Head of the Class: A Full Review of StormAudio's ISP 32 Analog MK2 Immersive Sound Processor

Manufacturer & Model
StormAudio ISP 32 Analog MK2 Immersive Sound Processor
MSRP
$20,000
Link
https://www.stormaudio.com/produit/isp-mk2/
Highlights
32-channels of high-end Immersive sound performance, relatively simple to install and operate, Dirac Live 3 with Bass Management, Roon Ready, Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D, and DTS:X capable (with corresponding upmixers), proprietary 4K HDMI card, modular/upgradable design, sensational sound.
Summary
StormAudio's ISP MK2 is one of the industry's top immersive sound processors. Featuring 24-channels of decoding and 32-channels of post-processing, it's capable of commanding a large-scale Atmos or Auro-3D theater system (or both!). Set up, while detailed, isn't overly complex, and Dirac Live 3 with Bass Management provides wicked fine-tuning of output. Performance during demo sessions was off the charts, cementing the MK2 as a true elite component.
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Every piece of AV gear has a story to tell. My job is to capture that story and relay it with the written word. Some gear is meek, requiring lengthy time before warming to the task, while others explode from a box, unabashedly flaunting a unique personality and eager to spin rich yarns. The subject of today's review, StormAudio's ISP MK2 Immersive AV Processor ($20,000), didn't take long to spill the beans, weaving tales of luscious high-end authority and recounting captivating adventures battling the depths of thunderous terrain. Reviewers often talk of "bang-for-the-buck" or performance factors that punch like pricier alternatives… neither apply here. This, my fellow home theater enthusiasts, is the rugged protagonist that confidently saves the day. It's the brains and the brawn and has zero issues staking its claim as one of the best.

The origins of the MK2's story predate its September 2019 reveal. In fact, its roots can be traced back a decade to the AES 40th International Conference in Tokyo. That's where Auro Technologies' CEO and the father of immersive audio, Wilfried Van Baelen, introduced the concept of 3D sound. In doing so, Van Baelen launched an industry-wide race to create a new class of codecs, equipment, and speakers. It's the reason cinema and home theater audio has advanced to what we enjoy today.

Six years post-conference, a division within Auro arrived at Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) with two newly launched brands of processors and amps: GalaxisAudio and StormAudio. Galaxis, a slightly higher-end version of Storm, was a short-lived effort, but Storm survived and began attacking high-end home theater with its take on premium immersive sound. Not surprisingly, both Storm and Galaxis proudly featured Auro-3D as a primary function. While Storm offered Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as complimentary extras, Galaxis required a fee to unlock those capabilities (quite the opposite of what we initially saw from brands such as Denon and Marantz in North America).

StormAudio is now owned by an independent entity and positioned as an impact player in major markets around the globe, riding confidently on the back of its 2nd generation of processors and dedicated amplifiers. The company is headquartered in France (where design and assembly take place) and largely caters to the world of custom home theater integrators. Storm's products can't be found on the shelves of Best Buy or purchased with free next day shipping from Amazon. If you want a ticket to the show, you'll have to purchase a unit directly from an authorized dealer.

The elephant in the room, not to mention the ISP MK2's most obvious strike, is its price tag. I asked StormAudio's US National Sales Manager, Gary Blouse, to discuss variables that drive the cavernous dollar difference between the ISP MK2 and models sold through typical consumer channels. According to Blouse, the primary difference boils down to "designing to a cost" versus building the best possible product without constraints. StormAudio, explained Blouse, prides itself in sourcing and creating elite-grade components that are integrated with a no holds barred philosophy. He's also quick to add that StormAudio's modular platform allows owners to upgrade hardware as new technologies arrive. And while I confidently assert that upper-end products sold by larger consumer-centric brands can anchor a fantastic home theater experience, this review serves as proof positive that another level of performance definitely exists.


Technology Overview
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The ISP MK2 is available in four base configurations: the 16-channel ISP 16 Analog MK2, a 24-channel ISP 24 Analog MK2, and two 32-channel options (ISP 32 Analog MK2 and ISP 32 Digital AES/AVB MK2). Pricing across these configurations varies quite a bit, and add-on modules for customization are available (contact an authorized StormAudio dealer for cost and availability).

The ISP 32 Analog MK2 (subject of this review) is a powerhouse home theater-centric beast, crafted to deliver a high-performance immersive sound experience. If you're a two-channel maven and multi-channel or immersive sound is an afterthought, this likely isn't the processor for you. But if you dream about flooding your theater room with crystal clear waves of 3D audio, then the MK2 is your Nazaré. It's current firmware (4.0r2) gives owners access to playback of Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro-3D audio, with upmixing via Dolby Surround, DTS Neural:X, and AuroMatic. SphereAudio processing is available for headphone users (not evaluated in this review), and support for legacy codecs (up to 192kHz) is included. A soon-to-be-released update will add DTS:X Pro to the mix, with IMAX Enhanced arriving soon thereafter. That means the MK2 can accommodate every currently available immersive sound codec – as for the future, its upgradability will allow it to handle anything that might be developed down the road.

