IsoAcoustics isolating stands and pucks have been cropping up in recording studios worldwide since the Canadian manufacturer’s founding in 2012. In the last two years the company has focused its efforts on replicating this success in the consumer audio market and now offers an interesting range of audiophile isolation products. A few months ago I requested a sample of their Orea pucks, as I was curious to hear the effect of managed isolation in my own system.
Debunking the myth
Until recently, the idea of improving a loudspeaker’s performance by placing it on a springy suspension to decouple it structurally from the listening room would have – to put it politely – raised a few eyebrows. It is, after all, in diametric opposition to the entrenched audiophile practice of hard-coupling speakers to the room with steel spikes.
Proponents of hard-coupling argue that fixing the loudspeaker’s position in space by connecting it firmly to the floor provides a solid and stable anchor for the drivers to produce acoustic energy and an effective grounding outlet for vibrational energy to be drained from the cabinet, thereby reducing resonances that impair clarity, definition and speed.
These arguments, while compelling, have largely been debunked in recent years. In particular, the act of structurally coupling the loudspeaker to the room to drain vibrational energy has been shown to be counterproductive; it can actually increase its audibility at certain frequencies by exciting resonances within the stand, spikes, floor, and by extension any objects in contact with the floor.
This energy can be reflected back into the same loudspeaker enclosureand can also travel through the floor and up into the other loudspeaker enclosure and other system components. In other words, the energy does not simply drain away benignly. What’s more, hard-coupling provides an open route for external vibrational energy – energy that does not originate from the loudspeakers – to flow into the enclosures.
Acting as an energy-absorbing buffer between the loudspeaker enclosure and its supporting structure, IsoAcoustics isolation products are designed to reduce: 1) the excitement of dissonant sounds within the supporting structure, 2) the energy that is reflected back into the loudspeaker, 3) external energy that is able to enter the loudspeaker; and promise a tighter bass response, greater clarity and openness, and imaging that is more three-dimensional.
The Orea series of isolation pucks build upon the Canadian manufacturer’s Gaia loudspeaker isolators that were designed as screw-in replacements for existing spikes. Orea promises comparable performance with greater versatility and can be used under any audio component to isolate it from parasitic vibrations. It is primarily designed for use under audio electronics and turntables but can also be used with loudspeakers up to a specified weight. I chose Orea over Gaia as my loudspeakers aren’t currently spiked and I wanted a simple and discreet solution that didn’t require fixings.
The pucks are sold individually and are currently available in four weight capacities – Graphite (1.8kg), Bronze (3.6kg), Indigo (7.2kg), Bordeaux (14.5kg) – making it easy to obtain the quantity of isolators required for optimal decoupling and stability based on a component’s weight. Sporting a premium, machined stainless steel construction and low-profile design to minimise any increase in height, the smallest Graphite model measures just 27mm high and costs £45 while the largest Bordeaux stands 36mm tall and retails at £79.
Like their Gaia isolator, Orea uses patented technology that differs from other methods of isolation. It is biased to isolate in the vertical plane, manage the energy on-axis and provide lateral resistance to maintain alignment with the listening position, which is claimed to retain more focus and rhythmic impact than isolators that allow oscillation in all axes. As such, it is important that each puck is oriented with the IsoAcoustics logo either parallel to the loudspeaker’s baffle or – if you prefer a more discreet look with no branding – turned 180-degrees so that the logo is pointing towards the rear of the speaker.
The puck doesn’t feel especially compliant once compressed, but the shape, thickness and compliance of the materials within are apparently tuned to work throughout the entire audio spectrum for the specified weight range. The top and bottom surfaces are rubbery and slightly concave in profile to provide a suction cup effect and adhere securely to both the underside of the component and its supporting surface. Orea can be used under a component’s existing feet, however the manufacturer suggests superior performance may be obtained by instead placing the puck in direct contact with the component’s chassis. This also minimises the increase in height if rack space is limited.
Each specification has a loading ‘sweet spot’ for optimal performance, as this weight moves beyond the sweet spot, the isolating ability of the puck decreases, so it is important to match the puck to the weight of the component. The loudspeaker models I tried with Orea weigh 30kg and 46kg respectively, therefore I requested eight of their largest Bordeaux model (using four per speaker). Bordeaux has an optimal loading capacity of 7.25kg to 14.5kg, meaning four pucks will effectively isolate a component that weighs between 29kg and 58kg.
