Synergistic Research ECT

Many years ago, I'm going to say about 20, a fellow named Michael Greene came out with a rack that purported to improve performance by clamping components between the shelves. Preposterous, I thought, and wrote a letter to the editor telling him so and asking to please not waste my valuable time with such nonsense. A letter I soon came to deeply regret. Because within a year I had heard for myself what vibration control can do. Today the value of vibration control is (or should be) clear to all audiophiles.

So that's Preface Part One: Don't knock it if you haven't tried it.

Preface Part Two: Don't be so sure its not there just because you can't hear it. Learning to recognize and describe what you are hearing ain't necessarily easy. I used to drag my wife along to audition CD players, because I wasn't entirely sure myself if what I was hearing was there or in my head. When time after time she said, "yeah it sounds better, I can't say how or why but this one definitely sounds better" I knew it was for real. Now I'm able to hear in a flash what I used to agonize interminably over. But it did take time. And effort.

And so with that out of the way and everyone understanding this review is for those who either have the listening skills or at least would like to develop them, my recent experience with the Synergistic Research ECT.

Now according to Synergistic, and a ton of reviews, these things work pretty much everywhere. Well, to a guy like me, them's fightin' words! Nobody ever said anything about using them on a turntable motor. So that's right where the first one went. Right onto the top of my Teres Audio rim drive Verus motor. Just stuck the thing on there. Its not gonna work. No way it can work. On a motor? No way. Waste of time. Sat back down and... what the.... dang... seriously? Its on the bleedin' motor! How's that work?? BS! Witchcraft! Got up and removed it. Uh, no, bad idea. Put it back. Ahh. Much better.

With the ECT stuck on the motor everything in the soundstage took on a more palpable reality. There was a greater sense of depth, and air or space around each source. Not wider or higher, nothing moved around from where it had been. When I say greater depth, its not like anything moved closer or further away. The feeling of depth is hard to describe. A lot of it comes from a greater sense of being more immersed in the recording space. Bigger recording space, bigger room, greater depth. Something like that. Removed, the presentation went flat and grainy. Funny, never seemed there was any grain or etch before. One New York minute with ECT and remove them though, yeah, there's grain. Stick that thing back on there. Inner detail. Sense of ease. All better now.

That's just one. On the one place nobody said they would work. What about where they ARE supposed to work? I stuck one close to the base in front of the D101 power supply tube on my Melody Integrated. OMG, here we go again! Same thing. Here I also noticed improved dynamics and a lower noise floor. Heard this with the one on the motor too, and its hard to say which location had the greatest effect on which. I guess, to be really systematic about it, you could move one around trying a dozen different spots, looking for the biggest effect. Actually did that a long time ago with a Shakti Stone. Overpriced waste of money, that. Not so these. When something works this good, you just want more.

But first, I did of course try removing it. Just to be sure. Still hard to believe. Putting it back, this time I placed it behind the tube. Same result. What about transformers? The power transformer on the Melody is big and heavy, and encased in some sort of shiny black stuff, plastic or whatever I don't know. For sure there is no way a tiny little dot of aluminum (for the record, I have no clue what its made of) gonna have any effect on something that big and massive. Only, it did. Same. Exact. Results.


For those keeping score at home that's 3 ECT's deployed. They come 5 to a box. Only used about half, already happy. Which gets us to, what's it worth? My longstanding Gold Standard for tweaks is Black Diamond Racing Cones. At $20 each and needing 3 per component they coincidentally come in at the same $60 per ECT. Comparing apples to oranges I would say one ECT comes very close to three Cones. Not quite there. But close. Considering nothing I've ever heard comes close to BDR for the money that's pretty high praise indeed.
Had a chance last night to try out the HFTs. Anyone coming in late may want to take a minute, scroll up, and read my OP. There's a whole lot compressed into that one early sentence, "within a year I had heard for myself what vibration control can do."

Way back then I was totally dismissive of pretty much any sort of tweak beyond wire gauge and speaker placement. Then, gradually, I tried a few things that were free and easy. To prove how bogus it all was. Left my amp on all the time just to prove it didn't sound any better. See? It doesn't! Until one day it got turned off and when I turned it back on again it sounded noticeably worse. Until it warmed up. Dang.

