In 2007, Synergistic Research developed a DC-biased, electromagnetic (EM), AC-filtering cell that they claim improves the quality of AC by affecting the movement of electrons through its conductive materials. According to Synergistic, the cell works without current restriction -- the Achilles’ heel of many early power conditioners, and of more than a few still sold today. In fact, Synergistic says, the more AC-powered devices are fed through the cell, the better it works.
Synergistic’s EM cell was first pressed into service in 2008, in their PowerCell 10 power conditioner (discontinued). Later versions of the cell have since been used in most of the company’s power conditioners, as well as in its SRX and Galileo SX power cords, Active Ground Block SE, Tranquility Base component platforms, and Tranquility Pod component field conditioners.
Synergistic sent me a review sample of their latest product to use the EM cell: the 12-outlet PowerCell SX power conditioner ($8495-$12,995, depending on power cord, all prices USD). The PowerCell SX contains the most advanced version yet of the cell -- six of them -- as well as, SR claims, many other performance-improving features. As in their PowerCell 12 SE ($6495 or $9500, depending on power cord), most of the PowerCell SX’s top plate is a large Plexiglas window that provides a stunning view of its high-tech innards, including the carbon-fiber-clad EM cells.
The PowerCell SX features two more cosmetic goodies: a second, smaller window on its front panel that pulls double duty as a transparent ammeter while providing another view of the interior, which can be lit up in several colors and intensities. (The PowerCell 12 SE’s interior lights up in a single intensity of blue.)
There’s an old saying: Any audio component that has a meter can’t be too bad. There was one way to find out.
Inside the PowerCell SX
The PowerCell SX falls between Synergistic Research’s limited-edition statement-model conditioner, the Galileo PowerCell SX ($22,995 with SRX cord), and the PowerCell 12 SE.
As in the PowerCell 12 SE, the PowerCell SX’s six DC-biased EM cells provide two stages of AC filtration: a single large, flat EM covers all 12 outlets, and five smaller, “folded” EMs are rolled in a manner similar to the way capacitors are made. Four of these folded EMs cover the current’s positive and negative poles: two cells for each set of three duplexes. The fifth EM covers the current ground plane for the entire system.
Also like the 12 SE, the PowerCell SX has ten-gauge, silver-matrix, point-to-point wiring, Synergistic’s proprietary power transformers and capacitors, and the use of a Schumann wave generator to “bias” the EM cells and ground with ultra-low-frequency pulses.
However, the PowerCell SX improves on the PowerCell 12 SE by adopting some 80% of the features and technologies used in Synergistic’s flagship conditioner, the Galileo PowerCell SX. Most notably, it borrows the Galileo’s advanced rolled EM cells, which are more densely packed and contain 25% more surface area (a total of 4245 square centimeters) than the PowerCell 12 SE’s cells. The rolled cells, Synergistic claims, provide more filtration and can store more current, the latter useful for a power amp asked to reproduce sudden dynamic swings in music.
The PowerCell SX also contains these features of the Galileo PowerCell SX:
- The transparent, front-panel ammeter and the option of illuminating the interior in a choice of intensities and colors: Galileo White, Dante Red, Synergistic Research Blue, McIntosh Blue.
- A proprietary treatment, which is used on each of the PowerCell SX’s conductive parts. The first two steps of this treatment, both newly revamped, are Synergistic’s 1) Uniform Energy Field (UEF) treatment, applied via a compound of materials to the EM cells, main circuit board, new Orange capacitors, and other parts; and 2) electronic Quantum Tunneling. The third part of this process is an entirely new treatment that Synergistic is, for now, not disclosing.
- A more powerful Schumann generator to bias the PowerCell SX’s EM cells. As in the Galileo PowerCell SX, this generator biases all six cells, rolled and flat. (In the PowerCell 12 SE, only the flat cell is biased.)
- An improved power supply for the Schumann generator and EM cell active DC biasing.
- A new wiring arrangement for the AC ground plane.
- The ability to ground the PowerCell SX to a Synergistic Active Ground Block (sold separately for $1999), for what the company claims is significantly improved performance. Already built into the PowerCell SX is a version of Synergistic’s entry-level, passive Ground Block.
