After having witnessed how the filter/conditioner Isotek Evo3 Aquarius performer during this year’s Audio Show, myself and Jacek decided, that it is worth trying out in more comfortable conditions, meaning our own systems. The presentations led by Mr. Keith Martin, that showed the influence of this British power conditioner on Primare electronics playing through Raidho S-2.0 speakers were so positive, that I cannot think of anybody, who listened to it during the two days of the show, and would say it is autosuggestion. So when in those extreme conditions like the show hotel, where there are voltage drops and surges, the Isotek may not have worked miracles, but for sure it filtered out most of the electrojunk present in the power grid. In household conditions it can only be better.
The Evo3 Aquarius is part of the Performance series, dedicated to systems costing 1.5 to 5 thousand pounds, so for European values, quite budget oriented systems. But is very solid, and the design can only be complemented. Despite the standard dimensions and a classic, rectangular enclosure, the cabinet is quite attractive, due to the sparkling and rough varnish. The front has the shape of a grille, with a central, rectangular plate with two blue LEDs and the manufacturers logo and model name.
The back plate is covered with an aesthetic graphic, which forms the background for six Schuko power sockets and an rectangular power supply socket in the IEC C20 standard. Two outputs, rated 16A, are dedicated to high current devices, like all kinds of amplifiers, subwoofers, etc, the remaining four sockets, rated at 5A, are more than sufficient to power all other devices. According to the materials supplied by the company, the 3 reduces RFI by 60dB and protection against current spikes up to 67500A. The output is defined as 3680W for the first two sockets, and 1150W for the remaining four sockets, at constant load.
A look inside the cabinet reveals a quite minimalist filtering and protection circuitry, with a clear distinction between the high and low current part. The whole is cabled with silver plated OFC wires in FEP isolation.
After unplugging of my GigaWatt power strip and a few days of accommodation, I decided to start the test with not so demanding material. “Traces of You” Anoushka Shankar is a light album, soaked with Indian climate, produced by Nitin Sawhney. I exploited this recording in my system, as well as in the tested at the same time Auralic amp with a Meridian file player, I noticed the changes brought by the Isotek immediately. The contours were slightly rounded, and the whole sound got an intrinsic calmness and pastel softness. The highest frequencies were slightly filtered away, which started to brush the senses with amber, sunset light, instead of sparkling from time to time with icy glitter. This will for sure be a nice touch for everybody, who has a too analytical system, or one having issues with finesse in the treble, and this should be no surprise, as the Evo3 was designed to be used with such systems. I, however, took the opportunity to listen to such “audiophile” productions like “Szeptem” Anna Maria Jopek, or “Death Magnetic” Metallica, without risking my hearing, without losing the enamel on my teeth, and having a lot of satisfaction.
More worked out material, in terms of instruments as well as complexity of the score, became a bit denser and darker than usual, when listened with the Isotek plugged in. The recording of “Carmen” G. Bizet from 1963 (Herbert Von Karajan) became more intimate, closer to the listener and the background noise was reduced to negligible levels. The effect reminded me of using the Dolby B or S noise reduction systems. The album “Bolero! Orchestral Fireworks” (Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra), which is a volcano of energy, was presented with more focus on things happening in the center of the sound spectrum, and the immediacy of the cymbals was replaced with an accent placed on their structure and timbre. But instead of the expected loss of readability of the sound, it did not diminish significantly, the micro details remained visible in the recording. Probably a slight loss of weight in the lower frequencies also played a role here. The bass became a little lighter, and due to the quicker decay it did not turn attention away from the rest of the sound spectrum.
At the end of the test I decided to make a very neck breaking comparison and similar to Keith Martin, who did that during the Audio Show, I compared the IsoTek with an ordinary, supermarket type power strip. Well, the first words I uttered after switching over from the British conditioner to the white contestant and pressing play on “The Last Ship” Sting, cannot be published in any way. I am aware, that Mr. Gordon Sumner can hoarsen, rustle and lisp, but the degradation of the sound was comparable with trying to make a reference listening session using not even a radio transmission, but a payphone placed near a tram line. Thinking, that it may be just autosuggestion, and the hearing will accommodate to this sound in time, I tried to continue and … failed at sixth piece – “Practical Arrangement”. It is a calm, romantic ballad, but the cymbals clicking like milk bottle covers and the dry, unpleasant vocals destroyed any joy from listening. In short this was the audiophile version of the “Texan Chainsaw Massacre”. Thank you very much, but this is nothing for me. But before returning back to the IsoTek, in despair, I reached back to the trusty Fellowes 99164. The clamor in the treble subsided immediately, but at the same time the dynamics was lost, of course when comparing to the conditioner, and not the plastic disaster. Although comfort of listening rose significantly, but longer listening resulted in me going to sleep, and music should rather calm down, and not put to sleep.
