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Synergistic Research Atmosphere/UEF/HFT Room Treatment System

Several issues ago, I told you about Stein Music’s Harmonizer H2 room treatments—little black cubes with battery-powered crystal circuits inside them, which emit an electromagnetic signal that reduces ambient noise and broadens and deepens the soundstage, better disappearing your loudspeakers. According to the H2’s inventor, Holger Stein, this disappearing act is the result of a physical change in the distribution of air molecules in your listening room. How a set of vibrating crystals could bring about such a change—and why that change would result in a seeming expansion of the soundspace, as if the walls of your listening room had been pushed back several feet—is a mystery that even this old mystery writer can’t fathom. And yet…the thing works.

Comes now another room treatment from Ted Denney, head honcho of Synergistic Research, which effects an even more dramatic lowering of the noise floor and expansion of your listening space, with concomitant changes in ambient acoustics, soundstage/image size and focus, spectral balance, and transient response. Those of you who have attended hi-fi shows across the country—from Newport Beach to New York City—may have already witnessed a demo of Denney’s Atmosphere/UEF Panel and UEF Acoustic Dot system. For those of you who haven’t, here’s what the system comprises and how it is said to work.

The Atmosphere XL4 (the latest Atmosphere with “8 times the power” of the original Atmosphere XL) is a cubical pillar containing electronics, activated by a USB bus, that generate a “two-channel, multiwave” RF signal. This RF signal is said to be “modeled and shaped” to counteract the ambient “man-made and solar” RF that Denney contends degrades the sound of every hi-fi system, particularly during daylight hours—i.e., when the sun is shining. Denney’s reflections on the role that solar disturbances play in creating higher ambient RF are just about as persuasive as Stein’s explanation of how his crystal-filled cubes create denser air in your listening room; nonetheless, like the Stein Harmonizer H2, the Atmosphere is audibly doing something that not only lowers ambient noise but also changes the tonal balance and dispersion pattern of loudspeakers and the sonic signature of the room they are playing in.

Sitting on top of the Atmosphere XL4 is a small cylindrical object called an Atmosphere Tuning Module (ATM). There are two different kinds of ATMs included with the XL4—named “Red” and “Green,” after the color of their bottom plates. The modules rest, unattached, in a circular indentation on the upper surface of the XL4 pillar, and can be interchanged at will.

I have absolutely no idea what is inside either of these devices, or how they work with the active electronics in the pillar. What I do know, and what everyone who has heard them in my room or at shows knows, is that when the Atmosphere XL4 and the ATMs are linked via a free Synergistic Research iPad app to one of six sonic “base scene” programs (“Intimate Acoustic,” “Holographic,” “Grand Canyon,” “Amplified,” “Ethereal,” and “Expansive”—the first three for use with the Green ATM, the second three with the Red ATM), the character of your loudspeaker—its tonal balance, resolution, image focus, soundstage breadth and width and height, transient sharpness, bass definition and impact, etc.—changes, as do the acoustics of your room. What is equally startling—and a little appalling from an observational, much less a scientific point of view—is that these sonic changes are exactly the ones that Denney (or whoever wrote the copy for the iPad app) claims you’ll hear.

For example, here is how Denney describes the sound of the “Amplified” base scene: “Maintain[s] the energy of amplified music with sharp leading edges and powerful dynamics. Ideal for live and studio recordings like rock ’n’ roll, pop, and modern amplified jazz. In the default setting low frequencies are tight and punchy; midrange is immediate with high frequencies that are not overly smooth, or etched. Advanced Settings: ‘Crunchie’ removes any politeness from hard-driving electric guitars, horns, and leading edge transients, leaving nothing but the raw amplified event. ‘Stadium’ opens up the soundfield and is perfect for larger-scale venues.”

