Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power foundation of a stereo system. Six years ago, Roy Gregory’s talk at the Nordost demos at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest intrigued me; specifically, he spoke about using better power cables and line conditioners to lower noise and using this as the “foundation” for an audio system. About three years ago, I dropped into a demo led by Synergistic Reseach’s Ted Denney and watched and listened as he steadily added his cables, power conditioners, and all manner of tweaky devices. I left impressed. After the show, Mr. Denney sent me a box full of his products including a Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE line conditioner, Synergistic Research Ground Block, and Synergistic Research Black UEF Duplex power outlet which I installed in the new listening room.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Denney flew to my house in Atlanta and we began adding in the gear one by one so we could hear each device’s sonic impact.
From Mr. Denney, I learned about different sources of noise and the why and how that this stuff could take away from the high-end audio experience. The first of these is “powerline noise”, or the noise that is carried on your home power lines. It involves noise even in the gigahertz and megahertz range. The second type of noise, “grounding noise”, comes from inadequate electrical grounding.
Unsurprisingly, it takes a bit of investment to control for all of these categories, but I was curious what the resulting impact on the sound quality would be. Specifically, what, if any, differences would I hear?
To understand the design thinking and technology behind the products I was sent, I sat down with Mr. Denney to talk it through.
An Interview with Ted Denney
LS: How did you come up with the idea and EM technology for the PowerCell line?
TD: I was on a long walk and thinking about hydrogen fuel cells about 8 years ago. Cars would soon incorporate hydrogen fuel cells was the idea at the time. I wanted to build an exceptional product as traditional designs always limit current on demand with conventional methods. In hydrogen fuel cells there is a chemical reaction between the plates and I got to thinking about my active shielding. It creates an effect between the DC on the shield and the signal traveling through the cable. And I thought, what if I could maximize that surface area and run the AC along plates and the ground along plates and put plates in there with DC. Maybe that would have a significant effect in terms of filtration because I had already observed this with the active shielding on power cords. I noticed the impact was always greater on power cords than interconnects or speaker cables. I could probably create a line conditioner that would not limit current.
So we built a prototype but the initial reaction was poor, because it was very dark sounding. So I left the factory and I didn’t go in the next day, then I get a call from the factory and they say, “Ted, you gotta come in and hear this!” The process had opened up and the sound was dramatically better. We also noticed increased current on demand. We also found the EM cells holds energy in its Teflon dielectric which is between the plates. So it is able to release more current and that leads to increased slam and attack.
LS: Yes, I have noticed that effect on my home system.
TD: Yes. Then I started thinking how I could maximize the plates. I initially thought I could run the AC through lots of wires, almost like a woman running fabric through a loom. I eventually got the idea to run it along plates. Run the AC along plates, run the DC along plates. Then we eventually added the Schumann Resonance as well. If it’s a flat cell, we found a more open and liquid soundstage almost like tubes with bloom. And if you take the flat cell and roll it up, then you have the five carbon fiber tubes you see in the PowerCell. They seem to hold a lot more energy and you get better bass “pop”. With rolled cells, you get the large, liquid, music soundstage of the flat cell. Then we can increase isolation by having different cells for positive and negative and then we have a fifth cell that simply filters ground. That way you have two banks of three duplexes that are isolated. So this enables all the digital into one bank of three and all the analog components into another bank of three.
LS: So tell us about this UEF technology. How does that work?
TD: We apply UEF in a proprietary way which I won’t go into. We put the UEF technology inside the cells and inside the SR capacitors on the circuit board in the PowerCell. That circuit board generates the bias for the EM cell as well as the Earth Schumann resonance.
LS: So let’s put it another way, what would you say is the high level takeaway for what UEF tech does?
TD: It’s a technology that reacts to multiple waveforms: electromagnetic waves, radio waves, and soundwaves. The more things you treat, the better the sound gets. Things such as HFTs, acoustic panels, ground blocks, cables with UEF, etc. all make a difference. You are essentially linking all this stuff together to make a more harmonious whole. If you treat the electrical signal and the mechanical vibrations, you get more harmony and it sounds like live music and less like a stereo attempting to play music that has no resemblance to the space where the original recording takes place. At the signal level, it interacts with the actual electrons themselves. There is a quantum coupling that takes place. I believe electrons can exist in multiple states. They can be chaotic or have more order to their flow, or at least less agitated.
LS: At the factory, you zap your cables with a Tesla coil. Is that what makes electrons more orderly as well?
TD: It creates a pathway for electrons to flow. However, I believe electricity flows as a waveform above the conductor. There is no way electrons are moving through wire like water goes through a hose. No way, no how. The energy excites the electron and it creates an energy wave that rides above the conductor. I don’t believe that electrons flow through a conductor. This is the kind of thing that is debatable among physicists. We are still learning exactly how this works: making observations all the time and then developing theories. Many physicists seem to feel the evidence points to electrons not behaving like water through a pipe. You can’t prove your own existence in the universe. Humans have a need to have easy explanations and often are overly confident in those easy explanations.
