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Power conditioner


Substation LC + HC

Price (at the time of the test): 12 490 PLN + 13 490 PLN

PO Box 56402 London | SE3 7WQ | UK


There is no "one size fits all" solution when it comes to effective power conditioning. We know this through many years of development and hard won experience. We offer a range of products so you can benefit from the optimum solution for your system. A good rule of thumb is to spend 10% of your system cost to optimize your power supply.

nother good rule is to question other people's opinions and to personally verify them. Audio hobby makes it relatively simple as one can verify almost anything by listening sessions in one's own system, or in friend's system, or finally in some audio salon's reference system. Today it is much easier than several years ago as the distributors and dealers are more helpful today than they were years ago. It is a good idea for any audiophile to find his own „friendly” audio salon and keep this relation for as long as possible.
Whatever information your trying to verify, whatever type of audio device you try to assess you should be able to remain objective, cautious, and keep your expectations low. The “cooler” you can stay before test, the more impressed you might be after one. If you're not into advanced power systems for your audio rig just yet, try good quality power cables, power strips, power conditioners and filters. You will be amazed by how much these could do for you, for the performance of your system.

The quote above comes from Nic Poulson, and it sits on the main page of ISOL-8, a British manufacturer of power solutions of audio („Isolate, to render free from external influence”), webpage. It says about spending 10% of one's whole budget for audio system, for power accessories. This tells us that Nic must be a humble person who's not really after our money. My own experience tells me that the whole power system for audio setup should be treated equally with any other element of this system like source, power amp, or signal cables. What's more – power cords, power strips/filters/conditioners require same amount of our “support” as any other system element. So we should use anti-vibration feet under them, and these should be placed on anti-vibration platforms, or even on specialized ones. I don't want you to believe me. I want you to get from your dealer such a highly specialized power system, meet your friends, and drink some wine or beer with them while listening to the music. When I did that for the first time with Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate power strip I wasn't expecting much, or in fact I wasn't expecting anything at all. But after I tried it myself I was immediately „converted” because of all the positive changes in sound that were clearly audible.

Issues with current powering up electric devices have been known to electrician from ever since first electrical gain elements were built (over a hundred years ago). There are places that use an advanced protection against electrical noise, spikes and surges, like hospitals, command centers, computer/server centers and so on. Today electrical noise surrounds us almost everywhere we go as it comes from grid by air, by power lines, and one of the worst things that happened in the recent years was an idea of delivering Internet access via electrical lines. Already some time ago recording studios realized they needed a proper quality power for their equipment. It is worth mentioning that one of the elements of the special re-mastering process that JVC has been doing for their XRCD releases, was powering all the equipment from a special filter with special power cables.

One might think that a good power system for audio setup is not a big deal. Just a shielded cable, separating transformer and... voila! But the truth is, that it is a complex issue and there is only a handful of companies that create true state of the art power systems, and there is even less people who really know how to do it. One of them is Nic Poulson, a founder of Isotek (and Trilogy), and later of ISOL-8.
The latter's portfolio includes a wide range of power “accessories”, including power cords, filters, and conditioners. The latter are true conditioners, unlike devices called filters. Filters, in my understanding, are passive devices, conditioners are active ones. There is quite few “true” conditioners on the market. These are offered by such brands like: Accuphase, PS Audio, Ancient Audio and ISOL-8.

For this test Distributor leased us two elements that were part of a system we awarded after Audio Show 2014 - conditioners called Substation LC and Substation HC, both armed with 1.8m IsoLink Ref. Power cords (that need to be bought separately and cost 3850 PLN a piece). I had to mention these cables as they were an important element of this puzzle. At the devices end they are terminated with wonderful Neutrik PowerCon plugs. These were developed by the Swiss company basing on their SpeaCon plug used for loudspeakers connections. It's a round plug with locking device that was designed for extremely rigid connection.

