Review: Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 SE Mk II AC filter
Synergistic Research is constantly pushing the envelope with innovative audio components and accessories that range from Vibratrons to quantum-tunneled cabling systems and USB DACs. It’s certainly an eclectic and unique mix of technology and talents within a single company, but if one’s objective is a musical experience that starts at engaging and rapidly heads towards suspension of disbelief, you’ve probably come to the right place.
Lead designer Ted Denney’s creations—from his Helmholtz acoustical resonators to unique power cords that one can adjust their timbre, soundstaging and voicing—have a certain gestalt to them, but characterizing it is not easy. Perhaps naturalness, in a rather general sense, comprising accuracy, authenticity and voicing, does justice to the combined effects of all these devices. One way or another, they all spring from Ted’s personal inspirations during his literal and figurative voyages through life. If you want to know what it all means, how it happened and why, ask Ted and he’ll tell you some rather interesting stories.
What’s especially refreshing is Synergistic’s open-minded use of technology, or rather, any and all kinds of different and unusual—in the context of audio— technologies, in the service of making the mechanical and electronic barriers between us and the transformative reality of music go away. Learned readers will recall the paradoxical expression from the Upanishads about using what isn’t real to get to what is: Technology (but not necessarily an obvious) can very well engender an emotive experience that’s far removed from the world of matter. Put it another way, if you believe that cables and mechanical amendments simply don’t matter, well, you’re probably not going to appreciate the approach that Synergistic is taking. You can, however, hear the results.
Tesla PowerCell 10 SE Mk II Power Conditioner
The jet-black acrylic Synergistic Tesla PowerCell sports ten flamingo-red outlets on the rear panel, along with a locking Neutrik 32 ampere PowerCon AC mains connector. Like the Tesla power cord family, the PowerCell follows the same theme of “active shielding” of the internals by a Galileo Mini Power Coupler or MPC. Although the case itself is devoid of switches or indictors, there is what appears to be a smaller version of a Enigma tuning “bullet” attached to the rear panel at a 90° angle; the blue LED inside lights up when the MPC is supplying 30 VDC to the PowerCell, regardless of whether the Synergistic SE Precision AC power cord is inserted into the wall or not. My listening experience suggests that leaving the PowerCell energized continuously will give the best performance.
As we’ll discuss in more detail a little later, like the other Tesla cables, the PowerCell’s SE power cord accepts either a silver, gray or black Enigma bullet which allows one to “voice” the PowerCell to one’s personal preferences. This is certainly a unique and useful feature, especially for a core component such as a power conditioner that cannot be readily swapped out for A-B listening tests.
Reviewing audio gear in isolation is an exercise fraught with some peril. Fortunately, the Synergistic PowerCell arrived after several months of listening to the liquid-conductor-version of the Audio Magic Oracle ($10,000; no power cord included, two are required) and Audience adeptResponse aR12-TS ($10,545 with the optional Au24 powerChord power cable upgrade) power conditioners. Both these products have considerable virtue, so how the considerably less expensive Tesla PowerCell ($5000, including a 5 ft the Synergistic Tesla SE Precision AC power cable, TeslaPlex SE, dual-lead MPC) would fare in comparison was of considerable interest.
After a few days of being powered-on, it was time for some serious listening. Sir Arthur Sullivan’s The Tempest Act IV overture, performed by the Kansas City Symphony, is one of Keith Johnson’s best recordings and captures an inspired performance (Reference Recordings HR-115 HRx, $45.00); it’s a great track for evaluating soundstaging and timbre, and especially useful for making sure that strings sound like the real thing. After an instant of listening, what became immediately apparent is how natural, and convincing the presentation was, compared even to the rather good results previously obtained with the Oracle and aR12-TS.
Firstly, you’ll hear a great deal more detail with the Tesla PowerCell, but without any sense of hype or edginess. The energetic violin section seems like it’s greatly expanded; at the same time, it radiates delicacy, softness and subtlety. There is a concert-hall-like (meaning high and wide) radiation of sound from the massed strings, while at the same time, the existence of individual instruments is also apparent, but with just the right (slight) emphasis compared to the other surrounding players in section. In one passage in the overture, a theme moves from the first and second violins to the violas, cellos and basses; this orchestral analogy to a “wave” comes through quite clearly, and the timbral variations between the instruments is beautifully rendered.
Turning to Marni Nixon’s All the Things You Are, also on Reference Recordings, with the Tesla PowerCell, the accompanying piano moved back into a more natural position, and despite the comparatively smaller volume of the recording studio, the soundstage height increased a great deal, the back wall widened, and reverb from the corners and side walls is more pronounced than with the other conditioners. Furthermore, it’s clear that the reverberations are definitely extensions of her voice, rather than some generic sonic residue bouncing back from the room boundaries.
Dynamics are much more refined, meaning that the moving nuances of musical expression are immediately apparent. Pace, delicacy, a sense that the vibrating air in the hall and the performers driving it are one comes through on many recordings. Decays seem to go on and on, and gradually fade away to an almost noise-free background that appears to be limited by the recording, rather than one’s gear. Overall, the Tesla PowerCell 10 SE Mk II delivered considerably better results than either the Oracle or Audience, and both of them are really rather good.
But now, things will get even more interesting.
MiG and BiG MiG Mechanical Interface Grounding devices
The Synergistic Research MiGs cast allusions, through the name and typographic conventions, to the expertise of Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau and its legendary MiG military aircraft. While Synergistic’s MiGs reflect some exotic design and materials, their purpose is entirely benign. They’re made from brightly-polished metal, and come in two sizes, medium and large. These devices, while essentially passive, interact in mysterious ways with electronics that apparently reduces or transforms mechanical vibrations in a way that greatly improves sonic performance.
