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This review first appeared in the November 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Source: Audiomeca Obsession II, C.E.C. TL51XR, Sonneteer Byron,
Esoteric SA-10
Integrated amplifier: Accuphase E-212
Pre/Power combos: Myryad MXP2000/MXA2150, Funk LAP-2.V2
Loudspeaker: Thiel CS 2.4, Sehring 703 SE
Cables: Low-Level - HMS Sestetto Mk3, Straight Wire Virtuoso, WSS KS1 Silverline; high-level HMS Fortissimo, Ortofon SPK 500
Component retail price: €1,500

Nosy dwarf?
It's strange at times. Certain clearly unimportant events date way back yet remain alive. At least with me. Take Rolf. Zero recall? Rolf used to be a big deal 14 years ago. You might recognize his happy slogan: Five trumps it. Yep, that was about the imminent revision of Germany's postal code system, a pretty rudimentary undertaking as that goes. Yet many anticipated the complete collapse of the entire postal service and Rolf (a strange yellow menschkin shaped like a hand) had to charm, chill and calm rising tempers.

Needless to say, nothing bad came from it. If it did, I failed to notice. To get to the point -- since rehashing old news isn't my intention -- I recall recalling a popular saying back then in my twenties when such sayings meant even less to me than they might today: What the farmer don't know he won't eat. Even if you don't believe in folksy truisms, this one clearly carries deeper meaning.

Based on which, Herr Peter Steinfadt could face troubles in our market. Especially without his own Rolf. Our chief of Frankfurt's audio society has focused his hifi imports on -- and here I don't believe to be far off the mark -- brands which the average listener will regard as more or less strange. Precisely why fairaudio is interested of course.

Take French brand ISEM Audio.

ISEM Audio?
Based in the 58,000 strong township of Belfort close to the German border, this firm, beside other things, fashions hifi electronics. The smallest entry in their CD player range -- and our tester -- goes by the name of Isem Audio eGO phase 4. I reckon Isem Audio will celebrate -- or already has -- an anniversary this year seeing how their launch dates back 20 years to 1987 under Herr Erick Isler. Five employees strong, Isem today also serves certain industrial clients with their signal and data transmission needs. According to company lore, it's the audio parts in particular which benefit from this twin focus - their R&D relative to electronics and mechanics and the in-house skills of assembling hifi components. "Handcrafted in France" is a fact Herr Isler likes to press whenever the subject of his company crops up.

On subchassis, OTC and a long knob...
To my eyes, Isem Audio's eGO phase 4 is quite the looker. Objectively speaking and to dispel any misconceptions, this player is definitely small. Outer dimensions of 240 c 80 x 290mm, compared to the usual boxes, will leave plenty of open air in your rack. Given that once opened, the majority of CD players prove more empty than full inside, this relocation of inner air to the outside isn't such a bad idea, especially seeing how the significance of chassis costs in hifi components is now an open secret.

Even so, nothing appears unduly compressed once you actually pop the bonnet on the Isem Audio eGO phase 4. Besides a good-sized transformer, one spots a 24-bit/96kHz Burr Brown chip adjacent to a class A-biased output stage. Important circuit sections such as transport logic, D/A conversion and power buffer benefit from discrete, independently supplied filtration.

Even though many listeners doubt the benefits of elaborate suspension systems in digital, the 'big block' centrally located in this machine represents an interesting detail, namely a turntable reminiscent, triple-sprung sub chassis which supports the actual disc and laser assembly.

The maker expects 'analog-type' dividends for the eGO phase 4 from this mechanical address compared to which the rear panel seems quite plain. Beside analog outputs, the player has also been fitted with a coaxial digital output. "No room for much else" you might quip. And true, more connectivity like balanced outputs would be quite non standard in this price class.

Completely out of the ordinary compared to competing machines is the Isem Audio eGO phase 4 user interface. Quite spontaneously, my colleague Ralph dubbed the frontal knob "a bit long". Okay, cosmetics and concomitant reactions are one topic, One Touch Control (the snazzy moniker for this interface, OTC abbreviated) another.

The long nose in the visage of the eGO phase 4 controls all its functions. Power up requires a light press and twist. Ditto for skip which, logically, requires that the player be already in play mode. Which is entered -- as is stop -- with a quick tap on the nose. After a bit of acclimation, it works like a charm. The only thing I missed was fast forward. The scan prompt is missing too (as it is on the remote).

While red displays unfortunately remind me always of stress-inducing radio alarms, I'm rather more smitten with the fit 'n' finish of the eGO phase 4. Small isn't synonymous with fragile by a long shot. Even the flip lid and clear cover of this top loader will withstand rather ruder operators despite looking quite skinny at first. That this player is no chicken feed beyond cosmetics was obvious already during our brief initial check which is mostly a test to determine whether a component
proves review worthy. Unusually fleet-footed, detailed and coherent was what I heard emanating from my Thiel CS 2.4s. Truth be told, I was just a bit surprised, showing how I wasn't entirely free of preconceptions with regard to this Frenchie's unusual cosmetics.

