How important is an audio rack?

The difference in opinions is almost as heated as the great cable debate. Many claim solid hardwood is best. Others like no shelves but some even defend mdf shelves. One store owner/salesman stated the audio rack should be considered the most important component, even with a very modest system! My opinion is much more moderate, but i'm curious what others think.
Aesthetically, perhaps important to some.

Regarding sound quality, its important that it be built solidly enough to serve as a rigid foundation. I tend to like low profile racks or shelves for this reason. Cheaper and most effective. Tall, vertical units are more problematic and cost more to do right. Equipment that sits higher up off the floor will tend to be subject to vibrations of greater magnitude, like a high rise in an earthquake.

I also tend to prefer wood construction in that the damping characteristics of wood is generally quite good compared to other materials, say metal or glass.

That's about it.

Its also imporant that the floor it sits on functions well as a rigid foundation. Concrete foundations work very well. Upper levels of homes, especially newer ones, are more problematic.

How much all this matters of course depends on the quality of the system and the needs of the listener. Many will not give a hoot in practice. In my main rig, I care. In my second 2 channel A/V system, I do not care. WAF matters more. That second system still sounds fine.
Can't match my main rig though in critical listening comparisons.
Hi Dayglow,
Everything affects everything else and interacts with everything else. That being said a rack can make a nice improvement. Possibly equal to a cable or power cord.
Lent my son a Zoethecus rack for a bit and he was amazed at the improvement. Didn't think a rack could make a difference but he heard it so...
I like maple for blending in but other woods do as well. Most musical instruments are wood or were at one time so that seems like a reasonable idea to stick to wood.
Though I have seen some really nice metal racks but have not heard them with a system so I could be swayed.
Bette me than the rack.
It is very important. The best in my opinion is SYMPOSIUM ISIS it is Aircraft Aluminum which is neutral.Wood is wood which is not neutral.This rack will keep vibrations from getting to your componants.
My stuff sits on wooden shelves, but an extreme audiophile I visited had sturdy metal racks; the kind you see in Stereophile. Since his sound was the best I've heard, I know they make a difference. I believe the question "How much"? is related to the depth of one's pockets.
I bought a used Billy Bags rack just cuz I liked the way it looks. It was an upgrade and logic dictated there'd be an improvement in sound quality but I honestly wasn't expecting much. I was very surprised at how much better the system sounded after installation. NOT one of those subtle I-think-I-hear-a-difference-type audiophool tweaks either, it was a clear as day improvement!
"an extreme audiophile I visited had sturdy metal racks; the kind you see in Stereophile. Since his sound was the best I've heard, I know they make a difference."

Maybe, but I'd wager the rest of the gear and the setup as a whole had a lot to do with it.

I guess one would have to switch racks and a/b compare to know for sure.
Another important consideration in an audio rack, IMO, is that it is open on all sides, so there is plenty of air, and your components do not overheat. I use the Sanus Natural Foundations rack, which has glass shelves. They are very sturdy, and I have no vibration problems.
It depends on what kind of support you have now for your components. Upgrading from a good one to a little better one may not bring much improvement.

Years ago, when I switched from a rack (that came with the rack system with the glass door type) to a well-built solid steel rack, the improvement was great. I was totally surprised. In a nutshell, a good support is very important.
My post has nothing to do with turntables nor looks. Turntable isolation is critical, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

I haven't heard any differences. I own a $6k-ish system (new MSRP, not what I paid, and not including my turntable), and haven't tried any high end racks, so take my experience with a grain of salt. I have had several different racks/cabinets, and even had stuff on the floor. By far the biggest difference was where the stuff was in the room - so much better with nothing between the speakers.

I've used a solid cherry wood, low profile TV stand where the components are enclosed, a tall pine cabinet (looks like an old-school stereo cabinet) that's also enclosed, a solid coffee table, a $12 Ikea coffee table, an old oak dresser, hardwood floor, and granite and marble slabs on the floor.

All other things being equal, no differences whatsoever. I guess a more accurate statement would be that I heard no differences.

Everything I've set my turntable on made an easily audible difference.

