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May 2020
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

World Premiere Review!
Synergistic Research Tweakfest
With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block.
Review By Rick Becker

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

  Originally, I wanted to write an article about turning my aging speakers into a more contemporary version with the addition of some tweaks for tens of thousand dollars less than buying a new pair. I called up Andy Wiederspahn at Synergistic Research and gave him my wish list. Although he was willing to help, he politely twisted my arm and convinced me to first review the quartet of hot new products they have just released. How could I refuse?

Conventional knowledge says you should only put one item for review into your system at a time, but to me, that's kind of like playing checkers. Chess is more challenging and to up the ante, Andy added their Ground Block for convenience. What could go wrong? After all, Synergistic Research is one of the cutting edge companies in high-end audio. I have a lot of their gear in my rig already and their 'house sound' aligns with my personal preferences for high resolution, vivid tonal color, and a glorious sense of spaciousness.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

The Orange Duplex
I'll start with the Orange Duplex because it was the easiest to figure out. I installed it in a double duplex box at the end of my 20 Ampere Romex dedicated line. This is my 'back-up' dedicated line that I installed for comparison when reviewing the JPS Labs 30A In-Wall cable two decades ago. If you own your own home, and intend to live there a while, and have easy access to the space below your listening room, do yourself a favor and install a dedicated line. I did all the drilling of the studs and pulling of the cable myself and had an electrician come in to do the final hook-up to keep the costs down. It was well worth it. If I had it to do over, I would have used 30Amp Romex instead of the 20A.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

The duplex box had been fitted with a PS Audio duplex outlet ($50) and a Synergistic Black duplex ($199) that I had reviewed many years ago. The Black duplex was clearly superior sounding to the PS Audio duplex, which itself was superior to your standard Spec or Hospital Grade outlets. (Yes, I've done my homework, here.) I have not tried the Synergistic Blue duplex ($225), but I've been bullish on their Blue Fuse and far more bullish on the new Orange Fuse, so I had great hopes for the Orange duplex to which it is related. The duplex gets the multi-stage high-voltage Quantum Tunneling treatment said to improve both current and voltage transfer. And it gets the same UEF compound developed for their top of the line Galileo SX PowerCell which gives many of their products the holographic sound for which they are well known.

The disappointing news came first. In comparison with the PS Audio duplex which was made by Hubbell in the USA, the Orange was made in Mexico and did not appear as nicely made. It lacked the plastic internal safety covers of the Black which are intended to keep children from sticking screwdrivers into the socket. And it lacked the measuring gauge for stripping the wire before inserting the bare end into a hole to secure it. It was also designed so that it would only take a bare end inserted into the body. On the Hubbell design, I was able to alternatively attach the wires by looping them around the screw on the outside of the body. And the screws were not labeled for the hot and neutral wires like the Hubbell.

The attachments of the hot and neutral wires were also on the opposite side of the body from the Hubbell. Consequently, I had to do some wire bending plus clipping and stripping of the wires to install it. And finally, the orange thermoplastic body was not as precisely cast as the Hubbell. For an electrician who installs three to four outlets in an hour, this is no big deal, but as a relative novice, I had to think and massage my way through the installation very carefully. But none of this is why you pay $285 for the Orange duplex.

With a little effort, I was able to shove it back into the box and screw down the stainless steel cover. I switched the power cord coming from the Synergistic PowerCell 8 SE from the JPS dedicated line over to the Orange duplex in the 20A Romex dedicated line. From this point on I turned my attention to the Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers, and Ground Block over the next couple of weeks, leaving something turned on at all times to burn in the Orange duplex. My initial reaction was that the rig sounded better, but I didn't screw around with comparisons at the beginning. What counts is how things sound down the road.

After several weeks of self-isolation at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, it was time to pull the plug and compare the various outlets. I left the Tranquility Pod and MiG SX footers out of the system to focus attention on just the Orange Duplex. After spinning through key musical passages on my very familiar compilation CD, I switched from the Orange Duplex (on the 20A Romex dedicated line) to the quad outlet head of JPS Labs 30A dedicated line. I replayed the same cuts from the compilation CD and went back and forth between the two outlets again. It is typically easier to identify small differences when a tweak is removed rather than when it is first inserted.