For a fair comparison I took care to ensure my loudspeakers remained at the same height before and after installing Orea. I know from experience that even just a small change in the distance between a loudspeaker’s drivers, room boundaries and listening axis can have a profound effect on perceived clarity, particularly across the frequencies most affected by floor bounce and also those that span the crossover region between the mid driver and tweeter. Failure to keep this constant would potentially make it difficult to disentangle the effects of the isolation from those of the simple change in height.
With no previous experience of speaker isolation, I honestly did not know how much to expect. I was actually sceptical about the difference a device like this could make as I felt I’d already reached a point – through a considered combination of room treatment, positioning and EQ – where my system expressed itself with clarity and freedom, and resolved plenty of detail without being hindered by resonance or smear.
I initially tried the Bordeaux pucks with my lighter (30kg) Celestion Ditton 66, then with my heavier (46kg) Tannoy Monitor Gold 12 and, in both cases, I was stunned by the degree of the improvement. The difference was obvious from the very first notes of music played and greater than any I’ve experienced by upgrading components that are upstream of the speakers. It was actually a little overwhelming at first as I tried to take stock of the various aspects of the presentation that had changed.
The soundstage opens up in all axes, as if the walls of the room have been pushed back several feet. The image now spans the width of the room more seamlessly, whereas before it appeared from two convincing but ultimately separate spheres around the speakers that had, by comparison, less ability to fill the expanse. The increase in apparent depth behind the plane of the speakers and more assertive projection into the listening area provides a greater sense of perspective. The three-dimensional field of sound that’s generated is spacious, immersive and easier to visualise instruments in.
Imaging becomes even more focused and precise, making it easier to discriminate subtle timbral variations. There is also less bleed and overlap between frequency bands, which enhances the perceived separation of instruments but not to an unnatural extent. I suspect the much cleaner bass response is predominantly responsible for the clearer separation. The bass sounds faster and more grippy but does not lose impact or extension, it remains a solid foundation for the rest of the music to springboard from. ‘Springboard’ is a good descriptor of the effect Orea has on the system’s dynamics because there is a noticeable increase in transient attack. The speakers seem more agile and explosive than they were previously and offer a more thrilling listening experience as a result.
Last but not least, there is a significant increase in low-level resolution. By reducing smear, Orea lowers the noise floor to the extent that micro-details that were previously obscured are now suddenly audible. This is perhaps the greatest reward of all as it reveals – and therefore allows you to appreciate – more of the artistry and craftsmanship in the performance and its recording. I caught myself wide-eyed with joy on more than a few occasions as I heard nuances in tracks I’ve listened to for years but never noticed before.
Everything I’ve written so far has been unwaveringly positive, surely there must a catch. I’m not sure I’d call it a catch, but I did notice over an extended period of listening that my loudspeakers were not only more resolving and dynamic with Orea but also sounded brighter. IsoAcoustics products promise to maintain acoustic transparency and their published data shows zero change in a system’s measured frequency response with the isolators in place. Somewhat suspicious, I performed my own in-room frequency response sweeps, but these only corroborated IsoAcoustics’ claims.
I therefore suspect it is the reduced distortion in the time domain, particularly across the bass frequencies, that’s responsible for the perceivably brighter and more lively presentation with Orea installed. It’s possible that some listeners may find this new level of clarity a little too revealing. If so, it may be worth re-evaluating each component in the system – including the room – as the pucks may simply be exposing characteristics previously masked by the smear that has now been removed. The possible short-term inconvenience of re-tuning other areas of the system is surely a small price to pay for the benefits these isolators bring.
Orea from IsoAcoustics is the first serious isolation device I have reviewed, and as such I am unable to judge its effectiveness against competing approaches. That said, the Bordeaux pucks make a profound improvement to the performance of my loudspeakers, which now disappear from the soundstage almost entirely, image with even greater clarity and resolve micro-details that were unknowingly masked by the previously higher noise floor. Structural decoupling is not a panacea for a poorly configured listening environment, the only solution to this problem is dealing with the room itself. Once that’s taken care of, however, these amazing little pucks are among the best value for money upgrades that can be made to any hi-fi system.
IsoAcoustics firmly believes that isolating source components has similar – if perhaps not quite as dramatic – benefits to those from decoupling loudspeakers. The extent to which Orea has enhanced the performance of my speakers makes me very inclined to explore isolating the rest of my system.
Source/s: Mac Mini running Audirvana+ and iTunes
DAC/s: Schiit Yggdrasil v2
Amplifier/s: Yamaha A-S3000
Loudspeakers: Celestion Ditton 66, Tannoy Monitor Gold 12