker or combined versions of the above.  Topping off my rack is a composite signature platform – two shelves sandwiching materials designed to mechanically and electrically isolate the top surface.   On such a throne would sit my turntable. 

 

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A pair of amp stands for my Audio Research 210 monos rounded out the package.  Multiple footers; cones, spikes, casters and the leveling feet I chose are part of an extensive collection of accessories.

 

SOUND/CONCLUSION

In a brief check, I was unable to hear the difference between my ARC amps on their stands and on the floor.  I highly doubt that another rack would make a difference either, so this is absolutely not a knock on the Zirconia.  Further, if you do suspect vibration or electromagnetic interference may be degrading performance of a component, Audiav has shelving and shielding options from the Signature series that are designed to address this in a way that my Standard shelves are not.  

Racks (by any manufacturer) and cones, endless cable tweaking and so on may make a small difference, but the opportunity cost is time that could have been spent simply listening.   For me it’s neuroses without adequate payoff.   After making such calculations in my life, I’ve generally walked away.

Very tangible though is the solid design of these racks.  They are rigid, easily customizable in look and layout, and construction is dead simple.   While not cheap, I found nothing cheaper that provided the same infinite adjustability combined with rigidity and ease of build.  The Zirconias are far more rigid, for example, than the less expensive Salamander and Studiotech stuff I’ve owned. Moving up the Audiav ladder to the Crystal and Diamond series’ yields even more robust construction and vibration control.  Their comprehensive website details the models, options, and principles behind the designs of the racks.  It favors information over hype.

As with all things audiophile these days, simple can get complicated fast.  But only if you let it.   

I’ve bought my last rack.