Common and differential mode noise isn’t what goes on between the benches at the Palace of Westminster, although that might describe it aptly, or maybe not following the ‘Brexit’ shutdown. Nor is it what goes on at 90 percent of bars in New York to stifle all conversation, according to some studies apparently……it is what your HiFi has to contend with!
Differential mode noise is created by power supplies in all electronic devices and common mode noise comes from the radio frequency interference in an invisible world. Unbeknown to us these wireless communications are whizzing around us.
One of the predictable ‘stock’ responses on online forums as to why you don’t need HiFi power conditioners to tackle noise, is that if the power supply is designed properly then power conditioners aren’t necessary. This makes assumptions on two levels; first that all power supplies are properly designed – they often aren’t, and secondly that this noise isn’t audible. Anyone who has checked out power conditioners like me, knows this to be categorically and immutably not the case.
I’ve tested premium power conditioners before, notably the Isol-8 Minisub Axis and Isol-8 SubStation Integra. They are the types of components that really improve areas of tone and soundstage, you will hear it predominantly said….their modus operandi. So often bringing warmth and refinement and cutting out the high frequency artefacts that are so insidious to this noise and a grating edgy treble-esque sound.
But picking out sound qualities is often so specific to the person you’ll hear other descriptives in reviews as wide as improved detail to improved transients and so on. No surprise with different systems, ears, and preferences, all into a proverbial mixing pot of discernability. But sometimes as boring as reading a telephone directory by the same set of descriptives used, or as much use as wing mirrors on a submarine. And it says nothing of what is most evident. Now I can’t predict how it will be for you, but what I can do is account the main traits across a range of HiFi and what is most obvious. That immediate characteristic that should smack you in the face on swapping over – if the HiFi will reveal it of course!
This brings me to what I get from each of the IsoTek Sirius and IsoTek Aquarius models. I start with my Titan Audio Styx bar which doesn’t have power conditioning, is a bog standard audiophile power bar costing £150/c$200 with star wired connections. Then I move to the IEC socket connected Sirius and then the Aquarius. To be honest, let’s face it, at the end of the day, this is the normal cliched way of testing gear going from lesser to better qualified components. But it’s 110% still a good one. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself but allow me to give my take on these products……..
It’s important to say that a lot of the benefit in power conditioners is determinant on the electrical noise in the environment – the more there is, the more dramatic the result. Hardly a surprise.
I once was sitting in the audience of a HiFi show of the hotel room type. All the electrical pollution was having a dramatic effect on the IsoTek demonstration system of Larsen 6 speakers and Exposure amplification, such that changing to the Aquarius from the IsoTek Polaris actually sounded like adding a new amplifier. It was that profound and it wasn’t an excessively expensive HiFi system too. In the inevitable way of getting feedback, for IsoTek to have even considered ‘asking the audience’ if we could hear a difference would be to insult our intelligence. Much like the host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? asking the audience who is the current president of the USA!!?? It is too obvious!
Bass quality is one area that is immediately more evident with the Sirius, which is a 6 gang mains conditioner of the power-bar type. There is no daisy-chain or busbar arrangement where all the sockets along the line get lesser current. You get the usual surge and spike protection, naturally. A solid and intentioned block too of irrefragable quality. But back to sound quality…. this bass is extended and goes lower – another natural trait of what power conditioners do.
Familiar by Agnes Obel on the Citizen of Glass album already has a big soundstage, but through the Sirius this is extended further. And with this deeper bass, it is the standout characteristic by far. There are good improvements in this area and considering the price over the Styx, these are worthwhile changes in audiophile terms, which is a fair way of putting it.
What the Sirius does not do is destroy *all* the dynamics from my Cyrus power amps, an often criticised trait of power conditioners. A bit faster Georgio Moroder, is well intonated and articulate in its baseline. Nothing sloppy there. With Billie Jean, which is a great track for testing dynamics, I did notice that that snare drum start up sequence is slightly more sure footed dynamically with the Styx. This is possibly attributed to the combination of probable lower current output than the Styx and current effects through conditioning components. Noticeably too that volume is higher as you swap back to the Styx bar.
On checking with Keith Martin at IsoTek I was informed that the Sirius had to be certified with a 10amp fuse, so hardly surprising it had these effects,
Doing a check back to the Styx power-bar, where I’m using the excellent hosepipe thickness Titan Helios power cable, these positive characteristics I found are affirmed. It wasn’t just chance!
The naturalness in tone and removed sibilant edginess of the Sirius then personifies all these other superlatives that get used. I succumb to these for the purposes of approving of what the Sirius does but highlighting its main traits in bold. It is certainly true this tone is a stand out feature.
Also using a Schiit Jotunheim headphone amp (with multibit DAC option) plugged into the spare XLR outputs of my Cyrus DAC XP Signature pre amp using some $1500 Focal Clear headphones, again grainy treble is all but removed using the Sirius, against the Styx. I must admit, it is a change that is appreciably subtle until you recognise it. But turn up the volume and it’s about as unsubtle as motion blur on a HD TV.
Again there is relatively little loss of dynamics into this $2000 headphone system. It’s certainly more musical and you hear the sound-staging of Billie Jean. Again the edginess of the vocal is tuned down but everything fits more naturally in place. There is appreciably more echo to the 29 second snare drum start up sequence. Again the sound-staging improvements conditioners bring.
A step up
IsoTek say the Sirius boasts a 40db noise reduction whilst outputting a maximum 2,300W, and with the Aquarius this is purportedly taken to 60db. It has two high current outlets delivering 3,680W and four medium current outlets delivering 1,150W.
The sample Aquarius loaned to me is in the black finish with a quality milled aluminium face plate and brushed black speckled paint aluminium sheet sides. I use the supplied IsoTek EVO-3 Premier Cable to connect it to the mains.
