The synergy of sound

January 20, 2023
 by Paul McGowan

I am always fascinated by the impacts of synergy: how two or more pieces of equipment interact within a system to produce the end result.

This means, of course, that no two stereo systems are the same. Not even close. Differences in rooms, speakers, equipment, and setup are so big that not one of you reading this post experiences music the same way as anyone else.


How often have I heard a visitor to PS Audio’s Music Room remark, “I’ve never heard anything like that”? Of course they haven’t. Our system, like your system, is one of a kind—products of the synergy between the sonic puzzle pieces.

Thanks to the synergy of sound, when you press play, you’re enjoying a musical experience like nothing else in the world.

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46 comments on “The synergy of sound”

  1. Listening to how the sound changes as a room is being built from bare brick to fully furnished, which I did twice in a recent project, made me realise that the room is the largest component and that is going to be unique to every system.

    When I say project, we largely rebuilt the house, and the choices start with the materials used to line the walls (or fill them if you have cavity walls – we don’t), installing new power lines (ours were new from the outside grid), fibre cabling in the walls etc., even the glass used in the windows.

    The result is so radically different that satisfactory that I’ve lost any interest in the need to change anything. It’s the difference between doing a project with an end result, no different from building a kitchen or bathroom, to constantly chasing your tail with the latest gizmo.

    As rooms are so unique, how a component works in any room must also be unique, so you just have to try it yourself.

      1. In just about e dry sci-fi movie since the 1960s people talk to their tech. It’s been reality for a long time, whether Siri, Alexa, Google Home Assistant, my Sky remote control. I used Nuance voice recognition for well over 10 years, it’s now built in to Mac OSX.

        Why people want to go round their house or apartment flicking switches to turn things on and off escapes me, plus the very considerable cost of wiring everything and the switches themselves.

        1. Just like the charm & ritual of putting a record on a turntable & turning it over after 22 minutes, there’s also a certain charm in casually flicking a light switch on the wall as you breeze through from one room to another.

          Just like there’s ‘knob feel’, there’s also ‘switch feel’…yes, it’s a thing.

          1. There’s also plenty of charm to telling Alexa to switch on the kitchen lights before you get there and fall down the stairs in the darkness, speak to a delivery man when you’re miles away in a restaurant and creating this post without touching the keyboard. Smart switches don’t disconnect the power anyway. My wife likes asking Alexa what the weather’s going to be like so she can get dressed before drawing open the curtains.

            Think of the time, cost and hassle of wiring in multi-channel sound or a zonal lighting system. When each unit is wireless and can be grouped and regrouped in seconds from an app, it’s a no-brainer. I watch movies using 7 speakers, no wires required other than connecting a 24v transformer to the lighting ring. Phillips are big on this, it’s really come about because LED lights last 20,000+ hours and the smart tech is so cheap you can put it in each bulb.

            I flip vinyl, but I’m glad I don’t have to do everything using 19th century technology. Perhaps I should go back to log fires and coal-fired hot water heating. My house actually had a coal cellar when I bought it. I could sell the car and get a horse.

          2. I believe research calls that ‘thing’ is called SOCJTRTANT
            Stubborn old codgers justifying their refusal to accept new things. 😉
            The first symptom is you have receding grey hair and you STILL tightly purse your lips, fold your arms and turn your head away around broccoli.
            C’mon Martin, fight the SOCJTRTANT! I know you can do it… unfold those arms and ask Alexa for some broccoli!!
            Here comes the new tech train – chugga chugga chugga chugga WOO WOO!
            You can DO it! Become a Can Rat!! 😉

            1. It’s funny that you chose Broccoli because
              it’s my main vegetable intake after tomatoes.
              I’m not real keen on them Brussel Sprouts though…just for future reference 😉

    1. Make some room measurements with a sophisticated (!) system as from Trinnov Audio featuring four precisely aligned microphones and you will be surprised how dramatically the results differ when slightly varying the mic’s position or the position of the loudspeakers. Having a listening room with a sloped ceiling and thus a more benign pattern of room modes still I finally had come to the conclusion that only near-field loudspeakers give the best and most satisfying results concerning sound quality and best impulse responses. I still have no idea what “synergy of audio components” really means and how I can achieve it without starting an audio lottery (the separate components being the lottery tickets) with nearly no chance winning the jackpot.

      1. Yes, i have little choice but nearfield listening and i enjoy it. Usually 6ft triangle. Today,listening to an assortment of David Crosby, I decided to shrink my triangle to…3feet. And if i feel claustrophobic or like i have on giant headphones, I’ll move them back out again. Since my back is against the wall, i think this helps the sound stage(in addition to avoidind other room issues).

  2. Disagree completely … the point of a replay chain is to take you to the musical event captured, or created – since the source data is identical, assuming digital, then you should experience the same thing every time. Two rigs will vary slightly in emphasis, for all the usual reasons, but the fundamentals will all match … that is, of course, if they are both, ahem, ‘accurate’ , 😉 .

    Consider the Yamaha Disklavier – an acoustic piano, played by a ‘robot’ action; an example of the piano could be moved around the world, placed in any room or open space – and the same ‘track’ played in each location. That piano is an accurate transducer of that digital data; what you hear will “always be the same”. And that’s how I see the purpose of an audio rig.

    So why doesn’t that work with, er, high end sound systems – umm, they are *all* ‘inaccurate’ … pity, that.

    Great synergy simply means better accuracy than most – you get more of the recording, and less of the rig … it’s a win, 🙂 .

