The central organizing principle for Wax is musical genre. In the left upper corner of the GUI, the user is presented with a list of options: Anthology, Chamber, Comedy, Film, Jazz, Opera, Pop, and so on. You can add your own genres. Some have sub-genres. For “Symphonic,” you can parse the recordings as Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc; for Pop, choices include Blues, Country, Electronic, New Age, Rock, and so on. Once you’ve clicked on a genre (or sub-genre), a list of recordings already in your library appears. For each genre, the identifying information—the “primary metadata”—is a little different. So, for “Symphonic,” the recordings are described by three columns—composer, work, and conductor. For “Show,” it’s the musical, composer, librettist, and date (of the production). In a large collection, you might have a dozen versions of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Wax’s presentation lets you quickly know what your options are and choose the version you want to hear.
Also prominently located on the GUI is a button labeled Mode. Clicking on Mode reveals four choices that direct you to everything Wax can do. Select lets you choose what you’re going to listen to from the music files in your library. Play presents all of the metadata for the recording you’ve selected, including cover art. The Edit mode is used to add recordings or to modify the metadata of a recording already in the library and Config lets one engage various housekeeping functions—which codec to use when you rip, the status of updates, and many, many more options for advanced tweaking of the software’s functionality.
It’s in the Edit mode that the critical tagging process occurs. I’ll emphasize Wax’s performance with classical recordings because it’s this material that presents the biggest challenge to music-organizing software, the area where the ID3 standard employed by iTunes fails most miserably. Several aspects are worth mentioning. First, entering the “work metadata”—the most basic identifying information about each recording—is facilitated because the prompts to complete blank fields differ from genre to genre. So, for “Symphonic,” you’re asked for the composer, work, and conductor as opposed to “Jazz,” where the requests are for “ensemble” and “title.” Additional work metadata fields can easily be added on the fly (Barish refers to this as “infinite metadata”) as you are processing a disc or download. Second, Barish has thought long and hard about where Wax should go on-line for information, choosing MusicBrainz as his primary source of metadata. The MusicBrainz database is curated, meaning that an editor has viewed the metadata submitted by a user and declared it reliable. Additionally, MusicBrainz has established standards for the manner in which the metadata is presented, which makes it possible for Wax to extract information about a recording—say, the conductor— and put it in the right place. FreeDB is Wax’s backup source for metadata—there’s information on a larger number of recordings, though that information is more likely to be inaccurate.
Third, Wax has a clever way of organizing the “track metadata”— the designations of the individual movements of a string quartet or the titles of the arias on an opera recording, for example. Say a recording of Puccini’s La Bohème has 40 tracks. You can highlight the 12 tracks of the First Act, hit the “Group” button that appears, and watch the 12 tracks collapse into a single line that can then be labeled “Act I.” The same is then done for the eight tracks of Act II, the ten of Act III, and the ten of Act IV. Each act opens automatically to show the track metadata when you actually listen to the recording but, in the meantime, you don’t get a screen of track listings when you’re deciding what to play.
Barish recognizes that a collection is often best-served by taking a “work orientation” to cataloging classical music, as opposed to an “album orientation.” If a CD holds both Beethoven’s Fifth and Eighth Symphonies, you’ll want separate entries under “Beethoven” for each work. Working in the Edit mode, it’s a snap to specify “New Entry” for the two works as you’re cataloging them.
The workflow when ripping and tagging is very efficient. A CD is placed in the Wax Box’s front slot and the user hits the on-screen “Find CD” button. You decide which tracks to rip (all of them, usually) and click Rip and the four-to-five-minute ripping process begins. With ripping underway, you then turn to producing the desired tags and specifying the cover art from the choices Wax finds on-line. Before long, you’re completing the tags before the CD rip has finished. Very satisfying. In the Edit mode, Wax has you choose between “CD” and “File,” in terms of what you’ll be adding to the library. If it’s the latter, Wax helps you to navigate to wherever it is on your computer that you keep your downloads. Processing multi-disc sets is especially slick. Whether it’s a 4-CD recording of Parsifal or a 12-disc Grateful Dead box, as one disc finishes ripping, you simply click “Add Tracks” and Wax knows that the next CD coming belongs with the previous one(s). Happily, Wax provides “gapless” playback, controlled on a track-by-track basis, so playback of The Rite of Spring or Sgt. Pepper doesn’t result in pauses between tracks.
Sonically, Barish has made design choices with two constituencies in mind—the record collector who doesn’t value sound quality to an obsessive degree and, well, those of us who do. Barish declares that he, himself, is no Golden Ear and rips his own CDs to Ogg, a lossy codec (M4A and MP3 are other alternatives with Wax.) As a result, Barish has had no problem fitting his own substantial collection onto Wax’s 1TB HDD. But Wax also lets one encode with WAV or FLAC (personally, I do not hear any difference between these two and see no reason to waste precious disk space on the former.) Likewise, listening to the Wax Box’s analog output—AudioQuest makes a decent cable for the purpose—falls short of the stellar sonic result achieved by connecting the 3beez product with the Halide Bridge to my Anthem. A well-made piano recording (Leon Fleischer’s Two Hands) sounded more dimensional, with more commanding bass, when the Anthem’s DACs did the conversion.
But the Wax Box’s Realtek DACs are surely better-sounding than the stock soundcard in an off-the-shelf computer.
The Wax Box isn’t perfect, of course. It doesn’t do multichannel and some audiophiles will be disappointed by the relatively limited encoding options, specifically the lack of DSD-sourced codecs. Its storage capacity will strike some as limited, especially if large, losslessly encoded HD files are part of the mix. (An additional HDD can be easily connected to increase storage capacity.) But Barish is a man we need more of in the burgeoning area of computer audio: a creative engineer who makes a real effort to understand the needs and IT capabilities of his potential customer base.
The above descriptions of the Wax Box’s operation barely scratch the surface of what it can do, and, in a way, that’s the whole point. There are layers and layers of functionality that are kept, unthreateningly, just out of view until you are ready to use them. You can create playlists (“Queues”), search for a composer or artist of interest, export files to a portable player, and accomplish the bulk import of music already resident on your computer with gratifying efficacy. A new user can start processing a large music collection effectively on day one: The Wax software is highly sophisticated yet unquestionably the easiest to learn in my experience. Jeffrey Barish makes this point. “There’s a well-known phrase in designing computer software: ‘Simple things should be simple; difficult things should be possible.’ There are many music lovers who are not audiophiles. They just love music—they just want to hear Beethoven.”
Point taken, Jeffrey. Mission accomplished.
SPECS & PRICING
Drive capacity: Two 1TB drives (one for backup)
Interface: Direct Control with attached mouse, keyboard, and monitor or TV; Remote Control with VNC or RDP remote desktop viewer—available for
tablets and smartphones (iOS , Android, Windows Phone) and for desktops (OSX , Windows, Linux)
Analog output: 3.5mm miniplug
Digital output: Four USB-2 ports; three USB-3 ports; TosLink; DVI-D; D-Sub; HDMI; RJ45
Dimensions: 13.4" x 12.6" x 2.7"