In 2003, I asked a representative from Synergistic Research why, unlike many other cable manufacturers, the company didn’t make a power conditioner. The rep stated that, despite Synergistic’s many models of interconnect, speaker cable, and power cord, head designer Ted Denney had yet to discover a power-conditioning technology he thought worth developing. According to the rep, only when Denney had found something that he thought would move the field forward would he put the Synergistic name on it.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Denney made that breakthrough and Synergistic introduced the PowerCell 10, a ten-outlet (five duplexes) power conditioner that passed outgoing AC current through a proprietary active electromagnetic (EM) cell. This, according to Denney, conditioned the current via the application of “differential electromagnetic fields.”
Unlike many power conditioners of that day and this, the PowerCell 10 used no transformers, chokes, or capacitors, and thus did not seem to restrict the flow of current. It therefore improved the sound of not only preamps and sources, but also high-current amplifiers.
Over the years, the PowerCell 10 went through four iterations, culminating in the PowerCell 10 UEF. Its replacements -- the three models of the new PowerCell 12 UEF series -- each sport six duplex outlets for a total of 12 in all, and use the latest variant of the company’s active EM cell technology. Synergistic sent me a review sample of the series’ top dog, the PowerCell 12 UEF SE ($5995 USD). Among other things, its top plate is mostly of glass, to provide a stunning view of the PowerCell 12’s high-tech innards, including the cells, which are clad in carbon fiber.
Denney says that the PowerCell 12 UEF SE outperforms not only the PowerCell 10 UEF ($6990 with optional FEQ Equalizer box), but also his former flagship power conditioner, the Galileo PowerCell LE ($10,000). As I currently use in my system both a PowerCell 10 UEF and the smaller PowerCell 6 SE, one of those assertions was about to be tested.
Features: Not your grandpa’s EM-cell AC purifier
With the exception of the Galileo PowerCell LE, which had three EM cells, one each for positive, negative, and ground, Synergistic Research’s PowerCell conditioners have always run the incoming AC through a single large, active EM cell. Over the years, Synergistic says, each new PowerCell model included an improvement in the EM-cell technology, though the cells’ basic structure remained unchanged. In the PowerCell 10 UEF, for example, Denney applied the company’s UEF filtering technology to the current’s ground plane and to strategic locations within the cell.
For the PowerCell 12 UEF SE, Denney has significantly upped his game. First, he’s changed the number, structure, and material composition of the EM cells. The new model has six cells providing two stages of filtration: one large (99.2 sq. in.), flat cell covering all 12 outlets, and five smaller (72.7 sq. in.) “folded” cells that are rolled in a similar manner as a capacitor. Four of the folded cells cover the outlets’ positive and negative poles: two cells for three duplexes. The fifth folded cell covers the current’s ground plane system-wide. Denney says that this new configuration makes it possible for the PowerCell 12 UEF SE to provide twice the filtration of the PowerCell 10 UEF.
According to Denney, altering the shape of the EM cells changes their inductance properties and thus their sound quality. He says that while flattening the cells subjectively increases soundstaging and air, folding them enhances detail and focus. Using both types of cells, he says, provides the best of both worlds.
Further, the cells now contain graphene, a new, highly conductive wonder material that consists of a layer of pure carbon only a single molecule thick. One of the many reasons that graphene is so exciting is that it is almost a superconductor. Superconductors are materials that can conduct electricity with almost no resistance when cooled to extremely low temperatures ranging from near absolute zero (-459.67°F or -273.15°C) to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (-140.8°F or -96°C). What makes graphene so remarkable is that it can do this at room temperature.
Synergistic first used graphene in its Atmosphere Series interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords. Denney states that its implementation in the PowerCell 12 UEF SE’s EM cells allows the cells to act not only like superconductors, but also supercapacitors, which store energy for peak current demand. This, he says, causes components plugged into the PowerCell 12 to draw more current during dynamic peaks than they would if plugged directly into a wall outlet.
As noted, the five folded cells are now gorgeously clad in carbon fiber. In fact, the folded carbon-fiber cells are so visually striking that I imagine they’re why Denney has made the top plate of glass -- it lifts the Area 51-like veil of secrecy that surrounded the internal design of earlier PowerCells. Not only did those models not have a window, they were permanently sealed. Opening one not only voided its warranty but was likely to crack its case. Beyond aesthetics, Denney says that the carbon fiber shields the cells from electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio-frequency interference (RFI) radiated from adjoining cells, and damps mechanical resonances, which can degrade sound quality.
