Synergistic Research Galileo Cable and Interconnect (TAS 210)

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Synergistic Research Galileo
Synergistic Research Galileo Cable and Interconnect (TAS 210)

Here is a riddle: What has sixteen separate, current-bearing, actively shielded “air strings” of copper-silver alloy, pure silver, pure gold, or (if you choose) a combination of gold and silver, twenty separate LEMO connectors and twenty separate LEMO receptacles, four DC-biasing/electromagnetic-power-conditioning junction boxes (called “Active Mini EM Cells”) into and out of which the LEMO-terminated “air strings” are routed, a separate “quantum tunneled” Mini Power Coupler power-supply that provides the DC current for the active shielding and EM power conditioning of all those cells and precious-metal “strings,” and costs $25,000 to $40,000 (not counting the TESLA PowerCell 10SE power conditioner into which the Mini Power Couplers are ideally plugged)?

Give up? The answer is one pair of Synergistic Research Galileo interconnects ($25,000) or one pair of Galileo speaker cables ($40,000).

I’ve seen expensive, complexly configured wires before, but the Galileo system is mind-boggling.

Before you start turning pages to get to the next review, let me assure you that Galileo is a uniquely interesting product and that its upside is considerable. It won’t take a golden ear to hear what it does (although it may take a golden goose to buy it). In a nutshell, the Galileo system is the highest-resolution, most transparent-to-sources cable and interconnect I or any of my listening panelists or anyone else who has heard it has yet auditioned. Regardless of what it is connected to, tube or transistor, analog source or digital source, Galileo will preserve the signature of the components it conjoins without adding a marked signature of its own. Here you will find none of the bleaching (or excessive sweetening) of tone color, the bungee-cord-like constraint or flagrant over-aggressiveness, the liquid darkness or silvery brightness and grain of other competitive, ultra-expensive, ultra-high-end cables. Galileo simply reflects what is in front of it with less editorialization and higher fidelity than any cable I’ve yet heard—and it does this primarily by lowering noise.

Galileo will remove fine layers of RFI and EMI you didn’t know were there—very-low-level distortion added by your AC power grid, by electromagnetic fields generated by the equipment you use, and by the skin effects and reactivity of your cables themselves—revealing fine levels of detail you also didn’t know were there on just about every source. Just as importantly, Galileo (in concert with the TESLA PowerCell 10 SE and TESLA power cords) will remove layers of noise you did know were there—clearly audible hum and RFI, which, in my case, have been driving me nuts for almost twenty years.

How many times have I complained in this mag about hum and RF on my record players and phonostages? Try as I might—and I have tried everything from ferrite beads to Faraday cages to dedicated circuits to true earth grounding with a rod—for two decades I’ve never been able to completely rid myself of these banes, which is why I call the neighborhood I live in “RFI Valley.”

I’d all but given up hope of a cure when Ted Denney arrived three months ago with his new wires. Once my system was hooked up with Galileo and a special (non-actively-shielded) Synergistic phono cable—and all components, including the turntable and phonostage, were fitted with actively shielded TESLA IEC power cords and plugged into a Synergistic TESLA PowerCell 10 SE—guess what? No RFI. No hum. For an analog hound like me, this was almost a miracle—and I wasn’t using unsalted matzoh before Mr. Denney came a’callin’. I’d almost forgotten how much very-low-level information and large-scale dynamic information gets slightly veiled, darkened, modulated, or blunted by RFI and power-line grunge. For this feat alone, the Galileo earns an exalted place in my Audio Hall of Fame. But, this feat ain’t alone.

However, before I get into the other wonders Galileo hath wrought, let’s talk a bit about how it works, because how it works is, uh, different.

