Artesania Carbon Fiber Linear Arm upgrade for Exoteryc Racks
Review samples provided by Artesania Audio
Retail price in the Netherlands per set of two arms: 1.384 euro
All audio racks have, to some extent, an impact on the sound. Sometimes the effect is small, sometimes large, but it rarely happens that there is zero influence on the sound of components placed on them. The Artesania Exoteryc Racks with their special rack-within-a-rack construction and intricate coupling/decoupling mechanisms, however, have no sins of commission. They really just do not add any discernable character of their own. Further, the Exoteryc racks are unique for providing a superbly free-flowing and highly refined sound that has absolutely no edge or hardness. But in matters audio, as in real life, there is no such thing as perfection. One can, however, approach it and potentially get ever closer and that’s why upgrades are so very interesting.
Beautiful and very sturdy packaging for the Carbon Fiber Linear Arms
As standard, the Exoteryc rack comes with several options such as two different component feet, two different inlay materials for the rack’s main floor bases, and a heavy damper to put on top of resonant component enclosures. Along with an adjustable amount of swing for the internal rack, these combined options make it possible to tune the rack precisely according to personal taste or as is ideal for a given component or room situation. Needless to say, my respect for these racks has not wavered one bit since I bought them in 2014.
A little over a year ago, Artesania introduced the Beech Wood Component Isolation Discs for use with the existing Exoteryc racks. These Beech Wood discs go in modified Nylon component feet and attach the same way to the Linear Arms as the regular Neoprene or Felt feet. At the same time, they also introduced the Beechwood Isolation Bases that go under the rack’s main bases, in place of the Neoprene or Nylon discs. These tweaks may appear subtle but they have a profound effect on the sound.
Now, as a result of valuable input from a circle of audiophile friends and on-going efforts to further improve Jose Luis Lafarga’s designs, Cayetano and his team have introduced the majorly impressive Master Kyo rack (a super version of the Exoteryc rack) and as a spin-off of this, that rack’s Carbon Fiber Linear arms are now also available as an upgrade for the Exoteryc racks.
This Carbon Fiber Linear Arm upgrade entails a replacement of the polished metal arms into which the component feet are attached as well as the component feet themselves. Made of 100% Carbon Fiber they are similar in size, thickness, and shape to the steel arms but instead of individual threaded holes, they have long slits that allow infinitely variable adjustments of the component feet. The fixing mechanism for the component feet has also been improved with a much thicker steel nut on top and a deliberately chosen special POM (Delrin) bottom nut in place of the threaded holes in the original steel arms. POM is a wear-resistant and dimensionally very stable thermoplastic.
On the left, the original polished steel linear arm, on the right, the new Carbon Fiber linear arm. Obvious from this picture is how the fixings for the component feet have also changed significantly.
In spite of my many ultra-positive experiences with Artesania products, I must admit to having underestimated the effect of these linear arms beforehand. It’s not that I thought the change would not be audible as I know that nearly everything has an influence on the sound. Rather, I feared that it would be a matter of Win Some Lose Some, as tweaks are so often, providing certain advantages at the expense of certain disadvantages. Oh, how I love to be wrong!
Review setup with Kroma Audio Carmen loudspeakers. The Zesto tube amps are simultaneously over for review.
Below, I will briefly revisit the effect of the Beech Wood Component Isolation Discs relative to the new Carbon Fiber Linear Arm upgrade using the Aire floor platforms and the CH Precision A1.5 transistor amplifier and Ayon Spirit III tube amplifier. For an in-depth analysis of the precise effects, please also read the earlier Beechwood Isolation Discs review.
Original Metal Linear Arms + Neoprene discs
This is the rack’s standard configuration. For me, the Neoprene-covered component feet combined with the Nylon inserts for the rack’s bases provides the best balance between dynamics and speed on the one hand and fluidity and spacious airiness on the other. The single area in which these racks could be improved is the bass tightness and feeling of propulsion and solidity. There are other racks that provide tighter and more visceral bass or a more solid overall sound. That’s actually not very hard to achieve. What is extremely hard, however, is to do this without severely diminishing the rack’s beneficial other aspects. With the exception of the Organic Line Modular Rack, I have not heard a single other rack with tight and articulate bass that does not add hardness or even a metallic edge to the midrange and treble. This effect is exacerbated by the tendency of a change in material or construction having an effect on the entire frequency range. For example, while a very rigidly coupled rack may be highly beneficial for the bass it may be detrimental for the treble performance. It sometimes seems like the bass ideally requires a different treatment than the treble but, of course, that is not really possible to achieve and so it comes down to finding the precise balance.
Original Metal Linear Arms + Beechwood discs
The Beechwood Component Isolation Discs have a profound effect on the sound, solidifying the bass and lending a fuller timbre to the upper bass and lower midrange. With these feet in place of the Neoprene ones, the sound becomes much more solid and sonorous than with the Neoprene discs or the felt ones, for that matter. They also instill a much fuller wood-like timbre to the upper bass and lower midrange and make for an overall beefier sound. As a tradeoff (there’s always one, or is there?), they also diminish some of the rack’s virtues such as its treble air, spaciousness, and free-flowing delivery. Although I find that they can be extremely beneficial in the case when a certain component’s character (or lack thereof) needs to be compensated for (as was the case with my Apogee Divas), in general, I think the rack’s standard feet provide a more even-handed balance of virtues.
