REVIEW: ISOACOUSTICS OREA SERIES ISOLATORS
The arrival of IsoAcoustic’s OREA Series equipment isolators led reviewer Peter Familari on an investigation into vibrations and resonance, and a journey of discovery.
The arrival of IsoAcoustic’s OREA Series equipment isolators is a timely reminder of my gran’s sage advice to me as a boy.
Whenever I was getting a little ahead of myself, she’d pull me up and say, “Kiddo, the pot’s boiling but the pig’s still on the mountain.”
Years later, I still tend to race ahead of reality. Particularly when I’m hankering for a component upgrade which is often, or dreaming of a complete system upgrade, which is less than often.
Either way, I usually tend to remain oblivious to the deleterious effects that air and floor-borne resonances can have on the sound of my new gear.
That is until I power things up and the sound I hear induces a sense of unease. A lingering feeling signalling I’m not hearing all that my gear has to offer.
Evil resonances and negative vibrations are at work, I say to myself so with a deep sigh, I set to work tuning things, rearranging gear to banish these unwanted audio gremlins from my room.
THE LOW DOWN
These evil vibrations are a by-product of speakers exciting plaster walls, windows, floorboards, equipment racks and equipment.
Trucks can also create them labouring along the nearby freeway, or most noticeable when an airliner’s flight path is diverted directly over our home because of changing wind patterns.
Whatever the source, these vibrations arrive at my equipment and will linger there degrading the integrity of the sound unless they’re attended to.
This isn’t as facile as some might imagine.
Audiophiles privileged to live in solid brick homes with wooden floorboards have an easier time rerouting or tuning air and floor-borne vibrations than those of us dwelling in weatherboard shacks.
And those enviable colleagues blessed to have solid brick homes built on a solid and dense concrete slab, cohabit in the best of all audio environments.
But one of the best solutions I’ve ever experienced was courtesy of an audio buddy of mine called, Scott.
He and I were in total agreement that resonances plague a turntable more than any other component.
His fix, in the days before products such as IsoAcoustics OREA footers hit the market, was ingenious but vandalous.
In complete frustration Scott, one fine day, set about cutting four one and a half inch holes in his polished floorboards. Happy with his work, he then used a sledgehammer to drive four metal, one-inch water pipes through the holes and deep into mother earth below.
He cut the pipes to equal lengths so they stood proud and even, about two-metres above the floorboards.
After spraying them black, he screwed three sets of four self-tapping, large head screws at equal distances on the inside of the pipes.
He made three wooden shelves and placed these on the screw heads.
Mission accomplished, he put the turntable on the top shelf and his pre-power amps down below.
The sound we both heard before and after the water pipe surgery was, as they say, the difference between hamburger and sirloin steak. No comparison.
When I mooted the idea to my wife, she gave me the kind of prolonged, blank stare that always translates to “What are you, crazy or just stupid?” I let the water pipe solution to audio resonances slip by to the keeper. By the way, my mate Scott was single at the time …
THE FIX IS IN
The best recourse for the rest of us is to heed my apple-cheeked gran’s advice and knuckle down to reality, meaning we should treat these spurious vibrations before we plan a component or system upgrade.
A horde of audio accessory brands is on offer with solutions that can work, or not.
Some use extensive scientific research to arrive at the final design of their vibration busting accessories. Many don’t.
If this reminds you of the methodology, or lack of, running rampant in the audio cable market, you’d be right. ‘Cos that’s the way of it when it comes to the audio accessory scene.
And this state of affairs goes a long way to explaining why many equipment racks and audio equipment isolation devices improve the sound in some areas but leave it all the worse in other parameters.
You can knock yourself out trying to research the technology used by IsoAcoustics. Or you can read this Ontario, Canada based brand’s patents.
IsoAcoustics does have history. It’s GAIA speaker isolators have won plenty of praise from reviewers I usually read and respect. And, the newly released OREA isolator pods are now also gaining positive review traction.
But as to how they work, the most I can share with you is they’re designed to stop air and floor-borne nasties from getting into your equipment.
I think they do that, quite nicely. But I also suspect they act like tuning forks as well. All supports do.
What I have learnt over the journey is this: equipment isolators as classy as the two sets of IsoAcoutics audio isolating pods residing under my gear now, deliver the most subtle but worthwhile system improvements their asking price can buy.
There are two models to choose from.
The OREA Indigo isolation puck is a universal isolator that can support 7.2 kgs per puck. For heavier components, the OREA Bordeaux that can support 14.5 kgs per puck is a no-brainer for big power amps.
In even better news for owners of gear with three supporting feet rather than four, the OREA range is available separately so you can buy one at a time if you so desire.
The OREA range’s pricing is sane, very sane. Each OREA Indigo puck costs just $99 RRP, while the OREA Bordeaux is $129 RRP.
But here is the thing: I could not hear any difference between four or three pucks. So unless you’re worried about a component tilting off the OREA pods, save money and buy three.
Each pod is solidly built and has a large, rubberised surface area of about 6cm in diameter. Height is nearly 4cm. The OREAs are solid and very nicely made. Rubberised top and bottoms ensure they are a non-slip device.
