Associated Equipment:
Analog
Front End
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Power Conditioning
Accessories
Innovative Audioís PolyCrystal Systems

Ultra High Density PolyCrystal Rack

Marshall Nack

9 April 2001

Specifications

Three 24" W by 19" L by 1" thick shelves on a 31" H solid hardwood frame.
Price: $900
Five shelves on a 42" H solid hardwood frame. Includes four 24" W by 19" L and one extra large 24" W by 24" L by 1Ĺ-inches thick top shelf. Price: $1890
Many sizes, configurations and colors available.
Ultra High Density Isolation Platform
model UHD-PIP-5, 21" by 21" by 1 Ĺ" thick Price: $339.95
Many sizes and configurations available.
Reference ISO Footers (set of 3) Price: $150
Cable Towers (set of 3) Price: $100

Distributor: Ultra Systems
Phone: 800.724.3305
E-Mail: ultra@p3.net

Manufacturer:
Innovative Audio, Folsom, CA 95630
Web: www.polycrystal.com
E-Mail: info@polycrystal.com

Bruce Bodlak, the man behind the PolyCrystal logo, is a tease. When I first contacted him after getting the 3-shelf PolyCrystal rack from Ultra Systems and told him how impressed I was, he promised to send samples of his other products, but one at a time so that I fully appreciate each pieceís impact. I wanted them all -- now! Of course, he was right to make me wait. These products have the ability to make profound changes to your sound. Itís best to go slow, getting used to each piece incrementally.

Owing to difficulties with UPS, the new rack arrived in stages. Initially I set up only the bottom shelf on the hardwood frame, which took 30-40 minutes. First, I put my BAT VK200 amp on the PolyCrystal shelf. Frankly, I didnít notice much of a difference: more similar to than different from the sound of the amp on my old rack. I was deflated, but only for a minute: I remembered that not only was the amp sited on the Target Beta metal rack, but there was an additional layer of isolation provided by a Rosinante Dark Matter platform. Now the Dark Matter is the best ISO platform I know of. It brought the VK200 to a higher performance class. Holy cow, I thought, could the new rack by itself be as good as the Dark Matter and the Target rack combined?

First, Some Background

People buy racks for both aesthetic and practical reasons. Will it look good in my room? Does it have enough space to hold my gear? The most popular racks give you good component support, some isolation and resonance control, and, of course, meet aesthetic and functional requirements. Examples of first-category racks are those made by Target, Salamander, Sound Anchor, Atlantis, etc. These products are a vast improvement over ordinary, domestic furniture shelving. You will hear a difference. Then, after living with first-category racks for a while, the more adventurous will become interested in after-market products. Examples of add-on ISO platforms include Black Diamond Racing carbon fiber, Rosinante Dark Matter, and Symposium Acoustics constrained-layer damped boards. The add-ons do work. However, they are typically a lot more expensive than the rack itself. Your average first category rack runs about $200 to $400. One of these ISO platforms will set you back between $300 to $500.

Which brings us to the second tier of racks. The additional level of isolation is now integrated in the construction of the unit -- no add-on isolation platforms are necessary. These racks are usually very heavy and expensive. The support structure is more rigid. Examples of this type include Arcici, RixRax, Billy Bags and PolyCrystal.

Cosmetics

The PC racks are good looking. They wonít cause you embarrassment when the in-laws come over. My current metal racks provoke comments such as, "Canít you buy some nice fabric to cover up that industrial shelving?" The finish of the PC racks is about on the level of furniture from IKEA. They are very heavy and stable, and are composed of two parts: the frame and the shelves. All PC racks sport solid hardwood frames, chosen because wood sounds better than metal. Oversize, PC-coated brass spikes screw into the bottom of the frame to de-couple the floor, and smaller PC spikes support the top shelf. The rest of the shelves are adjustable in 1Ĺ-inch increments. All shelves are made of the PolyCrystal stuff, a proprietary composite of resin and inert materials. The rack I received is the Ultra High Density (UHD) PC model, which has a black finish with lighter gray speckles. This is the premium line with its finer particle composite material. In terms of hardness, the PC material is a compromise between soft feet (like Sorbothane) and the super-hard stuff (like Black Diamond Racing, or the even harder Air Tight Graphite / Carbon blocks). While closer to the hard side, it is soft enough to be easily scratched, so exercise some care.

