|Home Theater Feature Articles Other|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Monday, 01 May 2000|
Rack mounting of equipment has long been the standard in the professional recording industry. Audiophiles on the other hand have stereotypically been reluctant to embrace rackmounting of equipment and often opt for a minimalist approach. It is not unusual to see a $10,000 preamp sitting on a $20 Ikea table or even parked somewhere on floor. As the lines between home audio and theater systems begin to blur, more and more people are combining their systems and rackmounting them. There are many benefits to rackmounting your equipment and a well crafted rack can greatly improve a system in both functionality and aesthetics.
I recently installed two Middle Atlantic 5-21 Slim 5 Knock Down, 21 space, 20 inch deep racks into a beautiful custom birds eye maple cabinet for the AudioRevolution.com Reference Theater. Middle Atlantic is one of the largest manufacturers of rackmount equipment and has an extensive selection of racks and accessories.
I will take you through the process and will give you my insight into the pros and cons of the rack set up, and will provide you some timesaving tips that will make your own rack building experience a better one.
Before you jump into a project such as this, it is important to take an inventory of the equipment that you will be rackmounting both now and in the future. One must also consider the amount of space that you will need and what type of enclosure to put the racks into. This is a matter of personal taste and the options are virtually unlimited depending on your budget. Rack systems can be as simple as a basic rack sitting on the floor or as complex as being mounted into a wall or coffee table. You should consult with a carpenter if you plan to rackmount your system in a custom enclosure as we did with the AudioRevolution.com Reference Theater. If your project is more ambitious and involves tearing holes in walls or other structures, you will most likely need the services of a contractor to obtain proper building permits. In this case you will also want to have a professional electrician to ensure that the system is wired properly in the walls.
Before you begin to physically assemble the rack components, I highly recommend that you have the following tools available: a tape measure, Phillips head and flat head screwdrivers, a hammer, a flashlight, a pencil and most importantly, a variable speed electric screwdriver/drill. The electric screwdriver will be your best friend and your wrists will thank you for it. Unless you are as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger I also recommend that you have a friend available to help you lift some of the heavier components that are difficult to rackmout by yourself.
The boxes that the rack equipment came in were packed very well but they were not labeled clearly. I ended up just opening boxes and separating the racks from the shelves. I don't know if all of the boxes that Middle Atlantic ships are poorly labeled, but I would think that not only the model number but also a basic description of each item should be written on each box to make things more clear.
Assembling the Rack
The frames of the racks went together fairly easily with only one slight hitch. Two of the eight total racks rails did not properly fit onto the pre-installed rack bases. In theory, all of the rack rails are supposed to be the same size, but the slight variances in the size of the rails made a seemingly simple process a bit more frustrating than it should have been. I found that by using the rails from the two kits and swapping them around, I was able to get all but one of the rails to fit properly onto the bases. The dilemma of the last rail was solved by ever so carefully tapping the rail with a hammer. I placed some masking tape onto the area to be hammered so the paint on the rail would not be damaged. A few taps of the hammer and the rail fit snugly into place.
Next I decided to bolt the rack into the custom wooden cabinet with half-inch self-tapping wood screws (not provided). I installed the rack set back two and a half inches from the front of the cabinet, assuming this would be plenty of space. BAD MOVE! "Assume" is a word that you should not use when talking about setting up a rack system. I later discovered that this did not allow enough space for the volume knob of the Proceed AVP pre-amp, thus the cabinet would not close properly. This was another lesson learned the hard way. I had to remove the screws and move the racks back deeper in the cabinet and reattach them to the cabinet. It is very important to know how far each of your components will protrude from the frame of the rack when installed. It would also be wise to take into consideration any future upgrades that you may put into your system. If that dream preamp that you have your eyes on has a huge volume knob, you should make sure that you have enough clearance on the front of your rack for it. Of course, you must remember that the further back you mount the rack, the less space you will have in the back for cables, fans, power strips and various other items. The AudioRevolution.com Reference Theater rack is 24 inches deep which seemed huge at first, but ended up to be barely large enough.
