Best Sound (highest value): Neil Gader “The Absolute Sound”
Best of Show: Marc Mickelson “The Audio Beat”
Stereophile’s Jason Victor Serinus: “something major is going on with Synergistic Research’s increasing arsenal of mind-bending products”
“When everything was called into play, including a host of carefully positioned Synergistic ART Resonance Control devices, the sound that these boys were getting from relatively inexpensive components rivaled in size, depth, air, and immediacy that from far bigger and more costly speakers and components in way bigger rooms”
“The difference in clarity, three-dimensionality, a lower noise floor, and image size was striking”
Our RMAF system design concept was straightforward: Keep it simple. From the SR Music Cable to the Rogue integrated amplifier, NOLA Boxer speakers and REL T5 subwoofers, components and speakers were selected to complement one another while keeping the overall system’s cost down. To create synergy we selected interconnects, speaker cables, computer audio digital cables, power cords and line conditioning to complement the inherent strengths of the components and speakers. In fact, we were gunning for Best Sound in Show, and in the end, that’s exactly what we got.
The great thing about a relatively simple system like the one we used at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, aside from its real world cost and mind-blowing performance, it’s far easier to set up with fewer variables to control. And this gave us more time to fine-tune the system for a better overall sound.
Our lead designer Ted Denney talks about this year’s RMAF system:
I’ve always wanted to do a show with real world components and speakers; the kind of system I listen to most of the time - systems I can recommend to my family and friends who may not be able, or willing, to step up to a system that costs as much as a high line German or Italian automobile. But I also did not want to sacrifice performance simply because we were not showing in a room filled with six figure components and speakers. To make this lofty goal a reality I paid careful attention to each selection, looking for components and speakers capable of delivering music with natural timbre in a full-scale sound stage. In short I wanted to do the kind of virtual reality systems SR is famous for at a price point to leave the average audiophile in disbelief.
I read with some amusement every time audiophiles and the audio press talk about the difficulty of producing deep bass on a budget. For this system I wanted bass that would go deep. As in wall shaking, furniture rattling, foot tapping, let’s go back to the room and dance after dinner and drinks when the show was long over bass. I also wanted the total speaker system to cost less than $5k. Unfortunately no single pair of speakers I could find at this price point delivered this level of low frequency extension without serious compromises that would otherwise ruin the sound. So I got creative. I needed to find a powered subwoofer that would integrate seamlessly with the main speakers and not break the bank. At first I was thinking about a single subwoofer that could deliver the goods and still pull a disappearing act. Instead what I got was a lot of bass that sounded disconnected from the main speakers and therefore, a dead end. My search ended when I placed two REL T5 subwoofers in my reference system. The two T5’s gave me everything: deep bass, holographic sound staging, and most importantly, a disappearing act that would make Harry Houdini proud.
For the highs, and down into the mid-bass, I needed to find a giant killer. A pair of speakers capable of throwing an expansive sound stage when the material demands, but equally apt at portraying a single voice or solo instrument with crystal clarity. To do this and stay within budget I turned to one of the highest value speaker companies I know: NOLA. After talking with Carl about what I wanted to achieve, and at what cost, he recommended I try a pair of his NOLA Boxers. After working with these speakers I must say I am impressed. When properly placed and set up they deliver what I personally love from any high-end speaker regardless of price. Namely, to hear music that sounds natural, unstrained, where instruments sound like real instruments and in a soundstage that is as natural in its scale as it is accurate in its portrayal of timbre. An amazing feat for a small pair of bookshelfs that retail for $1,500 a pair.
Mark O’Brien, Rogue Audio’s head honcho, has always impressed me as a stand-up guy. Like myself, he builds a quality product 100% in the USA with performance that exceeds expectation and price. After talking with Mark about my vision to create a world class system on a tight budget he recommended his Cronus Magnum integrated; a 90wpc workhorse that delivers power and finesse in equal measure. What I did not expect to find in this all-American integrated amplifier that retails for a little over two grand was a work of art. This amplifier looks and feels like it should cost three times the Magnum’s price. But perhaps most surprising are Mark’s design cues, like a high quality analog biasing gauge and screwdriver that makes biasing the tubes a snap. In every respect this is an amplifier any audiophile should be proud to own.
Careful system set up and an amazing synergy
To tie everything together and stay on budget I needed to pay close attention to all the variables I know to effect system performance. Namely mechanical resonance, AC conditioning, Active Cable Shielding, room acoustics, and synergy between components and speakers. For this reason I kept the system itself as simple as possible without any inherent limitations due to component budget selection. By keeping the amplification integrated, for example, we eliminated an extra power cord and a second pair of interconnects.
