Recording Reviews: IsoAcoustics ISO-PUCK mini Review
Isolation goes small…
I soAcoustics has been making speaker stands in a variety of styles for several years, and they’ve been very popular with home studio and hi-fi enthusiasts, as well as in professional studios. But why do you need something under your monitor speakers to begin with? In a word - vibration. Engineers have known for quite some time about the importance of isolation and mechanically decoupling your speakers from the surface they’re sitting on, and the benefits that you get by doing so - increased accuracy in the low and low-mid frequencies, as well as improved stereo imaging being two of the biggest ones. Isolation can also be a concern for other things besides just studio monitors, and mechanical decoupling can provide benefits with other items that are commonly found in the typical studio, and even in live rigs. And that’s where IsoAcoustics’ latest product - the ISO-PUCK mini comes in…
What You Need To Know
- The IsoAcoustics ISO-PUCK minis are small round units that look somewhat like miniature hockey pucks. They are designed to sit underneath speakers (or other objects that you wish to decouple from the surface they’re sitting on) and reduce vibrations that would otherwise be transferred from the speaker to the surface, or from the surface to the device.
- Each ISO-PUCK mini measures 1.7" (44mm) in diameter and is 0.9" (24mm) tall when nothing is sitting on top, although they can compress a bit when under load.
- The sides of the pucks are made of two rings of injection molded plastic - a black exterior ring on top, and a red ring that sits largely within it that forms the lower part of the unit.
- Both the top and bottom surfaces of the pucks are rubber, and have a slight cup-like indentation. They actually function like suction cups if the bottom of the speaker and the mounting surface is relatively smooth, which helps hold the speakers in position.
- IsoAcoustics says that the units "incorporate their patented design technology to provide a high degree of isolation while resisting lateral movement and oscillations to maintain alignment with the listening position."
- Translation: They help keep your speakers from vibrating and bouncing around on top of whatever they're sitting on, and that basically means two things - your desktop (or whatever) won't start vibrating and radiating unwanted sound, and your speakers will remain more stationary on-axis, which can give you additional improvements in the sound quality, which are often particularly noticeable in the mid-bass as well as in the accuracy of the stereo imaging.
- The IsoAcoustics products are designed to keep the energy on-axis instead of allowing the speakers to oscillate in all directions, so they recommend placing the pucks so that the logo is either facing forward, or towards the rear if you’d rather have the logos hidden.
- Eight of the ISO-PUCK minis come bundled together in a single small (8 3/4” x 4 5/8” x 1”) box. Smaller quantities are not currently available. This is unfortunate since many users will only need three pucks to support their smaller studio monitors, potentially leaving them with a couple of unused units, and two units are not enough to support much of anything due to balancing issues. Being able to buy the pucks individually, or in pairs would allow people to get only the amount they need, or to supplement an eight pack with a couple of additional units to be used on other items in the studio.
- There are weight handling limitations that you need to be aware of. Each puck can handle up to 6 pounds (2.75 kg), although you can spread the weight of larger, heavier objects over multiple pucks. For example, four pucks under a single monitor speaker will give you a 24 pound load cap. Using only three limits you to a maximum load of 18 pounds.
- If you need heavier weight handling capabilities, each of the original ISO-PUCK units can handle up to 20 pounds (9kg) each, so they’re more suitable for larger, heavier studio monitors and guitar amps.
- The other main difference between the original units and the smaller sized ISO-PUCK minis is that the original ISO-PUCK is built into a rigid, black powder-coated steel housing, while the mini units use an injection molded housing.
- A typical arrangement would require a minimum of three (two under the front, and one in the center rear) ISO-PUCK mini units per speaker. If the speakers are light enough, three units is all you really need for effective isolation, while you can use four units to support heavier speakers.
- You can use the decoupling and vibration isolating characteristics of the ISO-PUCK minis to benefit other devices too, such as guitar amps, turntables, subwoofers, mic stands, CD players, and more… just as long as you use enough of them to support the weight of whatever you want to put on them.
- Need to isolate your overhead mics from a drummer with a heavy kick foot and the resulting floor-borne vibrations? Put an ISO-PUCK mini under the three feet of each tripod mic stand and you’ll notice a considerable improvement. This also works great for singers who like to tap their feet enthusiastically while recording - a trio of ISO-PUCK mini units will really cut down on the stand-borne vibrations.
- Is your amp head receiving too much vibration from sitting directly on top of your 4x12 speaker cabinet? You can reduce the effects of that (and possibly improve tube life) by setting some ISO-PUCK mini units between the amp and cabinet.
- Is your guitar amp or wedge stage monitor causing the elevated wood stage (you can use the units on carpeted floors too) to vibrate and rattle? Assuming it’s small and light enough, you can use ISO-PUCK minis to decouple it. Again, the original ISO-PUCKs are a more suitable option for heavier loads and larger, heavier amps and monitors, but the minis work fine with smaller amps and amp heads.
- The ISO-PUCK minis are less expensive per puck than the larger ISO-PUCK model, and while they can handle less weight per puck, the weight handling capacity is sufficient for many real-world speakers and other objects you might want to decouple from whatever they're sitting on.
- There's no way to tilt your monitors upwards (if they're sitting slightly below ear height on your desktop) or downwards (if they're slightly above you on top of a meter bridge) to aim them directly towards you. For people who need height and tilt adjustment, IsoAcoustics recommends their ISO-Stands and Aperta series stands instead of the ISO-PUCK and ISO-PUCK mini, both of which lack any kind of height or tilt adjustment capabilities.
The ISO-PUCK minis do what IsoAcoustics claim they do - they provide effective decoupling, and when used with suitably sized studio monitors, they can make a significant and easily audible improvement in overall sound quality. Anything that’s this affordable that can make such a noticeable improvement to your monitoring accuracy is definitely worth checking out. They're still not cheap, especially compared to foam speaker stands, but they're less expensive than the larger ISO-PUCK model, and less expensive than some of the IsoAcoustic ISO-Stands and Aperta series stands, and far more effective than foam products.
Speaking of the ISO-Stands and Aperta series stands, they do have the advantage of being able to place the monitors in a tilted position, which is a significant limitation of the ISO-PUCK line, although the ISO-PUCK series can be freely configured for width, and they give you the option to add more pucks beneath larger and heavier items. Still, the ISO-PUCK mini will no doubt find plenty of enthusiastic users. They really do isolate well, as long as you give consideration to the weight limitations and don't overload their rated capacity. Most users will notice a significant improvement vs. setting their monitors directly on their desktops or console meter bridges.
While they lack the tilt capability of some of IsoAcoustics’ other products, they have the advantage of being able to be used with many things that their ISO-Stand and Aperta-series stands really aren’t optimized for, such as mic stands, turntables and so forth, making them more versatile and useful in situations where the IsoAcoustics stands are less suitable. All in all they’re effective and simple to use, and will make a serious sonic improvement to your studio, regardless of which nearfield monitors you use. -HC-
Want to discuss the IsoAcoustics ISO-PUCK mini or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
IsoAcoustics ISO-PUCK mini ($119.99 MSRP, $99.99 "street" per eight pack box)
IsoAcoustics product web page
You can purchase the IsoAcoustics ISO-PUCK mini from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.