In-Depth Explanation of the Audio Term "Synergy"


Hello: I've read and heard the term "synergy" bandied about frequently since getting into audio. Just the other day, an audiophile friend of mine said in an email. "Regardless of gear brand, I feel synergy is the most important thing to try and achieve really." This term "synergy" gets thrown around often and very easily. Most often I've heard this term used in the phrase, "amplifier-speaker synergy is the most important element of an audio system." I've always felt that if you put together a system and it sounds good to you or sounds "right", you have a system with amp/speaker synergy. I also felt that if your amplifier works with your speakers as it is designed without straining, clipping, running too hot, remaining stable etc., and produces good sonics with your speakers, then you have achieved synergy between your amp and speakers. I do an awful lot of research on the internet for all things audio (much to my wife's chagrin) and I've read several articles that discuss synergy. None of the articles I've read give a definitive and in-depth explanation of what "synergy" between a power amplifier or integrated amplifier and the speakers connected to it actually entails. So, I'm asking other audiophiles: What does "synergy" between an amplifier and speakers actually entail? Does anyone really know, or is this just one of those generalities that audiophiles put out there? What elements are really involved when synergy exists between the amplifier and speakers? I've always been curious about this subject
foster_9
If you're looking for a long winded answer there may not be one. I think that everyone has their own definition. To me, it means nothing more than when I hear it system it sounds right. Like the components were meant to be together.
Ditto to what S7horton said. Only a couple of very general things to possibly elaborate on. The strengths and weaknesses should tend to compliment and cancel each other, to achieve meaningful synergy. For example, if you have an amplifier known to be slightly bright, it's probably best matched to speakers that are slightly warm, to get an overall semblance of neutrality to the sound, etc. Things like impedence matching, etc. also come into play. Several other Audiogon members are likely to be much more knowlegable about this than I am, but that's my very basic understanding of the term.
-Bill
A marriage of components that produce an exciting and involving listening experience with all the attributes that audiophiles seek. I agree with S7horton, not sure if a more indepth answer is necessary.
synergy can be 'a happy accident', the result of consumer trial and error, or the result of years of research and developement. two hi fi examples ofthe later....naim and mcintosh. one of the best reasons to scan audiogon before you buy is to see the feedback(positive and negative)in regard to component matching.
What most are describing is 'Complementary' not synergy. One component complements the other by making up for its partner's weakness or characteristics with its own weakness or characteristic.
Synergy is when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, which in a sense, for good equipment is an oxymoron!
Synergy is a very misused term in 'audiophilia' - most of the time people mean Complementary or 'compensates for'.
Bob P.
From dictionary.com, syn·er·gy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (snr-j)
n. pl. syn·er·gies
1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
2. Cooperative interaction among groups, especially among the acquired subsidiaries or merged parts of a corporation, that creates an enhanced combined effect.

Applied to audio, perhaps two (or more) components that do not reduce the potential of each component involved in the "system". Whether the sound of each component performing at full potential is the sound you are looking for is another matter entirely.
Bob
Bob, that really makes a lot of sense to me. Your statement,
"Applied to audio, perhaps two (or more) components that do not reduce the potential of each component involved in the "system"," I believe nails a large part of what "synergy" entails. When you put it like that, my integrated is truly not synergistic with my speakers since I know the speakers are not producing anywhere near their potiential. And it's not my sources or cabling. Good perspective.
"Synergy is a very misused term in 'audiophilia' - most of the time people mean Complementary or 'compensates for'."
Bob P.
Bob P.,
I think you're right about that. I stand corrected.
I love the ideal of synergy! It really was the single word that got me to read more about audio and investigate the properties of that. Still, I dont know. I do believe it is true that "complementary" is not the same as synergy as a complete enity. It is perhaps an element though, and perhaps as a result of synergy. To me- in my endless misunderstanding of everything, synergy is really about the strengths of the individual components in union to create a certain quality and capacity. In a sense, I suppose you would have to have the vision to see these qualities in order to create the relationships between components and the design that would best present them. It is not compensation, regardless, because synergy could result in very bad sonics, and does result even in careless hands and on many different levels. There are bones and flesh to this- a structure, and then there is you and your perception of it. Honestly, you could be very thoughtful and informed, could place components together that exulted each other strengths and produced this "sound"you have always dreamt about, and then you could change. An important element of synergy is lost when all the elements are not related anymore.
Things go well together.
i have a more technical explanation.

