Firstly I owe Simon Bennett of Absolute Analogue an apology. He sent me several packets of Bright Star Audio IsoNodes to both try and write about quite a few months ago. Sadly prior reviewing schedules, work commitments and life issues have got in the way but as they say ‘better late than never’. My thanks go to Simon for his patience and understanding.
Sold direct in the UK by Absolute Analogue the Isonodes are manufactured by America company Bright Star Audio and form part of the core technology used in many of their other products. However other than the following information on there web site ‘ The unique IsoNode polymer rejects a wide range of vibration trying to enter from underneath the component. The highly compliant IsoNode acts as both a liquid and a solid for superior vibration control.’ I can’t tell you what the Isonodes are made from. However I can tell you though, that they are not made from that other soft form of isolation Sorbothane.
Bright Star Audio claim the following for the IsoNodes ‘The first thing you will notice is superior resolution and picture quality from video and increased clarity, dynamics and more extended bass response from your audio. As you play your home theater, more subtle improvements can be perceived: greater dimension and depth plus more vivid color from video and enhanced soundstage, smoothness and detail from audio’ Bright Star also suggest using the IsoNodes with ‘The source (DVD player, CD player, etc.) typically exhibits the greatest benefit, but all of the components in your system will improve by adding the IsoNode feet.’
The review items came attached to a piece of card with a plastic bag over them. Simple packaging which keeps costs down and is, I guess, also good for the environment.
I tried the IsoNodes under several items of equipment that I felt would benefit most from ‘Eliminating vibration and resonance’ which Bright Star Audio state ‘has a profound effect….’ so during this review I decided to use the Isonodes with equipment that primarily uses valves for signal and amplification duties (as these can be very prone to acoustic/vibrational ingress) and in the main a Music Reference RM200 mk1 valve power-amplifier and it is my findings with that amplifier that I will refer to in this review.
In the main the system I used for this review was identical to that used during my recent Track Audio Precision 600/700 speaker stands review with the exception of using my BAT VK 31se Pre-amplifier instead of the EAR one I used during the TAP review. So the system comprised of AMR CD-77 CD player, BAT VK31se pre-amplifier, Music Reference 200 mk1 power-amplifier, Reference 3A Dulcet speakers, afore mention Track Audio Precision 700 speaker stands. Cabling used was Audience AU24 rca to rca and xlr to xlr line level signals, XLO Type 6 speaker cable, TCI Boa constrictor and Constrictor mains cables . The equipment was housed on Target TT5 and Mana Reference stands. I also used a home made isolation platform using Track Audio Isolation spikes (separate review coming soon) under the Music Reference RM200 amplifier.
In order to keep things simple I mostly used the excellent album from Robert Downey Junior – The Futurist.
My review methodology was kept pretty simple: listen to the album with the amplifier sitting on its own feet, place Isonode’s under it, compare to a known reference – in this case Clearlight Audio RDC cones.
You would have thought that would have been pretty straight forward? Well I think we all know that in most things audio my initial idea was to prove a wee bit too…ummm, straight forward for its own good.
Listening to the system with the Music Reference RM 200 sitting on its own feet was very good, no doubt aided quite a bit by the Track Audio Isolation Spike using amplifier platform. However the RM200 has very basic hard rubber feet and I was fairly certain, based on previous experience of replacing such feet with something much better that an improvement over what I was hearing was possible (1)
With the large Isonodes not being tall enough to raise the amplifier above its own feet I had to use two on top of each other, thus forming a sphere to gain the correct height (2). Listening to Kimberly Glides of the Futurist again was quite an eye or should that be ear opener? The soundstage had gained height, width and depth, instruments had gained more of their own space within the soundstage and fine percussive details were more easily heard. The top end of the frequency range had also opened up and was more airy.
With the Isonodes in place it was possible to follow tiny shifts in playing and phrasing more easily and Robert Downey’s vocals had more space round them. The bass was also more open, having gained a degree more clarity and weight.
Normally I use this amplifier on Clearlight Audio RDC cones so I replaced the IsoNodes with them and listened again to Kimberly Glides. What I had heard with the Isondes in place was still there but the soundstage had moved slightly more forwards without gaining any depth and overall the music was just a little bit brighter. Not more open just slightly spotlit. Depending on the system this might have been felt to be an improvement but to my mind in the context of this particular system (please keep that in mind) I felt that music reproduction had taken a very slight step backwards.
Like most valve amplifiers the presence of a large mains and pair of output transformers creates more weight at the back and with the Isonodes used as spheres I felt that perhaps there was too much weight at the back being supported by too little. I removed the amplifier from the platform and removed its feet and placed the Isonodes I had been sent on the top of the platform with two at the front and five in a W pattern to be under where the transformers are.
