Home | Audio Reviews |Audiophile Shows | Partner Mags News

 

June 2020
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest
Featuring Synergistic, Bybee, Soundeck And More!

Rick Becker reviews the Synergistic Research Cable Risers, XOT Transducers, HFT Speaker Kits, Plus Bybee Technologies Quantum Clarifiers. Also included are the Soundeck Damping Feet, Synergistic Research Tranquility Pod, and MiG SX Footers.
Review By Rick Becker

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest!

 

  As I said at the beginning of my previous review, the Synergistic Research Tweakfest, my original plan was to review a bunch of speaker mods that would negate the need for a $10,000 to $20,000 speaker upgrade. Surely a couple of thousand dollars-worth of tweaks could bring my speakers up to acceptable standards? In light of the crippled economy during the COVID 19 pandemic, what could be a more noble effort — short of making face masks and providing PPE to hospitals and meat processing plants? Given that I can barely pour scotch on the rocks, much less come up with a vaccine, the best I can do is self-isolate and not become part of the problem. So here are some findings that may lead you to musical bliss in these tough times or at least give you something to think about until times get better.

 

 Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest!

 

Soundeck Damping Feet
The Kharma Ceramique 2.2 speakers have been my reference since I reviewed them in 2003. I bought way over my head for the gear I was using at the time and with every component and cable upgrade I've made in the nearly 17 years since I've experienced a higher level of performance from these speakers. They were too rich looking for my blood at the time, but I've grown into their formal, piano gloss black finish as I've added birthdays. You could say I love them. Still, with all the improvement wrought by newer components, most recently the AGD Audion GaNfet Class D monoblocks replacing my parallel 300B monoblocks, I wondered what would happen if I focused attention on tweaking the Kharma.

The Soundeck Damping Feet is not a new product. They came about after I raved about the SoundDampedSteel Isoplat Mat turntable mat and suggested to Les Thompson that he make some footers from this same material. The feet are made from two layers of aluminum with a viscoelastic polymer sandwiched between. Constrained layer damping has been used in a variety of components since this time, both in chassis and on turntable platters. Like the Mat, they were winners and the success of Les' side gig in the audio world evolved into Soundeck with numerous other products added to their portfolio. Since then I've mentioned the Damping Feet in our Holiday Gift Guide, probably a couple of times. They are marketed factory direct from Great Britain on eBay and sell for a very affordable $65 for a set of four plus shipping.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

Both round and square designs are available and their corporate logo/name has been added. They are reversible too and work best on the joisted wood floor, but may also be effective on concrete. My only complaint is the paint can get scratched up with the amount of moving I do as a reviewer. (They are easily repainted as there is a small hole to hang them from a paper clip.) Optimally, you can make your own SE version by gluing a 0.75" O-ring in the center with super glue. This additional feature will allow you to easily center the spike by yourself while tipping the speaker. The Damping Feet tighten the focus from top to bottom to a degree that far exceeds their $130 cost, but almost as important, they raise the speaker only a few millimeters, so they do not adversely affect the critical height of the tweeter, unlike any other footers I've seen. This can be critical in near-field or even mid-field distances (7' to 10'). I have also used them with great success as an affordable damping material for components when placed atop another style footer or wood block to sandwich them in direct contact with the flat bottom of the chassis. Although I've been using them for many years, I made the effort do an A/B/A comparison anchoring the speaker directly to the floor to refresh my evaluation of their value. It remains very high to this day.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest!

 

Synergistic Research UEF Performance Elevators
While these don't directly attach to a speaker, they carry the cable across the moat from the amplifier. The risers came along with a loom of the new Synergistic Research Foundation Series cables that unified and improved my system. The problem was, I couldn't stretch my cables out on the floor as most people can. To the left, the speaker cable rides up over the top of the monoblock and swerves around a large potted plant before reaching the speaker. At only one point does the cable approach the floor and a large carved wooden rabbit lets it rest upon its back. To the right, it gets complex where I loop the speaker cable up through the equipment rack and form a second loop directly behind the speaker. I could have made do with a 4' cable on this side, but you know how the cable companies are — they like to sell matched sets. At the speed of lightning, I don't see how a two-foot difference would be a big deal, even considering the slight difference in impedance. Much more significant is the asymmetrical shape of the listening room which blesses the rig with superior acoustics.

