Why do I need the Fern & Roby Isolation Feet in my system? If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been using a gorgeous Fern and Roby equipment rack for the last few years. I love it. The moment I set it up and placed my system on those massive pine shelves, my listening room jumped up a few notches on the coolness scale. While this rack looks like it’s just big wooden planks on a metal frame, there’s effective isolation through a series of rubber pucks that fit between the metal and the wood.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Still, I’ve discovered that I could make improvements to the sound of my system on this rack by placing a variety of isolation devices underneath my components. The first time I experienced a big difference was when I reviewed the Brinkmann Taurus turntable. I was provided with a massive isolation shelf from HRS to place under the ‘table, and the gains in bass performance were extraordinary. That shelf cost nearly $4,000, but it was worth every penny.
So are wood shelves bad for high-end audio? That’s up for debate. I have had manufacturers warn me not to place their gear on wooden shelves. Then again, I know plenty of people who swear by butcher blocks as isolation devices–there’s even a company called Butcher Block Acoustics.
When Christopher Hildebrand introduced his latest product, the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet, I was immediately intrigued. First of all, I knew Christopher has to test these extensively with his own racks, and he wouldn’t introduce them unless he was absolutely satisfied with the result.
Inside the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet
The Fern and Roby Isolation Feet are simple devices that focusing on layers of damping. They are beautifully machined, something I expect from an audio company operating under the umbrella of Tektonics Design Group. Tektonics, located in a huge industrial building in Richmond VA, handles all sorts of machining projects that aren’t necessarily connected to the audio world. Fern and Roby was created to take those supreme machining and fabricating capabilities and applying them to Christopher Hildebrand’s passion–high-end audio.
I’ve reviewed three Fern and Roby Raven speakers (all of them), and Christopher’s unique Montrose turntable/tonearm combination along with his Maverick phono stage (which is a joint effort with Linear Tube Audio). Plus, there’s that rack, which I love to capture in photographs for nearly every review I write. I’ve been highly impressed with everything so far, which should be obvious to most PTA readers by now.
The Fern and Roby Isolation Feet are fairly new in their present form, and Christopher and the Tektonics team have designed them with care and precision.
“The Fern & Roby Isolation Feet uses high quality visco-elastic polymer which is a high-tech engineered isolation material used in hospitals, engineering environments, and manufacturing spaces where great isolation and dampening is critical. The body of the feet is made from 6061 aluminum, turned and machined in our own CNC machine shop. The aluminum parts are black anodized and we laser engrave them. They have a cork pad on the bottom as an additional isolation layer.”
It’s clear from their shape that the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet are a perfect fit with the company’s turntables–the small indentation at the center of each foot work perfectly with the spiked turntable feet. While I did use them with the Music Hall Stealth direct drive turntable, and they did offer improvements in both the sound and the prevention of footfalls, I concentrated on using them where I find these types of devices to work their best–components with plenty of moving parts. (My Unison Research CDE CD player is usually the guinea pig for these types of reviews, but as you’ll see I found them to be beneficial when used with amps, streamers and DACs as well.
The Fern and Roby Isolation Feet cost $425 for a set of four. That’s more than reasonable for something made this well, especially since I’ve been reviewing similar devices that cost way more than these.
I spent a few months using the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet in a variety of system configurations, noting that they offered subtle yet noticeable improvements when it came to isolating components from noise and vibrations. These devices were assigned their first important mission when I received the new Naim NAIT 50 integrated amplifier for review. (Spoiler alert: I had to buy it.)
When I unpacked the Naim NAIT 50, my fingernails grazed across the top of the chassis and I heard a familiar ringing–just a like my old beloved Naim NAIT 2 back in the ’90s. Nostalgia aside, I realized that the ringing in the chassis might pose a problem when it came to vibrations the rack couldn’t solve on its own. (Note that I used four Fern and Roby Isolation Feet instead of the usual three–four provided more stability, especially when pushing buttons and turning knobs on the little NAIT.)
