Normally I'm pretty apprehensive when it comes to products in the "audiophile tweaks" category. It's not that I think all tweaks are snake oil. I don't. It's just that the majority of tweak products I've come across provide too small an improvement for the investment required. In some cases, I haven't noticed any improvement. Instead, my practice has been to thoughtfully select the best audio components I can afford and then apply careful setup to get the best performance possible. I say all of that so you can understand why I'm so excited to share with you my recent experience with one particular product that has provided, hands down, the biggest performance boost to my reference system of any accessory I've auditioned.
Toronto-based IsoAcoustics, Inc. has been designing and manufacturing isolation stands (primarily for studio speakers) since 2012. Prior to that, founder Dave Morrison spent 20 years designing and building music, radio, and television studios for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2016, Mr. Morrison introduced the company's first floorstanding loudspeaker isolator, called the GAIA (pronounced guy-ah)--which is the subject of this review.
I first became aware of the IsoAcoustics brand at T.H.E. Show Newport in June 2016. At the event, the company's Aperta isolation stands were part of a comparison demo: one pair of Focal bookshelf speakers was placed on the Aperta stands, and an identical pair was placed on wood blocks at the exact same height. The far-from-subtle differences I heard in the A/B comparison piqued my interest. While speaking with the representative from Audio Plus Services (the U.S. distributor for IsoAcoustics), I was shown a sample of the soon-to-be-released GAIA isolator. I learned that the technology used in the Aperta stands had been applied to this new GAIA isolator specifically for floorstanders.
Well, fast-forward one year, and I sat through a similar A/B demo at the L.A. Audio Show, this time with the GAIA isolators installed on Focal Sopra towers. Now I was more than a little curious, so I requested that Audio Plus Services send me review samples of the GAIA isolators, along with a set of matching GAIA carpet spikes for me to evaluate with my own reference loudspeaker, the Aerial Acoustics 7T.
The patented design of the GAIA isolation stand includes a top and bottom isolator with a connector sandwiched between them, creating three points of contact. The bottom of the footer has a suction-cup-shaped rubber base attached, which is meant for use on hard surfaces. The isolators are made of machined metal and finished in smoked chrome, resulting in an elegant, high-end look. The GAIA is available in three sizes depending on the weight of the loudspeaker in question. The GAIA I ($599.99 for a pack of four) is designed for speaker loads up to 220 pounds; the GAIA II ($299.99) for speakers up to 120 pounds; and the GAIA III ($199.99) for speakers up to 70 pounds. Since my Aerials weigh 96 pounds apiece, I used a set of the GAIA II isolators.
No matter which model is appropriate for your particular speakers, each comes with three sets of differently sized threaded inserts (M8, M6, and ¼-20). The different sizes will accommodate most speaker designs. If you're unsure of what specific thread size your speakers require, IsoAcoustics offers a handy online database of numerous speaker models, available here. If you do need a different pitch or thread size than the three already included, IsoAcoustics will kindly provide the specific size required via your dealer or regional distributor. There are also adapter plates available to fit Bowers & Wilkins Diamond and Nautilus Series speakers (and another plate for the new D3 Series). And, if your listening room is carpeted like mine, IsoAcoustics recommends adding the matching GAIA carpet spikes ($59.99 for a set of four) to provide a firm, flat surface beneath the GAIA isolators. Let's just say that IsoAcoustics has a solution for almost every speaker available.
To install the GAIA isolators, I used a tip shared by a friend on an online forum (thanks, Ivan!). I carefully elevated the speakers using four Winbag air wedges. I've found these inflatable, leveling shims to be a great tool for someone who needs to swap out speakers frequently. They certainly eliminate the need to call upon friends for help installing or removing footers from heavy speakers. The inflatable shims are available from several retailers, including Amazon. I removed the speaker manufacturer's spikes and replaced them with the included IsoAcoustics ¼-20 thread size inserts and GAIA II isolators. I used the included wrench to make fine adjustments and snug things up.
