IsoAcoustics Part 3: The Gaia II Speaker Isolators
by Jamie Gillies
The final product I reviewed from IsoAcoustics were its flagship product, the Gaia speaker isolators. These disc shaped weights, with a suction cup technology built in for additional stabilization, screw in and attach to most floorstanding speakers or bookshelf speaker stands. The Gaia technology, according to François Cauchon, Canadian National Sales Manager, are “designed to decouple the component or speaker from its connecting surface, allowing it to float independently.” By doing this, the thought is that firstly, sound reflections coming back from the supporting surface, like a hardwood floor, are “attenuated to eliminate smear, providing greater sound clarity and openness.” Secondly, by giving the speakers themselves more isolation and thus more prevention of lateral movement and oscillation, particularly from bass production, there should be “greater clarity and focus.” Further, isoAcoustics’s frequency response testing from inside the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council claims that the Gaias do not add sound colorization and that they track with the original spikes with which the speakers are provided. In other words, the sound of music in your listening room should change but the character of your speakers should not.
No one product tweak can fix everything. In fact, like most audiophiles, I would say the speaker itself probably accounts for most of the changes in sound in a system. But I was curious to see if speaker isolation could provide another dimension to the music and what would happen to the clarity in my listening room with the Gaias.
I used the Gaia II isolators on my Soliloquy 5.3 speakers. Each speaker weighs about 80 pounds and so this fits within the Gaia II specifications of a weight capacity between 70-120 pounds. But as Cauchon also mentioned, “the rule of thumb is to have a 10% margin” so if your speaker weight is within 10% of the weight limit, the recommendation is to use the next size up for best results since the weight of a speaker is often not equally distributed between the spikes. This is not my first attempt at speaker isolation. Initially, my speakers rested on the spikes provided on top of quarters on the hardwood floor in the living room. This resulted in a boomy bass and fairly unrefined soundstage. The boomy bass was somewhat corrected by moving the speakers out even further from the wall, almost four feet into the living room. I then tried the speakers on a Persian area rug with the spikes directly on it. I was gifted small lead speaker spike discs that I put directly on the rug and that helped with balance and isolation given that the room itself was not perfectly level. Finally, with do-it-yourself experiments, I achieved more improvement with a classic Canadian DIY tweak: eight hockey pucks. Apart from the eyesore of hockey pucks in our living room, they really did work and improved the bass response to be less boomy. But the speakers themselves were not the most secure and could slide a bit on the area rug.
Enter the Gaias. I moved the speakers so that they were directly on the hardwood floor with the area rug just in front of them. After a few minutes, the Gaias started to act like suction cups and as I pressed the speakers down, they became more secure to the hardwood floor than they ever had. Prior to listening with the Gaias, I had selected a five song playlist familiar to me and to the sound from my room. I used Dire Straits Wild West End from their self-titled debut (MFSL SACD DSD), Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince from the album Lover (Republic Qobuz 24/44), Bruce Springsteen’s If I Were A Priest from Letter to You (Columbia 24/96), Joni Mitchell’s Free Man In Paris from Court & Spark (Asylum HDtracks 24/192) and Miles Davis’ Blue In Green from Kind of Blue (MFSL SACD DSD). These five tracks, which I streamed from a solid state drive connected to my exaSound e20 DAC and PlayPoint streamer, gave me a good cross-section of vocals, instrument separation and bass response. I listened to them repeatedly with no IsoAcoustics products in the system. Note that I think each one of these tracks sounds very good in my room.
After adding the Gaia IIs by screwing in the largest size thread adapter provided to the speakers’ base plates, I then listened and noticed something quite dramatic. The bass seemed to disappear at first. It was there but it was different. It took me listening to the Dire Straits and Taylor Swift tracks to realize that what had disappeared was the bass bloom, and it had been replaced with a more direct low end. It threw me a bit as it did not sound like what I had expected. I then closed my eyes and listened again on repeat, this time realizing the bass was more accurate and was less the centerpiece of the track. Instead the mids and highs seemed to be more central and right in front of me. François Cauchon had written to me that customers have said the bass is “much tighter and better defined…which contributes to better mids and highs.” I was hearing much more delineated space between musicians in the sound stage, as if I was pinpointing where the musician was, if I was imagining the live recording in the studio. This was very much the case on the Miles Davis track and the Springsteen song, that were recorded live in the studio.