The objective of the Galileo project, which cost Synergistic several years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to perfect, was, in fact, to do precisely what Galileo actually and audibly does—lower noise and increase resolution and transparency. Some of this was accomplished by building on technologies pioneered in Synergistic’s previous cables and interconnects and some of it was entirely new to the Galileo system. Of the legacy technologies, the most important are active shielding and what Denny et al. call “quantum tunneling” (apparently, and rather perplexingly, after the quantum mechanical phenomenon where a particle tunnels through a barrier that it classically cannot surmount because its total mechanical energy is lower than the potential energy of the barrier).

Active magnetic shielding is not new. It is widely used to reduce powerline fields in laboratories that use electron microscopes and other electron-beam devices. Near as I can tell the theory is that by applying an electromagnetic force that is equal and opposite to that of an existing magnetic field (such as that in a listening room full of electrical equipment surrounded by walls full of current-bearing wires and an atmosphere buzzing with RFI and EMI) you will substantially reduce the force and effect of that electromagnetic field (although you can’t completely eliminate it).

Denney claims that he started working on active shielding of cables in 1996, connecting the positive anode of a battery to the signal-bearing cable and the negative anode to the cable’s shield. The object of the exercise was to eliminate noise due to signal/cable interactions, EMI, and RFI that could not be gotten rid of by optimizing capacitance, inductance, and resistance via cable geometry and the material composition of the wire and the dielectric. The initial experiment was only partially successful—while the active shielding increased detail, the positively charged signal-conductor also tended to act like an antenna, increasing noise, EMI, and RFI. Denney then turned to a more sophisticated design—a closed circuit in which the shield carried DC current and separate ground conductors carried the ground signal, with a buffer in between shield and ground. This “closed system” not only improved detail but also lowered noise, and it has been the basis of all subsequent iterations of Synergistic’s active shielding, including that in the Galileo.

“Quantum tunneling,” which, IMO, is a mighty fancy name for a form of electrocution, involves “applying a two-million-volt signal to a cable at a specific pulse modulation and ultra-high frequency for an exact duration of time.” According to Synergistic, this jolt of juice—the selfsame procedure that brought Frankenstein to life—“transforms the entire cable at a molecular level,” lowering the noise floor, expanding the soundfield, and making for more extended and transparent high frequencies. This sort of talk would be laughable, if it weren’t the case that Galileo does lower the noise floor, expand the soundfield, and make highs more extended and transparent (as well as making lows and mids more extended, transparent, detailed, and incredibly dynamic). Whether riding the lightning really is the cause of this phenomenon, I don’t know—on either a molecular level or an “I’m from Earth, Ted” level. But facts is facts, and the stuff does have the qualities that Denney and Co. attribute to taking a seat in Old Sparky.

Galileo also makes use of the electromagnetic cells that Denney developed for his TESLA power conditioners. Where many line conditioners use chokes and transformers in the signal path, limiting current as they “condition” it (and therefore limiting the transient response, low-level resolution, and low-frequency authority of components that use that current), Synergistic developed a device, called an EM Cell, that conditions incoming AC by passing it through an electromagnetic field.

Yeah, I know—I don’t fully get it, either (although it sounds like a variant on active shielding). But once again, facts is facts, and the fact is that the Galileo’s Mini EM Cells, into which each and every “air string” of Galileo wire is plugged and through which all current is passed from source to preamp to amp to speakers, quite audibly lower noise, seemingly enhance transient speed, markedly increase low-level resolution, and substantially improve low-frequency definition, extension, and impact (to a degree that makes Galileo bass the best I’ve heard—by a wide margin—in my room).

How do I know it is the Mini EM Cells that are having this effect and not something else in the Galileo nebula? Well, I unplugged the Cells’ quantum-tunneled Mini Power Couplers (once again, a fancy name for the wall-wart power supplies that plug into and energize each and every Mini EM Cell) and, sure as shootin’, noise dramatically increased. The deep—not black, mind you, but deep—background silence of the Galileo system was suddenly filled with a harsh white grain that blunted transients, reduced resolution, and muffled the bottom end. While I wish that Synergistic hadn’t tarted up the names of several parts of this genuine marvel of transparency, the EM Cells clearly work as advertised—and the electromagnetic fields (or something) inside them are clearly having the effects Synergistic says they have.

