by Howard Kneller
Things have changed. Today’s audiophile wires often feature complex and varied components -- multiple or single, solid or hollow conductors; dielectrics of polyethylene, PVC, Teflon, or air -- and designs that maximize vibration control and connector contact. And though copper is still commonly used as a conductor, much of the copper used in today’s cables is oxygen free. Deoxygenating the metal is said to improve its crystalline structure, thus facilitating better phase transmission. Other metals, most commonly silver, are also used in today’s high-end cables.
One company that has helped propel the art of cable design beyond its humble beginnings in lamp cord is Synergistic Research, founded in 1992. Synergistic was one of the biggest proponents of active cable technology, which it adopted in 1998. In 2006, Synergistic developed its Quantum Tunneling treatment, which subjects conductive materials to a high-frequency signal at 1 million volts. This is said to improve the conductors’ transmission of electrons.
Recently, Synergistic has adapted three new technologies for use in audio cables:
1) Graphene, a near-superconductor at room temperature: Initially observed at ultra-low temperatures in mercury over a century ago, superconductivity permits the transmission of electrical current without resistance or magnetic flux fields.
2) A proprietary electrical filtration technology, Uniform Energy Field (UEF): While Synergistic is tight-lipped about the details of UEF, the technology has imbued its new products with an updated house sound.
3) A new grounding feature now built into Synergistic cables: As manufacturers trip over themselves to introduce component grounding systems, Synergistic seems to be the only one that advocates grounding cables and components.
Synergistic’s flagship line, Galileo UEF, includes digital links, interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, and Integrated Frequency Termination (IFT) Jumpers. This review is of the Galileo UEF interconnects, speaker cables, and IFTs. According to Ted Denney, the company’s founder and lead designer, the Galileo UEFs incorporate all three of the new technologies described above, and are the highest-performing products in Synergistic’s history.
“All that glisters is not gold.”
Constructed of multiple geometries and hand-made in California, Synergistic’s Galileo UEFs are complex and expensive. Two pairs of interconnects and a pair of speaker cables take 26 hours to build. The cables then undergo a two-week, multi-stage conditioning process in which they’re subjected to Quantum Tunneling and other processes.
The Galileo UEF interconnects cost $7500 USD (RCA) and $9500 (XLR) per 1m pair. The speaker cables cost $15,000/8’ pair. According to Denney, these cables comfortably outperform not only Synergistic’s previous statement cables, the Galileo LE models (discontinued, but priced the same as the corresponding Galileo UEF models), but also their older, extraordinarily expensive Galileo System cables ($33,000/1m pair for interconnects, $55,000/8’ pair for speaker cables), also now discontinued.
Like all of Synergistic’s newest cables, the Galileo UEFs are non-active. As described in my review of Synergistic’s Atmosphere cables, the UEF technology has allowed the company to move away from active shielding, resulting in cables that are less cumbersome and sound better. As discussed below, the Galileo UEF geometries are roughly similar to those of the outgoing active Galileo LE models, except that they’re non-active and now include UEF filtering.
Galileo UEF interconnects
Each channel of the Galileo UEF interconnects contains multiple parallel runs of two silver-based geometries, four and six in total for RCA and XLR, respectively. The first geometry, two each for RCA and four each for XLR per channel, is a monofilament of 99.9999% pure silver and graphene. The second geometry, two each for RCA and two each for XLR per channel, is a fourth-generation silver-alloy coaxial called Tricon Silver Matrix.
The runs are isolated, first by an air dielectric that Synergistic calls an Air String, and second by a shield that contains both UEF filtering material and graphene. This shield repels electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio-frequency interference (RFI), but it is also conductive, directing static electricity and high-frequency noise to ground via an attachment to the cables’ ground plane.
Attached to the ground plane is a unique feature -- a connector (female mini-banana) that allows the cable to be connected to the ground pole of an AC wall outlet via an included ground cable (male mini-banana to male IEC). Denney states that cables can transfer noise between components and speakers, but that when the cables are connected to a wall outlet, that noise is redirected to ground. For what Synergistic states is the ultimate in grounding, you can add one of their Ground Blocks ($595-$2995), which use UEF filtering to direct noise from the cable into the block, and then into the wall outlet’s ground pole.
Each shield is encased in a nylon-and-polyethylene sheath that Denney claims damps vibrations without overdamping the conductors and thus compressing the sound. The interconnects’ outer jackets are of polyethylene.
Inside the Galileo UEF interconnect, nearer its amplifier side, is its technological heart: a cylindrical cell measuring over 6” long and containing UEF filtering material and foil made of 99.9999% pure silver, copper, and graphene. These layers are surrounded by a dielectric of Teflon and Japanese silk, and the cell is encased in carbon fiber.