I think this initially was a strange audiophile effect. The sound became much more technical and maybe more technically accurate. But it took a little getting used to since it seemed to make the stereo image wider and somewhat different.
I listened to all of the tracks multiple times and started to like the effect. To my ears, my system started to sound more like a more expensive audiophile-like system. It had a more pinpoint accuracy instead of the laid-back softer imaging, which I had really liked and with which I was very familiar. In other words, I was surprised my speakers could sound like that, with accuracy you can hear with much more expensive speakers. The bass especially had disappeared more into the soundstage and in effect, it was less showy and has less bloom. But that made vocals sound better because the low end was more out of the way. The Gaia isolators certainly do a variety of things to the sound. But it did take a little while to adjust. Once I did, it was hard to go back, since I wanted to hear everything now with the Gaias. What I think happened was that the speakers with isolation started to respond more like a well-voiced neutral speaker. My Soliloquys have one of the most recessed but also one of the deepest soundstages I have heard. With the Gaias in place, the stereo image moved forward and became wider but I did not lose the character of my speakers. I was just not listening as much to what was behind the speaker and more about what was holographic between the speakers. That shift was pretty dramatic, especially with the Joni Mitchell track, where her voice was front and center.
I listened for another hour, just to these five tracks on repeat, to get a better sense of what had changed. I felt that the speakers were now responding better.
While the Gaia IIs retail for around $700 Canadian for two sets of four speaker isolators ($349.99 each), I was suitably impressed. They did alter the clarity in such a way to achieve more accurate bass response which, in effect, improved the mids and highs. If you have the money, this is a fantastic accessory that should be considered with speakers. Definitely try out IsoAcoustics isolation.
The next day I put the Orea pucks underneath my DAC and streamer and added the zaZen platforms to my preamp and amplifier. I then tried the same five tracks again, with the Gaias underneath the speakers, to create a ‘full loom’ of IsoAcoustics isolation. Those five tracks sounded better than I had ever heard them in that listening space. Gone was any harshness on vocals, a smoother and more enveloping soundstage, a wider stereo image that had moved closer to me, and instrumentation that initially felt a bit too technical but that actually had lifted a veil and was no longer as smeared. The only change to the system was isolation.
They helped me get closer to audiophile nirvana with the changes to the sound. In association with the Orea isolators under my digital components and zaZen platforms under my amplifiers, the IsoAcoustics suite of products provided a clear and significant improvement in sound quality. Keeping in mind that my equipment is mid-priced gear and that there are clear limitations to what I can achieve, the IsoAcoustics products provided as significant an improvement as better cables. It surprised me how much isolation improved the sound. The question is, will this work for everybody? For those who have already gone down the isolation route, especially with stabilization of speakers, it might not have as dramatic an effect. But for many of us who have never tried isolators and stabilization platforms and pucks that try to eliminate resonance and vibration, I can say that IsoAcoustics products work and they can work magic on your system. I think it depends on what you are looking to achieve. Impressed is an understatement. In my system, these products are magical. At $700 for two sets, the Gaia speaker isolators are one of the best tweaks to a system I have heard.
Gaia I: includes thread adaptors for sizes M8-1.25, M12-1.25 and ¼”-20. Alternative thread size adaptors are available upon request.
Weight capacity: 220 lbs (100 kg) per set of 4. Package includes 4 units. 2 sets are required for a pair of speakers.
Gaia II (reviewed): includes thread adaptors for sizes M6-1.0, M8-1.25 and ¼”-20. Alternative thread size adaptors are available upon request.
Weight capacity: 120 lbs (54 kg) per set of 4. Package includes 4 units. 2 sets are required for a pair of speakers.
Gaia III: includes thread adaptors for sizes M6-1.0, M8-1.25 and ¼”-20. Alternative thread size adaptors are available upon request.
Weight capacity: 70 lbs (32 kg) per set of 4. Package includes 4 units. 2 sets are required for a pair of speakers.
Finished in an elegant machined dark chrome metal housing.
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