Listening #198: IsoAcoustics & Audio-Creative Page 2

But when I slid into place the four Orea Bordeaux feet—indeed, after two rounds of back-and-forth comparisons—I realized that the mandolin's tone was comparatively pinched with the original feet in place. With the IsoAcoustics Oreas, the mandolin seemed notably louder—especially in the opening measures, where it's the only instrument being played—and had more body and an altogether richer timbral character. Those banjos, played by Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick, still sounded of the barnyard, but were now more distinct from one another and from the sound of Wakefield's mandolin—the latter a neat trick, inasmuch as they're steel-string instruments of similar ranges. The bass, never generous on this otherwise superb recording—typical of early Rounder releases, it was made at a time when people didn't know enough to fuck things up—was now more satisfying in its weight, and utterly superb in its clarity of pitch.

Later, I went back and replaced the Orea Bordeaux with the Orea Indigos and heard an additional improvement: Wakefield's mandolin was louder still—a slight difference, but every bit as audible as that between the original feet and the Orea Bordeaux—and the bass was heftier still. And Kenny Kosek and his fiddle actually took a step back in space—I had the sense I was hearing more clearly a distinction that had been there all along and not just a fiddle sound that was quieter and/or duller. And here, especially in the dual-banjo solo, it seemed to me there was less noise mixed in with the fundamentals and overtones: notes were clearer, instrumental sounds closer to the way they sound in real life. (As someone who has happily returned to playing with other musicians at least once a week, those are sounds I know very well.)

519listeniso.underequip

And then, when I replaced the Orea Indigos with the Gaia IIIs, the sound made two leaps—one definitely forward, one sideways. The forward leap—the unambiguous improvement—was an even greater increase in definition and clarity: I could now tell that, for one full measure in that double banjo solo, one banjo drops out (no telling whose, but from what I know of their styles, I'd say it's Wernick's), and the bass runs played by the enduringly great flatpicking guitarist Russ Barenberg were far more prominent. All other gains remained the same—bass was still great, soundstage depth still fine—but now the sound was very slightly brighter overall: not the sort of brightness you hear when turning up the treble knob, but the kind that results from adding a supertweeter to extend the treble range. There was no diminution of tonal body and richness, just more high-frequency information: things just got clearer, not screechy.

As I listened to Satie's six Gnossiennes by the composer's master interpreter, Reinbert de Leeuw (LP, Telefunken 6.42198 AW), the music sounded appropriately moodier, de Leeuw's playing more deliberate and, for want of a better term, Romantic. Listening in the daytime, I jotted in my notes, "with the Gaias, this music feels more like I'm listening in the dark, and more like there's a bottle of absinthe open somewhere."

I repeated the tests with other records, and the Gaia IIIs always came out on top. On the recording by Leopold Stokowski and the London Symphony Orchestra of Charles Ives's Orchestral Set No.2 (LP, London Phase 4 SPC 21060), the Gaia-enhanced player allowed clarity and resonance to orchestral bells, and greater clarity to the recording as a whole. The music remained a glowering shambles—I go back to Ives every couple of years, just to retest my tentative conclusion that his music is mostly junk—but now it was a more listenable glowering shambles. Luckily, the same strengths carried over to another large-scale recording, of excerpts from the famous recording of Wagner's Götterdämmerung by Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic, et al (LP, Decca SXLK 6220). Here, smaller orchestral bells were similarly clarified and fortified, cow horns sounded more terrifying (and their apparent locations betraying greater soundstage depth), and the climax at the end of Hagen's "Ihr Gibichsmannen . . ." was stronger and more poised than when the plinth sat on its crappy plastic feet.

With the Gaia IIIs still in place I turned to the 2018 remix and remastering of The Beatles, from The Beatles and Esher Demos (4 LPs, Apple 0602567572015), a pleasant enough and at times revelatory romp whose primary raisons d'être are apparently to boost Paul McCartney's electric-bass parts and to inform the listener of what people were playing and singing during the end-of-song fadeouts—and that's okay with me. In "Sexy Sadie," John Lennon's kiss-off to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the recording sounded more impressive with the Gaia IIIs in place, with more wallop than expected from Ringo's drum kit, good definition of all the backing vocals, and enjoyably prominent electric-guitar lines from George Harrison. After playing that number, I stopped the Garrard, removed the Gaias—this time I didn't bother going through all the variations and returned straight to the original feet—and was once again mildly surprised at the difference. In much the same way that switching to any of the IsoAcoustics feet made voices and instruments sound slightly louder, without them those elements sounded slightly quieter—and thinner, and lacking in body. The Hendrix-y ascending triplets Harrison plays behind the middle-eight were less audible, and John Lennon's vocal sibilants were no longer so easy to take.

