As musicians, we tend to appreciate listening to music, as well as making it. If you are a bit of a home audio junkie, or if you have spent much time in a studio (or have a studio of your own), you may be familiar with the IsoAcoustics brand. IsoAcoustics Inc. has been manufacturing and distributing isolation products for the audio industry since January 2012. Earlier products were aimed at home audio or at the pro audio market, but they have more recently introduced products aimed at the live audio market. President and founder, Dave Morrison, was involved with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for almost 20 years before starting his own firm, D Morrison Consulting. The initial product which got the IsoAcoustics brand off the ground was the ISO-L8R speaker stand.
IsoAcoustics uses a proprietary isolation material in all of their products, which are typically tuned for different weight ranges. The Stage 1 isolators reviewed here have a capacity of 200 lbs. (for a set of four). The Stage 1 Board (sold separately) is designed to work with the Stage 1 isolators, though the isolators can be screwed right into the bottom of your cab, or attached to another platform/board, if you prefer.
Being familiar with their home and pro audio products, I was curious as to how IsoAcoustics got into the live sound genre, and what tweaks, if any, they needed to make to their products/materials to fit this new usage scenario. Sean Morrison, Head of Marketing for IsoAcoustics, filled me in:
“Dave was approached by the touring guitar tech for John Mayer and Lenny Kravitz. John had been having issues with the bass drum causing the spring reverb to clash and they were having challenges going from one stage to the next. He wanted to know if our HiFi GAIA isolators could be attached to a board and used on stage. Instead, we worked to develop a rugged stage-ready solution that lead to the Stage 1 isolator.
The isolation core was derived from the GAIA series and re-profiled to address the weigh range and conditions for the Stage 1. We were able to leverage our experience with very large speakers on platforms and stages to get consistent results. A rugged aluminum housing was designed that could be affixed to cabinets and boards and ultimately, we developed the New Stage 1 Board as a simple, portable and cost-effective solution that has the isolators built into the board. The board is designed to be lightweight and acoustically inert, made out of a rugged ABS material. A larger version of the New Stage 1 Board for 4×12 cabinets will be available later this year.
Greg Wurth (Steve Vai’s recording engineer) used the Stage 1’s during our development and testing phase for tracking with great results. We found we got great results as they attenuated the bass player buzzing the snare drum on stage, delivered greater punch in the bass and consistency from stage to stage. The clarity and consistency is really apparent to musicians with Stage 1 Boards under their stage monitors.”
The Stage 1 isolators are based off the design of the GAIA Series, which have been tested by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). The following whitepaper includes testing from the NRC comparing the GAIA Series to speaker spikes. Sean claims that these results are consistent with what you would see comparing the Stage 1 to a speaker directly on the supporting surface.
Bass Gear Magazine did not perform any independent measurements of the Stage 1 isolators or Stage 1 Board.
On the Gig
Like most of you, I have gigged out with a wide variety of gear in a wide variety of venues. Early on, I just gigged with whatever I could scrounge together. Later, when I could afford “real” bass cabs (with removable casters!), I experimented with leaving the casters on or taking them off. I believe milk crates were used at one point to try and get the cab up closer to my ears. Needless to say, the results varied. Eventually, I started to become aware of certain issues – from the obvious rattling noise from a preamp tube, to the boominess of sympathetic stage vibration, to a hard to track down vague muddiness – which I began to suspect might be caused from unwanted vibration. This led to a variety of attempts to address/minimize vibrational interference. Discovering the benefits of a high-pass filter was a huge step in the right direction. Side note, it is great to see so many bass heads now incorporating some form of fixed or variable high-pass filter. Getting rid of these super low frequencies definitely helps cut down vibrational interference – and stops the tables/chairs and anything else in the room that’s not bolted down from shaking so much! – but high-pass filtering, alone, does not solve all vibrational interference problems.
