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A Fern & Roby Rack and a Bevy of Olympia Record Crates

05-21-2020 | By Dave Clark | Issue 109

So how many of you reading this are getting so tired of the same old "staying at home, and man do I need to mix things up?" state of mind? Well, count us in. As I write this Carol and I have been staying home and not going out, other than around the neighborhood for walks, working in the yard, or out to my studio to work on my art, for a good 60 days now. We completely support the sheltering in place, wearing a mask, and social distancing mandates that we have here in California, it is working, and has worked, to flatten the curve and minimize the stress on the Health Care system we have here. So we are hanging tight for a while. But yeah, getting a bit stir crazy. Am sure you are going to say, "Hey, thought you guys were retired?" "So, what 's the big deal?" Well, yeah, we are used to being around the house during the day, but when we aren't able to hit a brewery, a bar, a restaurant, go shopping, or whatever in the afternoon or evening… yeah things are getting old. We are getting old.

And we are tired of staring at the same things and doing the same things every damn day. What to do to change it up? How about we replace our old audio racks with something different? Something way different than the Mondo racks we have been using for the past 24 years or so. The Mondo racks have served us well for those years; both of us are very appreciative of design and looks, so not just anything will do, which is why we liked the Mondo racks. Simple and nice. Well done without being too "furniture-like," or being too audio-like. We have always gone for a more eclectic style, one that favors texture, shape, and color over being "traditional," so the Mondo racks worked for us. Actually, when we first got married, we preferred a more minimal industrial-art art look with our furnishings… how my own functional art pieces tend to be.

The system with the older Mondo racks and LP storage cabinets. GiK Acoustics to the right and left, and one of my older pieces from like 40 years ago in the middle.

Okay, well… we love the turntable we have with Fern & Roby and saw that Chris is now offering racks. Not just any racks, but racks that match what we love 100%. Metal combined with wood. Both rawer and more natural than finished and stained. Clean and industrial while being as hi-tech and slick in terms of construction and design… like everything Chris offers. Quality with no corners being cut.

So, Chris and I spent a few days going back and forth with what we would want, which to his surprise was not what he had in mind. Chris was thinking two racks like we have now, pretty much the same look, but different in terms of the materials. "How about two 40" tall racks with four shelves each?" We pretty much wanted to go all new, so we said, "How about one long 36" tall rack with just three shelves and an open bottom where we could slide larger components in?" Chris came up with some CAD ideas, and after going back and forth a few times with regards to heights and whatnot, Chris sent us a final drawing that reflected our preferences and we said… GO! Okay, so you might be thinking, "Gee nice to be a friend and someone in the Industry, bet Chris would not do this for just the average Joe?" Actually, even if you want a standard offering of one of their racks, Chris is going to talk to you with respect to weight and whatnot to make sure that the rack you get is the rack you want… or need. Chris is also open to custom racks as a well. See, at Fern & Roby, they can make whatever you want. They want you to be happy.

The CAD drawing of our rack.

We went without the three "stands" at the bottom by using our own maple butcher blocks. Prices vary, but racks are between $3250 to $6500 (depending on the size and configuration of the rack / section of the wood) though they can be even more if one needs to go bigger, like ours, since it was pretty much custom. This is why you need to call Chris to discuss your needs.

After a few weeks, we get an email that the crate (which is strapped to a pallet) with the rack inside has shipped. We track it, make arrangements for its delivery, and at the end of the day a semi-trailer pulls up, out jumps the driver and asks where we want the crate. "Uh, it weighs 450lbs, so can we put it up the driveway behind the gate?" "Not a problem." Of course, at that weight and size, who would steal it? But still… let's put it somewhere safe till we can get to it the next day.

Okay, so the following day, Carol and I decide to tackle putting this thing together. Yes, the rack is not shipped assembled. Yes, that means you have to assemble it yourself. Yes, Chris provides pictures as well as instructions to make it as easy as possible. Yes, the racks arrive incredibly well packaged in the crate with all the parts wrapped and secured. Included in bags are all the nuts, bolts, screws, tools, and whatever else is needed.

Open the crate and we start bringing in the pieces.

Yes, they weigh more than we would like at our age, especially the shelves, but after 20 mins we have everything laid out and ready to go. Total time from unpacking to having a finished rack? With breaks, lunch, a couple of phone calls? A few mishaps that were our fault? About 3.5 hours.

The two side end pieces.

Lots of unwrapping and smiling. Carol is happy to get something new.

The side ends and side top rails with everything ready to assemble.

A side rail. The holes allow one to adjust the spacing of the shelves. Care needs to be taken to get the left and right sides of the shelves in the same holes so that they are level.