I was not surprised the sound quality took a small drop in the JPS labs dedicated line. More specifically, the focus decreased, the music lacked some of the PRAT (pace, rhythm & timing) I had grown accustomed to with the Orange Duplex and the soundscape was a little less defined and slightly smaller. Overall, the music was a little darker, suggesting the noise floor had been raised, and most important of all, my emotional connection with the music waned.

Next, I went from the JPS line to the Black Duplex on the 20A Romex line. Here again, there was a drop in the sound quality, pretty much along the lines of what I had just experienced above. It was obvious the Orange Duplex was a significant improvement over the Black when I switched between those two. (As I mentioned, I've had no experience with the Blue Duplex that lies between the Black and the Orange. All three outlets remain in their product line.) Keep in mind that the Black was significantly superior to the audiophile $50 competitor, which in turn was significantly better than a spec grade 20A duplex ($3). As for your basic $0.65 15A residential outlet — forget it! If you're renting and not expecting to be evicted soon, at least spend $3 for a spec-grade outlet. There are YouTube videos to show you how to do this safely yourself. Better yet, buy a Synergistic outlet and take it with you when your lease is up.

As far as the Orange Duplex goes, it became clear that I was going to have to construct a new junction box for the JPS dedicated line. The Orange Duplex has a wire capacity of 14-10 AWG so I will go with a single duplex outlet wired directly to the 10 gauge 30A line rather than splitting the wire between two duplex outlets. This will give me one outlet for the power cord to the power conditioner, and a separate outlet for the Ground Block. This will very likely give me superior results to what I was experiencing with the 20A Romex line, not only because it is a larger gauge, but because the JPS In-Wall is a superior wire than the Romex. That project will have to wait for another day, however, to cover the rest of the gear in this review. Suffice it to say that the Orange Duplex is highly recommended. It is the connecting point through which your entire system will most likely draw all its power. That it comes standard on their new top-line PowerCell SX power conditioner ($8495) speaks volumes more than my humble recommendation.

After running these outlet comparisons I realized I had not plugged in the Ground Block which star-grounded the DAC, turntable, phono stage, and preamp. I did so at this point and noticed a drop in the noise floor. I'll come back to the Ground Block further on.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover
There have been other carbon fiber duplex covers on the market but I've overlooked them because they seemed like an expensive cosmetic cover-up. I should have heeded my dictum that "everything matters." They come in two sizes, as you can see, and the photo reveals what is ordinarily hidden — the die-cut high-density foam backing that seals the plate either against the wall, if that's where your outlets are, or against the junction box itself if it is exposed as mine is. Normally, Code requires this box to be anchored into the floor or wall, but since I've recently moved my equipment rack a few inches and moved the AC power cords and power conditioner to the opposite side of the rack, I haven't finalized where I want this box screwed down. It's on the "To-Do" list.

On a couple of occasions, I've been handed carbon fiber tonearms and asked by the designer to examine their rigidity. These requests invoked extreme anxiety with the thought of a $6000 tonearm crumpling in my hand like fresh cannoli. Surprisingly, they were extremely rigid. The flat duplex cover lacked the rigidity of a tubular tonearm. It was surprisingly more flexible than I thought it would be. And they make exotic car bodies with this stuff? I should have known better as my bicycle frame is made of carbon fiber and it rides very comfortably over coarse surfaces. So I socked the cover onto the quad box and ran through my compilation CD again. I was not impressed. The focus improved, fine and good, but the life was sucked out of the music. It was overdamped. There was no "air" in the music. I took a break.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

While ruminating over a cold glass of cran-raspberry juice I recalled a lesson from Louis Desjardines of Kronos Audio. Louis is an expert on vibration from his early days working with racing motorcycles and now building world-class turntables. We were talking about record clamps at the time. I returned to the listening room and loosened up the screws holding down the plate. Voilà! The music sprang to life again, sounding even better than with the stainless steel cover. More air and more dynamics in addition to the increased focus. Thinking it through, the duplex outlet is anchored to the box (or the box in the wall) with screws at the top and bottom very rigidly. These are the screws that you must loosen and re-tighten when aligning the duplex so the outlets protrude through the cover when two or more outlets are mounted in the same box.