Finally, at one end of each Galileo UEF interconnect is a barrel connector, to attach to the cable’s shield a passive UEF tuning module (or bullet, as Synergistic calls it). Operating outside of the signal path and specially voiced for the Galileo UEF cables, the bullets fine-tune the cable’s sound to suit your system and taste. Synergistic provides two different types of bullets, one gold and two silver, each claimed to produce a different type of sound (see below).
Galileo UEF speaker cables
Each channel of the Galileo UEF speaker cable comprises ten parallel geometries: four high-current biaxial Silver Matrix; one fourth-generation, high-current triaxial Tricon Silver Matrix; and five graphene-wrapped monofilaments -- three of 99.9999% pure silver, one of graphene, and one of pure tungsten. As with the matching interconnects, these geometries are separately isolated by an AirString dielectric, UEF graphene shield and sheath, and are collectively fitted with a jacket and UEF filtering cell.
Also like the Galileo UEF interconnects, the speaker cables can be grounded to a wall outlet via the included ground cable or one of Synergistic’s Ground Blocks. However, unlike the interconnects, the speaker cable’s shields can be disconnected from ground for use with amplifiers and speakers that react poorly to inductance caused by grounded wire. The speaker cables can also be fine-tuned with the included Galileo UEF tuning bullets.
Galileo UEF Integrated Frequency Termination (IFT) jumpers
Where a system’s speakers permit, the Galileo UEF speaker cables can also be used with Synergistic’s Galileo UEF Integrated Frequency Termination (IFT) jumpers ($2000/pr.), the configuration that Denney recommends. Many biwire speaker cables are “shotgun” types: they split the signal via two conductor geometries that are joined together again at the amplifier end. At the speaker end, each geometry is connected to a dedicated driver, where they are reconnected by a short jumper cable.
Ted Denney dislikes shotgun biwiring. He says that because a tweeter with a high-pass filter has an impedance response different from that of a woofer with a low-pass filter, splitting the signal creates phase distortion. In the IFT configuration, the signal runs from the amp via one cable and is split at the speaker end, where it is reconnected by the jumper.
“Flying starts from the ground. The more grounded you are, the higher you fly.”
-- J.R. Rim
The Galileo UEF cables shipped to my home, including IFT jumpers, totaled $32,000. That’s a lot of money -- but there are far more expensive cables out there. Also included in the shipment was Synergistic’s 53”-tall Atmosphere XL variable multi-wave radio-frequency (RF) field generator ($3495) with optional green tuning module ($695), and one of their passive Ground Blocks ($595). According to Denney, the Atmosphere XL’s ultra-low-frequency RF fields excite the UEF filtering material, whether in the Galileo UEF cables or other Synergistic UEF products, thus improving performance.
The Galileo UEF speaker cables’ multiple geometries make them thick and stiff; the interconnects were easier to work with. Ted Denney had arrived to help me set it all up, and things got interesting when we got to the ground cables, UEF tuning bullets, and Atmosphere XL. Wanting to play his “A” game, Denney grounded the cables via the Ground Block.
The effects of the Galileo UEF tuning bullets will be specific to the individual system and listener. The gold bullet sounded warm and layered, and emphasized midrange bloom. The silver bullet sounded cool, lean, fast, and detailed, emphasizing presence and transient impact. As the gold bullets sounded a bit too burnished, Denney and I decided to use only silver bullets for interconnects and speaker cables. I’ve heard of rare instances in which many Synergistic UEF products are used, and the best option turned out to be a limited number of bullets or none at all.
We then moved to the Atmosphere XL, which deserves its own review. In brief, after you turn it on and let it do its thing with the Synergistic UEF products you have in your system, you use an iPad to adjust the sound.
I began my listening with the Galileo UEF cables without upgrades. I disconnected the Atmosphere XL and Ground Block and at first used the ground cables included with the Galileo UEF cables, which run directly from the Galileos to a wall outlet.
“You don’t get respect if you don’t deserve it.”
-- Snoop Dogg
The Galileo UEF cables have a unique “house sound” that, in my experience, is a product of the UEF filtering. But it’s not the type of nonsensical house mentioned by some audio reviewers. For example, one reviewer recently suggested that a manufacturer’s house sound includes the “hard-charging, forceful delivery of music,” “strong micro and macrodynamics,” “stupendous bass reproduction,” “wide and layered soundstag[ing],” and an “inky black background.” To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, that is not a house sound.
Rather, UEF filtering gave its host products a round, warm, easy-to-listen-to quality. Call it tube-like, though such a comparison is highly imperfect. That, as Dundee might have observed had he heard the Galileo UEFs, is a house sound.
However, the UEF filtering did two other things. First, unlike most tubed gear, it decreased noise and increased detail. Second, it did something that filters rarely do: it decreased compression, thus increasing flow, openness, even apparent frequency range.