I've also heard a full Naim system on a generic rack A/Bed against an identical system (same components and speaker placement) on a Naim Fraim. I heard no difference, but my dealer did. Before you jump all over him, he's a very honest and down to earth guy. He personally doesn't think the Fraim is worth the quadruple the price difference, and not does he think the difference is huge. We both said 'maybe if you've got the most expensive system, it would be worth it, as where else are you going to go?'

I look for a combination of best looking, best built, most durable, most protective, and what fits my budget. I view it as furniture that'll protect my gear from dust, my little girl's fingers, my two cats' fur, and heat.

Everyone hears what they hear, and it's stupid to debate it. I'm not claiming there are no differences, nor am I claiming that I'll never hear any differences. I'm just reporting my experiences.

Again, with turntables, all bets are off.
I keep everything close to the floor, no rack only some wooden platforms and various footers under the equipment. Virtually no vibration from the floor reaches the components. Never experimented with expensive racks and feel no need to, cheap rack are a disaster.
The audio rack/stand/isolation ante is much higher with turntables in particular than with other gear. Other mechanical devices, like CD players, maybe.

For amps, pre-amps, etc., I'd focus on isolating each component from external EM or RF noise/fields, including those from other components. Low level phono circuits are also most susceptible to these as can be CD players and any line level gear.

The easy solution is to provide space between components, especially between phon and line level devices and power amps. ALso keep away from eletrical appliances, etc.

PRoper isolation is important for really good sound. Its often not as complicated or need be expensive as some may make it seem.
I think the rack or shelves can make or break the system. I've not come to to a definitive conclusion on what is best but I'm leaning towards MDF over sand doesn't sound that great. It's a tough thing to do A to B comparisons. I have two grand prix racks for my living room and bedroom systems. I have been doing some remodeling and re decorating and I really don't care for the look and size of the grand prix and would like to build a nice looking wall mounted shelf unit to hold all my gear but I'm afraid getting rid of the grand prix rack might make my sound suffer.
I have a 72" Florence Knoll Walnut Credenza that I inherited from my father who bought that and a matching shorter credenza that I use as a sofa back in my living/ listening room. It is classic mid-century design at it's best and fits beautifully in my 1916 Chicago Bungalow. See it in Virtual Systems.
My experience, having been down this road with DIY and my store-bought audiophile rack is briefly:
1)The shelving material is a lot more important than the construct/rigidity of the stand.
2)MDF is terrible.
3)This is a very particular area where people get sold theories and believe whatever they want.
4) Light 'n rigid has worked well for me, and not using a good rack is lost potential. Footers are not worth the money, IME for my system.

Caterham1700 has some good posts on the subject.
My experience with racks is minimal to the moment, but i think i need to try some of the big buck ones. That's where the improvements are audible from what i know.
i place my components on the floor ,using anti resonant devices and 1 to 1 and one quarter inch maple, about 18 inches by 13 inches.

as a reviewer, i find it easy to interchange components.
The rack/platform makes a difference. If it makes for bad vibes, it will be almost impossible to compensate further up the chain.

Anything that wobbles is not good. Things that ring, such as glass shelves, undamped metal frames are to be avoided. Too much damping also degrades the sound, resulting in a lifeless presentation.

What I like: the custom plywood cabinet in my secondary system sounds great, better than the A/V cabinet that was made of a wood particle board. I chose Mapleshade for the main system. The sound is very slightly tilted to the lower midrange with my gear. The shelves are infinitley adjusable and the racks look fantastic.

What I don't like: I hated the Polycrstal rack, but it sold fast so it must work for some systems better than in mine. It was terrilbe with tube components, sucked the life right out of them. I have a Stand design rack that has a metal frame and catilevered shelfs which doesn't sound good either. It now resides in my office with a cheap receiver.

I would lean towards Mapleshade, Cambre Core, or Quadraspire. I think it's easy to go overboard with too much hi-tech material and overdamp/isolate the music right out.
If it will hold your gear without collasping or bending or leaning to one side, then, it is a good rack. Appearance is up to you. Thats all a rack does. Period.
"One store owner/salesman stated the audio rack should be considered the most important component, even with a very modest system!" What a bunch of bs. Walk away.

