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April 2023

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

World Premiere Review!
Synergistic Research Master Fuse Review
Take a leap of faith and trust your own ears.
Review By Rick Becker

 

Synergistic Research Master Fuse Review

 

  Andy Weiderspahn was away at the Florida Audio Expo when news broke of their new Master fuse so Kevin Sample stepped up and obtained permission for me to receive some review samples. Having previously reviewed the Black, Blue, Orange, and Purple fuses over the years I was eager to investigate this new version — especially because of the hype that went along with the introduction. Obviously, it is not named with a color. More alarmingly, it takes a large jump in price over the Purple fuses that grace much of my system. But most importantly, it claims to be such an improvement over the Purple that they recommend using only one, primarily in your source component, two at most. This last point softens the blow of the price jump. The Master is said to work well with lesser Synergistic fuses that may already grace your system. You don't need to swap out all your existing fuses.

 

 

$595 A Pop
Still, $595 is not loose change for most of us. In the Audiogon Forums some people could not get past the price. Let's take a look at the challenges posed by two astute critics.

 

Bdp24 on Audiogon Forums asks:
Does it cost synergistic THAT much more to manufacture the Master Fuse than it did their earlier models? Or was its price determined by the cynical principal [sic] of "whatever the market will bear"? Hey, I'm just askin' ;-)

 

Ted Denney presents himself as an articulate CEO in his corporate videos and in person at shows. I don't know if he puts on a white lab coat and gets down and dirty with chemicals back at his shop, but his videos and presentations at shows suggest he is a 'hands-on' kind of guy. Nor do I know how much time and expense is invested in R&D of the Master fuse. I do know he stays alert to science and engineering and I know the Synergistic products are thoroughly evaluated before they are put into production. And his time is very valuable. For all the reviewing I've done for SR, I rarely get more than a few minutes or a brief e-mail.

He is obviously a Type A personality and the success of his products is witness to his accomplishments. While I don't know what the manufacturing cost of a Master fuse is, it is not uncommon for manufacturers to roll the R&D cost into the price of a product. There are also numerous indirect costs of owning a plant in the USA and maintaining a high-quality American workforce. There is also the "whatever the market will bear" comment. I will address that further down when I talk about value.

 

Electroslacker says:
The increased pricing of each new Synergistic fuse is pretty strong evidence that the game afoot here is expectation bias, leveraging trite, shallow assumptions that you get what you pay for and newer is better.

The money-back trial is just a math equation for extremely high-margin products.  If the guarantee doubles the number of trials, you don't care if some (or many) are returned because the net profit is massively increased.  And if you're marketing something as elusive as sound perception then once-bought, the product is often kept because it might be making a difference.

 

Expectation bias is a real thing, but that is an issue addressed by audio reviewers and eventually consumers alike. Through critical auditioning, I have found each successive Synergistic fuse to be superior to the previous one. In no instance did I prefer to revert to the older version, much less an OEM fuse.

Critical listening is the way customers can protect themselves against expectation bias. I'm quite sure the percentage of audiophiles who are critical listeners is quite high. Furthermore, if you are not a critical listener, you're probably not going to be interested in after-market fuses, much less ones costing $595. After all, they are not bright shiny objects that enhance the visual appearance of your system or your status. They are all about sound quality. Additionally, it is not uncommon to see older used versions of SR fuses for sale on USAudiomart.com, suggesting that a lot of users are trading up. And many people selling their used components advertise that they have Synergistic fuses in them as a value-added selling point.

While the dynamics of the 30-day money-back guarantee are correct in that they encourage more sales, this only works if the product delivers quality results. The critical listening of the purchaser should act as a safeguard against falsely advertised products. That said, not all audiophiles (or reviewers) have the same priorities for sonic attributes. Nor is a given fuse going to produce the same benefit in every component (or system). In any case, it's no big deal to return a fuse. I do strongly suggest you do your due diligence by burning in the fuse and be sure to test it for proper orientation.  Both factors make a significant difference. Keep your attention on the sound quality and emotional response to the music first, then decide if the gain is worth the cost.

In that same Forum, Waytoomuchstuff gets it right in the post below.

 

waytoomuchstuff says:
It seems that in every product category (yes, high-end fuses ARE a product category), there's a desire to create a product in a space not yet occupied.  Elevating the price point 2x the existing "reference" is nothing new in high-end audio.  And, in each and every case, highly energetic discussions occur challenging their cost vs performance.

For the "right" system, this $595 fuse might be the best bang for the buck invested to date in the system.  Or, not.  Only a listening test will determine their true value to the listener.