The ISP MK2's detailed menu system allows owners to create custom theater configurations that can be saved and recalled for use with Auro-specific content, Atmos films, and everything in-between. Yes, this requires a room to have a variety of speakers (a total of 19 were used for this review), but it gives enthusiasts the ability to enjoy multiple optimized systems when speakers are properly placed. The time needed to switch between custom configurations is rather minimal, making this a feature that's functionally beneficial and likely to be used.

StormAudio's engineers endowed the MK2 with a single Texas Instruments KG2 and four Analog Devices SHARC4 processors for 24-channels of decoding and 32-channels of post-processing; digital to analog conversion is handled by an Analog Devices ADAU1966 DAC. While maintaining the ability to accept audio up to 192kHz, the MK2's post-processing outputs audio at 48kHz. Before that sends you running for the hills, consider that Dirac's calibration software natively downsamples audio to 48kHz. So, if you plan on using Dirac Live 3, post-processing output will always land at 48kHz. Also, you need to consider what the human ear is capable of hearing. Yes, I recognize that some hardened audiophiles will claim it matters, but I'm not shy to admit: These older-ish ears can't reliably discern a difference, and I highly doubt blind testing would suggest anything different for most users.

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A look at the ISP MK2's multi-color LCD display.

Beyond Dirac, processing on the MK2 allows for 20 bands of parametric equalization per channel, multiple Linkwitz-Riley and Butterworth crossover options, the ability to direct bass to specific subs in a multi-sub array (future firmware update required), and compatibility with a Room EQ Wizard plugin.

Video is handled by a proprietary 7+2 eARC HDMI card developed in-house and outsourced to a specialty circuit board manufacturer. As the name indicates, the card offers seven HDMI inputs and two outputs (one output accommodates Enhanced Audio Return Channel). Spec-wise, it's capable of accommodating current 4K demands, including 4K/60Hz video,18 Gbps data transfer, BT2020 wide color, 4:4:4 color, and HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range.

StormAudio is quick to defend its current HDMI 2.0 card, citing a desire to offer finely tuned cutting edge performance over a rushed "bleeding-edge" product. In other words, the company is more interested in taking its time to create a flawless component than pushing something out the door. And, because the ISP MK2's modular design allows for hardware upgrades, owners can swap-in an HDMI 2.1 card once it becomes available (current timeline points to late 2021). The 2.1 card is currently in development, and Storm has a verified history of releasing upgrades for current and legacy equipment. In other words: It’s coming.

Lastly, on the wireless front, the ISP MK2 doesn't carry onboard WiFi or Bluetooth. However, it does have an Ethernet port (100 Mbps) for hardwiring to a network or WiFi point and provides plenty of options for connecting an outboard streaming device. Also, a recent firmware update unlocked Roon compatibility, which is a fabulous way to enjoy wireless access to your digital music libraries and preferred streaming services.


Unboxing and Physical Impressions
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StormAudio's choice of packaging materials for the ISP MK2 is less about the glitz and more about function. Considering that most "buyers" are likely to be custom integrators, Storm's decision to keep things simple is logical. That's not to say that materials are skimpy: my review sample arrived double boxed, internally protected by black form-fitting inserts, a pink anti-static bag, and a removable front panel wrap.

Additional boxed items included a power cord and a printed manual.

You'll likely note that I didn't mention a physical remote. That's because the ISP MK2 is remotely operated by an available iOS app (iPad only, iPhone might become available. Note, an Android version was released on 1/6/21) or through a web browser interface. The processor does have the ability to receive IR signals, so owners could potentially gain access to a remote if one is developed in the future. And, it's worth noting the MK2 is in the Logitech Harmony IR database and carries Crestron, Control4, Savant, ELAN, and RTI drivers.

Physically, the ISP MK2 (19.29" L x 18.86" W x 7.52" H) is a confident, if not arcane looking piece of equipment. Its all-black front, top, bottom, and sides complement the cabinet's sharp lines and boxy appeal. Interestingly, the only passive venting on the chassis appears on the left side panel (and it's rather minimal). The rest of the body is solid, capped-off by large machined-metal isolation feet.

The processor's glass front panel presents a power button, three action buttons, a multifunction volume knob, a medium-sized 4” x 3" color LCD display, a power indicator light, and Storm's newly minted badge. Quite a few playback functions can be managed via the front panel, and the display provides access to plenty of useful information. All of the buttons depress with a feeling of quality, and the volume knob turns with a refined silkiness that's easy to control.