I should note that we had already removed our Mondo racks from the room a few days prior. This allowed us to clean the carpet and get things ready. (The Mondo racks were gifted to one of our PF writers, Steve Lefkowicz, who is quite pleased with them.)

Side rail being bolted into the top rails. Everything is machined to perfection for a perfect fit. One can see the Delrin leveling feet on the side pieces.

Sorobthane spacers with the Delrin guides being screwed into the ash shelves. These allow the shelves to be "isolated" from the angle iron rails while fitting perfectly into the drilled holes in the side rails.

Adding the ash shelves after bolting in the side rails that go front to back. They provide a slick "C shaped tool" to hold the shelves up so one and bolt in the side rails.

We kept getting them in the wrong holes though, as Carol and I were looking at the holes from different perspectives. Hence it took us a bit to get them in the right holes so the shelves were level. Chris has since added lines with number to make this so much easier. Oh, and there are leveling feet at each corner that allow one to get the table quite level front to back and left to right. 

You can see in this image that the two lower shelves are not level—yeah, the left side was not in the same holes as the right side, being off by one hole. A quick fix by lowering the left side rails down a hole. Once everything is in place, this rack is rock solid. The shelves's Delrin pins drop into holes along the side rails. No swaying, nothing... solid as all get out. The Mondos would move a bit regardless how tight I had the bolts. This... zero.

So, the rack is damn easy to assemble with like 16 or so bolts and 14 screws, but it is definitely a two-person job due to how much everything weighs. And it is funny how one can tear a system down in an hour, but it takes five times that put it back togetherwhich we did the next day. The fun thing with a new rack is deciding what goes where. Which always requires a few redo's as one realizes that "this" works better there than here. Add in routing cables and whatnot… yeah that was like a day plus to get it all just right. At 65, not sure I can do this anymore. Am thinking that this is it!

How does the system sound on a new rack? Well hard to say of it sounds better or different. The whole system was apart for five days. And after getting it all configured visually as well as functionally, it needs to settle in and sort itself out. So that was another four or five days.

True craftsmanship: the shelves are made from various pieces of ash where they have matched the grain (top and bottom). But individual ash pieces are also flipped so the grain direction (side) alternates between the pieces (up/down/up/down/up). Why? Prevents sagging while increasing strength.

Yeah, but is it an improvement over the older racks?! Heck if I know—was like five days and yeah, I get having an aural memory, but still it was like eight to ten days before I felt it was all sorted out. We love the look, the ability to get to things—which is never going to be as easy as I wish it could be—and yeah… it sounds great. I mean our music sounds great. We love it. I mean we really love it. The music is quite wonderful and as engaging as all get out, so yeah… maybe it is better. You know, we think it is! I would recommend the rack simply for its looks and design. But then to each their own. It is industrial-chic so that might not be your thing, but it is ours. Chris has some slick things going on in terms of vibration and isolation (with the Sorbothane and Delrin materials) and if mass is a thing for you, well this rack when finished weighs a good 300lbs plus. A stellar addition to our room and system.

From Carol: This is difficult to explain, but I like the way the system sounds with the new racks. It isn't that there was anything "wrong" with it previously, but there's something about "hearing with your eyes." I used to only wear my glasses for distance, and when I worked in an office where one person was on the opposite side of the room, I'd always get grief for putting them on to hear her better. The Mondo racks were fine, and did their job, and of course I liked the way the system sounded. With this new rack, I put my glasses on to look at it, and I think it sounds better. It's pleasing to look at, and that just ups the cool factor, which by default ups the way it sounds.

So while we were replacing the Mondo racks with that from Fern & Roby, we also decided to replace the black LP storage units with something better and more ... well way more solid and stable than these $35 z-board units from Amazon. Yeah they work, but they also fall part and are really cheaply made. Not wanting to spend a ton of money, but still go with something good, I found Olympia Record Crates in a search and decided to go with seven of the 24 x 12 units ($115 including shipping) and three of the 12 x 12 units ($88 including shipping) along with six of the lifters ($30 including shipping). In this case, affordable does equal quality. These are well made and come fully assembled (ready to use right out of the box). Made in Seattle by a small company of one very nice and responsive guy: Matthew Gardner. Solid and well built, these are a dramatic improvement aesthetically to the room, and give us a lot of room for more LPs. (Most of our LPs are stored next to the couch in shelf unit I made years ago, so what you see is perhaps a third of what we own). Love them and can't recommend them and the company enough.

The Olympia Record Crates to the right, and below to the left.

So we are now pretty happy to sit here and look at something new. Something really cool. And enjoy our music that much more. What we got? Another 60 days here at home?! More music please. Oh, and we will need WAY more beer! Peter!