System synergies: Chaotic or predictable?

When speaking of system "synergies", do you consider these to be chaotic? or are they a predictable sum of the character of the components?  I'm surprised at people who think they can predict the sound of a system from their perceptions of the components (derived, in turn, from other system combinations), and even more surprised and suspicious of the 'tone control' approach to purchasing cables and amplifiers suggested by another forum member (who does happen to be a dealer). 

I think these two views are contradictory. If we think that components have 'magical' synergies beyond our ability to measure, then it seems unlikely that we also can predict how combinations of components will sound.

Well its a lot more predictable than chaotic, at least in the sense you combine a bunch of lean, analytical sounding components together if there was chaos then it would at least every once in a while sound pretty good. Instead of always sounding just as predictably lean and analytical as you would expect.

This has always been true and so to me "synergy" has always been something reserved more for things like speakers and amps or cartridges and phono stages, you know things that actually interact. As opposed to something like a power cord or speaker cable or interconnect that is going to sound the same no matter what system you put it in.

That last one of course will trigger the usual suspects. As intended. Because they ought well to be triggered. As the first step in disabusing themselves of such nonsensical notions. Which they ought well to do, for their own good if not out of consideration for all those they might lead astray.

You are right to be suspicious of the tone control or what I like to call band-aid approach to system "matching". This is as popular as it is self-defeating. 

Every good power cord, interconnect, speaker cable, amp, phono stage, turntable, cartridge, you name it, that sounds really good in my system has also sounded really good everywhere else its been tried. Well, duh! That's because they're good! The crap that's not good, of course its only gonna be tolerable in certain setups- ones complimentarily flawed!

That doesn't make it "good" and neither is it "synergy" its just one set of flaws sort of compensating for another.
Sorry Millercarbon but totally disagree with you on if it is good here it will be good elsewhere.

On one demo we compared AQ cables from the Fire, Wind, Water series vs the comparable models from Wireworld, Platinum, Gold and Silver Eclipse, and the differences between the two cable lines was very audible as families of sound with discernable differences between models on the same system. 

These differences were heard by two different clients who were at the shop as well as by us and no one was there for a cable demo. 

In terms of things that interact all things interact, yes there are things that sound good in all systems, we do recommend both Isotek or Audio Magic power conditioners and we have tested many different ones, vs Audience, Running Springs, AQ, Shunyata, and Synergistic to name a few and they all did differnt things and brought out different strengths and weakness.

We have found that amplifier can totally change the sound of a set of speakers, same with digital, cables etc. 

Synergies are figured out by most dealers by trying diffent combinations of products until they come up with a system that they feel is really good.

Over the years there have been tons of combinations that dealers figured out worked together, the Ayre, Vandersteen, AQ system, the Spectral, Mit, Avalon setups of the 90's. For us the Paradigm Persona T+A combo.

So yes it is chaotic up to a point when you listen to gear and compare different products you will figure out what the family of sound is.

You have an Ifi DSD Pro the sound of that dac is warm and liquid no matter the filter, vs a Lumin or a Mytek dac which sounds cleaner and leaner.

So if you have a bright pair of speakers a warmer tube based dac is going to be a good match, vs a wamer speaker such as a Vandersteen or a Harbeth where brighter digital such as Mytek would be a better choice to compensate for that warmth that a speaker makes. 

The system that you eventually bought was a combination of components that you found that worked well synergistically.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

When I had a Classe preamp, I auditioned an Classe amp. The combination was great. That made me think that there can be an advantage to trying the preamp and amp from the same company.
Yes Mike but other times not the case. Many years ago at SBS the combination of a Cat preamplifier plus a Vac amplifier was the amazing pairing. The CAT amplifiers altough they were expensive didn’t have the drive that the VAC amplifiers did and the VAC Renissance amplifiers driving the Wilson WP 3/2 or the 5 was just magical.

So just because you have an expensive power amp and preamplifier combo from the same company doesn’t mean that combination will work wonders all the time.

Some of the worst systems were made up of the same companies amp, preamp and cd player and or dac. Sometimes those systems sounded great. The all Krell systems of the 90’s for example the Krell amp and preamps were good, but you could find a more magical front end with the EAD dacs or the Audio Notes coupled with the same Krell gear.

