The 19″ rack

September 3, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

As long as I am getting nostalgic I might as well ruminate about the 19″ rack.

When we first started PS Audio in the mid-1970s and well into the late 80s, all separates had 19″ face plates with rack mount holes. Today, none of them do.

The standard back then was derived from the pro-market where everything had to fit into a rack. Chassis were 17″ wide, and faceplates were 19″ wide. The unit’s height was determined by units called 1U, 2U, etc. The Us were shorthand for Rack Unit and each rack unit was 1.75″ high (44.45 mm). So, a 2U high unit was 3.5″ tall, and so forth.

Almost no one I knew ever had an actual rack to put their equipment in. The rack mount era was just the way it was and few of us questioned it.

Slowly but surely, a few brave companies started inching out of the trend producing 17″ wide equipment without the extra 1″ ears and holes mandated by the convention we started with. They were the “odd man out”.

Before you knew it everyone lost the rack ears and today I’ll bet you’d be hard pressed to find any company not in the pro field selling equipment with those old rack ears.

Things change over time and in this case I must say for the better.

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41 comments on “The 19″ rack”

  1. Aah, the seventies 😀
    It makes sense that the extra 1″ ears & holes disappeared because as you say Paul,
    “Almost no one I knew ever had an actual rack to put their equipment in”…& neither did I.
    And so it goes…

    The new spellcheck is great, but this new grammar correction check malarkey
    (underlined in blue) is a bit off-putting…am I back in school???

    1. The seventies. If not already there many of us are fast approaching our seventies. 🙂

      Grammar correction? I’ve not seen that yet but can imagine the concept developing. With the growth of AI next it will be ‘are you sure you meant to say that’ underlined in yellow. Further enhancements could involve politically incorrect, overly woke or non woke statements possibly underlined with the colours of the rainbow. 😉

      1. Maybe it’s a glitch Paul because I haven’t smoked any wacky tobaccy….ok so even as I type this post I’m getting shades of red for possibly misspelt words & shades of blue when my grammar is not spot on.
        This must be a new feature because I ain’t ever seen it before.
        If I knew how to take a screen shot I’d send it to you.

  2. I’ve got a wonderful mental image of an industrial looking, grey, six foot tall, 19” equipment rack sat in the middle of someone’s lounge. I think that would be pushing the WAF.

    By moving away from 17” equipment with 1” ears it meant that it was no longer an option for professional users, the loss of a possible market, but in reality one that didn’t exist. Which made me wonder. We’ve talked here before about the benefits or otherwise of using professional equipment in our systems. Why do the professionals not want to use ‘our’ equipment?

  3. Hello RichTea,

    Is this the reason for “industrial sheik” not catching on in most residences?…

    Best friend George walks into his newly married audio buddies house and loudly exclaims “WOW what a great rack you have there!” There’s a loud scream of indignation and a slap in the face, followed by a hard thunk upon the side of the head.

    When George awakens, apologies abound, and to save their friendship showing off or discussing racks is no longer allowed. As you say mostly due to the WAF, and partly due to other reasons. 😀

    Besides 1U 2U 3U 4 5U 6U 7U more – sounds like a corny cheer….

      1. I remember when that came out. I did give it some consideration, well, I like to think I’m open minded. For about £2 you could send off a CD for treatment to see how it sounded. I did this with a couple of CD’s I had two copies of. The difference? I can’t remember if it was real or imagined. I’ve not watched the video so don’t know how much was mentioned but as well as the chamfer the outer edge was treated with a black pen. The thing about the chamfer, it was angled from the playing side to the label side so if your CD contained lots of music, say over 70 minutes there was a possibility you could lose the end of the track, not cool. With a large collection I decided that life really was too short to spend long evenings chamfering CD’s. Strangely enough one of these machines cropped up recently and local for about half price. I gave it a miss but it sold fairly quickly.