I won’t suggest it produces an inky black background in the normal way of lots of HiFi reviews of power conditioners. This is true to the extent of the effects on removing grainy high frequencies, and I’m not detracting from it achieving this but it’s not the most stand out-ish characteristic. The effects it has on obvious areas of improving defined areas of the music like bass and dynamics, are.
The central light gives the green light to go – a blue light in fact. But it’s just as I remember the show Aquarius sounding. Natural but a forcefully improved sound akin to improved amplification. That quality you get of a more powerfully intentioned amp – better drive all around. It clearly goes deeper in bass than the Sirius with more current on tap and, as you’d probably expect.
My PMC’s already produce a wider soundstage than they have any god given right for their size. An analogy I’ve used before, and they don’t now produce more sound than even god would allow as that would be over egging it, and anyway how does god know there is no god above him? What is true is that your speakers will be taken to another level in soundstage with the Aquarius.
Dynamics are improved and have fluidity and speed which aren’t smeared or blurred and this was evident trying the track Europe Endless (2009 remaster) by Kraftwerk….. Apt given we are dealing with the ‘Aquarius’ here. Maybe that’s why Isotek named it as such – it certainly fits!
Swapping back to the Styx to check dynamic effects, the sound is flat. As flat as a fillet of sole *comparatively*. Richness in sound quality is removed too.
The point here is that no longer are power conditioners like this to be considered a choke on your systems dynamics and it’s actually the opposite! It can’t be over emphasised enough with the Aquarius.
Often power conditioners get unfairly criticised by audiophiles online, on the basis of components used – but IsoTek still have to manufacture and design in the confines of a relatively small market of audiophiles with fixed and variable costs. Something I always emphasise. To the extent of the price versus performance ratio and the market the Aquarius sits in, it is competitively priced in my view.
I found the similar traits as I’ve explained above with the headphone system using both DACs available – Chord Qutest, and the multibit DAC in the Schiit Jotunheim.
Compared to the £2,200 Isol-8 SubStation Integra, the Aquarius seems to be more giving of a tone, naturally relative to the sound of your HiFi components. Bass is all there but it doesn’t stop itself from producing naturally desired treble in an open way. The Integra is a bit more rounded and smooth, if slightly tonally warmer than the Aquarius, but it colours sound more which the Aquarius just doesn’t do. I like the fact it doesn’t alter your own house sound and ultimately neutrality is what is required.
You might be thinking that by any estimation, the Aquarius is expensive as a HiFi conditioner. But given its amp like credentials on improving soundstage, bass response, removing all adverse artefacts we talked about, and capabilities with dynamics, it shoots very well at its standard. Would it perform similarly than comparable spending on amplification in a quality HiFi as I’ve suggested? Well that’s a hard question to answer because some amps will do more than others, obviously. But this is moot, because what is for sure, is that used with great HiFi components this is a finishing off component too. It squeezes the last drop of performance out. So the Aquarius definitely deserves to sit in your rack on its own capabilities and on merit.
For the characteristics that the Sirius brings to the party, it is a conditioner that will really appeal to jazz, classical and acoustic music. It’s one of those devices that once you take it out of your HiFi playing this type of music, you probably won’t want to go back to how things were before. Simply because I think most peoples attitude will be, for most general music tastes anyway, that the added positive characteristics it brings outstrip *any* potential dynamic drawbacks. That said if dynamics are really critical to you, I suspect it will depend on your amplification and how much current it needs as to whether there are any unwanted affects, so it is definitely a component you should try yourself. My Cyrus power amps do very much like current.
If you are an electronic fiend like me who wants superb intonated dynamics listening to fast music and you have a system in the £2.5-10k bracket, I’d recommend trying the Aquarius instead, as IsoTek do……..
The Aquarius is extremely capable at all levels. A proverbial jack of all trades, a component that just forces more music out of your HiFi, and one that is very dynamically capable. If you’ve got a good HiFi it will transport it to a new level. Its worth is there to be seen (or heard). I can say with total honesty and credibility that this is the case, not as some kind of hyped up HiFi reviewer who does not bring out any drawbacks in reviews.
Judging by the range of conditioners I’ve tried thus far, if I had the money burning a hole, the Aquarius is the conditioner I’d go for in my system. In fact it’s top of the list of next upgrades. Very well recommended and it achieves the 13th Note easily.
- Sockets – 6
- Type of outlets – UK, EU, US, CH, AU, ZA
- Standard mains inlet – IEC fused
- Mains voltage – 100-240VAC / 50-60Hz
- Max current – 10Amps HRC
- Total wattage – 2,300 (UK/EU) 1,100 (US)
- Dimensions – 88 x 50 x 480mm (W x H x D)
- Weight – 2KG
- Surge and spike protected
- Sockets – 6
- Outlets 1-2 (high current) – 16amp
- Outlets 3-6 (medium current) – 5amp
- Mains inlet – 16A IEC C20
- Mains voltage – 100-240V / 50-60Hz
- Total available power (230V) – 3,680W
- Total transient power (high current) – 7,360W
- Dimensions – 444 x 90 x 305mm (W x H x D)
- Weight – 9kg (boxed)
- Surge and spike protected
Prices (to follow)
- EVO3 Sirius.
- EVO3 Aquarius
- EVO3 Premier Cable
General Questions: [email protected]
Website : https://www.isoteksystems.com
Equipment used in Test
HiFi System ; Cyrus DAC XP Signature pre amp with partnering Cyrus PSX-R power supply, Cyrus Mono X200 Signature power amps, Innuos Zenith Mark 2 digital source/server, Chord Qutest DAC, PMC twenty5 23 speakers
Headphone System; Schiit Jotunheim headphone amp with option Multibit DAC, Focal Clear headphones