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We do all kinds of research to make sure we invest in the highest quality studio monitors we can in our price range.
We value a flat frequency response so we can make accurate decisions when working and can hear the intricacies of our favorite music and movies when not working.
But eventually the realization sets in that sound doesn't exist in a vacuum. Our rooms aren't the perfect studios where the measurements for all the monitors occurred.
Fortunately the first step to getting the most out of our monitors is one of the easiest and cheapest.
Most casual musicians and listeners will never need to go beyond this point. What point is that?
Decoupling your monitors with isolation pads.
Before we jump right into the reviews of our top picks, lets take the time to understand the three main types of speaker isolation, which all tend to go under the moniker of 'pads,' although that's inaccurate.
Although each type does the same job, the difference is in how they do the job. Let's figure that out so we can call the right shot on which pads we want, and then we'll take a look at the reviews.
Why do we want isolation between our monitors and our desks or stands? Because traveling vibrations affect the sound they produce. Most monitors are tuned to their own heavy, rigid cabinets and aren't meant to transmit vibrations to another structure. How do we decouple the two to get this isolation then? Through a type of product designed just for this purpose, called isolation pads.
The make a long story short, studio monitor isolation pads are a type of device built to create a sonic separation between your studio monitor speakers and the surface they're resting on. Achieving full isolation and recoil stabilization improves the accuracy of your monitoring instantly by bringing your acoustic environment closer into alignment with what was intended for your monitors.
Although this improvement occurs over the entire frequency range, you'll notice the most stark improvements in the bass and mid-range regions of the frequency spectrum due to the size of their wavelengths and how this affects the way their vibrations propagate through differing materials.
One of the things everyone says once they start using these decoupling pads is that "the low end sounds tighter."
That's definitely no easy feat to be achieved, even with tons of acoustic treatment, so it's even more impressive that it can be done so easily and cheaply with isolation pads.
Most information out there glosses over the fact that there are three core types of isolation pads for monitors. Each has a different form factor, which is to say that they look different, and they provide decoupling in a different fashion. The three types are:
There are two main ways to decouple one object from another, which are always used in conjunction with each other in various amounts. You can either use more absorption material or reduce the surface area of the points of contact between the two surfaces.
That's a doozy but it'll make sense in a second. These are the exact same two methods used in creating a soundproof room as well.
The most popular form of decoupling for speakers are foam pads, mainly because they're cheap to manufacture and thus are cheap to buy. They mix the two main ways of decoupling by using more absorption than reduced surface area, although they pull off both greatly. Foam contains a lot of empty space full of air and looks like a puffy network of stiffer spider web material.
By being constructed of puffed plastic, the surface area that makes contact with your speakers and your desk or stand is a lot smaller. Foam may look flat from a distance, but if you look closely it's more empty space between the webbed fibers than anything else. The fibers are the key, because they're free to vibrate.
These webbed fibers will oscillate back and forth whenever a vibration is passed through them. They convert this kinetic energy into heat and the vibration never comes out of the other side. So that's how foam pads get the job done. They cut the surface area of the contact points down quite a bit, but the main tactic is to absorb vibrations and convert them into heat.
While foam pads lean heavily in the absorption direction, isolation stands are the middle ground. The first order of business is to reduce the points of contact from a flat plane into four smaller circles or squares, drastically reducing the surface area. This not only restricts the size of the surface that vibrations can pass through but also the paths that they can take. It easily cuts both down by 3/4th's, though usually it's way more.
But isolation stands also use absorption. The four poles that act as the points of contact are made of and filled with certain materials that are designed to efficiently and quickly vibrate and convert the vibrations into heat. They're usually suspended between absorptive material as well, as you'll see below. Now, you may be thinking that this is the best of both worlds, but it's more like a middle ground between the two worlds. It works as good as foam pads and decoupling cones thanks to the combination of tactics.
Lastly we have what I call decoupling cones for lack of any other term available, although you'll see them called 'spikes' incorrectly here and there too (spikes are for coupling your stands to your floor, not decoupling). The core of these cones are made of thick plastic or metal and surrounded by rubber that absorbs much of the vibrations that run up the core. But the key to their power is that they reduce the surface area of the points of contact to nearly nothing.
The way they pull this off is by embedding a ball bearing at the tip of the cone where they touch your monitors, although some keep a sharp point instead. If you think of the geometry of a sphere, and tangential line will only touch the sphere at a single, absolutely tiny point. That means that the surface area of contact is reduced by as much as 99% or even higher. It's like resting your monitors on the head of a sewing needle. How big is the head of a pin, and can you imagine any long wavelength vibration of a large amplitude making it through that tiny point? That's why I prefer these as my favorites, mathematically speaking, although each has their strong points and all perform as well as the others.
We've picked 6 options to share with you today that represent the best of each type, a hybrid type, and a cheap budget option that still performs very well.
Note: Each image and text link leads to Amazon.com where you can read additional user reviews, find specific technical detail listings, see additional product options and sizes, and make your purchase.
Let's touch on our picks in the same order the types were introduced above, while finishing with the hybrid choice and the budget choice.
What you're looking at above is without a doubt one of the most popular solutions to the isolation problem, for small speakers and big ones alike. The Auralex Acoustics MoPADs are foam pads that offer a flat surface or a 4 or 8 degree tilt by using the included foam wedges. By turning the wedges over and/or turning them around, you can achieve the two levels of tilt to aim them down towards you from their high stands. If you turn the entire pad around, you can aim them up at you from a low desk as well. They're a true one-size fits all option.
Nearly every monitor foam pad you see on the market was inspired by these, the originals. They're rated to carry up to 100 pound monitor speakers, although if you have heavier monitors, the larger Auralex MoPAD-XL models can support up to 200 pound monitors. You can also distribute the weight under more MoPAD's too, though, if you monitors are wide enough. The models above are 12 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 2 inches thick.