Loosening the center screw, that anchors the carbon fiber cover to the duplex itself, allowed the cover to de-couple from the duplex outlet to a certain degree, and likewise allowed the carbon fiber cover to de-couple from the junction box (or wall) to a certain degree, probably letting micro-vibrations drain away from the duplex outlet / AC plug connection in one direction or another. That would be my hypothesis, anyway. I don't want to overthink this because at $199 for the quad cover ($149 for the single duplex), in the context of any rig in the neighborhood of $30,000 or above, this is a no-brainer recommendation. Just make sure you don't over tighten it and suck the life out of your music. Delving into the web page for the duplex covers I learned Ted also applies the UEF treatment for shielding EMI / RFI. I should have known. It seems he uses this stuff everywhere.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

The Tranquility Pod
Now we get to the really fun toy. This little guy (6" x 6" x 1") is a miniature version of their Tranquility Bases that come in three sizes, three levels of construction and performance at three price points: affordable, expensive, and very expensive — all correlated just as you would imagine. Their size, combined with the associated MiG footers, also creates some limitations that must be considered depending on how you configure your equipment. The large Bases work in three ways. First, they are a multi-layer platform which drains physical vibrations from the component they support. This is similar to many other forms of constrained layer damping available as separate platforms or shelves on racks that are available today.

The second and third way in which the Bases work is unique to Synergistic Research. Within the layers is packaged an active EM (electro-magnetic) Cell with their UEF technology and Graphene which act together to condition the environment inside the component to eliminate the intra-circuit distortions caused by EMI and RFI that are generated by the circuit itself and transmitted from the listening room environment. And third, they incorporate a Ground Plane which lowers the noise floor of the component which allows more inner detail in the music and spatial cues from the recording venue to come through. In essence, these bases are like power conditioners designed for external application to individual components.

The smaller Tranquility Pod works primarily in the second and third ways mentioned above and relies on the shelves of your rack and/or separate footers to address the reduction of physical vibrations within the component. In doing so, the smaller Pod reduces some of the vertical height limitations of the larger Bases so let's move on to this little guy, who might better be thought of as the Little Big Guy.

Andy gave me a "heads-up" on the Pod as he twisted my arm to review them. They are intended to slide under a component or be placed on top of a unit. I was told they work extremely well on source components but also on preamps and power amps. And I was told I'd have to play around with placement depending on the component.

I started out placing it under my Calyx 24/192 DAC with a separate upgraded power supply. It is a very nice $2000 unit with ESS chips that I've tweaked with ERS paper and AVM goop to take it to the next level. It is powered with a Synergistic digital power cord one generation older than current, so it is very respectable, but still has room for improvement. It is the same size and shape as the Apple Mac mini so I started out placing the Pod under the DAC.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

There was a very modest improvement in focus, air, and soundstage presentation but overall it was rather underwhelming. The Calyx is a solid block of aluminum with a channel about the size of the cardboard tube in a roll of toilet paper routed out across the back end. I tried moving the Pod closer to the back end with not much better results. Then I placed the Pod on top of the Calyx, again cantilevering it out slightly over the cable connections on the back. This worked — in a big way! Better focus, more air, and a much more clearly delineated soundstage that also exhibited a holographic effect with performers seeming more three-dimensional.

Yet what was most impressive was a newfound presence it brought to my system. Not the presence brought by a bump to the upper midrange, but a presence that extends the performances through the plane of the speakers into the space between the speakers and the listener. The Pods bring the experience much closer to what we hear in live performances in addition to the anticipated benefits of increased resolution and improved soundscaping. This effect was evident at slightly loud levels, but it was easily scaled back with the volume control if you prefer to sit a little further back from the stage.