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Weighing a modest 28.8-pounds, the ISP MK2 doesn't feel remarkable from a heft perspective, but its top-notch craftsmanship is readily apparent once it's in your hands. One of the unit's more captivating physical features is its shiny brushed-metal rear panel. Storm's choice to incorporate a silvery space-age looking surface in such a rarely seen area is straight-up cool – it looks fabulous and sets the MK2 apart from the typical black rear panel that most components have in the North American market.

All of that silver plays host to a veritable forest of input and output options. My review sample carried 32 assignable XLR outputs, two USB Type-A inputs, three coaxial SPDIF and three optical digital inputs, one pair of stereo XLR inputs, one pair of stereo XLR downmix outputs, four RCA inputs, an IR input/output, and four output trigger controls. It also houses a power switch and a variable speed fan that's whisper quiet.


Set Up and Dirac Correction
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The MK2 lacks any sort of user-friendly set up wizard or on-screen GUI to guide installation. First-time access is achieved by connecting the MK2 to a network and gaining access to a User Interface (UI) by searching for the processor's IP address on a web browser. Gary Blouse was kind enough to walk me through the UI’s vast control set and helped me configure a 19-channel speaker array driven by Emotiva's XPA-5 and Gen3 2.8 multi-channel amplifiers. That array consisted of SVS Ultra Towers (L/R), an SVS Ultra Center, SVS Ultra Surrounds (L/R Side Surrounds), SVS Ultra Bookshelf (L/R Rear Surrounds), SVS Prime Elevations (ceiling mounted Top Middle and Top Front; top wall mounted Front Height and Rear Height), dual SVS SB16 Ultra subwoofers, and dual Power Sound Audio XS30 subwoofers.

We initially created two distinct theater configurations. One dually supported 7.4.4 playback of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X films (using Top Middle and Top Front ceiling channels) and 11.4 playback of Auro-3D films (using Front Height and Rear Height top wall channels). The other was a beastly Atmos array, utilizing all 19-channels for playback. For those of you keeping score, this Atmos-only array technically reads something like this: 7.4.8.

Tasty, eh?

Later, we added a stripped-down 2.0 stereo configuration solely consisting of my system's front L and R tower speakers.

The setup process included assigning and naming input sources, establishing default upmixing preferences, and a dizzying array of other minutiae. While not as novice-friendly as some of the GUI-based set up menus found across the industry, StormAudio's approach should be accessible to anyone with a moderate level of home theater experience. It's nothing that a fairly knowledgeable enthusiast can't tackle, and once you become familiar with the ins and outs, the interface proves to be infinitely more convenient and easier to use "on the fly" as compared to typical GUI menus.

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A look at the MK2's web-based UI System main page.

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A look at the UI's Speaker Configuration page.

Following initial configurations, Regional Sales and Engineering Manager, Matt Trinklein, entered the picture and guided me through a Dirac Live Version 3 measurement and integration process. Using a combination of a MacBook Pro, direct web access to Dirac, and the MK2 processor, we proceeded to take carefully prescribed measurements using a UMIK-1 microphone. Trinklein referred to his preferred measurement positions and microphone heights as the "special sauce" needed for a mouth-watering audio experience – let's just say, Trinklein's passion for calibration translated into an incredible review experience.

The ISP MK2 allows for a maximum of 10 Dirac Live profiles per theater configuration, giving owners a great amount of flexibility for rooms that have varied conditions and seating possibilities. For purposes of this review, we created a single profile correcting across all five seats in my room. The final step was applying Dirac's Bass Management module.

Not to swim too deep into the depths of Dirac Live Version 3, but it currently resides as a fan favorite in the enthusiast community. Refreshed and re-released nearly two years ago, Dirac's latest version has the ability to integrate add-on performance modules. The first is its single and multi-sub Bass Management module, which measures speaker and subwoofer sound waves across all frequencies, delivering improved clarity and evenness of bass throughout a room.

The following Figures show pre-correction average measurements for my theater room's Left and Right channels (Figure One) and quad subwoofer array (Figure Two), along with variance as captured across the room's five seats. Once Bass Management was applied, Dirac recognized a phase issue when the crossover point was set at 80Hz. This phase issue was more readily visible when the crossover point was changed to 90Hz (see Figure Three), where it appeared as a dip in the target curve. That dip was largely remedied when the crossover point was set at 70Hz, per Dirac's recommendations (Figure Four). Figure Five shows the totality of Dirac's impact on the system’s subwoofers plus Left and Right speaker output, post-correction.