If it holds your stuff securely and does not ring like a bell its fine. If you want to spend more money for aesthetics, that is a different and personal choice.
That store owner certainly seriously exaggerated the matter but I wouldn't necessarily walk away.
If your gear is that prone to resonance and vibrations maybe your using the wrong gear.
Every material and construction has its own resonance signature. That's why you find turntable plinths, platters, and arms of acrylic, aluminum, magnesium, and so forth. Some tables are mass loaded, others light and rigid. Same thing with speaker cabinets, baffles, and drivers, all with different materials and construction. There are many different flavors and many ways to success or failure.

If you don't think it makes a difference, you are mistaken. If you can't hear a difference, I can't argue with that.

Or, on the other hand, it could just all be marketing. Its seems like the people that say all these things are the very people that sell all these things.

Oh, how I long for the good days, before we knew about racks and wire and the doo hickies to hold the wire off the floor. Back in those days folks actually listened to music.
If your gear is that prone to resonance and vibrations maybe your using the wrong gear.

Actually, it's the other way around. The higher the resolution of the component, the more likely you are to hear a difference. Not so much a problem for mass market and mid fi components.

Very few products at any price attempt to address internally generated harmonics or reduce externally transmitted vibration. Some CD players have sprung transports for example. There are amplifiers with floating circuit boards and Berning even uses Stillpoint devices in some of their amps to isolate the boards. Some of the casework on my VAC preamp is damped but it still is not immune to the stand or the room. All transformers create noise.

I generally find I like Stillpoints and spikes (although I don't buy into the vibration draining theory, whereby every resonance in the component is grounded through the spike)

Racks are expensive to try out, but maybe trying some of the footer tweaks would prove enlightening.
The rack the salesman was raving about was from Box Furniture Co. I'm curious if your familiar with this rack?
No, I am not. Good racks are and should be expensive. I am not prepared to spend $800 or more on it, so as I said, I keep everything including the turntable on the floor. I think, quite a number of people here use Mapleshade racks with good results. Michael Green racks had a good reputation too but no longer made as far as I know.
When I tried Salamander and something else racks, they made such a mess especially at higher volume.
Rhljazz, as far as the isolation/vibration control goes I agree in theory that it could be beneficial. But when I took my gear off my thin sheetmetal rack and placed it on butcher blocks on the floor, I can't tell the difference. I was expecting at least some change, as everything else done so far, improvements were imediately evident. Maybe my components, being so heavy, are'nt as vulnerable and possibly the weight actually tames the rack???
I am not familiar with the products from Box Furniture Company. I do know that Art Dudley from Stereophile has a piece of theirs on loan and seems to like it.

There was an article in Hi Fi+ by Roy Gregory awhile back documenting a demonstation performed at one of the RMAF shows. They set up a demo using the same equipment and speakers, only changing the set-up and substituting the equipment supports and cabling to demonstrate the audible advantages of proper support and cabling.
The quality of the rack will not matter much if some of the other considerations for effective isolation are not taken into consideration prior.

It could be a total waste of money without looking at the big picture from an isolation and vibration perspective first, or a relatively inexpensive solution could turn out to be the cats meow.

Also, the considerations are different for what is needed to isolate a turntable effectively compared to digital gear. If you have both, then two separate sets of considerations to address come into play.
I'm more of a leg man myself =-;)
Regardless what some manufacturers say, all components create mechanical resonance. I have used some expensive and well-known footers and other tweaks to try to solve the problem. Some products made a slight difference. Others made no difference at all. I have no experience with commercially-made racks.

I have solved the problem very effectively -- and inexpensively. The solution is not particularly aesthetic but it is not offensive or obtrusive. I have my components on very heavy custom-made solid wood tables. The table tops are 3 inches thick. I bottom load all components using large Tupperware-styled containers filled to the brim with dry beach sand. This is an old remedy that works wonderfully in my system. The maker of my speakers who said this solution would not work for his speakers was surprised when I told him how well it does in fact work. I sold off all my footers and tweaks.
"I bottom load all components using large Tupperware-styled containers filled to the brim with dry beach sand. "

Very creative, and I would guess also most effective!

