System Synergy Theory

Are the attributes of a component generally aggregate? i.e. if a phono stage has a slow bass transient response and a cartridge has a slow bass transient response � does that mean the sound will be twice as slow relatively speaking. Another example would be a cartridge that sounds airy, but tends to be lean with a bit of harshness in the upper octaves paired with an amplifier that is slightly on the lean side will the sound now be even more lean and harsh?


Do components generally adhere to the �weakest link� theory when paired. i.e. if a phono stage has a slow bass transient response and a cartridge has slow bass transient response � the bass transient would only be as slow as the weakest link in the chain when paired. Same with the other example; is the bright cartridge paired with the bright amplifier only as bright as the weakest link in the chain.

Knowing this would go a long way in helping interpret reviews and estimating how components will match up. Obviously the ultimate is to listen for yourself, but there are far too many components and combinations to try. You could spend a lifetime and still not get through all the possible combinations. Perhaps it depends on the component. Maybe phono stages are aggregate, while amplifiers subscribe to the weakest link theory.

Any thoughts��..
From my experiences, I would say your former theory to be true. They are aggregate, or additive, IMHO.

From a technical standpoint, the former is definitely true and is so for any piece of equipment in a series chain. This is also why there are so many proponents for "source first" system installations because they feel signal quality goes irrevocably down hill from there.

However I have also had two components with similar sonic signatures that when mated together were altogether different - so there is more to it than simple time-domain effects in some cases. But in the end, I only had that happen once so I think you can rely on your first assessment with confidence.

Think about this for a minute, and this pertains to any component, whether it is a piece of equipment (cartridge, CD player, preamp, amp, speakers, power conditioner, etc.), software (album, CD, etc.), wires (interconnect, digital, speaker cable, power cords, etc.), or whatever (your room, etc.).

What does a component do? It takes the signal (or information) and passes it to the next component. You start with, let's say, an album or a CD. You eventually end up with sound entering your ears.

Each component hopefully doesn't alter the information as it passes it, but we know that it does. How does it alter it? Take the album like you suggested. It either drops part of the original signal that it received since it really can't add something that wasn't there. Another possiblity is that it adds distortion to the signal. Maybe the last possibility is that it alters the amplitude of some of the frequencies throughout the signal.

Whatever happens though can only happen to the signal that the component originally receives. Once part of the signal is lost, it's gone and can't be recovered or corrected. What you hear in the end is the signal as it has been altered by each and every component in the line, so it has to be cumulative.

Remember the experiment where you tell someone something, and they pass it on and on and on down the line and it's not the same when it gets back to you. If I hear the words "bright, fiery red" and I change it to just "bright red", the "fiery" is gone from the sentence forever.
"Knowing this would go a long way in helping interpret reviews and estimating how components will match up."

I would imagine that there is no way you can read a review and interpret how a component will sound in your system. What I take from a review (I don't read the mags anymore) is how accurate the reviewer says a component is. Then when I am out listening to that component, I see if what the reviewer said is what I am hearing. If I hear the same as the reviewer, I tend to believe that we hear the same, if not, then I don't use that reviewer as a source of information for me.

I recently auditioned the NuForce 9SE V2 power amps. With one preamp the NuForce sounded OF to good, with the next preamp, the NuForce sounded very good. Both preamps use the same 6SN7 tubes and both were considered to be warm and musical preamps.

Happy Listening.
Great question. I do believe the component characteristics are additive to an extent. Sometimes a single component will dominate the others. I will admit that I think I know how I prefer to put together a system but will admit that I probably got lucky in my current system. It is more likely that I stumbled upon the sound I like. To a large extent, system building is still trial and error though you can at least get in the ballpark by know your preferences and the sonic attributes of a component.
I need to get out more. I don’t get to hear the equipment as often as I would like. BigKidz, I see your point. The same goes for movie reviewers – you really need to get a grasp for a particular reviewer’s tastes so you can interpret their review. If a reviewer hates every big budget action movie and they give Die Hard 3 a bad review…can you really trust that review if you like action movies…..

Knowing this information will help though. If more than one reviewer says the same thing about a component then I can most likely accept it as truth or if I trust that reviewer’s opinion. Which kind of brings up another point – what are the tendencies of the major reviewers?

best start another thread for that. interesting question.
You mean there are still people out there who trust a reviewer's opinion? I still subscibe to Stereophile, but only for the pretty photos and functional descriptions. Call me jaded, but I stopped believing the reviewers sonic opinions many, many years ago.

