Analog Corner #244: TARA Labs cables, Synergistic Research accessories, Stillpoints ESS rack

Does everything produce an improvement?"

My skeptical visitor, to whom I'd just pointed out some of the acoustic treatments and other accessories in my listening room, wasn't trying to push my buttons. He just wanted my opinion.

"No," I said. "Some things make the sound worse—way worse—but after all these years, I'm convinced that just about everything that can be done to a room or a system produces an audible difference, for better or worse."

Which is one reason that having on hand multiple full sets of more than one brand of interconnects and cables isn't merely desirable: For a reviewer, it's absolutely necessary. Yes, it's very expensive to have multiple looms—or even one—but while I have actually bought and paid for the expensive components of my system, I haven't paid for most of the cables and interconnects: They're on long-term loan.

I have on hand full sets of TARA Labs' Zero Evolution, WireWorld's Eclipse Platinum 7, and Stealth Audio's Sakra and Dream (v.10) interconnects and speaker cables, as well as AudioQuest's WEL Signatures in both types. Everything important that's plugged into the AC does so with Shunyata Research Sigma series power cords. I also have various lengths of other cables, as listed in the "Associated Equipment" sidebars of my equipment reviews.

I feel sorry for the cable deniers, especially those who've spent a lot of money elsewhere in their systems yet persist in believing that wires—especially power cords—can't possibly make a difference: As anyone who's taken the time to listen will confirm, wires clearly do affect the sound.

Back to my visitor's question: The go-to wires for my system when it's not hosting review gear are TARA Labs' Zero Evolution interconnects and, for the past few years, TARA's Omega Gold speaker cables. Last year, TARA's founder, Matthew Bond, sent a set of his new Omega Evolution speaker cables ($32,000/8' pair), which are one step below his top model, the Grandmaster Evolution ($42,000/8' pair) (footnote 1).

The Omega Evolutions cost a good deal more than the Omega Golds ($24,000/8' pair), and use considerably more solid-core rectangular copper in a complex, time-consuming construction process that results in two tubes—one each for the positive and negative sides—of even greater girth than the already-fat Omega Golds. (Each run of Omega Gold has a circumference of 4"; for the Omega Evolution, that dimension is 5.5"!)

The many cynics who claim that audiophiles judge sound by sight would predict that I'd go absolutely wild for the Omega Evolutions. After all, they're bigger, and way more expensive.

Yet when I installed the Omega Evolutions, the sound of my system took big steps in some wrong directions. The bottom end softened and lacked control. The top became soft and gauzy. Overall, imaging and soundstaging lost focus and dimensionality. Nothing was better. Inserting these cables in my system proved, once again, that cables are not mere peripherals, but critical components of an audio system. Not that I needed proof.

I baked them using the latest version of Audiodharma's Cable Cooker, but that didn't improve the TARAs' sound. I drove a few hundred miles to visit a friend who, like me, owns Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF speakers, and installed the Omega Evolutions in his system. Same results. I returned the cables to TARA Labs and went back to using the Omega Golds.

In the meantime, TARA's Matthew Bond had set about figuring out what had happened, and why. It wasn't the Omega Evolutions' design, he concluded, but rather an inductive mismatch with some speakers and electronics (footnote 2). That led to his development of the higher-inductance Evolution SP, a variant of the original Evolution design that did produce in my system the promised audible improvements over the Omega Golds, including more precise note attacks from top to bottom, greater textural nuance, suppler and more precise bass, and a less mechanical sound overall (skeptics: roll your eyes here).

I related this history to my visitor to emphasize that, in my experience, not every change to an audio system produces an improvement. To my amazement, he didn't tell me he had a plane to catch and run out the door.

When someone sends me $500/pair or $1000/pair speaker cables that perform as well as the hideously expensive models hanging around here, I'll be happy to buy them and use them. So far, that hasn't happened.

What's a Grecian urn?
Recently, I made a reference to Pentangle's extraordinary second album, Sweet Child (2 LPs, Transatlantic TRA 178), one disc of which was recorded in concert at London's Royal Festival Hall, which opened in 1951. Like Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall, soon to be David Geffen Hall), which opened 11 years later, the Royal Festival was among the first concert venues to be designed and built according to the principles of acoustic science (measurements), instead of the more fanciful and artistic ones (which often produced spectacular, unsurpassed sonics).

There were complaints about the Royal Festival from the beginning, and it was renovated in 1964 and 2007; many thought its original acoustic too dry, though it produced great clarity. In 2011, the conductor Sir Simon Rattle told a Guardian reporter that the acoustics were so "poor" (dry) that they made performers who played in the room "lose their will to live." Yikes! The Wikipedia page devoted to the Royal Festival Hall includes this: "It was known that the ancient Greeks had developed the technique of using vases built into their auditoria which added resonance to strengthen tone or improve its quality, though the effect was very weak."