I'm assuming you use audiphile grade Tupperware containers which of course are way more difficult to construct properly for best sound and sell for a premium as a result. :-)
Yes, very effective. I use high quality Tupperware look-alike containers. They are robust enough to support my 32 kg. Marantz amplifier without any problem. As long as they are high quality and the sand is dry you should be fine. Make sure you shake the container as you fill it so that you will be able to load the maximum amount of sand in each container.
No more important than the foundation of a building!!!!!!
I built a rack out of 5/8" threaded bar and MDF that definitely improved the sound of my system, but it has taken a while to get everything working together the way I like it. For example, the turntable is on the top shelf at a height of about 4 feet from the floor. Reading another post someone stated that a turntable high off the ground is bad, but I have tried it at other heights, including the bottom shelf, and the top shelf is by far the best place for it. I do have some massive brass cones underneath a 2 inch thick slab of maple, which really made things come together.
I think the best thing to do is experiment with things until you find the best sound. I do not believe you need to spend a lot on a rack, but someday I would like to buy a really nice rack for my system. I just don't have the space for one right now. When I do buy one I will place aesthetics pretty high on my list, with performance being the most important aspect. Right now my listening room is far from pretty. My dream is to have a listening room that sounds great but is also the ultimate man cave.
We have found that racking designs and materials are extremely important to the audible outcome for any electronic component or loudspeaker system.

The majority of my experience involves applications in recording environments where you are closest to the genuine live dynamic along with the added capabilities to alter sound.

Over time we have used standard steel framed 19” EIA racking systems, surrounded electronics with various hardwoods and eventually were introduced to the use of metals versus woods, Plexiglas and all the rubber sorts.

We have worked with a recognized audio rack manufacturer on our high-end playback system where the results attained were extremely audible and much more musical. In fact we are now employing more of their methodology and mechanical grounding techniques in both the mixing and instrument rooms.

The choice of equipment racking is now considered as important as selecting which electronic component, microphone or any other form of recording and playback equipment we purchase.

In my opinion there is more study, modeling, product availability and technical achievement in the high-end consumer audio market, relative to racking technologies, than exists in the recording industry. We have also discovered that not all racks and techniques attain positive results.

Perhaps there is a common problem here on the Forum with understanding how effective racking can be and that is; if you have never experienced a rack that truly and measurably increases performance then you may never know or understand what differences exist.

Below is a link to the review that notably opened our minds to experimenting with equipment racking.

Racking is the defining difference between sound and awe-inspiring sound.

Disclaimer: My father works with a commercial company that employs various forms of vibration management so I am biased, have had greater access to knowledge from experience and have applied various techniques and multiple grounding principles in recording studio settings.
Let me rephrase the question. How important is vibration control? I would answer that it is one of the most important things you can do for your sound.

I am one who started my audio experiencing with my equipment on 1 x 6" planks using cinder blocks between them. I incrementally had improvements culminating with my trying the StillPoints Rack. It was outstanding. I had had Mana shelves before with two Halcyonics Micro active isolation devices. With everything on the StillPoints Rack, my sound was much improved

Later I tried the StillPoints Ultra SSs. Even on the StillPoints Rack, there was great improvement, suggesting that most other isolation devices are on the wrong track.
If you have a turntable then the rack is very important. For all the solid state gear, it doesn't matter at all. No impact.