  4. My B&K ST140 amplifier which I’m proud to say is a local manufacturer that I have visited only a few miles away has the gold handles on the faceplate with the slotted holes for rack mounting. Never used the rack mounting. My unit has never been used except for powering up occasionally and its new in the box with paperwork. Yes the caps are fine. They are no longer at the same location. Not sure where they are now. Some manufacturers provided the optional rack mount hardware that screws into the sides so unless you install those it looks like a regular non rack mounted front.

  5. Actually quite a lot of my (admittedly vintage) audio gear fits perfectly into an 18” rack.
    What rack?

    An IKEA Lack Rack. Their side table has the 55cm (18”) between the legs.
    Buy several with petty cash, trim their legs and Voila! Light rigid attractive audio tower.

  6. I wish I knew had to share my photos here lol. I still have a 6 foot tall computer server cabinet on wheels – all 19″ rack rails top to bottom. Its in perfect condition, steel grey, hinged door on front. I removed the smoked plexiglaas and installed clear glass. Since I’m a DJ, most of my gear is rack mount. And for components without ears, I have rack mount shelves. Looks great in my bachelor pad. But for sure the ex-wife hates it!

  7. This rack thing never happened in the UK. Think Quad 33/303 and Naim Chrome Bumper. Also had lots of Japanese stuff that was a standard width for stacking.

    The only things I’ve seen with handles are Bryston and PS Audio. Bryston handles and mounting plates are included on pro versions designated “pro”, which are the same electronically as non-pro versions, having a different faceplate. Never understood it for PS Audio amps.

  8. I’m in the integration world (AV, Home Theater, Automation, etc.) and we use racks everyday- there are literally hundreds of products made with rack handles, or make rack-handle bolt-ons. Here are some current “high-end” examples: Bryston, Anthem, Wisdom, Kaleidescape, AudioQuest, Hegel, KEF, Parasound, Audio Control, Sony (I know, not high-end, but example of huge company that still does this for consumer gear) and many more. Whenever we did a PSAudio unit in a rack we got a custom rackface made so it mounts and looks good in the rack (example): https://www.customavrack.com/products/1198-middle-atlantic-custom-faceplates.aspx

  9. 19″ racks are not just used in pro-audio, but they are also used in many laboratories where the electronics used in the ab is rack mounted. In the computer industry many blade server computers are rack mounted. I magazines I have seen some home theater installations use rack mounted gear.

  10. As a pro-keyboardist AND amateur radio license holder, racks are VERY much a part of my instruments and radio station.

    The keyboard rack is a 16 space (as we call them) premium ‘shock mount’ (case within a case), with locking hasps front and rear, and locking wheels front and rear.

    There is a 12 space rack for misc. equipment. The AM radio station uses a 4 space rack which holds the transmitter, audio processing gear and Furman power distro.

    These racks keep the gear organized, neat and ROAD worthy too!

  11. Those industrial racks are an excellent solution for professional audio and telecommunications, but they are totally unsightly in a home audio environment.

    Regards, Fernando from Montevideo, Uruguay.

  12. From Wikipedia:
    The 19-inch rack format with rack-units of 1.75 inches (44.45 mm) was established as a standard by AT&T around 1922 in order to reduce the space required for repeater and termination equipment in a telephone company central office. The earliest repeaters from 1914 were installed in ad hoc fashion on shelves, in wooden boxes and cabinets. Once serial production started, they were built into custom-made racks, one per repeater. But in light of the rapid growth of the toll network, the engineering department of AT&T undertook a systematic redesign, resulting in a family of modular factory-assembled panels all “designed to mount on vertical supports spaced 191⁄2 inches between centers. The height of the different panels will vary, … but … in all cases to be a whole multiple of 13⁄4 inches”.

  13. You still have totally useless rack mount front handles fitted on some of your products though, top mount handles would at least be useable and not just ornaments.

    1. Well, that would NOT work. First thing to go on modular rack mount gear are the FEET! There is no room for sliding them in, as the front bezel is taller in dimensions then the body of the module itself.