BTW, the innards and the outards of the EM cells are quite sophisticated in circuit design and physical construction. The wiring inside every box—and there are some 300 hand-soldered connections in each one—is a matrix of precious metals from gold to platinum to pure silver and silver-copper alloy—all of which contribute to the uncannily natural “voicing” of the cable and interconnect, from top to bottom. The boxes that house this little Potosi are themselves marvels of CNC milling, using an expensive composite material that is said to be electromagnetically inert and more immune to mechanical vibration than carbon fiber. (The boxes that come with the speaker cable are also fitted with tiny needle-point spikes that further isolate them from floor and airborne vibration.)

Pricey LEMO receptacles are fitted into each of the EM cell boxes—four of them on the “string side” of the box and one-to-three of them on the “connector side” of the box (depending on whether the box is for interconnects or speaker cable). Which brings us to the unique contribution that Galileo makes to Synergistic designs—the “air strings.”

Most interconnects and cables—even networked cables—use a single length of wire that, however complex its geometry and material composition, runs between the source component and the destination component. That wire may lead into and out of a gigantic milled metal box where it is subdivided, and it may make use of a variety of metals that are intertwined and bundled together, but it is still effectively a single length.

With Galileo, Synergistic takes a unique approach. Though Denney firmly believes—on the basis of decades of experimentation—that different metals add different worthwhile qualities to the presentation of any cable or interconnect, he also believes that bundling them together in one stiff, often-thick-and-unwieldy amalgam causes more practical and interactive problems than it solves.

So what do you do if you want to get, say, the speed and extension of pure silver wire without its brightness? The warmth and authority of pure gold wire without its dullness? The current-bearing capabilities of thicker wires without sacrificing the delicacy of detail of thinner ones?

Denney’s answer to these questions was fresh and ingenious—as all his answers are: Instead of using a single “bundled” cable, why not take a modular approach? Why not use separate “strings” of wire, each made of different precious metals in different thicknesses?

After a long period of experimentation, Denney settled on the following formula for Galileo interconnects (you may want to look at the exploded view on the right to help you follow): A single “string” of pure silver wire is equipped with a LEMO connector on one end, which plugs into one of the Mini EM Cells, and terminated with either an RCA plug or an XLR connector on its source end, which goes into your source component. This single string of wire has a “five-channel” geometry with an air dielectric, and is actively shielded and electromagnetically conditioned by the current piped into the EM Cell from the Mini Power Couplers. (You can easily switch from RCA to XLR connectors, BTW, and back by purchasing two source and/or destination “strings” fitted with different connectors.)

Four more “strings” of actively shielded, air-dielectric, precious-metal wire, fitted with LEMO connectors on both ends, then run from the LEMO receptacles on the “back side” of the source Mini EM Cell box to the LEMO connectors on the “front side” of a second, destination Mini EM Cell box. Though you can pick and choose whichever metals you want for conductors (and thereby “voice” the interconnect to your taste), the Galileo now comes with three pure silver “strings” and one pure gold one—a combination that Denney considers ideal for resolution, neutrality, and transparency to sources. Two of the four “strings” are thicker for better current transfer; two are thinner for better fine resolution; none is wider than a Number Two pencil; and yet all of them are constructed with separate ground conductors, DC-biased shields not connected to ground, and return lines for the DC, as well as the signal-bearing precious-metal conductors themselves and air dielectrics. In addition to greatly lowering noise, this geometry allows Galileo to transmit both single-ended and balanced signals, depending on the kind of terminations you choose for the source and destination wires.

On the “back side” of the second, destination Mini EM Cell is yet another LEMO receptacle into which you plug a single string of actively shielded, five-channel, air-dielectric, pure silver wire fitted with a LEMO connector on the Cell end and an RCA or XLR connector on the destination-component end. This last “string” is then plugged into whatever component you are connecting to from your source component.

