Grand Prix “Monaco” Modular Audio Isolation System

Grand Prix “Monaco” Modular Audio Isolation System


Jim Merod

27 December 2002


stainless steel frame
clear vinyl or black carbon fiber/metal/Kevlar composite material shelves
Price range: $999 – $4,495. 
2 Shelf Monaco – $2,495
4 Shelf Monaco – $3,495

Telephone: 949-587-1065
Fax: 949-454-1065

High-performance racing-team veteran Alvin Lloyd chose to reinvent audio excellence rather than push for one more victory on oval tracks. Leaving behind two decades of professional activity in the world-class motor sport competition, Lloyd created Grand Prix Audio, a state-of-the-art audio equipment support system company that has found a way to take audio component reinforcement to a new level of musical accuracy, power and beauty.

Two years ago, when I first talked with Lloyd about his evolving work to craft uniquely gorgeous (uniquely effective) sound-enhancement devices, I encountered a man on a serious personal and professional mission. The world of high-end audio is defined by committed people who are certain that quadratic equations can be improved upon. Not Alvin Lloyd. He was sure of only one thing: that he had special material and a ferociously effective system-design that, in tandem, would add precision and vivacity to every sonic nuance of well-recorded, well-reproduced albums. Call Alvin Lloyd’s self-confidence intuition unleashed…charisma at the edge of credibility. Call it “supercalifragilistic-expialidocious.” Just don’t call it arrogant.

I tease, tweak and praise Lloyd’s creativity because he’s earned the right to be taken seriously in the extreme outer realm of take-no-prisoners audio enhancement. Think of the stakes. They are considerable.

We recently lost one of our mastering gurus, Denny Purcell, the founder of Georgetown Mastering Studio in Nashville. Many professional recording and mastering engineers (and those affiliated with them) took text and testament from Denny’s benign and brilliant craziness. He was a man who experimented with sound until it said ‘uncle.’ Denny Purcell’s roomful of Grammy Awards testifies to the uses of merging the bizarre and unconventional with traditional routines. His victory was ours. Such inspired ‘craziness’ paints the Sistine Chapel, squares sonic circles, lifts hearts in each sublime direction.

No less than the musicians and recordists who make the universe of music a ubiquitous realm of unencumbered joy, those who substitute artistic and technical innovation for the stodgy ordinary course deserve praise, too. And there Alvin Lloyd’s commitment to bridging knowledge gained on and near the motor racetrack with inventiveness honed in a much more pristine artistic environment has taken hold.

Grand Prix Audio’s extraordinary Monaco isolation stand rivets you in place. It is drop dead gorgeous…as if to brag visually, a promise of musical delight. Its glittering stainless steel frame and clear vinyl or black carbon fiber/metal/Kevlar composite material shelves have the look of jewelry showcased haughtily on Rodeo Drive. Even Radio Shack gear appears expensive sitting on these shelves: a triangular polished aluminum frame that (one suspects) was designed with sly intent to host x-video extravaganzas only the strongest party animals endure. 

In short, you’re sold on this equipment the moment you see it. Nothing that looks this good can be all bad; nothing so good looking would deign to flaunt superficial gloss over deep sonic substance. This gear must be very, very good or the fraud patrol will step in. Thus, a quick proleptic wink: take your paramour with you when this purchase is imminent. You’ll be amazed. The choice to bankroll this rig will not be yours. 

Consider this on the trip to your audio dealer. Since you are the hipster merely ‘somewhat curious’ to see if this lovely yet innocent equipment device might add a touch of gracefulness to shared domestic cheer- you, for once, not insisting (like a bozo) on more ungainly wires or another lumpy amp; you (also) not 
the one to plead for the purchase – such theoretical wonder translates into heroism. Your partner gets the honor of choosing an elegant household addition. This is functional entertainment furniture with eye-popping appeal. Your job is simple: point it out. It sells itself.