Why because sometimes too much of one companies sound is too much in one direction.

For example: a clean sounding solid state like a Krell or a Levinson of yore type of amplifier, combined with a clean sounding solid state preamplifier, plus a clean sounding transistor based digital front end, plus clean detailed loudspeakers with metal or ribbon tweeters, the sound of that system will not be involving, you will hear everything but without any sense of warmth or body to the sound.

So in this scenario you would want to revoice the system with perhaps a warmer tube preamplifer, or a warmer tube or tube like digital front end.

Sometimes the combination of a companies amp and preamplifier does indeed sound better, Luxman and Luxman works well, T+A amp and preamp works well for example

We sold Bryston the 4B sst 2 series the last ones, and the Bryston amp plus the Bryston preamp the BP 26 was awful, howerver, change the Bryston preamplifier to a Conrad Johnson and the combo was magical as the Bryston power amplifer was clean, punchy, and had great bass control and when warmed up with a tube preamplifier the sound became much more involving.

We have sold BAT tube preamplifiers with Krell and Chord amplifiers and again that combo was great, same with a CJ GAT preamp and a Chord power amplifier.

So you actually have to audition the companies preamp and amplifier together with your intended speakers and then try a different preamplifier such as a tube CJ, or Backert, etc and see if the combination works wonders.

We have a Manley Labs 300B preamplifier and boy does that preamplifier make many a solid state amplifier sound fantastic, we have sold that preamplifier with the Electrcompaniet AW 250 and the sound is far superior than the matching Electrocomapniet preamplifier.

So the moral of the story is that you have to play and experiement until the system sounds the way you want it to. This does require more work but usally you will be rewarded with a much more captivating sound system.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

"Chaotic" is a poor descriptor, imo inappropriately applied to audio systems.  HiFi is not regimented like an army drill Corp, but neither is it a riotous mob. Lines form well at most venues predictably,  and audio systems are the same. When you work with gear enough and build hundreds of systems you know generally how it will sound. Much of it is dictated by the type of speaker and amplifier.  

The question was, can a person know how an unfamiliar system will sound? My answer is yes, if the listener has enough e perience,, and not in an absolute way, but generally. I does leave room for a surprise,  but seldom.
My answer may have been too widely applied, so I will narrow it down. Having built many systems with particular components and cables, they do carry a sonic signature, and typically perform similarly in all rigs. That is so consistent that, knowing the sonic character of the cabling I use I can select which cables to put into a system to change the sound as I wish. That cannot be done by someone who is unfamiliar with the components and cables. 

I don't know that anyone makes suggestions in an absolute sense as though their recommendation could not be "wrong" or unsatisfactory. It's based on the experience with the component they are recommending. If they have used it in one system, that's a pretty weak recommendation. If they have used it in a doze rigs, that's a much stronger recommendation. It does not address the uncertainty of comparison to another, unknown product, but it does lend more expectation as to the performance of the particular recommended component. 
Further, the speakers in my experience control the most profound aspects of a system's performance, and the rest of the components and cables the more intermediate aspects. There can be dozens of appreciable changes to a rig by swapping components and cables, and no one can with absolute certainty predict them. However, as discussed above, one can have a pretty good guess as to how to move the rig closer to a desired result IF the component or cable is well-known. 

Controlled chaos. You’re lucky anything comes out. The sound of YouTube on iPad with Sony earphones is generally better. 
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In the world of audio the term "synergy" often seems magical like no one could have seen it coming.  But where do you draw the line between magical synergy and just reasonable component pairing looking at factors such as gain, pre & amp impedance matching, using more sensitive/easier to drive speakers with tubes etc?  
Three easy pieces 

It is really simple select the speakers first based on physical size, finish, spl desired, bass output, efficiency, price.

Then select electronics to go with speakers some speakers are great with tubes usually horns, some speakers require massive current ie big solid state.

Then digital to flavor system some dacs are bright others are warm.

Cables are then auditioned to bring out what you are looking to compliment.

Cables have a sound or highlight certain freq. 

