I warned Bernard Li up front. I'm not a big fan of audio equipment racks. In fact, I've been professing the theory that the most efficient and cost effective way of reducing vibrations and increasing resolution is to get a tweak as close to the signal path as possible. ERS paper when safely used inside the chassis of components is very effective at reducing EMI and RFI. Anti-Vibration Magic (fondly called Blue Tube Goop) is incredibly effective at improving resolution when painted on solder joints and low level vacuum tubes. And aftermarket footers, when applied directly to the chassis of components are widely acknowledged to have sonic benefits. But Bernard was unwavering in his faith that I would be impressed with the new Codia Acoustic Design Stage 3000 BAB rack that he imports from South Korea. He is also the sole dealer for North America. Reluctantly, I accepted his offer but assured him I would not be buying the review sample. $5000 for an equipment rack simply does not compute. I also warned him that I'd be comparing the Codia with my best footers as well as those of a newcomer, AmCan Audio. Little did I know that I had set myself up for a self-tutorial.
Codia Acoustic Design Stage 3000 BAB
The metal parts that clamp the Baltic birch plywood shelves come pre-installed, so assembly is very straight forward and easily accomplished by hand, without use of the tools that were supplied. The clamps are highly engineered with channels routed out for O-rings that act as vibration isolators. Dense carbon washers are used immediately above and below each shelf to decouple the wood shelves from the metal pillars and aid in the transfer of vibration down the solid aluminum columns. The spikes on the bottom shelf (which can double as a separate amp stand) are adjustable for leveling the rack. On my joisted wood floor I merely leaned hard on the back edge of the bottom shelf to sink the spikes deeper into the flake board beneath the broadloom carpet. Heavy, finely machined and engraved stainless steel floor protectors come standard for those with exposed wood floors. There is a slippery carbon pad on the bottom for additional isolation that should also allow you to carefully slide the rack on a smooth floor or carpet. (Safety might dictate that you unload the shelves first.) If you wear rings on your fingers you may want to put on your bicycling gloves so as not to scratch the pillars during assembly. Once the rack is assembled the tools supplied are useful for leveling the shelves and locking the stainless steel spikes.
Codia With Analog
Some years ago, at one of the Canadian shows Roy Gregory of The Audio Beat hosted a workshop sponsored by Stillpoints (and some others) demonstrating a wide range of tweaking strategies including speaker positioning, the use of Stillpoints footers, a high tech Stillpoints rack, system grounding and cable upgrades. Seated near the middle of the crowd listening to a rig comprised of unfamiliar equipment including the new (at the time) Kef Blade speakers, each step of the process produced identifiable, but not overwhelming differences with each additional tweak. When the rig was returned to its original configuration at the end of the seminar, the overall degradation was quite noticeable. Here at home, in a familiar room with familiar equipment, the benefits of such tweaks when listening to music I've heard a hundred times are quickly recognized and seem much larger. The contribution of the Codia rack to the resolution of the tube phono stage was both large and expected. Tube gear is particularly vulnerable to airborne, stand-transmitted, and internally generated vibrations. But what surprised me was the addition of my preferred combination of Synergistic Research MIG domes and SoundDampedSteel Isofeet produced little, if any, additional improvement. But don't categorically carve that in stone just yet.
Codia Amp Stand
Overall, the cognitive resolution of music from my Linn LP12 with the phono stage and its power supply on the Codia rack, plus the Coincident amp on a single Codia shelf, was in the same league, if not better than when I played LPs on the Kronos Sparta with an Air Tight PC-1 cartridge on my Panzerholz stand. The Kronos produced a more holistic, three-dimensional sound with greater physicality and the Air Tight produced more inner detail and tonal color than my rig on the Codia rack, but the ability to understand lyrics and differentiate notes was as good as or better than with the much more expensive turntable on my Panzerholz stand. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars difference in price for these turntable rigs. I wish the Codia rack had been here when I had Kronos in house. It might have been an End Game.
At one point I placed the low, bottom shelf of the Codia rack on my Panzerholz stand and mounted the Linn on that while the phono stage and its power supply were on the top three Codia shelves. That worked exceptionally well, too, suggesting that if you already have a long credenza or buffet for your gear, you might consider having a custom made shelf for the top of the furniture you already use. I believe there are also double-wide shelves (and stands) available that might work effectively in your situation.