Next, I tried the Tranquility Pod beneath my turntable with equally impressive results. I listened for possible interference with the sensitive moving coil cartridge but heard only the same improvements I had just heard with the DAC. Next up was my tuner where there was a similar improvement with Hearts Of Space on NPR, but given the holograph nature of the music on this program, the improvements were not as stark in contrast. When programming returned to their classical format after HOS, the "wow" factor took another jump with improved transparency, putting me right in the concert hall at a distance from the stage that was determined by each recording as well as the volume setting.

I tried placing the Pod on top of both my tube preamp and tube phono stage, yet experienced little difference. I also tried the Pod under the preamp, but again, no luck. My monoblocks were too far from the power outlet to give them a try. Given the very impressive results I had with my sources, this was hardly a disappointment and leads to the question of value.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

Tranquility Pod Value
Like most audiophiles, I'm a price-sensitive kind of guy and as a reviewer, I try and get a handle on a product before I know its actual price. I had a vague recollection that the new Tranquility Pod was about $2000 and even at that price it seemed to be a good value, elevating my $2000 DAC to what I've heard at $6000 and above. In some cases, much above. In my heart, I was hoping it would be more like $1000. When the suspense became unbearable, I was stunned to learn it was only $749. The value skyrocketed even further when I realized I could easily use the same Pod with each source if I rearranged the rig.

To make that happen, I spent a day lowering the wall mounted shelf for the turntable and installing a second shelf below it to accommodate the tuner. The DAC remains on the top shelf of the Codia rack along with the power supply for a new motor waiting to be installed in the Linn turntable. Conceivably the Pod could work wonders on that power supply, too. As finally configured, the Pod will now slide under the turntable, above or below the tuner, and rest on top of the DAC. It seemed so simple, but the execution in my case was not, due to the required clearances and the ergonomics involved with the Pod.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

Tranquility Pod Ergonomics
Many, if not most audiophiles like to buy a product, plug it in and only have to push a button or two thereafter. The Pod is a little more complex in that it is powered by a somewhat fancy wall-wart power supply that must be plugged in, and it has a separate ground wire that must also be plugged in. The outlets on my PowerCell were all in use, so I had to use a Synergistic QLS power strip I had from an older set of their active power cords. This is far more than a simple power strip as I learned years ago when I looked into converting it to a strip I could directly plug into an outlet. In stock form, it requires a separate IEC power cord. I created a tool that allowed me to open it up to figure out if I could hardwire a short, high-quality power cord. Inside I found a full-length circuit board loaded with parts. The short answer was "no". Consequently, I decided to mount the QLS vertically on the wall near the equipment rack and use a spare IEC power cord to run it into the dedicated line.

I could then plug the Pod's power supply into the upper outlet on the QLS, allowing the Pod to reach all three of my sources. Since there is no power switch on the pod, I can easily unplug it when I don't want the bright blue light on at all. The bullet containing the blue LED can be rotated, allowing you to control its projection, even aiming down into the shelf to minimize its presence.  Power consumption is low so you can leave the Pod on without raising your electric bill substantially and the Pod gives off virtually no heat.

Earlier on I mentioned the larger Tranquility Bases which are designed to be used with a set (or two) of MiG or MiG 2.0 footers. This raises the component an inch and a half or more higher, which can create clearance problems in your rack. I had been stacking my tuner on top of the CD player I use for transport, but I didn't have room to spare for the Pod. This forced me to add the second wall mounted shelf mentioned above. If you spread your components out in a line on a table or credenza, using the Tranquility Bases will not be a problem — except that it may require longer, more expensive interconnects and power cords. (Everything matters, remember?)

So that is part of the beauty of the Pod — you can keep your rig compact and use shorter cables and standard length power cords. Also, the Pod will sit in closer proximity to the chassis than the Tranquility Bases, rather than be kept at a distance by the feet of the component. Presumably this will make it more effective. Add to that the fact that many audiophile components are scaling down in size and the smaller Tranquility Pod makes a lot of sense.

