How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 7: An Audiophile Shelf

Just in case you thought What Hi-Fi? was the only magazine out there spewing out reviews about magical hi-fi equipment and accessories, here’s another one I found on the Stereophile web site. I have a feeling that the shelf is going to become the next cable; an audiophile device that contains pixie powder and makes everything sound better.

Here’s a review of a shelf. You don’t need to read the whole thing, but the last paragraph I quote may be the best I’ve read so far:

The Pagode Master Reference HD07 rack really did work–at least with components that had an onboard power supply. Each such component I tried, from the lightest line stage to massive, two-chassis CD players, sounded better sitting on the FE rack than on my Bright Star or Merrill stand. Their focus, resolution, and dynamic precision were all slightly but consistently improved; my listening comments were peppered with such phrases as “faster, cleaner dynamics” and “sharper, more dimensional images.”

Alain Lombard and the Paris Opéra-Comique’s recording of Delibes’ Lakmé was a good example. As I moved each component in turn onto the HD07 rack […] the image of soprano Mady Mesplé became clearer and more solid. Her vocal nuances were more apparent, and I was able to better hear the trailing edges of her phrases. The rear and sides of the soundstage opened up a bit as well, and the space surrounding the performers seemed more transparent.

Repeating the exercise with two different digital systems and Dire Straits’ “Private Investigations,” from Love Over Gold, produced a similar result, but what I really noticed was the improvement in detail resolution. As each component moved onto the HD07, a bit more low-level detail emerged from the background. Distinguishing the multiple echoes around the scuffing shoes traversing the stage was one great example; another was the emerging presence of several different, distinct effects around Mark Knopfler’s speaking voice.

But it gets better. The reviewer added special feet under the shelf.

On the other hand, installing a set of Ceraball or Cerapuc feet under a component was a huge, jaw-dropping change. The differences were the same–improved focus, transparency, resolution, and dynamic precision–but their magnitude was much larger. Slipping a trio of Ceraballs under the VTL TL-7.5 wasn’t like demagnetizing a cartridge; it was like upgrading to a really good moving-coil. And dressing cables? Forget it–this improvement was like replacing all of my freebie and Home Depot wire with a good set of high-end cables.

There he goes, talking about cables…

But I’ve saved the best for last:

Like a kid in a candy store, I kept adding more and more Cera feet. The effects were similar with each step, and similarly dramatic. The biggest improvements came when I slipped Cerapucs under my VTL Ichiban power amplifiers and between my turntable stand’s steel frame and marble top plate. The soundstage became significantly cleaner and the picture snapped into focus. Images inflated from two dimensions to three. The performers on Lakmé felt more like real performers in a real space than like a portrait. And when I played the Oscar Petersen Trio’s Return Engagement I noticed several dramatic improvements. Dynamic transients sounded 10–20% bigger, and the piano had much more inner detail and complexity and a richer, more distinct tonal balance. The bass was more powerful and much tighter.

“Images inflated from two dimensions to three.” The guy’s on acid; that’s the only explanation.

The reviewer is quite precise here: “Dynamic transients sounded 10–20% bigger.” Can we see measurements please?

Oh, the shelf costs $6,195. The feet another $2.200. But the reviewer has “about $100,000 worth of gear,” so it’s no big deal.

10 thoughts on “How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 7: An Audiophile Shelf

  1. This is all very sad. Back in the ’80s, “Stereophile” was a respectable magazine with respectable hardware reviews; not as good as Julian Hirsch in “Stereo Review”, but…respectable. Now they’re all bullshit, all the time.

