IsoAcoustics zaZen II Isolation Platform
- by Neil Gader
- Mar 03rd, 2023
An audio friend once gave me advice about caring for A/V components. It was something to the effect that “electronics don’t like to be disturbed—just put them where you want them and leave them alone.” Sure, I get it. Anything filled with circuitry and bunches of delicate parts never likes to be bumped, jostled, dropped, or otherwise. Beyond that, however, we now understand that this “don’t touch” guidance applies on the micro-level, as well. Thus, today, the virtues of component isolation and stability have been well established. External or internal factors like acoustic resonances, airborne vibrations, or mechanisms such as CD transports or turntable motors can disturb the signal and are anathema to best performance. Think of it this way: Physically supporting an audio system is a little like building any structure—a room, a home. To the extent that its foundation is weak or substandard, everything that follows is going to be impacted negatively.
This is where the specialty products of IsoAcoustics come in. Based in Ontario, Canada, IsoAcoustics designs products across all ranges and price points and currently sells in over 70 countries. There are platforms for both speakers and subs, plus various footers, turntable isolators, and supporting accessories that run the gamut. Easily, the most basic design is the tried-and-true isolation platform.
The zaZen isolation platforms are among the latest offerings to join the IsoAcoustics line, and they represent a ground-floor solution in a segment where the sky is the limit. ZaZen is available in two sizes: the zaZen I ($199), with a weight capacity of 25 pounds; and the zaZen II ($229), which handles up to 40 pounds. Using a combination of mass and IsoAcoustics’ isolation technology, zaZen provides a stable, low-profile platform with a low noise floor, designed for turntables and audio components. ZaZen features a medium gloss black finish over a heavy fiber construction The platform is very dense and, according to IsoAcoustics, contains no voids, making it an ideal acoustic material for the job at hand.
Its footers use isolation technology derived from the top-tier OREA and GAIA series, tuned to work within specific weight ranges. They are made of a resilient elastomer and include a top and bottom isolator linked with a connector. Their performance, in IsoAcoustics’ words, “is a function of how the three parts work together and the characteristics of the materials we use—the durometer (hardness) property, the viscoelastic properties, and the material thickness and shape. There is a small concave area in the bottom of the isolator that provides a suction-cup connection to smoother surfaces.” The isolators are not adjustable, so the responsibility falls on the owner to make sure the supporting surface beneath the zaZen II is level.
During this evaluation, I gathered my impressions using components that included the Aesthetix Mimas tube-hybrid integrated amp (with optional phono module), Parasound JC 3+ phonostage, and the dCS Puccini disc player. Cutting right to the chase, the zaZen II didn’t affect system tonality or skew frequency response in one direction or the other. Its effects were more subtle but instantly perceivable. Overall balance per se remained the same, but the zaZen II did clarify and hone the perception of details by adding just a shade more contrast and sharper focus and, to a lesser extent, by firming up bass response.
In particular, the orchestral soundstage expanded wider with the airy fullness of ambient information. As I listened to Appalachian Journey, which features the crossover string trio of Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and fiddler Mark O’Connor, I noted that the players seemed to snap into place with greater fixity and less variability. I heard a reduction in the tendency of images to constantly “hunt” for position on the soundstage. I was particularly impressed by the way the zaZen II steadied and focused large groups of choral singers, while also allowing greater individuation of voices. There was discernably less congestion and crowding of images, which allowed for a little more bloom. The IsoAcoustics also helped to remove a bit of looseness, tightening the attack of orchestral kettle drums and jazz or rock drum kits. Even the radiating fullness and resonances of a piano soundboard seemed to achieve a higher degree of resolution and sustain.
How does the zaZen II stack up to state-of-art-isolation like my Critical Mass Systems four-tier Sotto Voce equipment rack? Keeping in mind that zaZen II is limited to relatively small, lightweight components, it nonetheless fared remarkably well. In comparison to the CMS, it couldn’t quite confer the weight or elicit the deepest background silences that underpin large-scale orchestral recordings or big bands, but on key issues like image stability and low-level resolving power the zaZen II gave this listener more than a glimpse of the transparency that intelligent isolation can impart.
On shelf or sideboard, the IsoAcoustics zaZen II will integrate almost invisibly with the décor of an existing den or living room. Visually low-impact, but sonically high-achieving, it provided an excellent foundation for smaller budget systems. The primary takeaway: zaZen’s steadying influence allowed more of the fruits of a musical recording to be revealed and enjoyed.
In conclusion, products like the IsoAcoustics zaZen II are a reminder of just how far you can go in the high end without betting the farm. Unreservedly recommended.
Specs & Pricing
Dimensions: 17″ x 1.4″ x 15.9″
39 Main Street North, Unit 5
Markham, ON, Canada L3P 1X3
Tags: ACCESSORIES PLATFORM
By Neil Gader
My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.More articles from this editor
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