For many components, the clearance beneath them is less than the 1+ inches required for the Pod to slide under it. This is where footers come into play. I've been a big fan of aftermarket footers and Synergistic MiG ($150 for a set of three) and MiG 2.0 ($249 for a set of three) have been favorites because of the air and bloom they allow to shine through in addition to enhancing the focus. Again, this is the 'house sound' of Synergistic Research. Having tube gear, I've always preferred to orient the MiG's for increased focus, though you may choose otherwise if you need to soften a harsh component.

The Codia rack has shelves comprised of 22 layers of compressed plywood with resonators installed on each shelf making it very effective at absorbing vibrations. The original MiG footers no longer contributed, so I rotated them to my monoblocks and other systems, even using a set under my laptop in my home office where I frequently watch YouTubes. But for some components with short feet, you will need some kind of riser if you wish to place the Pod underneath rather than on top. (Hang on to this thought for another paragraph.)

Another aspect of the Tranquility Pod that needs addressing is the crisp edges and sharp corners that have the potential of scratching your components. A thin plastic protective layer for shipping covers the top surface of the Pod until you're ready to remove it, but surely you don't want to scratch an expensive DAC or server. To solve this problem I used samples of discontinued leather that I had saved from my furniture business. They are pliable, elegant and the coarse underside works well as a non-skid interface. If you ask at a fine furniture store that sells custom leather furniture, they might save a swatch or two for you when they become discontinued. I also use them to protect the wood shelves of the rack and wall mounted wood shelves. Problem solved. There are also available sheets of felt with a self-sticking side, though felt this may be a little more slippery on the chassis of a component.

Finally, it may be helpful to clarify that the Tranquility Bases and Pod work on the electromagnetic environment within the components they address. The Synergistic Research Atmosphere towers and FEQ, on the other hand, are two-channel, multi-wave RF field generators that primarily work on the RFI environment in your listening room, although they have some additional beneficial effect on the Tranquility Bases and Pod as well as other Synergistic products with UEF technology built-in.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

MiG SX Footers
With my tuner now on a solid oak shelf on the wall again, I had to re-enlist some footers to enhance the sound. Enter the new MiG SX footers, stage left. Unfortunately, at $995, these are priced considerably higher than the MiG and MiG 2.0. They also involve a lot more manufacturing and technology that the relatively simple MiG's made out of high carbon steel. In the cutaway diagram, you will see a newer version of their MiG resonators along with a precision chassis comprised of aircraft aluminum and carbon fiber along with a tuning disc, a UEF tuning element, and tungsten carbide ball bearings that should be impervious to scuffing for a long time to come.

My interest in footers topped out at a few hundred dollars (for a set of three) years ago and I never ventured to test any of the high priced varieties that emerged since that time. I suspected the weakest link in my system probably lay elsewhere. But I've learned to never underestimate Ted Denney so I accepted Andy's offer of review samples.

First off, I moved my DAC over to a small wood top table that normally holds my Nessie record cleaning machine. I figured that would be the lowest common denominator for supporting a piece of high-end gear. I ran my compilation CD first with no footers at all, then the original MiG, then the MiG 2.0, and finally with the MiG SX. Each step up was progressively better though I can't say the SX is four times better than the 2.0. The law of diminishing returns had kicked in, but it was sufficiently better that I moved the DAC and the SX footers back onto the Codia rack.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

Unlike the MiG 2.0, the SX still made a significant contribution to enhancing the DAC. Furthermore, all the MiG footers are designed for the transmission of vibrations — that is, to conduct vibrations away from the component. This is quite unlike footers designed to cushion a component or selectively absorb vibrations of a certain frequency. The MiG's increase the focus which will be most obvious in the tightness of the bass and the lack of smear in cymbals in the treble.

Next, I tried the SX and the Pod with my hot-rodded Sony ES tuner on the wall-mounted shelf. I dare say my local PBS station was now sounding as good as Redbook CDs. Using the tuner with MiG 2.0 plus the Pod, I gave up some sound quality, but not much. If I only had $1000 to spend, that would be the way to go since I only listen to FM radio a couple of hours each week. But if I was talking about my main source, $1745 for a Tranquility Pod and a set of MiG SX footers is not an unreasonable expenditure for the substantial jump in quality. The improved focus achieved by installing the SX under my DAC or my tuner carried on through the entire system, yielding sound quality from my speakers that I didn't know was there.

