Synergistic Research Tuning System

Nov 22, 2014
Extra: Kai Ekholm

The big thing among die hard room tuners has recently been Holger Stein's Harmonizers. Some claim that they are simple Schumann resonators in a new suit. They are not. I've been using 4-6 Schumann resonators for long, including those that direct the 'radiation' toward a spesific gear such as phono amps or transformers, and compared to other similar resonators.

My experience is that Stein Harmonizers are able to give wonderful plasticity to the sound. It is true though that when things go wrong they smear the room with a loudness type of sound.

It was Stein Harmonizers that I wanted to use as a market reference in evaluating the new Synergistic Research room tuning system. I've been living with the Synergistic system during four last weeks, and listened to music under their influence basically every evening. I think I have learned how they can be made to perform ideally, and what obstacles there may be.

Synergistic Research doesn't tell much about the technical side of their devices. That's common in this business. That much is known that the system is designed to affect mainly music's high frequency content. That correlates with my subjective observations as the greatest changes appeared to occur in the treble as well as in the midrange.

The FEQ is a box that is plugged to the wall outlet. The FEQ boxes are the base of the whole system.

My suggestion is to start with two of them: one behind the speakers, the second behind the listening point. I achieved the best results by not letting them point to the center of the sound stage but instead radiate toward room corners.

HFT's are High Frequency Transducers, small cylinders that are attached to the wall, speakers, windows etc. but not on top of electronics. What I noticed was that althouh they did seem to have a minor audible effect, one can easily overdo the room with too many of them. To avoid extra unpleasant sounds I suggest not to rush to the level 2 or 3 at once but carefully add them one by one all the time paying attention to the end result.

ECT are Electronic Circuit Transducers, similar red cylinders as the HFTs but designed to be attached to an amp, player etc. Six of them is a good start, and the top cover of output transformers in a tube amp is a typical place where to attach them. I found them especially effective on the cover of the fuse base. It pays to experiment.

A word of warning is in order: the Synergistic Research tuning system, I'm talking about the base system now, doesn't stand other similar products around it. In fact the system conflicts with nearly everything else in the room.

I think many reviewers have made a mistake and installed the Synergistic system not from a clean table but overlapping with their previous room tuning systems.

With the Synergistic system it is very very important to start with an emptied room. Shut off Stein Harmonizers (or keep them on but at the lowest possible level) or even better: take them out of the room, including the diamonds. And likewise with Acoustic Revive's Schumann resonators (cause HF harshness and distortion), and Creaktiv's lenses (black ones especially).

All pieces red quartz, if any, should be removed. Frank Tschang's resonators too (not needed any more). Out they go. All. (Leave the bass traps were they are. To move them would be too much to ask.)

It follows that experimenting and comparing the Synergistic tuning system with other similar systems can be extremely frustrating. I made three four rounds of bringing FEQs/HFTs/ECTs in and bringing them out. Hard work but rewarding in the end.

When the room is free from any tuning devices/systems FEQ's can be installed. Check that earthing is made correctly (check polarity too) as it may a great effect on the sound.

Then 2-3-4 HFT's (grey cylinders) can be brought in the room, and placed in the mid-point of the speakers, on side walls etc. It is advisable to add one behind the listening spot or side of it. To find the ideal position for the HFTs can take days. Be patient.

Finally 2-3 ECT's (red cylinders) can be left on top of the DAC, near the output tubes etc. Plus, it's never a bad idea to use Synergistic's own fuses.

Once all the Synergistic elements are in their optimal places, a totally new sound starts to emerge. The difference can be a dramatic one, especially in terms of dynamics and speed of the sound.

Sometimes I got the impression that the Synergistic system added a few decibels of volume to the sound. The drums sounded punchier, guitars better controlled (better attacks) and tiny details were better separated.

I didn't find the nirvana immediately. It was after struggling several days with disbelief before things started to sort out and I was finally very confident about the system. It would not be completely wrong to say that I even got addicted to this system, judging from the fact that I spent many sleepless nights almost in an euphoric mood.

I do miss some aspects of the sound that Stein Harmonizer's and Schumann resonators enabled but replacinig the Synergistic system with something else (I tried 3-4 times) turned out not to be such a good idea.

The Syneristic system was particlarly good at helping in reproducing human voice. The voice (Eric Bibb, Jolie Holland among others) became more tangible, more touching. More on the skin. It was as if listening to quality headphones, every detail in their own place.

The bass (Pantha du Prince) was well under control. Perhaps the bass wasn't as liquid and flowing as before, but better analysed definitely.

Listening to percussion music (Footprints, a collection of fantastic modern percussion music) revealed, under the influence of the Synergistic system, how much depth there can be in a well-made recording (try the first three tracks).

The flipside of all this is that the system quite mercilessly reveals the performance faults of the DAC or amps, or bad choices with cables etc. By using the Synergistic system I found at least two defects in my system that were due to my laziness and that I hadn't noticed before. This tells much about the system's potential.

To sum up: the Synergistic Research system is a powerful instrument in tuning the sound of the system. Contrary to what Synergistic Research says, to set up the system properly requires that the customer has done hid or her homework. Once working as it should, the system will elevate the sound to a new, more pleasurable but also more informative level.

The system may not be for beginners (quite expensive too) but provided one has already invested, say, over 10 000 euros/dollars in the Hi-Fi system, I'd recommend that the tuning system is given a try. As I said, after using the system for 4-5 weeks now I'm very confident about it. I've decided that it will be a permanent element in my system.

I also quickly tested Synergistic's tiny blue and red cylinders called PHT (Phono Transducer). They are supposed to be attached to the cartridge. I attached the red one sideways below the AT 150ANV cart, and while I detected a sonic difference, it wasn't as dramatic as ECTs on digital sound sources.

The Synergistic XOT (Crossover Transducer) is a passive transducer that works parallelly with the speaker terminals. I tried but didn't hear a major difference. I've been using Holger Stein's Speaker Match Supers and they are still my reference. The XOTs might work best on small speakers but on my Zu Definition MK IIs they kind of made the sound narrower.

Finally I'd like to thank Frank Vermeylen from Synergistic Research for helping me over the most difficult phases of my test. His honest comments were of great help.

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