 

Folks, if you choose the “Amplified” base scene (with the Atmosphere XL4 and the Red ATM it is designed for) and play back a rock recording, you will get precisely the sonic attributes that Denney says you’ll get: Tighter, punchier low end, greater midrange presence (along with tighter image focus), and a treble with increased sparkle and shimmer but without excessive bite. Moreover, if you dial in “Crunchie” from the “advanced settings” sub-menu you will, indeed, get sharper leading-edge transients on guitar, cymbal, snare, and greater impact on bass and kickdrum within a more intimate soundspace, as if you were listening up close in a rock club. If you dial in “Stadium,” you will get the same base-scene virtues within a much more expansive soundspace, as if you were sitting at a greater distance in an arena.

Working independently of and in conjunction with the Atmosphere/ATM system are so-called “UEF”—don’t ask me what this initialism stands for—panels (rectangular frames with black panes coated with a paint that is said to react to sound) and UEF dots (round constrained-layer-like wafers that are also sound sensitive), both of which you white-tac to your walls. (Synergistic supplies instructions on where to locate each of these devices in your room.) If you’re lucky enough to own Synergistics’ superb Galileo UEF wire—which I will review in our upcoming Cable and Interconnect issue—this same technology is built into them, as well. (You can also add Synergistic’s HFTs—tiny thimble-like objects that act like miniature Helmholtz radiators—to your UEF system.) The UEF panels and dots have much the same effect as Holger Stein’s Harmonizers, which is to say they seemingly expand room boundaries, creating a larger, less confused, more neutral and transparent soundfield in which loudspeakers better disappear. When the UEF devices are used with the Atmosphere/ATM system, the disappearing act of both room and speakers is kind of amazing.

Even though parts of the Atmosphere/ATM/UEF/HFT system may sound voodooish, these things work, making smaller rooms sound like larger ones and making big multiway speakers disappear in them like two-way mini-monitors. Moreover, the Atmosphere/ATM devices give you options that no other analog room treatments I’ve played with can offer: the ability to change acoustics to fit both the music and the venue it was played in. Indeed, in conjunction with Synergistic’s UEF/HFT devices, the Atmosphere/ATM system is so predictably, astonishingly, and completely adept at this, it raises an interesting question: Do you really want to “superimpose” a predetermined acoustic and ambient pattern on each and every piece of music you listen to? Isn’t this a little like passively re-engineering your recordings?

Maybe, it is. That said, Synergistic offers “base scene” choices that are fundamentally source-neutral, and I, for one, wouldn’t want to do without the lowering of noise and the subsequent clarity, definition, and boundary expansion that are part and parcel of the Atmosphere/ATM/UEF/HFT experience.

In sum, most highly recommended (even if I can’t explain it)—indeed, so highly recommended the Atmosphere/UEF/HFT system.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Active and passive room treatments
Price: Atmosphere XL4, $3495 (includes ATMs); UEF Panels, $549 (4-pack); UEF Acoustic Dots, $195 (5-pack); HFTs, $299 (5-pack)

SYNERGISTIC RESEARCH
(949) 476-0000
synergisticresearch.com

JV’s Reference Systems
Loudspeakers: Magico M Project, Magico M3, Raidho D-1, Zellaton Reference Mk II, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan .7, Magnepan 1.7, Magnepan 30.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamps: Soulution 725, Constellation Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference
Phonostage preamps: Soulution 755, Constellation Perseus, Audio Consulting Silver Rock Toroidal, Innovative Cohesion Engineering Raptor
Power amplifiers: Soulution 711, Constellation Hercules II Stereo, Air Tight 3211, Air Tight ATM-2001, Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos
Analog sources: Acoustic Signature Invictus/T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight/TW Raven 10.5, Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian with Viper tonearm, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio Ultimate 1 OPS
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital sources: Berkeley Alpha DAC 2, MSB The Reference DAC, Le Son
Cables and interconnects: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power conditioner: Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Technical Brain
Support systems: Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room treatments: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere XL4/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories: Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses

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