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In Which Our Author Contemplates the Idea of “Perfect”

Brian Damkroger

Reprinted from: The Absolute Sound, Volume 21 Issue 111

How would you like a perfect cable? Theoretically, technically, measurably perfect — transmission of the electrical signal with no modification whatsoever. Wait a minute. Before you reach for your checkbook, think about it. Do you really want a perfect cable, or do you want one that makes your system — your speakers, your electronics, and your room — sound perfect? Or, dare I say it . . . in our less-than-perfect world, isn’t what you really want a cable that optimizes your system with respect to your listening preferences? Synergistic Research is betting on the latter. Rather than a quest for the best, Ted Denney designs cables to organize target systems or component groups. Synergistic began with the concept of system dependent cabling and a three-year beta testing program, which served both to develop their designs and to establish a database relating performance attributes, design and material parameters, and different types of equipment. In fact, their first product, the Mk I interconnect (originally marketed in 1992) actually incorporated two different shield / grounding schemes, allowing customers to decide how each sounded with their equipment — and feed the information back to Synergistic. Synergistic recommends cables for a particular system, so I began with a VPI/Clearaudio analogue front end, VAC CPAI Mk II preamp and Renaissance 70/70 amp, and Magnepan 3.5/R speakers. The cables supplied included A/C Master Coupler line cords, shielded and unshielded Resolution Reference interconnects, and Resolution Reference speaker cables. Over the course of the review, a variety of other speakers and electronics were thrown into the mix, the interconnects were upgraded to Designers’ Reference, and just before deadline, a pair of the Reference A/C Master Couplers arrived at my door. All cables were burned in in situ for 150-200 hours prior to any listening, using a combination of music and the XLO/Sheffield Test and Burn-in CD. [Sheffield Labs 10041-2-T], both when new and following any extended removal from the system. Where cables crossed, they were separated and oriented orthogonally, but no other heroic measures were used. And the bottom line? Overall, the Synergistic Research cables are the best I’ve ever . . . OOPS . . . I mean, they’re the best match for my system, setup, and . . . Aw, to hell with it. Synergism, schmynergism, the real bottom line is that these are damn good cables.

The Resolution Reference series of interconnects, Synergistic’s top of the line, evolved from one model to three during the course of this review. The original Resolution Reference interconnect, now called the Resolution Reference Mk 1, is constructed by single geometry — that is, uses one conductor each for signal and ground. The conductors are woven with two polymer shafts for resonance control, enclosed in black mesh of 3/8-inch diameter, and tipped with heavy, gold-plated RCA plugs. Surprisingly, materials aren’t the customary top-of-the-line silver and Teflon. Instead, Synergistic uses copper matrix alloy that they call “Type 2” and since I’m sworn to secrecy, I’ll just say it’s not what you’d expect. For a dielectric, the Resolution References use multiple extruded layers of polyethylene. Midway through the review period, a balanced version, the Designers’ Reference, was introduced, which is essentially a double run of the originals sheathed in a stylish green, reptilian mesh. The balanced construction was found to provide better noise rejection — and it begat a lower-priced spin- off, the Resolution Reference Mk 2, which combines the doubled-up, balanced construction of the Designers’ Reference with the material from Synergistic’s lower-priced S.C. No. 1. Okay, everybody clear? Over the last year, I have used the Resolution Reference Mk 1 and Designers’ Reference in a number of different systems. Not surprisingly, the two are very similar in sound and share a family resemblance with the Resolution Reference speaker cables, including the cable’s superb resolution of inner detail and image dimensionality. Before dissecting the differences, let me first note that these products are very much alike. Even within the narrow confines of top High End cables, they are much more like one another than they are like the competition. That said, there are differences that bear noting, both between the interconnects and speaker cables and also between the two interconnects themselves.

Focusing first on a comparison of the interconnects and speaker cables and starting from my description of the latter, the interconnects have a bit more character than the speaker cables. It’s still slight and ephemeral, sufficiently so that it can only be triangulated using a wide range of system contexts or a relative few that are known very, very well. It is fascinating to note, however, that by design or accident, the interconnects’ overall character is nearly the opposite of the speaker cables’. Where the speaker cable might — and I stress might — contribute to a perspective that is slightly recessed, the interconnects might be a bit forward, with a touch more midrange projection making the perspective seem slightly closer. Similarly, where the speaker cables might shrink dynamic gradients slightly, the interconnects most definitely do not. The speaker cables seem ever so slightly rolled at the very top, but the interconnects, if anything, combine the slightly forward midrange and upper midrange with a bit of overshoot in the treble. Finally, the interconnects’ texture is less delectably liquid and in the Designers’ Reference configuration, nearly impossible to pin down. Exaggerating for the sake of the argument: the interconnects are airier, quicker, a little more dynamic, more revealing of low-level if not necessarily inner detail, and slightly more forward in the midrange. Comparing the interconnects and speaker cables, I can’t help but note the subtle but complementary distortions. No doubt ;the cables are designed and voiced together, so — dare I say it? — the synergy isn’t unexpected, but it’s important to note that both products are sufficiently close to neutral to stand on their own.

There are differences between the interconnects themselves as well. The bulk of the preceding paragraph applies to both models, but in the Mk 1 configuration, the colorations are more pronounced. Compared to the Resolution References, the Mk 1s are a little more forward and the dynamic gradients seem a little larger than life, particularly in the upper midrange. Their inner detail resolution, dimensionality and ambience recovery are superb, but their edge definition lacks the ultimate sophistication of the speaker cables. Image edges are highlighted by a faint, slightly ragged boundary, like a video image with the contrast set slightly too high. In Mephisto Waltz, listen as each orchestral section contributes its trill: not a magic marker by any stretch, but a fuzzy discontinuity.

To a great extent, the minor colorations of the Mk 1s have been ameliorated in the Designers’ References. Try Mephisto Waltz again. The faint edges are gone and you can hear the spaces between instrumental sections and individual instruments. Listen to Shelly Manne’s cymbals on “Manha Do Carnaval” from the album The Three[Inner City IC 6007]. With some cables, all you really get is a big, diffuse shimmer, or a hiss that stands out spectacularly from the surrounding space. With others, you’ll hear the initial ring, the body of the cymbal, but the shimmer never really blooms. The Designers’ References nail it, getting the balance of the ring and expanding shimmer just right. The transitions between the two, and between the shimmer and surrounding space, are continuous, just one set of inherent characteristics ending and another beginning. Other aspects of the Mk 1’s character — the slightly forward perspective, the occasional aggressiveness in the upper mids and lower treble, the slightly magnified dynamic shifts — are essentially gone in the Designers’ References. That the Mk 1s come out second in this comparison isn’t to say that they aren’t a very good cable in today’s market; they are. They just have more obvious character than do the Designers’ References and as a result, need to be more carefully integrated into a system. In addition to the sonic thumbprint, and perhaps contributing to it, I found them to be unacceptably noisy in some systems. For example, I had RFI and/or hum problems while I used the Mk 1s with Audio Research and VAC preamps, but not with preamps from VTL or Melos. Similarly, I couldn’t use the Mk 1s between the crossover and woofer towers on the Infinity RS1s. For the Designers’ Reference, I’ll repeat my assessment of the Resolution Reference speaker cables. Over a year, in a wide range of systems, I’ve found little to argue with. This is a reference product, both for reviewing and listening. It’s character is slight, and differs from that of its companion speaker cable in a way that moves the combination closer to neutral than either on its own. Synergy? Maybe, maybe not, but like the Resolution Reference speaker cables, the Designers’ Reference interconnects are the best I’ve heard to date. TAS

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