There are two conditioners as each of them is intended for a different current demand. The „LC” version, or „Low Current” offers four outlets for low to medium current loads, like sources or preamplifiers. The other called, „HC” (“High Current”) was designed for high current loads, meaning power amplifiers, or active subwoofers.
Internally they differ with larger/more powerful components used for the latter. Each conditioner sports a passive and an active section. Passive is composed of „Pi” type filters, with two nice Mundorf coils and the whole bunch of Rifa capacitors. Active section includes a transformer (or two), rectifier, and a large bank of fast electrolytic capacitors.

Recordings used during test (a selection)

  • Miracula. Medieval Music for Saint Nicholas, perf. by Ensemble Peregrina, Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennet, Tacet 213, CD (2014).
  • Western Electric 300B Vacuum Tube Sound, ABC Records HF1043, “HD Mastering”, CD (2012).
  • Art Pepper, Art Pepper With Warne Marsh, Contemporary Records/Universal Music Japan UCCO-5101, „Jazz The Best. Legendary 150”, CD (1957/2007).
  • Bemibem, Bemowe Frazy, Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Polskie Nagrania PNCD 1096, “Polish Jazz DeLuxe”, CD (1974/2007).
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears, Child Is Father To The Man, Columbia Records/Audio Fidelity AFZ5 195, „Limited Edition No. 0115”, SACD/CD (1968/2014).
  • Bud Powell, Jazz Giant, Norgran/Verve Records/Universal Music Japan UCCU-5062, „Jazz The Best No. 62”, CD (1956/2003).
  • Eric Clapton, Pilgrim, Warner Bros. Records Inc/Audio Fidelity AFZ 188, „Limited Edition No. 0115”, SACD/CD (1998/2014).
  • Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems, Sony Music Labels SICP-4329, CD (2014); review HERE.
  • Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCO-40005, Platinum SHM-CD, (1958/2013).
Japanese CD editions are available from

An operation of high quality devices aiming at minimizing noise coming from power grid is somewhat similar no matter what brand they are, or what technologies they employ. Details are what makes them different, their influence on the sonic characteristic of a particular system, that's what allows an audiophile to choose an optimal (from his perspective), or best suiting his expectation, solution. There is a common denominator for all such devices though – using them results in smoother and, subjectively, warmer performance of most systems. I think this is a reason why many inexperienced audiophiles initially don't like what high quality power systems do with the sound of their precious setups. When a bright treble is gone, sound becomes (internally) more quiet they perceive it as a loss of dynamics and in turn as a worse performance.

As always, one has to understand first, what one really hears. My experience tells me that many of these beginners confuse a certain elements of the sound that are born from distortion with actual dynamics. These distortions make sound more harsh and lacking this inner-coherence that is an inherent element of the music. So when these distortions are eliminated sound gets “quieter”, or just more accurate. Art Dudley wrote about it in the last issue of „Stereophile” - you should take your time and read it (How I learned to stop worrying and love second-harmonic distortion, „Stereophile”, Vol. 38 No. 2, Feb. 2015, p. 35-41).
This is an important notice, as these two ISOL-8 conditioners seriously effect the sound in the above described way. I switched from Acoustic Revive power strip to SIOL-8 and the sound suddenly got “suspended” between speakers – figuratively and literally. Sound became more subtle, deeper and lower, and treble became more subtle, too. Tonal balance seemed bit lower, and upper bass gained on its power. Definition of this bass was more or less the same, but it seemed richer, more “present” but still quite soft. It's a rare combination of qualities.

What Substations do to sound I would compare to the effect we get when switching from PCM files to DSD ones. I've heard it many times even in the top digital systems like dCS Vivaldi. I also know exactly what a mastering of signal in DSD domain does to sound. Recordings prepared this way sound quite differently from those remastered in analogue domain or in digital PCM.
Those of you, who have heard properly played DSD files or SACDs should know what I mean. It's about richness and smoothness of the sound that analogue aficionados dream about since even this analogue format doesn't always sound as silky, as the sound deprived of all the distortions caused by power grid “pollution”. Sometimes vinyl might even sound bright and harsh in comparison. One needs a perfect calibration of the cartridge/tonearm, high quality amplification and speakers, cables, power supply and when all these elements “click” together, only then “analogue sound” becomes a real value. Turntable by itself offers only a promise of “analogue sound”, but it requires a lot of work to deliver on this promise.