During the installation, I rotated the GAIA II isolators so that the center of the IsoAcoustics logo was facing the main listening position, per the instructions. This is important in order to obtain the optimal benefit of the GAIAs because of the way the patented design works (more on that in a minute). For those who shun logos, you have the option to turn the logo 180 degrees to be out of sight. Finally, I aligned a GAIA carpet spike directly underneath each GAIA isolator and then lowered the speakers onto the flat bases of the carpet spikes by deflating the leveling shims equally. With this technique, the speakers remained in their original position in my room, and the usual heavy lifting was avoided. Easy peasy.
The patented design of the GAIA isolators is intended to resist lateral movement and oscillations of the speaker, but to still allow alignment on a plane in line with the listener. According to Dave Morrison, "When a speaker is placed on a hard surface, secondary internal reflections result. Any artifacts of this smear that are similar in the two channels is perceived to be in the center, causing the soundstage to collapse." This is why it's important to install the isolators in the correct orientation--doing so means that the sound energy will be directed more precisely toward the listener, eliminating smear and enabling greater sound clarity and a larger, three-dimensional soundstage.
Unable to perform a similar A/B comparison at home to those I'd heard at audio shows, I did the next best thing. Just prior to installing the GAIA II isolators, I played three tracks that I'm very familiar with and took detailed listening notes. Next I installed the IsoAcoustics GAIAs and immediately replayed the same tracks, comparing what I heard with the GAIAs installed to the Aerials with the OEM spikes. With every track, I consistently heard tighter bass and lower midrange, with greater focus and depth. What I already considered to be stellar imaging of vocals and instruments was further improved, and the soundstage was also noticeably wider and deeper. Overall, music had a more three-dimensional, natural sound, causing the speakers to disappear more completely from the room.
These improvements were not subtle, either. They were both obvious and significant. With the GAIA II isolators in place, music listening was just a more emotional experience. In fact, I found myself queuing up track after track, discovering micro-details in the music that I hadn't heard before, no matter the genre being played.
• The GAIA isolation feet provide significant improvements--including tighter, more impactful bass, improved precision of voice and instrument placement, and the creation of a wider, deeper, more three-dimensional soundstage.
• Speakers disappear from the room with the GAIAs in place, providing an experience that brings the listener closer to the original sound heard in the recording studio.
• The stylish design aesthetic of the smoked chrome footers will complement the look of most any loudspeaker.
• I can't think of any low points for the GAIA isolators.
Comparison & Competition
There are many loudspeaker isolation products available. Probably two of the more familiar brands are Stillpoints and Nordost. Stillpoints Ultra 5 isolation footers carry the über-expensive price of $2,796 for a set of four. That works out to $5,592 to outfit a stereo pair of loudspeakers! The Nordost Sort Füt Resonance Control System footers cost $1,499 for a set of four, or $2,998 to outfit a stereo pair. These brands carry prices that are north of what most people spend on their loudspeakers, let alone for an optional accessory. By comparison, the cost to outfit a pair of speakers with the IsoAcoustics GAIA isolators, while not inexpensive, feels like a very strong value.
IsoAcoustics is a company that gets loudspeaker isolation right--and isolation is important if you want to experience the very best performance that your speakers have to offer. Few products can make such a noticeable performance improvement to floorstanding loudspeakers as the IsoAcoustics GAIA acoustic isolation stands. In my opinion, they are are a no-brainer for all floorstander owners with speakers priced anywhere between the extreme budget and the über expensive ends of the price spectrum. I've heard A/B comparisons with a variety of well-respected speaker brands, including Focal, Bowers & Wilkins, and now Aerial Acoustics--all of which revealed significant sonic improvements. You owe it to yourself to either catch IsoAcoustics at a regional audio show for your own A/B audition or just take the leap with an IsoAcoustics retailer that offers a satisfaction guarantee.
For me, this product is so good, it's simply a must-have, and I'm excited to see the direction that IsoAcoustics is going. Given the improvements I experienced with the IsoAcoustics GAIA II isolators installed on my speakers, I'm really curious to hear what the recently released OreaT Series isolators can do for audio component performance.
• Visit the IsoAcoustics website for more product information.