As you can see from the above, the IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius seems to be a logical, and fully desirable upgrade of the power supply to powering a system directly from the wall, or through an ultra-cheap proposal provided by large supermarkets. Regarding a more sublime and at the same time similarly priced competition, I will not uncover new lands by saying, that you will not get around listening in your own system, or you will be just reading tea leaves. You have to go to a shop, take a conditioner to your listening room for a few days and listen.
Text and photographs: Marcin Olszewski
Distributor: Chillout Studio
– EVO3 Aquarius 6 – 5490 pln.
– EVO3 ELITE POWER CABLE – 1650 pln./2mb
EVO3 AQUARIUS 6
Number of outlets: 6
Outlets 1-2 (high current): 16A
Outlets 3-6 (medium current): 5A
Mains inlet: 16A IEC C20
Mains voltage: 100-240V / 50-60Hz
Total available power (230V): 3680W
Total transient power (high current): 18400W
Dimensions: 444 x 85 x 305mm (w x h x d)
Weight (boxed): 9Kg
Conductors: 99.999999% OFC silver-plated
Dielectric: Teflon (FEP)
Connectors: OFC 24ct Gold plated
Termination: UK to C7, C15 & C19 IEC
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon 1sc
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Stream player: Olive O2M; laptop Dell Inspiron 1764 + JRiver Media Center
– Integrated Amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI 5
– Preamplifier: Auralic Taurus Pre
– Power Amplifier Monoblock: Auralic Merak
– Speakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo; Harmonix CI-230 Mark-II; Neyton Neurnberg NF
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB Cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Neyton Hamburg LS
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; Harmonix X-DC2
– Power distribution board: GigaWatt PF-2 + przewód LC-2mk2
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; HighEndNovum PMR Premium; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
I think I do not need to prove to anybody how important power supply is for each audio system, and I think, that every audiophile considered how to tackle the problem. Some make a dedicated power line – but only some lucky people can do that – which resolves all the issues found in a typical power socket, caused by household equipment, others try to mitigate the issue using elaborate power cords, yet others try to use filters, conditioners and re-generators. I used the first variant in my home, with two threefold power strips and currently I have not found a better solution, which would not leave a signature on the sound produced by the whole system. Any additional device in the power path always introduced changes, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, while the ideal would be something absolutely sonically transparent. A slight improvement of resolution – please do not confuse this with brightening, or upping the tonal balance – I would count for a positive effect of removing voltage fluctuations from the power grid, but the things I hear, usually put a deep mark on the reproduced sound. This is also the reason, that some people, who buy this gear, use it for fine tuning of their system in terms of sound. A reasonable audiophile, knowing, that in different systems the changes can go in very distinct directions, tests a given upgrade in his own system. However it was so, that to date I did not host any power conditioner for longer in my system, so when I heard the proposition to test the IsoTek model Evo3 Aquarius, with the power cable Evo3 Elite, I was very happy.
The main hero of the test – a conditioner, is similarly sized as a budget integrated amplifier. The fascia is a thick plate of aluminum, milled in a shape resembling a heat sink. In the middle there is a rectangular plate with the company logo and two LED power indicators. The back panel houses six sockets, where two nearest to the power inlet are dedicated to high current devices, while the rest for units with a mitigated appetite for wattage. The whole is engulfed by a cover varnished with something resembling a sandpaper with brocade. The main power switch is located on the bottom plate near the front right foot. There are two color versions available – silver and black. We received the black version for testing, which looks a bit sad. Looking at the catalog we can see, that the Aquarius is in the beginning of the price list and is dedicated to budget systems. But placing it in a system far above its destination, should allow us to clearly see, how it performs. As an addition to the conditioner I also received a power cable, in a gold braid. The plugs in violet-transparent color are carrying the IsoTek logo, and metal elements are gold plated. Everything looks very chic, what woke the hopes, that sonic wise it will be at least similarly good. I did not split the test in small parts, checking the power cable and the conditioner separately, I just connected everything together and gave it time to burn in a bit.
Due to the fact, that the manufacturer of my power amplifier insists on powering it directly from the wall socket, I needed to make a few tests plugging it into the wall and the conditioner in turns. And it turned out, that the manufacturer is right. Reimyo offers a power conditioner, but they recommend to not use it with the power amp. The British remedy for power line junk made the improved volts suck out all of the life from the music, and the whole seemed to be separated from me by a thick veil. But please do not worry, much beefier players in the power conditioning area had similar problems, and I would not scratch the IsoTek from your listening wish list. This is just a confirmation, that the constructor of the amplifier knows what he is doing, and not a problem of the tested device. After this experience, the Aquarius powered only the two part CD player and the preamplifier, and in this configuration, it was much better. It had its saying the resulting sound, but it was not as problematic, as with the Reimyo power amp.