there are three conditions for synergy:

1)components must perform within the limits of manufacturers specifications

2) a component cannot prevent another component from realizing its potential

3) a stereo system is in balance, i.e., no emphasis upon an part of the frequency spectrum

system synergy does not assure that you will like the sound of a stereo system.

here are 2 examples of the absence of synergy due to component interactions.

consider a tube preamp and solid state amp. if the output impedance of preamp is high and amplifier input impedance is less than say 50,000 ohms, there will be an imbalance in the stereo system.

consider a speaker producing a 2 ohm load driven by an amplifier which requires at least a 4 ohm load. again, the stereo system will be out of balance and the amplifier may not function properly because of the demand it is incapable of handling.
Mrtennis, that is not synergy, but again complementary or balanced. An example of synergy and also why I say that synergy is mostly misused in 'audiophilia' is, when a preamp boasts 0.01% H distortion and its mating amp boasts 0.01% distortion, but if we measure the total distortion of the preamp-amp system we come up with LESS THAN 0.01%, instead of the expected 0.02% distortion. This rarely happens (in fact it never happens). It is possible, however, that the preamp-amp combination sounds better than what we might expect from having tested each separately for sound. The whole exceeds the sum of the parts!
Bob P.
interesting thought bob p, but the issue of your example is your statement that the preamp and amp combination sound better than expected. that is subjective, since "better" is a matter of opinion.

my approach is objective. also if in most cases the whole does not exceed the sum of its parts, there is no synergy in most cases.

i suppose, if synergy means "i like the sound", then your idea makes a lot of sense. but if synergy occurs in those instances when the whole equals the sum of its parts, there needs to be another explanation.

i guess, after all, there is no definitive answer, because the concept itself is philosophical.
I can see the definition of synergy as it relates to audio from both an Objectivist and Subjectivist point of view. As I use the term in the audio hobby, I am usually using the Subjectivist approach as Bob P. defined it, since mixing and matching components and accessories is as much art as it is science (perhaps more so), and in my experience, the true magic happens in the artful matching of components.

I started out with the scientific method, and it proved to be unsatisfactory. The most satisfying meals are created by preparing a dish once "by the book", and then adjusting the recipe to taste.
A fat wallet, a good salesman and an insane upgrade urge all together is great synergy.
Yes Tvad, but is the meal considered to be a 'synergistic' accomplishment? Not usually, but usually defined or caracterised as 'cuisine' or just good chemistry.
Again, I submit that 'synergy' does not exist in audio systems, i.e. there cannot be a system that is greater than the sum of its parts. There can exist, however, a system where the combination of parts adds up to a more satisfying system than any one of the parts would leave one to expect - sort of the 'zero-sum' concept, when one deficiency is cancelled out by another's deficiency. But that is not synergy.
Bob P.
Mrtennis -
if any misunderstanding of the term of synergy is to be had, Ill go with yours. Your 3 examples seem about right to me.
It may be semantics, but I agree with inpepinnovations that a system cannot be more than the sum of its parts, but I would argue that many a system actually ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It's this "negative synergy" that experienced audiophiles are looking to minimize. There's nothing magical to it, it's the usual suspects of impedance/gain matching, attention paid to grouding, speaker/room loading, mechanical resonance elmination, etc. You try not to have the same problem in multiple components.
I see this discussion is going the direction of wire threads.

Synergy absolutely exists in cooking. Garlic, olive oil, linguini and
parmesan cheese taken separately are OK. In fact, toasted garlic on it's
own may not be to many people's liking. But, put them together, and the
flavor that is created is better than the sum of the individual ingredients.

I can place three different power cords into my system and hear Sound
A. I can then re-arrange them, and Sound B will be better to my ears.
This says synergy to me. Same elements. Different arrangement. It might
be argued that Sound A is less than the sum of its parts, and Sound B is
equal to the sum of its parts. To me, it doesn't matter. The point is that
the combination that creates Sound B is more synergistic than the
combination that results in Sound A.

