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Isoclean 80A3 Power Conditioner Review

Constantine Soo reaches for a new level of sonic fidelity with the $4,200 Isoclean 80A3 Audio Grade Filter

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Isoclean 80A3 Audio Grade Power Conditioner

The Isoclean line of AC products has been imported into the U.S. market by Aaudio Imports of Parker, Colorado for nearly four years now, and it has been the one component constant in every one of AI’s Acapella speaker-based show exhibits, along with two of the $3,500 PT-3030 II Power Isolation Transformers, the $4,200 80A3 six-outlet filter and a host of the $4,000 Supreme Focus power cable systems, and the $2,100 Super Focus power cables.

The subject of this review, the 80A3 six-outlet filter, is the top-of-the-line model in Isoclean’s high-current-delivery power filter offering, presiding over the two other smaller models, namely the 60-ampere-capable 60A3 II six-outlet filter ($3,100) and the 50-ampere-capable 50A3 II six-outlet filter ($2,200).

Sporting a glistening copper chassis and a polished mirror top plate, the 80A3 provided dual 80-ampere-ready radio frequency noise filters in discrete operations for maximum isolation and thus, a full realization of their potentials. The 80A3’s IEC socket was a rhodium-plated Furutech design, dampened by high-quality European epoxy compound and linked individually by separate wiring to each of the six audio-grade, National 24-karat gold-plated sockets.

The flamboyancy of the copper chassis was conceived to serve practical concerns, as it was of extra-thickness, high quality copper plates so as to induce sheer mass and thus, stability while absorbing additional RF noise in conjunction with the operations of the dual 80-ampere filters mentioned above.

Among the six outlets, two were designated “Digital” that would provide additional filtration of sine wave signals from digital front-ends, so as to prevent the mingling of such digital artifacts from interacting with purity of analog signals.

For readers considering AC line filtration only for their front-ends and other equipment that are not current craving, Isoclean also offers the 4-outlet 105F II filter ($1,300). The six-outlet 106 II ($1,260) and the four-outlet, non-filtering104 II ($1,060) complete the lineup with the same extravagant construction with only EMI noise isolation in a non-magnetic copper chassis and tip toes.

System Setup

In a system comprising digital front-end supported by five power cables, namely two for the 47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport and three for the 3-chassis, Wadia Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer, four of Isoclean’s ICP-003G gold-plate 2-position wall sockets, 8 outlets in total, assumed normal duty in power provisioning. For this review, I delegated the 80A3’s two DIGITAL outlets to provide for the two Wadia 921 monoblock Decoding Computers’ power cables. The power cable for the remaining Wadia 931 Controller and the two for the 47 Lab PiTracer were plugged directly into the Isoclean wall sockets.

Two of the remaining four outlets on the 80A3 served to power either the Red Rock Audio Renaissance Svetlana SV572-10-based monoblock amplifiers or the Pass Labs XA100.5 monoblocks, and the other two powered the active woofers of each of the AcousticPlan Veena loudspeaker system. No preamplifier was needed in this Wadia-based setup as the Wadia drove the RRR directly with its digital volume control. In an alternate digital front-end setup, Audio Note’s DAC5 Special and Pass Labs’ X0.2 preamplification system replaced the Wadia, and one of the 80A3’s DIGITAL outlets was assigned to the British SuperDAC. The Pass Labs was plugged into the Isoclean wall socket.

Power cables on hand for use in this setup were three of Isoclean’s Super Focus, two of Furutech’s latest, $1,800 Piezo Powerflux, and three Harmonix Reimyo Studio Master. Cable from each make was experimented in pulling power from the wall AC to the 80A3, and each make’s power cable offered its characteristics in fulfilling a most crucial role toward system-building. Furutech’s latest Piezo Powerflux, in particular, epitomized the level of finesse a power cable could achieve. Yet, as this review seeks to investigate the potential of an Isoclean filter, it will do so with the company’s own Super Focus connecting the 80A3 to the AC outlet.

