World Premiere Review!
When Andy Weiderspahn sent me Synergistic Research's new tweak, the Carbon Tuning discs, and told me this was technology built into their Atmosphere series cables, the handwriting was on the wall, but I didn't see it. He said it would bring the Foundation series cables up closer to the performance of the Atmosphere Excite XS, a cable that was more than four and a half times more expensive. I tried the Carbon Tuning Discs and found he was pretty much telling the truth. At $200 for a pair of Gold and a pair of Purple, anyone could try them on whatever brand cable they owned. They even had their usual 30-day money-back guarantee. I found they were particularly impressive on the interconnects coming from my source components.
Synergistic Research is a powerhouse of innovation and they continuously come up with technology that spreads across multiple product categories. Purple is the current rage and you can find it in their cables, power conditioners, MiG 3.0 footers, cable lifters, GCT Ground Circuit Transducers, and their famous fuses. And I'm sure I missed a few. Every few years or so a cable series will get a make-over, too. I reviewed the new Foundation series when it was introduced back in January 2020 and found it to be an exceptionally high-value product. One-meter RCA or XLR interconnects were $599/pr and 8' speaker cables were just $50 more. Though the price has gone up a bit due to inflation these past two years, they are still an outstanding product worthy of the Blue Note Award they received that year.
"The world is in an uproar.
Time flies by quickly when the world is in an uproar and I was surprised to get a call from Andy Weiderspahn again, asking if I would like to review the new Foundation SX cables that would be introduced at the Capital AudioFest 2022 in November. It had been just less than three years since the original Foundation series had been introduced but it would be a natural follow-up to my review of the originals. So of course, I accepted. We agreed that it would only be necessary to send cables to run from my digital source through to the speakers since that was my primary reviewing channel. I mentioned that I've recently added a pair of subwoofers so he was delighted to include a set of subwoofer-specific interconnects which had not been available when the original Foundation series was introduced.
When the SX cables arrived, I was not surprised that they look identical to the original with not a hint of the Carbon Tuning Discs bulging through the shrink wrap. The silver plating on the pin and inside of the RCA connectors was brighter, being freshly minted, but the originals have had three years to oxidize, plus they were subjected to the High Fidelity Cables' NPS 1260 Contact Enhancer. (I cleaned off the originals for this review.) Most likely, I thought the SX upgrade was a secret sauce treatment handed down from the Atmosphere SX series. The Foundation series is meant to be all about performance, not constructed to visually impress. They are well made — they've survived nearly 3 years of reviewing in my rig, after all, but there is no bling, no tuning bullets, and no grounding wire like their higher series cables. But frankly, once you get them burned in, you won't give a hoot.
Old Version Versus New Version
My first impression was favorable, as the cables had been burned in for a few days at the factory. Nonetheless, I let them run at low volume 24/7 for more than a week. The most impressive improvement was in my subwoofers that had been connected with Canare GS-6, an 18Ga. pro-audio cable that is typically used for connecting guitars and keyboards to amps and mixers. It was the only interconnect I had that was long enough to reach my furthest subwoofer. The subwoofer-specific Foundation SX cables blew it away instantly, and they only got better as time wore on. This was an even starker contrast than when I first replaced my home-brew cables with the original Foundation loom.
In talking with Ted Denny at the Capital AudioFest recently, he reiterated that the Foundation SX was a distillation of the Atmosphere SX series, just as the original Foundation series was a distillation of the earlier Atmosphere X series. We're talking pure silver mono-filaments in air string geometries, UEF compound with graphene applied to connectors, SRX quantum tunneling with ultrahigh voltage, silver braid shielding, and unbeknownst to me at first, the recently developed UEF Carbon Tuning Discs that were a spin-off of the Atmosphere SX series cables.
I can't claim to know the inner workings of Ted Denney's mind, but one of their stated goals with the Foundation and now the Foundation SX series was to create a very high-value cable that would encourage people to invest in an entire loom of this series. Doing so creates what they call the "loom effect" which in essence is a manifestation of the synergy created by using the same basic cable construction throughout the system. In other words, a quality that is communicated by the interconnects coming from your source component is not canceled or ignored by the next interconnect in the chain, or ultimately, the speaker cable. The components talk to each other with the same sonic signature.
When the Foundation series was first introduced, there were no AC power cords in the series, but they came along afterward. With the Foundation SX, comparable power cords are available from the get-go. These were not sent with my review samples, but this brings up another point. The Synergistic Research cable series, by virtue of the trickle-down technology, are synergistic among themselves. As you move up through the lines, the complexity and features increase, but you still have the basic concepts and chemical treatments throughout. You might choose a more expensive Atmosphere SX cable for your primary listening chain while using the Foundation SX for secondary sources if they are used less often, or if your budget is stretched thin.
The one suggestion I can make from having evolved through three levels of AC power cords is this: Don't go cheap on your power cords. Those cords, as well as the duplex outlet that feeds your system are very important to optimize the performance of your components. Two of my components (FM tuner and CD transport) have been in my system for about thirty years, yet have improved dramatically with improvements to AC power cords, fuses, and interconnects. In reviewing the Foundation SX interconnects and speaker cables I retained the Atmosphere Excite SX power cords I have been using.
