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Grand Prix Audio’s Monaco rack is a reference, period.

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.

The Sound

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 better.

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
970. 247.3872
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 presentation.

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!
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