REVIEW: SOLIDSTEEL S5-3 HI-FI RACK
We were first introduced to the Italian brand SolidSteel by way of their impressive SS6 speaker stands. A few weeks ago we took delivery of their S5-3 hi-fi rack to see how the upper lever of their introductory range performs.
S5-3 hi-fi rack
The company name SolidSteel MC Group has existed since 1990, and the MC Group project was inspired by the company founder Moreno Conti who, unfortunately, passed away in 2013.
The SolidSteel story starts in Pescara, Italy where a young enthusiast for records and engines worked for the illustrious family company, Conti. At the time Conti was the official supplier of silencers for Ducati motorcycles, in Bologna.
During this period Moreno learned the skills of precise metal craftsmanship. In particular, the testing of the various possible uses of the best machines of the time for the sector. Additionally, he gained experience with the most sophisticated and accurate techniques of open-flame welding.
Fast-forward to the late 80s and prototypes of SolidSteel furniture were tested and shown to trusted friends, acquaintances, local enthusiasts and audiophile technicians. The first results were more than encouraging. With the support of his wife, Dora, Moreno went into business.
Now, the modern SolidSteel MC Group is composed of Gaetano and Manfredi Conti, sons of Moreno and Dora.
SolidSteel S5-3 review
The phrase "Italian designed" often conjures up images of style, performance, flair and effortless cool. The clean lines of the S5-3 do indeed hold true to this expectation. So, we asked to take a closer look at these Italian racks.
The '3' suffix in the model name points to the number of shelves. Following that system, there is also an S5-2, 4 and even 5-level options. Furthermore, you can add shelves later. So, you could always start with a two shelf model and then add to them as your system grows.
SolidSteel S5-3 assembly
The three-tiered rack comes as a flat-pack in two packages. One box contains the platforms whereas the other holds the main rack components. As with all modern flat-packs, all you need is an Allen Key (or hex key/spanner/wrench), which comes bundled in. Moreover, that tool is only required to adjust the isolated platforms.
I noticed just how well finished the elements are while laying out the parts in preparation for the build. The shelves, legs, platforms and even the grommets that fit between the column and shelf are well made. Most impressive, however, are the lethal looking floor spikes. They are substantial, weighty and slightly menacing if I'm honest.
The instruction manual, or rather, pamphlet, is basic and frankly of little use. Thankfully Andy from Mian Audio gave me two crucial pieces of advice: 1) Build it upside down and 2) Start with the shorter columns as they're for the top level. If you have that knowledge, then the printed guide can pretty much be ignored.
The MDF (wood/polymer laminate) shelves and platforms are covered entirely in a vinyl wrap, not just the tops or the bits you can otherwise see. You will also notice that the main tiers have a decent-sized circular cut-out in the centre. The holes are to disperse any standing waves and aid decoupling. Further treatment comes by way of the aluminium columns filled with a non-granular dampening material. Finally, the secondary platforms on each level sit on cones and then there are those solid steel spikes that sit on the company's steel S Series PADS.
Construction is a straightforward exercise of screwing in the aluminium threaded posts into the MDF panels and the pillars through pre-formed plastic washers. Repeat this until you run out of shelves and columns. Finally, fit the spikes and flip the whole, rather weighty (30kg), rack upright.
Now, all that is left to do is place a cone pointy-side down into the metal receivers at each corner of the shelf before carefully offering the platform to the flat surface of the cones. A little wiggle and the bases fit the routed parts on the platform's underside.
The result is a rather lovely-looking audio rack. Before adding your hi-fi components access the hex bolts from underneath the shelf and use the Allen Key to raise the platforms. Also, take the opportunity to ensure that they are all level.
Each shelf has been tested to take 60kg, so you are free to set-up how you wish.
Now you are good to go.
SolidSteel S5-3 performance
The first point I will make is that the X Plates are not large enough for the mighty VPI Prime. The X Plate platforms measure 450mm wide x 405mm deep, and the American-made turntable has an uncommonly wide footprint. Also, as the VPI already features a multitude of isolating engineering, this was not a particular worry for me. However, if this is a deal breaker, I would be interested to find out if SolidSteel would custom-make a platform that matched the size of the top shelf or to the customer's requirements.
The first thing I noticed when playing a CD on my Oppo UDP-205 placed on the second shelf and Musical Fidelity M6si on the lowest shelf was that the bass sounded more articulate when compared to the results from my trusty old Norstone Esse.
Adding the hefty VPI on top and dropping the needle on Paul Simon's Graceland LP and as well as the tauter bass, the mids also seem to be better controlled and the treble more open and fluid. In the interest of parity, I played the same LP on my Pro-Ject 1Xpression that lives on a DIY platform constructed from a solid granite chopping board with Sorbothane feet placed atop an Ikea unit before transferring the Pro-Ject deck to the S5-3 rack (with the SolidSteel X Plate in place). Again, there was added clarity or, depending on how you look at it, removal of blurring, especially where the mids and bass are concerned.
SolidSteel S5-3 review conclusion
The SolidSteel S5-3 might not be entirely made from steel, but it is solid; impressively so.
You have the option of white or black, but I do have a thing about white hi-fi furniture.
From my time at shows, I know what a difference a good rack can make to components, and the SolidSteel S5-3 proves the point once more. At £790 for three tiers, each with its own isolated platform, I believe this SolidSteel rack is great value. Furthermore, can you put a price on those Italian good looks?
I say that this is a brand well worth checking out. So what are you waiting for?
For more information, go to SolidSteel.
StereoNET UK's Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He's captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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