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6.2 Audio Table
as reviewed by John Acton
Just as with almost anything in life, audiophilia is a hobby rife with compromise. Audiophiles are necessarily limited in their selection of an audio system by numerous factors, the largest of which is typically budget. The eternal conundrum for us music lovers is—where does the hard-earned money go? Better components? Better speakers? Better cabling? Power conditioning? Acoustical treatments for the room? It can become quite a balancing act to ensure that we realize the most bang for our buck as we approach a prospective upgrade. One aspect on which many audiophiles (myself included) tend to short-change themselves, is mechanical support and isolation for their systems. We keep hearing how pernicious the effects of vibration can be on a high-end audio system, but it's all too convenient to spend that money on something that seems to make a more ostensible difference. With the addition of the Solidsteel 6.2 Audio Table to my system, I have become convinced that a proper rack for housing one's system is as tantamount to overall system success as any other component.
Solidsteel is an Italian maker of audio/video racks and supports for a wide range of budgets and applications. Founded by two enthusiasts, one a prominent distributor of high-end audio equipment in Italy, the other a former engineer with Ducati, the company introduced its first audio racks in 1991. With their racks quickly garnering international acclaim for their unique blend of performance, aesthetics and relative affordability, Solidsteel has since expanded its distribution to more than 30 countries in Europe, America, Asia and Australia.
Regardless of price-point, all Solidsteel audio/video racks share a number of common characteristics designed to eradicate the influence of vibrations on a system's performance. The tubular frame employed in every Solidsteel rack is constructed of steel and finished in a special anti-resonant paint (black or silver), and the frame is further reinforced with a crimped steel bar at the end of every tube. Profligate mechanical resonance is dumped from the rack into the floor via height-adjustable spikes. The spikes are removable, to allow for the metal tubes to be filled with lead shot, sand or other material to further damp the rigid frame, if desired. Each shelf is isolated from one another, and from the overall frame, by duraluminium cones, which act to suppress and drain component-generated resonances. The shelves themselves are produced from high-density MDF, and are finished in anti-resonant paint (black or silver to match the frame). Lastly, the height of each rack, and the associated spacing between the shelves, represents a carefully-chosen balance of performance and aesthetic goals.
The focus of this review is the Solidsteel 6.2 Audio Table, which represents the two-shelf version of the company's flagship Series Six line of audio racks. Designed to eschew compromise, the Series Six racks incorporate numerous design features which set them apart from the company's other offerings. The steel frames are buttressed with additional steel support tubes at the bottom, and the three duraluminium cones supporting each shelf are reinforced by three decoupling screws intended to provide additional rigidity to the overall rack. The MDF shelves are increased in thickness from the standard .75 inch of the other Solidsteel products to 1.2 inches, which serves to further suppress mechanical resonances and provide additional support of the heavy components that Solidsteel envisions their prospective customer segment owning.
The overall dimensions of the Solidsteel 6.2 are 19.9" tall, 22.8" wide and 20.8" deep. The top shelf dimensions are 22.8" wide by 20.8" deep, and the bottom shelf dimensions are 19.7" wide by 19.7" deep. There is 11.8" clearance between the two shelves.
The 6.2 Audio Table arrived from Music Direct, the USA distributor, in two boxes, one containing the rack frame and accessories (cones and spikes), and the other containing the two shelves. Everything was extremely well packed and wrapped to prevent damage during shipment. Assembly was a snap and took all of ten minutes to complete. I simply had to install the spike feet on the bottom of the frame, set the duraluminium cones in their sockets and position the shelves. I installed the three decoupling screws for each shelf by tightening them with the included wrench until they just touched the underside of the shelf. That was all there was to it. I placed my components on the shelves, recalibrated the decoupling screws as necessary, and I was ready to go. I did not fill the frame with any sand, lead shot or other damping material.