I swapped in the Foundation SX cables, including the long Foundation SX interconnects designed for subwoofer use which had blue bands at the connectors rather than the traditional red and black. The depth and slam of the subwoofers immediately grabbed my attention. Admittedly, the home-brew cables with pro-audio Canare wire were not the greatest wire nor purpose-built for subwoofer operation, but this addition of the Foundation SX subwoofer cable was impressive. After the novelty of tight, deep bass became assimilated the music became more balanced to my ear. I have a page of notes where the sonic signifiers on my compilation CD cued me into all the shortcomings I heard with the original Foundation cable. With the Foundation SX, they were gone. More than that, the benefit of the improved response of the subwoofers carried up into the upper bass and midrange as it typically does when simply adding a subwoofer to less-than-full-range speakers.
You know the improvements already — improved focus, better soundstage delineation, less trouble interpreting difficult lyrics, less smearing of cymbals and violins, more realistic hand clapping with live performance recordings, and less sibilance. It was obviously better than the original, yet there was still something lacking — a sense of "being there" with the musicians, which can be analyzed as a lack of transparency and dynamics. The new Foundation was stuck about halfway between the old Foundation and the music I knew with the Atmosphere Excite SX in my rig. I was also spoiled by having attended both the Toronto and Capital AudioFests where I heard rooms that sounded better than mine and cost an awful lot more. As much as we wish it were otherwise, money still buys a lot of nice things and more money buys even nicer things — up to a point, anyway.
Carbon Tuning Discs?
I eventually found some time to play with the Carbon Tuning Discs on the Foundation SX cables. But first, a word of caution! These little guys are super-light and very slippery. They are applied to cables (and elsewhere in your rig) with a generic white version of BluTack putty that is supplied with the discs. When preparing them with the putty, do this on a large, flat surface like a kitchen countertop or the large flat surface of a subwoofer where they will not slide off into oblivion. Do not do this while sitting in your listening chair or recliner. And do not ask me why I'm telling you this. The answer is too embarrassing.
I started cautiously on the digital cable and didn't notice much difference. I'd been warned that result can happen. Next, I moved to the interconnects coming from the DAC and again, not much happened — at first. Then the resolution started improving (with the Purple). I added more Purple to the interconnects coming from the preamp and then to the speaker cables, staying with the purple. Finally, I swapped out the purple on the speaker cables for the gold and was rewarded with a more holographic soundscape. Your experience will be different from mine, however, because we have different gear in different rooms and the electrical feed to our systems has different levels of noise.
The point is, you get to tune your system at the expense of some patience and effort. The reward was to be had, however, because the Foundation SX with the addition of the Carbon Tuning Discs moved noticeably closer to Atmosphere Excite SX in that magical dimension I call "Being There." More transparency (or was it a lower noise floor?) plus greater dynamics made me feel more present to the event. The resolution also seemed to improve with the Tuning Discs.
Also, consider the cables will retain their value if you can relegate them to less important sources in your rig or a second system altogether. Moving up in the Synergistic line should not make them incompatible with their more expensive cables, thus retaining the loom effect I spoke of earlier. The addition of the Foundation SX subwoofer interconnects is a valuable addition to the Atmosphere Excite SX loom that dresses the rest of my system.
It is also significant that Synergistic has gone very deep in this series with REL-specific cables for subwoofers, 12 and 10 AWG power cords, Ethernet, USB, phono, and even headphone cables. With similar construction, you will maintain a similar sonic signature throughout your system. And did I mention that they are available in black or white to blend or contrast with your décor?
That said, as I look back over my review of the original Foundation series, my writing expresses a lot more exuberance than my review here. The reason for that is when I wrote about the original Foundation I was stepping up from lesser cables. Writing about something new and better than what you have previously been enjoying is always an exciting and heady experience.
As I reviewed the new Foundation SX, I was listening from the perspective of having the superior Synergistic Research Atmosphere Excite SX cables as my reference. It is just human nature that I wrote about the Foundation SX with less enthusiasm, yet my determination that SX is superior to the original is what should be credited here. That the Blue Notes below are identical simply means that while the SX series outperforms the original Foundation series, it does not equal the performance of the much more expensive Atmosphere series. If you want to read how juiced I was about the original Foundation I encourage you to read my original review.
That the original Foundation series was given a Blue Note Award is significant and that honor shines a bright light on the new Foundation SX as well.
While the very upper reaches of high-end audio have reached what seems like absurd price levels to all but a very few, it’s encouraging to know that affordable products are benefiting from a rising tide of innovation that can bring greater satisfaction and musical enjoyment to those who live more modestly. If that sounds like you, or even if the Foundation SX feels like a bit of a stretch, I very highly recommend you give the Foundation SX cables a try. It feels like a benchmark product in its price range that should serve you well for a good long time.
Foundation SX Interconnect
Foundation SX Digital Interconnect
Foundation SX Subwoofer RCA and XLR
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