Synergistic Research system tuning (Part 2)
- Alan Sircom
- Aug 2016
Last month, we discussed the first of a two-part feature on Synergistic Research’s innovative system tuning components. At that point, we began by discussing the company’s Unified Energy Field system. The next step was to go ‘active’ with products like the company’s grounding system, its Tranquillity Base UEF active platforms, and its Atmosphere tuning system.
Also, as discussed in the last issue, although Synergistic Research follows the same observational and empirical lines of product development found throughout audio, the company’s epistemic foundations do not rest easy with those strongly welded to a “if you couldn’t measure it when I was at school, it doesn’t exist” world-view. Audio is a broad church, however…
To recap, last month we went ‘passive’, with Synergistic’s Unified Energy Field panels and pads in key places around the room, followed closely by the company’s High Frequency Transducers placed in key points on the loudspeakers, and finally the Black Box low frequency ‘stabilizer’ placed between the loudspeakers. All of these devices worked, all set up the system for some more hard-core tuning, and none of them needed to be plugged into a wall. That all changes this month.
The first stage in the ‘active’ component set is the grounding system. The core of this is a small black and copper block about the size of a large harmonica case (I never did quite get over that Bob Dylan obsession), and can be supplied with one of two types of grounding cables to match Synergistic’s ranges (we went with the High Definition versions). Plug the grounding block into a spare earthed socket (in the UK, that means ‘a spare socket’) and then systematically plug any devices in your system into the grounding block (Synergistic provides a range of 4mm, spade, RCA plug, and miscellaneous other connections to ground almost anything). Do not use this to replace conventional AC earthing or to replace a ground wire used between a turntable and phono stage.
This effectively creates a floating star-earth configuration, running parallel to any AC grounding or LP requirements. In fairness, Synergistic is not the only game in town here, and Audioplan, Entreq, Shunyata Research, Tripoint, and Vertex AQ (among others) all make some variation on the same floating star-earth concept and many find this an important exercise in lowering the noise floor of a system. Nevertheless, in the context of an all-Synergistic tuning protocol (which might ultimately include everything in the system and around the system apart from the system), it makes sense to use the Synergistic grounding system alongside the other devices. It certainly made a difference in our test room, making the system seem more organic sounding, more focused, with a bigger soundstage, and a significant reduction in low level hash. The Entreq products ultimately bring yet more hash-removal to the system, but the Entreq system is larger, heavier, and more expensive. Synergistic’s floating earth system is a good place to start, at least, and many will not feel the need to move beyond this system.
The Tranquillity Base UEF platforms are active units, a nine-layer acrylic and aluminium platform with built-in mechanical isolation, resonance control, and – where the powered part comes into play – electromagnetic interference reduction. The Tranquillity Base UEF is a ‘one-size fits all’ update on the previous three grades of Tranquillity Base, you can tune the platform with the company’s UEF Tuning Circuit, which replace the Enigma Tuning Bullets in the previous versions. Although the effects of the mechanical isolation and resonance control are immediate, the EM reduction takes up to 72 hours to permeate through the device resting on the platform.
I don’t like reviews based on names or properties of a thing (“this silver cable is bright and shiny”) but sometimes the name just fits. And the Tranquillity Base UEF is one such product. It’s a base for a device that seems to calm that device down. Not in a ‘medicated’ manner, just more tranquil; the noise floor drops and the product’s presentation gets less overtly ‘electronic’ sounding. Although in the continuum of Synergistic’s tuning pattern, the Tranquillity Base UEF comes close to the end of the process, I feel it’s one of the most marked changes of the system. Of course, part of the reason that it is so significant is thanks to the ‘organisational’ skills of the products that precede the Tranquillity Base UEF, and I suspect the benefits these platforms bring wouldn’t be so profound were they the first step in the chain, but even so, this brings the system up several notches, seemingly irrespective of component.
By now we are ready for Synergistic Research’s ‘WTF’ moment. Having applied a lot of dots, blobs, panels, boxes, platforms, and grounding blocks to the system, finally, now out comes Atmosphere, the Atmosphere tuning module, and the iPad app that works with this. Atmosphere is a single active tower, which works on higher frequency RF than is usually covered by most audio treatments, paradoxically by building an extreme-low frequency (7.83Hz) resonator in the room (this is the Atmosphere tower). Then by effectively ‘directing’ this Schumann frequency in room (thanks to the tuning module, controlled by the iPad app), the listener can apply one of several ‘scenes’ (Amplified, Ethereal, Expansive, Holographic, In My Listening Room), which can be further adjusted through a series of sliders on the app itself.
These scenes in use are not far removed from DSP modes on a home theatre amplifier, although without the obvious processing effects. This is more like you have moved into a different position in the room, or into a different, yet equally musically attractive, space. What’s telling about this system is its consistency. You can adjust the scenes through the iPad app behind the back of a listener, restart the track, and the listener will – over the course of the next 30 seconds or so – move forward ‘into’ the music and listen more intensely with the ‘Amplified’, ‘Holographic’, and ‘In My Listening Room’ settings, or sit back and relax with the music with the ‘Ethereal’ and ‘Expansive’ scenes. Change nothing and the same listener will stay in the same position. They will almost always ask ‘did you change something?’ within that same 30 second time-frame too, in a way they simply won’t if you leave the system untouched.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
There is a distinct order to these tuning devices that seems best followed closely. Begin with the UEF Acoustic panels and dots, then add the HFTs, then the Black Box bass ‘sorter outer’, as discussed last month. Then add the grounding block, connecting it to all the active electronics in the system, addding the Tranquillity Base UEF, grounding them to the blocks, too. And then finally, the Atmosphere system takes the basic Synergistic concept to new levels. You can approach this system from any starting place in theory, and I suspect that many will begin with the Tranquillity Bases, regardless: no matter how much we might think of tuning as a complete room and system oriented concept, most still start with things that are either in the system or somehow make physical contact with the system, and platforms are easier to hide under components than trying to sneak a wall full of panels, pads, and dots past the domestic searchlight. However the best order is the one suggested. That way, you get the right level of change in the right order.
It’s almost incorrect to consider this equipment ‘tuning’, although with Atmosphere there is a component of adjusting the settings of the tuning system on the fly to best suit your music and your mood. Instead, what a lot of this equipment does is act like a time machine, casting you back to a period when audio sounded good because we didn’t swim in a sea of radio frequency and electromagnetic interference. With the current increase in local Wi-Fi usage (I currently register 15 different wireless routers broadcasting within 30m of where I sit… and I’m not sitting in a Wi-Fi hot zone), this constant noise passing through our audio systems is potentially undermining every piece of music we play, and Synergistic Research is trying to redress the balance. True, open-minded audio investigators will find a lot to love here!
Prices and Contact details
- UEF Acoustic Panels: $549 for a 4 pack
- UEF Acoustic Dots: $195 for a 5 pack
- HFT: $299 for a 5 pack
- Black Box: $1995 each
- Grounding block: $595 each
- High-Resolution Grounding cables: $395 each
- Tranquility Base UEF: $2,250 each
- Atmosphere: $2,495 each
- Atmosphere Tuning Module: $495 each
Synergistic Research, Inc.
Tel: Within the United States:
+1 (800) 578-6489
Outside the United States:
+1 (949) 476-0000
Distributed in the UK by: Electromod
Tel: +44 (0)1494 956558
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