Describing their shape is a little difficult, but essentially they are hemispherical, hollow inside, with a collar-like extension. The smaller units (about 4.2 cm x 2.8 cm) have more curvature, meaning they’ll slightly more pointed than the larger ones (4.8 cm x 2.8 cm), which have a gentler, dome-like shape in comparison. If you “ping” them with a metal striker, the little MiGs give off a complex, high-pitched ringing; and as one might expect, performing the same experiment with the Big MiGs gives off a lower-pitched tone.
Placing the Big MiGs under the PowerCell produced some startling results: Everything got even better! There’s no way that one would voluntarily retreat to a PowerCell sans MiGs. The most obvious change was a considerable increase in spaciousness, air, the width and depth of recordings, while images retained their natural dimensions. This is quite a trick, and one can adjust the nuances of the presentation to one’s tastes. In addition to greatly improving the overall sound quality, the MiGs allow one to voice it to taste, with a purely mechanical device costing $200.
The MiGs resemble little metal cups or bowls; they can be positioned tip-up or collar-up, and with a little experimentation, a wide range of effects can be achieved. The more MiGs pointing upwards, the greater the sense of space; the more that point down, increased coherence. Think of upwards as engendering more openness, light and air; downwards makes the presentation warmer, richer, darker, more humid, so to speak. In my system, two tip-up and one tip-down under the PowerCell is at present the best arrangement; three-up seems to introduce a little too much air or treble. What’s in the rest of your system, along with the acoustics of the listening space, will have a big say with respect to which arrangement sounds best.
Tesla SE Hologram A and D Power Cable, Galileo Mini Power Coupler, Enigma Active Shielding Tuning Circuit
The Synergistic Research power cables come in several models and configurations, each intended for a specific application. The Tesla SE Hologram A, for amps and preamps, uses “active”, meaning powered, shielding. The 30 V DC “juice” comes from the Galileo Mini Power Coupler or MPC. These cables are substantial in girth, but reasonably flexible. With a little gentle massaging, it’s possible to arrange them neatly behind the PowerCell. The conductors are primarily silver in various forms; each of the plugs and IEC connectors is 4 micron 24K gold over copper, which Synergistic believes contributes to the excellent soundstaging and high resolution.
And one may voice the cable using one’s choice of Enigma Active Shielding Tuning Circuits, a.k.a. “bullets”, each of which has a bright blue LED in its tip. Once the LED lights up, it shows that power is being supplied and that the tuning bullet is properly installed onto the cable. The tuners come in silver, gray and black, and each has a remarkable effect upon the overall sonic quality of the component attached to the power cord. Silver tends towards more openness, black is richer, darker and more coherent, while gray is somewhere in-between. The Tesla SE Hologram D, for digital gear, allows two bullets, so there are six possibilities for adjusting the sound.
Suffice it to say, analogies between the tuning bullets and MiG devices are entirely appropriate. It’s intriguing that adjusting the power cables with electrical circuitry can have a similar effect to using mechanical devices on components.
Unlike the “one size fits all” approach of most power conditioners and cabling systems, Synergistic Research puts the listener first. The emphasis on enabling a rich “consumer experience” sets these products apart, both in terms of their appearance, operation and, of course, performance.
And the base price of the Tesla PowerCell, $5000 with a tunable power cord and accessories, gives one pause. Of course, isn’t this what innovation is all about? Much better, and half the price?
Synergistic is constantly improving their offerings, and shortly, the latest edition of the Tesla PowerCell SE, the Mk III, will be shipping. So, it will be quite interesting to hear how the latest version of an already outstanding product performs.
Manufacturer’s Web site
Pricing and general specifications
Tesla PowerCell 10 SE Mk II, $5000
Quantum Line Strip QLS 9, $399
Galileo Mini Power Coupler, $125
Tesla SE Hologram A power cable, 5 ft, $2600
Tesla SE Hologram D power cable, 5 ft, $2800
Tesla SE Precision AC power cable, 5 ft, $1800
Enigma Active Shielding Tuning Circuit (a.k.a. “bullets”), included with cables
MiG Mechanical Interface Grounding, $150 for 3 devices
BiG MiG, $200 for 3 devices
Review system details
Sources: Antelope Gold DAC with Voltikus power supply; MSB Technology Universal Media Transport, MSB Technology Signature Platinum DAC IV, Weiss DAC 202; Audiophilleo1 USB-S/PDIF transport-processor; Toshiba Qosmio laptop; HP HDX 18 laptop; Seagate 1.5 TB external digital media storage.
House clock: Grimm Audio CC-1 word clock.
Amplifiers: GTE Audio Trinity monoblocks; Technical Brain TBP-Zero version 2 monoblocks, Pass XA 200.5 monoblocks.
Speakers: Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P, Perfect8 The Point
Software: J. River Media Player 15.
Cables: AudioQuest Wildwood single bi-wire speaker cables, Stage III Magnus Prime full-range speaker cables; AudioQuest Sky, Silent Source Audio Music Reference, Stage II Magnus Prime analogue interconnects; WireWorld Cable Platinum Starlight, WireWorld Cable Gold Starlight, AudioQuest Eagle Eye, AudioQuest Raven S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital interconnects; WireWorld Cable Starlight, AudioQuest Carbon USB cables.
Room 1: 18’ deep, 12’ wide, 8’ to 11’ ceiling
Audio Magic Oracle