I was single at the time. I had two cats, both male, and the Siamese had started to lose its mind. Goddamn thing started pissing in my basement listening room and ended up soaking the carpet. Fortunately, it was old and already in poor condition. Have you ever smelled male cat piss? It’s a horrific ammonia stench that catches in your throat and makes your eyes water.
For a while I fought with that carpet. I’d do the subwoofer crawl around the floor, nose down, sniffing for hot spots. When I found one, I’d saturate the area with Nature’s Miracle, an enzyme-based odor neutralizer that actually works. So it was sort of manageable, life with this cat. We had an understanding, the cat and I. He never pissed on the speakers, the tube amps (which were on the floor), or the equipment rack. He sprayed one small batch of records, but afterwards I chased that cat all over the house, screaming bloody murder, swinging at it with a broom. He got the message and kept away from the LPs.
Anyway, Jonesy died (R.I.P.) and I buried him in the backyard. At that point, it made sense to replace the carpet, and being somewhat cost-constrained, I decided that cheap laminate flooring would do the trick. But being an obsessed audiophile, I couldn’t just replace some carpet without trying to add some sort of ridiculous complication that might help my stereo sound better. Right? Right?
I needed a new equipment rack anyway, and I decided it would be a stroke of genius to cut three 8″ holes in the basement concrete slab, dig out a bunch of gravel and dirt from below, slide 8″ Sonotube concrete forms into the holes, and pour concrete into them. I could use these three upright cylinders as the basis for my new, built-in equipment rack.
I planned it out further. Cut holes in the sides of the Sonotubes and slide in some stainless-steel tubing to use as shelf supports before pouring the concrete. Drive a piece of rebar down through the middle of one Sonotube into the bottom of the pit with a sledgehammer, attach a piece of copper wire to the rod, and use that for a ground.
If it’ll hold up a deck . . .
This is an extreme idea, but it’s one I hope you can recognize as brilliant. It’s a completely resonance-free design. Well, I guess it would resonate at 7.83Hz, which a Google search tells me is the resonant frequency of the earth. And that’s bang on the ideal resonant frequency of a tonearm and cartridge system!
If you do a quick search for high-end equipment racks, the results show a ton of carbon fiber, stainless steel, and exotic, old-growth hardwoods—but that’s just rolling the turd in glitter. They sure look nice, but not one of those racks anchors itself to the earth’s core in the same way my design would. What are four prissy little cones going to do compared to 500 pounds of concrete going down to bedrock?
As is my wont, I obsessed over this design for quite a long time. I wasn’t comfortable cutting those holes in the slab by myself—God only knows what’s under there. Gas lines? Sewer pipes? I didn’t think there was much at that end of the house, but this part of the operation made me nervous. I contacted a local masonry company and explained my ask. It took a bunch of back-and-forths to get this guy to understand what I needed. To say he was dubious is an understatement, but he agreed to do the job on the condition that I write a letter absolving him of any responsibility should the project go pear-shaped. Moving on, I started drawing out the plans, pricing out materials (other than the stainless pipe, the outlay was negligible), and figuring out how to make the concrete look presentable—polishing, lacquering, and the like.
Call before you dig
I was close to pulling the trigger. To make this happen, I would need to disassemble my entire system, move a bunch of furniture into the garage, and shlep nearly 2000 LPs up to the main floor, which was the most daunting part of the whole operation.
It had only been about five years since I purchased this house, and my real estate agent wasn’t convinced that I could crack this Toronto-sized nut all by myself. So he was circling like a buzzard over a sick buffalo, calling me on a semi-regular basis with solicitous questions about my financial state and overall well-being. In passing, I mentioned my plans for a bedrock equipment rack. He was aghast. My agent is a good salesman, and it didn’t take him long to talk me out of my plan, citing the horrific amounts of money this eyesore would remove from my property value.
Having that dream ripped from me, I scaled back the plan. What if I made the Sonotubes free-standing? I could still join them together with the stainless rod but fit them into removable sockets so I could disassemble the thing and move it if required. However, this would necessitate tensioned steel cables in a diagonal X-shaped pattern to hold everything together and add rigidity.
Supply lines were getting longer and harder to maintain. The project was spinning out of control, careening far beyond my DIY abilities. The more I planned, the less feasible and less desirable it seemed, so I basically abandoned the whole idea. The original simplicity of the plan, along with its sheer fuck-off-edness, was a large part of the draw.
So (sigh), I gave up on my dream and just put down laminate. About a decade later I commissioned a new rack, which ended up being a dramatic, albeit conventional, design. I wrote about its design in a March 2019 column on Ultra and its construction in a July 2019 column.
There is a point to this story. Had I gone ahead with it, my original embedded-concrete design would have embodied the SoundStage! Ultra motto: Sound to the Xtreme [sic]. At first glance, you might think the Ultra / Xtreme thing refers exclusively to expensive gear. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That $300 audio rack—fastened directly to Canadian Shield granite—would have been (e)xtreme. At the other end of the scale—micro compared to macro—the Little Fwend turntable lift I wrote about a few years back was Ultra too, by way of its niche application and fantastic machining. Of course, it’s way easier to point to an amp that retails for a hundred grand and deem it worthy of coverage here on SoundStage! Ultra. But I’m gonna try to shoehorn in some less expensive stuff that qualifies as Ultra and raise it up as worthy.
That said, there will continue to be seriously high-end, ultra-expensive gear covered in these parts. I’ve always had a magpie-like fascination with top-flight stereo equipment. I want to touch, stroke, and fondle expensive stereo equipment, and I know for a fact that this attraction is widely shared. From here on in, I’ll do as much stroking, touching, and fondling as I can for our readers.
By the time you read this, I’ll be back from the High End show in Munich and a tour of four Italian audio manufacturers, courtesy of Fidelity Imports and Distribution. So I’m planning on loading up a boatload of exciting gear. I can’t wait to share it all with you.
. . . Jason Thorpe