During the course of this review, the Solidsteel 6.2 Audio Table supported a Simaudio MOON Evolution SuperNova CD player, and alternatively, Ayre AX-7e and Simaudio MOON Evolution i-7 integrated amplifiers. The rest of the system comprised Joseph Audio RM25si Signature Mk2 loudspeakers, cabling by Audience and Ecosse, and power cords by Custom Power Cord Co. and Ecosse.
One of the best things about reviewing components like support racks and acoustical treatments is that no break-in period is required. With the Solidsteel 6.2 audio rack in my system, the improvement in overall sound quality was readily apparent. The first thing I noticed was a subjective increase in the dynamic range of my system. Playing bill frisell with dave holland and elvin jones (Nonesuch 79624-2), I was amazed at the dynamic realism of the drum solo at the beginning of "Again". The decays between the cymbal brushes were more pronounced than I'm accustomed to hearing, accompanied by more lifelike transient attacks on the snare strikes. And it wasn't just well-recorded material that benefited; my pop / rock recordings also reaped the benefits of the increased dynamic range. Jim Morrison's vocals on "The Changeling" and "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" off of L.A. Woman (Elektra 75011-2), were more realistically reproduced as they vacillated between throaty growls and full-forced screams.
Soundstaging and imaging were improved by the Solidsteel 6.2 rack, but it took awhile for my brain to process the differences I was hearing. The first thing I discerned was a seeming reduction in soundstage width and height, which normally would not be construed as a positive effect. However, the more I listened, the more I realized that the soundstage wasn't smaller, but rather less diffuse, with more focus and tactile dimensionality to the images contained within. It was as if the Solidsteel rack was tightening up the sonic picture, analogous to a sharpness adjustment on a television. The trombone solo on "Teahouse on the Tracks" off of Donald Fagen's Kamakiriad CD (Reprise 9 45230-2), was more solidly portrayed, and I was able to more clearly discern the background handclaps and partying revelry behind the band. Due to the increased imaging precision, I got a much better feel for the Teahouse "club" where Fagen's protagonist finds himself at the denouement of the album. I heard similar improvements listening to Neko Case's live album, The Tigers Have Spoken (Anti 86740-2). Case's voice was more clearly delineated from those of her Sadies backup singers, and I was able to hear further back into the depths of the soundstage.
Tonally, I heard some subtle differences with the Solidsteel 6.2 in my system. Compared to the mass-market racks I'd been using previously, there was an increase in overall clarity, which translated to a slightly cleaner presentation. I heard less bloat and overhang in the midrange and upper-bass, coupled to a tauter deep bass. Again, these improvements were not dramatic, but with the Solidsteel rack removed from my system, I immediately missed them.
So were there any downsides to having the Solidsteel 6.2 rack in my system? None that I could detect. The 6.2 is easy to assemble and install. The 6.2 is both beautiful and functional, with ample space to hold most large audio components. Okay, so the Solidsteel racks are not inexpensive prospects for those of us who have not been indoctrinated into the world of serious vibration suppression. However, in comparison to offerings from Finite Elemente, Grand Prix Audio, etc, the Solidsteel products are relative bargains. How does Solidsteel stand up against its more expensive competitors? I'm afraid I can't answer that. However, I can state categorically that compared to mass-market supports and stands, the Solidsteel 6.2 rack is an across-the-board improvement and worth every penny of its asking price.
The most successful audio systems I've heard, regardless of price, have been those that possess a sense of synergy and balance. A superstar component can't make up for relative deficiencies elsewhere. Vibration control is an aspect that is often overlooked, but one that shouldn't be. My experience with the Solidsteel 6.2 Audio Table has raised my awareness as to how critical a good audio rack can be to the aggregate performance of an audio system. The 6.2 rack significantly improved the overall quality of my listening experience. If you haven't adequately addressed vibration control and support in your system, I advise you to do so before considering an alternative upgrade. You may be surprised at how satisfying your current setup can sound. I'm extremely pleased with the Solidsteel 6.2 Audio Table. Attractive, easy to use and great sounding, the 6.2 represents one of the best bang-for-buck upgrades I've made. Mine won't be going back. John Acton
6.2 Audio Table