While the Innuos Pulsar network streamer and the Antipodes Oladra music server are so solid and beefy that the Isolation Feet didn’t make a huge difference, I found that they were effective with DACs such as the Merason DAC-1 Mk. II which are well-built, but not nearly as tank-like. And yes, the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet were critical in bringing the performance of the Unison Research CD player close–in terms of noise floor and image focus–to the modern and far more expensive digital gear I’m evaluating.
Finally, I found the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet to be helpful for those occasional times when I have to place components on the floor–especially on the too-thick carpeting in my new listening room. They weren’t quite as effective as the huge Carbide Bases from Carbide Audio, which are heavy enough to settle into the carpet on their own, but they provided enough ground clearance so that my components had proper ventilation underneath their chasses.
Fern and Roby Isolation Feet–Sound Tests
The big question with devices such as the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet is this: how do you know if they are working? Before I answer that, I’ll explain the practical reasons for using them. I already mentioned that using isolation devices under your components can help with ventilation–I’ve already informed one person this week that you shouldn’t place heat-generating components on carpet. Better heat dissipation means happier components that last longer without failure. But the best example I discovered while testing the Isolation Feet occurred when I used them underneath the Music Hall Stealth turntable (which doesn’t generate heat at all, obviously.)
The floor in my new listening room has thick carpeting–something I’ve already discussed numerous times in other reviews–but it’s covering a suspended wooden floor that may have some issues with stability and, well, being perfectly level. We’ve scheduled some reinforcement work in the crawlspace, so that should do the trick, but until that happens I still have to deal with footfalls and skipping records whenever I walk too close to the rack.
The Fern and Roby Isolation Feet didn’t magically vanquish those flooring issues, but they did lessen them to the extent where I no longer had to walk on my tip-toes. I still have to work on my heaving plodding through the listening room, but I no longer felt the system was placed in a precarious situation.
Remember that Naim NAIT 50 and its resonating metal chassis? Yep, it still rung loudly with the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet in place. But without the footers in place, I could lower my ear to the wooden shelves and hear that ringing when I tapped on the top of the NAIT. With the Isolation Feet in place, I heard no more ringing coming off the shelf. That’s a good sign that they are damping effectively.
But let’s get back to the original question–what happens to the sound when you install the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet? In general, I feel that an effective footer tightens the focus of the imaging–something that occurs whenever you remove resonances from within the system. It’s that old but very accurate explanation that noise is bad, and it takes away from the fidelity of the recording. A secondary result is in the lowest frequencies–you simply hear more of your system’s ability to handle and preserve the frequency response.
With the Fern and Roby Isolation Feet, I heard both improvements easily. My big test lately hasn’t been “Yulunga” from Dead Can Dance or even Tool’s “Chocolate Chip Trip,” but the title track from Radiohead’s Kid A. There are a couple of spots during the song when the synthesized bass reaches so law that for many years I didn’t even hear it. Big speakers usually capture that deep bum-bum without too much trouble, but with smaller monitors (like I’ve been reviewing the last couple of months) it can be hit-or-miss in the worst possible way.
The Fern and Roby Isolation Feet were able to level the playing field, so to speak, by helping these small monitors to sound more consistent in their low bass as I jumped from model to model. This suggest, to me at least, that the damping allows my system to deliver low frequency information that might be obscured by external noise and vibrations.
Hearing this, quite frankly, sold me on the success of Christopher Hildebrand’s design.
Fern and Roby Isolation Feet Conclusions
There are a number of ways to reduce the noise floor in your system, and I feel like I’ve heard them all over the last few years. My exposure to proper grounding technologies as well as material science employed to reduce inductance have certainly been impressive and eye-opening, but there’s nothing wrong with simple damping where it’s needed. The Fern and Roby Isolation Feet are effective damping devices, they’re beautiful and well-made, they’re small enough to enhance the visual impact of your system, and they’re affordable enough to make you feel as if you’ve spent your money wisely. That, of course, makes it easier to buy multiple sets.
That’s why I’m keeping them. Highly recommended.