There used to be one inviolate rule in audio; racks – like fine wine – don’t travel. There was good reason for this; they are heavy and tended not to be in the same high-end league as their electronic counterparts in a system. Critical Mass Systems was one of the first companies to tear up that rule book, producing products that retain all the elements of high-end audio in terms of performance-raising abilities, weight and price. The company’s Olympus V-12 and Maxxum systems form the foundation for many of the highest of high-end systems around the world. Meanwhile the QXK system tested here brings many of those high-performance sonic elements down to a more manageable price and physical aspect.
The basic concepts of all three Critical Mass Systems racks (five, if you include the otherwise identical to QXK three-legged PXK and the Sotto Voce rack) is the same throughout and came about as a response to vinyl enthusiasts wanting to divorce their turntables from the environment without hobbling the sound in the process. Each system features a very solid aluminium frame using black tubes as uprights and contrasting clear (or matching black) anodised aluminium platforms, designed to support Critical Mass Systems’ range of damping/filtering shelves. Each shelf features a six-stage, dual-zone damping system with 20 damping layers in its upper sections and 12 damping layers in the shelf’s lower stages. This was developed using a punishing regime of iterative, trial-and-error evaluation until a ‘recipe’ that worked uniformly well was developed and given this is effectively the third iteration of this shelf system, the process of honing the performance is ongoing.
The shelves themselves rest on four ball-bearings to limit the possibility of vibration transmission from stand to platform to shelf but given the amount of filtering inside the shelves themselves, the need for additional vibration control in the rack is almost academic. There are three grades of shelf: Black Sapphire (for products up to 100lbs/45kg), Black Platinum (for products up to 200lbs/90kg) and Black Diamond (as per Black Platinum, but with improved damping and filtration). It’s entirely possible to upgrade as your demands change over time, using Black Sapphire for sources and preamps and Black Platinum for power amps, switching over to Black Diamond when funds permit. Given the price of admission for the support system in even its most basic Black Sapphire guise, I suspect the upgrade path will not be taken too often. Maxxum and Olympus have their own shelf systems that take the Black Diamond concept and run with it.
Assembly of the rack is straightforward but is both time-consuming and should be performed with painstaking precision. Set aside a day for doing it properly. There’s nothing that would challenge your Ikea-Fu (the feet, legs and platform supports all bolt together in a logical manner, but to give the QXK Grandmaster-grade stability requires a lot of bolts). Unlike many stands, it’s possible – advised, even – to build a layer, add the product intended for that layer, then build the next layer. This is a good idea as it limits the possibility of either moving or damaging the filter platforms (damage is unlikely, but as the platforms sit on ball-bearings, accidentally moving them during the installation is not a good idea… just ask any user of a Naim Fraim just how much swearing that produces). Of course, this means optimal tightening of the outer frame from the get-go – by way of contrast, so many stands act like a set of untamed bagpipes until they get the final tighten and levelling process.