 

 

The Burn-In
Three fuses were sent out in a zip-lock bag as the fine corporate packaging had not yet arrived. The fit, finish, and plating of the fuses were decent. The stamped value of the fuse was legible on the end cap and the wrap around the center portion clearly stated the value of the fuse and made it easy to identify the location of a dollop of UEF material. Not only was it much easier to read the fuse value on the wrap, but it also made it easier to keep track of the orientation of the fuse in the holder. And knowing where the dollop was located made it easier to avoid damaging it when installing the fuse. The dollops all looked firmly attached to the body of the fuses and gave me no problems  —  no small feat given all the fuse-swapping involved in this review.

I installed the Slo-blow 1.6A in the LampizatOr Amber 4 Stereo DAC / Preamplifier, replacing the clear-glass OEM fuse. I left it on 24/7 and checked it every day or two with my compilation CD. I won't drag you through the details, but to say that I was greatly relieved when at 175 hours it finally came into its own. A day later it was a little better and beyond that the differences in recording quality dominated. So, figure on about 200 hours (8 days). It would be a good idea to get it cooking right away when you receive it if you want the security of the 30-day money-back guarantee.

A second fuse, a Slo-blow 1A, was put in the huge power supply of the Coincident Statement Phono Stage, replacing a Purple fuse this time. Again, I let it burn in 24/7. And a third fuse I delivered to my good audio buddy, Tom, to install in his PS Audio DirectStream DAC. He is also due to receive the new Mk2 version of this DAC in another month. A comparison of the current DirectStream DAC (equipped with the Master fuse) will provide a valuable comparison with the Mk2 version, as well as tell us whether the Master fuse will benefit that newer DAC. (Stay tuned for a follow-up in a couple of months.)  I can also review the use of two Master fuses in his rig with a slo-blow 1A fuse in both his DAC and Backert preamp, giving me a second opportunity to compare the use of more than one Master fuse in a system.

 

Howz it Sound, Ricky B?
Downstairs at Danny's All-Star Joint
They got a juke box that goes doyt-doyt
A finger-snappin' deluxe
Make your be-bop bap
And your r&b hep-scat
-- Rickie Lee Jones, "Danny's All-Star Joint"

 

 

With her unique voice, jazz interpretation, and dynamic range, Rickie Lee Jones' lyrics are a challenge to follow. It's not a record I've listened to a lot, so I have to follow the lyrics on the record jacket. With the Master fuse, I was able to lay the jacket on my lap and pretty much follow the song just by listening. If you know that record, that's saying something. On more familiar material, whether it be CD or LP there was an unmistakable increase in resolution right from the opening bars as well as an increase in transparency. The combined result was the most realistic sense of the musicians being in the room, or me being in the concert hall, that I have ever experienced in my listening room. The better the recording quality, the more real the musicians.

Macro dynamics were more explosive, not because of a feeling of a blacker background, but because the air of the recording (or recording venue) was so clearly revealed. Hot-rodding my vintage Tekton Design subwoofers last month provided a clearer window into the ambient room tone of recordings. The Master fuse tightened the deep bass and improved the timbre of standup bass, large drums, and low organ notes. Deeper listening revealed micro-dynamics and inner detail — tonal shading, if you will, that were simply not hinted at with the Purple fuse. It was as if I had installed a new phono cartridge that was reading the music from an unmolested area of the groove. And these were not newly-pressed audiophile LPs. The Master fuse simply upgraded my entire LP collection.

The attack of the notes was more instantaneous — particularly noticeable in the bass but never was it etched, incisive, or irritating. Sibilance in Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes" was virtually banished. The impact on pace, rhythm, and timing resulted in endless toe-tapping. My Kharma speakers are eminently listenable, to begin with so there was nothing I thought needed "fixing" ...save for that pesky Paul Simon CD. With the addition of the Master fuse, I was chuckling with delight at the newfound musical wealth not from just the speakers, but the entire system.

The Master fuse will not change the familiar tonal balance of your rig and your room. It just makes everything better in the ways I have mentioned. You may, however, find yourself listening at a lower volume because you don't have to turn the volume up to figure out the lyrics. You may also find yourself listening at louder levels because the music is so clean it is not as irritating at those higher levels. Suit yourself, but please don't destroy your hearing. The music gets so good you will want to experience more and more. There were no limits to the length of my listening sessions, save for the 9:30 a.m. Zoom classes the next morning.

 

 

Adding A Second Fuse
My Coincident Statement Line Stage and Phono Stage each have a Purple fuse in it, but the M23SE Mk3 tube monoblocks from Eddie Wong's Magic Tube Research in Canada are equipped with generic fuses. The Tekton Design subwoofers with BASH amps do not have fuses. The Coincident Statement Phono Stage and Line Stage take the same value fuse, so I was able to swap the 1A Master fuse from the phono stage to the line stage. This allowed me to play CDs with a Master fuse in both the LampizatOr DAC and Coincident line stage.