And then: In setting out to review Exposure's new XM5 integrated amplifier, I began a listening session of comparing that and my usual electronics by putting on soloist Clifford Curzon, with Hans Knappertsbusch and the Vienna Phil, doing Beethoven's Piano Concerto 5 (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2002). At the start, my Garrard 301 and its plinth were back on its original feet, with nary an IsoAcoustics device in sight. I listened for about 30 seconds, said Hold on—then stopped the record and reinstalled the Gaia IIIs. The sound was clearer and smoother and altogether more like music than hi-fi. I have not looked back since. I have it in mind to send the IsoAcoustics distributor a check before the week is out.

A postscript for those considering IsoAcoustics products for use under their speakers: Dave Morrison told me that, in designing the Gaias, he wanted his product to "resist lateral deflection, front to rear, to prevent motive forces" in reaction to speaker-cone travel, which can diminish or blur the speaker's output. To ensure this, the compliant inserts of the Gaias are "biased": A label on each footer indicates the path of least compliance, and should point either to the front or the rear when used with speakers.

Peer mediation
As I write this, Daylight Savings Time begins in 10 hours. Today, the temperature in upstate New York hit 40°F, and the snow has begun to recede from my lawn. No better time to try out a new moving-coil step-up transformer—something that can be likened to crocuses, bluebirds, and juvenile rabbits for all the happiness they bring.

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The Mediator 40 phono transformer, from Audio-Creative—the Netherlands-based manufacturer of the GrooveMaster II tonearm, which I wrote about in this column in February 2018—arrived three days ago, and has already brought even more happiness than most such things. It's built around a stereo pair of transformers manufactured by the German firm Haufe, each of which has a single primary coil and single secondary coil, wound with a 1:40 turns ratio.

That transformer, a stock item called the Haufe T-210, is available online for prices ranging from €301.65 to €365. The Audio-Creative Mediator 40 combines the two T-210s with gold-plated Cardas input and output jacks (RCA), a ground lug, and a ground-lift toggle switch, all in or on a tidy aluminum enclosure—it looks identical to the ones used for the same purpose by other suppliers of phono transformers—and retails for €367.77.

Right out of the gate, and compared to the many commercial products out there that similarly repackage OEM transformers yet come with four-figure prices, the Mediator 40 would seem to offer considerably higher-than-average value.

Of course, none of that would mean a thing if the Mediator were mediocre, but this is one of the best, most engaging-sounding step-up devices I've ever heard at any price.

Unsurprisingly, in light of the price difference between the Mediator 40 and my reference phono transformer, the Auditorium 23 Hommage ($4995), there were audible differences between the two. (A23 doesn't publish specifications, but the Mediator 40 and Hommage T1 provided me with similar if not identical amounts of gain.) The Mediator 40 was a bit lighter in overall timbral balance, and with good orchestral recordings, such as the above-mentioned Curzon-Knappertsbusch Beethoven, with the Audio-Creative transformer replacing the Hommage, my attention was drawn more to the sheen of the strings' overtones than to the meat of their fundamentals—a very slight difference. Shockingly, however, the Mediator shared the Hommage's exceptional sense of scale: It was huge on this and similar records. And the Mediator 40 did not in the least compress the wide dynamic swings of Curzon's playing—it was monstrously loud, forceful, and altogether powerful when called for.

In the vaguely Motown-inspired "Nothing But the Truth," from Procol Harum's Exotic Birds and Fruit (LP, Chrysalis CHR 1058), the Mediator 40 again matched the Hommage's force, but didn't quite match its ability to pull solo voices out of the mix and allow them to sound eerily present. The Dutch trannie also sounded very slightly grainier than my reference—but, that said, as I write this the Mediator 40 has been in use for only a few days; experience tells me that artificial texture in a transformer is often dispelled after a healthy run-in period (at least a month).