The music simply became so much more compelling. Whether it does for you, or not, will depend on your gear, the surface it sits on, and the amount of pleasure you get from listening to music. $1745 is a lot of money, granted, but it is also a lot less than you can spend to upgrade a major component — and still miss out on the air and holographic imaging offered by this Synergistic gear.

The height of the MiG SX is 1.3", while the height of the MiG 2.0 is 1 1/8" so with care, you can use either one if using the Pod beneath the component. And again, the Pod may be more effective on top — you will have to try this yourself. One distinction I found between the MiG SX and the Tranquility Pod may be of significant importance to you. The strong suit of the SX is the increase in focus it brings to the music, not so much the air and bloom. It also didn't bring the image as forward into the room.

With the Pod, I found just the opposite, it greatly increased the three-dimensional presentation and increased the depth and strength of the bass as well as the airiness and bloom. It increased the focus, too, but not to the same degree as the MiG SX. Possibly the great strengths of the Pod partially blinded me to focus. It is not that they were all one and not the other, but a noticeable difference in their primary strength. One is not an identical substitute for the other.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

Ground Block
The Tranquility Pods and the Digital interconnect I'm using each have their separate ground wire that plugs into a conventional outlet. The benefit of this design is that the ground is separated from the AC wires powering the Pods or, in the case of the Digital interconnect, the shield is grounded separately, bypassing the component's AC power supplies. The effect is to lower the noise floor and improve the sound quality of your system. The downside is, when you have multiples of these devices or cables, they quickly eat up duplex outlets in your power conditioner or power strip.

The solution is the Ground Block that has 18 little holes for separate ground wires that channel multiple grounds through a UEF filter to a single duplex outlet, be it in your power conditioner or an available outlet on your dedicated line. This is a passive device at a relatively affordable $595. Consider that SR also offers an Active Ground Block ($1995) and an Active Ground Block SE ($2995). If price is any indicator (as it usually is with this company) these should be considerably more effective.)

Over the years I've had opportunities to hear systems with other grounding systems at shows. I was first introduced to the concept in a seminar hosted by Stillpoints and presented by Roy Gregory of Hi-Fi+, one of the top writers in our field. He used an Entreq ground block that is a far more expensive wooden box containing material that mimics the ground system of your home, except that it is a much more direct pathway to the ground than your home wiring and it is self-contained. Ground wires go into it, but no wires come out of it. The effect I heard in Roy's demonstration was noticeable, but not as earth-shaking as the price tag might indicate. (The cumulative effects of the Entreq plus the vibration absorbing footers and stand, plus various cables used in the demonstration was very impressive, however.)

I've also heard a demonstration of Nordost ground devices that are incorporated in the active wiring system of the rig. This, too, pointed out the importance of paying attention to the grounding of the rig, but again, it seemed pricey for the benefit. And finally, I was very impressed with the Computer Audio Design room at AXPONA in 2019 that, in addition to their extraordinary DAC, showcased their Ground Control system which, like the Entreq was a dead-end for the ground right in the room.

Unfortunately, no demonstration with & without the Ground Control was offered, but the presentation easily qualified as one of the Best Rooms at the show. The point here is that critical attention to the grounding of systems seems to be an emerging trend. It is also one that is difficult to assess even at demonstrations at shows. It's really helpful to be able to try it at home as the perceived benefit of any grounding device will depend on the quality of the electricity in your home and the amount of RFI / EMI bouncing around in your room. Synergistic offers a 30-day, no risk, money-back guarantee with their Ground Block, which is the right thing to do, especially in this category.

