Synergistic Research Atmosphere Speaker Cables Review
Synergistic Research, based in Irvine, California, is a company that does exactly what its name suggests; it invests heavily into the research and development of audio products. When used correctly, their products offer synergistic benefits to your sound system.
We’ll be looking at many products in the Synergistic Research cable range in the coming weeks. There are a number of unique technologies used across their range that I will attempt to briefly describe.
Starting specifically with the Atmosphere 1 and Atmosphere 4 speaker cables, the ‘Atmosphere’ Series consists of 4 levels of interconnects and speaker cables offering progressively higher cost, performance and additional features as you move up the line. The Atmosphere level 1 speaker cable (8 foot $1350 RRP) is the entry model in this range.
Synergistic Research has re-designed them to perform without the need for active shielding, something that may be a welcome change. Previously a 30v power supply unit was required to positively bias the shielding. This active shielding technology is still used in the Reference Galileo series.
The Atmosphere level 1 cable is constructed from a silver and copper matrix, with a separate ground conductor from the outer shield, which is made of silver mylar. The dielectric is modified polyethylene. There are two 6mm conductors within each cable for the left or right channels, which are then covered in high quality black netting, resulting in a reasonably thin diameter cable that is nice and flexible and is very pleasant to use. Every cable is hand made in the USA using silver solder and has been treated with what Synergistic Research refer to as ‘Quantum Tunnelling’. I looked up the website for some interesting information on the topic.
Quantum Tunnelling is a process that changes the way a cable conducts signal at the subatomic level, affecting the entire cable assembly. By applying a two million volt signal to a cable at a specific pulse modulation, and ultra-high frequency for an exact duration of time, we transform the entire cable at a molecular level.
The Synergistic Research Quantum Tunnelling process.
Turning our attention now to the Atmosphere level 4 cable, the top model in this series. It starts at $7,520 (RRP) for an 8 foot length, with longer lengths available at extra cost. The construction starts with the basic silver copper matrix, but has some significant upgrades. There are two separate runs of conductors (or four wires), along with two separate runs of ultra-pure silver sealed in an air dielectric, as well as another two separate runs of silver copper matrix mono crystal conductors with a separate ground conductor from the shield. So there are twelve conductors in total, which makes for a thicker yet still flexible cable. The quality is very high and the workmanship is exemplary.
The level 4 cable also comes with two additional features. They come standard with what is called ‘Ground Plane Tuning Modules’. According to the manufacturer these allow you to voice your cables to match your system and musical preferences by the use of either red or blue tuning modules. What is the difference between them? The website explains:
RED Tuning Module’s Sonic Characteristics:
BLUE Tuning Module’s Sonic Characteristics:
The second feature is the use of ‘UEF Shield Grounding’, also said to improve the performance of Atmosphere series cables by connecting their shields, and any noise directly to earth and not your components power-supplies or speaker crossovers. This is achieved by connecting small grounding wires that are attached to the amplifier end of the cables, to the supplied wall plug which uses only the Earth terminal.
With the cable shielding attached to your homes earth, any noise that the shield picks up is theoretically drained away, resulting in a super quiet cable. Synergistic Research do not recommend connecting this plug to power regenerators, filters or conditioners.
All of the speaker cables are available with either banana or silver spade connectors as well the choice of single wire speaker connection or bi-wire ends. My review samples of the Atmosphere 1 and 4 came with bi-wire spade connections which proved useful for loudspeakers like the Audiovector SR1 Signature, with its 4 binding posts. There is the standard 2 wire connection at the amplifier end for each channel.
The cables have already had an initial 5 day burn in process from the factory. Nevertheless the Quick Start Guild outlines the requirement for no less than 100 hours of uninterrupted use in the system before the cables begin to open up and sound their best, and often double that. For the level 4 cables there is the additional requirement to have had at least 100-200 hours connected, to allow the earthed shields enough time to fully bias and stabilise before sounding at their best.