John, what is it about the reviewers in stereophile that you mistrust? Have you found yourself disagreeing with them too often in the past? Do you think they tend to give positive reviews to the advertisers?

I must say, you don't often see negative reviews anymore. You really have to interpret the reviews because the reviewers are often overly polite. Do you remember Corey Greenberg's review of the Vandersteen 1B's. Now THAT was a bad review! No kid gloves, he spoke his mind. Whether you agreed with the review or not, you had to respect the fact that he laid it all out there. Honestly, I remember thinking the same thing back then when I heard the Vandersteen 1B's. Not sure about there speakers today because I really haven't listen to them since the mid 90's. Who knows, my tastes have changed, and I am sure the Vandersteen's sound have I may like the newer Vandersteen's, in fact, I plan to give that line a listen when I upgrade my speakers.

Point is - today reviewers are so polite. They almost never say "product sounds muddy" or "product sounds harsh". Instead they will babble on about "for the Price" the sound is fine, but when compared to more expensive fare...blah, blah, blah. Soooo, as a reader I have to put on my interpretive hat and read between the lines.

Hmmmm maybe this is cause for a new thread......
Corey Greenberg's infamous review of the Vanersteen Audio 1B's. Definitely fun reading:
Carter9000, yes, the fact that 99.9% reviews are postive now. Sure, if you brush up on your legalize and try to read between the lines you can get a feel for what a reviewer might really think, but that's too much work for me. Too many positive reviews, even when the component under review is broken or damaged. I'm sure reviewers have no problem acquiring second and third samples, that's not so for the average Joe.

It just seems like too much politics for me in the glossy rags. The pictures sure are nice though. :)

Just wondering.....are they still selling reviewed equipment on Audiogon ????? Hmmmmm
Acoustics & synergy are one of the most ignored aspects by
audiophiles that claim their superior knowledge & know-how.

Now in all seriousness,
off course it is important. I think we all know that and try to do our best in that department. Are we successful ???
But with time and knowledge we'll be getting better.
I think..............
Acoustics & synergy are one of the most ignored aspects by
audiophiles that claim their superior knowledge & know-how.


Amen to that - especially with speakers. It gets my goat when I see a reviewer assess large speakers as well as small speakers in the same room! Then they have the audacity to say that the small speakers are too bright and don't have enough bass! It is as if they have no idea what they are doing. I understand that no reviewer can have several different rooms to match speaker size but then why not choose a reviewer than has an appropriately sized room for a given speaker review?

As for the electronics, it is easy to control when only one component gets swapped out in a familiar system. But then their comments remain absolute! There is rarely a direct comparison made which at least would have some relative meaning to the reader. But I have to say that the American magazines are getting better in this regard than they used to be (Bob Reina has always done a great job with making comparisons).

Synergy falls along those same lines - you need a lot of equipment and patience to try a review component in several different circumstances. Although my hat's off to Hifi+ for reviewing complete systems that they have come across that offer a special synergy. Those cases where 1+1=3 are rare but exist and hearing about them is really cool and meaningful when taken as a whole.

So with all this in mind, reviews are great as long as you don't believe everything you read. Only the general gist is worth retaining.

My final comment is about all reviews being good. Based on my cover-to-cover reading of every Stereophile and Hifi+, as well as most TAS, I have to disagree. It is fun to say but that isn't truly the case. Michael Fremer does a good job of making his dislikes known, and so does Art Dudley - at least of late. And the British boys are great at it - they state pros and cons for everything, which doesn't put any company on the spot since all design compromises get outlined. This latter method is the only way to politically handle the situation since a review can make or break a small hifi company. But none of this is an exact science so keep a grain of salt handy nevertheless.

Hi Arthur (Aball),
I could not said it better myself.
If you think about the time and effort it takes to put together a successful system that will be sonically adequate to your ears and listening space that it's going to be in.
And then you read a review that says:
" To evaluate "X" preamp we have used "X" speakers that we just got, along with "X" CDP that we were so excited to hear and which review will be published in the next issue"
and there is MORE, a lot more but quoteing those reviewers would be a wast of time.
Point is..................

*synergy matteres*
*room matteres*
*personal taste matteres*
*honesty of the reviewer also matteres and his/her "Paper"

There is more but that would take this thread away from the original question.