Nic Poulsen's system does something similar with a system with digital sources. And it's able to reveal this “inner-coherence” of the recording, that without it doesn't sound that well because of some imperfections of mixing or mastering process. Such imperfections might be born on any of those stages. A latest Leonard Cohen album, Popular Problems, is a perfect example. Musically it is one of the best creations in years of this experienced Canadian. Sound-wise it is not bad either. But it took ISOL-8s to place leader's vocal inside the mix, in a proper place. It seemed that it required some “smoothing over” to arrive to listener's ears from the same place in space as the, very well recorded, background music. This time sound of the album was really smooth, liquid, but also dynamic, when needed to be. Now I could finally feel the real momentum of this music and its richness. Vocal became “larger” and richer and it was presented in a more intimate way.

As with any other device that is supposed to improve performance of others, one, also with ISOL-8, has to know how to use it properly. Substation HC was a perfect partner for Trilogy 925 integrated amplifier (which is a high current load). The same amplifier plugged directly into electric outlet, or into Acoustic Revive power strip performed beautifully, and I couldn't really point out any weaknesses of any of these solution. And yet, „HC” somehow enriched its performance, and everything I loved this amp for, became even better. „LC” did similar job with my CD Player. Tonal balance was slightly lower and the sounds density/richness even more impressive. Despite the fact that I – considering AIR's price and general quality – don't have a single reason to complain about any aspect of its sound, conditioner still did a good job, especially in treble area.

Yes, presentation now seemed bit darker and maybe there was slightly less air/openness in the top end. But this is an inherent feature of my system and Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers are the ones to be “blamed” for that. Substation LC even further intensified this characteristic. This allowed even those not so perfect recordings to deliver richer, more subtle performance. There might always be some devices that will force you to consider pros and cons of using ISOL-8. In my case it was my preamplifier Ayon Audio Spheris III and Soulution 710 power amp. Gerhard Hirt developed his own power conditioner installed inside preamplifier, that delivers very pure power for tubes. When I added another conditioner to the equation it resulted in a bit more “closed” sound, and slightly decreased soundstage's depth, although sound was also sweeter and richer, more “heavyweight”. But I lacked this unlimited dynamics that Spheris III offered when plugged into a simple power strip without any filtering.
Soulution 710, a mighty, Swiss power amplifier also presented the same sound “enhancement” as digital sources did, but also some limitations I mentioned a moment ago. In this case choice was really difficult. I loved this amazing richness of the sound as the presentation was simply enchanting this way. And I loved it as these were features I've been trying to improve in my system. But there was another side of that “deal” - a slight decrease of dynamics. From my point of view it was acceptable but I needed to mention it so that you had a clear picture of what this device did in a system.

There is one more aspect to using this type of devices in audio systems. It's about system's safety. You have no idea how many bad things are happening in power grid! ISOL-8 is a credible company, and it makes a lot of sense to accept a protection their devices offer to our systems, as it should extend their “lives”. The key element is Axis DC Blocking. That's particularly important today when Internet is provided also via power grid. Equally important is protection against power spikes and surges. ISOL-8 also sport earth line chokes that are custom wound on special core material to prevent RFI circulating within the system earth and degrading sound quality through intermodulation.


Power system should be chosen to match a particular audio system. One might say – it should be tailor made, with as many corrections as necessary to achieve a perfect fit. It might take a while to find all the correct elements but there is no other way but to try different solution until you find the right one. The other choice – powering our precious system directly from wall outlet – is not acceptable. It's like going to the prom with bow tie but without pants.
ISOL-8 system will be a fantastic match for many systems. It will add some finesse, more smoothness, it will eliminate a lot of distortion, and make soundstage more palpable. Subjectively system's dynamics might be lower but once you get used to it there will be no turning back to the previous state of “higher” dynamics as now you will perceive it for what it really is – another distortion.
Conditioners won't be a perfect match for each and every system component, although they will improve something for each of them. I can only urge you to try it for yourselves. Life's short and don't waste it for “average” hi-fi. ISOL-8 products might make your life more exciting.

