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Acoustic System International, home of the original acoustic resonators, the Tango loudspeaker and LiveLine cable series, sold hifi racks for years. But they were near unobtainium by relying on nearly impossible-to-source wood species. And, Mr. Tchang built them personally which took away time from his other duties to become more of a business burden than asset.

Ever resourceful, the ex-Chinese and now French expat had investigated existing commercial solutions in Asia which might lend themselves to Tchang-style tweaking to lower the price.

Not content however, he finally traveled West and to the US where parts of his family make their home. He approached his brother Hab, a woodworker. As a result, manufacture remains in the family yet relieves him of personal assembly; and the design arose from a blank slate rather than modified a commercially pre-existing structure. One challenge was to identify consistently available wood species that would give the desired sonic traits. Another was long-term structural integrity without metal fasteners. Naturally, the structure had to look good. And most importantly, the sonic benefits had to be persuasive, readily demonstrable and as such, potent. After all, Franck Tchang has built a solid reputation for unconventional—and sometimes outright controversial—audio products that patently work.

The HeartSong rack system includes a heavy turntable shelf, an amp stand and racks with 2, 3 or 4 tiers. The turntable shelf measures 50 x 50cm and weighs 6kg. The amp stand's dimensions are 60 x 45 x 10cm WxDxH. The racks are the same foot print but 50, 70 and 100cm in height respectively and weigh 10, 15 and 20kg. Each ships in a palletized carton fully assembled from the US. Custom configurations or twin-width versions are available. "The rack is built like any musical instrument.* I adjust its resonance without damping. The purple heart frames have a good damping factor but don't deaden the sound like so many hardwoods or metals. The yellow heart wood is unpredictable and of high pressure but the most beautiful sounding shelf I ever heard. The rack's feet are inlaid with a layer of maple with three holes to decompress when the rack is loaded by the weight of the components and to avoid feedback from the floor. A few South American rosewood cubes under each shelf lock things in place and control shelf resonance while providing for a smoother sonic texture.


* Cynics might find such statements idle but Franck Tchang has built his own guitars from scratch to actually know what goes into making musical instruments. Purpleheart (Peltogyne spp.) is a Central and South American hardwood species also known as amaranth, violetwood, coracy, pauroxo, pauferro, koroboreli, saka, nazareno, morado and tananeo. It is generally straight-grained, sometimes interlocked with a fine even texture. The sapwood is creamy white while the vibrant purple heartwood turns to dark-purplish brown with exposure to light. Physical properties are very heavy, hard, strong and stiff with good decay resistance. Yellowheart (Pau Amarello, Pequia setim, yellowheart, lima orana, pau setim, satinwood, boxwood, canary wood or sateen, botanical classification Euxylophora Paraensis) is a medium dense hardwood from Brazil's Para state, of trees that reach up to 130ft in height. The wood is a bright yellow color that darkens only a little with sunlight exposure. It shows little differentiation between heartwood and sapwood and the lustrous color is very consistent across the wood. It is usually straight-grained and uniform.

"I had sourced some very well-built wooden racks from China. They eschewed any metal parts but mirrored the final HeartSong rack only in appearance. Sonically, the Chinese rack was nice furniture - good for my flowers. My own design has life. When it comes to sonic performance, there really is no comparison at all. One more detail. Each shelf has a hole in the center to decompress the build-up of pressure on the wood. My brother really builds these with a lot of passion. I saw him look at the first racks from all angles, touching them again and again with a handcrafter's sensitivity and pride. He is not an audiophile at all by the way. He has no high-end equipment, not even a mid-fi audio system. When he put his $80 radio/tape recorder on the rack (he plays some music while he works), he said: "I don't understand why the change is so great." My sister, her daughters and son too agreed. It is better, not just different. It takes no experience or golden ears to hear and appreciate."

Prior ownership of two Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular racks—my enthusiasm for them led 6moons contributors Stephæn and Paul Candy to acquire their own to be equally enchanted—has me convinced. Like power delivery, resonance control is an oft-overlooked but very serious contributor to good sound. After relocating to Switzerland, my new room's geometry enforced a sidewall placement of the racks. That's where they should go for best performance in the first place. It's simply not always feasible. In that location, the Monacos proved far too deep. Accordingly, an audio benefactor who had gifted me with some very fine components over the years inherited my Grand Prix Audio racks. What to replace them with? Financing two massive relocations from the US to Cyprus and Switzerland over three years did not have me keen on investing considerable sums into 'bespoke' audio furniture just then. Enter Ikea's bathroom department (Molger Series) and kitchen area for various butcher block platforms. For very little money, I assembled a good-looking and very functional solution.

I received more than one e-mail questioning this obvious fall from grace. Other long-time readers meanwhile hoped it meant that the cheap Ikea Molger racks trumped the expensive Monacos. Hardly. The latter simply didn't fit. The HeartSong racks' similar depth to the Ikea Molgers marks my return to investigating performance audio furniture, albeit of the 'other' kind. Having never used the Monacos in Casa Chardonne, I cannot comment on how these two opposite approaches might compare. I will only point out that theoretically, a superior subtractive rack should create a lower noise floor and as such, higher raw resolution. Its action after all equates a strip search. One strips away distortion—resonance-induced overlays and smearing—until the signal is as denuded as possible. Along the same conceptual line, an additive rack should beautify or enhance the music. This would fall under subtle—or not so subtle—editorializing. And, it could produce more listening pleasure. After all, the far higher distortion measurements of valves have their followers prefer them over the truthier fidelity of transistors. It's the endless debate again: truth vs. beauty, beauty from truth. It comes in all different shades of gray and now yellow and purple.

Image of shaker table and accelerometer probes attached to input (massive metal slab below) and output (massive round disc atop a component footer) provided by Joe Ciulla of EquaRack.
It's no surprise to find that subtractive rack design involves protracted measurements. One needs specialized equipment to quantify actual resonance attenuation or energy suppression via accelerometers and similar gear. Tuned racks meanwhile may rely entirely on subjective listening during their design phase. Hence the best ones must involve truly sophisticated listeners who enjoy a superior grasp on system voicing. It's no surprise that GPA, HRS and Silent Running would be operated by engineers or scientists. Acoustic System Int., Combak and Yamamoto SoundCraft meanwhile are run by acoustic tuners, vacuum tube designers and musicians. As an avid user of ASI room tuning devices, cables and loudspeakers, I've found that my notions on good enjoyable sound correlate with Franck Tchang's. As a guitar player, he listens foremost for harmonic tone modulations and the transmission of free energy.

Incidentally, my power delivery choice of two Walker Audio Velocitor S passive conditioners over my earlier transformer-based BPT 3.5 Signature mirrors this energetic emphasis. In the AC realm, it's noise killer versus energy liberator or pace setter. I settled on the latter. Would something similar hold true for audio racks as well? To return to the beginning—about what can be said about hifi furniture with performance ambitions—I'd say about this much before one actually claps ears on one.