What you need to know is that one pair offers you four pads, which is the right amount for two monitors. You'll place two pads under each monitor and spread them out until they reach the edges of the speakers, with a gap in between. I have a pair of these and liked them so much I bought some for my brother, who still uses them to this day.
There are obvious flaws with the foam pad designs that are solved by IsoAcoustics' ISO-L8R models. Pictured above is the IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R155 stand, which is their medium size. They also have small and large sizes that you can choose from, although the medium fits most use cases.
The main goal here was to provide, as soon as you put your monitors on the stands, improved monitor accuracy and stereo imaging as well as a tighter bass response. They also solved an issue with foam pads, which is a lack of height adjustment. They maintained the ability to tilt by allowing more of the back or front poles to recede into the holding cavity.
By switching between the shorter poles and longer ones, you can achieve 2 main heights and up to 14 variations of height and tilt. The short height comes in at 3.7 inches while the taller height can raise your monitors to 8.75 inches off your desk surface. With access to some power tools, you can easily customize your height anywhere between, too. Each stand is 6.1 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep and supports 30 pounds of weight.
Personally, I like these more than foam for the height adjustment and they simply look a little nicer and more sophisticated, but they do cost a wee bit more. Having a height adjustment is far more important to me than tilt, and here you get both. Even on my speaker stands I needed more height, and these delivered that and isolation.
What you're seeing above is a system that represents a double attack in decoupling monitors from surfaces. Although you can use the Vibrapod Isolators (seen on the left) alone as 'pucks' to sit under your speakers, by combining them with the Vibrapod Cones you reduce the path for vibrations to travel to almost nothing.
The cones seat themselves on top of the isolators to maximize the uses of both types of decoupling. You dampen vibrations through the rubber, reducing them in strength as much as possible. Anything left won't be able to make it through the tip of the sphere and into (or out of) your monitors at any meaningful magnitude.
These don't offer any tilt of height adjustment, measuring in at 1.5 inches tall and 2.44 inches in diameter. They're best combined with speaker stands or shelves that already lift your monitors to the correct height. If you have those, there's hardly a more visually attractive method of isolating your monitors.
If you decide to go with these, take note that you're getting two sets of 4 of the isolators and two sets of 4 of the cones! The cones are usually sold individually, while the isolators come in 4-packs. Heads up there.
Before, I had mentioned a hybrid option. The Ultimate Support MS-80 is that option. It's a fusion between isolation stands and decoupling cones. The benefits of this model are many, with only one negative aspect that most have which is the lack of height adjustment. But let's look at the positives.
First and foremost, the MS-80 offers a fine-tune adjustment knob on the back that you twist to change the angle of the tilt. So instead of being stuck with 2 or 3 tilt choices, you can dial in exactly what you need. This can be an upwards angle or a downward tilt depending on which direction you face the stand.
The top plate is made of a non-slip harder plastic with an absorptive foam layer while the bottom base plate is a hard metal. Under the base plate are four rubberized spikes, basically downward facing cones, that provide an additional layer of decoupling. What a hard surfaced stand like this offers over a foam pad is reducing the speaker's ability to rock back and forth with the recoil of the woofer at higher volumes. It has a weight capacity of 75 pounds per stand.
I promised one cheaper option, and here it is, the Adam Hall SPADECO2 pads. They are a no-frills, all-business option that cuts on the price by cutting on the features. The only feature there was to cut was the tilting capability of the MoPAD's above, but what you get in return for your troubles is a much wider base.
The wider base means you'll have a much larger surface area of contact and much more foam to dissipate sympathetic vibrations. Although we're talking about small gains here, they are gains nonetheless. These pads measure in at 10.4 inches wide, 13 inches in length, and 1.57 inches thick each. They come as a pair and perform as well as any other foam option.
I was almost done here and decided I wanted to mention one more foam choice, mainly because it's been getting some great reviews from professionals in the recording industry. I'm talking about the Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizer series. I'm sharing the RX7 model, but there are tons of models based on the width of the platform, and each model has three versions based on if you want it flat, tilting upwards, or facing downwards. The options are plentiful so you can customize the size exactly to the size of your monitors.
What makes this pad unique is the denser, non-slip absorption layer on top seated above a steel plate. Yes, the part that curves downwards and displays the company's logo is a steel plate. The non-slip surface gives you the piece of mind that your monitor won't slide off of the foam over time if you go for a tilted version, while the steel plate acts as a coupling surface to keep your monitors from rocking back and forth from the recoil, while also helping to distribute the weight and vibrations equally across the foam base.
That foam base brings the entire contraption to 3 inches thick, which is at least 50% thicker than the more rudimentary foam pads. If foam is what you want, this will offer superior isolation, but at a cost. The price you see listed is for a single unit and you will need two, so please keep that in mind. If you're ballin' on a budget, you'll do just fine with a cheaper option, but if you spend in the mid to upper four figures on monitors, then this price won't bother you one bit. It'll be worth every penny to help you get the most out of your previous investments.
No matter how you decouple your monitors from their stands or your desk, it'll bring tons of benefit to your listening and mixing experience. You'll enjoy a tighter bass response, a more stable stereo image, and crisper mid's and high's. What people discovered was you can never really couple your speakers to the stands and to the floor good enough to stop rogue vibrations. And your monitors are meant to experience vibrations of their own creation and are tuned for that purpose. It became increasingly ineffective cost-wise to get perfect coupling, but a simple bit of specially engineered absorption can get the same job done infinitely cheaper through decoupling instead. And that's why monitor isolation pads exist! Next, if you really want to take a plunge down the acoustics rabbit hole is to start learning about acoustic treatment.