LS: You have field generators inside the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12. How does that work?
TD: We are using two fields. We have a DC field and the Earth Schumann Resonance. When you have the two combined the energy is combined.
LS: Tell me more about the Earth’s Schumann resonance.
TD: That was the frequency that we evolved for on this planet. It’s the only RF frequency before modern times. A very, very low frequency wave with one cycle equating to the length of New Zealand. What we are doing is making the predominant RF frequency the same RF frequency that exists in nature prior to radio and all the other manmade frequencies. These unnatural frequencies create tension and anxiety in humans and, left untreated, tension and anxiety in the sound of a stereo. When you replace these with the Earth Schumann resonance, you are replacing something unnatural with something that is natural and that causes you to respond more favorably to music.
Ultimately you listen to music for an emotional response. Lots of things get in the way of an emotional response. The crudest way is to lob off the high frequencies. But with SR products, you hear extremely wide bandwidth. They are not dark or rolled off cables and products. I hate listening to dark, rolled-off systems. Much better is to eliminate those factors that detract from the experience. People assume that musicality and resolution are inversely related. But this is not true. You can do both: increase in resolution exponentially and decrease the effects of the room. The net result is musical and real.
LS: One final question, Ted. Why does my amplifier sound better when plugged into the PowerCell than when it is plugged into the wall?
TD: The EM cells store energy and act as a super capacitor. So you can plug your amp in with no issue. When the cells can meet peak current demand, they can deliver slightly more current and in extremely fast delivery so you hear those micro-transients really pop out.
So now that we understand the underlying technology a bit better, let’s focus on the power products that he sells and describe what they are supposed to do and what I heard. We will begin with the flagship line conditioner, then the power outlet, and then finish with the ground plane technology.
The Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE
The Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE is a rackmount-sized box with twelve power outlets on the back. It uses a PowerConn connector to attach either a thick Atmosphere Level 3 power cord on the back or even a flagship Galileo power cord. The unit looks well constructed and feels solid; it sports a thick black faceplate and heavy SR Black power outlets on the back, though they do now offer an SR Blue outlet utilizing much of the same technology as found in their Blue Fuses on the newer PowerCells, and even more performance (according to Mr. Denney). For this review, it was plugged into an SR Black power outlet I had installed by an electrician. The outlets on the PowerCell have a nice grip to them and hold the heavier Synergistic Research power cords well.
The case itself is treated with UEF coatings to further electrically isolate the device. A window on the top of the chassis shows off the EM cells inside and a pleasant blue LED light illuminates the circuit board.
At $6,495, the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE is not inexpensive but SR offers several levels of power conditioners so you can adjust your purchase by your budget.
Once I put the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE in, I immediately heard more clarity across the board. Remarkably, my Audio Research VT-100 power amp had better dynamics — not what I was expecting when plugging an amplifier plugged into a power conditioner. As we found out in the interview, this “capacity” (ahem) is due to the “supercapacitor” technology.
The PowerCell proved to be a killer piece. I felt like I had a better sense of what my Audio Research components could do. Some fuzziness I had in the highs went away. Bass definition was clearer. There was a new sense of openness. Instrument separation improved as well.
I will give an example of two recordings which demonstrated the lower noise. When I played the Mobile Fidelity One Step of Bill Evans Sunday at the Village Vanguard, the clinking of the glasses which give you the additional atmosphere of a smoky New York jazz club gets even crisper, and the piano is just a bit more real.
Another example is the blockbuster Dream with Dean LP from Analogue Productions. The already fine vocals of Dean Martin gains a hint of rasp, an extra layer of Dean’s real presence in the room.
Playing back out-of-fashion silver discs on the wonderful PS Audio DirectStream “stack” proved so satisfying. When playing my new Fritz Reiner Pines of Rome SACD, the layering of the orchestra was at once defined and enveloping. The dynamics of “The Pines of Villa Borghese” movement were majestic; the soundstage showing a compelling width and front-to-back depth.
While power cables got the company started, the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE is, in my opinion, the essential SR product to own.
Synergistic Research Black UEF Duplex
Another component in my party-box was the Synergistic Research Black UEF Duplex power outlet.
The Black outlet is beefy in construction, like a good industrial Hubbell outlet, but it has been subjected to a Tesla coil process.
As it says on the Synergistic Research website, “The conductor material is conditioned with a proprietary process that alters the crystalline structure. Then outlets are treated with 1,000,000 volts of electricity at specific frequencies and pulse modulations, creating a canal in the conductor material and contact points at the molecular level that allows electrons to flow more freely.”
The Synergistic Research Black power outlet also has UEF treatment applied. Synergistic claims lower noise and more clarity as a result of installing these outlets. Each sells for $249. The grip is quite good and that certainly helps hold up the Atmosphere Level 3 active power cord that is connected to the PowerCell.