Carbon Fiber Linear Arms + Beechwood discs
Because the Carbon Fiber material is so lightweight and seems to be slightly more flexible than the steel arms, my hunch was that they would perhaps lead to a reduction of punch but I could not have been more wrong! Rather, the opposite turned out to be true. The Carbon Fiber arms with their Beechwood discs clearly have some sort of super-synergy to combine into a sound that is very nimble and immediately involving. With these new arms, the rack’s bass is considerably tighter, more agile, and a lot more articulate than with the Steel arms and Neoprene pads. What’s more, the sound is now also faster and more tangible than with the Steel arms and Beechwood discs. Importantly, retained is all of the treble air and fluidity and free-flowing super-lyrical qualities for which I like the rack so much and, in spite of applying Beechwood, the sound of this combination is absolutely not “wooden” in nature.
Rather, everything is extremely well-proportioned and the sound has become more detailed but without adding even a hint of a more technical approach. The rack’s super-neutral timbre remains as uncolored as it is with the Neoprene pads while the rack’s overall transparency is increased even further. Go figure. The Carbon Fiber arms with Beechwood discs effortlessly improve on any of the other solutions while further adding to the rack’s overall performance!
The CH Precision A1.5 is an extremely fast sounding amplifier and with a weight of over 40 kilograms, you might not think that it would be influenced much by the underlayment material or -principle but think again! The amp’s performance was so majorly improved that after fitting the Carbon Fiber arms, I absolutely did not want to remove them again. Likewise for the Ayon Spirit III tube amp. This, too, is a fast and lively sounding amp but still, the Carbon Fiber arms very clearly further raised its performance, particularly aiding the transparency, linearity, and low-level resolution, and bringing it closer to the performance of the CH 1.5.
In hindsight, the Exoteryc’s original Neoprene pads provide a very neutral sound without adding any character but, just like any other soft coupler, they take away a little bit of punch and energy in the bass and lower midrange, compared to hard couplers such as spikes. However, such hard couplers introduce other issues and are not an ideal solution. Moderately hard materials such as wood can indeed work well but do not achieve the same level of transparency as the Neoprene feet and introduce some character of their own. The Beechwood discs when combined with the Steel arms indeed provide a faster and more energetic sound than the Neoprene pads but they also add a certain thickness centered in the upper bass region and reduce the positive effects of the Neoprene pads. As the Rack itself already showed, the answer lies in the meticulous combining of different materials and techniques to achieve the best balance of virtues.
With the new Carbon Fiber arms under the CH Precision A1.5 and the Ayon Spirit III, I was already hugely impressed and satisfied. But, of course, I could not resist trying the new arms also under the C1 DAC which is, after all, the heart of my digital system. I already had a hunch but this last addition indeed confirmed that the Carbon Arms behave consistently and work their magic apparently under any component.
The gains were exactly the same as with the amplifiers: tighter and nimbler bass with bass lines that are even easier to follow, an even clearer midrange, and I would not think it possible but, yes, a further increase in transparency. Will a certain amount of the Carbon arms prove too much? Well, no. Not if your goal is to hear as little smear as possible and to hear what is precisely in the recording. Don’t worry, the Carbon arms add absolutely no hardness and they certainly don’t make the music sound sterile. What remains is music, pure and simple. What the Carbon Arms appear to do above all, and cumulatively, is to remove excess thickness, blur, and smoothness in the bass that was previously induced by the Neoprene feet and, apparently, the steel arms as well. In the process, the rack’s perceived warmth is reduced which can arguably make for a less romantic delivery. So, depending on your point of view and the desired result, there could be an optimum balance between Carbon and Steel arms. If you’re looking for the utmost precision and tightness, however, then the more Carbon Arms, the merrier. For me, in my current quest for the utmost neutrality, the effect of the Carbon Fiber Arms is absolutely a blessing.
The upgrade process
Now, at 1384 euro per level this upgrade does not come cheap. But if you have an Exoteryc rack, this is pretty much an obligatory step and absolutely worth it. If you have the required funds then just replace all the steel levels with the new Carbon Fiber versions and that will maximize the rack’s performance by raising the transparency all the way to the maximum. If the thought of spending multiples of this amount is too much to entertain then consider the following. Depending on the individual components’ inherent sound balance, it may not be necessary to replace all the levels of the rack, or not all at once. There is a good chance that some components benefit more than others and so it will be most economical to start with the ones that need it most. My advice is to start with one or two sets and apply these to the most important one or two components, perhaps the CD Player or DAC and the pre-amp, and assess the changes. Then, once you have heard the benefits with those components for yourself (and I know you will), revert to the regular arms and use the Carbon set on the remaining components one by one to find those that benefit most. That way, you can maximize the return on investment. And when the upgrade bug bites again at a later time, and funds allow, you can always add more Carbon Arms for the remaining components.
Much like the Exoteryc rack itself, the new Carbon Fiber Linear Arms and Beechwood Discs cleverly combine different materials and techniques to achieve a superb balance of virtues that is just impossible to achieve with simpler measures. The Exoteryc racks already carry HFA Reference status since 2014 but with the addition of the Carbon Fiber Arms, they now rank even higher on my list. Due to the Carbon material’s inherent cost, these new arms are not exactly cheap but trust me, they are absolutely worth it!