Although many of the IsoTools Acoustic Solutions from Primacoustic are new, Pro Audio Review has already covered the FlexiBooth acoustic cabinet and Recoil Stabilizer, the latter of which I enthusiastically endorse.
This review will focus on the other five IsoTools products: the TriPads, a set of three high-density, open-cell acoustic foam feet for better isolation of a tripod mic stand; the KickStand, a foam-based mic stand isolator and boom arm base; the CrashGuard, a mini acoustic shield with a foam-lined ABS plastic shell designed to attenuate cymbal bleed leaking into drum mics; the VoxGuard, a nearfield absorber constructed similar to the CrashGuard, designed to reduce leakage and ambience with a vocal mic; and TelePads allow the mounting of an iPhone or iPod Touch to a mic stand or drum hardware.
The TriPads are an exercise in effective simplicity, as they do make a slightly positive difference without any real drawbacks. I tried ribbon mics, LDCs and SDCs (all with a K&M tripod boom) while recording vocals, shakers, acoustic guitars and piano. The TriPads removed just a touch of rumbly, low-end noise that at first seems like a little less bottom end, but revealed tighter, more accurate bottom and, on closer inspection, more bass extension; less resonance and "blubber" down there means more punch and increased ability to boost lows with EQ more effectively. The TriPads get in the way a little when moving the stand around, but otherwise have no negatives.
Primacoustic TriPads on a K&M tripod boom stand. The Primacoustic KickStand in use.
The KickStand employs the same basic principles, but with a rectangular foam pad and metal base for supporting a boom arm. With large dynamic mics — mounted either outside or sitting inside a kick drum — the KickStand provided good results just like the TriPads. The improved accuracy, damping and punch in the bottom end was extremely useful for kick drum and also helped me with other sound sources that were close to the floor like tom toms, cello, djembe and electric guitar amps.
The CrashGuard fits easily enough between a mic clip and a boom arm, but can be a bit tricky to place and get everything snug, especially if space is limited. Size limitations prevent using CrashGuards with Sennheiser 421s on toms, but a Shure SM57 and smaller "clip on" mics should fit OK. [At press time, Primacoustic has announced a new CrashGuard model made specifically for use with the Sennheiser MD 421. — Ed.]
Indeed, a CrashGuard does help to moderately attenuate cymbal bleed with the side effect of a little low-mid thickening; it works just about as well with snare/hi-hat. I had four engineers compare the CrashGuards on snare to a similar, foam-based competitive product (one lacking any ABS backing) and all slightly preferred the CrashGuard for its additional isolation.
The CrashGuard employed on a drum mic. A vocal miking setup employing the Primacoustic VoxGuard.
The VoxGuard seems to be the most useful item of the group. It's a mini-gobo that is lightweight, small and convenient enough to suggest dozens of possible applications. Sound interference in the low frequencies (traffic, air conditioners, bass amps) will not be impeded much because more mass and size would be required. However, room ambience (like in a bad-sounding vocal booth or bedroom) can be reduced and acoustic problems like noisy computers or nearby cooling fans can also be lessened with the VoxGuard and careful mic placement. The tradeoff is that high frequencies are reduced a bit, but competitive products that fare better in this area [such as sE's Reflexion Filter or Primacoustic's own FlexiBooth, both priced at $399 — Ed.] are three times more costly, bulkier and harder to place, albeit flatter in response.
The TelePad tasked with holding an iPhone.
I tried to tame a loud and unruly hi-hat by placing the VoxGuard near it (without even using a close mic) with mixed, midscooped results. I also used the VoxGuard to record shaker, looking for the transient response of a ribbon mic, but with a really tight no-reverb/no-room/no-air sound. With the player a foot from an Audio-Technica AT4081 pencil ribbon tucked in uncomfortably close to the VoxGuard (my test unit didn't come with the now-included extender bar), I got a super-defined shaker sound, with no audible reflections and no phasey-weirdness like I expected with a figure-eight pattern. More conventionally, I found the VoxGuard to be most useful on whisper tracks (where ultra-high gain and proximity effect are often used — TriPads helped here, too); spoken-word tracks (for a dry, focused sound); and acoustic instrument tracks (especially if you're looking to capture a small, tight sound that fits into a narrow mix niche).
The TelePad definitely delivers on its simple promise, securing your "iDevice" to a stand and allowing portrait or landscape orientation via its 360-degree swivel [Primacoustic offers both "3" and "4" versions for iPhone and iPod Touch v.3 and v.4 models, respectively — Ed.]. Other devices may just fit into its grip too with the supplied extra padding and a little imagination.
All in all, the IsoTools line delivers incremental performance improvements at prices that warrant recommending them all. Your mileage may vary depending on the specific acoustic problems of your studio or drum kit: most likely, the worse your issues, the more you will benefit. But hey, even properly built studios and discriminating engineers would probably choose a little more punch over a little more rumble, a little more drum isolation over cymbal bleed and would like to have another acoustic problem solver in their toolkit.
Prices: $25, $30, $40, $90 and $120 (TriPads, pack of 3; TelePad 3 or 4; CrashGuard; KickStand; and VoxGuard, respectively)
Contact: Primacoustic |604-942-1001 | primacoustic.com
Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC. firstname.lastname@example.org.