But surely pointy cones was all pinhead talk. Not about to waste time or money on any of that! Until someone said oh yeah even something like a phone book helps. WTF? But phone books back then were thick and everywhere so what've I got to lose? Sure enough. Wasn't much. Barely noticeable. But it was there.

Then the best component of any sort I had ever bought, the McCormack DNA-1 amp came with this one pointy little spike in the box. Oh no! Not him too! But it was there so... and sure enough, and a lot better than a phone book!

Next thing, as luck would have it, I stumbled onto this madman totally flipped out stark raving crazy in love with something called a Black Diamond Racing Cone. Nothing, anywhere, could touch any of the BDR stuff- a fact I personally proved by becoming a small-time dealer and taking the stuff to do demos in-home and at audio clubs using it under literally hundreds of different components in all kinds of systems.

One result, I became extremely adept at being able to hear all sorts of micro-details in all kinds of components in all kinds of systems and across an unbelievable range of listening conditions. Components stacked one atop the other? Birds nest of interconnects? Kitchen in listening room? Car in parking lot? Front door open? Barking dog? Crying kid? No problem!

This is all by way of the traditional review writing technique of telling (hopefully) interesting little anecdotal stories that stroke the writers ego while (again, hopefully) providing a little marginally useful information to the reader. Its a reference. There's a continuum. At the one end the phone book. At the other the Herron VTPH 2A. Something like that.

So last night I place just one of my 10 new HFTs as close to the recommended center front wall location as my home theater screen will allow. Which I had my doubts as it was pretty close to the overhanging and padded screen frame. So I was hardly surprised when the result was underwhelming. But in no time flat it was moved down a few inches and wow, what a difference that few inches made!

Just one of these things wiped away a layer of grain, softened some edges while at the same time revealing fine inner detail, and improved image focus with more air or space, vocals in particular becoming more believably present. 

When you do something like that with just one, and it crosses your mind, "and I still have 9 more to go" let me tell you, it puts a smile on your face!

Even being a dedicated sound room there's still plenty of things preventing me from trying the exact SR recommended placements. I can't go quite as low or into the corners as they recommend. Can't go quite as high in the middle either. Even so....

The two mid-level corner HFTs provided another big improvement. Not quite as warm as the center one, but close. The two higher front wall side HFTs brought a surprising degree of shimmering life to cymbals, immediate touch to strings and incredible presence to vocals. And not by accenting highs or attacks like too many tweaks and components, but in a clean way like the way the air is clearer after a rain. 

Think of it, this is all by way of removing room resonances. Not in the crude way of acoustic panels but very selectively and at much higher frequencies. Never in my life would I have imagined my system was actually doing this all along, only the room and the air within it were preventing me from hearing it!

Just amazing stuff. One unexpected outcome, I found myself enjoying tracks like Bonnie Raitt's Cry On My Shoulder and the beautiful Nobody's Girl at volume a fair bit higher than I usually would. It dawned on me that with so much hardness removed listener fatigue was lower and I was free to enjoy it better that way! Totally unexpected!

The lower center one upped the ante yet again. This time in a way that kept everything before and then added to it a lovely inner warmth. Inner, not softening details, warm yet also revealing. Two things we seldom find together. I pretty much gave up at that point and just spent the rest of my limited time basking in the best ever.

And there's still 4 in the box!
"Preachin' to the choir."
David ...

I've always admired your relationship with your mother. You are a good son. 

On Benny Goodman ... he was instrumental in breaking the race barrier in the clubs. Adding Lionel Hampton to the group was a major undertaking back in the day. Benny used to tell the club owners: "If my Negro players have to use the back door to come into, or go out of the club, then the whole band will be using the back door." Nuff said on that subject. 

It really is an exciting time to be an audiophile and a music lover!
I do hope all on the Audiogon Forum get to hear some wonderful recorded or live music this weekend.

David Pritchard
How right you are, David!

