6moons Feature - Grand Prix Audio

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6moons Feature - Grand Prix Audio
This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Eastern Electric Minimax CD player with NOS Philips Miniwatt 6DJ8s, Pro-Ject 1 Xpression turntable w/Ortofon
540 Mk II cartridge, Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable w/Ortofon Rondo Red cartridge [in for review]
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Stingray, Audio Zone AMP-1, JAS Audio Array 2.1 [in for review], Pro-Ject Tube Box
phono stage
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on sand filled Skylan stands), Zu Cable Tone [in for review], REL Q108 Mk II
subwoofer
Cables: Zu Libtec speaker cable [on loan for review], Zu Gede interconnects [on loan for review], Audience Maestro
interconnects and speaker cables, DH Labs Air Matrix and Revelation interconnects, JPS Labs Superconductor+
interconnects, Auditorium 23 speaker cables, BPT IC-SL interconnects and SC-7.5L speaker cables [in for review]
Power Cables: Zu Birth [on loan for review], BPT L-10 [in for review], Gut Wire Power Clef 2, Power Clef SE, Audience
powerChord
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets w/ Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth,
Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow, GutWire MaxCon
Sundry accessories: Grado SR-60 headphones, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, Skylan isolation
platforms [in for review], Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Isoclean fuses, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Walker
Audio Ultra Vivid, GutWire Notepads and SoundPads, HAL-O Tube Dampers, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat,
Herbie's Grungebuster2 CD Mat, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments
Room size: 11' x 18' x 8', short wall setup, hardwood floors with large area rug
Review Components Retail: $2,250 first tier; $1,950 each additional
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Equipment racks along with room treatments are arguably the least sexy of audio components. There are no fancy lights,
no brushed aluminum front panels, no fancy badges and no glowing tubes. No allure whatsoever. When I see an audio
product in this price range, I normally expect to at least see a power switch and a beefy AC cable. No such luck here. I'll
freely admit that I was secretly dreading this review. The idea of finding anything positive to say about a $4,000 two-shelf
wall mount support seemed a ludicrous and impossible task at first blush. That ambivalence and reluctance evaporated
the moment I dropped my turntable, phono preamp and Manley Labs Stingray on the Grand Prix Audio Brooklands. Oh
my! The experience was one of those all-too-rare moments when one's world turns upside down. Once it happened, I
realized that I hadn't truly heard what my components were capable of before. Now I felt myself questioning the validity of
my previous reviews. The Brooklands made that much of a difference. The Brooklands simply validated what I have long
suspected but never really had a chance to experience first-hand: that controlling the music-robbing effects of resonance
and vibration pollution is far more important than most of us realize. Now that I have heard it, it will be impossible to go
back and pretend I didn't know better.
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There has been considerable nonsense written about resonance control. The claims from some companies in this sector
seem to defy the basic laws of physics. Take a look on the web and see how many companies can convincingly explain
how their product functions without spewing Star Trek pseudo science. How many of these guys actually use
accelerometers and shaker tables when designing their products? Grand Prix Audio is one exception. Indeed, the folks at
GPA have an impressive high-tech background. GPA's top man Alvin Lloyd was VP of Operations at Swift Engineering
and oversaw the construction of its high-speed ground plane wind tunnel which apparently was the world's most advanced
research and testing facility at the time. Alvin and his team also developed the Swift 007 i.C.A.R.T. which became the
first US-built Indy car to win in 14 years. Alvin along with motor sports engineering alumni Henry Wolf and Tom Huschilt
took their extensive backgrounds in advanced suspension systems and space-age materials and applied it to high-end
audio. 6moons and publications like Stereophile and Positive Feedback have extensively covered the Monaco equipment
rack and other GPA products. For further insight, check out Srajan's and Stephæn's reviews and read through GPA's
site.
Having developed a SOTA floorstanding equipment rack, Alvin and company decided to tackle wall shelving. There are
advantages to affixing shelves to a wall. Floorstanding racks, no matter how well designed and constructed, are still
subjected to floorborne vibrations, mostly resulting from the jack hammer effect of loudspeakers on the floor. Even solid
concrete floors are not immune. Based on that assumption, the Brooklands should actually perform to a superior level
than even GPA's Monaco. Those vibrations left unchecked will find their way to your sensitive gear through the supporting
rack. Said bad vibes will manifest as a distortion of sorts to mask crucial musical information and/or alter it. That hard
bright edge you currently blame on your power amp might actually result from the rack transmitting your speakers'
vibrations propagating through the floor. Mount equipment on the wall and the effect of these spurious vibrations will
reduce, especially if the room contains suspended wood floors. Sure, wall-mounted gear will still be subjected to airborne
vibration and to a lesser extent, floor vibration rising through the supporting wall. The trick is to reduce that vibration as
much as possible. Anyone who has a turntable and tried either a DIY or dedicated wall shelf knows how effective this can
be. However, no firm has ever offered a high-tech fully tricked-out wall shelf like GPA's Brooklands. Named after the
famous British sports car and race track, the Brooklands is like no other wall mounted rack I have ever seen. As with the
Monaco, the Brooklands utilizes several materials including carbon fiber, acrylic and weight-matched Sorbathane viscoelastic decouplers. GPA believes that a mix of various rigid and compliant materials will offer optimal vibration control.
