Townshend Audio F1 Fractal Interconnects - Less is More!
This is turning out to be my hardest review to date. I held off a long time waiting to be sure. Good move. Paid off. After last night this will be a lot better than anything I could have done earlier.
The Townshend F1 Fractal interconnect is based on the same Fractal copper ribbon technology used in their speaker cables. Main differences are the conductors in the interconnect are suspended in air inside a light weight flexible translucent tube.
The Fractal Wire is terminated in Neutrik Profi RCA phono plugs. These plugs feature a spring loaded ground collar. The outer collar on RCA is ground, the pin is positive or signal. With a regular RCA plug the pin sticks out making positive contact first, which can cause some pretty awful noises if the power is on and the source input is selected. Experienced audiophiles know to never do this, but apparently there are enough of the other kind to merit Neutrik designing a whole spring loaded RCA plug. Oh well. This RCA is also really beefy, exceptionally beefy, and has two segments angled in for extra contact pressure and an extra angled sharp line contact area, just to get the point across these things are designed for killer contact.
Plugging them in for the first time the extra pressure was obvious. The spring loaded part feels a little funny for an old-school guy like me but they work just fine. The F1 interconnects themselves are very light and flexible. Routing them was a breeze.
My reference interconnect was the Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level III Euphoria with ground plane technology. It was, like my speaker cables, wrapped in tubes of Perfect Path Solutions Omega E-Mats and treated with Total Contact. Having learned my lesson with the speaker cables I put a microscopically thin coating of TC on the F1 before connecting them.
The sound I heard even right out of the box was clean and clear and open but not as big and full as the Synergistic. This filled out within a few hours to where the F1 seemed well above the Synergistic in every way but one.
We all have certain parts of certain music where there is an instrument that we look forward to hearing. It could be the lead guitar solo in Money for Nothing, or the drums on Famous Blue Raincoat. Time and again I would be ready for one of these only to hear something a bit… different. I’ll be honest, it was kind of a let down at first. But the more I listened the more it started to dawn on me: this is right. All the extra sounds I was expecting to hear, it was all added.
The more and the longer I listened the more certain I was. This is to take nothing away from the Synergistic. I have used Synergistic since the 1990’s, compared it to a lot of others, always loved it. Especially the Atmosphere, which was so good I was really doubtful F1 would be able to match it, nevermind sound better. I would have been surprised even to hear it come close.
That is what took me so long to put this review out there. The F1 is not just close, it is not just a little better. The F1 is a whole hell of a lot better! By the time it had 20 hours it was so liquid smooth and detailed it is hard to believe.
I mean really, literally, hard to believe. So just to be sure, last night I put the Synergistic back in.
Tracy Chapman Talkin’ Bout a Revolution starts with strumming guitar. The sound was flat, grainy, out of focus, and there was a harsh metallic edge to the guitar. Chapman’s voice had an edge to it as well. The bass line when it came in was really big and full, but loose and bloated.
Regular readers will recall I was about ready to break down and buy tube traps to eliminate some boomy resonance in my room, but changed my mind when putting the Moabs on Townshend Podiums eliminated a lot of the problem. Well, turns out a good share of the resonance was in the wire. Who’d a thunk? It makes sense though. Townshend seems to have found a way of eliminating a lot of artificial resonances most other wires add to the signal. How he does it I don’t know. But the effect is substantial.
Chapman uses a lot of really deep, interesting and well defined bass. It was wonderful with the Atmosphere but way warm and bloated. I just never realized how bloated until compared with the Fractal Wire.
The edge and distortion, and flat stage, were an even bigger shock. Palpable 3D imaging and presence are supposed to be the forte or hallmark of the Synergistic sound. Hate to say it, waited and waited trying not to say it, but I am one of the rare guys left these days who lives by "let the chips fall where they may." Townshend F1 Fractal Interconnect makes Atmosphere sound flat and grainy like a freebie patch cord. I just had to wait and give myself time to really get used to the F1, then put it back in again, to be sure. I am sure. Un freaking believable.
On Side 2, and now with the F1 back in, Mountains of Things starts off with a lot of great percussion instruments, way too many to count, plus triangle and a cymbal, and each of these is so much its own thing in its own space with its own texture its a real treat. This isn’t some special pressing either, not a White Hot Stamper or anything, just one I picked deliberately because it is so very average and yet also something a lot of guys have heard and can relate to. I have never, ever heard this music sound anywhere near so true and right. Can’t even pick out any one thing to say wow great bongo’s or whatever, because I would be saying that about everything!
I have always loved the big full bass and the big full sound of Synergistic overall, a lot. This is not a case of my taste changing to something lean or a whole lot different. I still love me some good bass! It is just that with F1 (and Townshend in general) the bass is so much more pleasingly clean and full. It is at times even more deep and impactful than anything I ever heard from Synergistic. With the speaker cables in particular it was the bass that struck me first. With the interconnect the bass is still there just even more articulate and well defined. There is more character and control to the bass now than ever. It is simply that a lot of “extra” bass has been removed.
The top end is so free of ringing, edge and glare it can at times seem almost soft. Until something happens and it is clear the top end is definitely there, just no longer exaggerated. Sibilance is still there, just now those "s" sounds are much more natural. The records that have problems with this still have problems, they just aren’t anywhere near as hard on the ears now. Yet cymbals still shimmer, Sinatra still swings, the sax has real bite. Everything that should be there is there. Just nothing extra added.
Now with more time to listen and think, it is apparent this is a common theme running through all the Townshend components- a lack of additive resonance. All kinds of things vibrate, apparently, even electrical signals do it in the form of ringing. Max has shown this on some videos where the oscilloscope shows clearly the signal reflecting and traveling back and forth, in effect ringing. It happens with speakers. It happens with components. It happens with speaker cable. Now also it seems to happen with interconnects. Why am I not surprised?
Sometimes the ringing or resonance is high frequency, and this brings a hard edge and exaggerated top end. Sometimes the resonance is lower, and the midrange is full and warm, or the bass is big and round. Sometimes when the designer does a really good job of shaping the contour of this it can sound pretty good. That is what I heard with Synergistic. Probably a lot of what is going on with other wire is different guys find they like different things exaggerated to a different extent and so they pick the ones they like. But they are still exaggerations. They are still additive. They are still distortion.
With the F1 back in this becomes really clear. Exactly the right word: clear. The F1 is as clear and as open as I could ever want. Nothing missing, nothing added.
John Hannant at Townshend was telling me from the beginning that to get the full benefit it is best to run a full loom. I thought this was nothing more than good salesmanship. Now though I can see the reasoning behind it. F1 speaker cables removed the colorations and resonances, all the ringing going on with the speaker cables. But the Atmosphere interconnect was still there coloring the sound. I just didn’t know it. Quite honestly had no idea. Frankly surprised to hear how much.
This review has been hard to write in another way. I’ve been a huge fan of Ted’s for a good three decades now. Still regard him as one of the greatest creative geniuses around. Even now I have not one negative thing to say about any of his many terrific designs. For sure Synergistic has the biggest widest range of consistently high performing products, and from entry level to fairly high tier is still a top recommendation. At the very top end of the range though I have to now give the nod to Townshend F1 Fractal.