I plugged the PowerCell into the Synergistic Research Black power outlet, so the effect I heard was across the whole system.
In my system, the Synergistic Research Black power outlet was a vast improvement over the Oyaide outlet I had, and music played with bass more clarity and weight. No, it wasn’t as pronounced as adding in the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 SE, but the effect was definitely there. And the effect in the midrange was also quite noticeable. Once installed, the overall sound was more natural.
I also like the strong grip I got from these outlets. That grip gives me confidence that the connection is better. And you need that grip as the Synergistic power cables are heavy. This is an affordable outlet that, and an upgrade I feel is well worth doing.
Synergistic Research Ground Block
The Synergistic Research Ground Block was something completely new to me. Recently several vendors have introduced very expensive grounding devices that attempt to ground components. Often, these devices run in the thousands of dollars range and only connect to components. Synergistic takes a different approach whereby the analog and digital cables themselves are grounded as well. Their logic is that everything can be grounded for even lower noise floors.
At SR, there are two “grounding” paths to lower noise. The first is to use a Synergistic Research Ground Block to lower noise. The second, more sophisticated way is to use an Active Ground Block, which is powered, to reduce noise further. In this review, we are using the more affordable Synergistic Research Ground Block, selling for $595. Adding the connecting cables costs extra, but the cost is fairly modest.
Mr. Denney’s cables have two thin banana style connectors, one for the tuning devices and one for a ground wire. The goal is to have everything, including cables, grounded to a Ground Block which is then plugged in separately to the wall on an outlet that is different from the outlet the system and, in my case, the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE gets plugged into.
What’s really cool is that in my new room I have a switch and I can flick it on and off and have an instant “A/B” comparison. The design of the ground wires came from an earlier, more complex SR setup. Now, Mr. Denney supplies a package of copper grounding wires and you simply connect the banana at the cable end with a banana into the Synergistic Research Ground Block. Once the cables are done, you get component ground cables attached at each component on an unused RCA or XLR jack or ground spade and then plug into the Ground Block which holds 18 connections or “ports”. On the side of the Synergistic Research Ground Block is another banana connect that you attach a power cord-like cable with three prongs into a wall outlet.
This setup, while creating “spider’s web” of cables did magical things to my system with a vastly lower noise floor. I just got more of that Synergistic Research clarity I heard from the first-time PowerCell installation. Between the PowerCell, Synergistic Research Black power outlet, Atmosphere cables and now this Synergistic Research Ground Block, my audio system was literally transformed.
One track I like is Norah Jones’ “Cold, Cold Heart” on the SACD from Analogue Productions. The bass line on this Hank Williams classic has more definition when I have the ground block plugged into the wall. Unplug the ground block and the bass is a bit indistinct. I say to myself, “something is missing.” I plug the ground block back in and life is good again. I’m more connected to the whole piece.
The Ground Block is also pleasing on the eye as a black metal rectangle but with a beautiful 5mm or so layer of copper on top as an accent, a nice detail. The whole kit is $595. But we were not done yet.
The Synergistic Research Power Foundation
The resulting impact of these three products is more than the sum of the parts. By that, I mean that with these devices it’s more of a “1+1+1 = 5” effect. The noise floor drops significantly, and with that, I feel like I am hearing everything my system was designed to perform.
Honestly, I wish these three devices did not matter as much as they do. It’s a new can of worms to unravel and makes system setup a lot more complex. However, I would never go back to an “untreated” system. The new system sounds more dynamic, more detailed, more lifelike in the soundstage and timbre of the various instruments. In short, it sounds more musical, more real. My ears have heard the impact across many systems and my own speaker and electronics upgrades. Each step of the way, the sound improved until we reached a rather remarkable state. The thought of gear considerations evaporates, and my mind drifts to more important things like the sound of the sax on the “Into The Mystic” track from Van Morrison’s Too Late to Stop Now, which is my favorite live rock album.
It allows the music to just flow in a more natural manner and for more musical detail, both macrodynamic and micro-dynamic in nature, to be heard. It elevates whatever electronics and speakers you have.
Upon reflection, I learned a few lessons from our Synergistic journey:
- Ignore the advice that you worry about tweaks when you have the electronics and speakers sorted out. Everything matters.
- That power conditioner can have as much impact as a fancy new preamp. Invest wisely in both.
- Grounding is the next wave of cable design. Without it, you are operating at a disadvantage.
- The order of magnitude of these devices is not small. By the time I installed and tuned these devices, my system sounded VASTLY better.
I have really enjoyed the sonic improvements. Synergistic Research’s power products have added to my musical experience. These devices really do “create quiet” for your stereo system, so I give them my highest recommendation. But don’t take just my word for it. You can try them for 30 days and hear what impact they have on your own system.