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I would like to re-open this discussion. I've heard that the Synchro-Mesh has been updated and improved, and older units can be returned for the update for relatively cheap. Empirical Audio often states that with the SM, the transport no longer matters, and one can get excellent sound quality from a common CDP with a digital out when playing through the SM. If you have direct experience with this setup, please share with the rest of us! Thanks, Peter
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Older version can become new version for $100-200 depending on options.
I have been using the SynchroMesh for a couple of years now and the improvement in sound quality is very obvious and very addictive! I used it in combination with several DACs, the best one being a NorthStar Design Model 192 modded for me by Empirical Audio over a decade ago, a truly remarkable unit, but also a Hypex DLCP DSP/DAC board, a Chord Mojo and the cheap Fiio D03K Taishan.
I feed the SM with the optical out of a Google ChromeCast Audio for Spotify @44.1kHz, a Minix Arm based linux system for Kodi to play locally stored stuff and stream from the web, a Rega Saturn CD player, a basic Samsung 4K blu-ray player, a TV-decoder/recorder and the optical out of my Samsung TV. The audio signals coming from video sources are routed through a 4 channel digital delay box (Kramer Tools VA-680D) which adds horrendous amounts of jitter but remains bit-perfect.
After going through the SM, it is basically impossible to tell the sources apart, except for the ones with lower bit rates and the TV which imperfectly up-samples all audio data to 48kHz as did most of the devices running Android that I don’t use anymore for this reason. The input toggle on the SM to select between optical and coax is very handy. As my high-end CD player which cost more than 20 times as much as the basic blu-ray player sounds the same as the latter after the SM, I no longer use it. It simply cannot compete with the SM as a digital source and by a big margin.
How does it sound?
Well, the SM up-samples everything to 96kHz 24bit without introducing any audible artifacts and presents this high rate data with extremely low jitter to the DAC (digital receiver) which can then really shine. Why DACs are so sensitive to incoming jitter at so low levels beats me, especially if you hear all the marketing arguments and technology acronyms telling you the opposite, but it is easy to figure it out for oneself by just hooking up a SM right before the DAC. Bass gets tight, sibillants disappear, instruments can be localized precisely in the sound stage with lots of air and ambiance information around them. Sounds get density and texture, minute details are revealed and I find that there is a sort of “you are there” feeling that really gets you involved into recorded music.
It is remarkable that even the cheapest (and often simplest) DACs get a real performance boost, not by changing the frequency response, but by presenting the recorded information in a much more organic and comprehensible way to our brain. Of course, S/N ratio, crosstalk, distortion, output impedance, etc. will limit the enjoyment you get out of a cheaper device. I was particularly surprised by the transformative effect of lower jitter on the DLCP (it seems to apply the recovered incoming clock signal to the DACs after DSP processing). It makes my active LXmini+2 loudspeakers stand out even more in our living room.
Earlier SM versions can be upgraded to the latest enhancements that Empirical Audio made and which are readily included in new units (Steve has visibly been very active over the last months) and gives us access to a source with jitter levels as low as 7 ps (I cannot of course verify this by myself), which is a truly revelatory experience.
Add the new reference digital coax cable in the chain and this low jitter will be brought as close as possible to the DAC chip. The sound is out of this world. The associated Dynamo power supply makes sounds even more lifelike and refined.
This performance level and being able to watch live music events or movies on TV with the audio part routed through the same SM and DAC as I use for critical listening of CDs, blu-rays and high res streaming is really ticking a lot of boxes for me.
Happy listening, /patrick