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Figure One

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Figure Two

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Figure Three

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Figure Four

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Figure Five


Performance Evaluation
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With my theater room tuned to an insane degree, it was time to cast sanity aside and begin wading my way into the belly of the storm – literally. The set up phase, for me, was akin to hearing the distant rumble of thunder and smelling that clean sweetness that permeates the air before mother nature unleashes waves of rain. At this point, most enthusiasts would probably grab their Atmos lightning rods and race to high ground, hoping to electrify their immersive auditory senses with demo worthy films. But not me. Showing serious restraint, I opted to kick things off with a music appetizer, recruiting a combination of sources including Qobuz streamed via Roon, a Panasonic UB9000 4K player for CDs and immersive audio UHD Blu-ray discs, and an OPPO UB203 for DVD Audio playback.

Before we dive into impressions, let's briefly discuss Roon and StormAudio's remote app. For those of you unfamiliar, Roon is a platform that organizes digital music in one location and manages playback to Roon Ready devices using network or HDMI/USB physical connections. For this review, I used Roon to stream Qobuz via my home network, and the experience was exceptional. Roon's app environment is intelligently crafted, providing easy access to music, favorites, and playlists associated with streaming accounts. It also delivers several value-adds, such as real-time lyrics. Admittedly, I was a tad disappointed the MK2 lacked native WiFi or Bluetooth streaming options, but the utility of Roon (despite a $9.99 monthly fee) became readily apparent. The result? I'm a big fan.

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Screenshot from StormAudio's iPad Remote app.

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Screenshot of StormAudio's iPad Remote app.

Storm's remote app also delivers an excellent user experience. Its on-screen feature set isn't overbearing and provides enough options to generally render the MK2's extensive web UI unnecessary. In fact, post set up, the primary reasons to open the UI are to switch theater profiles or make permanent changes to playback options such as lip-sync, etc. Otherwise, the remote app handles almost every task needed for a rich media experience, including niceties like volume dimming, selecting upmixing modes, and engaging sound enhancements. Also, it's worth noting that volume adjustments via the app cause the MK2 to briefly show its current volume level and sound mode on your display or movie screen, eliminating any confusion about what your ears are hearing.

Now to the music.

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The web-based UI also has a Remote Control, which offers lots of options on one screen.

I need to clarify an earlier remark, perhaps even admit to a minor fib. While I didn't kick things off with an explosive immersive movie experience, I couldn't help but reach for the best immersive music track I've heard to date: Nigel Stanford's "Cymatics" (DTS:X, 7.4.4). As found on the 2016 DTS:X Demo Disc, "Cymatics" possesses nearly every high-fidelity factor my ears enjoy, with the added benefit of dramatic immersive audio. The experience proved to be so pure, so powerful, so EPIC, that I was sold – hook, line, and sinker – less than a minute into the track. Dramatic waves of audio flowed from the 7.4.4 SVS speaker array, floating through the air as bass punched hard and fast. Now, consider the fact that my reference Denon X8500H AVR dazzles when playing this track, but the ISP MK2 took matters to entirely new heights. Using native DTS:X playback, the level of exacting fidelity was audibly pure and perfectly weighted.

Simply Sensational.

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I then played the same track using Auro's AuroMatic upmixer and found the presentation gained notable height with a tad more air or thinness to ceiling effects. While pleasant, I ultimately opted for the ISP MK2 to decode using DTS:X. That route seemed to give the track a tad more intimacy and punch.

Not playing codec favorites, I reached for Parallax Eden by David Miles Huber (Auro-3D, 9.1), one of my few Auro-3D audio discs. Huber is an acquired taste, presenting a sonic buffet of ambient and experimental tracks that live and die by Auro's sword. When downmixed to stereo playback, a 15-minute long track like "Serenitatis" pancakes into a flat, neutered experience. However, when the ISP MK2 presented the same track using Auro-3D, it bloomed into a swirling delight of floaty sound inhabiting multiple planes and areas of space. It's unfortunate that Auro-3D music is comparatively rare to stereo releases – WOW, it’s a special treat to hear in action. Not to harp on "Serenitatis," but this mesmerizing track is exactly what you'd expect auditory art to sound like, full of character and near physical shape. Much like "Cymatics," Parallax Eden's balance of sound and purity was exquisite.