With only my amp on a PC shelf, I felt the sound had moved laterally. Then, when the other two shelves arrived, things really began to happen. I placed my phono pre-amp on the top one, and the newly received Legend monoblocks on the other. Whoa! There was a drastic change in the soundstage. I was startled at how crisp, clear and focused it had become. Images attained a new feeling of solidity. The roomís dimensions seemed to have expanded. Nothing subtle about it!

After adjusting to the major change in the soundstage, I picked up on other things. The lower register displayed an entirely different character. For example, the Amazing Duo Vol. 2 (Camerata CMT Ė 1025, Japanese LP), which features the Berlin Philharmonic Duo of bass and cello with harpsichord continuo, reproduces the closest thing to a live cello sound Iíve heard. The performance is excellent, a model of classical grace and restraint, but with plenty of personal expression. I could now hear the double bass distinct from the cello. Moreover, the double bass occupied a different physical location on the stage. In most systems, the upper bass smears into the lower mid, resulting in a lack of clarity which affects both imaging and the musical line. Now I heard the double bass separately from everything else, so independent it seemed to be generated from another speaker. Even though these two instruments are playing in the lower register, thereís no uncertainty about which instrument is playing the main line (cello) and which contributes to the counterpoint (bass). The bass is incredibly articulate. It is reproduced coherently over its range; there arenít any humps or suckouts, rather a smooth gradation in decibel level from the lowest notes on up. This is a difficult feat to pull off. Somehow, the PC stuff manages to keep two similarly voiced instruments musically and spatially distinct. Itís well known that a component support can effect bass tightness or looseness. Does it also have the ability to smooth frequency response and isolate it in space?

After installing those other two shelves, but still using my reference Air Tight Carbon / Graphite ISO blocks, the sound was bright. I went through my footer inventory without satisfaction. Then the PC Ref ISO 3 feet arrived. These are sets of three conical feet made of PC material tuned to match the PC shelving. I put two feet along the rear of the amp chassis and one in front. The transformers are located along the length of the rear, hence thatís where the weight is. This sounded great: a darker, fuller overall sound with smoother and more prominent bass. The pace had improved and the brightness was gone.

Bruce says you can tune the sound by adjusting the footers. He suggested several tips:

Try reversing the configuration and put one in back where the weight is, and two in front. This to me illogical. Amazingly enough, the result is tighter, more focussed images. By comparison, the two-in-back setup made the image seem fat and stretched out horizontally.

Donít put the feet on the very edge of the chassis. Moving them closer to the center helps the focus. I moved the other ISO feet I use (Air Tight blocks) closer to the center on all the components to good effect.

Even if the transformer is off to one edge on the chassis, you should still put the isolator in the center of that edge. This will cause some off-balance weight distribution, but will sound better.

Place the ISO cones point down first. Then try them points up. I found I liked them points up about a third of the time, but in all cases positioning close to the center worked better.

This guy knows more about isolation control than anyone Iíve ever met.

Amp Stands

The big UHD PC Isolation Platforms for my amps came next. These are 1Ĺ-inch-thick PC slabs fitted with four overbuilt PC filled brass spikes. Again, I was brought up short. It was immediately apparent that the soundstage character had changed. It became HUGE. Although still bound and limited by my less-than-ideal room width, the 3-D effect going back from the speaker plane was stunningly layered and airy. The space between instruments and the air around them was more completely realized.

Moreover, this spaciousness arrived in tandem with an equally remarkable enhanced instrumental richness and fullness: not overly warm and swampy with a loss of detail, but harmonically and acoustically rich, with gobs of information. I even began to think it was too rich. Is it possible to be too rich? The impact of the amp stands was equal to that of the equipment rack.

Tip: The Amp stand comes with four heavy spikes which screw into the corners. If you remove two from one side, take off the threaded screws on one, and place that one in the center of the now footless side, you will have created a tripod support under the amp stand. Just as with the ISO footers, three spikes have the effect of increasing focus and openness.

Five-Shelf Rack

The matching five-shelf rack came in and replaced my SolidSteel Model 410. The first thing I noticed was that the volume control needed to be raised by maybe fifteen percent. This is a telltale sign of a major change. The noise floor dropped in a free-fall. Soft passages are now whisper quiet; really quiet, but with even more detail. Then, when the band gets going, crescendos are fifteen percent louder. All in all, dynamics improved to a level I would have associated with the purchase of a super amplifier.