The Mediator 40 also sounded fine with more delicate music. Fauré's autumnal Piano Trio in d, in a rough-at-the-start performance by members of the Pro Arte Piano Quartet (LP, L'Oiseau-Lyre SOL 289), sounded vibrantly colorful—I guess I could have just said vivid and been done with it, but we get paid by the word around here—and, as with the Beethoven piano concerto, both the soundstage and the images thereon were of generous but not ridiculous size. The piano, in particular, was reproduced with an abundantly realistic sense of touch, and musical momentum and flow were first-class throughout.

Joan Baez's eponymous 1960 debut album (LP, Vanguard VSD 2077), another LP made in the time before engineers found the courage to make recordings sound unrealistic, was also lovely through the Mediator 40. In "Wildwood Flower," a Carter Family tune whose popularity at bluegrass jam sessions is greater than that of beer itself, Baez's voice was its pristine self, even during her occasional fortissimos—which, it must be said, she applied artlessly—and the sounds of her ably played six-string acoustic guitar and Fred Hellerman's 12-string were crisp and resonant and altogether convincing. Ditto the acoustic guitar, violin, and cello in the instrumental "Green Leaf Fancy," from Norman Blake's The Fields of November (LP, Flying Fish 004).

Two final (for now) notes: Like Ardath Bey in The Mummy (1932), the Mediator disliked being touched: to do so was to produce mild hum. That said, running a wire between its ground lug and the base of my tonearm eliminated this touch sensitivity. (Incidentally, in my system, having that ground lift switched off produced mild hum, so I left it on all the time.) Note also that I tried the Mediator 40 with the Shindo SPU—a somewhat heretical move, inasmuch as that's the cartridge for which the Hommage T1 was designed. Sure enough, although the pairing still worked well, with this cartridge the difference between the two transformers was more pronounced, the Mediator 40 sounding notably less meaty and more trebly with the Shindo-rebuilt Ortofon. So it goes.

I hope to hold on to the Audio-Creative Mediator 40 for a while longer so I can report on its sound after it can be presumed broken in. But for now, I'm thoroughly impressed: The Mediator 40 is a top-shelf trannie at a crazy-low price.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
ok's picture

my 3K artificial cervical disk replacement for a fragment of the price.. a fair deal I suppose.

tnargs's picture

Methinks you may have found a real use for these things!

ok's picture

..pending :-}

Bogolu Haranath's picture

At least isoAcoustics won't make chiropractors go out of business :-) ..........

JBLMVBC's picture

I like their video about small studio monitors... http://www.isoacoustics.com/video-isoacoustics-demo-at-metalworks-studio/
It certainly helps. But for the JBL observer, one cannot but notice the real "pro made" speakers on the wall, featuring 15" JBL 2226s... and horns. When these studio guys want basses and uncolored midrange, no substituting.

supamark's picture

Those big monitors at Metalworks Studio 6 are almost certainly George Augspurger monitors, an older version of their Classic 215H (link https://augspurger.com/product/augspurger-classic-215h-dsp2-1500-with-2-way-amp/ ) and before custom drivers they used TAD pro drivers (the ones at Metalworks are probably TAD TL-1601 woofers and TAD compression drivers with beryllium diaphragms for tweeters).

Pretty much nobody uses JBL for studio monitoring any more, they fell entirely out of favor by the early 90's. Still pretty popular for live sound.

And when studio guys want accurate bass/uncolored mids/flat response they go for the likes of Genelec, Barefoot, ADAM, Neumann, ATC, plus some Dynaudio and Focal (they have separate pro divisions, though Dynaudio isn't that well regarded in the studio world). They're all active and all listened to in the near or mid-field. Soffeted mains (like you see at Metalworks) are really only there to check real deep bass and hype the band - you really don't mix on them, except in the rare case where the room is designed around the monitors like a Tom Hidley designed room with Kinoshita Monitors (which use, you guessed it, TAD pro drivers).

