Codia Acoustic Design Stage 3000 Diagon Equipment Rack
Before the emergence of minimalism as a lifestyle and de-cluttering as an admirable hobby, there were audio equipment racks. In fact, there was an entire genre of mid-fi and low-fi audio systems neatly packaged in vinyl clad chipboard. Organization was essential to keep the dreaded wires (they were "wires" back then) out of sight lest Perseus should glimpse Medusa's head and be forever turned to stone. For an audiophile this is a decidedly unwelcomed outcome.
As the audio hobby matured and people became aware of heat build-up as an unwelcomed event detrimental to electronic components, tiered open shelving units emerged to solve the problem. As the High End scene gained traction cables evolved into a significant component category and became something of a status symbol for audiophiles, so their visibility became important. Eventually people began to discover that almost everything mattered when it comes to improving the resolution and quality of the music. To paint a broad brush stroke, the evolution of spikes and more technical component footers paralleled and became entwined with the development of more sophisticated equipment racks. Today, racks for serious audio enthusiasts range from basic $99 versions to seriously engineered units that break a five-figure price tag. They have become a legitimate component category on their own, recognized by professionals throughout the industry.
Codia Acoustic Design makes several levels of equipment racks that include multi-shelf units and low profile amplifier stands for those who wish to give their power amps a place of prominence close to their speakers. (Long interconnect cables to the amps combined with short speaker cables is preferred for optimal sound quality, if not the most convenient configuration from a lifestyle perspective.) I have long admired Codia's casual elegance at the Canadian shows where they were displayed by Charisma Audio, who are a dealer for North America. For myself, as a reviewer who is frequently changing equipment configurations, I preferred a long table to minimize lifting and bending. I also have championed numerous brands of footers that I have faithfully used under virtually every component and power supply. How could a rack be much better than all those wonderful footers?
It took Bernard Li of Charisma Audio a lot of arm twisting and a promise to allow me to return the rack if it didn't earn my approval and convince me of its value. I wasn't eager to make a sideways move in audio quality if it meant a loss in ergonomic flexibility. Well, the Stage 3000 BAB rack not only won me over on audible excellence, I was able to re-configure my layout to improve the ergonomics of daily operation at a slight cost in the convenience of swapping cables. And if truth be told, it looked a whole lot better, too. Now granted, the BAB was their top-of-the-line model and you shouldn't expect the same results from their more affordable line. You can read my review of the Codia Acoustic Design Stage 3000 BAB Audio Rack and AmCan Audio Isolator Footers here. You will see that I went through a lot of permutations of components and footers that I felt were unnecessary to repeat in this review. That rack also earned a Blue Note Award in 2017.
When Bernard informed me of the new Stage 3000 Diagon flagship model I was in the throes of closing down my retail furniture business with not a lot of light at the end of that tunnel. As much as I wanted to review it, I was just overwhelmed with work. But as the short days of winter began to lengthen and life was becoming a bit sunnier, I gave him a shout. I was a bit skeptical of the change to the deeper footprint of the Diagon, but I ordered up the same four-shelf configuration in the light wood with chrome plated solid aluminum pillars. Within a few weeks it arrived from South Korea in perfect condition in spite of an ominous hole punched in one of the three boxes. The thick cardboard box and internal Styrofoam fillers were very well designed and served their purpose well. The packaging could easily be used to re-send the rack several more times if handled with care during shipping.
