Robert S. Youman
While sitting in the Synergistic Research room at Axpona 2018 this year, what I observed proved to be quite insightful but it also just verified what I have seen and heard so many times before. Ted Denney (Synergistic Research CEO and Chief Designer) had the audience's focused attention as the session began. Sitting off to the side in one of the rear aisles, I had a great view of the room and all those in attendance.
As I looked around I could see several expressions on the many faces. Some looked excited with great anticipation. Others had a look of seriousness like a very important decision was soon to be made. Still more seemed skeptical if not doubtful and ready to pounce. I looked over at my wife who was sitting on her own and located dead center and a few rows forward for better listening. She turned around and smiled at me. At least I had one friendly face to lean on if needed.
I also noticed that this was a very large room with awkward boundaries and what should have been terrible acoustics. Primary components included the United Home Reel to Reel Tape Deck, Berkeley Alpha Reference Series 2 DAC, Constellation Audio Pictor preamplifier, Constellation Audio Centaur stereo amplifier, and the Magico S5 MKII speakers. Also included were the Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE Power Conditioner, UEF Acoustic Panels, Black Box, and the just introduced new Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) cables. I found it interesting that the flagship Galileo UEF cables were not being used, but I quickly found out why the younger sibling was still an excellent choice.
Ted soon began the formal demonstration. The primary focus was on the new HFT (High Frequency Transducer) Wide Angle which are small dime sized room treatment products that can be strategically placed in the listening area. Please see the Synergistic Research website for more information. As the music began, we were told that a series of HFTs were already in place. I was surprised how deep and wide the sound stage was and how locked in if not holographic the various instruments and vocalists were positioned—even with my listening chair far off to the side. Ted then walked around the room and removed the HFTs. The music started up again.
What I saw next again reaffirmed my thoughts on virtually every Synergistic Research product that I have reviewed over the years. Almost like an Olympic Synchronized Swimming event, there was a sigh across the room as most heads turned in unison and as if on cue. Some to re-position and confirm what they were hearing. Some to comment to the person sitting next to them. Others who just flinched and were not able to sit tight after hearing the change. The sound stage had collapsed. Spatial cues were no longer clearly defined. The overall sound was less immediate and slightly incoherent. At least to my ears, the results were clear and easy to identify.
When Ted replaced the HFTs again and the music began once more, there was another wave of body language. Smiles and nodding all around. My wife turned and gave me another beautiful smile and the thumbs up sign. I just sat back and enjoyed the music. Yep, Ted was at it again.
I was glad to see this. The creativity and out of the box thinking that I have experienced in the past has continued at Synergistic Research. I have also noticed that some of the most highly respected reviewers in our industry have now also supported and positively verified what I have been hearing all along. This includes various enthusiastic reviews on a range of Synergistic Research products from paragons like Michael Fremer, Jonathan Valin, and our own David Robinson here at Positive Feedback. Per the most basic Product Management 101 training, I almost feel like an "early adapter". But of course this has nothing to do with me, it's all about innovation and commitment to better sound.
As I left the demonstration, I stopped to say hi to Andy Wiederspahn, General Manager and Ted's right hand man at Synergistic Research. I mentioned how impressed that I was with the new wide angle HFTs and the sound of the room in general. Andy reminded me that the new Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) cables were another key reason for what I was hearing. When he later offered me a review of the Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) interconnects and speaker cables, I jumped at the opportunity.
After all, I had considerable experience with the earlier generations of Element and Atmosphere cable. I was extremely curious what this newest generation of Atmosphere X could offer in my own listening room. To complete a full loom of Synergistic Research cables for my system, Andy also provided Atmosphere UEF Level 3 Analog and Digital power cables for all of my active components.
- Sonus Faber Stradivari Speakers
- REL No. 25 Reference Subwoofers
- Devialet 1000 Pro Integrated Amplifier
- Pass Labs INT250 Integrated Amplifier
- Pass Labs XP-15 Phono Preamplifier
- VPI Avenger Plus Turntable
- VPI JMW 12-3DR Tonearm with Nordost Reference Wire
- van den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius Moving Coil Cartridge
- Esoteric K-01X SACD/CD Player
- Aurender N10 Music Server
- Synergistic Research Element CTS Cable throughout
- Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE Power Conditioner
- Rix Rax Hoodoo Component Rack
- Magico QPod Footers
- Caveat Emptor
System synergy and personal taste are critical when evaluating high-end audio products. This review is based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, my specific system, and my specific listening room. This combination is only one subjective data point of many that exist out there for these components. Please consider my comments and analysis accordingly.
One key to the success of the Synergistic Research cable designs over the years is the never ending full throttle assault on the noise floor. A lower noise floor or a blacker and deeper background can allow for more musical information to just naturally flow if not luminate from the the soundstage. More harmonics. More ambiance. Better dynamics.
