Here’s what we thought of the Isis / Osiris when we first got it in. At the time, the appeal seemed rather limited, I wonder if its moment has now come?
This high end ‘statement’ CD player now joined by the similarly priced Osiris integrated amplifier. The build quality, the packaging, even the back-up is truly high end. Each Isis will have two spare laser assemblies held in stock at the factory so that the ‘lifetime’ warranty really does mean something.
We were sufficiently impressed by the audio quality of the Isis to order one for demonstration but took the view that it would take some time to fully understand its qualities. Certainly, its resolution of detail, of tonal ‘colour’ of instruments and the sheer scale are spectacular.
If a ‘but’ seems implicit in this, then you’ve read between the lines rather well. Whenever something comes along that sounds this impressively different, I tend to start looking for the catch. In this case other factors got in the way. The Isis arrived at the very time our ‘reference’ Naim NAC552 pre-amp was off of the premises, we also had a plasterer ripping down, deadening and replacing part of the ceiling in the main dem room. Finally, just as he finished, I went off on holiday.
I am now back, the room is reassembled, the full system is up and running and I think we have a ‘handle’ on the Isis’ character. Certainly, the way in which it departs from our familiar reference point is becoming evident.
Let’s get the first part clear : using the Naim CD555 and CDX2-2 as references, the Isis stands its ground ridiculously well. It might cost six grand, but it offers proper value for money.
Better than the Naim players? Well certainly in parts. Where the Rega excels is in presenting a vivid, gutsy, colourful and extremely involving take on events. Strings have weight and texture, bass is fulsome and weighty yet extremely agile and clean. The order of priorities is bewilderingly different, though.
On some recordings the Naim might bring voice to the fore whereas the Rega makes more of the instrumentation whilst on another the oposite applies. Overall, the Rega is the more overtly dynamic and colourful player with the Naim units (amazingly) sounding more reserved. Whilst the Rega revels in individual musical twists and turns and makes you feel part of the action, the Naim style is to give you a clearer picture of the overall structure of a piece. It’s minutia versus overview, if you can follow my drift. “The Naim 555 is very aristocratic” said one very quotable listener, “whereas the Rega grabs you and takes on on a journey”.
It was this edge-of-the-seat ‘full-on’ aspect of the Rega that gave us cause for concern. Could it all become a bit too much in the long run?
The more we play, the less we worry. The wonderful rich tonality brings out the warmth and sonic ‘hook’ that (good) instruments have. They sound lovely before you even consider the tune. On top of that, there is a remarkable lack of digital sizzle. Cymbal crashes, in fact all percussion, even on some difficult recordings, have a very natural character. Operatic voices ‘flower’ rather than buzz, and everyone seems to be playing and singing with verve and enthusiasm. Even the ‘hi-fi’ aspects of image depth, width, scale and resolution are done with aplomb.
Just to keep us utterly bamboozled, Rega have also released a valve version of the Isis. Offering three different filter options (there is a slider switch on the rear) this is more a case of something different rather than simply ‘better’. The price is £1000 higher too.
These could well be the last great single box CD players. With their USB inputs, they can offer a stepping stone for a high resolution (or even low res) computer-audio future.
Osiris is is the partner amplifier and it’s pictured below. As I’m sure we all know, :), Osiris was Isis’ husband in Egyptian Mythology. Their son was called Horus, so we have a potential dubious product name alert too. Having spent a happy afternoon playing the pairing, we can confirm that it is worthy of the hype. Priced at the same level as the Isis, there is a substantial £1000 discount if you buy the pair – even if this is done separately. It comes with a chunky alloy system handset and involves another wooden box. As with the Isis, it weighs around 3000 tonnes. Actually, it’s a little heavier, more like 4000.
It only comes as a line level amplifier and it has both RCA and balanced inputs, matching the CD player.
After an extended delay (problems with the casework, apparently) we finally received our demonstration sample. Out of the box, the Osiris sounded strong and weighty, quite similar to the sound I recall Paul Darwin’s (the Rega sales manager) having back in the mists of time. It could be me, but after this promising start it seemed to go well off the pace. Bewilderingly, after a three day run-in it is now sounding rather special. Whilst it has weight and guts, the Osiris simply makes this clout available as the music requires. Hash (and crash) free, it is very subtle and transparent with not a veil in sight.
It is also immensely musical and, rather unsurprisingly, has a character that matches the Isis perfectly. It probably sounds odd to use the word to describe it, but this combo’s major strength is that it makes music sound interesting.
Pretty magical, really.