The rack was easily and methodically removed from the packaging with little mess. It seemed like it went together in about a third the time it took me to assemble the 3000 BAB, but Bernard assured me that the parts were essentially the same and that it was probably just the old med-school mantra for surgery taking effect: See one, do one, teach one. I've also had two and a half years of living with the BAB to know that the materials and finish are durable so I need not fear scratching or denting something from minor carelessness. One still needs to pay attention, as I learned when I discovered I had reversed the rubber and carbon graphite washers on one of the posts and mounted the top shelf upside down as seen in the above photo. I should also mention that tools are supplied for the fine adjustment of the spikes that contact your floor as well as finely machined protective footers for those with exposed hardwood floors. This adjustability is probably more important for those with hard surface or uneven floors. Just screwing the posts together wearing my leather palmed bicycle gloves provided enough grip and torque to easily make it rock steady on my carpet-over-flake-board flooring. If you're obsessive about having the shelves perfectly level, the Codia is designed to accomplish that feat. What actually happened was, having written the prior sentence I went out and checked the level on the shelves and found them to be slightly low on the back edge. After the rack settles for a while with equipment loaded on it, I may level it off, though the tilt is very slight.
Design And Accommodation
Aesthetically, you also have choices to make. The 20-ply Baltic birch wood shelves come in Birch (light) and Wenge (dark) veneers. I chose the light Birch finish as it shows the build-up of dust the least and the little black metric Allen wrenches and remote controls I always seem to need are easy to spot. The light finish also matches the wood sides of Eddie Wong's TubeMagic Research monoblocks that have been my reference for close to a decade. More likely, you're a set-it-and-forget-it kind of listener so choose what matches or complements your equipment and décor. The solid aluminum posts and the metal caps on the front edge of the shelves are also available in four finishes: Black, Chrome, Chrome & Titanium Gold and all Titanium Gold so between the metal and the wood finishes you have eight possible combinations. You might want to get an additional opinion from any significant others who spend considerable time in your listening room. Your cat is probably too indifferent to bother, but girlfriends and wives will likely be flattered that you asked. If you're considering a rack in this price range, you probably have a dedicated listening room so the choice may ultimately be exclusively yours. Choose wisely.
Another two dollar observation I'll throw out is that with the Chrome and Birch combination, it made little difference to me whether the components were silver or black. More significant was the difference between the BAB and the Diagon. With the BAB and its black metal caps on the wood shelves, my components always seemed to look a little more expensive that the rack itself. Those same components on the Diagon always seemed to look more expensive than they actually were. The Diagon flat out is a much classier look than the 3000 BAB. And having seen the Diagon now, I would certainly investigate the possibility of having the black anodized bars of the 3000 BAB chrome plated at a local plating shop.
Of course you can always rotate the shelves 180 degrees if you wish to see the exposed wood edges at the front of the rack. This rotation will also eliminate the redundant chrome plates on each shelf with the Codia logo. Also — and this may be important to you — the light finish on the Diagon is more like clear maple. The light finish on the BAB has a pronounced yellow hue as you can see in the photo. It's not that one is right and one is wrong — it's just that they are different. In both cases the use of solid metal posts give these racks a light, open, airy look that makes for a great display of your components — more so with the chrome finish on the pillars than the black. The Chrome & Titanium Gold two-tone finish is too formal and elegant for my personal style, but I look forward to seeing it in person at the upcoming Axpona show in Chicago.
You may want to consider the possibility of ordering different height shelves for different components but consider that your components may change over the years while the need for a new rack will likely diminish over time. The Diagon is that good! Once you have this rack, you won't be letting it go anytime soon. Another key consideration is the number of shelves you decide to order, though you can have up to four according to Codia. They aren't inexpensive so think this through. Stability-wise, I never had a problem or even a minor scare with bumping into the rack and possibly dis-lodging a shelf. The shelves are heavy by themselves and even more so with components on them. (Safe loading weight is 220 pounds per each shelf.)
Spikes on the legs of the shelf fit easily and securely into the deep receptacles on the shelf below it. Since the design is modular, you have the option of ordering another shelf down the road or even ordering just new posts if you need to change the height of a shelf. Consider too that the overall height of the top shelf may be important since that will likely be the shelf that supports a CD transport, laptop or turntable that will get a lot of hands on use. The height of the top shelf of the four shelf rack with 180mm posts is 36". Again, think it through. Measure twice and order once.
