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StormAudio ISP 16 MK2 Review (AV Processor)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Storm Audio ISP 16 MK2 high-end Audio Video Processor (AVP). It was kindly loaned to me for testing and costs US $15,000.

This is one serious looking AV Processor:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Review High-end Home Theater Processor AVP.jpg


As you see, it has a highly informative and detailed display. I will show more later. For now, the business end is in the back with various options it can be configured:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Review High-end Home Theater Processor AVP Custom Installer.jpg


Where is a fan in the back, I don't recall hearing it over my normal equipment noise.

The ISP is targeted at custom installation (CI) market and it shows from not only myriad of triggering and automation but also incredibly well done web based user interface (protected through two levels of passwords). While the typical AV processor looks and feels like a mass market AVR with balanced outputs and no amps, the ISP goes to town, provide a level of control, sophistication and transparency into the device that I have not seen before. Clearly there is a ton of software that has been developed to manage this system. Here are some example screenshots:

Virtual remote control:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 remote control.png


Triggers:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Trigger.png


Status panel:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Status.png


Love this real-time display of what the device is seeing. No more guessing as to why there is no sound coming out:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Monitoring.png


Most useful is the parametric EQ (in addition to automated DIRAC auto EQ):

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Equalization EQ.png


Notice how it can even import filters from REW! All of this is implemented through the web interface so you can control it using any device yet the output looks professional like an "app."

Really, everybody else is competing to see who can get a score of C instead of D and Storm Audio ISP is relaxing with a score of A on the user interface and control!

Some background is in order. Storm was kind enough to send me this processor back in November of last year I think. They are the only high-end AV processor company to choose to do so. I tested the unit a few weeks later and found some performance issues. As is my common practice, when manufacturers send me something and I find problems, I provide feedback to them prior to publication. Sometimes this causes defensiveness on the part of the company. Not here. Storm immediately took the results in and worked on resolving the issues I had identified. They provided updated firmware to me for testing but by then, I was on to testing mountain of other gear. This went on until about a couple of weeks ago when I finally got around to testing and creating the results you see. Support from the company during this time was superb.

NOTE: since I had the unit here for so long, and because it was taking so much space, I already shipped my unit back to them a couple of days ago. So please don't ask me to test it more!

Storm ISP MK2 Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard which is created by my PC's Intel GPU generating the HDMI signal in 7.1 configuration but with two channels having output on them:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements HDMI.png


Distortion is at -102 dB or so (second harmonic) so with a bit of noise, the SINAD averages about 99 dB. Company measurements though showed better results:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Company Suppliled Measurements HDMI.png


Storm is using the HDMI output form the Audio Precision analyzer which tends to generate cleaner signals than my PC. Resolving this difference was hard so instead of sitting on this review for another six months :), I decided to average their two channels and my two channels and arrive at a single number for the SINAD rating:

best AV Processor Review 2021.png


So definitely good and hanging with just a handful of competent AV processors out there.

The unit is of course capable of much more output:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements THD+N vs Level HDMI.png


As you see, there is a broad, optimal output voltage range going as high as 8 volts. So to the extent your power amp has better performance at higher input levels (e.g. Benchmark AHB2 and Purifi without input buffer), you could have a net benefit even though the ISP MK2 doesn't improve by itself.

Dynamic range is decent:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements Dynamic Range HDMI.png


Linearity shows accuracy of 18 bits:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements Linearity HDMI.png


This is a limitation of an internal IC they are using. Jitter test shows very clean noise floor:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements Jitter HDMI.png


Very nice to see a proper reconstruction filter for 44.1 kHz as even high performance DACs often get this wrong:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements DAC Filter HDMI.png


IMD vs level shows classic "IMD hump" although I don't believe they use an ESS DAC:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements IMD HDMI.png


Sweeping the frequency gives us the often seen, elevated noise+distortion:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements THD+N vs Frequency HDMI.png


As usual, we need to run an FFT to see the reason behind this:

Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements 1 kHz FFT HDMI.png


We can see spikes well in ultrasonics that is causing this graph to look the way it does. Since they are not audible, this is strictly a measurement hygiene issue.

Multitone test shows 18 bits of distortion-free range:
Storm Audio ISP MK2 Measurements Multitone HDMI.png


Conclusions
I am usually hard core about just looking at performance of devices and not taking into account the functionality they provide. Here though, the company differentiates itself so much that I felt compelled to give them some extra points. Add excellent support to objective performance that is competent and you have the making of a device that should be in your sight if you can afford it.

I am happy to recommend the StormAudio ISP MKII. I applaud them for their drive to keep improving their products and spirit of collaboration they provided to me during this testing. For the first time, I thought if I needed an AV Processor, this is what I would like to have in my system!

