Introduction to the Synergistic Research Tesla Series AC Power Conditioner and Power Cables
Moving can really suck. On top of everything else, it seems like I always lose stuff, at least temporarily. Eventually, that lost pair of shoes will turn up in a box labeled “towels,” but it had been a few months since the move and I was still looking for some of the magic of my system. Before I moved, I had been enjoying my system immensely—the balance of high resolution and ease of listening was finally there. With no clear idea of what went wrong, I figured perhaps the AC power in my “new” built-in-1912 apartment building might have something to do with it. After a few hours of research, I sent an inquiry email to Synergistic Research. Later that day, I received an email asking me to call Ted Denney, lead designer and owner of Synergistic Research. The next day, Ted and I spoke for about half an hour. I told him about my equipment and my system’s recent lapse into mediocrity. Since Synergistic is located just south of Los Angeles, he offered to bring me some of his creations. I was hesitant. I had avoided cable reviews because I find them annoying reads. Sensing my hesitation, Ted guaranteed his products would make my system surpass whatever magic I previously heard. Bold claim. Okay smart guy, bring your gizmos.
SYNERGISTIC RESEARCH TESLA SERIES SPECIFICATIONS
- Tesla PowerCell 4 ($1250)
- Tesla SE T3 SE Active Power Cord ($900/5ft)
- Tesla SE T2 Active Power Cord ($650/5ft)
- Tesla Quantum Line Strip ($499/nine outlet, $399/six outlet)
- Synergistic Research
- SECRETS Tags: Synergistic, Research, Tesla
Design and Setup of the Synergistic Research Tesla Series AC Power Conditioner and Power Cables
Not entirely sure exactly what he might end up using in my system, Ted showed up with a Cadillac Escalade full of hardware. At the center of what, to me, was a jaw-dropping mass of cable (à la the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark), was the non-current-limiting PowerCell 4. This is one of the key features of its design and Synergistic’s overall approach because at a high level, when current is limited, dynamics suffer. Synergistic also makes the PowerCell 10 which, more than just an additional 6 AC inlets, is claimed to throw a “larger and more liquid sound stage.” The PowerCell 4 is claimed to feature a “highly focused sound field” with pinpoint sound staging. Given our discussion on the phone, Ted thought the PowerCell 4 would be more to my liking.
Physically, the PowerCell 4 is a small black box featuring two TeslaPlex SE receptacles, providing four AC inlets. It sits on four of the sharpest spikes I have ever encountered. The PowerCell 4 is not fused or switched because Synergistic has found both come at the expense of transparency. This means the unit does not offer protection from power surges. The PowerCell 4, along with its supplied power cord, are Quantum Tunneled, which Synergistic describes as a “process that changes the way a cable conducts signal at the subatomic level.” Synergistic claims that 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,” they “transform the entire cable at a molecular level.” All Tesla series products are Quantum Tunneled. Why do they do this? Synergistic claims the benefits are “a lower noise floor and improvements in inner detail, air, low frequency extension, and overall transparency and signal speed.” The PowerCell 4 is “fully differential,” which means the “hot, neutral, and ground all have their own separate power paths to and from the magnetic cell.” Synergistic claims this design results in “blacker backgrounds, improved dynamics and a more holographic soundstage.”
The PowerCell 4’s stock power cord was swapped for the actively-shielded Tesla T3 SE. Synergistic has a lot of science on its website, including an interesting video on the string theory of physics, but at a high level, the shield carries a DC current with separate conductors carrying the ground signal. Synergistic found this closed circuit design “not only improved subjective performance, but also made our cables measurably quieter, thus improving detail with greater frequency extension.” The shield is powered by a small plastic wall wart called the Mini Power Coupler (MPC) ($125). An upgraded version of the MPC ($400) is part of Synergistic’s Galileo series and that is what was used throughout the review period on the Tesla T3 SE, T2 SE, and PowerCell 4, which all feature active shielding.
The Tesla T3 SE, T2 SE and PowerCell 4 also feature the ability to insert one of three different tuning modules into the circuit. Don’t laugh, but this small metal barrel is called an “Enigma Bullet” and Synergistic claims it allows the Tesla products to actually be three products in one. Synergistic says each bullet has a different sonic balance. For example, while the black sounds warm and rich, the silver sounds open and airy. The grey is somewhere between the black and silver. This was conceived as a value proposition—changing your components does not mean having to replace your cable. An illuminated blue LED on the end of the Enigma tells you it’s active. Ted thought using silver on the PowerCell 4 and grey on the T3s and T2s would produce the best sound in my system.