To suggest the rack is more important that your speakers is beyond ridiculous. Let's say you had $3k to spend on rack and speakers, how would you divide it up? Me, I'd spend $2950 on the speakers and $50 at home depot for cinder blocks and a 2x12.
Jaxwired, to say there is no impact of racks is ridiculous, but I agree that to spend more on the rack than the speakers is ill advised.
To say hi end racks don't work period and solid state electronics can't benefit at all from isolation or vibration reducing tweaks is insane. You probably never tried I'm going to try and remember these names so I can never take anything they say about audio on this forum seriously.
Ejlif - if you start that now you are going to have a long list of names! :-)
It is much easier to set down the names of those who do know something; saves a lot of paper or electricity also. Whatever you place your gear on has an effect on sound quality; as do various suspension devices. I demonstrated this to a couple of skeptical friends recently. A simple method is to separate the responses of those who have actually tried something from the ones who "KNOW" in advance what would happen. Many companies do their best to isolate their products from mechanical vibration; my Naim Superline's circuitry rests on springs for isolation; some of Conrad Johnson's preamps do something similar; external crossovers are generally conceded to give the best sound. All good racks and isolation devices do is to apply damping externally rather than internally. Unlike some audio accessories it is quite easy to make measurements of vibration; that such vibrations have no affect on sound quality is simply as assumption that is contradicted by the experience of many of us.
I in fact use, and was a dealer for, the Star Sound rack that Studiosoundman refers to. I don't feel that this biases me terribly as 1. I have never sold any and 2. they are not currently being produced. They are quite effective but there are many others which use various methods of construction which work as well. My Linn LP12 sits on an old Russ Andrews Torlite stand which proved better FOR IT than the TT shelf of my rack [just as Linn predicted it would]. Either high mass or low mass stands can work if they are properly designed and built. I was using slate platforms under my TTs in the early 80s so I was an early adapter of vibration control. If you are into DIY there are many effective possibilities out there.
It matters a GREAT deal for ss as well as tubes. I can clearly hear my ss amps change character depending on what they rest upon. Believe it or not (and I had a hard time with this one) my MFA Reference TVC Preamp is incredibly sensitive to what it sits atop. For instance, my AMR dac loves my Silencer in active mode, my MFA likes the Silencer in non-active mode but not active isolation mode. The MFA is a completely passive device using only transformers for it's duties so I thought it would be least affected; turns out it is highly susceptible to vibrational issues. I know of no device including my Mac Mini music server which is immune to the platform underneath... to state otherwise as some have done in this thread.., well lets just say that would not be my experience. I would suggest you experiment for yourself.

Again, I am still amazed at the changes which can be wrought regardless of the device in question simply due to what a device rests upon or what rests upon a device.
Audiofun, I would agree that to the degree a rack improves isolation of components they are essential. The real question is do any racks do enough? I grant that WAF is important and some racks do have such appeal, but I have never heard a rack that does all there is to be done. Basically anytime you have current moving in a wire, you have a magnetic field that will induce current flow in other wiring. If you further have motion of the magnetic field from vibrations, it will induce other information into your audio. The best circuit would be in a straight line and totally free of any motion. Tubes can be very microphonic but then again so can capacitors.

Vibration is the bete noire of audio.
It's very important to dealers due to relatively high markup/profit margin compared to actual electronic gear I'd bet.

A solid foundation to support gear is important to keep it stable, especially components with physical moving parts that directly impact sound like a turntable. A solid foundation never hurts. It's an insurance policy at a minimum. Search audiogon threads for lots of good info on the topic.
Tbg: I agree with everything you have stated. I would also add that I do not pretend to understand everything I hear when I change footers..etc. For instance, a device like the MFA TVC or dacs for that matter (I am aware that although the TVC is passive it is an electro-mechanical device (transformers and all)) defies logic in how sensitive it is to the body it rests upon.

I think your' explanation of placing existing magnetic fields in motion compounding things has great merit.

The Silencer is an amazing device in that you see no motion with the naked eye and yet the effect it bestows upon the sound is undeniable.

Racks matter:) And yes they can be expensive LOL... I have a Bassocontinuo Reference but for my second system I am thinking of trying Steve Blinns new Ref Rack which I just saw on this site about 20 min ago.
Just put isoblocks under everything.
Audiofun, I know that dealers are few and far between and that what few there are have only limited options, but I would urge you to give a listen to the SP Rack but only if it has the new Grids instead of the acrylic shelves. Possibly the SP Ultra Fives under everything and on another rack can equal the SP Rack, but I doubt it. I should also say that my speakers, turntable, and amps are on SP Component stands with four SP Ultra Fives under each. This is not true of the speakers.

All I can really say is that over Christmas our kids and grandkids were here and were in shock. My drummer grandson, who is a drummer, could not believe the sound of drums.

I used to think I was pretty close to realism years ago with ARC electronics and Infinity ServoStatics. If so, I am now ten times as close. As a friend once said, "I never thought I would hear Paul Simon in my room.
Don't know what your budget is, but Grand Prix Audio makes very good racks with what I believe to be high WAF. Not cheap, but very, very good.