Codia With Digital
Adding my combination of Synergistic Research MIG footers (original version) plus SoundDampedSteel Isofeet to the Sony transport and Boston Audio TuneBlocks with tungsten carbide balls beneath the Calyx DAC evoked additional resolution and detail from the recordings. Why did the addition of footers under the solid state digital gear make a contribution while adding footers under the tube phono stage and its solid state power supply did not? Music definitely sounded much better when simply placed on the Codia shelves, but the solid state digital gear made additional gains with the aftermarket footers. Go figure. What didn't change was the essential character of the rig. Things like dynamics and transparency remained the same. The frequency extremes became more focused with my digital gear with the footers, resulting in more appreciation of the extremes, but the tonal balance of the presentation did not really change – which is to say it didn't tip up or down. I liked the sound of my rig before I added the Codia rack and I liked it with the rack, greatly appreciating the additional focus it brought to the music. But I can't say I became more emotionally involved in my music. The gains realized with the Codia rack were primarily cognitive improvements due to the increased resolution. Hold on to that conclusion for a moment. We're only part way through this journey.
Spiking My Stand
Since time was a factor I went to my shop, found four 3/8" bolts, ground them to a point and cut off the heads. A jam nut allowed me to level the stand and secure the spikes. As with my Kharma speakers, I used SoundDampedSteel Isofeet or Boston Audio TunePlates under each point. The results were acoustically stunning. This humble black rack topped with an admittedly exotic Panzerholz plywood top leapt into the same league as the $5000 Codia rack. Identical? Not exactly, but close enough that I didn't want to spend weeks analyzing the difference...especially for the price. After all, for me the Panzerholz shelf is a workbench and I'm blessed with a wife who tolerates the look. Yet as exotic and beneficial as the Panzerholz may be, it was the addition of the spikes and plates below them that made the transformation. You can check out the virtues of Panzerholz at this link.
AmCan Audio Isolators
I met Todd Kubon of AmCan Audio at the TAVES show in 2013 at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. Steven Huang of Audio Sensibility generously gave Todd some space at his table to display the AmCan silicone stylus cleaner and silicone based footers. A review sample of the stylus cleaner made its way into my briefcase and it quickly landed on the Holiday Gift Buying Guide. I still use it to this day. Todd is an expert on silicone, having worked on the development of prostheses for 20 years. He entered the High End from his expertise in restoring and hot rodding vintage audio gear. Todd really knows capacitors and resistors. His knowledge of the effects of vibration on electrical circuits led him to develop a line of footers that take advantage of the improved acoustics that can be achieved when silicone is confined in a vessel and put under pressure. The basic model, which he sent me, has been engineered to simply rest under a component. With the addition of a double-threaded rod, the Isolator can screw into existing threaded holes in a chassis in place of the OEM feet. He has rods with a wide variety of English and metric threads. Screwing the footers tight to the chassis improves the effectiveness of the silicone. A second option you can choose is to add adjustable levelers – either with a flat bottom or a cone. I've had a fair amount of experience with various types of footers including Symposium Roller Balls, original Stillpoints, Boston Audio TuneBlocks, SoundDampedSteel IsoFeet and Synergistic Research MIG footers as well as some less costly (and less effective) products. So these new AmCan Isolators piqued my interest and eventually a set of both large and medium from their signature copper series found their way to me shortly after I began work with the Codia rack. Perfect timing!
I'm not going to pretend to be an engineer and explain the theory of how these footers work. For that, you can turn to the AmCan website to learn more. What you need to know is whether they do their job or not. First of all, the models I received sit flat on the shelf with the tacky, exposed silicone contacting the bottom of the component's chassis. This makes them easy to position. Just put them in a triangle on the shelf and set the component down on top of them. Once that's done it is easy to lift a corner and fine tune the positioning. Compare that with other combinations I've found success with that include sandwiching SoundDampedSteel IsoFeet plates between a Boston Audio TuneBlocks and the bottom of a chassis, and you can appreciate the ease and simplicity of using the AmCans. They don't slide around on the bottom of the chassis, and they have good traction with a shelf when load bearing. Eventually I even got the courage up to place my 85 pound Coincident Integrated amp on the larger set of AmCans with zero difficulty – other than lifting the amp.
As with the other footers used with the Codia rack, I found the greatest results when placing them under the front end of the digital rig. I put the big set under the Sony CD player/transport, and the smaller set under the Calyx DAC. I was somewhat surprised when I swapped the large set of AmCan Isolators under the transport with a MIG/IsoFeet combination and then relocated the large AmCans under the Coincident amp. The amp got better with the addition of the AmCans, but the transport lost some resolution with the MIG/IsoFeet. (I ran controlled listening tests with two familiar songs with each change – e.g., first with the MIG/IsoFeet under the transport and no footers under the amp; then with MIG/IsoFeet under the transport and the AmCans under the amp.) The surprise here had to do with how important having premium footers under the transport is. I had thought the DAC was the principal contributor to the sound. Of course your equipment is different than mine and your experience may vary.