The only substantial difference between Galileo interconnect and speaker cable, aside from price and the greater length of the four strings that run between the two Cells, is that there are three LEMO receptacles on the destination end of the second larger Mini EM Cell, which allow you to bi-wire or tri-wire your speakers with two or three individual “air strings” of whichever metal you prefer. The speaker cable also comes with absolutely ingenious acrylic wheels (cable risers) with four “string-sized” holes bored in their centers through which the four “strings” that go from the source EM Cell to the destination EM Cell are piped. The wheels elevate these strings off the floor away from floor-borne vibration and keep the four strings elegantly dressed and separated, and because they are wheels they also don’t fall over if you accidentally brush against them as conventional cable elevators so often do—they just rotate a bit.

I know this whole thing sounds extremely complicated, and compared to most other cables it is. Indeed, it is so complex you would think—almost immediately—that any cable with this many separate mechanical connections and this many active parts would sound anything but low in noise and high in resolution, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

What, then, does Galileo sound like? I’m tempted to say the closest thing to no cable at all I’ve yet heard, but the precise truth is that it sounds like whatever it is connected to. Indeed, it is incredibly revealing of exactly what your electronics and speakers are doing to your source—good and bad. Through the Galileo, for instance, I realized that the ARC 40th Anniversary Edition Reference preamp is almost as detailed as that paragon of detail and neutrality, the Technical Brain TBC v2—a point, you may recall, that I was unsure of when I wrote my review of the Ref 40 in Issue 209. I also realized that the Ref 40 has even better-defined, more powerful, deeper-reaching bass (standard-setting for a tube preamp, IMO) and even faster, cleaner transient response than I first thought. It also has thunderous large-scale dynamics on fortes and fortissimos to accompany its superb reproduction of pianos and pianissimos. In addition, it has a touch of the old ARC upper-midrange brightness and bloom that I hadn’t previously detected.

Or take the new Technical Brain TBP Zero EX monoblock power amps. At the RMAF show I thought they had a bit of an antiseptic sound—extraordinarily fast, neutral, and detailed but somewhat deracinated in tone color. But when I put the TBP Zero EX’s in my system, hooked up to an all-ARC front end via Synergistic Galileo, I had the uncanny feeling that I wasn’t listening to an amp at all. The TBP Zeros didn’t sound thin or deracinated; they didn’t sound. They simply disappeared as sonic objects, leaving behind the unmistakable signature of the ARC front end and the Walker turntable and Ortofon A90 cartridge, as clearly as I hear it through the ARC 610T amp but with better defined very low bass than the ARC amp, less upper midrange brightness than the ARC amp (i.e., a more neutral tonal palette), audibly lower noise, and finer resolution of low-level detail than the ARC amp. The power, speed, bloom, light, soundstaging, imaging, even the three-dimensionality of the ARC preamps and the source were preserved, unaffected.

Again, when I put the Technical Brain front end in, the sound changed. Now, I heard no upper midrange brightness—a perfectly neutral tonal palette, albeit with slightly flatter, less bloomy and three-dimensional imaging (though the difference here was considerably smaller than I expected), somewhat tighter image focus (though not razor-cut), somewhat of a less consistently expansive soundstage (or to be more precise, a soundstage whose width, depth, and height fluctuated more obviously with whatever recording I was playing). Noise was audibly lower, resolution of texture and transients higher.

It’s not that I hadn’t heard many of these differences before through other cables. It’s that I hadn’t heard them so clearly and unmistakably—with no added colorcast or dynamic constriction.