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Visco-elastic materials such as Sorbathane have an unwarranted bad rap in audio circles. Some folks claim such
materials "over-damp" sonics, causing a mushy, overly warm effect. The truth is, these materials only function optimally
when they are loaded at the correct weight. That's why GPA's racks come with several different dampers to ensure proper
loading for maximum effectiveness. The Brooklands even ships with a template showing the proper compression of the
dampers. Therefore in circumstances where you don't know the weight of a component, you install the various color
coded dampers until you achieve the proper compression profile.
For truly effective resonance control, visco-elastic devices are required. Rigid materials cannot adequately control
vibration. Would you mount a sensitive electronic microscope on brass or steel cones? I didn't think so. How can a trio of
brass cones isolate a CD player? The fact is, they don't. When I place these hard footers under my equipment, I can still
feel it vibrate just as much as it did before and in some cases even more. Then why are audiophiles so quick to accept
these materials in their systems? When it comes to audio, it seems the laws of physics and just plain old common
sense go right out the window. These sorts of products are not isolation but really tuning devices. They alter the
frequency range of vibration and thus the sonics of the component. I find these sorts of tweaks completely unpredictable
and results vary dramatically from one component to the next. Used indiscriminately, a system's performance can
become unbalanced. Wouldn't it make more sense to reduce resonance as much as possible first before fine-tuning?
Perhaps you won't even want to with a GPA platform. I didn't.
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Submarines have used visco-elastic materials for decades to isolate machinery and motors from the hull. This prevents
the transmission of noise and vibration to the surrounding water, thus reducing the chance of detection by passive sonar.
But there is an additional benefit. Isolating sensitive electronic equipment from a potentially noisy environment increases
its signal-to-noise ratio and thus improves performance. The Command Center deck containing all the sensitive
electronics of the US Navy's new Virginia class attack subs is completely isolated from the hull with visco-elastic
materials. Less background noise through higher S/N ratios lead to increased sensitivity and thus greater detection range
on seaborne contacts. It stands to reason that if this technology is so effective on the most complex machine yet built by
man, it should have similar effects on audio equipment. So the next time you try visco-elastic feet, try to get the weigh
matching right. If you do and the resulting sound doesn't impress, the problem is probably somewhere else.
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The Brooklands is available as a one or two shelf system. I requested the latter as I wanted to audition it not only as a
turntable support but also as a complete system support for those who have small systems built around an integrated
amp and CD player or turntable. I installed the Brooklands high enough on my wall so my existing equipment rack would
fit below it. Therefore, I could easily swap components from one to the other.
The packaging and instructions were beyond reproach. It took no more than two hours to install the Brooklands. Unless
your name is Homer Simpson, I can't see how anyone could possibly have trouble installing the Brooklands. The trickiest
part was lining up the template over the wall studs. The only tools required for assembly are a stud finder, 7/16" open end
wrench, 7/16" deep socket and wrench/ratchet, beam level and power drill. Included were a drill bit, hex key and a small
screw driver. The Brooklands also comes packaged with a soft dusting cloth, a bottle of polish for the acrylic shelves and
cotton gloves to keep those pesky finger prints at bay.
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The Brooklands requires 3 relatively straight studs 16" on
center. Since 16-inch spacing is more or less the
standard in North America, this shouldn't be a problem.
For non-standard on-center framing, Grand Prix can
assist you with mounting a subordinate plate. A solid
stone or brick wall would be ideal but here in North
America, most homes are constructed with suspended
wood floors and drywall mounted on wood framing.
Therefore it is imperative that the Brookland's wall
anchors bite solidly into the supporting stud and not the
drywall or you could experience a rather nasty and
expensive accident. Finding an appropriate wall was a
challenge in my room as the wall behind my system
features three tall windows. The rear wall wasn't suitable
either. I mounted the Brooklands against the west side
long wall which also happens to be an exterior brick wall.
I used a stud finder to locate and mark the studs. I
attached the template to the wall with a few pieces of
masking tape. With the use of a level, I adjusted the
template so it was plumb. I drilled the holes through the
template, removed it and started to install the various
anchors and hardware. Also included were several shims
in case of small variances in stud spacing. I soon learned
that one of my selected studs ran at a slight angle. With
the shims, I was able to secure the mounts firmly to the
offending stud. Once I tightened all the support rods, I
placed the appropriate Sorbathane dampers in the
dimples on the carbon fiber support, and then placed the
acrylic shelves on the dampers followed by my
equipment. I noted the degree of compression on the
dampers and replaced those that showed either too much
or insufficient compression.