Synergistic Research has taken this commitment to another level with the new Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) interconnects and speaker cables. It also applies to the Atmosphere UEF (Level 3) power cables. Please see the Synergistic Research website for more detailed information, but I will touch on what I feel are some of the highlights.
Extensive use of graphene is one significant change. The conductive density of graphene is claimed to be the highest of any material currently known with eight million times the conductive density of copper. Another design advantage is that graphene can support transmission of electrical current without resistance or magnetic flux fields.
By utilizing graphene in conjunction with proprietary Uniform Energy Field (UEF) technology, the Atmosphere X Euphoria interconnects and speaker cables do not require active shielding. This new technology is called Matrix Level 3 UEF Shielding. The Mini Power Coupler (MPC) or "wall wart" power supply utilized in past active shielding designs is thus no longer needed, which again helps to better manage inherent noise levels. A secondary advantage is that this elimination of the MPC helps to simplify cable implementation and dressing.
However, the Atmosphere UEF (Level 3) power cables do still require active shielding for best performance with most systems (see tuning module discussion below). Like the flagship Galileo UEF power cable, the MPC has also been eliminated by integrating the power supply into the actual physical design of the cable. This was realized by implementing an Active Shielding UEF Cell that includes a modified Swiss made DC biased power supply and graphene shell.
Improved grounding is also an important element of the new Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) cables. With trickle down Ground Plane technology from the flagship Galileo UEF cables, significant improvements have been realized by filtering and directing static electricity and high frequency noise to ground via a link to the cable's ground plane. There are also active and passive star technology grounding upgrades available for even better performance. Please see the Synergistic Research website for the Basic and Active Ground Block products.
From a conductor perspective, the sophistication and complexity of both design and material is quite extensive. Proprietary technology called Airstring utilizes three separate geometries per cable that are each isolated from mechanical resonance and vibration via an air dielectric. Combinations depend on the cable type and functionality. This includes conductors composed of 99.999% pure silver, a fourth generation silver alloy coaxial called Tricon Silver Matrix, and of course graphene.
The Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) cables utilize a new generation of tuning modules. This allows you to voice your cables and system for preferred performance and sound. For Euphoria interconnects and speaker cable, you have the Blue and Red Active UEF Filters. Blue for additional detail, air and refinement. Red for additional warmth, liquidity and musicality. For my system, I preferred using the Red module for best results.
For Atmosphere UEF (Level 3) power cables, you have Gold and Red modules. The Gold UEF Passive Tuning Module for additional warmth, liquidity and musicality. The Red Active Module is optional for the lowest noise floor and completes the active shielding bias circuit if you so choose. For my system, I preferred engaging the Red module to activate the active shielding circuit but disengaging the Gold module for best results.
All interconnects, speaker cable and power cables are treated with a proprietary burn in like process called Quantum Tunneling. Depending on the cable type and functionality, this can take several days and utilizes a one million volt Tesla Coil that is said to enhance holographic realism and transparency.
Like all the models in the Synergistic Research portfolio, the Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) interconnects and speaker cables and the Atmosphere Level 3 power cables are made by hand at the Synergistic Research factory in California. Fit and finish are outstanding. There is a certain quality and even weight to these products that is impressive. I never thought that I would say this about cables, but pride of ownership is very high. Visitors who come by for a listen are often astonished when seeing these products and the striking level of industrial design. As we all know, the days of lamp wire are long gone.
Lastly, I also found it very interesting how the Atmosphere X lineup was developed over time with specific user feedback and by gauging emotional impact for each design. The following paragraph is quoted directly from the Synergistic Research website.
"By placing UEF Tech in a grid pattern on the shields of Atmosphere cables we were able to dramatically lower the noise floor with a surprising increase in musicality or the subjective enjoyment of music. We then began a painstaking double-blind 6-month trial where we would listen to seemingly identical cables marked with random alphanumeric codes to conceal differing patterns of UEF Tech inside each prototype cable and record which options elicited the strongest responses among a control group of listeners. By gauging actual emotional response we were able to isolate grid patterns that better conveyed the essence of music. We would then build on these patterns to find additional patterns that performed better than the last. In this way, our latest shielding technology is highly evolved from anything we have ever done before with each shield pattern selected for its ability to not only lower a cable's noise floor, but to also convey a greater sense of musical enjoyment. The net result is the most advanced shielding technology we have ever developed with each model in the Atmosphere X Series gaining a special shielding pattern that best compliments the geometries of Alive, Excite and Euphoria."
The combination of Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) interconnects and speaker cables and Atmosphere UEF (Level 3) power cables have established a new bench mark of excellence for my system. Visitors to my listening room noticed the change immediately. Even non-audiophiles who never seemed all that impressed before became quite attentive if not mesmerized.