I ran this test first with the digital gear on my Panzerholz stand and then repeated it with the digital front end on the Codia rack. The opening of the second song from American Folk Blues Festival 1970 [Optimism, LRCD 2021] begins with Shakey Horton blowing several loud bars on his harmonica right into the microphone. On an ordinary rig – like say my reference rig, even – these notes scream and have me diving for the volume control to keep from blowing out my tweeters, or so it seems. With the transport and DAC supported by the AmCan Isolators on the Panzerholz stand these loud notes become attention grabbing, but listenable music. Sliding both the transport and DAC onto the Codia rack and keeping the AmCan Isolators under them, the inner detail of these notes emerges revealing the most listenable, the most beautiful rendition of this recording I've ever heard. I'm in rather ethereal High End territory here. With this solid state gear, it was then inner detail, micro dynamics and tonal color that benefited most from the AmCans. Focus improved somewhat, too, and to an even lesser extent, so did transparency. Dynamics improved in the sense that the opening harmonica notes did not have me diving for the attenuator. However, a rim shot became sharper and hence more percussive, but not any louder.
Turning to my analog rig, I left the Linn on the wall rack and listened with the Linn resting on a combination of MIG footers on top of IsoFeet, two MIGs facing down and one MIG facing up for optimum resolution. This has been my standard combination for quite some time. The phono stage was on the Codia rack without any footers for the first test. Next I replaced the MIG/IsoFeet under the Linn with the small AmCan footers and listened again. Then I added the large AmCans under the phono stage, still on the Codia rack. (The power supply for the phono stage was on a solid oak amp stand with spikes for this and previous tests.) The most impressive change with the AmCan Isolators was the bloom it brought to the music and the smooth, extended decay of the notes. The air of the soundstage was continuous and natural – no musicians playing in their own bubbles, detached from each other. If you like your music more neutral and dry, I'm told the stainless steel versions might be more your cup of tonal tea. The brass would fall somewhere between these two. There's a reason Todd makes his footers in three metals – it's for you, and you, and you! And I hope by now you know who you are and what your musical preference is. But if you've mistaken your tonal gender, there is a 30 day return policy if returned as new. And if you need some coaching, Todd will be more than happy to talk with you. He explained to me that most of the benefit of the Isolators comes simply from the design and that most people will be thrilled with the entry level stainless steel versions. For those willing to spend a little more, the bloom and decay can be further brought out by the brass and copper versions.
As with the digital front end, adding the larger AmCans to the phono stage on the Codia rack made significant improvement, similar in quality if not in magnitude as they made with the turntable. What's most notable, though, is that the AmCans enriched the musical experience in combination with the Codia rack not only by increasing all the cognitive, analytical values we audiophiles listen for, but also by increasing the emotional connection that music lovers crave. The bloom and decay of notes tugs on my heart in a way that precise focusing and pinpoint soundstaging do not. Mind you, I certainly appreciate the high resolution, particularly with my aging ears, but it is more of a cognitive element, not an emotional one for me. With the Codia 3000 BAB rack in combination with the AmCan Isolators, I had it all.
Visually, the Codia 3000 BAB is a beautiful rack. If you don't like the light maple finish on the Baltic birch plywood, it can be ordered with a dark wenge finish which still reveals the grain of the wood, or black, which conceals the grain. Keep in mind that the dark colors will more readily show the dust if you by chance have any. The black anodized aluminum strip across the front of each shelf is silk-screened with "Stage 3000 BAB" (for Black Aluminum Bar) at the far right. It adds additional strength to the shelf, which is rated to hold 100kg, and it masks the layers of the Baltic birch plywood. On the top front edge of each shelf is a bright chrome plate engraved with "Codia Acoustic Design". The labeling is a little redundant, but I came to ignore it. The beauty of the black edge on the front of each shelf is that the rack is visually less obtrusive when seen from the listening chair when listening in the dark or dim light, thereby making the components somewhat more prominent. The vertical bars and the clamps that attach them to the shelves are available in shiny chrome if you're into bling or anodized satin black if you want to keep the visual attention on the components. When listening in the dark with only a small LED reading light by my chair the spill from the light reflected off the chrome which I found annoying at first, but I got used to it. Personally, I would have chosen black bars which would not compete with the polished stainless steel chasses of my Coincident gear, but I'm not you, and you get to choose. Fit and finish was First Class – and this comes from a guy whose blood runs in the furniture industry. It's that good. Just remember to wear your bicycle gloves when handling the chrome bars so you don't scratch them with your rings when you tighten them down.
