Synergistic Research Atmosphere X Power Cables
Jimmy Hughes samples three high-end power cables from this quirky Californian company…
Atmosphere X Power Cables
£999 - £2,999
Synergistic Research offers a broad range of advanced products for audiophiles. This review looks at three power cables from its Atmosphere X range. These are the Alive Level 1 (£995), Excite Level 2 (£1,995), and Euphoria Level 3 (£2,995). All look superficially similar and measure around 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. Being quite thick, they're not very flexible, so allow about 25cm (10 inches) space behind the units you plug them into. They all exhibit excellent build quality and have a rugged construction that makes them pretty inflexible. Torsionally they're very stiff indeed, and sometimes I had quite a job to get the plug squared-up to the socket before it could be inserted.
I began by listening to the Alive Level 1 with Moonriver's 404 Reference integrated amplifier, which is a personal favourite of mine. Synergistic Research says this is the highest performance non-active power cord in its history and now has the so-called Blue Fuse treatment process and new UEF Matrix Shielding claimed to lower the noise floor. Pure copper is combined with fourth-generation Tricon geometry, and pure silver and tungsten Air String geometries for better detail and soundstaging says the manufacturer.
Playing Night Train by the Oscar Peterson Trio, I immediately heard a firmer sound with increased separation between the instruments with this cable in place. Peterson's piano tone had noticeably more sheen to it, while Ray Brown's bassline displayed greater solidity. Pitch definition was better, too. I have been using a pretty good specialist mains cable with my current reference Moonriver amplifier, but this design delivered noticeably better sound, giving worthwhile improvements in clarity and overall definition. Rhythms were more pointed, and there seemed to be greater space around the notes.
Next, I tried the Excite Level 2 power cable, which delivered more of the same, with increased firmness and greater articulation. The company says that this cable was designed to exceed the performance of all previous Synergistic Research mains leads, and this is done with so-called Active Shielding, which is powered by an outboard MPC power supply. Sure enough, compared to the cheaper Level 1, the bassline was even better defined, and pitch definition improved slightly too. The piano was more solidly placed, and Ed Thigpen's cymbals had more shimmer.
I also tried this mains cable with my own Musical Fidelity Nu Vista 800 integrated amplifier, replacing a heavy-duty specialist power cord. To be honest, I'd been feeling a bit disappointed with the sound produced by it ever since I encountered the Moonriver 404 Reference. The former seemed a tad sluggish and closed-in, lacking the latter's freshness and lively vitality – or so I thought. Imagine my surprise and delight when the Synergistic Research cable rejuvenated the Musical Fidelity. All at once, it sounded better focused and more immediate, as if it had swigged an energy drink!
I heard improved timing and more subtle rhythmic inflexions. Returning to my original power cord, the sound went a bit flat and matter-of-fact, lacking presence and projection. Changing back to the Excite Level 2 improved clarity and immediacy; everything was pin-point focused and better detailed. My Musical Fidelity suddenly seemed to be sounding a whole lot better. Or was I imagining it? I switched power cables back and forth several times just to make sure I wasn't fooling myself, but each time I went back to the Synergistic Research cable, the improvements outlined were apparent.
I liked the Moonriver 404 Reference amp so much that I had actually started thinking about selling my Musical Fidelity, as it no longer satisfied me. Yet after hearing my old amplifier with the Excite power cable, I'm now wondering if I really need to. It once again sounds like the amplifier I thought I'd bought. I still recall how crisp and immediate it sounded when I first tried it a good few years ago – and how detailed and dynamic it was compared to my previous integrated. Okay, the Moonriver remains that bit better, but the gap has lessened considerably.
Finally, moving on to the Euphoria Level 3, and once again I heard more of the same. I made out a firmer bass line and more articulate piano playing. The decay of the notes seemed more evident, and overall the sound had noticeably greater subtlety, finesse, and delicacy. There was something more, as I felt more drawn into the music. Suddenly, I'd be aware of how a cymbal was struck or how a series of piano chords was phrased. The music had greater emotional meaning and felt more communicative. While these qualities were there on Synergistic Research's lesser cables, one had to listen harder to notice them. The Euphoria seemed to bring the music to me, if that makes sense. I heard more without having to concentrate so much, just as you would at a live performance. Given how good the Alive and Excite cables are, I was surprised that further improvements were still possible.
The company says the Atmosphere X Euphoria power cable was designed to reduce all noise in a hi-fi system – including digital grunge – by shunting it to ground inductively through a complex, multi-cable geometry and active shielding package. All the conductors, mains plugs, shields and the same Swiss-made power supply found in Synergistic Research's flagship Galileo SX power cords are then treated with the special Blue Fuse process, said to give a lower noise floor than is possible from the more conventional power supply and geometries found in Excite.
The Euphoria cable's special geometry also gets a boost from one more pure silver Air String. Another trickle-down performance upgrade from Galileo SX is the inclusion of a ground plane encased in the carbon fibre tube. There's also an option to ground Euphoria's power supply and shields to a Synergistic Research Active Ground Block. Custom tuning is achieved by using a Gold UEF tuning module that the manufacturer says adds warmth; the choice of whether or not to use it is, of course, down to the user.
I found this Gold Tuning Module to be very interesting. Although I liked the changes wrought by the Euphoria cable, I wondered if the sound was perhaps getting a wee bit too separated. Although increased separation is a good thing, too much risks eroding musical cohesiveness and flow. This module lets users fine-tune things a bit. You can go for maximum separation or add a little warmth, so you get all the positive benefits of the Euphoria Level 3 power cable without the risk of things becoming overexposed.
I also tried the Excite power cable on Denon's 110th Anniversary SACD player. I heard increases in clarity and detail compared to the power cable I'd been using before. As Synergistic Research actually offers specialised digital cables, it was interesting that its Excite cable still delivered improved sound. But while A/B comparisons are interesting, I was especially gratified when I listened again the next day. Things really did sound different and better. I immediately noticed greater clarity and increased pin-point precision, and this was via my old faithful Musical Fidelity amp rather than the Moonriver.
I think it's possible to liken hi-fi system improvements to high-speed travel. You accelerate and notice a change, but then after a short while, things settle down, and all sensation of increased speed vanishes. So when I listened a day later and the changes still registered, I knew they were real.
I realise that some readers may harbour a certain scepticism regarding specialised mains cables and query how they can make a difference given that electricity travels through miles of very basic cable. But that's like saying water purifiers can't work for the same reason when they clearly do!
All three Synergistic Research power cables really impressed me with their combination of great sonic results and excellent build. Even the basic Alive cable offers a worthwhile improvement over other good specialist mains cords that I've heard at a similar price – and after that, things just get better. This is all the more surprising, as I already use an IsoTek power conditioner box and various other mains treatments – yet these cables made an appreciable improvement to my system sound. All I can say is suspend your disbelief and preconceptions and approach listening with an open mind.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
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