Synergistic sound

March 30, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

The dictionary describes synergy as “the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.”

Isn’t that the truth?

How does your system fit into the room? How about those connecting cables? Digital? Analog? Moving coil or magnet?

Each and every choice we make is part of the whole.

Creating a synergistic sound is the challenge we all face when setting up or assembling together a HiFi system.

What are the bits and pieces you find essential to creating synergy within your system?

How important are they?

Could you do better?

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27 comments on “Synergistic sound”

  1. Been there; done that 😀

    I have no idea what bits ‘n pieces are essential to creating synergy within a home-
    audio environment…I could take a guess but I suspect that I wont get it all right.
    I suspect that these bits ‘n pieces are very important…mainly that the individual
    components can ‘talk’ to each other implicitly.
    I guess that we can always do better, in theory, but I have learned the hard way
    that if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it.

    1. FR, quite in contrast to me you seem to have detected the secrets of synergy in “audiophile” stereo systems. My understanding so far concerning “synergy” was that the “effect” of interaction/cooperation/addition/composition of given “subsystems” is more than sum of the separate “effects”. Or short and misleading: 1 + 1 = 3 (or more, 🙂 ). Or: take a board and four wooden trusses and you can combine these parts getting a table! In audio: take a source component, an integrated amp and a pair of loudspeakers and you get a stereo system which finally allows you to hear recorded music. This is true for all audio components worldwide. But what now are the synergistic effects rolling audio components? Effects which aren’t reached by adding a digital equalizer?????.

      1. ps,
        As I’ve explained here a few times over the last couple of years, for me being able to enjoy a true illusionary (illusory) 3D holographic soundstage with near pin-point imaging just happened back in 1993 with an Audio Alchemy – ‘DDEv1.0’ DAC (made in California), a couple of Denon – ‘POA4400’ monoblocks (made in Japan) & a pair of Harbeth -‘HL Compact’ (now ‘es7-3′) 8″ two way loudspeakers set on QED Tri-stands (made in England)
        I just set it all up the way I thought that it would sound the best & BINGO, it did all this magic stuff that I’d never heard or experienced before in a room 21′ x 15′ x 9’.
        I have never been able to duplicate this stunning auditory outcome again since I moved from those premises & sold all the gear 6 years later, but I’m very grateful that I was able to experience that sort of soundstage & imaging for at least 6 years of my life… a near religious experience.

        1. Many thanks, FR, for this clarification and for sharing your audio experiences. Thus “holographic imaging” would be a synergistic effect? But isn’t this the core goal of any stereo reproduction? A goal that is achieved only when the loudspeakers meet an acoustically optimized listening room and are correctly positioned. A classic loudspeaker design with basic design errors in the time domain will rarely give you this holographic imaging. Thus some design concepts as omnis or dipoles or speaker cabinets featuring drivers on the rear side or on the top plate try to create artificial 3D effects, room cues not originally found in the recording. A near perfect speakers design for getting a holographic imaging seems to be realized in Devialet’s active Phantom speakers immediately producing a 3D sound image with most stunning clarity. No synergistic contribution necessary here from other components.

          1. ps,
            If you are happy with ‘the wall of sound’ presentation from your home-audio rig because you (I) mainly listen to Rock ‘n Roll then ‘no’ I don’t believe that a 3D holographic soundstage with pinpoint imaging event or outcome is necessarily a/the “core goal of any stereo reproduction”.
            I believe that it takes synergy between the recording, the home-audio gear & the room to be able to successfully create said effect of 3D holographic soundstaging with pinpoint imaging.
            Much like home-audio itself, how you want your music presented is subjective; depending on personal taste & the requirements of the listener.

  2. Finally Got There…Here to Stay!

    I’ve always believed the recording, equipment, speakers and cabling contributes only 50% of what 2-channel “Stereo” magic is capable of. The final 50% I attribute to the Listening Room! It takes a very balanced, synergistic and finely Dialed-In Combination of both to create a solid, mind-blowing “Suspension of Disbelief”! All home reproduction elements “coming together” just needs to be well matched and setup properly for the room environment you listen in. Then, maybe the Live Performance (that hopefully was captured in the recording) can/will come 3D Alive in your home environment!

    Could mine be better, sure! But to gain a possible final sonic edge in audio nirvana would take me an exponential increase in investment…maybe one day…!

  3. Have fun experimenting with amplifiers’ phase inverting. Reverse your speaker leads’ polarity.
    Does it matter?
    Say ‘puff’ then say ‘puff’ while breathing in.
    Sound different?
    That is phase inversion.
    Remember to enjoy the journey.

  4. I have had 50 year journey through audio. In those 50 years I have had four different systems ( I did a complete system upgrade about every 15 years ) and each system was significantly better than the one before it.