Based upon my personal experience, I am of the opinion that sometimes vibrational interference is not a huge factor (and I can’t hear much of a difference, with or without isolation products), sometimes it’s a major pain in the rear that can’t be EQ’d (or filtered) out, and sometimes it isn’t hugely distracting, but can be improved upon. I also reached the conclusion that taking steps to isolate my head and/or cab from vibrational interference definitely helped some of the time, but never made things sound worse. With this in mind, I was curious to see how the IsoAcoustic isolators would perform, especially relative to another product I have used – you know, the one with the name that reminds you of your “grandma.”
To that end, I took the Stage 1 Board to one of my favorite venues, which does have a large, built-in stage. On gigs in this room when I did not have my bass cab isolated from the stage, I have had issues with controlling the “boom and bloom” from my rig, and also issues related to vibrating the drum shells, particularly the kick drum. At this gig, I placed the Stage 1 Board underneath my Bergantino HG412 (more on this, below), with my Bergantino Forté HP on top, and I was able to fill the stage, but with nice, controlled lows, and no interference issues with the drums or drum mics. This was exactly what I was hoping for, and I definitely felt that the Stage 1 Board was doing its job, and doing it well.
Are You Board?
The Stage 1 Board is specifically designed to work with a set of four Stage 1 isolators, and presents a svelte, stylish package. However, it is a bit too svelte, at least in the depth department. 10” deep might be fine for most guitar cabs, but many bass cabs are much deeper. In fact, for most of my medium to larger enclosures, the feet on the bottom of the enclosures are spaced more than 10” apart, front to back. I was able to use my HG412 with the Stage 1 Board with no issues. The Board is slightly wider than the cab, but as the board was placed between the feet on the bottom of the cab, it did feel like it might tip over if I were to bump into it (which I didn’t, fortunately!). That being said, the isolators certainly did their thing and the Stage 1 Board worked just fine. The new, larger board that they have in development for 4×12’s should also be great for larger bass cabs. Speaking of newer options, IsoAcoustics now also offers the New Stage 1 Board with built-in isolators: https://isoacoustics.com/new-stage-1-board/.
Another potential product for IsoAcoustics to consider – or for the DIYer to take on – is a smaller board intended to be placed between the cab and the head. There are certain heads which I have owned/played which seem to be especially susceptible to vibration. If I place these heads directly on top of my bass cab, sometimes the vibrations coming from the cab cause noise/issues with the head. Most commonly, these heads involve tubes – though I do want to be clear in saying that not all heads using preamp or power tubes have issues with vibrations; many manufacturers either incorporate some form of isolation or otherwise address potential vibration issues. I have used shock-mount racks to good effect in the past, as well, but they can be big and bulky, so a simple “isolation layer” between the head and cab can be a more elegant, portable solution.
The Bottom Line
Vibrational isolation can definitely make a difference, particularly in a controlled listening environment. To be honest, it may not be as apparent in a live gigging situation. Personally, I have found a good bit of variation between different rooms/stages and between different rigs with regard to how much or how little the sound/performance of my rig was impacted by unwanted vibrational interactions. However, when it does rear its ugly head, it can be difficult to deal with – unless you have a means of isolating your rig from such unwanted vibrations. The IsoAcoustics Stage 1 isolators – whether attached to the cab directly, to the Stage 1 Board, or to a DIY board – are very effective at isolating your rig from vibrational interference coming from the stage/floor. For a very reasonable price, and presented in a sturdy, compact package, IsoAcoustics makes it easy to take this variable out of the equation.
|Model:||Stage 1 isolators|
|Capacity:||200 lbs (90 kg) for a set of four|
|Dimensions:||3.5” W x 1.7” H|
|Price:||$159.99 list, $129.00 street (set of four)|
|Model:||Stage 1 Board|
|Capacity:||100 lbs (45 kg) per board|
|Material:||ABS thermoplastic polymer|
|Dimensions:||25” W x 10” D x 0.8” H|
|Price:||$49.99 list, $39.99 street|
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