Simple really the issue is the myriad of choices and combos possible.

Sometimes you have to audition a lot of combos before you strike gold.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor

That is precisely my point.  You've described sensible approach to system matching.  Using sensible parameters and approaches seems neither chaotic nor somehow imparting magical synergy - it's simply sensible.
I agree that is an eminently sensible approach to start with the speakers.  The "striking gold" part is inconsistent, however, with the rest, which was the point of the OP.

I know this isn't the forum where people want to discuss this, but the frequency response of your cables better be flat, or your cable is defective.  Fortunately most are, to a nearly perfect null test with one another.
That's why all my electronics are from the same manufacturer.
Ahofer most cables are measured for   inductance, resistance and capacitance. 

However the sonic differences between cables is much more than their electrical differences. 

Many things in audio have not been correlated just by measurements alone  

If you listen to a Kubala Sosna cables vs an Audioquest vs a Nordost vs a Wireworld you will all hear differences that are not really tied to their electrical properties alone.  

We have sold all of these brands and each had a distinctly different sonic signature for this reason you have to try different cables in your own system.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor 
Troy, Yes, sometimes great results are by mixing manufacturers. Still, I’m surprised at how many don’t even try the matching gear, which at least the designer thinks are good together.

BTW, I heard the BP26 and 4BSST2 combination you didn’t like, and in local demo with BDA and Aerial 7t, it sounded great to my ears. Room? Speakers? Ears? Wires? Taste? Who knows?

Mike look at the high frequency graph of the Aeriel 7T and you will see it dips at many freqencies above 10k the speaker is shelved in the top end the Bryston/Bryston combo therefore would sound pleasing. 

On a brighter speaker the Brystons can sound a bit too sterile hence the use of a tube preamplifier.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
I'm not really interested in debating this here, because everyone is sick of it.  I just think the burden of proof is on proponents to show that they *sound* different when you don't know which cable is in the system - and I'm all ears for that. The opposite has been demonstrated enough times tp be a reasonable baseline expectation.  Therefore my prior is that expensive cables are the emperors without clothes (and a very high-margin emperor for dealers).  A null-test can easily show that two cables of vastly different price typically present exactly the same electrical signal at the input posts of the speaker.  Presented with exactly the same signal, Speakers should exhibit identical behavior or...we have a speaker problem.

I can say my system synergy is in part because of my years long reading, then my years long using the components I've owned and after listening...then listening again, trying to get the best out of those components. ( instead of trading) Of coarse the room must be referred to as a component.
Mhofer, this debate has been going on for a long time on these forums, you are free to believe whatever you wish to believe.

We have done many, many, live cable demos where just swapping a cable has made sometimes an enourmous sonic difference. 

The fact that the electrical difference between two cables is very slight, there are things going in in transmission that are not really quantified by just measurements.

We cite a very good example on the validity of emprical data.

Buy a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild  for $900 
Buy a bottle of Ripple $3 dollars 

Pour both one at a time into a gas Chromatigraph, get the results on a molecular level both wines are made out of exaclty the same organic compounds so why do they taste differently?

The computer shows scientifically they are the same, so how come taste doesn't work the same way?

Why the specimen of grapes, the age of the vines, the care in manufacturer. 

The real anwear is that cable designer start with ideas on what causes audible changes and then comes out with  a design.

If you think cables all sound the same listen to a pair of Nordot Vallhalas, and then listen to a set of Kubala Sosnas boy will you hear a difference.
Same system same components.

Now are cables worth their high prices different equation.

A 355/40/20 inch high performance tire costs $800 for a Pirelli P Zero what is the cost to make such a tire, probably around $100.00 basic ingredients in a tire some woven steel belts and rubber hadly expensive items. 

When we go on a tuning session we bring inteconnects, and power cables, power conditioning, footers, and other such devices, we took a gentleman's poor sounding pair of Kef Ref 5 sound better than a local audio stores $300k system all by the application of these principles and techniques. 

One power conditioner company years ago said that if power was like water your components would be drinking from a Toilet.

