The New York Audio Show: Saturday Part Two

The day after I met manufacturer/industrial artist David Stanavich, it dawned on me why I was so taken with his Waxrax record racks: These sturdy, stylish, steel-and-aluminum structures resemble the shelving in my elementary school's library, ca 1960. If I could, I'd fill my home with multiples of the Waxrax LP-V3 tower seen here (LP capacity: 550). But at approximately $4000 per unit, depending on finish and options, this Brooklyn-built rack is too pricey. (To store 550 LPs for $4k works out to over $7 per record—which is more than many records themselves are worth.) Another item for my When-I-Win-The-Lottery list, next to the Porsche Maccan and the house on Martha's Vineyard.

Yet a metro-area factory address doesn't necessarily imply exorbitant pricing—as demonstrated by the Adagio phono preamp ($1490) from new company Tavish Design, based in the northern-Westchester County town of Amawalk. The all-tube Adagio has an external power supply, internal Jensen transformers for moving-coil gain, and adjustable loading for moving-coil and moving-magnet cartridges. A review loaner has been promised, and I'm already looking forward to giving it a try.

From Tavish Design's static display, I proceeded to an active dem by Brooklyn dealer Living Acoustics. This was my second chance to hear VPI's Avenger magnetic-drive turntable ($25,000 with two 12" JMW 3D-printed tonearms and outboard speed controller), and Living Acoustics put it to good use, spinning real (as opposed to audiophile) jazz LPs. Partnering equipment included the new VAS Audio moving-coil cartridge ($1500), the same company's Citation monoblock amps ($3500/pair), Merrill Audio's Jens phono preamp and Cara line preamp (($14,500 and $3500, respectively), and Acoustic Zen Crescendo II loudspeakers ($18,000/pair), with various Acoustic Zen cables and other accessories. The sound was solidly good, except for slight traces of mushy-harsh sound on loudly played cymbals and drums.

Habitual readers of audio-show reports, whether written by myself or by numerous others, can guess my reaction to the system demonstrated by Audio Note UK—yet it bears saying nonetheless: I heard few other systems at the New York show that played music with the same musical momentum, sonic tone, and all-around humanness as this one—which comprised Audio Note's TT Two Deluxe turntable with Arm Three ($5650), IQ3 moving-magnet cartridge ($1000), 20Wpc, 6L6-powered P2SE Signature amplifier ($6000, pictured above), and brand new AZ Two D floorstanding loudspeakers ($3250/pair estimated). As I've written in a soon-to-be-published review of Audio Note's CDT One/II transport and DAC 2.1x Signature D/A converter, this company's gear seems able to load a listening room in very much the same manner as real music—and that capability was in full flower here.

A real treat awaited me at the room sponsored by Edison, New Jersey-based Care Audio: a fully reconditioned Ampex ATR-102 studio reel-to-reel deck, fitted with Ampex MR-70 electronics (not for sale). Combined with the well-known KR Audio Kronzilla single-ended amplifier ($23,000) and a Canadian-built pair of Bastanis Audio Mandala Solo loudspeakers ($12,000/pair, including Crown amps for the system's specially treated 18" bass drivers), this provided the most timbrally natural and spatially present sound I heard at the show. (Perhaps understandably, the Care room was often crowded with listeners—and I noticed that the sound was notably better from a centrally positioned seat than when I stood off to one side.) Pure magic!

For a transformer lover such as myself, a visit to the room of Music First Audio was no less a treat. I was especially drawn to the company's latest phono transformer, the MC Step-Up 632 ($1000). According to company founder Jonathan G. Billington, the name is a tribute to the original Stevens & Billington No.632 transformer—the first of that company's products dissected by the young J.G. Billington when, in 1986, he took his own place in the venerable family-owned firm. (Music First Audio is an offshoot of Stevens & Billington, which endures.) A sample of the new MFA phono transformer has been promised for review.

My visit to the room sponsored by Wes Bender Studio marked a happy reunion—not only with Wes himself, who has visited me here in Cherry Valley, but also with the very sample of the Pear Audio Kid Howard turntable and Cornet 2 tonearm ($5000 for the combo) that I reviewed in Stereophile's June 2015 issue. At the New York show that analog source was used with a Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6000), Pear Audio's own Reference phono preamp ($4495), an EAR MC4 transformer ($2295), GamuT Audio Di150 Limited Edition integrated amp ($11,990), and GamuT RS3 loudspeakers ($19,900/pair including integral stands), the latter two products in their NYC debut. This system had especially fine stereo imaging, but with a good deal more substance than the high-end norm: There was timbral meat on these spatial bones.

Early in the show I ran into New Jersey retailer Koby Koranteng, who described in excited terms a line of horn-loaded loudspeakers made by Brian Charney of Charney Audio. It wasn't until late Saturday that I made it to the Charney room, but my efforts were rewarded with good music and a close-up look at lots of fine craftsmanship. Charney's flagship is the Concerto ($22,000/pair painted, $29,000/pair with wood veneer and clear finish). The Concerto, whose design is similar to that of the large Carfrae horn, uses a single Lowther DX4 driver—and, according to Brian Charney, the speaker is surprising lightweight, given its imposing size: only 45lbs per cabinet. A perpetually crowded room prevented me from gaining a detailed impression of the sound of the Concerto—which was driven by Charney's own stereo 300B amp ($6500). That said, the workmanship appeared flawless, and the prices seem quite reasonable for this sort of thing.