Digital front end set up: I elected to use our all-in-one “The Music Cable” because of its all inclusive nature which added performance value to our system. The Music Cable is actually five products in one: A world class up-sampling DAC, Active USB cable, a pair of Active Element Tungsten interconnects, Galileo Cable Cell and PowerCell line conditioning - an all-in-one elegant low cost solution that rivals digital solutions costing several times as much. For the “transport” I chose a Mac Mini with a solid-state hard drive running the Mac OS and Amarra software connected to a Western Digital 2-Terabyte spinning hard drive with our Active Firewire 800 digital cable. The Mac Mini was placed on top of a set of our MiGs in “ambient configuration” while the Western Digital hard drive was placed on top of MiGs in “pin-point configuration.” Believe it or not, the inclusion of MiGs beneath the Mac and hard drive contributed greatly to the overall system’s sound. Finally, The Music Cable, Mac Mini and Western Digital Hard drive were all placed atop a single Tranquility Base. Later when we heard a slight hardness in the upper registers of the system I substituted the Tranquility Base’s silver Enigma circuit for the included Gray circuit module which delivered a noticeable improvement in detail with warmth.
Amplifier set up: The Rogue Cronus Magnum integrated was placed on a set of MiGs in “pin-point configuration” on a second Tranquility Base. The Tranquility Base was likewise placed atop a set of three MiGs in “ultra pin-point configuration” (all round ends down).
Subwoofer REL T5 set up: MiGs were placed beneath each of the T5’s four feet- alternating between round side up and round side down so, two round ends up and two round ends down. And because the floor to our suite was carpeted, we set (4) H.D. ceramic tiles (Home Depot) beneath the MiGs and the carpet to limit the dampening effect of the carpet on the MiGs. This simple “tweak” helped integrate the two T5’s with the Nola Boxers and was clearly audible to those in the room while I tuned the system. For power cords on the REL’s I choose the 20th Anniversary AC Master Coupler; it had the correct balance of performance and value and is an excellent subwoofer cable. Lastly to send signal to the REL’s I went with our REL Spec 1 Active subwoofer cable engineered specifically for REL subwoofers. The inclusion of our Active REL Subwoofer cable significantly improves performance when paired with other Active Cables elsewhere in the system, and not merely in the lower registers by improving sub / system integration for a larger, more holographic soundscape.
Main Speaker NOLA Boxer set up: The NOLA Boxers were set on Sound Anchor stands and placed approx 25% of the way into the room and 25% away from the side walls. Speaker wires were Active SR Element Copper, and although Element Tungsten would have been a higher resolution option, the Element Copper SC’s performed with breathtaking clarity and presented solid bass response with extended highs.
Tranquility Base Set Up: Both Tranquility Bases were placed on top of included MiGs in “ultra pin point configuration” (all round ends down) on a set of IKEA cubes which retailed for $30 each. The Tranquility Base beneath the digital components was voiced with the warmer option Gray Enigma Tuning Bullet which helped control digital nasties in the upper registers, while the Rogue 90 watt integrated responded best to the more open Silver Enigma Tuning Bullet.
AC Conditioning: The entire system, including the Rouge Audio integrated, Mac Mini, Western Digital HD, QLS 9 Tranquility Bases and (8) MPC power supplies were all plugged into a single PowerCell 4SE non current limiting power conditioner.
Power cords used in system: The Music Cable: Element Tungsten Active AC cord. The QLS 9 was plugged into the PowerCell 4SE with an AC Master Coupler 20th Anniversary. Mac Mini: Element Tungsten Active AC powercord, and finally the PowerCell 4SE was plugged into the wall with its included Element Tungsten Active AC power cord. The QLS was used to increase the number of outlets the PowerCell 4SE could handle: from 4 to 13. All MPC power supplies as well as the Western Digital’s wall wort were plugged into the QLS 9, while the SR Active and passive power cords were plugged directly into the PowerCell 4SE’s remaining 3 outlets (one outlet being used to power the QLS 9).
Acoustic ART System: The room was treated with 16 ART pieces as follows: 1 Vibratron, 6 Magnetrons, 3 Gravitrons and 6 Bass Stations. Interestingly, one Bass Station each in front of each NOLA bookshelf and REL Subwoofers significantly contributed to the system’s seamless integration between the subs and bookshelf speakers.
Final thoughts: This year’s RMAF system was one of the most musically enjoyable I have ever created. It dipped lower into the bass region than many systems I’ve assembled with speakers costing 30 times as much, it sound-staged as well as any system I have heard at a trade show regardless of price, and perhaps most importantly, it conveyed music with an emotional clarity that had me listening late into the night long after the show had ended.
