Looking to isolate your turntable from vibration and noise? Try a wall shelf. Paul Rigby reviews two from Decent Audio
I currently have two working turntables (with more stored away) but the room they are situated in has a suspended wooden floor. I used to have them on a basic wooden table then graduated to a hi-fi rack then moved up the ladder to a complex isolation shelving system. No matter what I did, however, if a record was playing and I walked across the room, the cartridge would bounce over the grooves like a bucking bronco. I had a problem.
I had another problem too but I only began to realise this when I talked to experts in sound distortion. The more I learnt about the disruptive noise that populates a typical hi-fi room and muddies sound quality the more alarmed I became. More so when I heard for myself what this stuff does and what my music sounded like when I began to remove it, layer by layer, from my hi-fi chain.
Some of the problems where coming from my wooden floor, some were coming from other components, the mains supply, airborne issues and so on.
For all of these reasons, it soon became obvious that I really needed to isolate my turntable. Not just from the floor but from everything else. A turntable is a sensitive and complex piece of engineering. Anyone who has tweaked any one of the myriad variables in and around a turntable will know how the inherent sound can change dramatically when outside forces are applied to it.
I saw my solution as a wall shelf. A wall shelf would take the turntable away from the contagious distortion that was emanating from the rest of my hi-fi chain. It would also completely remove the deck from physical vibrations because it promised to nail it to the wall of my house: the most stable object in my immediate vicinity.
But which shelf to choose? I had heard good things from Decent Audio so decided to give two of their shelving designs a try.
The first and most expensive is a two layer shelf, created for heavy turntables. Made from black tubular metal, it holds a turntable on the upper shelf and the deck’s power supply or some other box (phono amp?) on the lower shelf. On either side of the unit are two diagonal brace bars, fixed between the upper and lower levels, four in all.
Restricted wall space will be an issue for some users so here’s a batch of dimensions for you. The larger shelf spans 495mm wide and 457mm deep from the wall out towards you. The rear of the shelf, the part that sits against the wall, measures 330mm high but the total height of the shelves that protrude into the air spans just 273mm.
The bottom shelf has a 12mm piece of acrylic suspended on four corner screw mounts that are almost surrounded by the lower frame. The upper shelf features another 12mm piece of acrylic positioned in the same manner but then, on top of that is yet another piece of acrylic, a much thicker piece of 25mm. Separating the two upper acrylic slabs are a choice of either four corner steel cones or four bespoke corner cork-based polymer pieces.
The basic tubular frame (25mm thick) can be filled with the substance of your choice, if required, to further deaden the structure and reduce resonances. A set of six screw holes are situated at the rear of the structure, three on an upper bar and three on a lower bar. Hence, two horizontal bars of the structure sit flush against the wall, secured by a total of six screws (I supplied my own screws, bought from a local tool shop).
The smaller and cheaper shelf model is very similar to the above but just features the one shelf system, holding a single piece of acrylic of 12mm. A single brace bar either side of the shelf is present. This frame is deeper than the larger model, at 476mm. In addition, and significant to this review, the screw holes on this smaller, cheaper model, are relatively smaller in diameter which means, rather obviously, that smaller screws-only can be used for this variant.
IN USE & SOUND QUALITY
With all of the acrylic shelves carefully stored away to avoid unnecessary scratching, the first task was to secure the metal frames to the wall. You will need to find a part of your wall that is solid brick. Any unstable wall areas or parts of the wall that are not absolutely solid should be avoided as it will not take the weight of the shelf structure when you place your turntable on the installed shelf.
When fitting both shelving units, I placed the frames against the same solid wall, made sure that they were absolutely level (a spirit level is useful here) and then pushed a pen through the six screw holes of the frames onto the wall. Each mark was drilled and a plastic wall plug, sourced by myself, was inserted in each.
The frames were then fixed to the wall using my own screws. As the frames are built from a tube structure, you end up pushing the screw through two walls of metal: the outer part of the tube, then across the tube structure ‘gap’ and then through the second tube wall, featuring a second hole, and then into the wall. An obvious description but this design structure proved important later on, as you will see.
Apart from the larger model being a touch more awkward to handle because of its extra physical bulk, the only difference of any real note between the two shelving installations was focused on the screw types used to fix them both to the wall. The smaller unit featured my own, smaller gauge, screws while the larger unit was able to accept my own, larger gauge, screws.