Plugging the power amplifier directly into the wall during this few days of the test allowed for a comfortable analysis of the presented sound. The set supplied by the Chillout Studio added its signature, but it was not more than a touch, compared to the initial configuration. The IsoTek fought well, it put on weight rounded off the treble a little. The music got color, which is probably much desired by many systems. Of course the virtual sources were no longer cut with such a thin line, but still were nicely focused on a large stage. The latter did not suffer at all by the Anglo-Japanese connection. The thing that was audible, was the lesser openness and freedom f the further planes, a consequence of the treble being adjusted to the rest of the frequency spectrum. Please remember, that this is a product for a different target group, where this will either not be audible at all, or even a solution to many issues. But you have to test for yourself. I will try to convey what the final effect looked like, based on certain discs I listened to, what may provide some extra information, for somebody knowing the given album. Anyway, each test should only be treated as a general guidance, because even the best review is only a result of the capabilities of the tested product set off against the preferences of the reviewer.
To introduce you to the effect of the tested combination, I chose two propositions from distant musical genres. The first one is the ECM recording signed by Tord Gustavsen – piano in a quartet with Tore Brunborg – tenor sax, Mats Eierts – double bass, Jarl Vespestad – drums, recorded in 2012 and named “The Well”. Even if somebody does not know this album, still the approach of the label to recoding is always the same, so still some information is to be extracted here. I had a lot of joy listening to this disc. The musicians playing their instruments got an additional dose of timbre, what improved the sax sound, increasing its homogeneity. The contrabass sounded a bit more with his body, but did not turn into a mud pool, and the piano became the second instrument, that gained most in this setup. Its timbre and heavier lower octaves positioned it solidly on the sound stage. Only the drummer had it a bit harder with his cymbals, because those were not as airy as he would want them to be. The cymbals decayed shorter, yet still readable enough, so that there was no dissonance between them and the rest of the instruments. All this together resulted in a very nice listening of the disc from the first note to the end.
The thickening and slight rounding of the sound in a small ensemble was absolutely acceptable, but I wanted how this will influence electronic music, so I put the disc “Exciter” Depeche Mode in the player. Here I have only praise, because now I rather do not listen to such repertoire – while I was a fan of it some time ago – and even if I do, I put the volume down. This time it was different. The influence of the IsoTek allowed me to turn the volume up in regions, never exploited before. The artificial sounds, generated by synthesizers, gained timbre and smoothness acceptable to the ears, and allowed me to recall my memories of times spent with such music. Currently I try to minimize the amount of artificial sounds, and this was a nice time travel for me. If someone has only such discs in his or hers library, and would like to save their hearing, this British conditioner is perfect for that purpose. I would say, that it will help with all kinds of garish music; the only problem being in defining what is garish and what is not. Unfortunately this usually comes with the age, and young lovers of listening to music do not think, what will happen when they get older. And they will be surprised, how quickly this comes.
I must say, that my initial fears of the IsoTek product not fitting my Reimyo system, after the initial compromise, turned out to be bloated. My power amplifier did not play at the maximum of its capabilities with any conditioner, and a similar situation with the British product is for sure no sign of failure. And what the product offered in my, very midrange oriented system, will be a smoothening experience in most other systems. You should try for yourself, and if you will not hear anything, this will mean, that it just ideally fitted in your system, isolating it from trash in the power lines, and if it adds something positive – then you should just be happy. I had a lot of pleasure from using the tested gear and I really encourage you to try it out in your environment.
The system used in the test, a complete set of Combak Corporation.
– Separate DAC + CD player: CDT – 777 + DAP – 999 EX
– Tube preamp: CAT – 777 MK II
– Solid state power amp: KAP – 777
Speakers: Bravo Consequence +
Power cables: Harmonix X-DC-350M2R Improved Version
Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (Section woofer)
IC RCA Harmonix HS 101-GP
Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
Table: Rogoz Audio
Accessories: Antivibration stand for the power amp by Harmonix TU-505EX MK2, Harmonix Enacom improved for AC 100-240V; Harmonix Tuning Room Mini Disk RFA-80i
drive: Dr. Feickert Analogue „Twin”
arm: SME V
cartridge: Dynavector XX-2 MK II
– Phonostage: LINN UPHORIK