Quality and robustness of Substation's chassis could be easily compared to that of a solid amplifier. It sports a solid, curved base, and aluminum elements that constitute side, front and top panels. A bright, white LED indicates that power is on. It is connected with a special, mechanical switch placed on the back of the device – it's an element often used in industrial devices with two buttons - „start” (green) and „stop” (red). On the back of both devices there are solid power outlets - “LC” sports four of them, “HC” two. Next to them one will find a power inlet – that's a Neutrik's PowerCon socket.

Test was conducted with the top IsoLink power cord called Reference. It is made 2mm² stranded and unplated conductors of finest Japanese 7N (99.99999%) copper (most likely these come from Furukawa, the largest Japanese manufacturer of such conductors). The primary conductor insulation in the IsoLink Reference is a variant of polyolefin. It has a dielectric constant that is 75% less than conventional PVC (same insulation is used by Oyaide and by Polish GigaWatt). A unique annealing process removes critical external stresses placed on the conductor during manufacture. The conductor is energized to carry current during annealing, promoting a large crystal structure, optimizing it for ultra high fidelity transmission. A copper foil shield screens the inner cable assembly from external electromagnetic interference. Completing the cable body is a high stability, neoprene and air elastomer wrap.

An internal design of both conditioners is somewhat similar. Both sport two sections – an active one and passive one. All outlets share common active section, while passive one is separated for each of them.
Passive section sports large PI filters with Mundorf coils and large Rifa capacitors. In „HF” this section is bolted to a plate of K-material – a high metal, low resin content composite that has excellent mechanical properties and superior self damping to metal. It provides additional damping and stiffening of the non magnetic chassis too. The active section sports a large transformer with classic EI core, and the „HC” version uses additionally another, smaller, toroidal transformer, too. Voltage is then rectified and filtered in a large capacitors' bank.

perf. by Ensemble Peregrina/Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett

Item number: Tacet 213
Premiere: Nov 27th 2014

In the Middle Ages the reverence of Saint Nicholas wasn't only limited to Christmas season, as it is today. Tacet, using this forgotten tradition, decided to release this album before December the 6th (2014).
Santa we know today was based on Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra a historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. The oldest historical records of him come from the 6th century. His name was removed from the official list of Catholic Church saints only by Vatican Council II.

Many musical pieces coming from England, France and Switzerland refer to this saint. Ensemble Peregrina chose almost 30 most interesting ones that were created between 11th and 15th century, and Andreas Spreer recorded them during a puristic session in Basel in November 2013. The ensemble was lead by Ms Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett, its founder – a Pole currently living in Switzerland. Ms Agnieszka graduated in Basel from Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and decided to stay in the city for good.

We know the ensemble and its leader from their performances, for example during Misteria Paschalia festival in Cracow. We know that they specialize in recording music that is rarely performed – one of the recordings I remember really well is Filia Praeclara, recorded for Divox Antiqua with music from 13th and 14th century Polish Clarisse Convents (2008). It served as a reference point for me. For the other one I chose Legends of St Nicholas (1999) by Anonymous 4 with similar music, recorded for Harmonia Mundi France.

The music on the latest Ensemble recording delights with wonderful ease of flow, and with its coherence. Although music performed by Anonymous 4 sounds already very well, Tacet sounds even better. A slightly higher pace of this music improves its coherence.
Also sound-wise this is a very interesting recording. Voices takes from the same perspective as on Harmonia Mundi recording, seem more resolving, and the acoustics of the recording is presented in a better, more precise way. Sound definition is also definitely better. Sound of Anonymous 4 seems more focused on the midrange and thus it sound is warmer. It lacks openness of Mr Spreer's recording though. In comparison, Divox recording shows that microphones were placed very close to the ensemble during recording. It creates an impression of a very close, direct contact between performers and listener, but it also changes tonality of the recording making it bit too bright. Miracula… is a wonderful recording nicely “sustaining” Tacet's deserved reputation.

Sound quality: 9/10



- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
System I
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
System II
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

System I
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
System II
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One