Reviewers, me included, gushed over the Galileo LEs for their beauty, richness and density of color, weight, three-dimensionality, and ability to parse timbres while being dynamic, ultraquiet, detailed, and textured. The Galileo UEFs retained much of that character. However, the application of UEF filtering to the Galileos added bulbous sonic structure and doubled down on openness, warmth, richness, weight, detail, and noise rejection. Compared to the UEFs, the LEs sounded, to greater or lesser extents, flatter, more closed-in, cooler, noisier, less detailed, even a tad glaring.
In “Over the Rainbow,” from Ella Fitzgerald’s Pure Ella (CD, Verve 539206), her voice was unprecedentedly lush, relaxed, and velvety. In his A Love Supreme (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, The Verve Music Group), John Coltrane’s emotionally expressive tenor-saxophone lines sounded sublimely fat, warm, and rich. The Galileo UEFs even wrung beauty from the piccolo, the highest-pitched orchestral wind. The piccolo falls within the human ear’s range of greatest sensitivity, and when it’s played loudly, it can stand out in thickly scored passages, even in loud orchestral tuttis. But because of the ear’s sensitivity in this region, the piccolo’s top notes can sound shrill and piercing, especially through an audio system.
With the UEFs, the solo piccolo notes at the beginning of Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra’s recording of Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat (CD, Decca 466 991-2) did not grate, and were imbued with sweetness and delicacy. Without a musical score, it’s impossible to know whether these notes are marked forte or are merely exclamatory. Either way, they were now much easier to listen to, as if marked piano (soft).
But the UEFs did not over-romanticize recordings. Rather, they were technical masters whose calling card was their round, dense, three-dimensional imaging. Cutting-edge soundstaging, openness, flow, noise rejection, detail, leading edges, transient impact, transparency -- all were also present in spades.
In Miles Davis’s “Four,” from Chet Baker’s In Tokyo (Japanese CD, Kings ECD 22158-2), the geometric sonic contours of Baker’s trumpet were neither ignored nor simplified. In Billy Cobham’s Spectrum (24/96 FLAC, Rhino), Cobham’s drumstrokes were imbued with authentic curvatures.
The UEFs even provided substantial corpulence to instruments whose sonic footprints are notoriously attenuated (such as Midori’s violin in her recording of Beethoven’ Violin Sonata No.8, Op.30 No.3, with pianist Robert McDonald, from her Live from Carnegie Hall; 16/44.1 FLAC, Sony Classical) or even downright gaunt (the piccolo in the Falla). This is something that few cables do, especially without making significant compromises elsewhere, such as in speed and detail retrieval.
A correlate of the Galileo UEFs’ realistically rounded, dimensional imaging was their soundstaging, which was expansive and almost unfathomably vertically layered. With good recordings such as “In Your Eyes,” from Peter Gabriel’s New Blood (16/44.1 FLAC, Real World), it was as though I could stand between and behind the instruments.
Further, the Galileo UEFs placed instruments and sounds of all types exactly where they belonged. “A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold Suite,” from Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 (16/44.1 FLAC, Reprise), successfully meshes two very different songs into one medley. At its conclusion, the audience breaks into a spirited ovation of claps and whistles. The UEFs not only distributed these sounds in a clear U-shape around my listening chair, but positioned the whistles from the hall’s mezzanine sections well above my head. Talk about placing you in the venue.
In Pure Ella, Fitzgerald’s notes now flowed much more quickly, openly, and without compression-induced strain. This created an illusion that the highest notes had been raised almost half a step, which is most unlikely. Rather, the effect probably resulted from the fact that the sound was now more open, the overtones much more defined.
In “Keith Don’t Go,” from Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live (16/44.1 FLAC, Vision Music), the strikingly clear, vibrant, open way in which the UEFs captured both acoustic guitar-string attacks and the bleed of microdynamic snap-back resonations into oncoming notes was jaw-dropping. At several points, Lofgren strikes his guitar’s body with his fingertips. Never before had the resulting woody echoes sounded so detailed and developed.
With the Neil Young medley, the Galileo UEFs reproduced the low-level echoes of Young’s voice as they bounced off the Massey’s walls -- perhaps no great shakes for statement cables, though if you heard the clarity and detail of those echoes you might feel differently. Astonishingly, however, the UEFs also fully revealed the echoes created by the coughs of someone in the audience, again practically placing me in that hall 46 years ago.
The Galileo UEFs’ ability to resolve granular data was not the only lagniappe of their quietness. They could also startle. Flawlessly recorded, Hassan El Hadi’s “Ana Malit,” from the sampler Fidelio Reference 2 (CD, Fidelio FACD910), begins with a combination of exotic percussion and stringed instruments, including a lute. At 1:55, El Hadi begins to sing -- through the UEFs, his voice seemed to come out of nowhere, without warning. His voice sounded so realistic, the background so “black,” that for a second I thought someone else was in the room with me.