With DTS:X and Auro-3D out of the way, it was time to give Dolby Atmos a turn with Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague (Dolby Atmos, 7.4.4). As the giddiness of crowd noise engulfed the rear of my theater room, the stage was set for a dynamic journey through some of film's most iconic tunes. Once again, a quick check between a stereo downmixed presentation and native Dolby Atmos audio highlighted the complexities and atmosphere immersive sound delivers. The disc's bloom of dispersed sonic activity was breathtakingly presented with notable precision and flow. "The Electro Suite" exploded with delicate and airy intricacies loaded with emotion. Not to harp on the evenness of sound, but the ISP MK2's command of low frequencies reached near perfection. Tight. Punchy. Perfectly balanced. In fact, this "balance" drove songs like "The Circle of Life" and "Why So Serious" to mesmerizing levels of life and liveliness. The highlight, however, was Interstellar's "Day One." Its haunting drive and a looming sense of danger draped itself over my room with a presence that was nearly overwhelming, but its precision never allowed it to be overbearing.

What a delight to experience.

Lastly, I tapped Qobuz via Roon and began digging through my favorite albums and tracks. Without laboriously detailing specific impressions on a track-by-track basis, I think it's best to say that stereo playback (both 2.0 and 2.4) is the best I've heard on my reference system to date. Sonics were etched to perfection and bass (especially with the subs in play) was tight and palpable. I did take an opportunity to experiment with some of the ISP MK2's upmixing options. Much like my previous reviews of Auro-equipped receivers, I found Auro's upmixing (as compared to DTS Neural:X and Dolby Surround) to be the superior option. It has the ability to keep the front soundstage largely intact while adding a sense of spaciousness. Also, the MK2's remote app allows users to limit or expand AutoMatic's effect (something I've not seen on other units). So, if you're looking for a grand wrap-around effect, that can be achieved. Or, if you're looking for a small hint of spaciousness but value the front-end nature of 2-channel playback, you can adjust for that too.

With the sky turning jet black and bolts of lightning crashing through the air, it was time to grab my lightning rod and scour my library for demo worthy Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro-3D encoded Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray Discs. Yes, folks, the storm had officially arrived.

If you're unfamiliar with Auro, I suggest you take a moment and read my deep dive review into Auro-3D (click here). The review covers a history of Auro-3D, how it works and compares to Atmos and DTS:X, and investigates the plausibility of deploying a dual Atmos and Auro-3D friendly speaker arrangement. Auro's ability to recreate detailed and realistic atmospherics makes it the most convincing immersive sound codec on the market. This isn't to say that Atmos can't deliver a jaw-dropping experience, because it does, but the best Auro demo material outshines the best Atmos and DTS:X encoded media when it comes to realism – my humble opinion, of course.

Before demoing Auro-3D movie scenes, I used the company's 2016 Volume 2 demo disc’s "Channel Test, Voice" clip to confirm all 11 Auro-associated speakers were operating. Then, I proceeded to immerse myself in the codec’s fascinatingly detailed soundscape with audio from a busy town square, a passing tractor, and a pipe organ. Auro's ability to use height reflections injects a sense of real-world sound that's undeniably realistic, and the ISP MK2 delivered the experience to perfection. Next up, I played two dazzling movie clips from Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda 3. The blooming, almost never-ending expansiveness of scores during these clips was magical, as was the dynamic clarity of sound effects as they seemed to transcend my room's physical space. Dialog was throaty and easy to understand, and a rich swirl of sound effects transported me directly into each scene. The bass – oh, that INCREDIBLE bass – was devoid of bloat across all five seats in the room. In fact, it sounded just as even on the ends as it did in the middle.

Total LFE perfection.

Before shifting gears and engaging the full 7.4.8 speaker array for a Dolby Atmos spectacular, I put the MK2's AuroMatic upmixing skills to the test. First up was a film favorite: Interstellar (4K UHD Blu-ray). Interstellar's native DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a show-stopper, locked and loaded with some of the most punishing bass imaginable. There are quite a few chapters, however, that would benefit from height channels, including the wave scene on Miller's planet and Cooper’s journey into a black hole. That's where AuroMatic came into play, crafting a sense of spaciousness and realism, such as the wispy sound of wind or debris pummeling Cooper's Ranger 1 ship as it entered Gargantua. Even the film's score benefited from an extended sense of airiness.

I found a similar positive result when AuroMatic was applied to another killer DTS-HD MA 5.1 film: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Blu-ray). This superb horror flick is loaded with atmospherics, creepy echoes, and thunder from a storm raging above. This time, however, all three upmixing options seemed to drive a very similar immersive experience. So much so, that I couldn’t identify a clear favorite. Switching between options was lightning fast, tho, which bodes well for owners that want to quickly find the best upmixing option for any given film.

At this point, I hit pause and loaded the 7.4.8 Atmos-only theater profile (a process that took just over a minute to perform) and immediately reached for Dolby’s Atmos Demo Disc 2014. The "Helicopter Demo," which places a chopper whirling in a circular pattern overhead, was particularly impressive. Utilizing all eight Atmos channels, the movement of sound was seamless and devoid of gaps. "The Encounter" clip was also wildly impressive, draping a tightly woven audio canvas directly overhead. And the "Star Wars Battlefront" demo clip set my theater room ablaze with robust immersive activity. In my notes, I scribbled "the most dynamic, tightest presentation I've heard in my theater room to date." The MK2's ability to conduct 19-channels to that level of performance was head-turning. And as I was about to find out, it wasn't an isolated event.

