The Cartridge Man Isolator is an interesting and somewhat off the wall concept I thought. I reviewed the brilliant Cartridge Man Music Maker III cartridge a few months ago and since then it’s been sat on the end of the Origin Live Silver arm attached to my Wilson Benesch Circle turntable. Truth be known, much to Len’s (The Cartridge Man) annoyance I’m sure, I really didn’t want to interfere with what was a lovely sounding analogue set up. However, the isolator had been sent for review and so a couple of weeks ago I bit the bullet and decided to fit the isolator to the cartridge.
So what is the Isolator then, I hear you ask. Well it’s a sandwich of soft spongy material between two very thin metal plates – have a look at the picture. It measures 25mm x 20mm x 5.4mm and it has a mass of 2g. It’s an unassuming bit of kit and if truth be known I was not hopeful of this little device’s efficacy.
To fit it you basically peel of a bit of paper protecting a sticky surface, stick the sticky surface onto your cartridge whilst aligning the attached locating pins and then tighten the attached bolts to your arm with the supplied nuts. It’s a bit of an odd experience not having the bolts go through the actual cartridge body and it be just stuck there by glue, but all seems pretty secure. Literally a two minute job!
Of course once you add the Isolator you need to realign your cartridge and set it up again… and add an extra 5.5 mm to the arm height.
On Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend” there appears to be a good degree more naturalness to the overall sound, particularly with the quieter guitar which now seems to be more apparent in the overall mix – there’s also more insight into the recording space which I love to hear. I know that “naturalness” and “apparent” are pretty vague words to use in a review, but overall the character of the music you’re hearing doesn’t actually change, there just seems to be more detail and that nth degree of magic that we strive for in our systems. On the next track “Harvest” there is more air and space around the instruments and in the mix as a whole. The soundstaging feels more true to life and there’s that feeling of being in front of/in the recording space again.
The change in sound is not as subtle as my description may point to and that feeling that what you are hearing is far better (more detail, more space, and more insight) than without the Isolator in place is immediately apparent. I’ve striven for an analogy with this and the nearest I can get is an optical one. It’s like being happy with your spectacle prescription and getting on perfectly well with it day to day and then having your new glasses with your new prescription arrive and only then do you realise that actually you were missing quite a bit of finer detail.
Pop on Horace Andy’s “Book of Dub” and the deep bass is a little more natural, tight and taut than without the Isolator in place and that feeling of getting a little bit more of everything throughout the mix is obvious. The mix is definitely more clearly defined in the stereo image.
Moving onto Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” there’s a cymbal sound at the start and with the Isolator in the chain it’s easier to pick out and the whole tonal presentation of the music has that feel to it that it’s just sounding a little more true to the original recording.
As I’m writing this I’m well aware that the review may seem a little hazy in the way I’m describing what the Isolator is doing to the sound of a cartridge that I already thought was very good, but plonk this weird looking thing between the Music Maker III and the tonearm and it lifts it another rung up the ladder – almost as if the cartridge is getting more out of the grooves …I’m sure it’s not, but you do HEAR more in the music. Looking at the Cartridge Man site he says the Isolator “has been shown to reduce the noise floor level by 3dB (a cut of 50%). This reduction allows far more low level information into the audio picture, improving sound stage, imaging and resolution” and this seems to make sense and is a pretty accurate description of what I heard!
Ok, I’ll be honest here and say that for £85 you don’t seem to get a lot of hardware for your money, but the Isolator has been granted a patent and at the end of the day it’s what improvements it makes to the sound that is important.
Does it work and is it worth £85? Yes it does work (much to my surprise) it works very well indeed. The Isolator is well worth the asking price and much more in sonic terms and as such it comes highly recommended.
If I was to be given the option of spending £85 on the Isolator or on a handful of albums then I’d definitely go for the Isolator– it will add another level of listening pleasure to the records you already own!
If you own a Music Maker III cartridge then I’d say that this is an essential purchase and I’m surprised it doesn’t come bundled with the cartridge. If it has the same effect on other cartridges (I have no reason to suspect it won’t) then, going out on a limb, I’d suggest it will be one of the best tweaks you will make to your vinyl front end where “bang for buck” is concerned.
I’m dying to take it off the Music Maker III and put it onto the other deck’s AT33EV to see how it performs on non-Cartridge Man cartridges, but from what I’ve heard of it I really don’t want to risk spoiling what it does in its current home, but I’m sure in due course I’ll be ordering another.