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Synergistic [super-secret!] Research

Have you ever interacted with a company and came away wondering, “What the hell just happened?!” I had a doozie of an experience like this. Let me tell you about it.

I read a review of the Atmosphere by Synergistic Research on AudioStream. It’s a device that will improve the sound of your stereo. What’s odd is that it’s not connected to your stereo in any way, despite being an electrical device. The author of the review, Steven Plaskin, first explains the problem the Atmosphere addresses:

Ted Denney III, Lead Designer at Synergistic Research, observed that systems often sound better in the evening and different from day to day. Ted theorized that the RF (Radio Frequency) environment had a profound effect on the sound of our systems. RF refers to the rate of oscillation in the range of 3kHz to 300 GHz. Ted felt that the higher frequency ambient RF, more prevalent in the daytime, was creating the negative effect on the sound of our systems.

Plaskin then quotes Denney about the solution:

We were looking for a powerful way to overcome the higher frequency RF environment of day with the soothing low frequency environment we experience at night. While working to recreate the perfect RF environment, we built a single Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) generator. Like so many others have found, the frequency of the Schumann Resonance (7.83 Hz) was a powerful talisman against higher frequencies generated by cell phones, Wi-Fi, radio, and natural solar activity.

He goes on, and you can check the review for further details.

Plaskin then continued, describing at length how to use the Atmosphere and how each setting affects the sound. At long last, he then wrapped it up, stating that he,

found the Atmosphere to be a remarkable product that contributed significantly to the enhancement of the sound of my system. Unlike other system enhancement products that are inserted into the signal line, Atmosphere in no way directly degrades or distorts the audio signal in any way. Atmosphere works by changing the way we perceive our system with alteration of the RF in the room.

At this point, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

First, we have this alleged problem that Denney ‘observes,’ so he theorizes a solution that he ‘feels’ will solve the problem. Nothing about measuring what’s going on so maybe we can understand it. Not even a hint at how the radio frequencies are affecting the sound. I couldn’t help but comment because I had never head of this problem before. I wanted to know about how radio frequencies in the air around us sours how we hear music. I wanted to know how pumping out ULF radio waves (between 3 Hz and 30 Hz) can somehow sweeten ambient radio waves ranging from VLF to EHF radio waves (3 kHz to 300 GHz). One commenter asked about the strength of the frequencies generated by the device and possible health effects. Another commenter asked how the different settings varied the frequencies the device generated. And so on. The author had no answers for any of the questions. He even revealed that he received no documentation with the device! You’d think a reviewer would press the manufacturer for more than this vapid double-talk. A good reviewer would.

Frankly, it wasn’t a review. It was a glorified press release or perhaps an opinion piece, if you’re generous. I wrote the editor of the site, aghast that such a ‘review’ could be published. I thought perhaps the author posted the review without the editor seeing it. I received a reply from the editor very quickly. He thanked me for my message, but stated that since he posted the review, our opinions obviously differ. Fair enough. Now I will be far more critical of what I read on his site, if I continue.

Things got interesting in the comments. Denney posted some replies. He said that the power levels and the frequencies are so low, they are below levels that require governmental regulation. He went on to state something that piqued my curiosity:

As to signal neutrality or remaining true to the recorded event our internal research shows that all systems and indeed the listening experience are always affected by radio frequencies whether you use Atmosphere, or not.

Internal research! Now we’re talking. I asked if he was planning on releasing this research, or if he could direct me to other freely available research on how radio frequencies affect our audio gear and/or our hearing. I’m still not entirely sure if he’s claiming ambient radio frequencies affect audio equipment or the way we perceive the sound.

He didn’t reply to me, but he replied to others about things they said, so I asked again. Later, he stated (not in reply to me) that those interested in technical information about how the Atmosphere works will find it on their Facebook page. Of course I went! Besides links to the AudioStream review, there were two videos in which a guy from AVShowrooms demos the Atmosphere with Denney. It was a video version of the AudioStream review. No technical information at all. So I posted again stating that I must be missing something because I watched the videos but there isn’t any technical information in them, or anywhere else on the Synergistic Research Facebook page. I’m not expecting a reply.