- Gold UEF tuning “bullets” placed inside the PowerCell SX to affect the AC current’s resonant frequency. Plated with 24K gold, these bullets are claimed to add to the sound more warmth, richness, and musicality than do the bullets used in the PowerCell 12 SE.
The PowerCell SX also includes two things not yet featured in the Galileo PowerCell SX. First, the PowerCell SX’s power supply and Schumann generator use Synergistic’s new Orange capacitors, which have been treated with the same UEF process used on Synergistic’s new Orange fuses. Second, the PowerCell SX has six of the company’s new Orange AC duplexes, claimed to offer improved performance over the earlier Blue duplexes. The Orange duplexes are organized into two isolated banks of three duplexes each, which can be split between analog and digital devices.
Outside the PowerCell SX
The PowerCell SX weighs 28 pounds, and its chassis of black carbon steel and aluminum measures 17.5”W x 5.5”H x 13.5”D. That top Plexiglas window is about 12.75”W x 10”D. The front panel extends about half an inch past its meetings with the top, bottom, and side panels. Below the transparent ammeter on the front panel are silk-screened “Synergistic Research” (left) and “PowerCell SX” (right).
On the rear panel are: the 12 outlets of the six Orange duplexes, a connector for a Ground Block, a button for selecting among the various styles of internal illumination, a rocker Reset/Off switch for a circuit breaker that shuts down the conditioner if a fault is received from an upstream component, and a Neutrik 32-amp powerCON female connector for an AC power cord with a male powerCON.
On the bottom panel are four rubber feet and a tiny plate bearing the serial number.
The PowerCell SX comes with three options of power cord: the Atmosphere X Euphoria Level 3 cord (5’, $3995 if bought separately, total price $8495); the Galileo SX cord (5’, $6000 separate, $10,495 total); or the SRX cord (6’, $10,000 separate, $12,995 total). The SRX, Synergistic’s best currently sold power cord, is similar to the SR25 Limited Edition cord ($20,000, sold out): a long, flat, flexible, layered EM cell containing two smaller folded cells, one each for the hot and neutral conductors. Synergistic claims that the SRX provides state-of-the-art filtration of AC.
While all of these cords are actively shielded, their power supplies are internal -- no external wires are used to deliver the shield’s DC bias. With the PowerCell SX, Synergistic also sent me Atmosphere X Euphoria Level 3 and SRX power cords, and a High Definition Ground Cable ($400) for use with my Active Ground Block.
The PowerCell SX comes with a five-year limited warranty on parts and labor, and a bonus: an Orange duplex outlet ($285 if bought separately) to replace your existing wall outlet.
Unplugged, but not for long
After turning off my listening room’s power at the circuit-breaker box, I replaced my AC wall outlet with the bonus Orange duplex. I needed only a screwdriver and a polarity checker, but anyone who’s uncomfortable working with electricity should have this done by a licensed electrician.
The PowerCell SX replaced my PowerCell 12 SE, which sits on one shelf of a Symposium Acoustics Osiris rack. I turned the PowerCell SX’s circuit-breaker rocker to Off and plugged in my components’ power cords.
The plan was to audition the PowerCell SX with the SRX power cord, then try the Atmosphere X Euphoria Level 3 cord. One thing I really like about Neutrik’s powerCON connectors is their locking mechanism, which ensures that the cord remains tightly connected. Also, because the buyer of a PowerCell SX might not also have sprung for a Ground Block, I performed only the very last portion of my listening with the PowerCell SX connected to my system’s Active Ground Block.
After moving the PowerCell SX’s switch to On, I turned on my components and fired up the PowerCell SX’s internal illumination. I’m not much for gewgaws, but the transparent ammeter and top window are pretty dope. I also liked the fact that I could choose the intensity and color of illumination to suit my mood.
I usually recommend using good aftermarket footers. Synergistic Research makes its own feet -- the various MiG models -- and there are many competing products. The PowerCell SX’s stock feet, small and made of rubber, can be removed with a screwdriver. But there’s little need for that -- most aftermarket feet are tall enough to raise the stock feet above the shelf surface.