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Properly set up, the acrylic shelves are completely
isolated from the wall and should not move when a load is
applied. Even the two large rear mounts decouple from
the wall with visco-elastic material. If there is some play
or motion, further tightening of the support will be
required. The manual also points out that further
adjustment may be required a couple of weeks after
installation due to compression of the rear dampers.
Overall, I thought setup and installation was
straightforward and hardly difficult. I did check the
Brooklands for motion regularly and only found it
necessary to adjust the links occasionally. I thought the
Brooklands was quite attractive as probably most
audiophiles will, too. I'm not so sure about the dreaded
Wife Acceptance Factor, however. All my wife would say
is, "It's your room. Do whatever you want with it." As
most of you married guys know, that's code for "Make it
go away. It hurts my eyes."
I admit that the Brooklands visually overpowered my relatively small room. Plus, I had to rearrange my furniture and move
my system to the long wall which aesthetically wasn't my cup of tea. My photos also are a little misleading in that the
Brooklands takes up more wall estate than is apparent. Keep in mind that 3 studs are required. You therefore need at
least 32" in width of flat wall space and approximately 35" in height (50" for two shelf version). The Brooklands will also
project into your room by 25", thus careful consideration is required before you start drilling holes.
After living with the Brooklands for several weeks, I'm a believer. I cannot begin to describe the effect of the Brooklands on
my system. I can honestly say that nothing has made such a difference - with the exception of my Echo Busters room
treatments. Place something modest like a Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable on the Brooklands and I swear you'll think you're
listening to a far more expensive deck. The same goes for a modest integrated amp such as the Manley Labs Stingray.
Aspects of these components that I thought were caveats simply vanished. The slightly highlighted top end of the
Stingray noted in my review? Gone. Moving the Stingray from the Brooklands to my existing rack provoked uncontrolled
giggling. The effect was painfully obvious.
The most readily noticeable effect of the Brooklands was how the noise floor dropped considerably. I couldn't believe how
much more musical information I could hear when I placed the Stingray and either my Eastern Electric Minimax CD
player or my Pro-Ject RPM 5 and Tube Box phono preamp on the Brooklands. My existing rack obscured far more
information than I had previously thought. Instruments and voices snapped into focus. I heard further into recordings than
before. Nothing was unnaturally highlighted or tipped up. I simply could hear far more of what was going on a recording.
Bass was more solid and fluid, the mids more detailed and full. The highs were extended and instruments and voices that
contained considerable higher frequency information were clearer and more defined. Dynamic contrasts between soft and
loud were awesome, from the pick of a guitar string to an orchestra at full tilt. The improvements were considerable and
across the board but without being at all analytical. Downsides? There aren't any. The Brooklands was darn near
perfection except for the severe withdrawal symptoms it would produce later on.
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Unlike hard footers and other
resonance control products
which only seem to effect or
highlight a narrow band, the
influence of the Brooklands was
completely coherent from top to
bottom. I observed no undue
emphasis anywhere in the
spectrum. I noted enhanced
refinement, inner detail and
texture. Recorded performances
became more believable and
natural. It was easier to pick out
ambient cues as were the richer
tonal colors of instruments and
voices. Placing my components
on the Brooklands got me
closer to the music than I
thought possible. Yes, $4,000
is a considerable sum but I can
tell you that money is far better
spent on the Brooklands than
the equivalent in cables.
Since disassembling the
Brooklands for return, it has
been painfully difficult to ignore
the music-robbing effect of my
welded steel-frame rack on my
system. Now that I'm aware of
it, I can't ignore it. However, I
found that some of the
deleterious effects of my
existing stand disappeared
when I placed GPA's Apex
footers under the upright
supports. Hardly an optimal
solution but one that has been
remarkably successful to date.
My advice? If you can't afford a
Brooklands or Monaco, don't try
one for your sanity's sake. I'm
having a difficult time facing this myself as blowing four Cap'n Nemo squid (really really big quid) on anything is a sure
path for marital disruption in the Candy household.
I'd have loved to have had a Monaco on hand to compare the two but considering Alvin himself is currently installing
several Brooklands in his dedicated reference room, my guess is that the Brooklands might be even superior in reducing
resonance. All I know is somehow -- no matter how many lawns I gotta mow or how many people I have to whack -- my
system will be sitting on a Grand Prix Audio rack at some point in the future. Expensive it is, yes - but truly effective and
damn sexy too.
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Manufacturer's website
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