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[All photographs by Porter; image processing by Robinson]
For years I've wondered when a product like this would come along.
It seems like almost everything in our music system's electrical path has an audiophile alternative that improves performance. Everything, that is, except a component's fuse—and now Isoclean has resolved that problem.
When I began experimenting with power cords in the early 80's, many people dismissed aftermarket "audiophile" power cords as snake oil. The usual comment was usually something along the lines of, "With all that wire inside the wall, a high quality cord on the other side of the socket can't possibly matter." Well, as it turns out it does matter, and for the most part audiophiles don't argue about that anymore. In the years since, high end cable manufacturers have improved this technology to the degree that it's almost a moot point, even to those who don't want to believe. The debate now is more likely price versus value rather than "if" power cords matter.
A few years ago I upgraded all of my electrical outlets, stimulated by the stunning improvement the complete rewiring of my listening room provided. Everything was replaced, from the electric service provider's transformer all the way through to each individual piece of audio equipment. The job required two new breaker panels, a new service drop and fourteen dedicated circuits. It seemed a bit radical at the time, but to this day replacing all that electrical gear remains the single most cost-effective upgrade in all my years in audio.
So, not surprisingly, I was attracted to the idea of banishing one of the few remaining obstacles in my systems electrical pathway, the fuse. Everyone is familiar with the old saying "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link," and that certainly applies here. It's simple when you think about it: electricity flows though your breaker box and in-wall wiring to each electrical outlet. From there electricity is directed through our spiffy, audiophile grade power cords into our mega buck audio gear where it hits the fifty-cent "safety valve," known as the fuse.
The ideal electrical path would be a quality piece of appropriately sized wire rather than the fuse. Unfortunately, a piece of wire in place of the fuse puts life and limb at risk, not to mention the hazard of burning down your house and destroying all your possessions. Since this safety valve is a requirement, choosing a fuse that preserves the integrity of the electrical circuit as perfectly as possible, without sacrificing safety, is the only high-performance alternative.
On the surface, this is a simple concept. In reality, the requirements to design for high performance, while at the same time maintaining the standards set forth by UL, CE and other electrical watchdogs, make this job difficult. Isoclean fuses not only meet these codes, they provide an immediate and significant upgrade. All that's required of the user is matching ratings for the specific piece of equipment you wish to upgrade.
Isoclean fuses are precision products; this was evident from the moment I cut away the plastic seal and held it up to the light. I was struck by the jewel-like slow blow element; viewing was easy as the glass housing is exceptionally clean and clear, and, of course, the ends are gold plated.
I ordered eight Isoclean fuses to replace the stock fuses in the outboard power supplies of both my Aesthetix Io and Aesthetix Callisto. For these products the replacement fuse is 2 amp and 31.8 MM in length. The Aesthetix was designed for slow blow, making this upgrade easy. Isoclean fuses are available ONLY in slow blow version.
The Isoclean line of fuses are available in:
5 x 20 mm. Rated for: 1A, 1.6A, 2A, 2.5A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6.3A, 8A, and 10A.
6 x 31.8 mm. Rated for: 1A, 1.6A, 2A, 2.5A, 3A, 4A, 5A, 6A, 7A, 8A, 10A, 12A and 15A.
How do they sound?
In my system, the change from stock fuses to Isoclean fuses was absolutely positive. The Isoclean mostly reduced distortion and grunge while tightening up imaging and improving the sense of placement. This kind of upgrade is so right that you accept the change as part of the music within a few minutes. It's very much like the benefit offered by a fine aftermarket power cord, but in miniature.
In my listening evaluation, the Isoclean fuses were installed into the holders on the back panel of each Aesthetix power supply. The Improvement was obvious from the moment the system was turned on. Better still, everything continued to improve for several days as the fuses settled in.
There is something I should point out here about installing Isoclean fuses. Each fuse is marked with an arrow, indicating the direction the current should flow. Take care to not reverse these, as it harms the sound.
After a few weeks of enjoying this upgrade, I turned off the system, removed the fuses and dabbed a thin coating of Walker Audio SST Contact Enhancer over the gold end caps of each fuse, and reinstalled them. This provided an additional benefit, increasing my respect for both of these fine products.
In fact, my only issue (ever) with Isoclean fuses was the price, but while writing this review I began to think about my previous preamp, which served me for more than five years before I replaced it. All during that time there were no fuse failures, and had Isoclean fuses been available back then, I could have enjoyed five years of improved sound and my original $25.00 investment would still be intact. That's a lot of improvement amortized over the years—unless you blow a lot of fuses!
In fact, I plan on trying more of these in my system and recommend them to anyone who wants improved system performance with no downside. There's no downside? Well, that's pretty hard to say for sure about any product, especially in high end audio. I can say that I can't think of any. For my money, this product qualifies as an instant audiophile gratification upgrade, and gets my highest recommendation.