The Tesla T2 SE is the active version of the Tesla T1. Synergistic claims the active shielding offers “significant improvements in sound stage air, layering, detail, and low frequency control and extension” as well as decreasing “the noise floor for a blacker background.” The T2 SE is said to improve everything from pre-amps to video displays. The Tesla T3 SE is a high current variant of Tesla T2 SE, with a special 4 conductor “T” Series geometry, and 2 high current Tricon geometries. The T3 is supposed to be the ideal choice for high current power amplifiers and high-resolution pre-amps and digital sources. Synergistic claims its greater resolution over the T2 comes from its twin Tricon geometries. The Tricon geometry is best understood as a lens, which “concentrates and focuses the sonic signal not by separating conductors, but by strategically aligning conductors in a symmetrical geometry that manages electromagnetic fields.” I used a T3 on the subwoofer and T2s on the integrated amplifier, DAC, and DVD player.
Synergistic’s Quantum Line Strip (QLS) is available in two sizes. The QLS 6 and QLS 9 feature switched Tesla power outlets. While the QLS is supplied with a perfectly-capable power cord, Synergistic says the QLS will perform best powered by a Tesla T3 SE or T2 SE. As its name suggests, the QLS is Quantum Tunneled. I used a Q9 powered by a T3 SE and a Q6 powered by a T2 SE. The good folks at Synergistic burned everything in at their headquarters, so the only thing left to do was play some music.
The Synergistic Research Tesla Series AC Power Conditioner and Power Cables In Use
It took less than a minute for me to realize my system had been completely transformed. Fifty-one seconds into “60 Feet Tall,” track one on The Dead Weather’s debut album, Horehound, Jack White’s bass drum simply overtook the room and my mouth dropped open. The song just exploded into a kaleidoscope of detail and pushed into every corner of the room as if I was listening to surround sound. It was startling. I backed up to the beginning of the track and noticed that before any of this build, a guitar in the background sounds like it’s being given a final tune just before the drumsticks crack together. Alison Mosshart (of The Kills) shouts “You got my attention. You got it all. I can take the trouble. I’m sixty feet tall.” There is an urgency and presence to this record I have simply never experienced, yes, experienced, not “heard.” That is the distinction I’m making. All of a sudden the speakers and the electronics seem unchained and the guitar notes free to claw at the walls and ceiling of my room. The bass is enormous and shockingly propulsive. My system feels alive in a way I’ve never heard before. While the Focals and the Naim have shown signs of greatness on several past occasions, they have never taken my breath away in a sustained manner quite like this.
Switching gears to the Cat Power album Moon Pix reveals that the Synergistic makes good on its claim the Tesla series is quiet. How quiet? Quiet enough to let you marvel at the beauty of a single guitar and a female voice stripped of everything but the breath wrapped around it. In “Metal Heart,” she sings “How selfish of you to believe in the meaning of all the bad dreaming” and I feel my mood actually transformed by these 14 words. This is the elemental, communicative power of music and Synergistic has cleared away enough of the impurities to let the system reveal it. I listened to three other Cat Power records and it was emotionally exhausting. Here was music, more than just conveying emotion, but like a book, creating it in front of me. Even on compressed material such as Sleigh Bells “Ring Ring” (174KB MP3, available for download at stereogum.com), the Tesla series reveals tonal shadings of the bass that are quite remarkable. Absent the Tesla components, the song lacks, among other things, the information conveyed by the pace of how the lyrics are sung. Alexis Krauss sings “Have a heart, have a heart, have a heart” and then continues “sixteen six six six like the pentagon.” The latter phrase is sung in a different cadence and while this would be quite obvious hearing it through any system, the Tesla series allows my system to punctuate this transition, suggesting artistic intent I had not heard it before. I proceeded to listen to the song several times trying to figure out what exactly these lyrics in this pacing meant and while I did not come to any satisfying conclusion, the Tesla series presented the question and more importantly, invited my interaction.
As truly revelatory as the Tesla series was with music, it also made watching both movies and television much more enjoyable. The articulation and clarity of voices through the speakers was like having a center channel. I was able to listen at much lower volume levels than I was used to. The secondary effect of lower volume levels was my discovery that the JL Audio F112 is capable of some astoundingly delicate, presence-enhancing contributions to run-of-the-mill television programming.
Conclusions About the Synergistic Research Tesla Series AC Power Conditioner and Power Cables
Remember the Enigma bullets? They are sitting in the same drawer I placed them in months and months ago—there was nothing about the sound I wanted to change. I did not need the bullets because my system was, for the first time, truly expressive and capable of showing a multitude of personalities on its own—one minute delicate and upbeat (Atlas Sound, “Sheila”), the next minute raw and insistent (The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”). The best thing about the Tesla series, as Ted had predicted, is it allows you to hear how good your system actually is. It’s intertwined trademark qualities of abundant detail and world-before-time silence, the Tesla series allows you to hear everything that makes music captivating and magical. It is reference quality equipment and for me, indispensable.
Focal Electra 1008 Be 2; Naim Nait XS-2, Clearaudio Concept, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II, Oppo DV-980H, Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2, NAD C545BEE, XBOX 360, Apple TV, signal cables by DH Labs, Acoustic Zen, and Synergistic Research.