Atacama is a well known UK-based manufacturer of Hifi racks and furniture, in this review for Hifi Pig Dan Worth places their Special Edition 2 rack, costing £199 per level, into his system.

It’s always a grey area when enthusiasts consider an equipment rack for their beloved Hifi system. One factor always under consideration is the home environment! There has to be a fine comprise made between what looks aesthetically pleasing and what works well for the equipment in question when a separate listening room isn’t possible.

But the question I find more apparent from folk, and one which I come across so often is “does a rack really make that much of a difference?”

Our delicate equipment is plagued with internal and external resonances and micro-vibrations, even if you believe that each unit is stable, with no mechanical parts such as transports or motors there is still a degree of micro-vibrations induced by the very circuits which are designed and implemented to enable great sound quality. Along with cable vibrations and the worst culprits of all – speaker resonances which interact the equipment directly and indirectly through cabling and floor vibrations which rise into the system through whichever structure they are sited upon.

Many variations of the two main topologies have been adapted over time as thought processes develop along with technology. Decoupling – a method undertaken to isolate each unit from one another, the rack itself and ultimately the room. Coupling – which is used to transfer any vibrational energy away from the delicate electronics giving it a path to ground or more productively be dissipated as heat.

I’ve tried and tested many methods and to overlook the science behind each of these methods is ignorant, but in real-world testing for me, a mix and match of the two topologies have always proven to be more beneficial – dependent on each piece of hardware in question.

Atacama’s approach in their ECO Evoque SE2 rack is to couple. The Evoque SE2 is an evolution of their Evoque SE range which I have been using for the past year now, which itself is an evolution of the standard Evoque. Non SE/SE2 Evoque racks are available in 3 predetermined sizes; compact, single and double width (a custom option is also available). The SE and SE2 are exclusively available as a single width unit, this is because of the A.V.R.D.C channels cut into the underside of the shelf are specifically designed for its size. All models offer popular leg sizes, with the SE2 being approximately 5mm longer per shelf over the SE due to the newly designed bronze spikes.

The idea seems basic for the Evoque SE and SE2 but the hidden engineering involved is far from straight forward and a great amount of attention is paid to material choices and composition, with the design brief of focusing vibrations along a stringent path of dissipation, literally walking all vibrations along a predetermined route to ground.

The company, whose roots are in developing parts for jet engines, has a long history in precision engineering, which evolved into the Hifi furniture brand we see today.

Both the Evoque SE’s use bamboo platforms and are not simply a slab of wood chopped and shaped with some legs attached. They are in fact 100s of pieces of bamboo, decarbonised to a particular softness somewhere in between walnut and oak in hardness. These pieces are carefully compiled in varying grain directions to form each shelf with a resin type compound binding them together and then they are machined. The obvious difference on first inspection between an SE and SE2 shelf is that the SE2 has a concave curve to each of its sides, whereas the SE is square all around. The theory is that this curve helps the breakup and redirection of standing waves.

Inclusive of the precision CNC finishing to the shelf’s shape, the underside is routed out with a Grover track. This is the beginning of the path of dissipation. The SE uses a square wave type design and the SE2 a curved pattern, which Atacama call A.V.R.D.C  – Advanced Vectored Resonance Deflection Channels. Once the equipment is coupled to each shelf, energy flows into the shelf along these pathways to the legs. Each leg is made from a range of metals, such as aluminium, nickel, and brass, with the most interesting feature being a brass threaded cone that is placed by the user inside each leg to a predetermined position dependent on leg length. This brass cone collar dampens vibrations and controls their path to ground through size, shape, and density of material. Each shelf is individually spiked forcing vibrations down to the next level and finally into the floor through specifically designed spiked feet, cleverly shaped to enhance the final removal of energy, and at the same time able to resist a backflow of energy from the floor itself.

The rack comes in 3 finishes, a natural bamboo, medium and darker finish with the overall look being really nice and stylish and as long as your careful in selecting shelf heights, all cabling will be hidden behind.

THE SOUND

Just like introducing new isolation feet to a system, the most obvious starting position for this review was to simply remove a single SE shelf and replace it with an SE2. The piece of equipment chosen to adorn the new SE2 design was my David Berning ZH270 power amp. The amp is highly modified and will literally immediately express any changes directly associated with itself or any changes in the system around it.