The power supply for EM cells is housed inside the PowerCell 12’s case and contains eight of Synergistic’s Quantum Capacitors. There’s no need, as with earlier models, for an external Mini Power Coupler (MPC) wall-wart supply. The cells’ active circuit still uses Synergistic’s Enigma Tuning Bullets, also now installed inside the case.
The second way in which Denney has upped his game in the PowerCell 12 is in his application of UEF filtration. According to him, Synergistic can now filter the current’s various portions -- hot, neutral, ground -- in a way that more effectively removes high-frequency noise and other unwanted distortions.
Unchanged from the PowerCell 10 UEF SE is that the PowerCell 12 UEF SE reclocks the AC from the resident 60Hz frequency to the Earth’s Schumann frequency of 7.83Hz, thus -- per Denney -- overriding the noise inherent in the higher frequency. In the PowerCell 10 UEF, the reclocking was performed by the small, optional FEQ PowerCell Equalizer ($995). However, that reclocking is now done inside the PowerCell 12 UEF SE, obviating the need for a pricey external box.
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE’s power supply comprises two Synergistic power transformers; the result, Denney claims, is performance that far exceeds that of the Galileo MPC ($395, discontinued). Also, all of the PowerCell 12’s conductive pathways are treated with Synergistic’s UEF technology, and are conditioned with their proprietary, 2,000,000-volt Quantum Tunneling process.
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE’s front and rear panels are of black-anodized aluminum; the rest of the case is made of carbon steel. This replacement of the older models’ acrylic housings not only reduces resonances but allows the PowerCell 12 to aesthetically match most other audio components.
On the rear panel is a toggle switch for an internal circuit breaker that shuts down the PowerCell 12 in the event of an upstream fault from a component. Denney states that the circuit, which uses technology used in Synergistic’s new Black fuses, offers increased performance over that of any fuse.
Also on the rear panel are six of Synergistic new, top-of-the-line Black UEF duplex outlets ($250 each), each connected to its respective EM cells with Synergistic’s 10-gauge silver matrix conductors, all wired point to point. The outlets are divided into two isolated banks of three duplexes each, to isolate analog and digital components from each other. Further, the three outlets of each bank are connected to each other with ground straps of 99.995%-pure silver.
Finally, the rear panel also contains a female Neutrik 32A powerCON AC connector for the included Atmosphere Level 3, a 10-gauge, 32A active power cord designed to work with the PowerCell 12 UEF SE. As with the other cords in Synergistic’s Atmosphere line, the power supply for the cord’s active circuit is housed inside the cord itself -- there is no external MPC.
I’ve seen lots of high-end power conditioners, and very few include a power cord. While the 32A version of the Atmosphere Level 3 cord isn’t sold separately, the standard 15A version retails for $3395. As if this weren’t enough, Synergistic also throws in a Black duplex wall outlet ($250). When you buy a PowerCell 12 UEF SE, you get not only a line conditioner, but a whole power-conditioning system.
The other PowerCell 12s: UEF S and UEF
Immediately below the PowerCell 12 UEF SE in Synergistic’s hierarchy is the PowerCell 12 UEF S ($5495). It comes with all of the SE’s features, except for the glass top plate and the point-to-point 10-gauge silver matrix wiring. In the S, only the first outlet is direct-wired; jumpers are placed between the other outlets using 10- and 12-gauge wiring.
The UEF line’s entry-level model, the PowerCell 12 UEF ($4495), contains all the features of the PowerCell 12 UEF S, with these exceptions: It uses Synergistic’s entry-level red TeslaPlex duplex outlets instead of the Black UEFs, a Neutrik powerCON 32A version of Synergistic’s non-active Black High-Current power cord instead of the active Atmosphere Level 3 cord, and internal wiring of 12-gauge copper instead of 10-gauge silver matrix wire.
The PowerCell 12 UEF line conditioners measure 17.5”W x 5.5”H x 13.5”D, weigh 19 pounds each, and are handmade in Synergistic’s new factory in Irvine, California.
