DIY System Support…

Is it time to revisit the audiophile sand-box?

By Roy Gregory

Since I mentioned using a ‘custom sand-box’ to support the Chord PowerHAUS AC distribution block in my system re-set article <> several readers have contacted me asking for explanations or more information. Well, here goes…

In this case, ‘custom’ means built for purpose and, in this instance that means built by me. DIY audio has largely dropped out of the high-end scene, partly due to the materials, cost and complexity of modern products. But there’s no denying the satisfaction to be had from constructing your own components and, if high-end electronics are beyond your skills (they’re certainly beyond mine) system infrastructure, supports and the domestic arrangements with which your system necessarily interfaces offer more fertile ground. ‘Sand-box’ supports are just such an opportunity, delivering real musical benefits in situations that are all too often poorly served by the practicalities (and cost) of mainstream products.

The basic idea behind the ‘sand-box’ has been around for years, perhaps most visibly in the form of the various Bright Star equipment platforms. The theory is simple: sit a supporting surface on top of a box of sand, so that the ‘platform’ contacts the sand and nothing else and you have the perfect lossy interface between an audio component and the outside world, an interface that can absorb both incoming and self generated energy. Having trouble picturing the beast? Just think of a deep tray, full of sand. Now take a flat platform, slightly smaller than the internal dimensions of the tray and sit it on the sand, inside the tray, so that it doesn’t touch the edges. It really is as simple as that.

Simple and extremely cost effective in theory, in practice it’s not without its practical and aesthetic challenges. In order to work well, you need quite a lot of sand – sand that has a seemingly intrinsic ability to migrate and infest every available nook and cranny. That also makes the box bulky and, if it employs a simple, generic finish, potentially brutal to look at. But there’s no arguing with the results and the Bright Star products were highly regarded back in the day. Since then, more sophisticated composite and sandwich structures have taken their place, offering more compact, more attractive, arguably more effective but definitely more expensive solutions.

However, the ‘sand-box’ still works and, when it comes to cost-effective custom support solutions, it has a lot going for it. It may have slipped out of mainstream usage, but if you have hidden components or equipment that’s an unusual shape, constructing a ‘sand-box’ might just be the most sensible and definitely the most cost effective approach to delivering a superior support. Over the years I’ve constructed dedicated ‘sand-box’ supports for a host of different products, from the early, compact Micromega and Meridian CD players to my Jadis JA30 amplifiers. It’s a solution that I return to on a regular basis and the Chord PowerHAUS M6 that featured in that system re-set article is a perfect case in point. At around two foot long but less than five inches wide, it definitely qualifies for the ‘unusual footprint’ category. Being connected directly to the AC supply as well as every component in the system, it is going to be a nexus for mechanical energy. Best of all, as it generally lives behind the rack, it’s tucked out of sight, so the four-square box on which you are going to sit it is also hidden from view. As an added benefit, in this particular scenario, the separate isolation level that sits under the main racks lifts the equipment higher off the floor than normal. Building a ‘sand-box’ to sit the PowerHAUS on restores the vertical equilibrium between the distribution block and the equipment, keeping the power cables shorter and making them more manageable as a result. For that reason, I chose to build a taller box than normal. But then that’s the beauty of doing it yourself: you can build exactly what you want.