The Storm processor thread has been in the 'Receivers, Amp, and Processors' forum on AVS for the last few years. Given the price, and more importantly, performance of the Storm processors and amps, the thread belongs in this forum. As I've spent quite a bit of time now with the new MK2 processor and recently posted a detailed writeup of it in that forum, I'll begin the thread with that content for those here who may not have seen it. You can see older posts here:
Storm Audio thread in Receivers, Amps and Processors
Disclosure: I'm a Storm dealer.
Here are some thoughts on the MK2. I can get deeper into the SQ and anything else should anybody want more info. Believe it or not, I was trying to keep it brief
STORM AUDIO MK2
We talk a lot about features in these forums. Features, specs, DAC chips used and other often arcane details as we try to separate one processor from another.
Hey, it’s a forum of A/V geeks and aficionados, and this is a home we need. But moreso than any other component, trying to evaluate a processor by looking at line items misses the point. Processors require far more interaction and provide more feedback to the user than any other component — we constantly engage with them as we operate our systems which is why understanding how a processor works and feels in use, is critical in evaluation, and something I will try to get across here.
My first processor was the B&K AVP2000. I’ve owned, sold/sell or spent significant time with pieces by ADA, Marantz, Anthem, Theta, Trinnov, Datasat, Onkyo, Yamaha, Denon, Meridian, Classe and others.
Here’s what I want from a SOTA processor:
- Phenomenal sound
- Logical, well thought out ergonomics that make it easy and even fun to use
- Enough power and features so I can really fine tune the sound and easily evaluate changes made
- Seamless, quick action in operation, aka, it just works
- No obvious path to obsolescence in a changing landscape, particularly regarding HDMI
Here’s what I can’t tolerate anymore
- Unintuitive, cumbersome or crude interfaces. Processors are as much or more software- than hardware-driven. Twentieth century interfaces are inexcusable. Power features that are a PITA to implement are rarely worth the time.
- (Lack of) Stability, reliability, rock solid operation. When I (or my clients) finally sit down after a long day, I don’t want to have to get up and reboot. No. Nor do I want any HDMI bugginess. Yeah, HDMI sucks. The design priority is copy protection, not operational ease and stability. But that said, it’s 2020 and it’s enough already; you should have it figured out.
The Storm ISP 16 MK2, with some comparisons about moving to it from the MK1: (note that these comments also apply to the 24 and 32 channel versions of the ISP, and that the 16 is upgradeable to either of those iteraations)
Changing from the MK1 to the MK2 was a breeze. Downloaded my MK1 setup, uploaded to the MK2. Bang, done; a five minute operation. All my inputs, Dirac configs and so forth now on the MK2. This is a machine that just works. For those setting up from scratch, see notes below on the software; it is the best UI in the industry and makes setup easy and efficient.
Seamless. Every operation is quicker moving from the MK1 with its original HDMI card to the MK II with the latest, house designed, eARC card. Whereas with the MK2, switching inputs might mean some seconds of delay, with the MK II switching time is brief, and unlike many processors, 100% reliable.
Codec switching and profile switching on the MK2 is now as immediate as advertised. Sometimes I like to compare Dolby Surround to Auro on certain mixes. While this is certainly doable on the MK1, the several second gap upon switching makes comparison more difficult. With the MK2, you can hear, see and feel the soundstage change around you as you toggle back and forth. Profile switches, which can include things such as different Dirac curves, channel balances and so forth are similarly immediate.
A digression; I’m not a purist. While some may only listen to a Dolby mix in Dolby as an example, I have no problems playing around and trusting my ears. I do have the benefit of being involved in a few hundred sound mixes, but really it’s less about experience than not being dogmatic, enjoying a pretty incredible machine, and trusting my ears. I think Auro is underrated on these forums, particularly as implemented on the Storm. It is clearly the best two channel upmixer (Dolby and DTS are very poor at this) available, at the least acceptable on most music, and for certain genres such as electronica, almost always an improvement over stereo in a good surround system. Further, I find it with certain TV series and movies, an upgrade over Dolby. Try it with a show like Netflix’s ‘Dark’, a very well mixed Atmos soundtrack. Which sounds better, straight Dolby or Atmos with an Auro overlay? On my system anyway, the Auro mix provides clearly more immersion into the atmosphere of the show which the immediate switching on the MKII makes crystal clear.
