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IsoTek: a lateral factory visit – A chat with Keith Martin

Isotek Power - Fabriek - Slowakije

True Colours

Inhoud

At the end of a long day at the airport we have spent a night listening to music played on Keith’s reference audio system. We sat down, and Keith put on a record. I have experienced this every time I hear a great performing music system; I cannot do anything but listen and am not willing to stop, time is flowing into other dimensions, it is addictive. We started with listening to one track. After the fourth or fifth record, we listened to the full side of the record. We simply forgot to stand up and change the record. I browsed Keith’s record collection as if I were a little child, curious of what the next musical experience would be. Imagine what a good music system can do; it brings you back to the bare necessities

Alpha-Audio.nl is a Dutch platform that focuses on digital audio and as such has not a background in high end turntable systems. I do own a few turntables that are above the average but in an A-B comparison, a high-end streamer/DAC combination always outperformed the vinyl system in terms of soundstage, tonal balance and holographic presentation. The records we played on Keith’s VPI turntable system revealed a variety that is both logical and striking. Often, I have judged an audio component as being neutral but of course, there are lots shades in neutrality. On this system, I even heard differences between tracks of the same (side of the) album. This system did not have any coloration and yet is by no means dull or analytic. We were happy to both prefer albums that were off the beaten audiophile track. So no “Keith Don’t Go” (sorry Nils). Recordings dating back to the 1950s or 60s, recorded with a pair of well placed Neumann U 67 (I presume) microphones. Maybe a less wide soundstage, but wow, the dynamics. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories contains a track called Giorgio (Moroder). The master of disco talks about his early years as a musician and on using the Moog Modular synthesizer. It is spoken word, electronic music and dance that becomes more and more complex. I know this track quite well but have never heard the vinyl version on a high-end system as we were listening to this night. Believe me or not, I heard details of soundscapes and 3-dimensional aspects of the track that have been hidden to me before.

Propellerheads’ History Repeating track on the album Decksandrumsandrockandroll is a remix of Shirley Basseys rendition of the song. What surprised me, was the difference in mastering between this track and the following track on the LP. The artists have in every way mixed and mastered History Repeating as if recorded in the 1960s. The following track brought me back to 1997; soundstage was wider, bas and sub bass rolled on and off lower, etcetera. The difference has never been more revealing.

Tower Of Power

To make a long story short; every record sounded differently and revealed information on the music and its context. Nothing between the music and the ear. The audio system, Keith Martin’s reference setup where IsoTek’s prototypes are assessed, is unmistakably high end; VPI turntable, Halcro DM10 pre-amp, Aesthetix Rhea phono stage, Clearlight Diamond Symphony speakers, two Gamut M250i mono power amps. Oomph…

On the very left side of the system were the two flagship products of IsoTek, stacked as a tower: the EVO3 Super Titan and EVO3 Genesis. Titan’s job is to drive the power-hungry amps and is IsoTeks answer to the assertion that (power) amplifiers should not be connected to a power filter/regenerator. The EVO3 Genesis is meant to supply the front end with clean power. How would this system, worth more than € 100.000, sound without this tower of power? I have described what happened when we rewired the preamps and turntable transport to an entry level power strip. The system’s sonic performance literally fell into pieces. Imagine what would happen when the Titan were bypassed…

Keith Martin often states that to obtain the best music reproduction one cannot overlook the power supply. Power is the first input, without it nothing else will work. It comes into an audio system and will ultimately affect every component. A better power supply ultimately allows high class electronics to perform better. It is a fundamental foundation to a good sounding audio system.

In the signal path, electrical interference between devices (Differential Mode mains noise) should be avoided and the power should enter the system as clean is possible. Garbage in, garbage out. If one thing became clear to me was that IsoTek’s tower of power was an essential part of the audio system. It is the brand’s virtue that it also has focused on the design of power conditioners; they deserve their position in the audio rack and should not be tucked away behind it.

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