In the meantime, someone else posted a comment on AudioStream stating that Google has links to research similar to what I was requesting, but they wouldn’t be specific because they were respecting the company’s choice to remain silent. Wow, I thought, nice community of readers here.

As I looked at the first page of my Google search, I stopped and wondered what the hell I was doing. I am intensely sceptical of the Synergistic Research device. The descriptions of the problem it solves and how it works are very vague, heavy on conjecture and feelings, and entirely devoid of specifics. Further, the basic unit will set you back $2250 USD! Although I am sceptical, I’m open to hearing the details about the problem and the solution Atmosphere offers. If I’m willing to be convinced, why the hell am I doing all the work? Most companies fall all over themselves to try to make a sale. Why does Denney remain tight-lipped about this internal research when customer understanding would only help sales? Even if he doesn’t want to spill about how the product works, does even the problem have to remain a secret?

I can’t help but feel that the product probably does indeed change the sound, but it has nothing to do with this alleged problem. I wouldn’t even be surprised to learn it has nothing to do with ULF signals. I don’t know what it does, but I suspect it’s a sham. It certainly fits with all the vagueness and secrecy.

Earlier in this adventure, I went to the Synergistic Research site so see what they have to offer in the way of information about the Atmosphere. There’s nothing at all because the product hasn’t been released. The only mention of it is in a press release. I wandered around a bit so see what else they sell.

Their flagship cable product is the Galileo. At least I think it is as their website gives no indication of a product hierarchy. The Galileo series has interconnects, speaker cables, and a USB cable. A USB cable? Yes, many people find it convenient to connect their computers directly to their DAC with a USB cable. I do this myself. So how much is it? It’s $2000 for a one metre length. Coincidentally, Steve Plaskin did a AudioStream review of it. Check it out. All 2312 words and there’s not a single measurement. Just option, like this:

While the Galileo is not a “warm sounding” cable, it is harmonically rich and relaxed to allow the listener to feel that the music is real and has “soul”.

The Galileo USB cable mentioned earlier is a bargain compared to the 1 metre Galileo RCA interconnects, which cost $7500 USD according to The Cable Company.

But this type of description is not limited to Steve Plaskin. Compared to the Synergistic Research site, he’s a rank amateur. This is Synergistic Research’s description of what it calls quantum tunnelling:

Quantum Tunneling is a process that changes the way a cable conducts signal at the subatomic level, affecting the entire cable assembly: connectors (RCA, XLR, spade, or banana), solder joints, dielectric, and signal & ground conductors are all transformed and integrated as a single unit. By applying a two million volt signal to a cable at a specific pulse modulation, and ultra high frequency for an exact duration of time, we transform the entire cable at a molecular level through a process we call Quantum Tunneling. This process is performed on all TESLA Series cables, from Galileo Basik Strings and Au 79 and Magnetic Tricon to Apex, and can be applied to models not Quantum Tunneled for an additional charge. The before and after is startling, with a lower noise floor and improvements in inner detail, air, low frequency extension, and overall transparency and signal speed.

The problem is that quantum tunnelling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon discovered long before Synergistic Research came into being, and means nothing remotely similar to their cable ‘treatment.’ I suspect they use the name because it sounds cool, so few people know what it means, and fewer still will look it up.

What really gets me is that they tout the extreme accuracy of their cables, yet they have sockets for tiny modules they call bullets. Change the bullet and you can tailor the sound to your taste. One wonders how a cable can be extremely accurate if you can so easily change the sound. If you’re changing the sound, the signal you get out of one end isn’t the same as the signal you put into the other. You may like the change, but it’s a change, and therefore the cable is not remotely accurate.

But what do I know. This is my opinion while they have the super-secret internal research to prove it all.

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9 Comments

  1. Brad

    Rick,

    Are these the same people who sell green markers which you use around the edge of your CD collection to improve the sound?

