Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular Component Isolation System
The easiest way to maximize the performance of an audio or video system is to isolate its components from the shaking world around them, and the last decade has seen an explosion in products designed to calm the world's gear. Devices ranging from air bladders to suspended racks to feet made of everything from exotic metals to exotic woods, as well as couplers, decouplers, floaters, shimmiers, and rollers, have been used to minimize the effects of vibration. Almost all of them help to one degree or another, especially when used in carefully selected combinations.
Into this cacophony of competing claims and products stepped Alvin Lloyd and his company, Grand Prix Audio. Lloyd's background includes 20 years of involvement in professional motor sports, including a stint as vice president of operations for Swift Engineering, the only American manufacturer of CART racing-car chassis. After founding GPA, Lloyd drafted more motor-sports engineering talent in the form of Henry Wolf and Tom Huschilt. Wolf worked as an engineering consultant for a CART series team and was responsible for shaker dyno research, which involves determining the natural resonant frequencies and stiffnesses of all aspects of a car and its tires. Prior to joining Swift, Huschilt, a suspension engineer, worked at Newman Haas Racing, overseeing suspension design and research for such drivers as Nigel Mansell and Mario and Michael Andretti. There, Huschilt was responsible for co-designing the first American-built car to win the Indianapolis 500 in more than 20 years. It would appear that these gents understand the physics of vibration.
The path to the GPA shelves began with nothing more than Lloyd's curiosity about what, if any, of his racing experience could be applied to his other great interest: audio. Having mastered management of the massive stresses that act on the suspension system of a CART car traveling at up to 220mph, with multiple G-forces acting on its chassis and suspension in all three dimensions, designing audio stands should be a piece of cake.
So Lloyd and company brought their wealth of experience in testing, research, and exotic materials to bear in designing the Grand Prix Audio series of stands, the apex of which are the Monaco modular stands. After considerable preliminary design work, Lloyd determined that a combination of rigid, lightweight carbon-fiber frames supporting acrylic (or the optional F1 Kevlar/carbon-fiber composite) shelves would be just the ticket. But because Lloyd believes that no single approach can successfully provide the degree of isolation necessary for optimal vibration control, GPA developed a eight-stage approach.
The Monaco is available as a three-, four-, or five-shelf system, or as individual modules. From the ground up, a GPA system consists of: 1) a 304 stainless-steel spike; 2) a large-diameter 304 stainless-steel support column, to which an aerospace-derived damping compound is applied; 3) O-ring dampers in the caps of each support column; 4) "true vector" stainless-steel ball couplers that couple multiple modules together; 5) the viscoelastic damping material that secures 6) the carbon-fiber supports, which provide the foundation for 7) specially sized dampers between supports and shelves (footnote 1); and 8) acrylic shelves (F1 shelves can be substituted at additional cost). The hollow stainless-steel columns can also be filled with lead shot to further improve performance. The approach is based on high-tech engineering and finesse rather than brute mass-loading.
Lloyd backs up his approach by providing comparative test results of GPA stands, conventional metal stands, and air-bladder shelves, measured on a shaker table. GPA claims that while air-suspension devices provide an 80% reduction in vibration over conventional shot-filled metal shelving, the Monaco reduces vibration even further.
Lloyd and I chatted extensively about what gear I was going to be setting on his shelves and the philosophy behind the Monacos. A few weeks later, several large boxes showed up. While unpacking the stands, I was somewhat dubious about GPA's theories. I've used the heavy-duty, high-mass approach for my electronics and digital gear for a long while, including stone slabs, dampers, and various combinations of isolation footers. How, I thought, could these very stylish, lightweight stands do the job of a couple of hundred pounds of sheer mass? Despite its light weight, a four-shelf Monaco can carry up to 150 lbs per shelf, for a maximum total loading of 500 lbs. (Fortunately, my basement listening room allows me to spike everything to the concrete-slab foundation.)
Footnote 1: Weight-specific dampers are installed between frames and shelves to provide further refinement. When a customer purchases a Monaco stand, the dealer needs to know the weights of the components that will be placed on the stands in order to supply shelves of the correct thickness and the proper dampers from the six available load-bearing ranges.