As with the components it interconnects, so with the sources I played back through it. The thrilling pizzicatos and glissandos, the superheated, sometimes piercing sound of the massed strings in the second movement of Columbia’s recording of the string-orchestral version of Berg’s Lyric Suite with Craft conducting; the chest-thumping thwack of toms and kickdrum, the floor-shaking pulse of bass guitar, and that huge thrilling block of electric guitar at the far right-hand side of the stage towards the end of “Once In A Lifetime” from the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (which sounds, particularly through the Technical Brain gear, like precisely what it is—a great but coolish, slightly clinical digital recording); Sarah Vaughn’s sometimes throaty and almost gargle-like, sometimes nasal, sometimes chesty and resonant coloratura and Oscar Peterson’s (always) superb piano accompaniment on their great version of the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On?” from the Verve album of the same name; the way that miking was changed between the two Greenbriar Boys numbers at the start of the second side of Joan Baez’s second album from Vanguard…with the Galileo you hear it all: the performers, the performance, the hall or studio, the kind and number of mikes used, the distance from the mikes to the performers (and the way this changes when performers move around), the potting in of overdubs, edits, overloads. Anything that your source components and electronics allow you to hear, you will hear. And you will hear it without an overlay of color or a profiling of dynamics.

Yes, the Galileo is more complicated than other cables and interconnects—and that complication can become a complication if you forget to plug those mini power-supplies in snugly (although their fit is very firm and the LEMO connectors are almost literally air-tight). On the other hand, I’m not going to act like other reviewers and make apologies for the complexity of Galileo, because that complexity is precisely what makes it sound so “not there.” Nor am I going to make apologies for its cost—and pretend that the differences between it and less-expensive wires are insubstantial. This cable is worth what is being asked for it—indeed, it is one of the very few ultra-expensive cables and interconnects in which you can actually see where some of your money is going: those pricey LEMOs, the pure gold and silver “strings,” the ingenious EM boxes filled with gold, silver, copper, and platinum plates hooked together with three-hundred or so other hand-soldered parts, the sheer amount of time it takes to assemble a set of Galileo (which will be measured in months, not hours or days if you order a set—and which involves the painstaking matching of every single parameter of each “string” in a matched pair of cables or interconnects), the tremendous amount of research and experimentation that went into the development of these ingenious devices.

Obviously, the Galileo system isn’t meant for you and me. It is meant for very wealthy audiophiles for whom cost is no object. Although Synergistic is already migrating some Galileo technology down to more affordable products (see my interview with Ted Denny on p. 108), without question the Galileo system is what I would buy if I could afford to buy it. Although there are several other great wires out there—with considerable virtues of their own—Galileo is, as noted, the closest I’ve come thus far to “no cable” at all. It is also—rightly—the winner of TAS’s 2010 Cost-No-Object Cable and Interconnect Award.

SPECS & PRICING

Type: Modular speaker cable and interconnect with precious metal conductors and built-in active shielding
Price: $25,000/pair of 1m interconnect; $40,000/pair of 8-foot speaker cable

SYNERGISTIC RESEARCH
17401 Armstrong Ave., Suite 102, Irvine, CA 92614
(800) 578-6489
synergisticresearch.com

JV Interviews Ted Denney of Synergistic Research

How did you get into the cable and interconnect design and manufacturing business?
Back in the late 80s I was a young audiophile just out of college. I needed some long cable runs to go between my preamp and my power amplifiers but couldn’t afford the cables I really wanted, so I designed a few of my own. I was amazed at how different they sounded and surprised that I preferred one of the interconnects with my solid-state amplifier and the other with my tube amplifier. At the time I was working for a big printing outfit in Los Angeles. As fate would have it I was handling an account for a major high-end wire manufacturer, so I got to compare one of its better interconnects with the two I had built and was surprised at how well my designs stacked up against it. This led to an idea—if I could develop different cables for different types of electronics, as opposed to offering progressively higher-end versions of one design, then perhaps I could make cables fund my audio obsession. So I leveraged everything I had, quit my day job in August 1992, rented a small industrial space in Newport Beach, California, and set up shop during a recession. After three years of living and sleeping in the factory I landed my first big account (ListenUp in Denver), moved out of my factory, and the rest is history.