New And Good
Different materials will have different filtering effects in such a constrained layer damping arrangement. The shelves on both models are the same 30mm (1.187") thick and use the same shelf grips that conceal additional rubber isolation rings in an oval race track shape. The pillars and their caps are fastened together through a hole in the shelf clamps as in the earlier model. The resonator on each shelf has been a key differentiator between these Codia shelves and their competition in this price league and above. Since the resonator on the Diagon and current production of the BAB has been significantly redesigned, I was prepared for an audible improvement ranging from modest to significant.
So all totaled, it took the better part of an hour to swap racks in my system. This is a significant amount of time working against a critical A/B comparison. And then there is the factor of the equipment warming up once again. But by the time I had returned to my listening chair after restarting my compilation CD, say five seconds or so, it was evident that something good was happening here. A minute into the CD and it was readily apparent that the resolution of the music was significantly improved. And as the tubes warmed up again, the music got only better. To my experienced ear I'd call it dramatically better, particularly because the starting point was so high with the older BAB rack. The better your rig gets, the more difficult it becomes to make incremental improvements and often at a very large price.
So What Was The Gut Reaction?
Adding my Synergistic Research MiG 2.0 footers under the DAC took it up another notch giving me goosebumps on virtually every cut while listening to my ultra-familiar compilation CD that I've heard hundreds, if not over a thousand times. The music had serious emotional grip on me and my toe bounced throughout the CD with pop music. Another true test for me is the American Folk Blues Festival '70 CD. The opening round of introductions is a good test of a system as the musicians take turns with a solo, but on the first song when Shakey Horton opens with a solo and honks his harmonica right into the mic with a sustained high note — on lesser rigs I'd be diving for the volume control for fear of destroying the speakers. With the Codia Diagon…man, I get goosebumps just thinking about what it sounded like as I write this. The man was in the room…or rather, I was in the venue of this live intimate recording.
Value And The Importance Of System Balance
With the Diagon working on almost all of my system it takes this system costing tens of thousands of dollars and boosts it up to the level of rigs costing up to a couple of hundred thousand dollars. To put it another way I could be looking at new loudspeakers in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 or more in an attempt to achieve this level of resolution and still not be certain I would achieve the results added by the Codia Diagon. Or maybe a $10,000 phono cartridge or DAC. With all due respect to those whose rigs are less expensive, you might consider starting with good footers and work your way up to a Codia BAB or Diagon rack with fewer shelves and a less expensive finish. Their system is modular so you can add shelves in the future though I would caution against mixing wood or metal finishes in a large rack.
Three Shelves Or Four? Stacking Components We
On a whim, I added the fourth shelf and placed the Calyx 24/192 DAC and its upgraded power supply on it. It was yet another step toward enlightenment. Would adding a set of MiG 2.0 footers under the DAC take me one higher? Well, it got a bit better, but not as much as putting the DAC and power supply on its own shelf. At roughly $1400 per shelf (depending on finishes) there is temptation to compromise. If you have the means, don't.
Analog, As In Turntable
Oh, Why Not?
A side benefit of this exercise is that I needed a place to rest my tuner while I tested the turntable. I discovered that the 2.125" (74mm) tall tuner plus the Synergistic Research MiG footers fit very nicely between the shelf below and what was normally the bottom shelf just above it. The shortest standard length post would double the 4.125" (105mm) distance between the shelves pictured here, but you could simply order a shelf with the bottom spikes as shown in the photo here if you prefer minimal clearance. Basically, it amounts to their amp stand.
Good News / Bad News
Of course this means rack mounting would not work in party situations where people would be traversing through the room or even getting down to boggy or play air guitar. No Chuck Berry duck walking allowed. Remember though, this is on a joisted floor. On concrete floors…well, I'm not about to set up the rig in my basement, but you are much more likely to be free of this problem. If you only listen to LPs in the room by yourself, you should have no problem walking back to your listening chair unless your floors are really weak.
Spit And Polish