Having cobbled together an A-team of Atmos encoded movies, I prepared myself for an onslaught of immersive sound. Gravity: Diamond Luxe Edition (Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos) was first on the docket, and it didn't disappoint. The film's opening scene offers one of, if not the best demonstrations of Atmos-encoded immersive sound to date. The ISP MK2 directed my room's 7.4.8 layout to a level that topped "Battlefront." Low-end effects in the form of thuds and bumps associated with tools and knobs were tight and punctuated, voices from astronauts and Mission Control seamlessly moved around the room without any hint of gaps, and dialog intelligibility was on point. As the scene progressed, the intensity of a satellite induced disaster and Dr. Stone's deep-space ejection were accompanied by impactful bass and chaotic swirling audio. It was a moment of home theater glory – THIS, I thought, is what enthusiasts live for.

With Gravity's sensational demo in the rearview mirror, it was time to dial-up another reference favorite: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (4K UHD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos). The skydiving/attack on the city scene is a punishing affair punctuated by powerful bass and dynamic immersive effects. With all 19-channels ablaze, the resulting audio cocoon was something to behold as objects zipped through the room. And the LFE? Forgettaboutit. It was insane. Thunderous. Chest-pounding. Deep but controlled. And, most importantly, just as enjoyable in the room's end seating as it was in the primary listening position.

Moving onto something equally as dazzling, Bohemian Rhapsody (4K UHD Blu-ray) was a jaw-dropping watching. Subtle atmospherics, like chatter in a room or the airy breeze across farmland, breathed dramatic life into some scenes, while others taking place in closed rooms had a wonderfully confined presentation. As for the live concert scenes, they literally exploded to life with a wave of audio that bathed my theater room from top to bottom. And the epic moments as Queen recorded "Bohemian Rhapsody," were an immersive sound tour de force that dazzled the ears.

What's physically happening with ISP MK2 at this point, you ask? Not much. It sat perched on top of my rack system, remaining rather cool to the touch. And its variable processor fan could barely be heard. What more could one ask?

A beginning-to-end viewing of Zero Dark Thirty (4K UHD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos) capped my Atmos demo assault, and the viewing experience was sublime. It's a film that's loaded with dynamics, bass, and notable audio subtleties, all of which were presented with finely crafted levels of finesse. From the muted sounds of helicopters flying overhead to the call of distant jackals in the desert, the ISP MK2 conducted a sonic landscape that dripped with realism and intensity. As the film rushed into its emotionally charged climax, directionality and immersion were on full display, delivering yet another mind-blowing Atmos moment.


Conclusion
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As a regular champion of moderately priced gear, I'm a firm believer that smart buys and properly deployed systems can deliver an exhilarating home theater experience. That said, StormAudio's ISP 32 Analog MK2 takes exhilaration to an entirely different level. In fact, it jettisons it to a whole new stratosphere of audible performance. Yes, the cost to entry is steep and a notable limiting factor. But if the MK2 falls within your budget, it's a no-brainer must buy.

The ISP MK2 gives enthusiasts access to technological intricacies capable of driving extremely complex 4K theater systems. Luckily, it doesn't require a degree in astrophysics to install and operate. The exacting audio crafted by the MK2 is glorious, video passthrough is transparent, and add-ons such as Dirac Live Version 3 with Bass Management and Roon support top-off the overall experience. What a thrilling ride!

This is Killer Gear, folks. The maker of home theater dreams. A master of large scale systems. Highly Recommended.

ISP MK2 Specifications
Performance
  • Power requirement: 100-240 VAC; 50/60 Hz
  • Power consumption: 240W
  • Frequency response: 6 Hz to 24,000 Hz Max.
  • THD: 0.007% (21dBu)
  • Signal to Noise: 112 dB (21dBu)
HDMI IN / OUT
  • 7 IN / 2 OUT (ARC/eARC)
  • HDMI2.0b/HDCP2.2
  • 4K UHD 18 Gbps on all ports
  • HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG
AUDIO OUTPUTS
  • 16ch, 24ch or 32ch analog (XLR) - optional
  • 32ch digital (AES/EBU or AVB) - optional
  • 1x XLR Analog (Stereo downmix)
AUDIO INPUTS
  • 16ch digital (AES/EBU) - optional
  • 4x RCA analog (7.1 or stereo)
  • 1x XLR analog (stereo)
  • 3x Coaxial SPDIF
  • 3x Optical Toslink
DECODING
  • 24 decoding/upmixing channels
  • Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D
  • IMAX Enhanced, DTS:X Pro ready
  • All legacy codecs up to 192 kHz
PROCESSING
  • Up to 32ch
  • Multi-theater & multi-room
  • Multi-way speakers
  • Multi-subwoofer
  • 20 PEQ per channel
ROOM CORRECTION
  • Dirac Live 3 with Bass Control module
  • REW plugin
STREAMING
  • ROON Ready
CONTROL
  • TCP/IP (ETHERNET), IR
  • StormRemote iPad Application
  • Web-based configuration
  • Control4, Crestron, RTI, Savant, ELAN drivers
 
