Steve Blinn Designs
3-Shelf Extra-Wide Equipment Rack
Price: $1545 USD
Dimensions: 43.25"W x 32"H x 21.25"D
Weight: 150 pounds
Warranty: Three years parts and labor
- Aluminum frame with solid maple shelves
- Extra-wide shelves can hold a flat-panel TV and/or
- Vibration-damping design
- Shelves are adjustable to accommodate equipment of varying
- Color options available for frame and shelves
Back in the day, TVs were so bulky that they
had to be placed on a piece of furniture that was first a TV stand, and only second an
audio rack. You know the kind: They had short shelves typically made of glass, and a small
hole in the back to thread cables through. Sure, you could put your TV atop such a rack,
but no card-carrying audiophile would ever put anything else in there, even if there were
room to do so.
Today, you can barely find one of those big, bulky TVs, as
increasing numbers of manufacturers move toward making only flat-panel models. In response
to this, many makers of high-end audio racks have modified their products so that they
can, with adequate space and vibration control, also hold a flat-panel TV (if you
dont mount it on a wall), a center speaker, and at least a few components.
For the past three years, Ive been using a rack I
made based on an old recipe suggested to me by SoundStage!s own DIY expert,
Colin Smith. This rack uses IKEA end tables, the legs of which are cut down to the size
needed for each shelf. The finished shelves are then separated by vibration spikes and
stacked atop each other. Total cost of a five-shelf rack, including hardware: about $90.
Would this cheap -- er, inexpensive -- DIY rack be bested by one made by
professionals? I was determined to find out.
After supporting your equipment, a racks most
important function is to dissipate the vibrational energy generated by those components
and isolate them from external floor- and airborne vibrations. As many audiophiles know,
vibration can be a significant impediment to the accurate reproduction of audio and video.
However, in addition to improving certain aspects of audio
and video performance, a great rack will lower the noise floor, improve the soundstage,
permit greater resolution of details, increase musicality, and improve all portions of the
frequency spectrum. This latter phenomenon is referred to as "broadband" noise
Examining a lot of racks will tell you that using designs
and materials that increase a racks rigidity will get you a good part of the way
toward these goals. But rigidity alone wont get you a great rack, and it wont
significantly reduce broadband noise. Its a lot more complicated than that.
The designers of many top-notch racks use extremely complex
engineering principles, some of them grounded in technologies developed for the defense,
aerospace, and auto-racing industries -- all applications for which the control of
vibration is essential. One manufacturer claims that its racks are based on technology
developed to produce ultraquiet nuclear submarines.
Not surprisingly, different designs call for a host of
different materials. These include granite, various types of solid wood and medium-density
fiberboard (MDF), aluminum, steel, carbon fiber, acrylic, other synthetics -- and, of
course, glass. Some manufacturers claim that stone, metal, and glass are too
"live" or "zingy"; that instead of dissipating vibrational energy,
they bounce it right back into the component. On the other hand, manufacturers who use
such materials claim to have tamed this tendency through various means. Its enough
to make an audiophiles head spin.
Steve Blinn Designs 3-Shelf Extra-Wide Equipment Rack
Enter Steve Blinn Designs, makers of racks and stands for
electronic components, turntables, and speakers. Steve Blinn uses a
"high-precision" aluminum frame in many of his products, and claims that this,
"create[s] the most stable, rock solid foundation available." The impressive
shelves of his racks are thick slabs of solid maple.
Maple is popular among makers of racks and amp stands for
its hardness and density, and for the fact that it comes mainly from the northern US and
Canada. According to Blinn, maple is far better than MDF at controlling resonances,
isnt zingy, and imparts none of its own characteristics to the sound. He couples his
maple shelves to his aluminum frames using a proprietary system of shelf suspension that
includes "load rated copolymer rubber hemispheres" (read: small rubber balls),
which, he says, add another layer of vibration control.
Every rack Blinn sells is essentially a handmade custom
order. No racks are kept in inventory, so expect to wait about three weeks from the time
you place your order until it arrives at your door.
The subject of this review is a low, wide model, the
3-Shelf Extra-Wide Equipment Rack. Including frame, it measures 43.25"W by 32"H
(including 1.5"H spikes) by 21.25"D. Each shelf is 40"W by 18"D by
1.5" thick. If you want to place a TV atop your rack, I recommend a slightly lower
overall height. Retail cost of rack as reviewed: $1545.
Assembly, features, fitnfinish
The Blinn 3-Shelf rack arrived over several days in six
boxes, one of them heavy, four of them extremely large and heavy. Make no mistake:
even before I unpacked it, I was impressed.
Assembly was no small task, but was straightforward once I
got the hang of it. The only tool required for assembly was a hex key, which was included.
Also included are very substantial spikes and an inexpensive level, the latter a touch I
appreciated. The instructions seemed overly complex and not all that helpful, so I
disregarded them. Not surprisingly, when I was finished, I was fairly sure Id
assembled the rack incorrectly. How did I know this? Well, sometimes you just know. (Note
to editor: setting up and reviewing a rack is a tough job.)
The next day, I contacted Blinn and asked if he had a
picture of a finished rack he could send me. He promptly sent along a CAD drawing that
would have made assembly easier than playing with an Erector Set.