You know how it is: At every show there's at least one new company that seems a bit removed from the perfectionist-audio mainstream. At the New York show that role was assumed by Riva Audio, a southern Californian company who claims as their chairman one Rikki Farr, a music entrepreneur best known as the MC of the legendary Isle of Wight Festival of 1970. (Yes, that's the one where Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's set was augmented with cannon fire.) Riva's calling card is the Riva Turbo X ($349.99), a portable Bluetooth speaker with a playing time of up to 26 hours on a single charge. Also claimed for the Turbo X are a 33' range and use of ADX's Trillium "immersive sound" technology.

jimtavegia's picture

close tolerance aircraft and spacecraft parts to lowly electrical enclosures and $4,000 for that is a joke and why this industry is often made fun of. It is storage. We can argue the merits of $4,000 interconnects, but this....NO! $200 to $400 would make sense.

pwf2739's picture

I also have 30 years or so in fabricated sheet metal and this seems outlandish to me as well. Bend the shelves on a press brake, cut the sides and dividers with a laser jet, I can't really see the top very clearly but it's probably done on a brake as well. Add in some welding on the shelving if necessary, or add in some fasteners if mechanically assembled. Paint or anodize everything, I'd say Jim's estimate of $200 to $400 is very accurate. Either this manufacturing operation functions with the absolute worst cost base in the history of sheet metal fabrication or these guys are making one whale of an amount of money on their products.

DanGB's picture

What with the current hipsterism and marketability of vinyl records, there really ought to be some companies around making decent LP storage units at attractive prices.

Trace's picture

he invented the "Pet Rock" !!!

Joe Whip's picture

speaking with this gentleman at the show. Seems like a very nice guy. The stuff is a bit too Frank Lloyd Wright for my taste and I agree, way too expensive.

David Stanavich's picture

My name is David Stanavich and I am the designer and founder of Wax Rax. Art, thanks for the visit and for writing about my furniture. Pleased that my designer LP tower is on your wish list, right up there with ocean front real estate and high performance sports cars. To the $7 per album unit cost of purchase exceeding the albums value, I have to ask Art, who's albums? The retail price of a new or re-issue LPs is approximately $25.00 so to fill one three tier unit it would cost $13,750 or $9,750 more than my built to order LP shelving its self. Now if we are talking about rare and collectable vinyl a single Sonny Rollins LP might cost $5,000. While writing this I recalled a moment back in grade school myself. a lesson about quality and taste being subjective. To that point the claim by a couple of your readers that my price point would be accurate in the retail range of $200 my only response is that the comment is preposterous. Two sheets of finish plywood costs almost $200 and two sheets of plywood is not a piece of fine furniture.

DanGB's picture

I have a few thousand LPs, and the majority of them were bought for £3 to £5 - even the recently-bought ones. I love them dearly, despite them not being fashionable audiophile reissues, but several thousand quid is too much for too many people. It is also too much for the current vinyl-boom customer base.

You could spin off another company making basic, simple and cheap units for those who can't/won't shell out for Wax Rax prices. After the last couple of years, the market for that sort of thing must now be in place.

As Lynyrd Skynyrd once said, nuthin' fancy. Just a decent solid unit.

xyzip's picture

You're doing a true muddy-the-waters false equivalency thing there, Mr Foldedsteel. First, no, two sheets of plywood are not fine furniture, and neither are these racks.

To go into detail about the cost of things you could place on top of an overpriced rack really strains credulity. I would suggest to you that if you filled the same rack with original beatles test-pressings you would have a nearly *priceless* rack, using that system.

Further pursuing your argument, if you filled it with Mantovani, 1o1 Strings, and Liberace Christmas records, would you say that would make your rack less than worthless? I don't think you would.

Your price-point is clearly a calculated effort to target the same wallets and credit-cards that can buy $1ook speakers. By that measure, your racks comprise an unnoticeable expendable, an impulse check-out-line purchase. You're probably not mistaken that highend audio is one place to target affluent spenders. Good work there. The racks, meh. Very 'struggling fab-lab' circa 2oo2.

Wouldn't have been bothersome except for the ridiculous false-equivalency *racks are worth what you might put on them* effort.
Also, Art was an English teacher, and when you ask, "whose albums" I know you're being docked for spelling errors.

David Stanavich's picture

Dear Sir or Madam,
I am proud to have my true name associated with my work and to be a part of the tradition of American artisans and craftsperson's. Thank you XYZip for taking note of my LP-V3 anodized aluminum vinyl LP tower unit. Interior Design Magazine is also quite fond of it and I'm proud that its featured in their current issue

Enjoy the music!

xyzip's picture

thanks for your interest !
have a great day, and I hope any prospective buyers are checking out the informative & relevant way you've responded.