A Case OF Snaring The Pig On The Mountain Before Lighting Your Pot
The isoAcoustic isolator pods are easily recommendable. Slip some under your gear, and the audible results are both obvious and worthwhile.
The difference they make is more audible used under signal sources than placed under any other component. The effect, in my experience, is less pronounced but still very worthwhile under pre and power amps.
Under any component, the sound was more tightly focused with the OREA. As for detail, it has to be said the OREA can’t add detail. But these pods were certainly allowing the detail generated by my components to emerge with greater clarity and distinctiveness. This detail was accompanied by a soundstage populated with more air.
Hearing the system with the OREA Indigo pods in place with one set under my turntable, and the OREA Bordeaux under my SACD and CD players (I only had two sets), gave rise to what my colleague Sam Tellig used to describe in his articles as more “There…there”.
My review system for the OREA comprised the SME 20/11 turntable fitted with SME V tonearm and a dazzling Van Den Hul Crimson Stradivarius cartridge.
CD players were the new Pioneer PD70 and the newly arrived for review flagship Marantz model called the SA10. My own Audio Research Reference CD7 MK11 was also used.
Preamps were the Elektra Audio Pnyx and Audio Research’s giant-killing LS17SE. Power amps were the Elektra Audio HD reference and the Audio Research Reference 75, still my favourite Audio research valve amp of all time. Speakers wired to this gear were the Wilson Audio Sasha.
Sampling Tasty Pork Dumplings Washed Down AS Tipple With Eaglehawk Cabernet Sauvignon
With only two sets of OREA pods on hand, I decided the greatest sonic gains were to be had using a pair under the turntable and the other under each CD player employed at the time.
The first track to get the OREA treatment was Joni Mitchell’s majestic 'Sire Of Sorrows' from her Travelogue vinyl album. With the pods supporting the SME20, her voice had better-defined presence and projection.
The accompanying guitars flanking Mitchell emerged from a fairly silent dark background with more focus than I recalled. I removed the pods to confirm what I was hearing.
Sure enough, without the pods, the voice and guitars lost some of their focus. Bass was also more distinct and defined with the pods than without them.
But in the interest of balance, along with the greater clarity, I also heard slightly brighter high frequencies. It's hard to say if this added treble spotlight was a feature of my system that the OREA highlighted or an artefact caused by the pods.
I suspect a bit of both. Which leads me to the notion the OREA pods would make a wonderful synergistic match with valve equipment.
So I inserted the Audio Research LSD17SE pre and Ref 75 power amp and played the same track. Sure enough, the sound became smoother and the treble less pronounced.
Next vinyl track to get the OREA treatment was Dylan’s 'Sad Eyed Lady' From The Lowlands recorded on LP and SACD. A conscious choice because it's a very long track, Dylan's Sad Eyed Lady affords ample time to listen and make notes.
I put the Pods under the SA14 and later the PD70. The two player’s neutrality and transparency, along with an ability to drill deep into SACD and CDs to extract alarming amounts of detail, provided an ideal platform for the pods.
With the OREA the Dylan SACD track was audibly more focused, and the long sustained organ melodies had a more defined organic richness. Dylan’s nasally vocals were even more pronounced than I was used to.
Switching to vinyl, the track gained immeasurably more detail, air and transparency. This led me to the summation that the OREA pods, notwithstanding the question of a highlighted treble, were bringing plenty of positive sonic attributes to my audio system.
I decided to focus on the Vegh Quartets sublime playing of the Beethoven 'Late String Quartets' to get more of a grip on the OREA’s highlighting of the treble frequencies.
My Vegh recording can't be regarded as harsh. Quite the opposite. But I reasoned that violins naturally have a sharp resonant edge, and I wanted to hear if the pods boosted the instrument's upper frequencies.
Exactly what transpired, with the violins exhibiting a more pronounced emphasis on the highest frequencies. Intrigued, I took out the OREAs and replaced them with Norstone supports.
The result floored me. With the Norstones in place, higher frequencies were spotlighted even more. Both OREAs and the Norstones were revealing a tendency to treble brightness residing somewhere in my gear or my room.
After a long arduous process of trial and error, I traced this unwanted artifact to the wall behind my listening chair.
I normally use two rows of absorber panels spaced wide apart behind my listening seat. Moving them closer together was all that was required to restore a natural quality to treble frequencies.
The OREA pods are an interesting addition to my audio system. The benefits of having them under my signal sources are audible as are the gains in clarity, air and focus.
What needs to be pointed out is the fact these perceived differences are not overwhelmingly large. In truth, while the sonic benefits are worthwhile, they’re minimal compared to what can be delivered by acoustically treating a listening room.
So I liken the affordable OREA pods as the icing on the audio cake. In other words, they're a valuable addition whose importance grows after you've addressed your equipment rack and room acoustics.
Approached methodically rather than emotionally, the OREA isolator pods are a hell of an audio bargain and can be warmly recommended.
For more information visit IsoAcoustics.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.