During assembly, I discovered what I consider a major
selling point for the rack: the heights of the shelves, which you tighten in place with
the hex key, are adjustable. When your equipment changes, simply readjust the shelves as
needed. If you require more space, you can buy additional shelves, as well as four taller
vertical aluminum rods to replace the ones you have. This reassuring degree of flexibility
essentially future-proofs the rack, though for some reason its not mentioned on
Once the rack was assembled, it was clear that it was one
extremely handsome product. In fact, it was much better looking than Id anticipated.
The large slabs of dark brown maple were nothing short of gorgeous -- their finish
favorably competed with any high-end furniture Ive seen, and they were beautifully
offset by the silver steel frame. In all, very elegant.
Next, I needed to fill the rack with my equipment. I
quickly determined that my soon-to-be-replaced RPTV was too big to go atop the 3-Shelf, so
I didnt even try. However, I was able to put my very large MartinLogan Stage center
speaker on one shelf, and my Marantz DV8400 DVD player and other components on the
remaining two. It was time to listen.
The 3-Shelf Extra-Wide Equipment Rack brought clarity and
definition to the upper registers. The decays of cymbal and piano notes sounded more
realistic. I could hear this, for example, with Count Basies "One OClock
Jump," an instrumental that appears on Sinatra at the Sands [DVD-A, Reprise R9
73777]. These instruments had never sounded so "right" and natural.
Similarly, bass was tighter and more defined with the
Blinn. It seemed as if my system was delivering more low-level information. The bass notes
became spongy. This was aptly demonstrated by Yess Fragile [DVD-A,
Elektra/Rhino R9 78249]. One track, "The Fish (Schindleria praematurus),"
is a showcase for the very substantial talents of bassist Chris Squire. Previously, his
prodigious bass notes had sounded somewhat blurred through my system. With the Blinn rack,
however, those same notes had sonically visible contours, nooks, and crannies that
reminded me of a sponge.
But even as detail improved, I also heard more low-level
slam. The DTS soundtrack of Toy Story 2 is fantastic. Particularly noteworthy is
chapter 2, the films first scene, which takes place inside an animated video game
being played by the movies animated characters. When the games Buzz Lightyear
battles the alien robots, there are plenty of low-frequency explosions. With the Blinn,
these explosions were bigger, had more impact, and were definitely crisper than before.
Soundstages were now more three-dimensional, and the music
sounded more relaxed and effortless. Because the notes themselves now had more integrity,
the silences between them were also more defined. I heard some improvements in the
midrange, though not nearly as dramatic as the improvements in the bass and highs.
Id experienced similar sorts of isolation-based
improvements in the past, when I added to my system Black Diamond Racings pucks and
cones, as well as various isolation bases and mass-loading Rocks from Bright Star Audio.
With the Blinn rack, however, I was noticing them again, and further improving my
systems already heightened performance. It occurred to me that getting a good rack
should have been the first step I took toward the promised land of resonance-free
sound, not the last.
But while Ive experienced substantial sonic gains by
using isolation devices in my system, at least one audiophile friend has not shared this
experience. His system is in the basement of his suburban house; I live on a high floor of
a tall city building. He believes that buildings such as mine vibrate like giant tuning
forks, and thus are far more compromised by resonances; in short, an isolating rack such
as the Blinn has a lot of material to work with. This may be something to bear in mind,
though I suspect that virtually everyone can benefit, to at least some degree, from
reducing resonances in their audio/video systems.
The Blinn rack bettered my DIY rack by a wide margin, which
didnt surprise me. While at one point IKEAs tables may have been made of solid
wood, they are now hollow and made of particleboard. I suppose that, with a little effort
and rudimentary carpentry skills, they could be filled with sand and/or lead shot to
improve their resonance-absorbing qualities. But while I feel that a DIY rack remains a
good choice for someone on a limited budget, mine never stood a fighting chance against a
rack of such superior materials, craftsmanship, and design as the Blinn.
The racks from Steve Blinn Designs seem to offer the best
of both worlds. Blinns thick maple shelves provide the resonance-dissipating
properties that make that wood so popular among audiophiles, and the aluminum frame
provides significant rigidity. As described above, the performance improvements that
appear to result from this configuration were substantial.
The 3-Shelf Extra-Wide Equipment Rack significantly
improved the performance of my system and bested my DIY rack by a wide margin. Its build
quality is rock solid, its configuration is flexible, and it looks incredible. Nor will it
break the bank. In my book, all of that makes it a good value, and highly worthy of
recommendation. Nice job, Steve Blinn.
|Speakers - MartinLogan
Vantage (mains), MartinLogan Stage (center), MartinLogan Script i (surrounds), MartinLogan
Descent i (subwoofer)
processor - B&K AVR-507
|Amplifier - Halcro MC50
- Marantz DV8400 DVD player
|Power conditioners -
Synergistic Research Powercell, PS Audio Noise Harvesters, DIY parallel filter
- Synergistic Research, Kimber Kable, DH Labs
|Isolation devices - Bright
Star Audio Big Rocks and Little Rocks, Black Diamond Racing cones and pucks, Balanced
Power Technologies Cable Stilts, DIY isolation rack
device - Sony RPTV