With the SE2 shelf in place, directly on top of the pre-existing SE rack, the amp sound took on a greater sense of ease in the top-end. I was rewarded with more control in treble notes which led to more natural decays. There was also a slightly better sense of acoustic space and a quieter high frequency overall. I could liken it to a sense of weight coming over the sound, which gave clearer and better definition, although I didn’t consider there to be any more bass as such, but there was a better ‘density’ to bass notes.

These are critical observations of course – the SE I was using over the past year is a great rack and removed serious amounts of distortion which led me to readdress my isolation as a whole, but the SE2 was slightly more relaxed and refined in comparison.

After finalising installation, my system was ready for its first boot up since being completely dismantled. Knowing full well that it’s going to take a few days for everything to settle again I didn’t expect to get much of an idea as to what was going on, let alone any significant changes.

Firstly, everything actually worked as it should and all cables and associated peripherals were indeed connected correctly and I did have sound, so that was nice.

The only real noticeable difference I encountered in the first couple hours of listening was a cleaner bass response with the equipment sat directly on the Evoque SE2 shelves, at this time I couldn’t quite decide if it was the rack itself contributing to this or simply that the bass was thinner due to the system being dismantled, reassembled and not given real time to settle, which is very typical of this type of upheaval.

After a couple of days settling and some more listening, the system opened back up its soundstage and timing became more realistic. This brought me back to a more towards a broad and more stable sound in line with what I was more used to. I say “more towards” because I was hearing the sonic signature of my equipment once more, yet the change in support was quite obvious too and I was beginning to equate the differences.

The cleaner bass response I noted a couple days earlier was still apparent, to a degree; with the system in a more settled state, I had increased extension with a little more fullness of lower notes, if not that fraction dryer. I also experienced a similar effect within the midrange with it being cleaner, yet lacking a little of the body I was previously used to, most notably with male vocals losing a bit of chest depth.

It was conveyed to me very early on in the process of accepting these racks for review that I would benefit greatly from employing some equipment feet that would couple energy from each piece into the rack more efficiently than the variations of hollow aluminium discs and rubber feet that generically come fitted to the majority of equipment as standard. Basically, ‘if you can focus the energy into our racks, they will do the rest’ is what I was told, and after lengthy conversations about the vigorous tests, Atacama had done with just this and knowing the items in question, which were used I had no doubt in my mind that to achieve the best results from this rack I needed to stay within the parameters of its design philosophy ideally, but again this is never gospel of course because as I said earlier, in my experience some pieces of equipment just likes to be treated differently to others. I was surprised though that Atacama hasn’t designed and constructed their own individual equipment feet as of yet. They have the experience and machinery, so…why not guys?

Asides from a few tonal discrepancies which need addressing, I found myself quite complacent with the overall performance of the Evoque SE2. It looks great and does actually offer some good sonic benefits to the performance over the SE.

My isolation of choice on the SE which I had grown to know pretty well is Finite Elements – stainless steel and ceramic have a remarkable ability to remove unwanted resonances from the equipment. Foolproof though?… no…placing an equipment footer in the wrong position underneath and item on a basic rack can have large effects on the sound, on an Atacama SE/SE2 the positions are more critical! Indeed, even to the point where I used isolation from another company (SSC) to balance the overall ‘handshake’ between electronics and rack.

One noticeable step taken was with my DAC. On the Evoque SE I had one Finite at the front and one on each rear corner. After many hours of reconfiguration, I found that simply doing a 180° on this to have the two at the front just made everything click, my advice is to be patient, this can be laborious, yet rewarding!

Sound-staging is a little more open now, without losing its focused precision of leading edges into a more hazy and blurred note. Inner detailing still remains clear and if not a fraction more accurate in its timing, along with the extended decaying of notes. This all became quite apparent whilst listening to some good acoustic guitar – where I noticed more convincing longevity of decaying notes, this tells me that the rack is doing what was intended of it. The background was perceivably quieter or darker, which is also why I could hear deeper into the music with a little more perception of finer details, which is often a result of better timing.

I had as a prolonged DIY exercise been making many changes to my speakers and one of the toughest areas for me not being a speaker designer and having extremely limited knowledge with crossovers was to correct my upper midrange and lower treble enthusiasm. Fortunately, recently these anomalies I faced had been rectified and so this is another feather in the cap of the Atacama. I had now had plenty of time with the changes and didn’t feel that I was throwing it a curveball in any way.