The wife and friend “enjoyment bonus factor” is at its maximum with the Grand Prix shelf system. One experienced woman I know, well-seasoned in the trauma of gear plopped in and out of a large audio set up, commented immediately at her first sight of the Monaco stand: “this is the most amazingly groovy audio whatcha-ma-call-it I ever saw!” Her partner has not stopped smiling, one happy audio camper. With this system in your house, things change for the better. A new art object has entered your world. Music becomes larger, stronger, more delicate and intriguing. You are, without knowing it, alive in River City. Songs break out when someone cruises through. Everyone prevails. Most of all the music.

Examine this unusually well-made precision equipment stand. Here’s what you’ll find: a truly world class objet-d’art that carries audio equipment with Rolls Royce dignity. Good so far. You’ll find, too, an elegant work-horse component stand that trumps lesser beasts of burden in the only test that counts: musicality, sonic seductiveness.

Like many high-end audio addicts, I’ve explored equipment racks across the years…only to find that they all do more or less a useful job of (a) holding equipment; (b) organizing sonic gear; (c) keeping clutter from utter chaos; and (d) pretending to tuck loose sonic elements into place. The operative word is ‘pretending,’ since the onslaught of isolation devices (vibration dampening) gives the game away. Each month produces a new compensation tweak for less than perfectly realized (if, nonetheless, expensive) audio-video systems. If ever a component system were developed that – in itself, within the design logic of its own inherent material system – enhanced the musical/sonic resolution of high-priced equipment…well, you can fill in the blank: listening pleasure would increase while perpetual fiddling with endlessly swapped out tweaks would cease. A significant degree of justice would thereby slip unnoticed into the universe of high-end sound reproduction.

I have lived with the four beautiful shelves of an integrated Grand Prix component system for six months or so. My skepticism at the outset was tempered slightly by my (perhaps capricious) faith in Alvin Lloyd’s articulate explanation of his design philosophy. Lloyd is a very convincing man. Because I was privy to several lengthy, altogether engaging reports and definitions of units then coming into reality at Grand Prix Audio, I was no doubt prepared to expect a genuine, wholly discernible degree of sonic sharpening, musical enhancement, and (even) aesthetic grandeur. Lloyd made it clear from the beginning that he was going for a cost no object, state-of-the-cosmos component system. I believed him then, for whatever reason. My empirical belief now derives from grinding his gear through the mill of my own recordings and masterings…and using Grand Prix composite material shelves on my “in performance/on location” recordings in the field.

Every track and tune and musical challenge I have thrown at the Monaco system has revealed its extraordinary capacity to improve the way music sounds. EXTRA – ORDINARY SONIC IMPROVEMENT. Not by a dot or a dollop or an inch. Not “sort of” or “kinda maybe: why not, uh huh”…but holy shit, can you believe this!

Let me assure you that I’ve found such a transformation among my equipment, within the heart of my daily listening, somewhat irritating – for three very concrete reasons. 

Numero Uno: I’ve had to make many (many) adjustments to my sound system because the Monaco isolation system exposed flaws in individual pieces of gear or between components. Dozens of changes. I do much too much of that sort of thing already – swapping out pieces of gear, altering their positioning, adjusting further, changing, revising, and then listening closely in order to listen some more…and on and on (again and again). Sisyphus rolling rocks up hill had a good gig. Try working toward sonic perfection of an (inevitably) always-elusive kind each bloody day of your life. Only madness prevails. Therefore, when the fundamental sonic framework that madness demands of a crucial listening system dissolves to a quandary of uncollected musical defections – sonic disloyalty precisely where it must not be – not only takes an inveterate mad man by surprise. It irked the hell out of me. I need such gruesome revelations like a swat in the tookus.

Thus, Numero Dos, you’ll understand (perhaps) that I’ve labored too long adjusting gear. The gear in question, disloyal, unperturbed, rested at the start of this trek (early last summer) oblivious on their Grand Prix thrones. The gear was peaceful. My torture to get it right was too close to the nub of awareness to allow much glee about a moment’s joy received from added musical delicacy thereby rendered. I earned the joy, but I collapsed a time or two before this glittering Sonic Empire – its smug glory immune to my exhaustion – nostalgic for the simpler former tyranny I once succumbed to with less fatigue.