For what seemed like forever we were stuck in the rut of only measurements matter. Budding audiophiles had mostly Stereo Review with their Julian Hirsch constantly pushing his only measurements matter mantra. This was so thoroughly the mainstream view that when J Gordon Holt first started publishing Stereophile it was taken as apostasy. A newsletter mimeographed off and passed around by a handful of followers, hardly the glossy marketing colossus we know today, but then as ever promulgating the view that everything matters, nothing sounds the same, and its your ears- not a meter - your ears and what you hear that really matters most.

This idea is so revolutionary that even today and even on so-called audiophile discussion groups like this one people object to the "rabbit hole" of wire, the inability of anyone to hear, its all in your head, double-blind yadda-yadda. 

Nevertheless, somehow the movement J Gordon Holt began rescued us from, first the hideous sounding low-distortion amps of the 1980's, and then the hideous sounding perfect sound forever CDs of the 1990's, followed quickly by (or concurrently with, but to stick with the decades theme) hideous sounding speaker wire and patch cords in the 2000's. And power cords. And power itself. And along the way the equipment rack, and shelf, and even the lowly feet the equipment rests on. The room! Everything!

The industry, slow and myopic, badly lagging, still pushes the big box gear of amps and speakers and "components" by which of course is meant everything except the components most capable of elevating a system from mediocrity to music: tweaks.

Or maybe they are just giving their customers what they want. For me at least it is a good 20 years since the do tweaks matter debate was well and truly settled. My sense from what I have seen though is this has sunk in to maybe a third of the people. Yes a lot more than a third are buying speaker cables, etc. I'm referring to the whole J Gordon Holt philosophy that the only meaningful measure is listening with your own ears.

Which is what I was doing last night. Rather than just throw up my last 4 HFTs I decided to spend a little time tweaking the locations of the 6 already deployed. These little buggers are so fascinatingly effective and responsive to placement I only managed to fool around with the two in the center.

You guys have been saying these things are so sensitive to placement that moving them even an inch makes a difference. Well, I didn't try one inch, but two to four, and yes it is definitely noticeable! 

But for anyone considering these (which you should be!) its not like they are fussy and require endless fiddling to sound good. Anywhere even remotely close to where they "should" be and they will work great. But it is absolutely fascinating the degree to which you are able to tweak the sound with a little fine-tuning.

With the center ones, moving just one up or down by an inch or so I hear an effect very similar in character and magnitude to the difference I heard between my McCormack DNA-1 amp and the Aronov LS960-I that replaced it. For those who don't know, the McCormack is an exceptionally fine sounding SS amp and the Aronov is an exceptionally fine sounding 6550 (or KT88) tube amp. Both are superb, not a lot of difference between them, but the McCormack does sound a bit like SS and the Aronov does sound a bit like tubes. So in other words for $50 you can in a few minutes perform magic tweaking your system from tube to SS and back again simply by shifting one of these little marvels on the wall.

Only, its quite a bit better than that. Most if not all solid state has to some degree or other this artifact, a very fine high frequency shimmer some have called MOSFET mist. I'm not a fan but a lot of guys love it, many mistaking it for detail, air, whatever. Anyway the point is with HFT its possible to tweak placement enough to get that detailed SS top end detail and dynamics but without the unwanted mist. I didn't like it at first because I associated that sound with the mist. But then moving it lower listening to the warmer slightly tubey sound I went back and eventually realized the top end was there like SS but without the annoying mist. 

I cannot think of a better tweak for anyone who loves their system but wishes it was just a little more this or a little less that. With a set of HFTs and a little trial and error you could easily tame and bring a degree of warmth to an overly aggressive analytical system, or conversely, liven up and bring out details in one that is overly warm. Still better of course to have bought stuff that put you where you wanted to be in the first place. But you run what you brung. Then later when you upgrade the offending piece, unlike everything else I can think of with HFTs you simply tweak placement again for the new gear and wala, you are back in business better than ever!

Would've made the most sense at this point to tweak the ones on the upper and lower left and right. Instead I got out the ladder and put one up on the ceiling. Same thing here. Same responsiveness to placement. 

This stuff to a listener is like crack cocaine to an addict. Any time you find yourself wishing for a little more, or a little less ... make it so.