And there’s a benefit to using the stock feet. Many audiophile power cords are so stiff that they can prevent a PowerCell SX from touching the shelf at all four points of desired contact, or from sitting straight on a shelf. But with its stock feet, the PowerCell SX sat securely on my rack despite my thicket of unwieldy cords.
Unlike earlier PowerCells, the SX didn’t seem to require much run-in time before I began my critical listening. Synergistic told me that this is due to the improved Quantum Tunneling treatment that all conductive parts are subjected to. Still, I first let both the new wall outlet and the PowerCell SX itself operate for about 100 hours.
Plugged back in and playing
In my experience, improvements in the quality of AC power can improve virtually every aspect of an audio system’s sound -- and when the quality of AC is greatly improved, the change in sound can be apparent from the first note. This was my experience with the PowerCell SX. At the very beginning of my auditioning, I wrote in my notes, “QUIET BACKGROUND!” I had never heard my system reject noise as effectively as it did with the PowerCell SX.
In “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” from Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (CD, Verve 559 248-2), I was able to hear her faintest, most exquisite inflections for the first time. In “The Girl from Ipanema,” from The World’s Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings (SACD/CD, Chesky JD323), excerpted from Rosa Passos and Ron Carter’s Entre Amigos (SACD/CD, Chesky JD247), the PowerCell SX revealed previously buried complexities in even the subtlest of drummer Paulinho Braga’s brushstrokes on snare. In “Time,” from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (SACD/CD, Capitol CDP 5 82136 2), the opening bells’ reverberation and decay were startling.
However, greater clarity and retrieval of detail weren’t the only things about my system’s sound that improved with the PowerCell SX. I heard less distortion -- music took on a new cleanness and harmonic density. With the PowerCell SX, Livingston Taylor’s whistling at the beginning of his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” also on The World’s Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings and on Taylor’s own Ink (SACD/CD, Chesky JD162), sounded real, its high-frequency shrillness gone. With “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” my system reproduced Ella Fitzgerald’s voice with more midrange bloom, refinement, and liquidity than ever before. And with Passos and Carter’s cover of “The Girl from Ipanema,” the PowerCell SX tamed much of the singer’s sibilance.
For musical shock and awe I turned to “Slip,” from Deadmau5’s Random Album Title (CD, Ultra UL 1868-2). Here, too, transient impacts and high-frequency cleanness reached levels of performance I had never before heard in my system. Joel Zimmerman’s synths had never sounded so clean and zingy, or the background so quiet -- the sorts of improvements I heard in pretty much everything I played. Drum whacks had never been so solid and impactful, guitar notes never so precise and piercing, aural images never so solidly placed on such large, three-dimensional soundstages.
Timbral accuracy, too, improved with the PowerCell SX. When auditioning new gear, you needn’t have been present at the recording sessions for your favorite albums to feel “Oh, that’s what it’s supposed to sound like.” With the PowerCell SX, Anne Bisson’s crystalline voice -- it’s anything but smoky -- in Brahms’s song “Da unten im Tale,” from the audiophile sampler Fidelio Reference 3 (CD, Fidelio Musique FACD911), the piercingly metallic bells in Pink Floyd’s “Time,” and the sweet, mellow, woody sounds of Ben Webster’s tenor saxophone in “Chelsea Bridge,” from Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (CD, Masterworks Series 21349), seemed voiced much more accurately than before.
One more thing: The PowerCell SX breathed new life into recordings of performances that lean heavily on speed, pace, rhythm, and timing for their appeal -- such as “Witchcraft,” from Frank Sinatra’s Ultimate Sinatra (CD, Capitol 4 72920 5), and “Jamming,” from Bob Marley’s Exodus: 30th Anniversary Edition (CD, Island 314 586 408-2). I listened with renewed interest -- and amazement -- to these former old standbys that had somehow been relegated to the bottom of my playlist.