Controlling the processor through the browser-based GUI is similarly slick. The logical layout puts all the information you need for a given operation on a single screen in an intuitively organized manner. You see a complete picture of where you’re at and what you can adjust. Few, if any, processors give you so much control over so many parameters to hone the sound of your system. If you are a tweaker, this is your processor. How does a 12db slope to my subs sound vs. a 24db slope? Butterworth vs. Linkwitz-Reilly? I can switch instantly between the two, it’s easy. And for ‘regular folk’ who just want the most kickass sound you can get in your theater, basic setup including Dirac implementation is simple. The clear layout of the input screen, for example, makes initial setup a quick, painless and confident experience.
Even for non-tweakers, it’s a piece of cake. I had created a ‘Stadium’ mode for a heavy duty sports fan client. In broad strokes, I upped the level of the surrounds, made Auro at its largest setting the default and put this into a preset — it’s cool and immersive, puts you inside the stadium. He saw how straightforward the process was and created his own ‘seating offset mode’ to rebalance the presentation for when he sits off-center. The interesting thing here is that this non-techie guy did it himself in about five minutes. He fun with the process and the instant ability to assess changes made.
This is the best software in a component class the requires user interaction. It enhances the user experience, enjoyment of the piece, and rewards those who want to dig deeper and experiment with even better sound.
One other point that bears repeating: from the initial software release thru the frequent upgrades that have added functionality, this is the most stable processor I’ve encountered. In two years of use, I had to reboot the MKI exactly twice. The MK2 has been thusfar flawless. At the end of a busy day and you finally sit down and power up — the Storm just works, no headaches. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily the norm with processors at any price level.
This is a smooth-sounding processor, while at the same time being highly resolving, dynamic and dimensional in its presentation. There’s a great sense of ease. The Storm makes your theater sound bigger than it is, and combined with its high resolution makes you feel closer to the movie. It’s like you’re standing in the scene, hearing everything the characters hear. In a properly setup theater it delivers an immersive, transporting experience.
I A/Bd the MK1 and MK2 by using a passive A/B switch to toggle between them. As I no longer have a 5.1 switchbox, I did this comparison using two channel music, with room correction off. While not ideal from a surround decoding and presentation standpoint, it does indicate what the innate sound quality of the units are.
Storm makes no claim about the sonic difference between the two, and I could not discern one. After level matching, I switched back and forth while playing well recorded tracks that I’ve played on hundreds of systems over the years. I could not identify any differences in sound. When I realized that I was outputting from the MK I using the improved output stages I installed (four channel upgrade module) — the same as those that are standard in the MK II, I switched the left/right outputs in the MK1 to original stock outputs (a less-than-a-minute foray into the browser UI to remap). So now, ‘stock MK1’ vs. MK2, perhaps a very slight uptick in body and harmonic decays around voices and instruments in the MK2 at lower volumes, but nothing I'm confident I could identify reliably, nor the reason to upgrade to the MK II for MK I users.
To contextualize the sound quality of the MK2, I ran it against my two channel rig that runs in parallel on the same system; the combo of a PS Audio Directstream DAC ($6K) feeding a VTL 6.5 II preamp ($15K). Putting aside all the processing, switching, software and so on in the Storm vs. that combo, we’re talking $10.5K/channel of sound vs. around $900/channel.
‘So in the maracas there was a little more definition’ Where music sounds smooth and dynamic through the Storm, it gained texture and depth via my two channel rig. Switching between was not a night and day difference, the Storm sounds really good but the PS/VTL just gives you more. More of the club ambience and sense of space on some live recordings I played, more of the subtle harmonic decays that add palpability and depth making the music a physical presence in the room. About 80 percent of my clients are happy with the Storm for music, for the other twenty we’ve installed a separate two channel pathway. Yes, there are diminishing returns spending more money (in almost any product category), but in audio, despite what often gets floated on AVS sometimes, you generally get what you pay for. And should you enjoy multichannel music and concerts, there is no better processor out there.
For those with the MK2, reasons to upgrade are the smoother and quicker operation of many functions, the addition of OSD and eARC, and future capabilities. The software platform has continuously and meaningfully improved over the last two years — something unfortunately unusual among components that promise software improvements — and it will continue to do. This year alone will see several updates. The greater processing power in the MK2 allows for several features now, such as more discrete processing channels, and the DTS X: Pro and IMAX Enhanced codecs, and potentially many more in the future (including sound quality) that the MK1will not be capable of. Simply put, the MK2 will take you deeper into the future than the MK2, and is quicker and more feature-rich operationally in the present. It is selling well, and for very good reasons.
IMO, the Storm MK2 is the complete package; state-of-the-art sound, processing, user interface, features, ergonomics and stability. It’s a component that isn’t fully appreciated until you use it everyday, then you realize what a completely realized and holistically functioning and performing piece it is. The software and hardware merge seamlessly into what is the best processor on the market.