One question that leaps to most people’s mind is whether the piano sounds louder. Theoretically, the piano should be capable of projecting greater power, as less energy is lost in transmitting the player’s movements to vibrations in the air. But with the Isolators in place, I don’t feel like taking advantage of this in order to produce more sound. The tone and articulation become easier to hear, so I find myself using less effort to achieve the desired musical results. The instrument feels more responsive and easier to play, and I don’t have to work so hard or fight for the colours and clarity I want.
Townshend’s Piano Isolators are elegant, matt black, triangular steel platforms, each one supported by three adjustable, spring-loaded cells. These are tuned to absorb sound vibration down to 3Hz, a much lower pitch than the human ear can hear. This sprung system is far more effective than conventional castor cups with rubber insulation. The Isolators can be installed easily with the use of a purpose-built hydraulic jack. In order for the piano to be moved, it has to be jacked up and the Isolators taken out, but I am told that a version with its own castors is being developed to avoid this inconvenience. Such careful design and professional build-quality does not come cheap. Considering the price of a good instrument, however, I think for many it will be worth the investment.
So now my ears are spoilt. When I last heard Igor Levit in Beethoven at Wigmore Hall, I could not help imagining what his lucid playing might sound like on a free-floating instrument with a more colourful singing treble and transparent bass. The first time I tested the Isolators, a colleague went to the room downstairs directly under the piano and reported a marked reduction in sound transmission. This is impressive in itself, but for me it is not the Isolators’ most compelling feature. By breaking the piano’s acoustic connection to the floor, they instantly improve the sound of any piano in any setting, from a small practice room to a large hall. Whether or not this eventually proves to be as important a development as the double escapement action or the cast-iron frame, I’m sure we will be hearing the Isolators in action in many studios and concert halls in the near future. I will certainly be using them at every opportunity. IP
Mark Swartzentruber is a pianist, teacher and broadcaster based in London. markswartzentruber.com
Mark Swartzentruber: ‘They instantly improve the sound of any piano in any setting’
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International Piano Guide to Instruments & Accessories 85