Listening notes: For the first few days of the show, I detected a slight edge in the upper registers which was largely addressed after getting the Enigma Bullets sorted on the cables, including one Gray Enigma Bullet on the Tranquility Base beneath the digital components. By Sunday the edge was completely gone. We also had the subwoofers set too hot, so on acoustic tracks there could be more bass energy than is natural, but by Sunday, this too was remedied, thanks to the help of an audiophile with more REL experience than myself who adjusted the REL’s control knobs.
This system was so impressive that I purchased every component to replace the system in my home study. All things considered, I could happily live with this system for the rest of my life. It sounded so good in fact, that we were hesitant to take the system down, so we worked for as long as we could with the system running as we packed non system essentials into their boxes as we listened to music. Thankfully as we removed more and more of the tweaks like MiG footers and MPCs for Active Shielding, the system started to lose its magic little by little, until in the end when we were finally happy to shut down the amplifier and let the system cool for packing. A fitting end to one of the most successful shows we have had in many years.
RMAF 2012 System:
- Western Digital HD 2 Terabyte MSRP $ 200.00
- Synergistic Research Firewire 800 MSRP $ 595.00
- Apple Mac Mini with Solid State HD running Amarra and iTunes graphic user interface MSRP $ 1,000.00
- SR “The Music Cable” all-in-one upsampling DAC with hardwired SR Element Tungsten Active IC and Tricon Analogue Active USB cable MSRP $ 3,599.00
- Synergistic Research Tranquility Base including two sets of MiGs MSRP $ 1,995.00
- Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum Integrated 90 watts per channel MSRP $ 2,195.00
- Synergistic Research Tranquility Base including two sets of MiGs MSRP $ 1,995.00
- NOLA Boxers MSRP $ 1,500.00
- Sound Anchor 26 inch tall MSRP $ 730.00
- REL T5 Subwoofer (2) MSRP $699.00 (Each)
- SR Element Copper Speaker Cables MSRP $ 1,615.00
- SR Rel Spec Level 1, 3 meter (2) MSRP $ 660.00 (Each)
AC Power Conditioning / Distribution:
- PowerCell 4SE with included Element Tungsten PC MSRP $ 1,850.00
- QLS 9 Line Strip MSRP $ 495.00
AC Power Cords:
- Mac Mini: SR Element Copper Active AC cord MSRP $ 650.00
- “The Music Cable”: SR Element Tungsten Active AC cord MSRP $ 900.00
- Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum: SR Element Tungsten Active AC cord MSRP $ 900.00
- REL T5 powered subwoofers: 20th Anniversary non-active AC power cord (2) MSRP $ 495.00 (Each)
- QLS 9 Line Strip: 20th Anniversary non-active AC power cord MSRP $ 495.00
- PowerCell 4SE: Element Tungsten Active AC cord (included with the PowerCell 4SE at no extra charge).
- MiGs were used under every component in the system. Total sets of MiGs used in addition to MiGs which come standard with Tranquility Bases (6 sets) MSRP $ 150.00 (Each Set)
- HD (Home Depot) grade ceramic tiles were used in conjunction with MiGs between the REL T5 Subwoofer and the floor MSRP $ 8.00 total.
Total System Cost: $25,326.00
Notable coverage for Synergistic Research at RMAF 2012:
The Audio Beat
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012 • Best of Show
By Marc Mickelson• Posted: Oct 22, 2012
“Ted Denney of Synergistic Research used a host of his products as part of a complete system that cost around $25,000 total in order to make a similar point: “To get this level of sound, you have to carefully consider setup.” Or, in other words, achieving great sound doesn’t depend on the size of your bank account”
By Jason Victor Serinus • Posted: Oct 19, 2012
“There’s nothing like an active AB demo to convince that something major is going on with Synergistic Research’s increasing arsenal of mind-bending products”
“In one comparison, Ted Denney and Peter Hansen turned on and off the two Tranquility Bases… The difference in clarity, three-dimensionality, a lower noise floor, and image size was striking. Having a similar effect was turning on and off the Active Shielding on the company’s SR Active Firewire 800 cable”
“When everything was called into play, including a host of carefully positioned Synergistic ART Resonance Control devices, the sound that these boys were getting from relatively inexpensive components rivaled in size, depth, air, and immediacy that from far bigger and more costly speakers and components in way bigger rooms. Equally impressive was the sheer quality of the sound, which portrayed colors of instruments with uncanny accuracy”
“…the demo left me thinking that if one were to call into play all of Synergistic’s devices and cabling in a far larger system, the results might be even more mind-boggling”
The Absolute Sound
Best Sound (highest value)
By Neil Gader• Posted: Oct 20, 2012
Synergistic Research used their Music Cable DAC, wire and accessories to drive a pair of $1500 Nola Boxer compacts augmented by tiny REL subs and driven by the Rogue Audio Cronus integrated to make a larger point– it’s still all about system synergy.