The modern stereo record console — not to be confused with Symbol Audio’s $20,000 model — was introduced by Magnavox in 1958. The “Concert Grand” phonograph and record console combined a powerful 100-watt amplifier, record player and pair of loudspeakers housed in a beautiful mid-century walnut cabinet. Magnavox created a revolution with the product before being acquired by Philips in 1974.
When Japanese mid-fi audio components flooded the market in the 1970s, the stereo console was relegated to basements and garages of millions of homes, where they would sit until an episode of “Mad Men” made them cool again; and suddenly they become very expensive on eBay. Today, retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Design Within Reach and Target have jumped on the console trend, and the majority of companies who manufacture equipment racks for high-end audio components have actually missed the boat, choosing to stick with expensive equipment racks designed for “dedicated” listening rooms and the solitary audiophile experience, instead.
So does it matter what you put your stereo on? Does the music sound any different? The truth is that every object resonates at a different frequency. Vibration is the enemy of better sound quality. Turntables, in particular, need to be isolated for optimum performance. Glass shelves became a thing in the 1980s and from a sound quality perspective adds a layer of brightness to the sound that can be disconcerting.
The ideal piece of furniture for any audio system needs to be inert, ventilated and easy to access for cable management. Most companies still don’t understand the importance of proper ventilation and the reality that not every component is wireless. A media console should also make your system look good; it might even inspire a few family listening sessions in the era of technological isolation and streaming servitude.
Ikea enraged record collectors when it replaced the much-loved Expedit in 2014 for the Kallax, but consumers got over it and there is much to like about the Kallax as both a media storage center and equipment console. The eight-cube Kallax makes the most sense as a piece of media furniture if you flip it horizontally. It works well if you are space-constrained and need to place your loudspeakers on the same piece of furniture as your equipment.
CB2 Framework Credenza
The Framework Credenza is built on an iron frame and is quite solid once you load it up with equipment. The shelves are made from Acacia wood and CB2 does include anti-tipping hardware if that is a concern. The open design is great for ventilation and cable management and there is one open shelf space designed for 15-20 records. The Framework gives you a lot of space to work with; the only hesitation is the low height which could invite pets or little children to let their curiosity get the best of them.
Hamilton Wood Media Console by Urban Outfitters
The Hamilton‘s dimensions work for a den or living room and the height will keep pets and smaller children away from your turntable. The two sections come assembled but you need to install the feet and place the top piece on a series of pegs. Ventilation and cable management could be better, admittedly, but this is a solid pick for smaller components like media streamers, CD players, DACs and headphone amplifiers.
West Elm Mid-Century Media Console
West Elm’s media console has enough room on the top shelf for a turntable and amplifier; for ventilation and cable management purposes we recommend that scenario as the internal cable cut-outs are a bit tight. The internal shelving is fine for a CD player, DAC, digital streamer, or phono pre-amplifier. The dimensions will place your turntable high enough to keep your children and pets away. The console is manufactured from kiln-dried solid eucalyptus wood and engineered wood with an Acacia wood veneer and it comes with middle drawers for remotes, record brushes and other audio accessories.
CB2 Suspend II Media Console
The new Suspend media console has a marble top shelf that’s rated for televisions up to 70 pounds.The console is very inert and the construction quality is excellent. The interior shelving is more than large enough for our streamer, phono pre-amplifier, CD player and DAC, althought it’d be nice if CB2 made the cable cut-outs larger. The ventilation could be better, however, and even though none of the components will likely get very warm, it’s probably best to not place a large amplifier inside the cabinet. Top shelf only.
Nelson Platform Bench
The Nelson bench is an iconic piece of American furniture design that George Nelson introduced in 1946. It’s also great a housing for audio equipment. From a ventilation perspective, the bench is ideal because of the open slats. The open design allows for proper cable management and the bench can support up to 300 pounds. The 60-inch version is wide enough for three components and the 18-inch depth makes it compatible with large amplifiers and turntables.
BDI Corridor 8177
With the exception of the tempered glass shelf, there is much to recommend about the Corridor series of media consoles. BDI’s attention to proper ventilation, cable management and the ability to roll this large and heavy media console away from the wall makes it one of the best options. The only other real reservation, other than its steep price, is with the top shelf; most consumers who purchase BDI’s consoles integrate them as part of an audio/video setup and use the space for a center channel loudspeaker. If your system includes a turntable, you should put isolation cones or even a chopping block in-between the turntable and glass shelf.
Symbol Audio Unison Record Stand
Having reinvented the stereo console with their $20,000 Modern Record Console, which they introduced in 2012, Symbol Audio has spent the past seven years developing a comprehensive line-up of media and record storage consoles that leave very little to chance. The Unison Record Stand is a combination of record storage and media console including an isolated platform for your turntable. The 52-inch wide model includes adjustable shelving for 4 components (including a turntable) and storage room for 130 records. The ventilated shelves include wide cable cut-outs. Each unit is hand built with a six-week delivery time and is available in a number of finishes and sizes.