JBLMVBC's picture

Check the tinsel leads. They are those of a JBL 2226 (longer, closer and slanted) not a TAD 1601 (symetrical and wide).
https://thumbs.worthpoint.com/zoom/images1/1/1016/03/jbl-2226h-speaker_1_05d597d491dd6f1b7d889eced138548e.jpg
https://thumbs.worthpoint.com/zoom/images1/1/0511/03/tad-tl-1601a-speaker_1_249c27029776988a7a1ca4a70bf36fb8.jpg

Jack L's picture

....... I elected to try the IsoAcoustics devices under my Garrard 301 and its plinth..." quoted Art Dudley.

Whatever "tweaks" put on for our audios, the last thing is to spend big bucks for them. That's always MY way.

All my audio components are lifted off their supporting substrates by
up-pointed steel spikes or acoustic cones since day one decades back.

The sonic improvement is very prominent in terms of image resolution & details, soundstaging & transparency. The cost for me was dirt cheap as NO costly brandnames were involved.

My vintage Thorens 125II turntable now I am still actively using with my MM phono cartridge, is lifted off from its own discrete stand with 4 up-pointing steel spikes at its four legs !!!!

On playing fire cracker music like Tchaikovsky 1812 cannon roaring battle-field effects via my 3 active subwoofers: L, R & L+R, no sweats!

Listening is believing

Jack L
Canada

Ortofan's picture

... squash balls for isolators?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Have you actually tried that, and succeeded in keeping your equipment in one place? I tried stuff like that decades ago, and gave up. The power cables kept pulling things off the shelves.

I'd love to see the squash balls that will work under Wilson loudspeakers. I'm less eager to hear the mush created by the movement of all those squash balls during loud percussion volleys. This is another way of saying, "Squash that thought."

Ortofan's picture

... the suspended type, so I don't need to put extra springs underneath them.
As for speakers, they (or the stands on which they are sited) are all coupled to the floor with spikes.

O-rings under the squash balls, or some Blu-Tack, will keep them from possibly rolling around.
If you're using a heavy "audiophile-style" power cord, fasten it to the rack with zip ties in such a way as to minimize the tension on the component.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

More power to you.

Anton's picture

Interesting!

How about tennis balls cut in half?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Deflategate' :-) .........

ednazarko's picture

And, you need to use the international style squash balls (which are very soft) and not the ones that people in the US use (hard as a rock.)

So yeah, have done. I was using them under my original large Advents, then under some medium-range B&W bookshelves. Also under my reel to reel decks, and turntables. (I had a turntable with a massively heavy base, and a massively heavy platter.) Now you know how long ago that was - Advents and reel to reel. Four halves under each. Could isolate from normal vibrations. But if people started to pogo, all bets were off. I'm much more conventional now... sorbothane, a couple of different densities stacked, shrink-wrapped to keep them from staining my wood shelves and desk.

I don't know the Wilson speakers, other than I seem to remember they're super heavy... so maybe the US style hard squash balls would be better.

Anton's picture

;-D

filmfresser's picture

But the Iso-Acoustic stands work remarkably well with bookshelf loudspeakers. Have a pair under my Quad S-2s, Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s, and Acoustic Energy AE100 and each loudspeaker sounds more open and detailed. Way better investment than idiotic $$$$ cables.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

under my Dynaudio active desktop speakers.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are those Dynaudio Focus XD-200? ....... If so, may be you (JVS) could do a comparison follow-up review of the new similar Focus XD-20 active speakers? :-) ..........

Richard D. George's picture

The demo at RMAF of the speaker feat was amazing. Also, Dynaudio includes Isoacoustics stands with some of their desktop active professional monitors.

JohnG's picture

Bought a set for my Vandersteen Treo CTs and was rewarded with stronger bass and better stereo imaging. Noticeable right away.

ETA 29 May: Wrote to Vandersteen to see about how to set the vertical alignment of the speakers, since the math of the standard method of washers under the back spike wouldn't work on higher feet. Richard Vandersteen called me and, after a long discussion, convinced me that what I thought I'd heard was wrong.

Yes I know that sounds ridiculous, but after the talk I re-computed the distance and put the standard cones and spikes back. I was happier with this outcome, and sent the Gaias back to Amazon. Go figure.