The Galileo UEFs were also masters at uncovering another type of detail: timbre. Through them, voices and instruments sound uniquely right. With Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (CD, Virgin CDVX2001), they revealed more clearly than any other cable I’ve heard that the higher overtones of the tubular bells (aka chimes) somewhat overshadow the lower overtones, causing the instrument to sound trenchantly metallic and bright. The effect was ear-opening -- an audio manufacturer who visited my home during the review and is familiar with this album couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Interestingly, the bells’ metallic timbre is typically emphasized when they’re played with a very hard mallet, as opposed to one covered in leather. In fact, Oldfield tried playing his tubular bells with countless sticks and mallets before settling on the loud, clanging sound of a large steel claw hammer that was retrieved from the garden shed of the recording studio, which was housed in a former mansion. The hammer ultimately damaged the bells; it should come as no surprise that the album’s cover features a contorted, dented tubular bell.
Their timbral prowess aside, the UEFs’ ability to reveal pitches uncovered aspects of music making that go undetected with most cables. Generally, as guitar strings are plucked or strummed closer to the instrument’s bridge, they grow brighter in tone; struck farther up the neck, they sound darker and more percussive. In any of the songs from Acoustic Live, the precise places on the strings where Nils Lofgren plucked or strummed were never so evident.
Even entry-level audiophile cables can delineate the most obvious of these frequency modulations. High-end cables are much more nuanced. However, the human ear is sensitive to pitch gradations so fine that even many statement cables can’t reveal them. For example, “Walking on the Moon,” from the Yuri Honig Trio’s Star Tracks (CD, Jazz in Motion 9920102), is punctuated by a series of drum volleys and bass motifs, the latter consisting of one faint motif and one strong, in reverse order of pitches to the other. The Galileo UEFs revealed that these motifs’ overlapping D’s, both played by Tony Overwater on bass guitar, were not identical, the second being lower than the first. I don’t lightly suggest that a professional musician’s instrument is improperly tuned, and it might just be that the motifs’ contrasting forcefulness caused my ears to perceive pitch differently. Either way, the UEFs unearthed this apparent inconsistency -- something I’ve heard no other cable do.
Compared with most cables, the Galileo UEFs’ ability to delineate complex tonalities and subtle pitch variations was like moving from standard to high-definition television: the latter features better resolution and a wider, more accurate color palette.
That doesn’t leave me much space to discuss the effects of the Ground Block and Atmosphere XL on the cables. However, I’ve reviewed the Ground Block, and its positive effects on the detail, clarity, imaging, and noise rejection of Synergistic’s Atmosphere cables are indisputable. The Ground Block had the same effects on the Galileo UEFs.
As for the Atmosphere XL, just turning the damn thing on enlarged the soundstage and improved resolution and imaging. From there, using an iPad loaded with the Atmosphere’s software, I could adjust the sound on the fly to complement the recording played, choosing sound that was polite or edgy, or adjusting the soundstage focus, size, layering, and density. The thing worked -- if Ted Denney says that it does so somehow “synergistically” with the UEF cables, I’ll just have to believe him.
When I finished listening to the Galileo UEFs, I took Denney up on an offer he’d made: to apply Synergistic’s Quantum Tunneling and UEF treatments to the two massive power umbilicals that connect the control and power boxes of my Esoteric Grandioso C1 preamplifier. When I got the cables back from Synergistic and reinstalled them, it was as if I’d upgraded one or more components in my system. The harmonic body rounded out even further, and the sound was now noticeably more dynamic, quiet, sweet, and detailed. I’m sure that I now have the best-sounding Esoteric Grandioso C1 on the planet.
If all this makes it sound as if the Galileo UEFs do virtually everything at the breathtaking levels of a Zenvo TS1, Bugatti Chiron, or Hennessey Venom GT Spyder, it’s because they do. Of course, for the money, they’d better -- although, as I’ve said, the Galileo UEFs are by no means the most expensive audio cables ever made, or even the most expensive that Synergistic Research has ever made.
There are too many audio cables out there for me to be foolish enough to proclaim any one of them the state of the art. And in this hobby, you can never discount the importance of personal taste in sound. Still, I’ve heard a lot of cables in connection with reviews, and heard even more at trade shows, and in showrooms and audiophiles’ homes -- I have a pretty good idea of what’s out there. The Synergistic Galileo UEFs are serious contenders for the designation SOTA.
“And yet it moves.”
-- attributed to Galileo Galilei
Synergistic Research’s Galileo UEF interconnects and speaker cables are technical tours de force that demonstrate just how far the art of cable making has come since the Golden Enz days of electrical-grade copper conductors and connectors of gold-plated nickel. They serve as a reminder of three audiophile truths: the simplest circuit does not always sound the best, the highest-performing products are often not the most expensive, and despite all the amazing progress made, the art continues to advance.