Ted Denney's Excellent Adventure

Ted Denney at the 2003 CES. (Photo: John Atkinson)

As I had been impressed with Ted Denney's Synergistic Research cable, I thought that asking him for 25,000 words on his thoughts on cable design and performance would be an appropriate accompaniment to my Symphonic Line Kraft 400 amplifier review.

Ted Denney: Two important things to start off with: First, no one cable can perform musically in every system; second, price is not a guarantee of performance. For example, in your system, Jonathan, I recommended our Phase 2 Mk.V—not the more expensive Resolution Reference—to run to your amps, because they're more suited to that application. The Reference interconnect is designed for a different kind of component, like the tubed Jadis JA 200s.

You have to find a cable that works with a given set of components, so what we do is develop different sets of cables designed to complement or bring out the best possible performance for these different types of components. In some cases, our entry-level cable, the Alpha Series, can outperform our most expensive cables, provided they're properly matched.

Jonathan Scull: How does your customer typically choose the right cable at Synergistic Research?

Denney: We have a book available at all of our dealers called The Synergistic Research Explorers Guide. Your readers can give us a call and we'll send it out to them. It outlines every cable we make and which components and price level they're designed to work with. The other thing we do for our customers is, when you go to an authorized Synergistic Research dealer, you can fill out a form that allows us to run a diagnostic on your system.

Aside from determining the equipment, we ask important questions about the way the system sounds: how it soundstages, its general timbre, if it's forward, dark, bright, the placement of the speakers, and the general acoustics of your listening room. The dealer faxes this information to us, and, based on the information provided, we fax back a recommendation of what will work given that particular system. So, in essence, we'll match a complete set of cables to anyone's system, and do it right here at the factory.

You see, it's not a question of price points, or the more money you spend, the better it gets. Designing at progressively higher price points is inherently a flawed concept. It's true that, as the associated equipment gets more expensive, it allows us to do more—either by hand-building them or by careful materials selection. You can't do that at a lower price point. But anyway, since we optimize the cable for a particular application, you can get a cable that works best for your system without spending a ton of money!

Scull: Let's hear about the materials selection.

Denney: First, we select cable geometries for a given cable based on the engineering requirements or the transfer characteristics of the target components. For example, if we supply an interconnect for a broad-bandwidth solid-state amp, like the Kraft 400s, we'll make a heavily shielded cable. If we're going into a tube amp, we'll do an unshielded cable that's extremely low in capacitance. Then we build several versions of that cable using different materials, listening for their contribution to the sound. With us, there isn't a standard hierarchy of materials, with silver and Teflon, for example, at the top of an almost infinite list of possibilities.

Scull: What are the typical materials found in your products?

Denney: We don't use any pure silver or copper in our interconnects—it's all alloys. They have better measurable characteristics at 1GHz than do silver or copper, and in subjective listening tests seem to have a more developed midrange and are texturally more complete. We picked up that technology by working with aerospace engineers.

Scull: Is the wire silver-plated?

Denney: It's coated with a preparatory alloy that prevents it from oxidizing. It also improves high-frequency transfer at the surface, where these frequencies propagate. However, our speaker wires are pure copper—it simply sounds the best.

Scull: How about the dielectric?

Denney: We use foamed polypropylene and modified polyethylene.

Scull: 'Scuse me, Ted?

Denney: Yeah, we've changed the chemical compounds slightly. We like polyethylene because it has a dielectric constant almost equal to that of Teflon; but in our listening tests, it sounded much more developed both spatially and texturally, where Teflon alone sounds somewhat thin and bright by comparison.

Scull: And the jacket material?

Denney: On our more expensive cables, we use a handmade, woven jacket that acts as a dissimilar surface that dissipates vibration. We also use polymer cores and cotton shafts to suppress conductor resonances. On the lower-cost Alpha Series, the jackets are vacuum-sealed over the conductors and dielectrics to suppress the conductor resonances.

Scull: In what configuration do you make your cables?

Denney: We use solid-core, stranded, and Litz conductors, combining them to get the best performance. You know, Jonathan, you can't build a symphony with just one instrument!

Scull: Can I quote you on that, Mr. Denney?

Denney: Yeah! You get a more complete presentation by combining different technologies—that's why we use subjective listening tests when selecting materials. Earlier you asked about the dielectric—I want to tell you that sometimes we actually pass the signal through two separate modifications of a polyethylene dielectric. In many of our interconnects, one type seems to have the right character for upper frequencies, while another will flesh out the bass and the lower midrange.

Scull: I see...

Denney: And, you may ask, why do we build some of our cables by hand?

Scull: Yes, I may ask that...

Denney: Well, we make the less expensive Alpha interconnect on a machine—the Alpha Sterling goes for $150 with silver, and I want to tell you, it costs as much to build as anyone's silver cable, which they might sell for $500 or $600. Just because you build a cable out of silver and Teflon doesn't automatically make it worth 10 times its weight in gold! But we also make handmade interconnects that take over an hour to build just for one pair, which we then run through some tests and give a serial number to.

When we build 'em by hand, we can scrutinize the materials through listening tests before putting them in the cable. Whenever I get a new spool of conductor material, we build a test assembly and listen to the signal in one direction, then flip it around and listen in the other direction. I mark the spool with the direction of the cable. What direction they wind up in the cable itself is dependent on which cable it's going in. It may run in either one direction or another! In many cables, we'll run it in one direction in 6'-and-under lengths, and flip it around for longer lengths. If we made it all by machine, we couldn't do any of this.

Another thing: We may run the signal wire in one direction and the ground wire in the other. Whatever sounds best. When we build our most expensive stuff, the Resolution Reference, sometimes it's murder to find a spool of cable or conductor material to build it with. People want 'em, but we can't get the materials that have the sound for it.

Scull: Okay, Ted. That's 24,998 words—two to go!

Denney: Thanks, Jonathan.

Scull: That's it!

ChrisS's picture

I haven't had the chance to chat with anyone who have these products, I appreciate your responses!


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