Is there a difference between ice cold, properly filtered mineral water and toilet water served at room temperature?  Same glass,  way different experience.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

just as an aside....I had P-zeros, replaced them with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S.....the way to go.
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Somewhat predictable.  Not chaotic.
Yes Kost just like John Atkinson Jason Serinius Doug Schneider and all the Absolute Sound, Stereohile, and Soundstage writers guess you think you know more about system  design then all of us right?
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Kost you dont know a damm thing.

Most reviewers dont use measurements to codify a review they use their ears.

Its like taste. Go to the best steakhouse in town and order their 2 month old aged sirloin. Now go to your local Diner and order theír best steak. 

Willing to bet they taste the same right?

Can you measure sublime flavors?

Dont think so but you know it when you taste it. 

Can you identify which tastes better by measuremets? What over tone is more pleasing to your Ear? Can you quantify more pleasing?

A bit more abstract then just resistance and impedance or amounts of feedback.

If you have just great ingredients does that means you can prepare a great dish?

Or is it necessany to produce a truly, great dish, to have  a combination of conditions,  great chief, great tools, great steak and the right proportions.

A great steak doesnt happen by itself nor does a great hifi.
I don't think wine or cooking analogies are apt here. I'm also pretty sure you are wrong about wine composition, and even gas chromatography of wine.  Measurements are quite developed and component understanding has allowed the introduction of so-called "Frankenwines":

I have a ton of respect for sommeliers, because they have to do BLIND identifications in order to get certified.  These are some of the hardest tests in the world.  I recommend the book "Cork Dork", on passing the sommelier test, to everyone here.

To my knowledge neither blind nor null testing has successfully demonstrated *audible* differences with cables (without inserts & such, obviously). I could be wrong, but if it had happened, it seems to be flying under the radar.   There seems like a strong case to start from the null hypothesis of no difference and ask for proof to the contrary.

As for the other nonsense with kosst, it's a shame it has become personal.  Dave offers a great service, with an unmatched variety of brands to listen to under one roof.  Y'all should go out there if you are in shopping mode.  Just because we don't see eye to eye on some of his more extraordinary claims doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good dealer when dealers are disappearing.

I'm in Tokyo right now on a business trip. I'm hoping to go to one of those "audiophile bars" tonight and get my SET+horns on.
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It’s essentially a subjective hobby. We use “non technical” terms because it’s helpful in understanding and conveying the characteristics of sound. Terms like holographic image, glare, air, sweetness, articulation, slam, grainy, clean, open, pop. Words like Beauty, It’s how we communicate the characteristics of sound. It’s an art and a science. It’s two mints in one! 🤗 But science can be so dreary 🙁
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In particular, “musical” needs a lot of disambiguation. It seems to have come to mean a more old-fashioned, midrange prominent sound with perhaps a touch of even harmonics?
We observe, we describe. We do the same thing with picture quality, describe it using characteristics we can all understand. It’s a little silly to pretend we don’t understand each other.

We describe picture quality thusly,



Dynamic range

Holographic image

Image brightness


Color accuracy

Ghost images


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Uh, because it’s subjective? 😳 because it’s subtle? 😬
It is a bit philosophically " naïve" to think that audio components has a sound of their own out of the continuous participating acoustic space of a room and that we can predict how they will sound without the specifics of any particular room and out of any particular electrical grid, and out of any resonant particularities of the audio grid and room...

Each component has his own particularity electronically speaking, but the end result of all the system in a particular complex embeddings is the truth of the system for the ears not his design only....

Example: an ordinary audio system in a perfect acoustical environment will be better than a TOTL in a poor room, without acoustical treatment, nor vibrations controls, with a noisy electrical grid, is it not evident?

P.S. salutations to Geoffkait , I think I miss Glupson also... :)
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The definition of words in a dictionary gives the prosaic, collectively accepted meanings of a word; the poetic sense of a word is not reducible to the prosaic sense in the dictionary it needs the context of the actual poem for his definition and the concrete experience of one reader of this poem...

In the same manner the listening audiophile experience is not reducible to nuts and bolts, to a prosaic reducibility to parts and components...

In the experience there is a continuous participation of the ears-brain-consciousness in a specific very complex embedding fields of the audio components: a qualitative one, a material one, an acoustical one, an electro-magnetic one... How do you reduce all that to numbers?