I next created a diagram of the gear to be installed, taking into account space considerations for the pieces of equipment that generate excessive amounts of heat. I will be adding Middle Atlantic cooling fans to the back of the rack in the near future and planned my diagram accordingly. Once the diagram was complete, it was time to start rackmounting the equipment. This is where I ran into a dilemma. Even after searching every nook and cranny of every bag and box, I realized that the rack does not come with rack screws. After a quick trip to the local professional audio/video store Pacific Radio for rack screws and washers, I was back in business. This is a problem that you will not have because you'll be smart and order a pack of at least 100 rack screws and washers before you start your project.
As I began to actually mount the gear, I ran into my next problem. Some of the pieces of gear have custom rack mounts and others must be placed on shelves which breaks up the visual continuity of the rack. The Theta Data Basic CD transport for example was too wide for a standard size U2 two space, 14.75 inch deep rack shelf and the small screws on the side of the unit needed to be removed to make it fit properly. Even after removing these screws, it was still quite a tight fit. The other dilemma that I faced with this piece was the fact that it was too tall for a two space shelf and too short to properly fit into a three space shelf. I opted for the two-space shelf and used two single hole spacers to fill in the blank area that this left above the Theta. The shelves that I used for this rack have lips on the front and back and I think that if I were to have used a completely flat shelf, the Theta would fit better into the rack. Under the Theta, I installed a z-systems RDQ6 EQ on another standard U2 2 space rackshelf. The z-systems was also an awkward size for mounting into the shelf but I managed to squeeze the piece into the shelf. Moving down the rack, a Faroudja LD100 will be added to the system so I have left an empty 2 space shelf for this piece. The Faroudja is designed to fit in the rack but many high-end audio components are not.
The Proceed components were fairly simple to install and Middle Atlantic has some very slick ideas for mounting the Madrigal equipment. The Proceed AMP5 sits on a well-ventilated rack shelf has a faceplate that is cut to fit around the amp. The shelf and faceplate are attached with allan screws, which are provided by Middle Atlantic. The Proceed AVP preamp employs a completely different, yet equally effective method for mounting. The top cover of the Preamp is actually replaced by a frame with rackmount ears that Middle Atlantic has created for this particular unit. This is a great design and the only downside to it that I can see is the fact that you now have an empty cover and will need to store it in case you later decide that you no longer want the unit rack mounted.
On the left side of the rack, I chose to mount a Pioneer DV-05 DVD player, a Pioneer CLD-79 Laserdisc player, a Mitsubishi HSU550 VCR and left space for a Sony SAT B3 DSS receiver and ReplayTV unit to be installed at a later date. Under these components, I mounted a sliding black laminated shelf for a a video game system such as a Playstation or a Dreamcast.
Starting at the top of the rack, I mounted the Pioneer DV-05. Like the problem I had with the Theta, the DVD player was an awkward height to mount. When mounted on a two-space rackshelf, the top of the DVD player was blocked out by the frame of the rack. To alleviate this problem, I removed the built in feet and replaced them with shorter 3M brand rubber stick-on feet. This brought the DVD player down to the proper height and prevented it from sliding back and forth when using it. The DVD player is smaller in width than the 19 inch wide rack shelf so I simply adjusted the unit until it was centered. Under the DVD player I mounted the Pioneer CLD 79 Laserdisc player. Unfortunately I received a rackmount kit for a Pioneer CLD 97. This left me with a one rack space gap above the Laserdisc player. The correct rack kit is on it’s way and will be installed soon.
The custom Middle Atlantic rack shelves consist of a base plate, two side panels, a custom fit face plate, a stopper that can be mounted in the back to prevent the equipment from sliding, four small silver nuts, and four rivet bolts that mount flush with the bottom of the shelf. Remember that the face plates must be assembled while you are assembling the shelf. On the back of each face plate, Middle Atlantic has placed a gold sticker that tells you which side is the top. These stickers make things much easier and reduce the guess work when you are faced with a huge pile of parts.