      So, anything that would impede the easy, close tolerance between the top and bottom of each mounted module is pretty much impossible.

      Means NO room for top mounted handles what so ever.

      1. No one uses these amps in racks so why not fit some proper useable handles on the top with treaded inserts on the front for the very rare rack mount use, picking up and installing a heavy amp into a rack using front handles is just about impossible anyway.

  14. Ah rack mounts and handles… the audio sales ploy version of Ricardo Montalban’s real Corinthian leather… 😉
    I can just hear his Mexican accent “Just feast your eyes on the fine edges of the industrial rack mounts – with optional powder coated Parisienne Aluminum handles..”

  15. Back when I sold home audio, Sunrise made nice oak furniture… they offered a kit which was two rails that fastened to the vertical sides to adapt to “19” rack-mountable gear.

    I had anSAE preamp that was rackable – I made a wood box for it. For the longest time I had only a TT, and later an upper-end Nakamichi deck. Never really needed a rack.

    Mr. Rat, I remember something about the “disk-shaver”, but luckily left audio sales by then 😉

  16. In the 1990s I had a floor-to-ceiling rack in a tiny bedroom with all kinds of gear mounted to it, including digital samplers, various sound modules, yamaha stereo amplifier, reverb unit, equalizer and power distributor. It was quite impressive with all the knobs, lights and displays. With an organ console and speakers, there was hardly any room left for a twin bed. That little room was my music studio, and with the lights off, it was dimensionless.

    1. At the same time and before you could also find such racks/towers in well organized operation theaters in hospitals. But the technology has shifted the design of those assemblies of most different medical devices into integrated solutions with touchscreens minimizing the spaghetti syndrome and human errors causing more or less severe incidents and mishaps. Today only hard core audiophiles love the spaghetti syndrome and bulky towers of separates, the latter audio components whose cabinets more often are filled to 95% with air!

      1. In my case the 19″ rack was a very space efficient and well-organized solution for the multitude of devices I had which typically came with ears. In fact, it was the only solution,due to the small size of my room. The cabling was not spaghetti in that the cabling neatly ran vertically, not as messy as cabling would have been if the components were spread out horizontally. With the particular components I had, the 19″ rack was the perfect solution. I still employ racks for the various gear I have, but the racks are now called “stands” and have shelves rather than requiring equipment to have ears with screws. It would be difficult to hang my current 87 pound amps with ears. LOL

        1. I always wondered if these 19” components being mounted that close together had cabinets build as Faraday cages for shielding against the inherent RFI. I had terrible RFI emitted from my old Meitner DAC BiDAT and had to remove the internal transformer into a remote external cabinet in order to prevent my Burmeister 808 preamp from catching the Meitner’s RFI. Thus today a rack’s shelves allow to position the components not only further apart but also add anti-vibration devices.

      1. Wow, a Leslie in a small room? Was its motor quiet? LOL

        My room was only 8 feet x 11 feet! Fortunately, the a/c return grille for the apartment sucked all the hot air out of the room, so heat was never a problem. I built an L-shaped acoustically lined return duct so noise from the a/c blower could barely be heard, and only when I wasn’t playing music.

  17. Hey there Joseph. Yes, it was quiet, a little AC hum from the amp, but the wurrrr of the generator in the Hammond was more noticeable. We had 100% wood heat, my room was very much the same dimensions as yours, and it was always a bit cooler then the rest of the home.

    I remember well on cold winter nights getting up and hitting the switch in the middle of the night on the Hammond and going back to bed !! (still be running in the morning!) (O:

  18. Ah, I remember my McIntosh MC7300, all 80 pounds of it. I never trusted those vestigial aluminum ears to hold it. However, Mac was ahead of us and also included a steel shelf for the relay rack so the amp had a secure perch. If you didn’t like the industrial disease concept (see Knopfler), it also came with the standard PanLoc method of locking it into an accessory walnut cabinet.

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