  2. Vintageaudioguy

    Rick, your critique is intelligent. Problem: consumers of esoteric audio shit aren’t. So why do guys like you and I waste our time debunking these scams? (Check out my response to this Synergistic crap before they delete it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMb0AWJTdwY.) And that’s me being polite in the hope that some poor sap is persuaded to hold onto his $2.5K, because if I came down hard on this alleged “Lead Designer” I’d get shot down by the very ignoramuses I’m trying to help. Some bafoon from Stereophile praised this piece of shit “product” and acolytes follow him like lemmings over the “audiophile” cliff. I swear these reviewers are either completely delusional or colluding with the scammers for kickbacks. Why do I even care?! As a retired audio engineer it kills me that people think they can “hear” cables and tonearms and equipment shelves. It’s virtually schizophrenic!

  3. Brian

    Steve Plaskin has a history of hooking up with manufacturers to provide glowing reviews of their products. Google Steve Plaskin and Wavelength Audio and you’ll see what I mean. For years Plaskin heralded the Wavelength USB DACs as SOTA. Years ago I made the mistake of drinking the Kool-Aid and purchased a couple of useless Wavelength USB DACs . Where is Wavelength now?

    Ted Denney, chief designer at SR is not afraid to try new things. Not all of them stick but SR’s high end Element CTS cables are terrific cables. I’m going to audition their new Atmosphere speaker and interconnect cables as I’m told they’re better than Element CTS cables.

    • Rick

      We seem to have a basic disagreement, Brian. I have no doubt that Denney is not afraid to try new things. I contend that none need to ‘stick’ if he would offer more than fancy made-up buzzwords as the only evidence of his products being worthy of notice. When a manufacturer of something game-changing offers no evidence to show that their product makes a real difference, or even that the problem they claim to solve is real, I become skeptical. Denney shows his true colours when he claims that anyone who wants measurements is a terrorist. Such a claim makes me wonder why he’s so afraid of facts. Perhaps they don’t show his products to be what he claims they are?

      If you like his cables, I’m glad you’re happy with your purchase. I just feel that he’s a master marketer and you could get the same great sound for far less money elsewhere. All that flowery rhetoric and slick presentation doesn’t come cheap.

      I don’t like Plaskin as a reviewer, but I think Denney’s products are a bigger affront.

      And by the way? The Atmosphere isn’t a speaker…which you’d know if you read the post to which you’re replying.

  4. Richard

    “And by the way? The Atmosphere isn’t a speaker…which you’d know if you read the post to which you’re replying”

    Perhaps if you had read Brian’s post you would have comprehended that their are Atmosphere cables, interconnect AND speaker (cables) too.

    • Rick

      Brian said “Atmosphere speaker and interconnect cables.” There is no Atmosphere speaker that I’m aware of. If he was mistaken, thinking there is an Atmosphere speaker, or meaning speaker cable when he said speaker, my comprehension is not the problem.

  5. Jim

    I am in agreement that SR is complete BS…Ted can’t “prove” a single thing, everything and I do mean everything is pitched by him with ZERO hard paper to prove why and how. He also simply takes ideas that were established long ago such as Totm Speaker Beaks and changes the form and calls it imhis idea…also, show me where Ted Denny is a lead designer…he designed nothing, he has people in far off place that some do know about doing his work, he is NOT a designer he is a bullshit artist…I’ll go on step farther, I will and at any time, pull out a 40.00 interconnect I bout new for something basic, that has more pleasing sound than SR’s 2000.00 interconnect…some SR stuff sounds good, no argument, but any of you can build a cable in its equal for under 30.00! Period…SR is a scam people…

    • cengeb

      Where’s the “RESEARCH” part of Synergistic? QUANTUM!!! i think ted’s brain has been QUANTUMED, and it’s empty? The tunneling backfired, he got hit in the head with a million kV, makes him think he can tune a room with stupid pieces of metal crap! What’s more disturbing, he has found idiots to buy his crap! FTC needs to look into unsubstantiated BS claims with marketing BS

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