The Pagode is a beautifully crafted rack. I wanted one from the moment I saw it. But it is quite expensive. Even the simplest version, the Signature reviewed here, costs a whopping 1500 euro. So some years ago I settled for the Spider racks instead. I've had many a Spider rack as well as Solid Tech Racks of Silence (see the reference setup and a comparing review).
Now, some years later, a friend bought a Pagode Signature rack and offered me to review it. How could I say no? so I tested the rack in my own system as well as in a friend's system. He still has his Spider rack so we did a direct comparison.
The levels are more ingenious than they appear, mimicking in fact the function of a huge Ceraball, minus the Ceramic ball.
Let me explain. Each level rests on 4 spiked which have been screwed into a skeleton frame underneath. Right next to the spikes, the level is connected via metal bolts (visible on the top) through the skeleton frame but not touching it because the bolt is damped with a soft rubber ring. This way the levels won't fall out if you were to hold the rack upside down. Assuming you have the strenghth of course:-)
The tension can be adjusted from the underside to compensate for light or heavy components. This also affects the sound. So you see the resemblance to a Ceraball: hard coupling combined with damping.
The level assembly is held in place by means of spikes that screw into the sides of the level. The spikes in turn are screwed under tension into little dents in the aluminum pillars.
The place where you put the Ceraballs (or other movable feet) also affects sound. Precisely above the bolt that connects the levels to the skeleton underneath you get the most precise and fast sound. You don't really use the wooded level this way. It just hangs there. Move the feet more away from that point and you use more wood. This noticeably adds colour to the sound as well as making the sound more relaxed and fluid.
This rack gives you plenty of room to tweak the sound which is always a good thing.
Review part 1 - Pagode versus my home-made audiotable
First the rack was built up and compared to my self made low audio table. This table is very heavy and solid, made from various types of wood, glued together. You could say that it is the opposite of the Pagode in design.
Of course my rack is not comparable to a real rack like those from Finite Elemente. It is totally different. I know this first hand because I have had many Spiders as well as other racks and I know what such a rack can do for your system. But as in al matters audio, all is relative and what counts is the balance.
My speakers are very detailed and relatively clean and tight sounding. In this system, the tabel I use now is just what I need, adding only some weight to the bottom octaves and making the mids a bit creamier. It also adds some colour but again, in my system that's actually very pleasant. This was also the case when I still had the Martin Logan SL3's. In that period I gave up the Spiders because they accentuated focus, openness and detail and whereas this was very much welcome when I used the B&W N804 speakers, with the Logans sometimes I felt like I was a measuring instrument rather than a person. So out they went. You can imagine that knowing this, I am somewhat biased towards the Pagode and I was. But I was also very curious as to how it would stack up against the Spider.
So I tried to put aside my preconceptions and placed a cd player and a dac onto the Pagode. Immediately I had a sense of recognition. For sure the sound was airier, more refined, more open in the mids as wel as more articulated through the upper bass. The bass itself lost some weight compared to my own audiotable. Just like would happen with Spider racks. After a lot of listening I concluded that, like with the Spider rack, the Pagode was a very good rack that adds little of its own character and just improves almost every parameter of the sound. But it was not for me. Not in this system. My speakers are just too open and the balance tilts towards the overy detailed/analytical compared to the audiotable. The latter obviously slows down the sound somewhat and adds some colour but not in a bad way. And since the Magnepans are already so clean and uncoloured, this is a good thing for me. This was very close to the Spider sound that I knew so well. I was sure of it. They couldn't be far apart.
Below are some pictures of my system when I had Martin Logan SL3's and many Spider racks, as well as Solid Tech Racks of Silence. Click here for a comparison between the two. This system was exquisitely well-focussed and very detailed. Many friends were impressed when they heard it and so was I the first years. But more and more I came to tire of the sound and I started longing for a more relaxed sound. I suppose I get older too.
Review part 2 - Pagode versus Spider in a friend's system
This system belongs to a friend but I visit him so often that I permit myself to think of his system as my secondary system. He probably doesn't agree:-) But the result is that I know his system very well and therefore I can conduct trustwortyh reviews there. And he has Spider. That helps for this review! Sadly I forgot my camera when we did the tests, hence the mediocre phone-photos.
Spider and Rack of Silence are very alike in contruction. But they don't sound alike. Well to an extent they do but ultimately I liked the Spiders better for their more open and airy sound. The Solid Tech has a heavier, more coloured sound. But it is also drier than Spider. Pagode doesn't look like Spider but the philosophy is in part comparable for the minimal use of materials.
Also in this system it mattered where we placed the Ceraballs. I just love it when audiorules are systematically true like this.
We placed the Pagode right in front of the Spider rack, also on spikes and the same value coin under them. Just kidding. We used dimes. I argued for quarters to avoid a cheap sound but alas. Kidding again. We just used whatever coins were available and I'm sure you're goint to say that I'm inconsequent and surely they affect the sound. And maybe they do but for practical reasons we didn't test this.
We listened to few test tracks with all equipment still on the Spider and then I decided to move the preamp as well as the cd player to the Pagode. We still used the same Ceraballs as we used on the Spider. I had just done that and was on my way back to the listening seat and already heard the difference even before I sat down. My friend JW also heard it. We looked at each other and decided that it was indeed a good rack. Then the more focused listening began. After some time we noticed a certain darkness in the sound that we were unfamiliar with. Shortly thereafter we also noticed a nasality, a colouration to the sound that I hadn't heard in my system. Okay, now we I wanted to move the components right back to see if we were imagining things. Now, I don't want to insult the makers nor spoil it for everybody who likes the Pagode but for us it was very clear there and then that Spider was just so much better in all areas that it wasn't funny anymore.
Spider = better?
Right after we swapped the pre and cd back to the Spider we noticed a huge difference in air, openness and dynamics. The Spider was just so much more engaging that it wasn't funny. Now our feet started to tap again and back was the air in the highs that we love so much. Spider doesn't add any colouration of its own and does almost only good things for the sound. What counts against it is that it makes the bass slightly thin. Pagode has more body and more drive down low. But Pagode is not a better Spider. It sounds pretty different. My memory of how Spider sounded wasn't that good after all. It has the Spider traits such as minimal colouration and making the sound more defined, more open and more focused. But it adds a nasality, a chestiness to the sound that we didn't finf pleasant. It also sounds slower than Spider. The latter really makes your feet tap whereas Pagode speaks more to your brain, telling it that it is a very good rack. And it is. But for me, Spider is just better.
Now, I need to mention that JW's system is very critical. You hear everything on his Apogees. Even more so than in my system. Also he has very small woofers that have a tendency for boomyness which is compensated for in his system, but the Pagode seems to hit precisely the wrong notes here. This explains why I heard no such effects during the tests in my system. My speakers have full range bass panels and I also use subwoofers. I have nice bass. And the Pagode doesn't make my sound worse. Just different. But in JW's system it was simply the wrong choice.
I know that it becomes boring to hear my say it all the time but again here is proof that in matters audio, all is relative. A beautiful Pagode doesn't have to beat Spider even if it is twice as expensive. In the second system there was a perfect balance using Spider. And Pagode threw that balance off. This is profounded by listening to the rack in the owner's system. He has a much more coloured system and much larger speakers. In his system there's no evidence of the rhytmic witholding that we witnessed in JW's system. Also there's no nasality. Just a very open and clean sound. So, should I rate the Pagode? Give it a final score? I think I'll refrain for the moment. I need to hear it in more systems before I can make such a judgement. But I can say that although the same company made it and placed it above the Spider in status, it is in my opinion not better than Spider. Just different.