Atmosphere Level 1
I started with the level 1 cable connected. Changing out my normal Audio Unique Metis cable was a definite step in the right direction. Immediately I noticed additional bass speed laying a solid foundation to the music. There wasn’t any additional extension of the bass or the treble for that matter, but a tuneful vibrancy to the overall feel of the music. Tonally it was very smooth from top to bottom, neutral without any apparent glitches. There was a noticeable lack of compression, allowing music to comfortably flow. This seems to be a highlight of all Synergistic Research cables. The midrange is especially worthy of mention as it very open and natural, allowing voices and instruments to sound clean, pure and vibrant and free of grain or etch.
No matter what was played, I could detect no preferences for particular genres, along with a freedom from aberrations with all manner of naturally recorded instruments, including piano. The timing and pace of the cable is also very good. It gives a relaxed feeling, yet is capable of large dynamic contrasts when called upon.
There is no darkness or artificial haze that I could detect with the Atmosphere 1 that is apparent with some cables in this price range, allowing me to come to the conclusion that it is easily the best sounding cable in its price bracket that I’ve heard. Its overall performance makes it capable of outperforming some cables at double the price, so it’s extremely good value and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it.
Atmosphere Level 4
Switching to the much more expensive Level 4 cable was an absolute revelation. I thought that it should be better, but I was a little unprepared for how much better in reality it actually is. All of my comments about the Level 1 stand accurate for the Level 4, but to a much higher level, essentially a ‘reference level’.
Firstly, it is truly quiet with a high level of noise rejection. You don’t even realise that the noise is present until it has been removed. One is left with just the music and a wider dynamic range, more detail, more naturalness and less fatigue. Listening to a cable that has incredibly low noise gives you the feeling of being all alone with just your thoughts in a world that is constantly interrupting.
There is a sizable and useful increase in frequency extension, tonal purity, detail, focus, transparency, image size and depth, color, texture, touch, slam, dynamics, timing accuracy, flow and scale. I haven’t heard speaker cables alone able be able to do everything so well and with seemingly no negatives or drawbacks. As I often say, you pay more, you get more.
The cleanness and lack of dynamic compression is outstanding, with new levels of micro detail that I wasn’t able to hear before. It is uncanny how seemingly confused passages now become distinct and reassembled once more, riffs that were always vague in the past are now able to be discerned and enjoyed. The information has always been there, but the equipment, i.e. cables, limited it or dumbed it down, until finally you are able to resolve it accurately, the way it is meant to be.
Listening to dynamic music was incredible with the amplifier feeling totally unfettered in its delivery of slam, instantaneous power along with melodic rhythm and accuracy. Turning up the volume simply results in the music becoming louder, but without the feeling of stress or exhaustion, you really need to experience it for yourself. Lesser cables are like resistors that artificially compress the output volume and dynamics.
I did listen to the included tuning modules and found them effective in their ability to subtly change the character of the sound. The differences are not huge, but they are there. Personally I preferred the blue modules, but your personal preference and system needs may differ. Perhaps think of them as another tweaking tool that can be used to tune and change your system for the better.
I also found the bi-wire ends on the speaker cable to be a very useful inclusion. They enable the removal of the horrible sounding metal links that are often attached to bi-wire capable speakers and to hear what they are truly capable of. I found an immediate increase of treble energy and midrange presence, additional detail, soundstage and enjoyment. Some speakers that have been voiced with the link in place can tend to sound a touch brighter using bi-wire, so please try before you buy.
The new Synergistic Research Atmosphere speaker cables are a very useful inclusion in what is an impressive product line up. They are certainly hi-end cables of the highest order. With 4 levels to choose from, there is a cable available for a variety of budgets and needs.
After spending some time with them it is very apparent to me that Synergistic Research is worthy of a great deal of respect and admiration, and that their products really do work. The engineering is solid and the validation is ultimately heard in the outstanding sound quality.
Once you have heard the difference that these speaker cables can make to your system, you cannot un-hear it, or ignore the positive contribution that they make to a system. I was not prepared for the level of improvement that the Level 4 cables made to my own system. I will never forget the experience. Now, how do I find a way to afford them?
Synergistic Research is distributed in Australia by National Audio Group.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.