Though my current set of Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream wires from Gabi and Edwin Rijnveld of Crystal Cable and Siltech is undoubtedly the best (the most vividly and accurately colored, powerful, quick, detailed, three-dimensional, just plain lifelike) stuff I’ve had in my system in better than forty-five years of cable-swapping, its incredibly lofty price tag brings into painful focus a problem I’ve had with “gourmet” cables from the get-go. You see, that “loom” (in the parlance of our time) of Ultimate Dream costs as much as my reference MBL 101 X-tremes, the MBL electronics that drive them, and the MSB DAC, the Walker and Clearaudio turntables, and the United Home Audio reel-to-reel tape deck that feed those electronics put together! You’d not only have to be stupid rich; you’d also have to be clinically insane—or an audiophile, which, I guess, amounts to the same thing—to buy it. (And the funny part is that the Ultimate Dreams don’t even come close to the sticker shock of the most expensive cables and ICs out there.)
Over the years, the exorbitant cost of high-end cable has so troubled me that I used to regularly swap out whatever goodie I was currently listening to for old-fashioned zip cords of various twists and gauges, just to make sure that I was hearing what I thought I was hearing—and not falling for a price tag. Of course, the losses of bandwidth, resolution, transient speed and definition, density of tone color, and lifelike dimensionality, solidity, and presence were always and inevitably the same. Which is why, after a decade or so, I stopped AB’ing and just accepted the fact that (to a greater or lesser degree) when it comes to wire you get what you like and what you pay for. My only proviso when it came to cable-swapping was this: If I found something I enjoyed, I stuck with it rather than moving on (as I have so often done with other kinds of components) to the next “best” (and inevitably more expensive) thing. After all, as my dear departed friend Ray Andrews used to say: “How good does ice cream get?”
Which brings me to the products under review, Synergistic Research’s new budget line of cables and interconnects, the Foundation Series. At $599 for a one-meter pair of interconnect and $649 for an eight-foot pair of speaker cable, the Foundations are indeed reasonably priced. They are also downright plain-looking. Unlike Synergistic’s expensive offerings, they have no in-line filters, no ground wires with associated outboard active grounding stations, no tuning modules with gold and silver “bullet” attachments. No fat, hefty, dough-like twists of wire, either. In their simple black or white coverings, the Foundations look almost anorexically thin, light, and basic, though their looks belie the relative sophistication of what’s inside their plain-Jane wrappers.
Each Foundation RCA interconnect has four (six for the XLRs) 99.9999% pure monocrystal silver conductors in an air dielectric with a braided-silver, “Quantum-tunneled” shield. The connectors (Silver Teflon SR 20 RCA or Neutrik NC3MX-BAG XLR) are coated with graphene to lower noise and are silver-soldered to the conductors by hand. The speaker cable has four 99.9999% pure monocrystal silver plus four 99.95% pure “high-current” copper conductors in an air dielectric with braided-silver, “Quantum-tunneled” shielding. Once again, the terminations (SR BoFa Banana and SR Silver Spade connectors) are silver-soldered to the conductors by hand. Both the ICs and the cables are said to be burned-in at the factory for five days, in a two-step process.
Clearly, you are getting a fairer taste of Synergistic technology and build-quality than you might’ve expected in the affordable Foundations. But it isn’t the relatively sophisticated way they’re made, but how they reproduce recorded music that comes as the true surprise.
It’s been my experience with high-end-audio components that they often (though by no means invariably) sound the way they look. So something that appears to be markedly thin, light, and basic—as they Foundations certainly do—tends to sound thin, light, and basic. Though these Synergistics don’t completely overturn this paradigm—sonically, they are certainly thinner, lighter, and less complexly and fully detailed than the 65-times-as-expensive Crystal Cables (or than Synergistic’s own 27-times-as-expensive Galileos)—they are nothing like the tissue-paper cutouts that I’ve come to expect from budget wires. Indeed, and in spite of some clear losses in focus and at the frequency extremes, they sound more like Synergistic’s high-priced offerings (Galileo has been one of my references for almost a decade) than anyone could reasonably expect.
Take, for instance, a recording I’ve been listening to a lot lately—guitarist/vocalist Hans Theessink’s 2011 LP Jedermann Remixed—The Soundtrack on the Austrian Blue Groove label. As I said in my Clearaudio Master Innovation review (TAS 301), this is a record that will sound more or less great on just about any bonafide high-end system. The tricky part—and the entire raison d’être of The Absolute Sound—is the “more or less.”