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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MZKM

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#5
Very amazing interface and EQ options.

However, if you only needed 13ch and are fine with Audyssey (with the app), the Denon X8500 is $4000 and has better performance at 2Vrms, which is enough for most amps. Plus you can use the amp disconnect feature and use internal amps for some of the surrounds/heights to save even more money (granted, if you were considering the Storm, money likely isn’t an issue).
 
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PeteL

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#6
Oh my... This backplate looks so cheap for 15k. View attachment 122679

At last, close to decent performance for an AV processor! Software also seems to be next-level.
Well, it looks exactly like it should, a plate made in a batch of 10 units, not 10 000, , High unit cost, low tooling cost, as anything manufactured boutique style.
 
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#9
Oh my... This backplate looks so cheap for 15k. View attachment 122679

At last, close to decent performance for an AV processor! Software also seems to be next-level.
If you want a prettier version then the Bryston SP4 is the same processor which they make no secret of it even says manufactured by storm audio in France on the back of it.
 
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#10
Amazing piece of gear. However what impress me the most is to see a Denon X6700H, which is $2700, right next to the Storm Audio and performing equally or in some aspects even better than a $15K AV Processor.
 

Andysu

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#11
How many seconds does it take when switching from one video mode to the next how long does it take for video to appear and how many more seconds for sound to be audible.

Lacks DB25 which would take up far less space on back panel and DB25 does the same as XLR.
What was the Dolby DSU like on it and tested with the following. VHS, Laserdisc never mind 4k, what is it like with other formats does it have any sound issues with typical centre leakage into all other channels? I mean if one is simply gonna spend £15 grand.
 

Vovgan

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#13
For the first time, I thought if I needed an AV Processor, this is what I would like to have in my system!
Chief, what are you currently using in your home theatre if not an AV processor? Is it AVR?
 
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#14
Amazing piece of gear. However what impress me the most is to see a Denon X6700H, which is $2700, right next to the Storm Audio and performing equally or in some aspects even better than a $15K AV Processor.
Good audio performance is just one aspect of this unit. What in can do and do it reliably is the key to this processor. The Bass management alone is to die for. The Dirac Live Bass control is on a different league. I have calibrated a Trinnov processor (more complex though), and I like the room correction employed by DIRAC more!

The review made my DAY!
 

spacevector

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#15
Storm immediately took the results in and worked on resolving the issues I had identified. They provided updated firmware to me for testing but by then, I was on to testing mountain of other gear.
amirm, Are you able to disclose the issues you had found?
Many thanks for another excellent review.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #16
Chief, what are you currently using in your home theatre if not an AV processor? Is it AVR?
It is an ancient Lexicon processor. Still waiting on upgrading it to something.....
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #17
amirm, Are you able to disclose the issues you had found?
It has been too long. :) One was the filter for the DAC I remember. Dynamic range was lower as well.
 

respice finem

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#18
...Oh my... This backplate looks so cheap for 15k...
Apart from the "howler" fan (which really looks cheap, like the unit ran too hot and they said oh cr.p we need a fan), I can't fault anything about it. Aluminium plate, certainly thick and sturdy for the many XLRs, with tightly fitting option slots, secured with Torx(?) screws.
Those monsters end up in "real" cinemas, where only the house mouse sees the backplate anyway :D

I could buy one, as a 7.1, without the fan and without one zero on the price tag ;)
 

jhaider

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#19
It looks like they've really made the software prettier since I played with Bryston's SP4 version of this processor. If that processor had played better with Logitech Harmony remotes I'd have bought it and be a very happy owner.

The functionality was all there before but this looks really sleek! The bass management flexibility is second to none, though when Dirac really sorts out DLBC that will be less of a selling point. Aside from that, what you get here over Monoprice HTP-1 (aside from higher voltage analog preouts, which are IMO irrelevant in most use cases) are the digital output options and the ability to group channels into a speaker, with individual high-/low-/band- pass and PEQ for each section. HTP-1 has PEQ and shelf filters in addition to Dirac but not the high-/low-/band- pass capability.

Honestly as someone who has experience with both if you’re using DLBC for bass management and not running active speakers directly from the AVP or with digitally-connected controllers it’s hard to argue the value added here over HTP-1. Especially if you use the “pinksoda” alternate HTP-1 UI.
 

fredoamigo

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#20
If you want a prettier version then the Bryston SP4 is the same processor which they make no secret of it even says manufactured by storm audio in France on the back of it.
Storm Audio also works with Focal look here at the (AVR) Astral 16 (20 000 euros)
 
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