In addition, the AC-cleansing effect of the 80A3 was more obvious when it was plugged into any of the four Isoclean ICP-003G wall sockets, than directly into either of the two, generic household AC outlets on the side walls. Activities on stage were a magnitude more orderly and discrete, enabling me to obtain a much higher sense of realism from the sound. Concession must be given here that the AC lines running to the four ICP-003G sockets were wired directly from the breaker box, whereas the generic outlets on the side walls shared the same circuit with the rest of the house.

The AcousticPlan Veena loudspeakers had its active woofers powered by Wireworld’s Silver Electra AC cables.

Wireworld’s latest top balanced interconnects, the Platinum Eclipse, were used as reference in linking analog outputs from either DACs to equipment downstream, which would be the Pass Labs XA100.5 monoblock amplifiers when the Wadia was in use, or the Pass Labs X0.2 preamplification system when the Audio Note SuperDAC was in use. In the latter, Audio Note’s Sogon™ RCA silver interconnects connected the X.02 to the Renaissance. Succinctly: DAC5 Special to X.02 with the Wireworld Platinum Eclipse, and Audio Note Sogon to Renaissance; and Reference Series 9 to XA100.5 directly.

In addition to the AcousticPlan Veena semi-active speaker system, the Tannoy Churchill Wideband served as the reference loudspeaker when the Pass Labs solid-state monoblock amplifiers were in use.

Auditioning

Two of Isoclean’s Super Focus have been in my system for some time, and I found them most powerful in pushing the performance envelope of equipment, be it the digital front-ends or amplifiers. With the first Super Focus assigned to drive the 80A3 itself, which in turn would fuel the Wadia/Red Rock-based system setup, the first sonic impression was immediately noticeable in the increased musicality of the system’s presentation.

The Esoteric-remastered limited-edition hybrid SACD, Beethoven Overtures, gained new layers of depth in the exquisitely re-engineered sound made with Esoteric’s best digital front-end. The portrayal of instrument dimensionality as accorded by this illusion of depth added a more compelling flavor to the playing of the ensemble, and provided a significantly more involving musical experience that persisted even in repeated listening.

The developing crescendos as produced by the 80A3-anchored Red Rock Renaissance amplification were more revelatory of the constituents of instrument groups than when the monoblocks were drawing power directly from the Isoclean wall sockets. There was an appreciable reduction in cross-contamination of timbres, yielding more focused, discrete instrument portrayals to emerge.

The Isoclean 80A3 also propelled the Red Rock monoblocks to perform at its most superlative, as it sounded more refined and powerful than I had ever experienced. Tube amplifiers are usually not the most definitive in timbral accuracy, and the Red Rock’s were the only ones to surpass all designs of the vacuum tube family in that regard, next to the Audio Note ONGAKU that I also reviewed. Yet, the 80A3 injected an even higher level of finesse into the workings of the Renaissance monoblocks.

The Red Rock’s subtle but powerful attribute of timbral rendition in the most complex of background ensemble accompaniments became even more powerful with the 80A3. Tonality of instruments, from piano to violin solo, and from triangles to tympani, became much better delineated and distinct. The improved tonal contrasts accorded more realistic portrayal of instruments, hence a profoundly more enjoyable music experience. Whether the 80A3 augmented and complemented the Renaissance’s wide-bandwidth sonic makeup or its dynamic contrast prowess, the 80A3 pushed the performance envelope of the Red Rock monoblocks further.

The Pass Labs XA100.5 solid-state pure class-A monoblock amplifiers also benefited from the addition of the 80A3. In reproducing the wholesome dynamics of the LIM K2 HD disc, Cantate Domino, the Pass Labs, absorbing 270 watts each when in operations and outputting 20 amperes, not only exhibited no compression of dynamics and output when fed by the 80A3, the amplifiers actually emerged as major beneficiaries of a purer AC power source.