Stepping up to two Master fuses with CDs was a mixed bag. The sound stage image became more stable and a little bit more focused. It felt more like my entry-level LampizatOr Amber 4 DAC took another significant step toward their $50k Horizon flagship which I've heard several times now at shows. The music was not only smoother, but it flowed right out into the room. There was no sense of it being restrained on the soundstage. So far, so good.

On CDs that were very good to begin with, the music became incredibly real. Like musicians right there in the room and me sitting right at the edge of the stage. (This is to say the soundstage moved closer.) It felt almost twice as good as with a Master fuse in just the DAC. I could hear the most minute variations of Shakey Horton blowing harmonica on American Folk Blues Festival '70. But with mediocre recordings — whether it was due to either recording quality or the music itself, I would sometimes reach the point of "Why am I listening to this?" Given that changing a fuse is not as easy as ejecting a CD from a player, I found adding a second Master fuse to my playback chain was too inconvenient. If you've got an ultra-high-end system, you may have a different outcome and it may well be worth a try.

 

Two Master Fuses With Analog
Taking a small risk, I put the 1.6A fuse in the Coincident phono stage, allowing me to compare using two fuses with an analog source. On Springsteen's Born in The USA with a stage full of musicians, what sounded close to musical noise with just one Master fuse became more musical as instruments were more clearly delineated. A copy of Schubert's Symphony No. 7(9) in C major (The Great) sounded better with just a Master in the phono stage and a Purple in the line stage.

Playing the opening of Beethoven's 5th on a CBS Masterworks pressing with two Master fuses gave me the resolution of sitting in the front row but with the acoustic impression of sitting further back in the hall. Reverting to just one Master fuse resulted in the resolution being commensurate with the physical perspective, yielding excellent reverberation of the recording venue (Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic). Using 2 Purple fuses moved me even further back in the hall.

Unless you have a highly curated collection of great-sounding LPs or CDs, devoid of any dogs or cats, you're probably going to be happier with just a Master fuse in source component. Experiment with a second Master fuse if you wish, but be prepared to be both ecstatic and disappointed, depending on the quality of the recording.

 

 

Master Versus Purple
In my DAC, the Master fuse replaced a clear OEM fuse, so the improvement was really obvious. Putting a Master fuse in my phono stage displaced a Purple fuse. All of the improvements I experienced with the Master in the DAC appeared with LPs as well. But CDs were still different than LPs, just as the LampizatOr is different from the Coincident phono stage. What was the same was my involvement and enjoyment of the music. But there was more "Wow" factor in going from the OEM fuse than from the Purple. Would I still buy a Master fuse to replace a Purple that I already have? Absolutely! And I'll address this further when I talk about value. Remember, the Purple is still worth a significant fraction of its original cost, even used.

 

 

Master Versus OEM, Stepping Down
Stepping down from a Master to the OEM fuse in the DAC, the music lost some resolution and the soundstage receded slightly, becoming less deep as well. The transparency remained about the same, but remember, the Lampizator has a tube-based analog output stage. Hand-clapping became noticeably less real, as did the overall presentation and the music was a little less emotionally involved. In retrospect, it was more exciting to add the Master fuse to the rig than it was disappointing to remove it. Keep in mind, though that I was very happy with the rig before the opportunity to review the Master fuse came along.

 

Master In Preamplifier
Some, like myself, who frequently use multiple sources, might wonder if it would be more prudent to put a Master fuse in the preamp where it will impact music from all the sources. After all, spending $600 for one fuse sure seems better than spending $1800 for three. Unfortunately, the laws of restaurants everywhere maintain there is no free lunch. I put a Master fuse in the line stage and listened with the OEM fuse in the DAC and a Purple in the phono stage. There was a very significant improvement over using the Purple in the line stage, for sure, but once you've heard a Master fuse in a source component, you most likely won't settle for putting one in the line stage. I suspect each of us has a favorite medium if indeed we have more than one. That's where you want to put the Master fuse — right at the source.

That said, a friend (who only streams music) has an Innuos server and his DAC is built into his preamp. In a sense, that is not unlike my situation where I have a CD transport ahead of my DAC. My gut feeling is to get a Master fuse for the server but I would readily demure to someone who has tried a Master fuse in both a server and a separate DAC.

I queried my audio buddy, Tom, who also streams. He thought people who stream music using an external DAC would be better off putting the Master fuse in the external DAC. Yet he acknowledged he experiences a significant benefit in using an audiophile power cord on the linear power supply of his sMS-200ultra that receives a digital signal over Ethernet and outputs a digital signal on USB. So he, too, wonders if it might be beneficial to put an audiophile fuse there. I guess Andy needs to get a few Master fuses into the hands of reviewers who are in a better position to answer this question.