Setting the RM200 back onto the platform, making sure that everything was lined up, I reconnected the speaker cables and interconnects and listened once again to Kimberly Glides. The overall tonal balance was unchanged but there was slightly more width and depth to the soundstage and the overall sound was slightly more coherent. Overall the way music sounded was just more effortless, coherent, organic and right compared to using the RDC cones. However I need to be clear here, the differences between the two presentations may evaporate depending on the system and individual components used within that system. I am not saying that one product is better than the other here, as such, just that the IsoNodes suited the Music Reference amplifier in this application better than RDC cones.
However regardless of which product suits this amplifier in this system better than the other (an issue of system synergy), it should be noted that the IsoNodes are well under half the price of the RDC Cones.
One thing that is very clear here is that Bright Star Audio IsoNodes do exactly what they say on the tin, without softening the sound in the way I have heard Sorbathane do in the past when I have tried it. The really impressive thing though about these isolation products other than the effect they have on the sound reproduction of the item that is sitting on them, is that they cost very little at just £19.50 per pack of four including postage. This in my opinion makes Bright Star IsoNodes somewhat of a bargain and a first port of call for the audio enthusiast to try whether he or she is on a tight budget or with more cash to spend; I think you will be very impressed with what you hear.
In saying that I want to be clear here I am not stating that other isolation products out there may not be more suitable for your system but what I am saying is that at what is beer money these squidgy domes from America should be in my opinion at the top of the list of such items you try.
You may ask are there any negatives? Only one and that is that you may have to remove the feet of the component you want to try them under, as even the big domes are fairly small compared to some equipment feet being used out there. Other than that these are a bargain.
Having spent quite awhile talking with Simon Bennett about the IsoNodes he tells me that he has found them to work very well with turntables and in a future follow up review I will be trying them in just such an application. Watch this space as they say.
IsoNode Specs: The large size is 1.25” x 0.75” tall. Each large IsoNode foot holds 10.5 lbs. A set of four holds 42 lbs
Direct Sale Price £19.50 for one set of four, £37.00 for two sets of four, £54.00 for three sets of four,£70.00 for four sets of four, £86.00 for five sets of four.
Review Loan Source: UK Distributor
Absolute Analogue UK Distributor. Contact Simon Bennett:
Manufacturer Bright Star Audio / IsoNode 22647 Ventura Blvd, Suite 366,Woodland Hills CA 91364-1416, America , phone 818.577.7924 fax 818.704.1978
© Text and Photos Copyright 2011 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio…..except for Bright Star IsoNode product photos and album cover; Copyright belongs with their original publishers.
NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.
(1)I have long known of such things and only present this information in the way I have so that the new audio enthusiasts feels like they are making this discovery with me.
(2) During a recent email conversation Simon made these comments about using the IsoNodes when, as I found the feet on your equipment are too tall ‘It is often the case that it is preferable to place the IsoNodes on the underside of the equipment chassis rather than directly under the existing feet. In this way you get the benefit of draining some energy from the chassis as well as reducing energy going in from vibrations from the shelf the equipment is sitting on. On the other hand, sometimes it is better to just place the IsoNodes under the existing feet – the good bit is you can simply try and see what happens.
The IsoNodes are quite small, even though these are the larger version produced by Bright Star (Simon does not distribute the smaller ones), and hence if placed on the underside of the chassis they may not reach down far enough past the existing feet. You mention that it may be necessary to remove the feet of the component you want to try them under. Instead of removing the existing feet all you need to do is put something under the IsoNodes, say a small block of wood or metal, just so that the existing feet no longer touch the shelf.’
Simon also mentioned the possible use of IsoNodes under speakers, not something I have tried or truth be told contemplated but may well do after these comments ‘Generally speaking there can be potential problems with losing phase information by putting a compliant item under speakers but when I discussed this with Bright Star Audio they were well aware of this and said it should not really be a problem. So, you might want to try putting the IsoNodes under the Dulcets just to see what happens.’
One issue I have not explored but is common enough is noise generation by hard-drives in sky boxes, DVD recorders etc. Simon comments on a problem he had and the solution he found….. ‘I have a hard drive recorder for time shifting television programs and also to play DVDs. For the money it is very good, but it is a typical thin pressed metal case (you can push down and feel the hard drive!) and has fairly pathetic feet, just extruded nubs. The problem was that the hard drive caused the box to vibrate against the shelf which was quite noisy and very annoying. I solved the problem by putting IsoNodes under the recorder.’