Setup: Here we go again
I’ve been using two PowerCell conditioners in my complex system. Analog components are plugged into a PowerCell 10 UEF with attached FEQ PowerCell Equalizer box ($6995 total). Daisy-chained into that conditioner is a PowerCell 6 SE ($2595), into which I plug all of my digital gear. Ted Denney assured me that I could replace these two conditioners with a single PowerCell 12 UEF SE, and so I did.
This situation brought about a bit of déjà vu. As related in my review of Synergistic’s Atmosphere signal cables, I’d been using their Element-series speaker cables to separately wire each driver of each of my speakers, and had replaced those cables with a much simpler, less expensive configuration of Atmospheres. Surprisingly, the Atmospheres resoundingly prevailed.
Now I was pitting two power conditioners with a combined retail price of $9590 against a single newcomer, the PowerCell 12 UEF SE, costing $5995. Despite the prior triumph of the Atmosphere signal cables, victory to the newcomer was not assured.
Without the external FEQ PowerCell Equalizer box or any MPCs, setting up the PowerCell 12 UEF SE consisted of merely plugging in the power cords and making sure the PowerCell 12’s circuit breaker was switched on. Also, I replaced my Synergistic Red outlet with the Black UEF outlet that accompanied the new PowerCell. When I plugged the PowerCell 12 UEF SE into the new wall outlet, I saw, through the glass top plate, a blue LED blinking. Denney told me that this is part of the FEQ reclocking circuit.
Internet forum trolls can argue all they want that break-in is a figment of the audiophile imagination. However, perhaps no products have more clearly demonstrated this phenomenon to me than have the PowerCells. In the past, when I’ve hooked up everything and listened for the first time, the sound has been dull, lifeless, and dynamically restricted. I think I’ve made a serious mistake and go to bed depressed. But what a difference a day can make. Things have always greatly improved with 24 to 36 hours of run time, and have continued to improve for another 100 hours or more.
In this instance, the PowerCell 12 UEF SE sent to me by Synergistic had been used at an audio show. I ran it in for a few days, and began listening.
Performance: Cell to cell. Can you hear me now?
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE’s abilities were first demonstrated by the first two tracks of Jun Fukamachi’s At Steinway (Take 2) (CD, LIM DXD 038): two different versions, by Fukamachi, of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major. These were digitally recorded from an LP cut direct to disc in 1978, and are identical in all respects but one: which phono cartridge was used during the digitization process. In the first, a van den Hul Colibri cartridge was used; in the second, a First Impression Music (FIM) Black Ebony.
This is not quite Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, but Fukamachi’s own version of the work, “after” Chopin. Shockingly -- some might say offensively -- Fukamachi rearranged the rhythmic patterns of the accompaniment. Perhaps I should have been tipped off by tracks 9 and 10: the pianist’s version of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”
Nonetheless, this album contains what are said to be some of the best recordings of a piano available, and this nocturne perfectly demonstrated the PowerCell 12 UEF SE’s incredible ability to reduce noise and enhance detail, even taking into account the source LP’s occasional pops and clicks. For example, many great pianists state that the instrument’s sustain pedal has ten or even many more angles of inclination and thus of effect. For the first time, I was able to tell that the opening echoes in this performance reflected only the most conservative of these pedal positions, causing the notes to linger to a degree of precision that is extremely difficult to master. Fukamachi may have been bombastic, but he was talented.
Further, to a large degree, what separates a great from an average piano is the instrument’s performance in its uppermost register, and the PowerCell 12 UEF SE made apparent just how distinguished is Steinway’s flagship concert grand, the 9’ Model D. Fukamachi takes advantage of the shrillest notes, which the PowerCell 12 UEF SE reproduced without the discordant distortion that audiophiles have come to accept as inherent in the reproduction of high-frequency piano notes, with or without a power conditioner.
I then cued up several selections from a complete cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies, with Jan Willem de Vriend conducting the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, which plays in period style, often on period instruments (CD, Challenge Classics CC72550). The PowerCell12 UEF SE cleaned everything up, reduced noise, and improved detail and instrumental focus. Percussion instruments had more heft. For example, in the first movement of the Fifth Symphony, the PowerCell 12 UEF SE improved the leading edge of the renowned, powerful, dramatic bow strokes and of the string attacks. Never before had I heard this iconic work presented with so much force and precision. In the opening of the third movement, de Vriend seems to suffer a rare misstep: the lower strings seem at times too far back. However, with the lower noise floor and improved clarity provided by the PowerCell 12 UEF SE, these muted passages were easier to follow. This made them more musical, and less disruptive of the overall driven pace of this performance. Further, with the background so quiet, instrumental tonal colors and three-dimensionality improved, and everything became a bit more vibrant. Horns sounded sweeter and more vivid.
