I’m not an audiophile who haphazardly throws money at components. Nor do I open my wallet because of some preconceived notion of what proportion of an audio-system budget “should” be allocated to a given product category. This thinking has led me to assemble and own, over the years, audio systems that some might say are unbalanced, at least in terms of cost. For instance, I’ve almost invariably chosen to spend large portions of my budget on loudspeakers, because I’ve found that a change in speakers usually provides me with the biggest improvement in sound quality. I typically spend less than a tenth as much on a digital source component, because in the last decade or so great digital sound has become so affordable.
One area I’ve given short shrift through the years has been the equipment rack, to the extent that I’ve usually just gone without, and instead placed components on large granite slabs I had cut years ago. These slabs are heavy, stiff, and flat -- all good things for equipment supports -- and, placed on a carpeted floor, constituted stable and quiet foundations on which to place my gear. A few of these slabs spread out on the floor of my old listening room, the Music Vault, also made swapping out cables a snap. I was content with that arrangement for years.
My new listening room has less floor space than my old one, and that alone dictated a change in my thinking about racks: The new room’s space would be most efficiently used if I had an equipment rack, I thought -- here, I just can’t spread everything out on the floor as I did in the Vault. However, realizing that I now needed a rack to optimize my space and my system’s sound didn’t mean that I intended to up-end my equipment-budget sensibility and spend $20,000 on a rack. Any rack I bought would have to jibe with my notion of value for money, and not represent pseudo-scientific nonsense designed to justify a crazy price tag.
Trip to Munich
It’s almost impossible to assess a component’s sound quality by trying to evaluate it at a hi-fi show. Unpredictable and unknown room acoustics, sonic bleed-through from adjoining rooms, combinations of unfamiliar components from myriad brands from around the world -- there are just too many variables at play. After all, as always, you’re listening not to a single component but to the sound of a system -- in such circumstances, in which most or all of the components are things you’ve never heard before, isolating the contribution to that sound of any single component is impossible. However, there are some things you can assess at an audio show.
It was in Munich, Germany, at High End 2017, that I first became aware of SGR Audio and formed an opinion of their work. I remember it well: SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider and I were discussing the standout build quality of SGR’s products -- they make their speakers and equipment racks in Templestowe, Victoria, Australia -- and in our show coverage even said that “We were very impressed by the exceptional build quality all the [SGR] models exhibited. . . .” Perfectly applied finishes, precise joins, attractive visual design -- all were in evidence.
Having laid eyes on so many audio products through the years, I’m fully aware that a high price doesn’t necessarily mean high build quality. At High End 2017, however, I’d already seen with my own eyes that the build quality of SGR’s products was a cut above average. That was one box checked: I’ve always valued great build quality. When I got home, I went to SGR’s website to peruse their equipment racks.
SGR Audio offers two lines of equipment rack: the Model V versions and, just below them in price, the Model IIIs. Within each tier are various choices of style: for the Model V, there are the Signature, Symphony, and Statement; for the Model III, there are Signature and Symphony. The differences among these styles are mainly in the finishes and shapes of the shelves: do you want wood veneer on square-cornered, straight-edged shelves (Signature), satin-finish paint on round-cornered, rounded-edged shelves (Symphony), or wood with rounded corners and edges (Statement)?
I discussed the options with Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida, SGR’s US distributor, who explained the differences in construction and cost. I chose to review a Model III rack for its lower cost, and chose the Symphony package because I thought its White Satin shelves (Black Satin is available) and Micro Pearl columns would best match my room and system -- especially the Summit White finish of my Vimberg Tonda speakers. The review sample has three shelves, though SGR’s modular rack construction makes possible the addition of more shelves at any time. The Model III Symphony retails for $1300 USD per shelf, which put my three-shelf version at $3900 -- not cheap, but nowhere near the five-figure prices of many of today’s racks.
I try to stay away from products that come with dubious claims, or hocus-pocus descriptions of the technologies used. SGR provides neither. To dissipate or damp vibrations, the three shelves of the Model III Symphony use the well-known method of constrained layer damping (CLD), as described by SGR: “Energy absorption is amplified with the platform’s extruded polymer mat sandwiched between precision routed wooden composite layers.” Essentially, vibrations are transferred from either outer layer to the inner viscoelastic layer, where it is dissipated. I’ve long been familiar with CLD, having heard it in action in Rockport Technologies loudspeakers through the years. It’s a scientifically sound principle whose sonic benefits vary depending on the application.
The overall dimensions of my three-shelf Model III Symphony are 27.17”W x 23.5”H x 19.3”D. Each shelf is attached to the rack’s four aluminum columns, or posts, which are filled with crushed quartz. SGR claims that these posts are super rigid and, when filled, add considerable mass to the rack. Steel spikes couple each column to the floor. The result is a beautiful example of a minimalist design manufactured with the utmost precision. I could find no defects in my review sample.