    I have found that as the systems got better I was able to notice small changes in the system that I had not noticed before. Thus, in my opinion, as your system becomes more synergistic it also becomes more sensitive to almost any small change in it.

  5. I have said oft that I view each item in the system as an instrument that has it’s own voice. The sum of those voices together can create a symphony that is certainly pleasing to listen to. I think the biggest hurdle for most common enthusiasts, is that they struggle with knowing what the voice they are looking for sounds like, but when heard, they point and say, “that’s it!” I know for me in my current system, it took about 4 different tries to find the right speaker cable, but once heard, you know it right away. More important than, “these are the most popular” or “these cost more/less,” but do they play well together.

    I may take a few tries, but when heard…

    1. [but when heard, they point and say, “that’s it!” I know for me in my current system, it took about 4 different tries to find the right speaker cable, but once heard, you know it right away. More important than, “these are the most popular” or “these cost more/less,” but do they play well together…may take a few tries, but when heard…]


      I can definitely relate with your journey! After getting some fantastic monitors a year ago, then rearranging my music room’s setup and needing to obtain longer speaker cables, I was on the cusp of extreme audio revelation. After 2 months of trying/breaking-in 4 different pairs of cabling, the 5th Element (pair) were my synergistic match that brought down the house (errr, walls of my listening room)! After 5 minutes of jaw on the floor, I excitedly exclaimed,”HO.. SH.., that’s IT”!! 😉


  6. Part of it may be balancing the imperfections. I’ve confessed before that I’ve used cables as tone controls. And, there are still parts of system setup and interaction that may be unknown. I’ve made tweaks to my system that were “supposed” to be improvements, and, in my opinion, made it sound worse. I’ll always trust my ears, imperfect though they may be.

  7. Also very pleased with my current state of the audio system.

    My approach was to start with speakers (and preferred speaker technology) then work my way back with appropriate amplification (bi-amped) with LMS (loudspeaker management) and then focus on source quality and then the dreaded cables.

    This system brings me great pleasure and allows full immersion into the music, but as many of us know this “hobby” can remain a “journey” for many years to come. I think I’m past the truly frustrating stages and in the “ultra-refinement” stage of the 12-step program. Do I have anyone’s forgiveness to ask? Undoubtedly my long suffering wife who is so accommodating with “new boxes”, room treatments, etc. And she loves listening most every weekend for hours.

  8. It took three decades to build, but I have never been happier with the bits-and-pieces synergy of my system. I lust for nothing more. As for my ears…maybe they have gotten better with age!

  9. „What are the bits and pieces you find essential to creating synergy within your system?“

    Since many years meanwhile, I fortunately passed this money destroying, frustration prone, never resulting in the best, but the most tonality-wise correct playback … phase of having to ensure synergy with different HW or suboptimal placement, as soon as anything changes within the setup.

    I achieved it (there will be other ways, too) with active speakers where the amp/speaker matching is given and the matching to room and other components‘ tonality can be covered by wide adjustability of speakers and sub. The surrounding advantages were so big, that I gave up previous setups historically consisting of some of the best big class A amps, lastly very nice Lamm Hybrid monos.

    I wish it to everyone to be able to leave the phase “synergy by HW change” on some way.

  10. I start by making sure my interconnects have synergy by choosing Monster Interlink 1000i to wire all of my non balanced component connections. My Monster speaker wires have the same copper strand design as the interconnects. I choose speakers that have great synergy between the drivers and blend to sound as one speaker. Currently NHT 2.9. Great speakers. Then I choose a high quality integrated amplifier or receiver, currently using a Creek 5350se integrated. I have one of the best tuners ever made, the Luxman T-117. I cannot imagine it not sounding great in any system. I also have separate components and usually make sure the amplifier and preamplifier is from the same manufacturer, but it doesn’t have to be, and built around the same time. The ear test will tell you if something is not matching among all components including CD players, Turntables, Cartridges etc.

    1. My listening experiences whilst retailing (selling) ‘Monster Brand’ loudspeaker
      wires & interconnects back in the late 1980’s & early 1990’s were not good.
      Most of their products (90%) were crap…maybe one or two interconnects
      did a good job, not great, just good.
      Hopefully they have managed to improve their products since then.

      1. Yeah interlink 400 for example was only slightly better than the wires thrown in and they had a quality control problem with poor solder if you were unlucky enough to get those. Must have been made in China. That was later fixed and they would exchange them without any hassle so they did have great customer service. Those were also so tight that when you disconnect them you have to be careful you don’t rip out the insides out of the component they were attached to. None such problem with the interlink 1000i and their top of the line speaker wires.

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