      1. Again, the deeply embedded belief that “magic” exists in audio gear that one has to pay a lot of money for; and that low cost setups can’t deliver … I was cured of that sort of thinking 30 years ago, when I visited every place that could demo or present music on more ambitious setups – they were, almost, universally a fail; so many problems in the sound they produced. There *were* a couple of exceptions – which only pointed out more strongly how poorly the others had done …

        Competent playback works just like Paul has described – it exists in a space beyond the plane of the speakers, is holographic, 3D; a huge window is located where the speakers are, between you and the world of the musical event, you are looking in on that world. At optimum, this illusion can’t be broken no matter where you go in the room or listening space.

        Current gear is hovering on the edge of that; it can produce volumes intense enough that nothing else can be heard, completely cleanly; and then have the volume drop down to a single step before total muting, while still having a completely intact sonic picture happening … yes, it could be better, but for the price, I’m pretty damn impressed!

    1. Synergy ~ To achieve this, purchased a complete PS Audio CD based system, with all of the best AudioQuest cables & connectors affordable. Purchased over a year ago, before PS Audio speakers were available. Trust Paul & his people. Feel that if you buy high quality equipment, from different manufacturers, the interaction, Synergy, may not be optimum. For example, some people feel, hear that relatively inexpensive cables, from other manufacturers, sound better than very expensive ones ~

    1. Sorry, I disagree. Years ago, living in San Francisco, went to the Great American Music Hall, to hear Bonnie Raitt. She was performing for two nights ~ The next night, her concert was broadcast on, then, KSAN ~ FM. Had a pretty good system ~ Over the radio tuner, I could hear the music, singing, instruments more clearly, much more detail, than I could, when I was sitting in the middle of the Hall! Good miking! Go figure!

    2. The way to think about is, the recording is what it is; it could have been meticulously captured using the best microphones possible, by the most expert person in the craft of recording; or, been a keepsake memory of someone way back in the audience, using a simple cassette recorder … the job of the playback chain then is to be as close to 100% accurate to what is on the file, or disk, as possible.

      IME, if you get the latter to a high enough level, then ‘magic’ happens – you experience the event, rather than just listen to a possibly pretty yucky, annoying snapshot of what went on.

  3. I guarantee Paul if you heard my system you would be shocked at how good it sounds. My system is addictive. I’m sure there are others out there who love their systems too.

  4. My view is room acoustics alter the sound significantly but not the music. If your audio system creates the essence of music, it will do that in every room. I’m sure PS Audio’s rooms create extremely impressive sound. But would they create more music than my simple SET amplifier and British two-way speakers?

  5. Very well said. I believe sound and the synergy of the components we use to make it are infinite. Even the conditions of the environment come into play. Setups are all unique. Achieving the wow factor is the goal.

  6. Agree Paul! Even with Identical genre, sources, components and speakers (equal system synergy), the differences in each setup, listening environment and personal hearing physiology will create Individual Listener Experiences!

    Creating a synergistic Live-I’m-There musical experience was always a personal goal for my 2-channel sound reproduction audio. Even though I have finally achieved that in my current music room, possibly no one else will Hear what I Hear when they experience it…and that is okay!

    1. Know exactly what you’re after … I suspect you might have completely invisible speakers; that is, no matter how close your ear is to the drivers, you can’t locate that the sound is coming from them, as compared to what the illusion is telling you.

  7. Here’s an enigma….

    Audio equipment is marketed and sold based primarily on how it sounds. Yet, accepting the premise of todays post, the sound is as unique as the individual…. Nothing else in the world sounds like it.

    However, over and over again we’re told just the opposite… new – improved – better sound. The FR30’s were moved from the reference of MR2 to a better reference of MR3 and after a little while a sub was needed. (Anything to do with the Art of HiFi: Bass ? 😀 )

    What’s the end goal in audio? Will it ever be achieved?

    The phenomenon of good reproduced sound is called synergy. The phenomenon of ‘reference level’ varies as much as any room and the equipment in it does.

    1. “What’s the end goal in audio? Will it ever be achieved?”

      The end goal is for the playback system to be invisible. That is, irrespective of the volume level, or the recording style and quality, that one is completely oblivious of the fact that there is some machinery between you and the music you’re hearing – you have just happened to venture into a space where musicians are playing, and this illusion is maintained no matter where or how you choose to listen to what’s going on.

      This is most certainly achievable, but occurs rarely, because human hearing is extremely sensitive to any giveaways that a ‘trick’ is being performed – fastidious attention to detail can make it happen; it’s up to the individual whether they want to make the necessary effort to get there.

  8. Paul, those differences have not historically been given credit enough. Over the years I knew many friends who bought a given component based on a magazine review and then were disappointed when they didn’t experience what the reviewer described. Well duh!

  9. Anyone who has done more than one system, or had the same system in different rooms or houses knows what Paul is talking about. I have had four completely different systems in the 50+ years that I have had audio systems and we have lived in four different houses in the same period ( plus two or three apartments before we got our first house ). Three times the a system moved from apartment to apartment to house. Twice the system completely change while in the same room and house. With complete confidence, I can say that I understand synergy! 😀

    1. Thanks to renovations, I was basically allowed any speakers as long as they were not too big, silver or metallic grey. That’s my wife’s idea of synergy.

  10. Synergy. May be expressed as… The whole is greater than the sum of its parts….

    Of course assuming that, then each audio part can be broken down to its individual parts and so on and so on.

    In some respects Audio could be interpreted as the classic pyramid scheme. Others may say it’s all in the foundation.

    It’s all about what perspective where you’re looking at synergy from. From the ears point of view it’s all about what’s between them –

  11. System synergy is a real thing. The line up of teammates is necessary for terrific sound cohesion. It all has to come together. No shortcuts! Just do it right. 😉

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