 

 

Value
Earlier, the question was raised about whether the Master fuse was priced on the basis of "whatever the market will bear." As I've said before, price is about the cost of an item; value is about its performance. Cost is figured out based on R&D, materials, labor, overhead, amortization, the price of competing products, and yes, "whatever the market will bear" to an extent. I've heard it argued that the most selective colleges and universities raise their cost to attract the most qualified students for fear of being seen as less desirable. In a way, high prices become a status symbol. Has your wife told you about the Hermes leather handbag she covets? Or the collectible one at ten times the price at Sotheby's?

Let's move on to value. I cannot compare the Master fuse with Audio Magic fuses filled with beeswax or the colorful fuses from Quantum Science Audio in Hong Kong that are priced in thousands of USA Dollars. I haven't tried those, but I have reviewed the Synergistic Research fuses as they've evolved. Not only has each successive fuse improved, but the degree of improvement has grown larger with each new version. The Master fuse is no exception.

Jumping from an OEM fuse (which may cost $0.30 to $1.00) to the Master fuse, as I did with the LampizatOr DAC, produced an instantly perceivable jump in sound quality. And this was with a component that was already perceived as a high-value product. In basic form, this DAC goes for $4385. The next model up goes for $6600. I suspect the Master fuse takes my DAC up a couple of models high than that, into the $10k price range. Granted, there might be another brand out there that does as well at a price below $10k, but you see where this is going.

While I don't have a lot of experience reviewing multiple DACs, I have heard a lot of systems at shows over the years and I have a good sense of the difference between systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars and systems that cost hundreds of thousands. You could probably hear a difference between those systems, too. The Master fuse easily makes a difference of that magnitude in my rig.

Ivor Tiefenbrun, the founder of Linn, postulated the belief that source components were the most important component in a system because everything that comes thereafter cannot replace the sound quality that is not present in the initial signal. While I agree with his logic, like most experienced audiophiles, I'm aware that everything matters. That the Master fuse comes at (or near) the head of the chain means that it benefits all the wire and components that follow. That makes it an even higher value.

 

A Caveat?
If you're relatively new to high-end audio and/or expect to change your primary front-end component(s) in the near future, I wouldn't recommend spending this kind of money on a fuse. There's no guarantee that your replacement component will require the same fuse, given that they come in two sizes, slow or fast-burn, and multiple amp ratings. 

Obviously, if the electrical system of your abode is problematic or a component is even sometimes blowing fuses, stay with cheap OEM fuses or consult a competent electrician. (I mentioned a couple of them who deal expressly with high-end audio in the last part of my 2022 Capital Audiofest show report here and also here.

 

 

Summary
At one time, people didn't think power cords or cables were important. Today, they are an entrenched category and custom fuses are the most novel pathway to improving sound quality. The Master fuse is an Olympic jump in both price and sound quality over Synergistic Research's Purple fuse. Using a combination of generic and Purple fuses, my system achieved a huge and undeniable improvement with the addition of only a single Master fuse in a source component.

As reviewed here, without the recently acclaimed LessLoss BlackGround 10X in the house, all my components (see my bio page here) fall in the "under $10k" category, except for my speakers. It is far from an ultra-expensive system. I would be very hard-pressed to spend $595 in any other way to raise the sound quality of my rig into the realm of systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unlike TV commercials that promise to "save" you money on expensive commodities, the Master fuse may very well inhibit you from buying more expensive components once you realize the potential of what you already own. If it were not for my insatiable curiosity, I could call it an end game right now and get off the upgrade merry-go-round.

The Master fuse is one of four state-of-the-art components in my system. I'll be reviewing this fuse again this summer when my audio buddy receives his PS Audio DirectStream DAC Mk2 and we can compare using the Master fuse in the original DirectStream DAC as well as the Mk2. We will also be able to compare using two Master fuses in his system. Stay tuned.

If $595 seems like too much for you, I urge you to take a leap of faith and trust your own ears within your audio system. The 30-day money-back guarantee is there to protect you. Don't be afraid to use it if you're not satisfied. From what I've seen and heard since the pandemic, this should be the hottest product in high-end audio. If you're attending AXPONA you may even hear Ted Denney demonstrating the Master fuse in the room they share with Scott Walker Audio. May Thor throw lightning bolts at any vendor who uses Master fuses in their presentation without conspicuously declaring so. The Master fuse has put me closer to live music than any rig I've heard that didn't cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's the way back to Coolsville.

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise
Emotionally Engaging

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: High-quality fuse
Price: $595 each
Consult their website for size, value, and for slow or fast blow.

 

 

 

Company Information
Synergistic Research Inc.
11208 Young River Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Voice: (949) 476-0000
Website: SynergisticResearch.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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