Next I connected the PowerCell SX to my Synergistic Active Ground Block ($1999) with the High Definition Ground Cable Synergistic had included. With the PowerCell SX alone, soundstage width and height increased over the PowerCell 12 SE. Yet with the Ground Block, those things increased slightly further, and noise and distortion decreased another notch or two -- and this occurred with my system’s other components already connected to the Ground Block. In “One, I Love,” from Karan Casey’s Songlines (CD, Shanachie 78007), her voice seemed to emanate from a point in air a few inches higher than before, and her vocalizations and their reverberation were more apparent with the Ground Block.
Finally, I swapped out the SRX power cord for the Atmosphere X Euphoria Level 3 cord. The sound was still much better than with the PowerCell 12 SE powering my system, but transient speed, noise rejection, dynamic range, timbral accuracy, and performance at the top and bottom of the audioband all were now several rungs lower on the quality ladder from what I’d heard with the SRX cord. Of course, that’s as it should be -- the SRX costs almost three times as much as the Atmosphere X Euphoria Level 3. It’s all too easy for a reviewer to advise someone to spend an extra $4500 on a power cord. Suffice it to say that an expensive power conditioner that feeds all of a system’s components is not the place to save money on a power cord.
“[One] measure of [an audiophile is what] he does with power.” -- Plato
Synergistic Research products have long been known for a “house sound” that’s fast, exciting, and lively. But the thrills associated with that sound have often come with losses in harmonic richness and sonic weight. Things have changed in recent years -- particularly with the introduction of Synergistic’s UEF technology. Their product count has not only significantly increased, but they now have a sound that’s more musical and balanced.
The PowerCell SX power conditioner is the most recent evolution of Synergistic’s PowerCell line. Somehow, its sound significantly betters that of its predecessor, the less expensive PowerCell 12 SE, in terms of such things as noise rejection, transient speed, and transparency. But perhaps its greatest achievement is its similar gains in harmonic richness and tonal accuracy -- music’s calling cards. If there’s a better-performing power conditioner out there, I have yet to hear it. And the illuminated interior with light show, and that transparent ammeter in front and big window on top, are all pretty dope.
. . . Howard Kneller
- Speakers -- YG Acoustics Kipod II Signature
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f13 v2 (2)
- Power amplifier -- Esoteric Grandioso S1
- Preamplifier -- Esoteric Grandioso C1
- Sources -- Microsoft Surface 3 laptop computer running foobar2000, Esoteric Grandioso K1 SACD/CD player and G1 master clock generator
- Other electronics -- JL Audio CR-1 active subwoofer crossover
- Interconnects -- Synergistic Research Galileo SX
- Digital links -- Mad Scientist Audio Black Magic (USB), Synergistic Research Galileo SX (USB and BNC)
- Speaker cables -- Synergistic Research Galileo SX
- Power cords -- Synergistic Research SR25 (power conditioner) and Galileo SX
- Power conditioners and distribution -- Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 SE and QLS power strips
- Isolation devices -- Silent Running Audio: VR fp Isobase. Symposium Acoustics: Osiris Ultimate and Standard racks, Segue platform, RollerBlock Series 2+ equipment support system. Synergistic Research: MiG 2.0 feet, Tranquility Bases.
- Room treatments and correction -- Synergistic Research Acoustic Art System, Atmosphere XL4, Black Boxes (2) and HFT and FEQ devices; GIK 2A Alpha diffusor/absorber acoustic panels; WA-Quantum Sound Animator
- Misc. -- Synergistic Research Active Ground Block, Blue fuses, and Electronic Circuit Transducers (ECTs). Mad Scientist: Black Discus Audio System Enhancers and Graphene Contact Enhancer, High Fidelity Cables MC-0.5 Magnetic Wave Guides, Telos Quantum connector caps, f.oq damping tape
Synergistic Research PowerCell SX Power Conditioner
Prices: $8495 with 5’ Atmosphere X Euphoria Level 3 power cord, $10,495 with 5’ Galileo SX power cord, $12,995 with 6’ SRX power cord. All packages include Orange Duplex wall outlet.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
1736 E. Borchard Avenue, Suite 102
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Phone: (800) 578-6489