 

Synergistic Research Tweakfest With the Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers and Ground Block. Review By Rick Becker

 

I ended up with the Synergistic Ground Block because I was sent two Tranquility Pods and noticed in the literature there was a way to daisy chain them together, but the proper cables for doing this had not been included in my review samples. When I contacted Andy about this, I mentioned that I was also running out of outlets and would need to mount my Synergistic QLS power strip on the wall to accommodate the power supplies (wall warts) and ground wires. He suggested the Ground Block as a more elegant solution for dealing with the ground wires and sent one out to me along with a handful of the Hi Def Ground Cables that incorporate trickle-down technology from their higher lines of audio and power cables. We're talking pure silver and Graphene conductor in an air dielectric and a UEF Graphene shield, plus the million Volt Quantum Tunneling treatment they give most, if not all their cables.

These special ground wires are available with all kinds of terminations. Unfortunately, they are not inexpensive at $395 each. I used an RCA end for my DAC, and spades for my phono stage and line stage. The Pods take a mini-banana, as does the Ground Block itself. The cable that came with the Ground Block was about two meters, while the component cables were 1.25-meter. The block comes with hook and loop strips (Velcro) that allow you to affix it to a shelf on your rack. With all the testing I do, I leave it on the floor, as it is lightweight and easily pulled off a shelf if not anchored in some way. This all adds up to a bit of wiring complexity that may deter obsessive-compulsives who insist on a tidy presentation, though a dollar's worth of zip ties might help if you can affix them to your rack or cabinet.

I spent an entire evening with the Ground Block, first with my CD digital source and then with my LP analog source. With each source, the other was turned off while listening. I started listening with the grounds attached, and then took them out of the system as I've learned that it is much easier to discern differences, especially when they are modest when going from better sound quality to worse. In my rig, the improvement was only modest. Several reasons come to mind. First of all, I did the testing after 9pm until about 1am. This is usually prime time for listening, but during the pandemic shutdown, I've noticed that it is an especially good listening window. The grid seems pretty clean these days.

Second, I live in a neighborhood serviced by a relatively new power sub-station and all the power lines are buried. And third, using the Orange Duplex outlet, Synergistic PowerCell 8 SE, plus a lot of their power cords that are only one generation older than current models, the rig sounds very, very good to begin with. Oh, and then there is the Tranquility Pod reviewed here that makes a spectacular contribution as well. Perhaps with so much good stuff already in the rig I'm running into a case of diminishing returns? Should I blow out the candle and run the comparison in the afternoon?

Well, that's exactly what I did, but to no avail. I couldn't honestly say I heard any difference between late-night an afternoon listening sessions. Perhaps the nation is a lot more shut down than I know. Keeping in mind what I learned from Roy Gregory, this does not mean the small gain from the Ground Block is insignificant. When you're building a first-class rig, it is the accumulation of a lot of small gains that add up to a big difference.

 

To Tweak Or Not To Tweak
That is the question.
Withinn the comments on Paul's Posts (3/30/20) Burmansound wrote:
"As an audiophile, I want my amplifier not to add anything to the sound – a straight wire with gain. Clean amplification doesn't remove anything from the music – it just doesn't add anything."

"As a recording engineer though, absolutely a clean signal chain is seldom what is desirable. We use tube mics, tube preamps, tube EQs, and tube compressors to color the sound in musical ways. My studio is chock full of tube gear. Yet my living room hi-fi is solid-state to provide the cleanest possible reproduction so as to not add anything to what the recording and mix engineers did."

 

Burmansound succinctly identifies the divide between the Pro-Audio production of music software and the reproduction of music in high-end home audio. Not every manufacturer and audiophile would agree that they want an exact reproduction of the recording, but most want something at least pretty close.

For audiophiles, there is another divide in the chain caused by the room itself and the lack of knowledge (or experience) on the part of the listener as to what the 'artist' or sound engineer intended. (Not to ignore what the pressing plant or software supplier was able to provide.) It is this second divide that opens the door to the 'personal interpretation' of the listener at home. You have to decide what sounds "musical" to you, based on your historical exposure to music, whether it was live experiences, reproduced events, or a mixture of the two.