In typical fashion, my focus on several recent hardware and cable reviews had me thinking most of the time about which end of the audiophile scale did the product fall. Musical? Analytical? Neutral? These thoughts rarely if ever came up during this review. All I could think of was the noise floor and how it had essentially vanished. There was so much more information now available at the listening position that I spent some considerable time checking the acoustics of the room and physically moving my seat location around to make sure that I hadn't accidentally found a new sweet spot. The change was that dramatic.
The Sonus Faber Strads are not especially known for sound stage and imaging, but now the spatial cues were coming at me from well beyond the speakers and from all directions. Images were locked in and three dimensional. There was such a rush of more air and inner density for each instrument and vocalist that now I had a new sense of space even beyond location. On several familiar recordings, I could now visualize the height and width and even depth of specific images.
Again, I rarely thought about harmonic color or tone or weight. Music just seemed to naturally and organically flow into the room like the real thing. What I did notice was texture and layering and lifelike presence. Micro and macro dynamics were impressive. There was a rhythmic drive and coherence that was rarely experienced before.
I am not even going to waste time talking about bottom end authority or midrange liquidity or tremble extension. It was all there in spades and compared well if not better than any other cable that I have auditioned. All I can say is that my wife had to bring dinner to the listening room each night that first weekend as I was not leaving even if hungry. This was one of those rare reviews where you wanted to hear every important recording in your collection again to see if you had missed something the last time around.
One more important point. I valiantly tried to determine what contributions were being made by each cable to provide these impressive results. Where was the biggest bang for the buck? Analog interconnects? Digital interconnects? Speaker cables? Power cables? I rotated through various digital and analog pairings with several components and found it virtually impossible to differentiate and prioritize. My bottom line is that the triad of Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) interconnects and speaker cables along with the Atmosphere UEF (Level 3) power cables were just a killer combination with superb synergy—a partnership made in heaven.
Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan, Trouble in Mind (LP)
Trouble in Mind was released in 1980 on the Steeplechase label. With Archie Shepp on sax and Horace Palin on piano, Trouble in Mind is one of my favorite duet recordings ever—vocal or instrumental. These traditional blues and simple spirituals never sounded so emotionally alive and inspired.
My goodness, Archie and Horace were now sitting in my listening room. There was a level of resolution and lifelike immediacy beyond what I have heard with any other cables. The first track, "Black Water Blues" by Bessie Smith, was especially captivating. I could now easily sense the breathing and even the spit and spittle of Archie's efforts as he glided through his leisurely solos center stage. Piano had a visceral sense of urgency and flow as Horace was now locked in stage left and behind Archie. Every stroke of the keyboard and every response on the soundboard were now more clearly articulated and defined. Bravo to Synergistic Research and these cables!
Ariel Ramirez, Misa Criolla (CD)
Released in 1988 on the Phillips label, this superb interpretation of Misa Criollo with tenor José Carreras is another outstanding recording, but the Synergistic Research cables greatly enhanced the pure intimacy and sonic beauty of the presentation.
The K2HD CD is the digital option to have, though the original vinyl release offers the typical analog advantages if you can find a clean copy. After purchasing two LPs, I gave up and I am still very pleased with this CD.
The heartfelt if not haunting solo's by the young José Carreras will reach deep down into your very soul. The air and openness of the recording venue now extends well beyond the walls of the listening room. Drums and flutes pop out of a deep black background as they echo throughout the reading of the mass and beyond the alter. When the choir kicks in, you move from intimacy to a sense of large scale that is quite compelling. Even José would be greatly impressed!
Graham Nash, Over The Years (.wav 44/24)
This 2018 release on the Rhino label, available as a download on both acousticsounds.com and HDTracks.com, was a very pleasant surprise. Another example of why high resolution formats are as unpredictable as any other—just like CD and LP formats. Once again, sound quality is still primarily all about original production values. You would think that the .wav 44/24 format could not compete with 96/24 or 192/24, but it surely delivers here as re-mastered by Nash and supported by the Synergistic Research cables.
Essentially a "Greatest Hits" compilation from Nash's solo career and also selected CSNY efforts, you would never guess that these tracks would sound so good based on the original vinyl releases. My favorites are the more simply miked home demo recordings with Nash basically on his own with guitar or piano and on occasion with a few back up singers. The demo recording of "Pre Road Downs" is an excellent example.
Again, these cables are able to unleash every nuance and detail of voice and guitar. No edge. No grain. No strain. There is a nicely layered three dimensional like image of Nash standing before you with a dazzling amount of dynamic contrast as he strums through the cords and sings out all about life on the road. I could almost visualize a wink and a smile as I observed and listened.
The Synergistic Research Atmosphere X Euphoria (Level 3) interconnects and speaker cables, along with the Atmosphere UEF (Level 3) power cables, have rekindled my passion for the very best in sound and performance. I had not realized that there was so much more musical information available that could transform my system well beyond flavor or personality. I can only imagine what Ted and Andy can come up with next. My guess is that the future will bring even more innovation and exciting new products from Synergistic Research. Highly recommended!