In my system
Assembly went smoothly. The footers, with attached spikes, fit through holes in the bottom shelf. Each column is then screwed down into the footer below it, sandwiching the shelf between. The next shelf is then placed atop the columns, and so on until all shelves are in place. A top cap is then screwed down onto the top of each column supporting the top shelf, to give the rack a more finished look and lock it all together. The footers are adjustable, for precise leveling of the rack. Attached to each shelf, near the front, is an aluminum badge bearing the SGR logo and the rack’s model name. The dark edge of each shelf’s polymer mat -- the layer that provides the CLD -- provides a nice contrast with the light finish of the shelf’s surface, sort of like a racing stripe.
If you’ve seen past SGR rack models, you’ll see that they’ve updated their finishes. I’m told that the new White Satin of my review sample resists scratches better than past versions, and that the Micro Pearl finish of the metal parts is more consistent. And, as I said, I saw no flaws in my review sample. I found the look quite elegant, nothing like the garishness of some overbusy high-end racks. I found that the Model III Symphony firmly coupled to my floor, and that I didn’t need any additional adjustment to achieve a perfectly level, stable platform for my gear.
Unlike in the Music Vault, where all of my electronics sat between the speakers, in my new room everything but the power amp is off to the side. Although this requires snaking long interconnects from the preamplifier or source component to the power amp, the overall look is cleaner than before, and I prefer that. So I didn’t have all that much to place on the Model III Symphony: a Hegel Music Systems HD30 digital-to-analog converter on the middle shelf and, on the top shelf, the Apple MacBook Pro laptop that I use as a music server.
The SGR rack didn’t make a night-and-day difference in the sound quality of my system. One thing, however, did consistently sound better with the Model III Symphony: the general tidiness and stability of the soundstage. I noticed this first while listening to “Rooting for You,” from London Grammar’s Truth Is a Beautiful Thing: Deluxe (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Metal & Dust/Ministry of Sound/Qobuz). The image of Hannah Reid singing was super stable, and dead center on the soundstage, as always -- what was new was a slight improvement in the stability and precision of the height of that image. Reid’s image was about 5.5’ above the floor and locked in space, just a touch higher than I remembered hearing it pre-SGR. I then heard this type of increase in the stability and height of aural images with other tracks on this album.
To hear if that aspect of the sound was now consistently different from before, I listened to other familiar recordings, beginning with “You Say,” from Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child (16/44.1 FLAC, Centricity/Qobuz). At 1:33 into the track, when a choir appears above and behind the image of Daigle’s voice, I marveled at how easily I could map the difference in height between Daigle and the supporting singers. This layering of voices gave this track, which I’ve heard many times through my system, more of a live, realistic sound. Resonance damping done by any means, including CLD, lowers an audio system’s noise floor, which means that you can hear more of what’s on the recording, including spatial information that helps define the soundstage: the ratio of audible music to audible noise has been increased. That sure seemed to be what the SGR rack was doing.
One thing I can conclude is that, in my new listening room, my system has never sounded better than it did with SGR Audio’s Model III Symphony rack. I could effortlessly hear all of the sound characteristics that I value in this system I’ve assembled. From here on, that increased stability of aural images will be hard to do without.
I’m buying the SGR Audio Model III Symphony. I didn’t do an exhaustive search of racks before deciding on the purchase -- in fact, I didn’t compare it directly with any other racks, nor will I be staging a rack shoot-out any time soon. What I can say is that I think the SGR is fairly priced for its quality of workmanship and materials, and that my system has never sounded better than when sitting on this rack. I wouldn’t spend more than the Model III Symphony’s $3900 cost, but after looking online at a lot of racks, I doubt I could get as much quality of sound and build if I spent any less. That means that, for me, the Model III Symphony occupies a sweet spot in the equipment-rack market -- and, now that I’ve seen and heard it in action, it wins my recommendation. Now I’ll just have to find another use for those granite slabs.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- TAD Evolution One TX, Vimberg Tonda
- Amplifier -- Boulder Amplifiers 2060
- Sources -- Hegel Music Systems HD30 digital-to-analog converter; Apple MacBook Pro laptop computer running Mojave 10.14.3, Roon 1.6, Qobuz
- Cables -- Siltech Explorer interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
SGR Audio Model III Symphony Equipment Rack
Price: $3900 USD, three-shelf unit ($1300 per additional shelf).
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
11 Websters Road
Templestowe, Victoria 3106
Phone: +61 3-9846-8002
Well Pleased Audio Vida
1934 Old Gallows Road, Suite 350-R
Tysons Corner, VA 22182
Phone: (703) 750-5461