«There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy » William S.
There are no absolutes in audio. There is no absolute sound. That’s an old wives tale. There is no ideal sound. If you think you are hearing all of the music, all of the frequencies and all of the dynamic range that is actually encoded on a CD or LP you are mistaken. Badly mistaken. There are too many variables, the ones you know about and the ones you don’t know about, to make absolute statements about sound. That’s why advanced audiophiles rely on a range of terms to explain what we hear.

As Noah Cross tells Jake Gittes at the Albacross Club in Chinatown, “You may think you know what’s going on, Mr. Gittes but, believe me, you don’t.”

Climber 1 - Wow, this is great!! Standing on the top of Everest. Isn’t the view magnificent? 

Climber 2 - Yeah, it’s pretty good. Except we’re not on the top yet. We’re only at Base Camp.
Excerpt from my paper explaining how the Teleportation Tweak works.

The problem. Yes, it’s our old friend, Information Fields, that’s the problem. It’s the thing itself AND the INFORMATION ABOUT THE THING, the meta data you could say. The information field is produced by the sum total of all like objects, for example things that are long and slender, things that are hollow, things that are blue, would all produce their own information fields. Thus, an object that is long and slender AND blue would be associated with, be linked to, a specific information field, a morphic field, shared by all long, slender and blue things. And the more there are the more powerful the information field. Words, phrases, books and other media like CDs and records also produce their own type of information field. And the electonic devices that bring information into the home produce fields as well - e.g., televisions, computers, iPads and cell phones. It was recently reported there are 7.3 billion active cell phones worldwide as of 2014. That would be one big honking information field! So, anyway, what we have here is a land line phone or cell phone the very presence of which, even though it’s not even turned ON, causes the listener to perceive the sound as worse than it actually is. Any guest in the room will also perceive the sound as worse than it actually is. The guest would also perceive the sound as improved after the phone has been treated.

Now, you might ask, how can objects from various locations in the world combine to produce a field? And why does that field not attenuate over distance? The reason is that the Morphic Field is not bound to obey the inverse square law obeyed by electromgnetic or magnetic fields. The strength of a Morphic Field doesn’t decrease with distance. The strength of a Morphic Field is determined by the number of objects or words or patterns, etc. only and is the same strength everywhere.

From Psychology Wiki - According to this concept, the morphic field underlies the formation and behavior of holons and morphic units, and can be set up by the repetition of similar acts and/or thoughts. The hypothesis says that a particular form belonging to a certain group which has already established its (collective) morphic field, will tune into that morphic field. The particular form will read the collective information through the process of morphic resonance, using it to guide its own development. This development of the particular form will then provide, again through morphic resonance, a feedback to the morphic field of that group, thus strengthening it with its own experience resulting in new information being added (i.e. stored in the database).
Interesting! This morphic field theory originates from Rupert Sheldrake...Now information is the most important concept in all science, then an information field is no more an impossible concept to deal with...

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Credibility lost!  

My god for what?

 Information is not one of the most if not the most central concept in science now? Ok perhaps it is because Rupert Sheldrake is a maverick? For the likes of Dawkins without doubt! But this is not my crowd... And credibility is always linked to a specific affinity crowd, except for universally recognised geniuses or classics and even for these there is controversy about many...
Honestly, I can't make much of the last few posts. But sound waves are, comparatively, simple and well understood. Human hearing is not, and only seems to get more complicated past the ear.
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Alert 🚨 The Sheldrake connection to Machina Dynamica. As fate would have it at least six count ‘em! of my products are based on Morphic resonance, the concept developed by Sheldrake and for audio applications by Peter Belt. The most obvious examples of my products are Morphic Message Labels but also the Teleportation Tweak and Quantum Temple Bell. There is an increasingly fine line between Morphic Resonance and quantum physics AND classical physics. 
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If you could make up a name for someone who had a new-fangled crazy idea that contradicted much of what we were taught so nonchalantly in school it would be difficult to beat Rupert Sheldrake. I’ll grant you that. Cambridge PhD Biology may or may not help. 😬 Count Istvan Teleky was a good name.