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Todd Anderson

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More  
Preamp, Processor or Receiver
StormAudio ISP.24 MK2
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Emotiva XPA-5
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Emotiva XPA Gen3 2.8 multichannel amp
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Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
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GoldenEar Technology Triton One.R
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It’s going back today :-/. But I’d love to buy one! It’s on my radar!
 

DonH57

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Hi @DonH57, I have a request in with Trinnov for a review unit. Many of the playback functions between the two are the same, but some of the core technologies are different, as is price (the Altitude 32 is nearly $9k more).

Perhaps a dealer like @Michael Boeker could speak more intelligently from hands on experience ;-)

OK, thanks Todd. Probably just as well... I had a Dirac Live processor (Emotiva XMC-1) but after a lot of research and back-and-forth went with a SDP-75 (JBL Synthesis' tweaked Trinnov) when I replaced it. I was able to get a good deal that lessened the financial hit somewhat, but looking at what I spent on AVRs and processors the last few years, Trinnov's support and upgradeability over the long run won me over. And as a geeky kind of guy (EE) the power and flexibility of the Optimizer is very impressive with a lot more control than Dirac Live offers. A very mixed blessing, however -- too tempting to spend time tweaking rather than listening!
 
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DonH57

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Did the dealer set it up for you? How big is your room?

Partly dealer, partly Harman, did most of it myself from a desire to learn how (dealer would set everything up but I wanted to do it and with the virus situation wanted to limit outside contact). The new Wizard makes it much easier to set up and run, about the same level of effort as Dirac Live, but then of course there are a myriad of things you can tweak.

Fairly small room, 17'7" L x 13'3" W x 8'6" H.

Currently a 7.1 setup with four subs. I am planning to add Atmos overheads, keeps getting delayed by other things.
 
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DonH57

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Thanks I had the similar thoughts. Walls and ceiling are floating (acoustically isolated) and I am not mounting anything in them. I am planning to use ceiling mounts and suspend M80XC's but Life and Work have intervened.
 

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StormAudio has announced an Android version of its ISP remote control app. It can be downloaded for free in the Google Store.
 

apgood

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StormAudio has announced an Android version of its ISP remote control app. It can be downloaded for free in the Google Store.
It's an Android tablet app, so can't install on a phone. The phone apps will come later.
 

NBPK402

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After reading Todd's excellent review... I noticed that you can run a stereo setup and a HT. If I understand this correctly it will work perfectly for me to run my pass amps for stereo or 3 channel use and the icepoeer amps for HT use (using my amp switcher via speaker wires). Time to start saving for the 16 or 24 channel version.
 
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Yes. It's a highly configurable machine!
 

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I ordered the ISP Core 16 ... should have it soon. I'm excited to see what it can do... especially DLART.

Owning a StormAudio would probably still be a distant thought had they not introduced the lesser expensive Core 16 model. Granted, it's still stoutly priced, but at least within reach.

The features and options are just breathtaking... a tweaker's dream.
 

JStewart

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I ordered the ISP Core 16 ... should have it soon. I'm excited to see what it can do... especially DLART.

Owning a StormAudio would probably still be a distant thought had they not introduced the lesser expensive Core 16 model. Granted, it's still stoutly priced, but at least within reach.

The features and options are just breathtaking... a tweaker's dream.
Congrats @Sonnie!
16 channels seems like the sweet spot for most of us. Good move on Storm’s part.
 

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Sonnie - you’re going to enjoy it for sure. Make sure you checkout storm’s website. They have links to tutorials, etc.
 

NBPK402

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I ordered the ISP Core 16 ... should have it soon. I'm excited to see what it can do... especially DLART.

Owning a StormAudio would probably still be a distant thought had they not introduced the lesser expensive Core 16 model. Granted, it's still stoutly priced, but at least within reach.

The features and options are just breathtaking... a tweaker's dream.
Can the HDMI boards be upgraded when new standards come out...or is it only with the more expensive models. The core 16 would do everything I want, but to be my end game...I really do not want to have to replace it for new HDMI tech.
 