The Evoque SE had a couple of fairly loose assumptions made on it before I installed it a year ago. One was that it would clean up the bass too much, which with some correct isolation to channel the effects of vibration more specifically would allow the bass to breathe a little better, and secondly that it may inject a certain amount of brightness into the treble and upper midrange which I had worked so hard to remove. The latter being the most concerning for me as I generally use a subwoofer which is very gently rolled into the bottom-end for extension. A slight tweak in dB at the crossover point could cure things.

Fortunately for me and I guess Atacama too, I didn’t experience an added brightness or harsher. There are many reasons why this could happen in a system. Sometimes and all too often equipment just sounds too damn bright, especially a lot of budget gear of late. Speakers can be a huge contributing factor as they are specifically voiced this way at times in order to get more detail from them at lower volume levels – not everybody listens at 110dB you know! So, although not dirt cheap the Evoque SE2 is still well priced at £200 per shelf and this level of engineering should not go overlooked by those that are looking for the gems in this marketplace, especially when a branded glass and solid metal frame rack can cost £500 or so.

Have you ever considered that distorted brightness and a harsh nature within the sound may not be attributed to your speakers? That it could indeed be down to simply not isolating the equipment correctly? One of the biggest responses to vibrational distortion is a perceived brightness or harshness in the treble. If you have ever moved from a basic glass shelf to a wooden one or even MDF you will know where I am coming from. Glass rings something terrible, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil for aesthetic reasons.

I digress…so I had placed a few assumptions on the first SE and I was after some fettling rewarded very well with its performance. This time around I simply listened to the SE2 and allowed the actual experience to speak for itself.

The Evoque SE2 now detailed my treble more delicately and added a touch of refinement to an already well-tuned upper-end. Since installing the rack I have found a touch more air in the limits of the top-end and a prettier, more natural, and polished treble response over the SE.

The upper midrange has been dealt with a little differently, however. It has been given a nice wash of texture and along with the overall concept of clean (this doesn’t mean bright by the way) has stepped a little further back than where it sat previously, aided even further by the choice of isolation – the midrange as a whole has a slightly more projected nature, even though it comes from a deeper point in space.

Similar is true of the bass, I find the lower frequencies more informative now and with better balance. I often go backward and forwards trying to decide “do I need more bass, more extended bass, bass that’s a bit looser, a bit tighter?” I can drive myself mad to the point where I’ll switch off and come back another day with fresh ears. However, the Atacama Evoque SE and SE2 removes a lot of this doubt with proper equipment isolation in place and strikes a better balance, more cohesive, accurate and extended bass, which in turn allows for better timing due to the removal of distortions associated with resonance,

Dynamically both racks do a great job and allow for the system to really sound free and open. The SE2 arguably gave a more playful sound with its extra level of refinement, and soundstage was so well constructed it would take a great system to exploit it to its full potential.

CONCLUSION

There’s no doubt that after living for a year with Atacama’s Evoque ECO 60/40 SE that I was mightily impressed with its looks, design and of course sound. When the SE2 came along I thought, “OK, what’s new here then” and was pleased to find that there are some subtle looking but effective changes to consider – remember Atacama is an engineering firm, not a furniture maker, their approach is very different, so what the eye doesn’t immediately see is indeed a testament to great engineering skills.

These skills are reflected in its performance – the SE2 version of the Evoque ECO 60/40 is a definite improvement over the previous model; not groundbreaking, but a clear refinement on an already groundbreaking multi-award-winning concept? I’ll let you be the judge of that. From my perspective, I can confidently state that there are benefits to be had and improvements sound-wise, which make the SE2 a clear next-generation Special Edition rack from Atacama.

The price increase per shelf is reasonable too, just an additional £20 per level. Frankly, I am genuinely gobsmacked since being made aware of the price difference, it’s almost unheard of that a new model of anything in Hifi costs £20 more.

If I can offer one tip when setting these racks up, it would be to ensure you do couple your equipment to them, they really do work best that way and you will experience the rack as intended by the manufacturer.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Excellent, precise finish with good looking and well designed features

Sound Quality:  Natural, extended, brings out the inner detail in a most pleasant way by removing hash

Value For Money: A very realistic price for build quality and overall engineering, good pride of ownership factor

Pros: Great value for money. Stylish looks. Extremely well made. Great sound quality.

Cons: Many would possibly like a shorter shelf option

Price – SE – £179.99 per tier

SE2 – £199.99 per tier

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Worth

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