Why is that? Solid aluminum bars, Baltic birch plywood and excellent CNC machining shouldn't make that much difference in price or sound quality. I hinted at the sound absorbing and vibration channeling technology in the brackets that attach to the plywood shelves, but I didn't mention the technology in the middle of the shelf. On the bottom of each shelf is a 10cm hole routed out. About half-way through the plywood there is a chrome or polished stainless steel plate embedded in the hole. Attached to that plate is an 8cm round stainless steel or aluminum cylinder held in place with a single Allen head screw. I asked Bernard about that. Was it an adjustable feature? Can I take the cap off? No, and no. It's a resonator, he said, and sent me this diagram.
I don't have the original Stage 3000 rack to compare with the BAB with its resonator equipped shelves, but I suspect that is the key to the outstanding performance as well as the large increase in price. In use, the resonators are not visually noticeable. Competitors at this level of build quality and audible effectiveness can cost up to three times as much. Again, you get to choose.
Aesthetics (AmCan Isolator)
Value (AmCan Isolator)
Adding threaded rods allows you to permanently mount the Isolators to your component which can be a convenience factor as well as allowing you to compression-load the silicone to make the footers even more effective. (Check the website if you want to know more.) There may be times when you don't want to do this, as when you want to place an isolator under the heaviest part of lopsided component such as a turntable or a tube amp with heavy transformers at one end. Likewise, you may or may not want to pay extra for the leveling cones or flat feet that allow you to precisely level a turntable or CD transport. The Codia rack, for example has built-in levelers that effectively level all the shelves.
Consequently, Todd offers ala carte pricing that allows you to pick and choose the number and features you need for each component. You might, for example want two large Isolators for under the transformer end of a tube amp, and a small or medium Isolator under the lighter front where the small signal tubes are located. This ala carte pricing in itself is a value-added proposition.
All told, the pricing seems very fair for the materials and labor involved. In addition to the extensive labor and expensive bar stock, there is the specially formulated silicone that is considerably more expensive than Jell-O. In fact, there are two varieties of silicone in each Isolator. A softer variation is poured in first that acts as the spring, and then a firmer formulation tops it off. The copper Isolators reviewed here are the most expensive series. The medium size starts at $85 each and ranges to $121.25 with options. The large size starts at $99 and goes up to $155.25 each. Brass Isolators are a little less with the basic medium version starting at $75 and the stainless steel is even more affordable, starting at $50 for a basic medium size Isolator. Since they are sold "factory direct" there is additional savings. The brick and mortar store of this micro business is the factory. Actually, it is more of a craft shop producing a product that would not generate enough volume or profit margin to attract the attention of a larger company. High-end audio is blessed with quite a number of such entrepreneurs, each making a specialty item or items, often of their own invention. These specialized accessories are too esoteric to be stocked at Home Depot or Best Buys and there is not sufficient profit margin for them to be carried at high-end audio retail stores.
The AmCan Isolator brings out additional resolution and bloom along with decay that emotionally pulls me into the music more than other footers, or even combinations of footers that have worked so well for me. It prices out favorably against other top contenders in its category. You could certainly spend a lot more for some of the truly exotic varieties. You can also spend less and expect to receive less if that's all you can afford. No disgrace there for living within your means. I highly recommend you try at least a basic Isolator under one of your source components to start. I'm keeping the medium set for use under my tuner. Hearts of Space never sounded so good. (As an aside, I still have very favorable results using the Stillpoints record clamp on top of the tuner where it does double duty when I'm not playing records.) And I may well be back for another set with adjustable feet for my turntable.
Let me correct that.... In the process of photographing the larger Isolators I noticed a slight difference in the turnings from the medium set. I gave the bottom a slight twist and...well Dust My Broom! It does have adjustable feet! The machining was so finely matched the base did not look like a separate piece and the threads were so finely machined that it turned like it was made in Switzerland. It looks like I have to keep both sets.
Takin' It To The Streets...