I decided not to fill either of the frames with sand or similar because I was slightly concerned about the extra weight, at this stage, and the strain that it might cause on the six screws. Especially as I was about to place a very heavy Origin Live Sovereign turntable on top of the larger unit, for example. The platforms relevant to each shelf unit were then added.
On the upper level of the larger unit, the thick acrylic platform was gently laid on top of either four pointed metal cones or, as a supplied alternative, four thick square cork-like blocks.
As it stood, the constructions and installations were complete. Before moving ahead, I decided to quickly sound test those conical steel cones against the alternative cork blocks on the larger unit but found that the cones gave the overall sound a forward, even bright quality that was rather alarming, if not disconcerting. I quickly changed the cones for the cork blocks and the sound quality, that I knew the Origin deck was capable of, returned. More than that, though, because the turntable was now isolated, the upper mids sounded far smoother with a drastic reduction in noise that improved both transparency and clarity. Bass, meanwhile, lost any sense of bloom and boom, tightened up and found a new heft and punch. The soundstage now had a relaxed attitude. There seemed to be more space in between each instrument, more elbow room, if you will, that gave the music (no matter what the genre, I might add) an easy, effortless quality.
These, rather fancy, shelf supports were not supplied on my smaller shelf so I added my own cork-like supports from the third party outfit.
In addition, I then jumped up and down on my wooden floor like a madman but the active cartridge never budged. Not even a wobble of the stylus in the groove. My audio problems were not only solved but sonically, they were actually enhanced by the addition of the wall shelf.
LONG TERM TESTING
All was well for a few days and then, one night, while the hi-fi was switched off and I was doing something else in another room, I heard a horrible crash.
Rushing to the scene, I observed the controlled devastation from the scene of the smaller shelf. While the larger shelf was fine and remained happily in position against the wall, there was a problem with the smaller shelf unit adjacent to it.
Looking at the smaller shelf installation, it seemed that the combined weight of the installed turntable and the shelf had, it seemed, slowly pulled my smaller gauge screws out of the wall. The screws, now horribly bent, stuck up in the air like the claws of a dead lion. The shelf had toppled and, by sheer good fortune, tipped onto a box that sat in front of the turntable, one that I had placed there the day before. The front edge of the shelf was jammed on the box. The turntable, meanwhile, had gently slid off the shelf to the same box. I approached the scene as if it contained an unexploded bomb. Gently, I managed to rescue my turntable and the shelf. Incredibly, no damage – apart from gouged holes in my wall – had befallen my hifi equipment.
Shaken, I retired for the evening and gave the matter some thought.
After a good night’s sleep I was resolved. Give the small shelf another try but dispose of the (now bent) screws and re-install the smaller shelf with screws almost twice as long and commensurately thicker in diameter to boot. Hopefully the extra support strength would prevent a repeat performance. So, off to the tool shop I popped for a screw-based upgrade. The issue with the smaller shelf, though was that the default holes in the frame would not accept the proposed, larger diameter, screws that I had just bought so I approached the frame with an aggressive attitude, toting a hand drill and a ‘metal’ drill bit and enlarged each of the six screw holes a tad. Just enough to take my newer, larger gauge, screws. This little job took all of two or three minutes to do.
I made new holes in that same wall, reinstalled everything else as before complete with new rawlplugs and carefully walked away. Nothing. No movement. Everything was calm. I was naturally overly cautious, though, so I waited. And waited. Several months have now gone by and the wall shelf remains as solid as a rock. Result! The new, larger screw holes plus my new screws, it appears, were the solution. I have even, later, took my life into my hands and pressed down on the shelf and even taken the very heavy Origin turntable off the larger Decent shelf and put it on this smaller variant but the smaller shelf has retained its composure throughout.
Despite the heart-ache of the small shelf collapse, this review shows that the basic design of the Decent Audio wall shelf is sound and reliable (as long as you enlarge the default screw holes on the smaller shelf model – the larger shelf is fine as it is – and buy in larger gauge screws with associated rawlplugs).
In sonic terms, both wall shelves solve any cartridge damaging vibrational issues and actually improve and enhance the basic sound quality of your hi-fi. In fact, for the larger shelf, the sound improvements were equal to upgrading a major component.
Highly recommended, the Decent Audio wall shelf is a quality upgrade for any audiophile or dedicated hi-fi user.
DECENT AUDIO WALL SHELVES
Price: £199 (Small) & £279 (Large)
Tel: 01642 267012
Good: basic design, sonic performance, installation
Bad: small screw holes on the smaller shelf.