To completely dispel any remaining subliminal doubts, I cued up Jesus Lizard. Yep, those four Yanks are -- or rather, were -- hard rockers. "Music like dirty drawers" is how one music magazine categorized this band which disbanded by 1999. From a production and mastering perspective, their recording is anything but dirty and in fact of a quality many mainstream discs would do well to emulate.

Regardless, the Isem Audio eGO phase 4 can clearly rock out and get down. Without getting irritating in the least. While everyone has specific hot buttons that equate to intolerance, mine
get triggered when brass and bronze cymbals hiss along like disembodied quicksilver. Yet I'm likewise miffed when the desired absence of tizziness means such a castrated upper range that I can't shrug off feeling I need to Q-tip my ears.

Isem's entry-level player triggered nothing of the sort. Forget hissing altogether. Whether guitar, vocals, cymbals or hi-hat, the petite Frenchie was present and agreeable, with plenty of finesse particularly in the middle and sensitive upper bands. In fact, my usual suspects of CD players in this league suddenly seemed quite ham-fisted by comparison. Not bad...

I always enjoy following Uwe Kirback's record reviews in Stereo's 'New CDs' column and in fact discovered Burial and their eponymous album this way. Derived from London's Dubstep sphere, this electronica album is keenly arranged and minimalist. To parlay its subtle sonic events to scale requires a lot of the resident hifi system - including deep bass moxy.

The cut "Spaceape" is dominated by an insistent voice and spiked with occasionally barely intelligible samples and sound bytes. The vocal and treble band reproduction of the Isem Audio eGO phase 4 had zero issues with it. My partner Ralph, fortuitous guest during this track,
went on to discern specific details which a previous spin with Audiomeca's Obsession II had obscured.

Worthy of mention too is the French player's vocal playback. I noticed this strength right off the bat but this cut in particular highlighted it. The voice sounds completely unstrained, open, free and far less hooded and under-enunciated than I know it from a (sadly) number of players. Intelligibility of lyrics thus is a real asset with this smallest Isem. On a different page were the infrasonic bass beats underlining this number. There I'm used to more pressure.

US group Primus is another band known for dominant bass grooves, albeit less electronically derived and instead purely 'handcrafted'. Les Claypool, Primus bassist, is widely acknowledged as a virtuoso on his axe, with numerous such statements in the music press especially from the 90s elucidating his chops.

Pork Soda's "My Name is Mud" kicks off with slap bass (a percussive technique whereby strings are simultaneously hit and plucked with thumb and fingers). The Isem Audio eGO phase 4 is plenty quick and articulate for that but again, I wanted for more pressure and extension - nothing dramatic but a bit more endowed should be doable for €1,500.

Alas, fascination returns whenever one inspects the midrange and treble performance of this player. Rough, nearly sawn guitars come across so airy, dry, precise and energetically direct as I've rarely observed 'em. To boot, it all sounds likeably detailed. Individual string resonances are so clearly portrayed that one imagines veritably counting the teeth of the guitar saw. Important in this context and true likewise for percussion and vocals is how individual sonic events, even though clearly outlined and suitably substantiated, lack all analytical frigidity.

Dimensionally too, the French player leaves you wanting for nothing - which certainly isn't limited to Primus cuts. Even during dense instrumental melées, this player manages to sort through the thicket with good separation -- appropriate ancillaries are mandatory of course -- to recreate a realistic and involving soundstage which remains admirably decorrelated from the loudspeakers.

No doubt, Isem Audio's eGO phase 4 is a welcome addition to the scene well beyond its somewhat avant-garde user interface. To not belabor the point needlessly, I tend to be pretty tight lipped where compliments go. Let me put it this way then. If you're not troubled by somewhat subdued low bass compared to other players; dislike tizzy digital sound as well as rolled-off treble... you'd shortchange yourself if you overlooked the Isem Audio eGO phase 4 during your next CD player audition. Okay, I can be briefer still. I'm convinced there are plenty of listeners like myself who will like this French machine very very much indeed.

The Isem Audio eGO phase 4 is characterized by:
  • An exceptionally coherent natural sound image defined by its utter lack of digital hardness.
  • A seamless, fleet-footed rendition.
  • A symbiotic mesh of wealth of detail, body and the much desired musical flow.
  • Clear localization and compelling staging.
  • Uncompromised fit 'n' finish.
  • A user interface which might require some practice.
  • The lack of the last PSIs of low-frequency pressure.
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