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Can the HDMI boards be upgraded when new standards come out...or is it only with the more expensive models. The core 16 would do everything I want, but to be my end game...I really do not want to have to replace it for new HDMI tech.
The answer is "yes" and is on their webpage: https://www.stormaudio.com/produit/isp-core-16/ :)

Although the ISP Core 16 does not offer modularity, upgradability of the HDMI board remains possible so you can stay up to date whenever new updates are released. An optional firmware package is available to activate additional features: StormXT ambiance expander, Expert Bass Management flexible bass routing and HDMI matrix features.
 

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It’s pretty much the only part of the Core 16 that’s upgradable, physically speaking
 

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Scratch the ISP Core 16... getting the ISP Elite 24 MK3... should be here in about 10 days or so. :banana::dancebanana:
 

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Oh yeah, baby! Just a monster piece of gear coming your way. I think you’re going to love it!
 

sebna

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I wonder if you ever had a chance to compare your MK2 vs Trinnov offerings, either in your room or somewhere else and if so what did you think?

This is an open question to anybody that is interested in answering :)

Thanks
 

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@sebna...

These two brands have so much in common in terms of overarching performance. Once they are properly setup, you'll be treated to a high-level experience.

There are some big differences tho. Storm, IMO, is a slightly more consumer-friendly processor to set up. The GUI is more modern and if you're planning on configuring a system managed by Dirac with Bass Control, the process of achieving that is less technical.

To Trinnov's credit, its setup process really allows you to dig into fine-tuning controls, tho most enthusiasts likely won't know how to use them. Also, all of Trinnov's room correction processing is achieved on board. You don't need to connect to an external server like you do with Dirac... I actually prefer that and wish that Dirac allowed for that. But, it doesn't.

Also, when it comes to performance, I think Trinnov's WaveForming is a true game changer for bass management.

I have both ART and Bass Control on my Storm Processor... in my room, Bass Control gives me the best results. But, if you have the space and funds to properly deploy a Trinnov system with Waveforming (we're talking 8 or 9 subwoofers deployed in by horizontal and vertical axes), you're going to experience the very best bass management on the planet.

That said, if you have a smaller sub system, both Dirac and Trinnov will yield nearly identical results.
 

sebna

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@sebna...

These two brands have so much in common in terms of overarching performance. Once they are properly setup, you'll be treated to a high-level experience.

There are some big differences tho. Storm, IMO, is a slightly more consumer-friendly processor to set up. The GUI is more modern and if you're planning on configuring a system managed by Dirac with Bass Control, the process of achieving that is less technical.

To Trinnov's credit, its setup process really allows you to dig into fine-tuning controls, tho most enthusiasts likely won't know how to use them. Also, all of Trinnov's room correction processing is achieved on board. You don't need to connect to an external server like you do with Dirac... I actually prefer that and wish that Dirac allowed for that. But, it doesn't.

Also, when it comes to performance, I think Trinnov's WaveForming is a true game changer for bass management.

I have both ART and Bass Control on my Storm Processor... in my room, Bass Control gives me the best results. But, if you have the space and funds to properly deploy a Trinnov system with Waveforming (we're talking 8 or 9 subwoofers deployed in by horizontal and vertical axes), you're going to experience the very best bass management on the planet.

That said, if you have a smaller sub system, both Dirac and Trinnov will yield nearly identical results.
Thank you Todd for getting back to me.

I went with Storm C16 but changed my order yesterday to T16 after long and painful deliberation, so it is good to read that possibly WF can do better than DART as I read great things about DART, but I also read that it is more finicky than WF and unless it works well out of the box in the system, experienced pro with DART is a must to get best out of it.
 

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The nice thing about the T16 is that you can expand to 20 channels if you need to...

How many subwoofers are you running?
 

sebna

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The nice thing about the T16 is that you can expand to 20 channels if you need to...

How many subwoofers are you running?
ATM 2x 13.7" sealed boxes but in process of building 4x 18" sealed. But I actually have two more 18" drivers sitting on the shelf so I might go crazy and go 6 with outlook of getting to 8 at later stage.

Yes 20 channels is nice and also huge advantage of Trinnov is that warranty can be extended by another 5yrs for reasonable amount of money in grand scheme of things.

Something that Storm does not give option to do ATM.
 
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JStewart

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I have both ART and Bass Control on my Storm Processor... in my room, Bass Control gives me the best results.
Perhaps a topic for elsewhere, but it would be very interesting to hear more about what you experienced in your room with these two.
 

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Happy to tell you here
Perhaps a topic for elsewhere, but it would be very interesting to hear more about what you experienced in your room with these two.

 
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