Sometimes, it’s hard to find a hook upon which to hang a review. Other times, the product is almost a gift to a writer. The zaZen by IsoAcoustics falls very much into the latter camp; like the religio-philosophical discipline it’s named after, it’s designed to bring a sense of ordered calm to the product that sits upon its top plate. That it does so without needing to stare at a wall for a decade or turn the lower half of your body into some kind of man-pretzel is a bonus.
The zaZen is a black lacquered high-density fibreboard platform that has dimensions of 43x38x3cm and change, with a foot screwed into all four corners. The foot itself has a slightly sticky black termination stuff (you can put the platform on almost anything and it will remain immobile, but not stuck fast) and a disc of – un-named – red stuff, that allows a degree of flexibility in all planes. I’m not entirely comfy with ‘stuff’, but the material composition of these vibration-reduction materials is a closely guarded secret, and my secret reverse-engineering materials science chemical laboratory/lair is currently engaged in evil schemes.
The feet act as isolation, preventing most ground-based vibrations from passing through to the platform itself. OK, so if your interpretation of ‘ground-based vibration’ involves steam-hammers, road drills or earthquakes, no amount of zaZen is going to chill things out, but they are extremely effective in reducing the potential feedback from loudspeakers, especially if you are using a turntable relatively close to the loudspeakers themselves: the ‘audio demonstration’ position of having all the equipment in a neat row between the speakers might be great for showcasing that new amp, and it might be a necessity in some rooms, but it isn’t exactly optimal for audio quality. A zaZen or two evens the score without the product supports being so ostentatious they draw attention to themselves.
The difference between zaZen I and II ultimately comes down to the II being 4mm taller and the mass of the product that is going to sit on the platform; the I tops out at 25lbs/11.3kg while the II can cope with the huskier product with a 40lbs/18.1kg mass. Beyond that, you are looking at IsoAcoustics Delos platforms and OREA isolators, which give you a theoretical maximum product weight of 192lbs/87kg for the truly Falstaffian power amplifier.
We used both the zaZen I and zaZen II and their performance is functionally almost interchangeable in most cases. If you are using a particularly light product (like a sub-5kg DAC or phono stage), then go with the zaZen I but the upper limits of both have some wiggle room. I would still hesitate to use anything much over about 12.5kg on the zaZen I and if your amp weighs more than about 20kg, I’d give the whole zaZen group a miss for that product.
The trap of sighted audio reviewing (‘shiny silver thing sounds shiny’) is such that something called ‘zaZen’ should make a sound that’s calm and relaxed, if perhaps a little aloof and divorced from reality, but in fact, only one of those things rings true with the IsoAcoustics platforms. They do bestow a sense of calm upon the products they support, allowing sonic important aspects like soundstage to expand to their rightful size. Low frequencies – especially low frequencies on turntables – are especially well catered for with the zaZen; bass gets less rounded and uneven and more controlled, even in more wild moments, such as ‘Towers of Dub’ from The Orb’s 1991 LP U.F.Orb [Big Life]. On a less well ‘sorted’ shelf close to a loudspeaker, the bass will feedback to the point where the cones can flap on many lower-mass, unsuspended turntables, but place a zaZen in there and the bass remains deep while being more ‘in place’ with the music.
The effect is equally significant with valve amplifiers, although the only example I have that stays under the weight restrictions of both zaZen models is the English Acoustics Stereo 21c power amplifier (tested next issue) which is itself good at isolation in and of itself. Here, the impact of a zaZen is more about midrange and high-frequency clarity thanks to the reduction of potential microphony from the world beneath the amp, but the zaZen nails that too. There is an improvement with headphone amps, streamers, phono stages and solid-state in general, but the effects are more subtle. I tried it on a range of products and at a range of prices from the relatively inexpensive up to the nursery slopes of ‘sharp intake of breath’ and the improvements were still noticeable. However, the more care and attention placed by the manufacturer of the electronics, the more the zaZen’s influence becomes ‘nuanced’. A mark of quality, however, was at no time did I use the zaZen under a device and think it made it sound worse. In all cases, it improved the sound, just with some of the more upmarket devices, the improvement was mild. But that overall sense of effortless the zaZen platforms brings to soundstage size and bass delivery it brings to vinyl and the overall ‘rightness’ of the sound applies to a lot of products.
Many good isolation solutions exist but they too often come with some built-in additional ‘faff’, be it careful positioning of pods, careful positioning of the product feet on independent sections of the top plate, sacrificing your firstborn to Imhotep, or some kind of delicate balancing act. IsoAcoustics zaZen platforms are delightfully faff-free. Similarly, there’s a remarkable absence of ‘fluff’ too; this doesn’t reduce interference from our alien overlords, disrupt negative aetheric vibes from the dark lords of distortion or disentangle quantum electrodynamic shells lost in the 10th dimension.
IsoAcoustics zaZen models help reduce ground-borne vibration; you put the zaZen on a shelf, put a product on the zaZen… and that’s it. Aside from some care in selecting the right model for the weight of the product, the job is done. And it works, too. Yes, the most noticeable changes zaZen brings about are when it sits beneath a turntable or something with valves/tubes, but it’s surprising just how many other products benefit from that vibration reduction too; streamers, in particular, seem to benefit from the zaZen’s sense of chill. Finally, if you are the kind of person that loves a bit of good sound but finds high-performance audio furniture a little too ‘overt’, a zaZen under each device on your domestic furniture makes a lot of sense.
Price and contact details
- IsoAcoustics zaZen I: £199
- IsoAcoustics zaZen II: £229
UK Distributor: SCV Distribution
Tel: +44(0)330 122 2500