    I just recently discovered your site and haven’t browsed it a lot; have you ever taken a run at why the robust market for no-bullshit audio equipment that grew up in the ’70s and ’80s tanked so badly in the ’90s? I used to consider myself a bit of an audiophile: I had an Apt/Holman preamp (perhaps the best phono section ever put in a device costing less than $1000), a Hafler power amp that I built myself from a kit, a Nakamichi cassette deck with Dolby C, a decent JVC turntable with a great Ortofon cartridge…nowadays, it seems that all that’s in the market are A/V receivers and “home theater” speakers (usually crappy), or five-figure fool’s gold. Sigh…

    • No, I’m not sure about the history. I do remember, in the 70s, some friends who were into audio equipment, but I was too young then to be able to afford much. I bought my first stereos at Radio Shack. 🙂

      There are lots of AV receivers, but also plenty of pure stereo receivers. I like AV, because I run my audio and video through it (in the living room), but I don’t do surround sound; it’s artificial, and the wiring is a headache.

  2. This is all very sad. Back in the ’80s, “Stereophile” was a respectable magazine with respectable hardware reviews; not as good as Julian Hirsch in “Stereo Review”, but…respectable. Now they’re all bullshit, all the time.

    I just recently discovered your site and haven’t browsed it a lot; have you ever taken a run at why the robust market for no-bullshit audio equipment that grew up in the ’70s and ’80s tanked so badly in the ’90s? I used to consider myself a bit of an audiophile: I had an Apt/Holman preamp (perhaps the best phono section ever put in a device costing less than $1000), a Hafler power amp that I built myself from a kit, a Nakamichi cassette deck with Dolby C, a decent JVC turntable with a great Ortofon cartridge…nowadays, it seems that all that’s in the market are A/V receivers and “home theater” speakers (usually crappy), or five-figure fool’s gold. Sigh…

    • No, I’m not sure about the history. I do remember, in the 70s, some friends who were into audio equipment, but I was too young then to be able to afford much. I bought my first stereos at Radio Shack. 🙂

      There are lots of AV receivers, but also plenty of pure stereo receivers. I like AV, because I run my audio and video through it (in the living room), but I don’t do surround sound; it’s artificial, and the wiring is a headache.

  3. these high end audiophiles crack me up. i’m a musician – not an audiophile – i actually play. i’ve performed in crummy bars, the old Knitting Factory in NYC multiple times, outdoor festivals here and in Europe, all sorts of venues. i’ve also recorded and released lots of albums, so lots of different recording studios. One day a stereo salesman who knew i was a musician says ‘you have to hear these speakers, it’s JUST like being on stage!’ After i listened I said ‘first off, how would you know what it sounds like on stage? With all due respect, you’re not a performing musician. Second, these speakers sound NOTHING like being onstage because the sound onstage ranges from lacking to abyssmal. Live music does NOT sound like these people think it does. Not to musicians anyway

    • Late to the party here. To be fair, it isn’t as though musicians do’t have their own idiosyncrasies about what sounds better—tube vs ss, old/vintage instruments vs new, battery type, etc.

      Joe

  4. these high end audiophiles crack me up. i’m a musician – not an audiophile – i actually play. i’ve performed in crummy bars, the old Knitting Factory in NYC multiple times, outdoor festivals here and in Europe, all sorts of venues. i’ve also recorded and released lots of albums, so lots of different recording studios. One day a stereo salesman who knew i was a musician says ‘you have to hear these speakers, it’s JUST like being on stage!’ After i listened I said ‘first off, how would you know what it sounds like on stage? With all due respect, you’re not a performing musician. Second, these speakers sound NOTHING like being onstage because the sound onstage ranges from lacking to abyssmal. Live music does NOT sound like these people think it does. Not to musicians anyway

    • Late to the party here. To be fair, it isn’t as though musicians do’t have their own idiosyncrasies about what sounds better—tube vs ss, old/vintage instruments vs new, battery type, etc.

      Joe

  5. “But the reviewer has “about $100,000 worth of gear,” so it’s no big deal.”

    Surely that’s only the value of his cabling!

  6. “But the reviewer has “about $100,000 worth of gear,” so it’s no big deal.”

    Surely that’s only the value of his cabling!

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