When setting up a Hi-Fi system, you like to have the best of everything, from the speakers and amplifier to even the cables, but some Hi-Fi items are exceedingly expensive, so you might think twice before buying them. A Hi-Fi rack is one of those items, but does a Hi-Fi rack make a difference?
Hi-Fi racks make a difference in audio quality by isolating your devices and damping their vibrations. However, the gains depend on your system’s ability to play sounds clearly and the current support level. Replacing your existing rack with a high-profile one won’t make an audible difference.
Read on to see why you need a rack for your equipment and why you might not need to spend a big pile of cash on one. We’ll also tell you what to consider when buying a rack.
Why Do You Need a Rack?
All audio equipment generates unwanted vibrations. This vibration is barely visible, but it can disturb your devices’ sensitive electronic components and negatively affect your sound quality. It manifests in the form of noise and gives your audio an unnatural harshness.
A rack is an essential part of any good audio system because it cancels those vibrations, reducing the noise affecting your signal.
Plus, your rack lets you isolate your audio components to minimize interferences. Isolation is essential for equipment with moving parts such as CD players and turntables because they vibrate more intensely.
Is a Hi-Fi Rack Worth It?
If you’re an audiophile, you’re probably willing to spend a lot of money for even slight improvements in your sound quality. And a good rack can definitely give you superior audio. However, you don’t need to break the bank when buying a rack since it’s not part of the signal chain.
A decent rack with enough support to isolate your equipment can get the job done. In other words, a multi-thousand-dollar rack isn’t likely to work any better than one that costs $100.
What’s more, you should only consider vibration control once you have your entire system setup and have made the necessary signal chain adjustments. If you have an inadequate system, vibration control won’t make a difference.
So, instead of tweaking your rack or cables, invest in getting the basic elements of your system right. These include your speakers, amplifiers, preamplifiers, and audio sources.
And remember that your audio system consists of various interrelated parts. So, you shouldn’t make modifications without looking at the broader picture. You usually can’t expect a single tweak to have a stunning impact on sound quality.
Things To Consider When Buying a Rack
There are no golden rules when it comes to choosing a rack. You can spend less than $20 on a second-hand rack you find in a garage sale, or you can splurge on one that costs several thousand dollars. You can even make one yourself if you’re the DIY type.
Nevertheless, you should pay attention to a few factors before committing to a rack.
Wood and glass are the two most component materials for rack shelves.
Many people prefer wood because of its damping characteristics. Bamboo is perhaps the best absorbent material. Hardwood ply has excellent acoustic properties since it consists of multiple layers of wood, which have different resonances and diminish a large part of the vibration energy. Suitable hardwoods include oak, mahogany, walnut, and cherry. You can also use maple wood, but it’ll make your rack extremely heavy.
MDF is affordable and versatile, but it’s not as acoustically effective. You can attach a piece of hardwood ply on top of your MDF to get the best of both worlds.
Some people prefer glass for its appearance. However, the material is dense and consistent. As a result, the energy bounces around the shelf without being absorbed.
To test the difference between wood and glass, tap one corner of the shelf and put a stethoscope at the opposite corner to listen to the vibrations. You’ll hear the tap loud and clear on the glass shelf, but the wood shelf will be quiet.
If you still want to use glass, make sure it’s at least ⅜ of an inch thick; otherwise, your signal quality will seriously suffer.
If you own a home studio, your rack is essentially a piece of furniture, and it also lets you put all your shiny equipment on display. So, it has to match your overall decor and look good. That’s why some people don’t mind spending top dollar on a luxurious rack even though it doesn’t give their audio quality a significant boost.
Older racks may be closed on all sides and come with glass doors. These racks reduce your sound quality and may damage your equipment over time.
Ensure your rack is open on all sides so that there’s sufficient airflow to avoid overheating your components. If your rack looks like a cabinet, it must have a cooling mechanism like a fan.
It’s better to keep cables from different devices away from each other to avoid interference. Of course, you’re not likely to have a big problem if all your cords are shielded or even double-shielded. Still, it’s better to be safe.
Before buying a rack, check whether it includes any cable management options. If it doesn’t, you may need some lacing bars, velcro strips, and loom tubing. Try not to leave a bunch of cables dangling behind your rack.
How To Build a DIY Audio Gear Rack
The most straightforward scenario for a DIY rack is when you have rack-mount equipment. In this case, you need a wooden box, rack rails, and a few screws.
Standard rack-mount equipment is 19 inches in width. So, you can either make a 19-inch wooden box or have someone make it for you. The box’s height and depth are arbitrary. Once the box is ready, you need to screw on the rack rails and install your equipment.
This video explains the process in detail:
On the other hand, you may have different pieces of equipment with various dimensions. In this case, you’re better off building a customized rack to fit all your devices. Think carefully about your applications and equipment before drawing up the rack plans and calculating the cuts.
You can even consider adding a power supply and cooling system if you want to build a high-end rack. However, make sure you can handle the electrical work to avoid accidents.
Here’s an example of a bespoke Hi-Fi rack:
Where Should You Put Your Rack?
The rack’s location in the room can affect sound quality. Ideally, you should put some distance between your rack and speakers. Some beginners place their speakers on the rack itself, which can cancel out the rack’s positive noise damping effect.
Your room geometry and other furniture in the room also affect the signal you hear. So, finding the best arrangement will inevitably involve some experimentation and tweaking.
A Hi-Fi audio rack can dampen the vibration noise caused by your audio gear. So, it can make a noticeable difference in your signal quality. However, before spending top dollar on a high-end rack, make sure your audio system is in good shape and you have the right setup. Otherwise, you can’t expect a significant improvement from your rack.
Audio rack shelves should be made of wood or MDF. If you decide to use glass, make sure it’s thick enough to handle your equipment’s weight and dissipate the vibration energy.