After a bit of listening, I don't think that your statement that "this rack transforms your system" was an exaggeration. I listened to a couple of cuts from one of my best LPs. Then I couldn't resist trying the SACD player on the rack. The rack has as big an effect on that as it does on the turntable. The voices and instruments sound more "live", more "in the room", less electronic. There's more air around everything. And that's comparing the SACD player with the Sort Kones on my rack with the SACD player with no supports on the Codia rack. Obviously there are a lot more things that I could try. The Codia rack is expensive, but if it upgrades each of my components, maybe it's worth it.
The next morning he followed up with:
Something that I forgot to mention last night is that the dynamics seem better with the Codia rack. Drum strikes have more impact. The shelves in my [Sanus] rack are MDF. I've seen forum postings where people said that racks with MDF shelves sound dead. The Codia rack has demonstrated what they mean.
He also had some interesting comments about CD vs SACD playback, something which I cannot do.
...there's more difference between CDs and SACDs with the Codia rack than with my rack. That's even more the case when I use the Sort Kones. Putting that another way, when listening to a CD (my compilation CD, in particular) there doesn't seem to be a huge difference between having the [Marantz] SACD player on my rack vs. the Codia rack. With the CD and the Sort Kones, there's a bigger difference. And with SACDs, the difference is bigger yet. It seems like the better the original recording, the more difference the rack makes.
He also reported excellent results with his hi-rez digital front end that includes Roon software, HQPlayer software and the Sonore microRendu microcomputer. Tom's comments also suggest that different components will respond differently on the rack, but the general trend seems to be toward significant improvement. Oh, and the stylus didn't skip a groove when I jumped on his concrete floor. Maybe I need to adjust my anti-skating. A few days later Tom got back to me about his initial experience with the AmCan Isolators.
I finally got a chance to try those copper & silicone footers that you loaned me when you dropped off the rack. I compared the larger copper & silicone footers with my Sort Kones, under my SACD player. They definitely sound different, but I'm not sure which is better. I was using a classical SACD which I know quite well. With the [brass] Sort Kones, it sounds very detailed, but a bit harsh. With the copper & silicone footers, it sounds smoother, perhaps a bit more "analog"? Spatially I don't hear much difference, and both seem to have about the same amount of air. I think that with the copper & silicone footers, it sounds a bit more like what I hear when I hear an orchestra in a concert hall.
I then compared the copper & silicone footers with Sort Kones under my preamp, and got about the same effect. Presumably if I had two sets of the copper & silicone footers, so I could use a set under the SACD player and another set under the preamp, the sound would get smoother yet.
Tom's response made me realize there is no brand name on the AmCan's–something that would undoubtedly have added to the cost. He was also impressed that the cost of the basic large copper non-leveling AmCan Isolators was only $99 vs. the $150 list price of his brass Sort Kones. Opting for large brass Isolators would bring the price down to $89 each; large stainless steel would bring them down to $63 each.
Win, Win, Win
I embarked on this review with an open mind, putting my pet theory about the cost and effectiveness of a tweak at risk. But it's not like I've been seeking to enshrine my name in the annals of science. I'm happy just to spread a little insight and help some manufacturers keep their dreams alive and even prosper. I have to admit that I am quite surprised at how effective the Codia Stage 3000 BAB rack is – and how ineffective my favorite footers are when used in conjunction with the Codia. And I'm pleased, but not surprised at how effective the AmCan Isolators are. I've been a big fan of aftermarket footers since the turn of the century. That the AmCans worked well both on my regular equipment supports as well as in conjunction with the Codia rack suggest they are a cut above my others. The Codia brought an increase in focus and cognitive appreciation of the music to its highest level in my home. It offers flexibility of configuration and visual design that should broaden its appeal to a sizeable audience of affluent music lovers. It might even appeal to the shrewd few with more modest equipment who choose to bypass more expensive component upgrades to achieve a higher level of resolution with this Codia rack. The AmCan Isolators, competing against some already very fine footers in my system in addition to increased resolution, added a touch of bloom and decay to the notes that increased my emotional connection with the music. These footers are offered in a variety of sizes, materials and configurations that give them a broad range of application. Plus, I find them very attractive to look at.
Both of these products are highly recommended if the solutions they offer fit your need. We are in the realm of fine tuning a system with both of them. They are not Band-Aids for a broken link in your chain. If you've been involved in this hobby for a while and have developed an ear for the finer listening experience High End audio can bring, you may very well increase your enjoyment with either or both. Excellent gear, gentlemen. It's been a clinic, and I've learned a lot. So much so that I'm going to lighten my inventory and buy all the review samples.