BDP24's picture

The Townshend Audio Seismic products have gotten a fair amount of press in the UK, by as usual U.S. critics are late to the party. It's true a quad of the Pods cost more than the same of the GAIA III (but less than the GAIA I, for under heavy speakers), but far less than a Herzan or Minus-K isolation table, which are SOTA for tables.

Glotz's picture

I'm going to experiment with (same-thickness) Herbie's pads underneath the bottom metal plate of the product and see if that will contribute positively to additional absorption (for use with a turntable).

I wonder how well the bottom piece is secured to the bottom metal plate. If it comes up in one 'scrape', I'll be in luck.

volvic's picture

I have the pesky sorbothane feet on my SME 10 that stick to everything and make adjusting the table a pain. I wonder if these would fit as a replacement to the stock feet. They might look a little out of place, but if they improve the sound then, why not.

nomaslarge's picture

Ah forget it

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Suspended in disbelief :-) ..........

Glotz's picture

The investment is nominal, and I believe the combination of de-coupling and damping (upper & lower) is a sound mechanical approach.

I would, however, like to see inside the unit to understand a bit more. If that is not possible, perhaps ever, that is fine by me.

I think Herbie's products, specifically the platinum-cured line, would even enhance the performance substantially. I am confident I could have the right dimensions as an inexpensive, custom request.

The "grunge-buster' material just has greater initial, resistive memory that it doesn't demonstrate the physical compression characteristics that Sorbothane exhibits. It seems more initially 'resistive' and then releases energy much faster... 'Fast in, Fast out'.

For instance, applying pressure with a screw-down clamp and releasing it leaves a depression of where the pressure existed. Then, a simple touch of one's finger tip on the edge of the mat, the material snaps back instantly and to it's original shape. One of the strangest materials I've felt, and I've been using them for years in various turntable applications (but not the footers).

volvic's picture

Forgot the sorbothane feet are threaded not with a threaded shaft the way they appear in the photo. Oh well.

Glotz's picture

I think completing products in the price range that only use ball-bearing de-coupling are missing half the picture in vibration control (even when Delrin or other more inert materials included). I do believe they work better than Sorbothane pucks, but still lacking compared to this 'combination' approach.

Glotz's picture

The manufacturer does make custom threads for most applications and free of charge. My impression from others in various forums is to purchase, then contact the mfg. to have them send the replacement-thread screws. (I will do this process with my VPI turntable.) If there is doubt, contact the mfg. first...

volvic's picture

However, doubt they will but will call, the SME10 feet are threaded around the circumference of the feet, there is no shaft so they would have to offer something similar, a threaded shaft will not work in this situation. Will send them an email.

avanti1960's picture

Otherwise the article comes off as anecdotal at best. So if I have a Garrard 301 with stiff feet resting on a rack of unknown properties on flooring of unknown properties playing mandolin music at unknown volume levels- then adding these devices could make the mandolin sound louder in the mix?
What if my turntable has soft rubber feet?
Is the vibration it reduced originating from the turntable and reflected back to the tonearm and cartridge or was it air borne acoustic energy? Did you try it using headphones? How effective was the isolation at different volume levels? How solid is the rack that the turntable rests on? How close are the speakers to the turntable? What type of flooring is used?
If you provided more detail and did some basic experimentation to show the cause and effect relationships the article could have been useful.
Tony,
Chicago area

Ortofan's picture

... the turntable sitting on an inflatable lawn decoration.

symphony1010's picture

I bought the last three issues after avoiding hifi magazines for many years. The present issue rightly celebrates John Atkinson's tenure at Stereophile. I last read HiFi magazines seriously when he was with HiFi News!
I switched out because clearly inaccurate and highly subjective things were being written which any professional musician like myself could see were just there to keep the magazine and the industry afloat.
Now comes this article. Like another commentator here I say - of what interest is this to someone who doesn't happen to own a Garrard 301 set up in similar fashion. To what extent will there be changes if your musical diet doesn't consist of music at a dynamic level that rarely changes.
For example, if I'm listening to the last movement of Mahler 9 I might only notice any changes at the loudest points.
With respect, this article seems to be highly subjective waffle that deserves no place in a magazine of this quality.

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