If you're reading this review, you're probably already well aware of the importance of the room, speaker placement, room treatments, and so on. As a budding audiophile decades ago, I latched onto the idea of tuning the room and tweaking the gear because, well, tweaks were cheap, relative to the expensive gear that left me in awe. In my travels around the country, I used to collect large rocks and minerals from the roadside that I would use to mass-load the chassis of my components, providing a smidgeon of improvement. Now, these 'amp-rocks' decorate the garden in front of my home. Time has moved on and so has the High End. We now have tiny companies where the product is essentially made in someone's basement or garage, large companies that make a few tweaks as a side venture of the owner who is an audiophile, and audiophile companies who have ventured into tweakdom as a diversification from their core products.

Synergistic Research lies in the latter category as Ted Denney has applied technology first proven in their core business of audiophile cables to an unusually wide range of products for treating not only rooms, but components themselves in ways that traditional component manufactures fear to explore. Who would have thought boutique fuses would become a significant audiophile category? Ted has gone to extraordinary efforts to convince audiophiles of the veracity of his components with comparison demonstrations at shows and video presentations on his website.

I've sat in on his presentations at shows on numerous occasions. Sometimes the benefit clearly stands out; other times I've missed it completely. It can be tough to evaluate a product within a short period of time, as you don't know exactly what you're listening for, within a piece of music that you're not very familiar with… not to forget that the room is quite unlike my own (they all are) and the gear in his rig is far more expensive than my own. That's why I've appreciated the opportunity to review a handful of these new tweaks and salute his 30-day money-back policy.

 

So, What's the Verdict?
"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." -- Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy, animals, and ecology.

These products do not fall in the category of "what's necessary" for a good system for enjoying your music. I've enjoyed listening to music for decades before coming upon them. But if you've already assembled a pretty nice system including decent components, respectable power conditioning, power cords, and cabling… and carefully integrated your speakers into your room, then you might want to explore the categories of tweaks represented here. The Orange Duplex, Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover and MiG SX footers are refinements of minor product categories that have been around for quite a while and I've climbed the ladder of refinement to a significant degree in each one.

"Everything matters" as the saying goes and like almost everything else in life today, somebody is always looking to stretch the envelope of what's possible. Ted Denney is one of the fastest horses within the high-end audio race today. I'm not at the finish line with insight into every variation in these different categories, but the Orange Duplex, the Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover, and the MiG SX footers sound like they could be near the limit of "what's possible" at this point in time. The Ground Block is merely the starting point of what Synergistic offers in this category and their HD ground cables are probably state of the art in this niche. The noise in your components and on your neighborhood grid will likely determine the potential benefit for this product or higher levels of Ground Blocks.

The Tranquility Pod is an evolutionary form of their Tranquility Bases that incorporates all their latest technology for increasing sound quality and expanding the spaciousness and holography of the soundscape. It is here that Ted Denney crosses the line of "what's possible" and enters the realm of the "impossible." This was easily the most fun tweak to play with and it made the music far more engaging than the others.

None of these items is inexpensive, relative to more basic forms in their category (except the Tranquility Pod which has only larger brothers.) Together they all represent a high-value pathway toward achieving extraordinary music reproduction from relatively affordable gear. Each is only an incremental step but they all add up.

While some people are able and prefer to spend huge sums for top tier gear in search of musical perfection, others look to more modest gear and maximize its potential by refining the sound with more affordable accessories such as these. Synergistic Research has reached extraordinary heights with their top tier cables and power conditioners and they've been generous in trickling down that technology to more affordable tweaks that far more audiophiles can afford. While I can enthusiastically recommend all of them, cherry-pick from the bunch if you must.

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: High-end audio system tweaks
Orange Duplex
Global $285

 

Carbon Fiber Duplex Cover
Duplex cover $149
Quad cover $199

 

Tranquility Pod
110V @ $749
230V @ $849

 

MiG SX footers GLOBAL MSRP
$995 for set of three

Ground Block
$595

 

 

Company Information
Synergistic Research, Inc.
1736 E. Borchard Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(949) 476-0000

Website: www.SynergisticResearch.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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