What was easily discerned from the AC purity through the Red Rock became even more appreciable through the Pass Labs. Running balanced from either the Wadia Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer or the Audio Note DAC5 Special with the Pass Labs X0.2 preamplifier, the XA100.5s sounded more tonally pristine beyond its characteristically un-transistor-characteristic liquid silkiness. More hollowness of the venue was added to the LIM sound via the more truthful tonal signature of instruments as a consequence, and with the church organ amdh the attendant choir hence taking on more body, the recording at once revealed the delicacy of the recording and the incredible skills and visions of the producers.

More pronounced than the Renaissance, the XA100.5s sounded progressively louder also with increased levels of microdynamics, while the volume readouts on either the Wadia DAC or the X.02 preamplifier were kept at my customary points. Dimensionality of instruments onstage became more focused and discernible, which, in conjunction with the improvements in tonal accuracy, provided another level of uncharacteristic finesse from this transistor design.

But it was during the quietest of moments in the JVC XRCD2 Ondekoza disc that the Isoclean 80A3 categorically reinforced its indispensability. For it was in this disc that the whispery pianissimo of the Japanese fue flute was contrasted most startlingly by the colossal fortissimo of the trio of taiko drums, and the 80A3 enabled the XA100.5 monoblocks to recreate the most breathtaking demonstration of this relationship yet.

Conclusion

Some scientists and engineers are known to repute the importance of power conditioning and the use of specialty power cables. They have pointed out repeatedly the logic fallacy of such measure, as the hundreds of miles of power line that the electric current has to travel on represent a level of sonic impact impossible to rectify in the last meter or two.

There are, unfortunately, less ambitious and less competent designs that never pretended to be anything more than simple filtration devices, and yet were scrutinized by probing engineers and critics alike. Their dismissive conclusions were thus understandable; but the Isoclean 80A3 filter was of a completely different league – a more serious league.

Now, the Isoclean 80A3 also came amidst the recent publishing of the MIT Z Powerbar that I reviewed. At $1,699, the MIT power conditioner offers a total of ten outlets, which includes six filtered and stabilized outlets via the company’s Z technology, two filtered ISO outlets for digital equipment and two unswitched ones. And then there is the Power Factor Correction technology in the MIT.

Isoclean is a smaller operation decidedly when compared to MIT, hence its product development may not have the vast resources that MIT has, and its product offering may also be less of a technological showcase. Yet, what the Isoclean 80A3 may or may not lack in technological complexity, it features an exhaustive utilization of proven technologies for noise absorption, and more than adequately complemented in the level of labor-intensive hand-made finishes.

The 80A3 also attested to a steadfast, focused methodology of Isoclean in the design and development of their products. Whether it was with the Super Focus power cable or the 80A3 filter, the associated system produced clearer, more profound dynamic contrasts and superior tonal definition on instruments. Whereas the Super Focus alone would deliver more potent AC to allow for the attached equipment to flex its muscles more fully, the 80A3 provided a congregated effect on the Super Focus advantage and effectively multiplied the venue by a factor of six.

More importantly, compared to drawing power directly from the Isoclean ICP-003G wall sockets, the addition of the 80A3 provided a heightened display of the attributes of the Super Focus power cable.

Thus, the sonic superiority of the Isoclean 80A3 is best experienced with the Super Focus, and the use of 80A3 with a power cable other than a Super Focus to run the electricity from the wall to the filter will implore sets of outcome disparate to what they are meant for. Like me, you can try combining different sets of AC cables with the Isoclean 80A3; but for the readers ready for a major AC arrangement upgrade, I believe once you put the 80A3 and the Super Focus together, the extent to which they propel the performance envelope of your system will make them the most indispensable component in your system building effort.

With all that has been said, the only way this experience can be improved upon is with the addition of the $4,000 Supreme Focus power cable as the AC cable from the wall, and perhaps even one or two of the $3,500 PT3030G III transformers. That, my friend, is for another time.

As for the scientists and engineers, I only ask them to listen for themselves. Long-term.

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