Most cable designers have a “design philosophy.” What is Synergistic’s general approach?
The simple answer is to design different cables and products to complement different systems. This is the focus of our work—to promote synergy through the harmonious interaction of parts critical to system performance, including AC cords and conditioning, system cabling, and mechanical and acoustic resonances that affect the listening room. For me synergy in a sound system is defined as achieving the sound that is as close to the actual live experience as possible, with a special emphasis on recreating a live soundscape.

What steps led you to Tesla cables and from Tesla to the Galileo design?
After eleven years of driving Synergistic Research I was burned out. It was late 2002, I was turning 40. So I sold my home and purchased a sailboat with the intention of taking five years to single-handedly sail around the world. The first year was great, and I stayed away from the factory for 12 months. By the second year I was still sailing, but thoughts of cables started to re-enter my mind. By the third year I was reading everything I could find on Nikola Tesla, convinced I would find technologies and inspiration for a new line of cables. During that third year I was in constant contact with my right-hand man and lead engineer Eliott, going over ideas for new cable geometries, which he would build and report back on. I flew to the factory several times that year, working with Eliott, putting the finishing touches on the Tesla System interconnects and speaker cables launched in November 2006. Tesla power cords launched at the 2007 RMAF.

That was a big year, 2007; not only did we develop and bring to market a complete new line of power cords, but it was also the year in which I first envisioned the electromagnetic cell as a means of conditioning a signal outside the signal path. For weeks that summer I was obsessed with developing this new thing, first designing then re-designing the EM cell as the circuit evolved in my mind. The finished prototype was built with one week to spare before leaving for RMAF, where the original plywood-chassis PowerCell made its debut.

In early 2009, we began the Galileo Research Program to explore the effects of my electromagnetic cell on line- and current-level signal. It was my goal to not only challenge the Tesla system, but to build the undisputed best audio cables in the world. We started by isolating the effects of different pure elements, experimenting with gold, silver, platinum, copper, rhodium, as well as copper/silver alloys. Next, we developed the world’s first actively shielded air dielectric, which has the lowest dielectric constant of any material and hence the highest resolution for our precious metal conductors. I wanted Galileo cables to defy obsolescence, so it was a design mandate that the interconnects be both RCA and XLR; never again would you have to get new cables just because you switched from RCA to XLR. I also wanted the interconnects to be easily voiced by users, to better match their components now and in the future. Special cables (“air strings”) were developed with pure gold and pure silver, so that end users could mix and match different ratios of gold and silver conductors to best suit their systems now—and be able to synergize with any components they might own in the future (single-ended or XLR, tube or solid-state).

Why does the Galileo System cost as much as it does?
Well, the average “pair” of cables is just that—two cables. Now take the Galileo System interconnects, for example. There are two “pairs” of cables for the actively shielded RCA leads, another two “pairs” of cables for the XLR leads, and six “pairs” of cables for the air strings between the two EM Cells. In case you were not counting, that’s 10 pairs of the most difficult to build cables we have ever constructed, made with pure gold and silver. Then there are the four EM Cells per interconnect pair. Each Cell is made from pure gold, silver, platinum, and copper/silver alloy conductors, with 316 hand-soldered terminations. All told, it takes one month to build two pairs of interconnects from precious metals in our California factory.

Will there be spin-offs of Galileo technology at more affordable price points?
Already there. Galileo MPCs for TESLA Active Shielding, and Galileo Universal Speaker and Interconnect Cells, which can be used to dramatically improve any cable from any manufacturer. We also have a new interconnect coming out based on the pure silver air strings. All by itself, this is the highest-performance interconnect we have ever made outside of the full-blown Galileo System interconnect from which it is derived. Of course, performance can be taken higher still when paired with a Galileo Universal Interconnect Cell. (See avguide.com for JV’s entire interview with Ted.)