David Stanavich's picture

A picture speaks a 1000 words, as in the link that points to my vinyl LP shelving featured in Interior Design Magazine.
Content and Context.

xyzip's picture

A real piece of work, like the company's owner.
People do care who their purchase supports, I think we got the picture.

David Stanavich's picture

All over the world one will find a wide range of LP prices in both new and used copies. I myself flip through the dollar bins for hope of a find and look at the pricey titles high on the wall. To the point of storage, the market already contains a range of storage options of different levels of quality and craftsmanship. I'm proud of my designs and the high quality of the workmanship. Some may call it fancy and I'm quite fine with that. Not planning on starting a new company any time soon,the two I run take up a good potion of my time but your point is noted. Happy digging

cgh's picture

... conversation maybe a year ago on AP. That site isn't he right place for serious discussion, and neither is this. I think I instigated the discussion with sentiments similar to Art's comments above. Anyway, we got into some details about the process of producing these units, about the materials, and how expensive it is. It got heated. I had done some research into the people / person that started it and that is probably what had the thread removed / edited. Regardless, all data points to an expensive rack (made near chicken coops in B'lyn... :-)

Anyway, I think it comes down to scalability and logarithmic utility. There is a big market for quality racks that are offered at a price point that don't make people feel stupid. Conversely there is a limited number of quality manufacturers (i.e., a large bid/ask), it costs more than people think to make the rack, there is a considerable mark-up, and there's likely a limit to how many can be made. Also, there's no renewal business (one customer, one sale).

So basically the whole fcuking discussion is doomed people.

tonykaz's picture

Certainly a person needs a special rack for those priciest Vinyls,

Put your vast 12,000 unlistenable vinyls on 2x12 planks in another room, an Artsy Special Rack on display is a good thing.

Those folks with the $30,000 Clearaudio record players shouldn't have to use Ikea like the unwashed masses.

One on each side of the player would make sense.

Back in the 1980s we had a Cabinet Shop make stuff like this, any wood you can name, Rosewood and Ebony were popular.

Tony in Michigan

ps. of course, today, we store our music on our iMacs

dynacofury's picture

curious how this kind of post brings out the worst in the comments, as if the folks who drool over hundred grand speakers are personally insulted at the prospect of paying for something when they can simply fire-up grandpa's brake press and bang one out themselves. be my guest.

like many things at high end audio shows, waxrax products are out of my league. but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are overpriced, only that i can't afford them.

i have no doubt that if the same furniture (that's really what it is) was re-purposed and reviewed in dwell or architectural digest it would not raise a single eyebrow, even at substantially greater cost.

waxrax seems to appeal to those who value great design and superior construction, and are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. i wish him success.

David Stanavich's picture

Thank you for the kind words about my furniture. As I mentioned I am proud of my work and craftsmanship. I hold three US design patents with a forth pending for the Wax Rax brand. The LP-V3 vinyl LP tower that I am standing next to in the photograph above IS actually featured this month in Interior Design Magazine. Below is a link to view a clear image of my furniture and a scan of the Interior Design magazine article.

My premier vinyl LP storage units are built to order with pride in the heart of NYC.

jporter's picture

David Stanavich's picture

Hi jporter,
Previous price $96.00 a sheet? Now two sheets $108 + shipping and tax. Did you calculate the shipping costs to NYC? Will the shipping be less than $100? So what's your point? And if I drove my pickup truck with an employee to Greenpoint or the Bronx to pick up some nice lumber would the price go down? Fact of the matter I could use a brick oven pizza, two garden salads and a couple of glasses of wine with the same cost analogy.

jporter's picture

David I think you need it.

David Stanavich's picture

JPorter, I'll stick with the pizza.

beauranheim's picture

David's furniture is definitely first rate and well designed. His costs are high as his volume is small, would be my guess. The issue for me is in that price bracket you can get furniture from a place like USM, that is well made and will cut the cost/LP ratio way down; . It can also be used to store other items so it integrates better into your living space. Just like anything else in this hobby some will find it worth the price others will claim it's a rip-off. That being said David's little RC-2 record cart would fit in nicely and allow me/someone to access oft played LP more easily and also have a place to store records not yet cleaned, as by buy rate tends to outpace my clean rate.

David Stanavich's picture

Beauranheim, Thanks for the kind words about the craft and quality of my vinyl LP storage units and for pointing out an attribute of the RC-2 cart. The intent of my cart design is exactly for the purpose of rotation of the record collection. While the modular furniture you reference is a very high quality product, its is not designed and optimized for the LP format like Wax Rax. The absence of dividers along 60 inch spans is less than ideal for browsing one's record collection. The weight of hundreds of records pressing against each other is detrimental and could cause warping or album cover wear. An open back could contribute to dust entering the album jacket and sleeve. the more parts in the design the higher the cost and I have built these added features (dividers, additional bracing to handle the extreme weight of the LPs over time, integral back panels, etc) Each piece of my premier vinyl LP storage is built to order. So yes the volume is small, quantities built are matched to each order. Basically its one step removed from custom. For the collector whom appreciates the thin contemporary lines of my unique designs and has the ability to purchase boutique manufactured furniture by American artisans than Wax Rax represents added value.