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This review first appeared in the December 2010 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Isophon Berlina RC7 in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Isophon - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacuła
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air 
Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, Miyajima Laboratory Waza
Preamp: Ayon Audio Polaris III with ReGenerator II power supply
Power amp: Tenor Audio 175S and Soulution 710
Integrated amp: Leben CS300XS custom
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600 Ω
Interconnects: CD-preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp-power amp Wireworld Platinum Eclipse, speaker cable Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cords: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300 (all equipment)
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip
audio stand: Base under all components, Pro Audio Bono under CD
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD, turntables change continuously
Review component retail in Poland: 96.000zł/pr (4zł = ca.1€)

The Berlina RC 7 model is the top offering of German speaker company Isophon which was founded in 1929. As head of the design team Ronald Gauder is very proud of it because they managed to include certain important solutions in this project. The first one is the cabinet’s so-called rib construction. This involves thin layers of MDF stacked and aligned with milled holes through which six metal rods clamp everything together top to bottom with elastic washers.

Mr. Gauder refers to his loudspeakers as a High-Emotion Sound Transducer System because this rigid but not ‘dead’ cabinet is the basis for high-class drivers sourced from Accuton that are highly valued also by Avalon Acoustics, Lumen White, Kharma and Mårten Design to name a few. It’s the combination of enclosure and drivers that’s to provide us with the promised emotions.

These loudspeakers are big, heavy and will fare best in large rooms. Because they provide a way to control the amount of bass, they will also work well in medium-sized rooms. The bass-reflex port fires downwards so to some extent the sound is less contingent on wall proximity. Performance in my room suggested that the port tuning is very low. The amount of bass can be further adjusted with the spikes. I should also preface what follows by saying you'll need a powerful amplifier.

Discs used for the listening sessions: Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD;  Tulipany, soundtrack, muz. Daniel Bloom, feat. Leszek Możdżer Trio, Warner Music Poland, 77911, CD; Ann Richards, Ann, Man!, ATCO/Atlantic Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25181, CD; Artur Lesicki Acoustic Harmony, Stone And Ashes, Fonografika, 559040, CD + Master CD-R; Charlie Haden &Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim, naimcd098, CD; Chris Connor, Chris Connor, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25163, CD; George Michael, Patience, Sony Music UK, 515402 2, CD; Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Dragonfly, Telarc, CD-83377, CD; Jim Hall, Live!, Horizon/A&M Records/Universal Music Japan, UCCM-9225, CD;  Madaleine Peyroux, Bare Bones, Rounder/Universal Music LLC (Japan), UCCU-1188, CD; Milt Jackson Quartet, Statements, Impulse!/Universal Classic&Jazz/Victor Entertainment, UCCI-9088, CD; Savage, Ten Years Ago (Twenty Years Later), Extravaganza Publishing Srl/Klub80, CD002, CD; Savage, Tonight, Extravaganza Publishing Srl/Klub80, CD001, 25th Anniversary Limited Edition, CD; Wong San, Feel Like Making Love, Pony Canyon, PCCY-50014, HQCD.

These loudspeakers do not sound as good off axis nor are they made for knitting or baking while the silken voices of Perry Como or Ann Richards croon in the background. These are speakers which reach us in only one way - with full attention devoted to them. We must sit down to listen without anything else on our mind. In this regard they resemble a turntable where ‘casual’ listening too is out of the question. So there is a prerequisite to the Isophon – we must concentrate on the music. There are other requirements too, like getting the right amplifier and having the right room to set them up. We’ll get to those as they are derivative of these Germans' character.

The Berlina RC7 are very focused. They are not as live, as dynamically open in terms of microdynamics as speakers with less radically steep filters. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong here with dynamics in general. I would even say that the Berlina are very fast especially in how they draw the edges of attacks, how information is conveyed about hits, blows, phrasing etc. Here the ceramic transducers about which I wrote so many glowing words during my earlier Vescova review perform even better and give us all they can which in no way is a guarantee. Here we get ideal speed without transient fuzz but excellent decays and perfect coherence. Rigid very light pistons created by ceramic diaphragms are doing what they were designed to do  – move as fast as possible without breakup. I don’t know why but not all speakers with these drivers do this well. I do know that in Isophon’s Vescova and Berlina models this ‘ceramic speed’ comes off very well. However first impressions remain. The sound seems to be controlled in every possible aspect, feeling energetically slightly restrained as though sounds were placed on a soft cushion which leads each detail of the emission. This is why one cannot have a casual listen. This is all about active engagement of the listener. When we are busy with something else, the sound will become secondary and then appear muffled and toned down.