The Mitsubishi VCR was next to be mounted and had its own custom shelf and face plate. The front panel of this plate should have been made a fraction of an inch bigger to allow for better access to the flip down control panel on the left side of the VCR. If one had the time and the resources, the opening of the face plate could be milled out to make more room for the control panel.
The next two items that I installed were the shelves and front panels for the Sony DSS receiver and Replay/TV units. These shelves went together without a problem. I then installed the sliding rackshelf to place a video game system such as a Sony Playstatsion or a Sega Dreamcast. I mounted Velcro to the bottom of the shelf and the game systems so they could be easily swapped, but should remain stationary during heated gaming sessions. Installing the sliding shelf required me to unscrew the small bolts that were preinstalled and add additional metal brackets. I then bolted the shelf in both the front and back of the rack. The additional rear brackets are not mandatory but the shelf is much more stable and the chance of it breaking is greatly reduced by using the extra brackets.
The last step before wiring up the equipment in the rack was to fill all of the blank spaces with the appropriate size panels. Middle Atlantic makes a large selection of panels that you can use to fill in the gaps between the items in your rack. Since the right side of the rack contains most of the heat generating equipment, I decided to install vented front panels. On the left side of the rack, I used a solid three rack space blank panel to fill in the extra room under the video game shelf. If you need extra storage space and have empty space in your rack, you might want to consider adding a Middle Atlantic rackmount drawer. Finding the proper shelf for each item can be an exercise in trial and error. Certain pieces that have custom mount kits are a no-brainer. You order the kit and install it, simple as that. For other pieces such as the Theta CD player and the consumer DVD player that do not have custom kits designed for them, you must consider your options and decide what will look and work best for you. If possible, you should have a current Middle Atlantic catalog or access to their website so if you run into any difficulty making a piece of equipment fit properly, you can consult the catalog to find out what other routes you can take.
Wiring The System
Now that the front of the rack was complete, the last step was to wire up the system. One of the most important things to remember when wiring is to be sure that you have enough room behind the rack to easily access the equipment. Having suffictiant light also makes things much easier. These tips may sound obvious, but I’m sure there has been a time or two when you’ve found yourself sqeezing into a tight space, reaching blindly to plug in a cable.
When wiring the back of the rack, I found that running the power cords along the rack was very simple and I could use the holes on the rack rails to neatly wire tie the cords to. If your racks are mounted on sliding rails that allow you to access the equipment from the side, be sure to leave anough slack in the wiring to accomidate this feature. The AudioRevolution.com Reference Theater's wooden cabinet is mounted on wheels to allow access to the equipment in the back so I made sure to wire the rack with plenty of extra cable.
To power the equipment, I used a single rack space rackmountable power strip to plug all of the equipment on the right side of the rack into. I mounted this to the back of the rack with the power switch on the outside edge so the entire rack can easly be powered up or down. This may eventually be replaced by a Richard Gray Power Company or a Furman power conditioner that can be mounted on the front and has light and a dimmer to illuminate the front of the gear in the rack.
The instructions that were provided with the various kits were adequate and easy to follow. I also applaud Middle Atlantic for providing a phone number for you to call and report pieces that do not fit properly. I was half tempted to call and report the rack mount rail that wouldn’t fit properly into the rack base and probably would have if I wasn’t able to make it fit with my trusty hammer.
My overall impression of the Middle Atlantic rack system is very positive. The rack setup allows easy accress, easy wiring and is a great way to prolong the life of your equipment. Add to this the fact that the system just looks much better than stacking everything on tables or on the floor, I’m convinced you will begin to see more and more home theater systems being rackmounted.
Items used in this review
Middle Atlantic (all in Black finnish)
(2) 5-21 Slim 5 Knock Down, 21 space, 20 inch deep racks
1/2 inch self tapping flathead wood screws