Numero Tres: my well-earned delight and hard-won sonic victories now mock me. I’ve had my time with this world-class instrument. It’s done its thing in my behalf, at my expense. Now it goes back home to the dapper Alvin Lloyd ensconced behind his moat at Grand Prix Audio in Mission Viejo. Great things come from lovely places, so the proverb says, and the Monaco component system is, itself, a moat that stands between proud but reluctant audio-video gear and a scornfully indifferent, devilishly disruptive world. 

What luck, then, to find oneself converted from doltish aesthetic innocence to sophisticated sonic deprivation? Everyone adores the view from Himalayan heights. The trek back down to base camp leaves an exhausted enthusiast less awe-struck. Did I mention that the sublimely desirable, addictive, and never-to-be-lost Grand Prix component system runs a touch expensive? Roughly $2,500 for a three-shelf model and $3,500 or so for the four-shelf set up. A five-shelf rig will require a $4,495 dent on your AmEx card. You can begin more modestly with a “base module” at $1,500 or an amplifier stand at $999. I’d suggest that you find a way to begin somewhere, somehow. 

Good things cost a lot. Great things cost more. Let me assure you that, if you have the wherewithal, the Grand Prix component system is an essential part of a truly great (doubtlessly much improved) sound system…or, to be accurate, audio-video system, since the same stylish systematic logic that increases audio detail and pleasure does a special job of adding resolution to video, as well.

I will champion these champion devices – Alvin Lloyd’s spectacular technical and artistic invention – by attesting to a somewhat exotic implementation of their magic.

Since I search for every possible way to enhance high data-rate audio recording capture when I work on location in clubs and concert halls, I knew in a flash, as soon as Alvin Lloyd offered me the chance to test his craftsmanship, that the Monaco system as a whole, or his composite material shelves individually, would accompany my work in-the-field.

I’ve made nearly a dozen recordings “live” on location and, less challenged, in the studio at BluePort Sound using Alvin Llyod’s “Formula” carbon fiber/Kevlar composite shelves under (i) a 24-bit digital recording device, or (ii) a Millenia four-channel mic-preamplifier. Other placements, employing various combinations of equipment, also offered proof of the sonic resolving power of these black beauty shelves. Most often, the Grand Prix reinforcement to my recording and mastering work took place beneath a Tascam 24-bit machine.

In order to be certain that I was not lending suspended disbelief to the results of my work, I swapped gear on and off the “Formula” shelf for back-to-back A/B comparisons of controlled digital recording signals. Without belaboring the case, each time (without a single instance of doubt or deviation) Grand Prix- assisted recordings were sonically and musically superior to those made without a Grand Prix shelf.

Explicit signs of superior sound were (and are): greater soundstage focus, depth, height, and presence; clearer instrument and image separation; spectral clarity (less blurring or smearing); and, most vivid of all, greatly solidified bass capture: more bass, clearer bass (differentiated low-spectrum fullness and overtones), and firmer, more authoritative bass. Because bass registers are the most difficult to get right in live, on location recording, such enhancement is not negligible. Such improbable sonic wealth amounts to a form of audio magic.

Maestro Lloyd will not easily pry the now much-scuffed (disfigured, marred, and commercially worthless) “Formula” black magic plate from my warm claws. It is here to stay as a wholesome, undeniable part of work late at night to record and, subsequently, to master jazz and blues for the ages. If Grand Prix cares not to receive the bill for already accomplished (still ongoing) cutting-edge research in their behalf – discovering additional glories within the previously unexplored wilderness 
of their composite material shelves – I’ll offset my invoice, accumulated under duress of endless sonic scourings, in lieu of the happily situated Monaco that holds my well-tweaked, immensely improved, soon to be impoverished main listening rig.


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