Back in March this year, the Hi-Fi+ listening room was given the Synergistic treatment. Ted Denney of Synergistic Research flew over for a few days to walk us through a range of the company’s system enhancement devices, from mild to wild. We thought this was the kind of thing that could be summed up in a few pages.
First, though, a polite suggestion: if you are deeply committed to the audio objectivist cause, look away now! A lot of what transpires over this and subsequent features follows so different an epistemic foundation to your world view, all this will do is upset and aggravate you. Because the stakes are so low (to the best of my knowledge, no one has died of too much – or too little – Synergistic Research treatment), heated battles over observational methodology are as inevitable as they are unwelcome.
Nevertheless, we’ll start at what is possibly the least contentious – and newest – aspect of the whole Synergistic approach: UEF, or Unified Energy Field, technology panels and treatment pads, the HFT (high-frequency transducer) dots, and the Black Box bass control. All of these are entirely passive treatments designed to be placed in specific positions around the listening room (or in the case of the HFT, in specific locations on your loudspeaker). These panels and dots are designed to enhance the performance of a system, and not replace any component or room treatment. In a previous iteration (before the UEF equipment rolled out), the HFT dots were also placed around the room in the same proscribed locations now used by the UEF pads and panels, but now they are specifically used on the loudspeaker; they have a similar effect, but the new UEF dots are coin sized and easier to affix to a wall, while the HFT dots are more like tiny cylinders, blu-tacked to the speaker and stand proud by about half an inch.
The UEF panels (roughly the size of an A4 picture frame) are first up. The first sits on the rear wall behind and exactly between the loudspeakers, half way up the wall. If the system is set equidistant in the room that means placing the panel dead centre of the wall behind the loudspeakers, then follow the same plan on the wall behind your ears, and then on the side walls. In a larger room, or with electrostatic panel loudspeakers, more UEF panels are required, typically in the corners of the room; our room was fine with four panels, but depending on size and construction, as many as ten could be used. It’s wise to listen to the system before and immediately after installing these UEF panels. The difference is marked, significantly increasing definition, precision, soundstage size, and overall focus. The room seems calmer, too, more like ‘the peacefulness of the great outdoors’ than ‘we just turned the air-conditioner off’.
Now come the UEF pads. These also fit in predetermined positions in the room, although there is more scope for fine-tuning within these positions to find the optimum position for the best possible sound. These work with the larger panels to accurately focus the soundstage in the room, while also reducing the influence of some of the room’s more inglorious effects. These work along the walls and ceiling and you can quickly rack up dozens of coin-sized pads around the room. They even work on cable terminals! Fortunately, they are some of the least obtrusive performance enhancers in the audio business, so they pass domestic criteria unscathed. Once again, as with the UEF panels, the effect of this treatment is to simply improve the overall performance of the system in consistent ways; the bass gets tauter, the midrange more distinct, and the top end has more clarity and precision. Vocals step out from the mix and are more articulate. It’s like taking your system and bringing out the best in it. What’s really surprising is just how much it improves even a modest system – we had a good system (Lyngdorf CD transport into a Nagra HD DAC and SST Son of Ampzilla II power amplifier) with fairly good ProAc Response floorstanders and by the end of the session, they were sounding an order of magnitude better than they did at the start.