Cable Towers

Lastly, I put 6 PC Cable Towers under some of the wires. My expectations werenít very high. Iíve tried products like this before and currently use some cardboard shipping tubes hand cut to size. Maybe they make a difference, Iím not sure. These PC Cable Towers, however, were icing on the cake.

With my mind reeling from the effects of all this stuff, I called my wife over for another opinion. She sat in the sweet spot and after a while said, "I donít know if I like this. Youíve got big holes in the soundstage. It seems spotty." Such is the magnitude of the sense of air and spaciousness! Be prepared, it takes getting used to. The man did say, Go slow.

What does it feel like in a PolyCrystal room? Imagine that youíve finally solved your roomís acoustic problems. Images are focussed, without sharp edges, and somewhat concentrated. The stage is eminently evident and totally credible. The sound is direct and clear, warm and vivid -- itís interesting. Now imagine all this without the over-damping that you get with most room treatments. The treble is fully extended and the space feels natural.

Youíll be bowled over by the change in the soundstage. Terms like forward or recessive donít come close. The illusion of being in a concert hall or a studio is palpable, having ratcheted up by several degrees. Like the real thing, the stage simply occupies more volume,. You may experience cognitive dissonance as you gaze into your sound room and hear auditory cues associated with some larger concert hall. This illusion is what weíre all after.

PC Theory

In trying to understand the acoustic properties of PC, the first clue that comes to mind is the weight of the PC material. Each UHD PC shelf for my rack weighs in at 30 lbs. and is one inch thick. The UHD PC amp stand weighs in at 45 lbs. and is 1Ĺ inches thick. Among other things, this has the effect of mass loading, thus bringing down the resonant frequency of the entire rack and everything on it. The sonic effect is to give more weight, body and focus to the sound.

Now, you can get more weight and body by adding any kind of heavy object. The Bright Star Big Rock (sand filled) does the trick, but I find these have a damping effect and are also detrimental to treble extension. They put a ceiling on the treble which makes it feel closed in. Likewise for VPI Bricks. The PC rack gives me treble extension, super definition, and enhances body and weight.

The next thought that comes to mind is the materialís ability to drain mechanical noises and vibrations from components. I hear people talk about "noise" in audio systems all the time without a clear understanding of exactly what they mean. Believe me, youíll have no trouble hearing that the noise is down.

Caveat Emptor

PolyCrystal acts like a detergent in the sense that it will scrub your sound clean. It sharpens focus and removes noises from around the instruments. Taken too far, however, it is possible to bleach the sound so that it loses color. With too much focus, images become very concentrated. This degree of concentration reduces the realistic blending of sounds that occur naturally. In effect, too much of a good thing. You donít want to sharpen the focus or remove all the noises around instruments if the result is a thin, compact. too tight sound.

As with the three-shelf rack I received first, the system's sound was initially bright. Expect to spend time fine tuning, adjusting footers, component weights, etc. And then expect to spend more time adjusting stuff as you get used to the sound. With system resolution of this magnitude, re-tuning is mandatory.

Conclusion

Amazing stuff! PC products provide mega performance gains. I view the rack and amp stands as necessities in my system. These get my unequivocal recommendation. I also think they represent good value. Yes, they're expensive. My three-shelf UHD 19-inch rack retails for $900, about the same price as a one-meter interconnect of the brand I'm currently using. But these PC pieces easily surpass the benefits of a single cable upgrade. Itís more on the order of an upgrade to a Class-A amplifier.

Other PC products, such as the ISO feet and Cable Towers, accrue benefits of a lesser magnitude. The footers are among the best products of this sort. They are not the universal solution, however. In my opinion, there is none. In general, the feet improved the sound of all the tube gear I tried, but the results were mixed with solid-state. The effect of the Cable Towers is more subtle.

I suggest you start with one rack and some ISO cones. If you like what these do, go for the amp stand.

In the quest for sonic nirvana, people first put their dollars into active components, like amplifiers and speakers, then into passive components, like wires. Everybody accepts that wires make a difference. In true audiophile fashion, I change my wires all the time; hence, a thriving cable industry. Even cones and isolation platforms get attention. Whatís been largely neglected is the component rack itself, and this, I now understand, is fertile ground for upgrades. Next time you feel the urge to do the swap cables, think first about getting to know PolyCrystal.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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