That was news to me, but a Google search on "Greeks used vases to tune auditoriums" turned up confirmation in various historical sources. While the effects of such resonators in an auditorium might be "very weak," the results might well be more profound in a much smaller listening room.

It got me thinking about some of the "wacky" things many of us have seen attached to hotel-room walls during audio shows. Little brass cups are typical, and so are Synergistic Research's HFTs: tiny, flared, horn-like aluminum "transducers" (above), which I reported on in my February 2015 column. I'm still convinced they work as advertised; they're still stuck to my walls.

Though the term ancient Greek backup may have you visualizing the wrong thing, it was nice having that opinion confirmed—as happened during Tom Cruise's recent appearance on The Tonight Show, in which he gave a shout out to both Synergistic Research's room-tuning devices and Magico's speakers (footnote 3). Not that I need Tom's validation, but how great was that for high-performance audio, vinyl, and Synergistic Research?

I feared blowback about my write-up of the Synergistic HFTs, but there was none. Instead, during visits to audiophiles throughout 2015, I found HFTs in various listening rooms, enthusiastically endorsed by their owners—who, if the HFTs had not worked as promised, could easily have taken advantage of Synergistic's money-back guarantee.

You knew this was coming . . .
Recently, Synergistic Research's Ted Denney visited me again, toting his latest products. One of them, the Atmosphere, extends the action of Synergistic's $995 Active Frequency Equalizer (Active FEQ) box (above), which generates low-frequency radio-frequency (RF) pulses in an effort to counter the unwanted RF already present in the listening room. (This is also covered in my February 2015 column.) The Atmosphere takes this technology to a higher—or, if you prefer, more ridiculous—plane. It could be Denney's most audacious product yet (footnote 4).

Though rooted in science, the Atmosphere is based on some ideas that are wild even for Ted Denney. He was led to them by something he'd observed that I and maybe you, too, have noticed: His stereo sounds best late at night, and worst in the middle of the afternoon. In my experience, those phenomena are as consistently dependable as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. Denney surmised that human-generated and solar RF might be the culprits. If so—as explained in an article (footnote 5) on Synergistic's website that also discusses "sudden ionospheric disturbance" (SID), "coronal holes," and "sudden disappearing filaments" (SDF)—perhaps RF generated within a listening room could be "modeled and shaped to improve sound," rather than degrade it.

Here's where I admit to being receptive to talk about the Schumann Resonance of 7.83Hz. Schumann Resonances are electromagnetic resonances, occurring at specific frequencies, within the Earth's atmosphere, between the planet's surface and the ionosphere. The earth's atmosphere resonates at a fundamental frequency of 7.83Hz, as well as at a series of higher frequencies. The amount of resonating energy changes in proportion to the ionosphere's density, which itself depends on the amount of solar radiation striking it; the latter can also cause miniscule variations in the Schumann fundamental—which, because it's related to the dimensions of the cavity between the Earth and the ionosphere, otherwise remains constant at 7.83Hz.

We've been exposed to that frequency for hundreds of thousands of years. Only very recently have we been bombarded with all kinds of other frequencies, all human-made: radio, 60Hz electricity, cell phones, WiFi, you name it. The more we're bombarded, perhaps the crazier and more agitated we become.

This was explained to me in the 1980s, when I lived in Los Angeles. One day I visited the Society for Human Development, where I was put on a table that emitted low-frequency magnetic pulses at or around the Schumann fundamental. (Next time you see me, ask me why I was there; I don't have the space here to tell that story.) I got up off the table feeling only that I'd been ripped off for $50. But that evening, exceptional, unusual, and beneficial thoughts, feelings, and energy surges overwhelmed me. Within a few weeks, the effect had dissipated.

From then until I left L.A., I visited the Society for Human Development monthly for a dose of concentrated low-frequency pulses. But before I moved, "Dr. Bob" made for me a pillow in which he'd embedded a very strong magnet. I've slept with this pillow for almost 30 years. In its presence I feel an overwhelming calm and sense of relaxation. Is it the power of suggestion? Who cares? My dogs, too, like it.

Footnote 1: TARA Labs, Inc., 550 Clover Lane, Ashland, OR 97520. Tel: (541) 488-6465. Fax: (541) 488-6463. Web:

Footnote 2: Read Bond's explanation at

Footnote 3: See

Footnote 4: Synergistic Research, 17401 Armstrong Avenue, Suite 102, Irvine, CA 92614. Tel: (800) 578-6489, (949) 476-0000. Web:

Footnote 5: See