Now, Sound B may be a result of some electrical action when the cords
are working in concert with their specific component, but since no one
can satisfactorily explain why some power cords sound better than
others, then I will submit that the ideal match cannot be arrived at
through simply matching numbers. Listening is required, and since
everyone's taste in audio is different...the art created will differ from
person to person even though they are all using the same tools.

Good art is better than the sum of its parts, and therefore good art is
synergistic whether it's painting, cooking or assembling an audio
system.

IMO.

:)
It appears that indeed this is turning into a discussion of semantics. BTW, what does semantics mean? The answer to that question will explain why I say that the use of 'synergistic' to describe certain characteristics of an audio system is the wrong use of that word.
With respect,
Bob P.
Bob, I am going by your definition of synergy as expressed here:
Again, I submit that 'synergy' does not exist in audio systems, i.e. there cannot be a system that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Using your definition of synergy, i.e. a result greater than the sum of its parts, I respectfully disagree with your opinion as it relates to audio...and to food.

Kumbaya...
Tvad explains it exactly as I see it - and you can even go beyond great food and great stereos to great orchestras, great paintings, great speeches, great cars, great houses, great landscapes, great music, great etc. It is what differentiates the "great" from the "good."
ggentlemen:

i think i have it. synergy in audio system is cooperation among the components of an audio system producing a sound, which you the listener likes.

thus if you and i are listening to the same stereo system, we might disagree as to whether synergy exists.

i guess in the final analysis it's more important to enjoy music when listening to a recording than to be concerned about system synergy.
Sure, we shouldn't forget everything is relative.
i guess in the final analysis it's more important to enjoy music when listening to a recording than to be concerned about system synergy.
Mrtennis  (Threads | Answers)
I believe system synergy enhances one's enjoyment of the music.

However, synergy is in the ear of the beholder, and what one person thinks is synergistic may not appeal to another person hearing the same system.

It's why factions exist in the high end audio hobby.
i think i have it. synergy in audio system is cooperation among the components of an audio system producing a sound, which you the listener likes.

thus if you and i are listening to the same stereo system, we might disagree as to whether synergy exists.
Point, game, match...to Mr.Tennis.

However, synergy is in the ear of the beholder, and what one person thinks is synergistic may not appeal to another person hearing the same system.

And to his doubles partner, Tvad.
I thought that we were discussing what synergy means and how that applies to audio systems, not that people misuse the term 'synergism' to mean something else, such as 'perfect', 'I love it and it pleases me', 'great sound' or 'better sound than when I had other equipment combinations'! Perhaps I am being too literal or 'objective' in my use of terms.
Respectfully,
Bob P.
"synergy in audio system is cooperation among the components of an audio system" - since when did electro/mechanical objects develop the ability to cooperate (or not)? It seems to me that some people really like bringing a fantastical element to want is essentially applied engineering.

My man Bucky says it best!

"Synergy means behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately" from Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking by R. Buckminster Fuller

You just cannot argue with the man who "invented" the concept!

And to Mrtennis: It sounds more like Asimov's Laws of Robotics (but I like your thinking!). Maybe Mrtennis' Laws of Audio? :)

Couldnt the wrong use of the word synergy be the synergistic product of a certain kind of thread?
Me doubts that Fuller 'invented' the concept of 'synergy', since synergy isn't a concept but a word with a definition.
His definition, as used in math, is closer to the chaos and unpredictability ideas than synergy. At any rate, Fuller's use of 'synergy' certainly doesn't fit any audiophile's misuse of the word!
Bob P.

Me doubts that Fuller 'invented' the concept of 'synergy', since synergy isn't a concept but a word with a definition.
Sorry! I should have said popularized. Synergetics is his concept (and a word).

His definition, as used in math, is closer to the chaos and unpredictability ideas than synergy.
Aah! But it is not limited to math. Besides, what is our hobby/profession but unpredictable and chaotic? ;)

At any rate, Fuller's use of 'synergy' certainly doesn't fit any audiophile's misuse of the word!
Agreed!