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE also improved soundstaging in a way I hadn’t previously experienced with any other power conditioner. With the Fukamachi disc, it was now much more apparent that the microphones had been positioned directly atop the piano, rather than in, say, the first row of seats. In excerpts from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring performed by Choeur de Métal, an 18-piece Canadian brass-and-percussion ensemble led by trombonist Alain Trudel, from the compilation Fidelio Reference 2: Festival Son et de l’Image 2007 (CD, Fidelio FACD910), the brasses snapped into place as never before: three French horns on the left, three trumpets at the center (noticeably recessed), three trombones on the right, and two percussionists directly behind the trumpets.
Impressively, the PowerCell 12 UEF worked wonders with difficult-to-reproduce instruments at the extremes of high and low frequencies. The articulation, pitch delineation, and extension of Red Mitchell’s double-bass riffs in his and Warne Marsh’s Big Two, Vol.1 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Storyville) were all better through the PowerCell. Same with the attacks of the double basses in “In Your Eyes,” from Peter Gabriel’s New Blood (16/44.1 FLAC, Real World) -- but now I not only heard these instruments, but for the first time felt them in my chest and gut.
Also improved were the ultra-high notes in Bartók’s Sonata for Violin Solo, Sz. 117, edited by Yehudi Menuhin, from 2L Records’ 2L 2007 Sampler: The Nordic Sound (16/44.1 FLAC, 2L). The PowerCell 12 UEF SE greatly reduced the almost mandatory sibilance and brittleness in the 6-8kHz region. In fact, the PowerCell 12’s ability to diminish high-frequency noise made the sounds of all types of instruments, not just those that are difficult to reproduce, less fatiguing.
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE noticeably enhanced almost every aspect of my system’s sound, and did so far more than had the PowerCell 10 UEF, itself a standout performer. The PowerCell 12 UEF SE repeated a fundamental audiophile lesson that I find myself continually relearning: Nothing is more important to the performance of an audio system than high-quality power. Without it, you’re relegated to, at best, mid-fi.
Conclusion: I’ve got the power!
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE just might represent the state of the art of power conditioning. It is a testament to the long way Synergistic Research has come since Ted Denney felt that he had yet to discover a power-conditioning technology worth taking further. But in addition to performance, the PowerCell 12 UEF SE offers high value. You won’t find many, if any, competing models that offer 12 outlets, a topnotch power cord, and an AC wall outlet, all for $5995. And while I’m generally not keen on visual gimcracks, that big window in the PowerCell 12 UEF SE’s top plate presents a display that impresses audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike.
Does all this mean that the PowerCell 12 UEF SE wins a Reviewers’ Choice award? You betcha.
. . . Howard Kneller
- Amplifier -- Esoteric A-03
- Preamplifier -- Esoteric C-02X
- Sources -- Esoteric K-01X SACD/CD player-DAC, Stanford Research PERF10 rubidium clock, Windows 10 computer with JPlay JCat USB card
- Electronic crossover -- JL Audio CR-1
- Speakers -- YG Acoustics Kipod II Signature
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f113 v2 (2)
- Interconnects -- Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 4
- Digital cables -- Synergistic Research Galileo LE USB
- Speaker cables -- Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 4
- Power cords -- Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 3
- Power conditioners -- Synergistic Research PowerCell 6 SE (digital components only) daisy-chained to PowerCell 10 UEF
- Isolation devices -- Symposium Acoustics Osiris racks, Synergistic Research Tranquility Bases, Custom Isolation Products amp stand, Silent Running Audio VR fp Isobase, Synergistic Research MIG 2.0s, Symposium Acoustics RollerBlock Series 2+ equipment support system
- Room treatments -- Synergistic Research: Acoustic Art System, FEQs, and HFTs
- Misc. -- Black Discus Audio System Enhancer
Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE Power Conditioner
Price: $5995 USD; includes Atmosphere Level 3 power cord and Black UEF duplex wall outlet.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Synergistic Research, Inc.
1736 E Borchard Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Phone: (800) 578-6489