 

The Protocol
To get the cable risers out of the way during my wife's home makeover when the room was being painted and carpeting and wood flooring were being installed, I loaned them to my friend Tom to get his opinion. He also had the original versions of their Atmosphere tower and FEQ, both of which are said to interact with their cable risers. For speaker cables, Tom was using Synergistic's Atmosphere UEF Level 2, an earlier version of their mid-priced series. Eventually, I went over myself for a listen — the coronavirus had not yet struck.

It was a cold winter night with clear skies and a Cheshire cat moon. The deer were nibbling on vegetation in Tom's back yard. We descended into his recently remodeled listening room and I listened to a couple of long cuts on my compilation CD to get acclimated to the sound signature of his rig. The remodeling of Tom's room and the acquisition of a new amp, plus some new cables had made a dramatic improvement from a year earlier. Once I was comfortable with the sound, I listened to the first five music segments on the CD. I've heard them hundreds, if not a thousand times since I burned the CD back in the early 2000s. That was Step 1, the baseline.

Step 2: We added the risers with the ruby UEF doobies all facing toward the speaker and I listened to the same five segments. There was an increase in transparency, focus, and inner detail. Whereas before, I had to consciously look into the music to find the signature cues throughout my familiar cuts, with the risers, the music came out to meet me in the listening chair and they were indeed enhanced. How big a deal was this? Well, it was not as big an improvement as I've experienced by adding a set of their Orange Fuses, or a loom of their new Foundation cables, but it was a similar effect and I liked it. It tamed the sound, smoothed it out, revealed a little more tonal color, all without disrupting the tonal balance. (At one point I moved the chair about a foot closer to the speakers and the sound pretty much fell apart. Tom had done his homework carefully.)

Step 3: We turned on the Synergistic Research original Atmosphere tower that was between and slightly behind the plane of the speakers and the original FEQ which was at the back of the room. We selected the Holographic effect which both Tom and I prefer. (I had played with the Atmosphere briefly during a previous visit.) Again, we listened to the same five segments. The effect was additive in that the sound image did indeed become more holographic, though it didn't seem to add more transparency or focus. The combined effect was a positive experience and with the new Atmosphere Infinity and new FEQ X4, I would expect greater enhancement of the ambient signatures they provide. This company doesn't sit still for long.

Step 4: I removed the risers (but left the Atmosphere and FEQ on) and we listened to the five cuts again. Removing a tweak often reveals more of the contribution it makes than installing it. And this was the case here. There was a slight loss of focus, tonal color and the music seemed to disengage from me, requiring more effort on my part to parse out details. The holography imparted by the Atmosphere and FEQ remained, but it was a let-down when the risers were removed.

Step 5: This time we turned off the Atmosphere and FEQ and left the risers off, basically reverting to our Step 1 baseline. Here again, there was a let-down as the soundscape became less holographic. It was certainly not shabby, as the rig is very well sorted out, but it was a disappointment, like accidentally spilling the last half of your popcorn at the theater.

Step 6: Here I added the risers back into the rig for a double-check.

Step 7: Once again I removed the risers, reverting to baseline with the same result as Step 5.

 

I also listened to the video that was recorded at the Synergistic Research room at RMAF in 2019. I visited that room and awarded it one of the Best Rooms at the show. I didn't hear the comparison Ted performed but it doesn't surprise me that the effect was as dramatic as it was on the video — even though my inexpensive Grado headphones. There are several reasons for this. First, my compilation CD does not include a breathy female vocal such as he played. Second, Tom's rig costs only a fraction of his cost. Third, the room there was larger and livelier than Tom's dedicated listening room and last, but not least, there was a more up-to-date Atmosphere tower and Black Box (both shown in white) in the Synergistic room that enhanced the effect of the UEF equipped risers. As with any system tweak, the effects will be somewhat dependent on the gear you have and the room in which you listen to music.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

Synergistic Research HFT Speaker Kits,
Tranquility Pod, And MiG SX Footers Revisited
The HFT Speaker Kits were a tweak I was most interested in trying. I've heard a comparison of the HFT room treatment at shows where they would alternately stick them on the walls and remove them. They were fairly convincing in those demos, but while most rooms have six surfaces for the music to bounce off, my complex listening room has thirteen including a sunken living room floor, a vaulted ceiling, and a wide-open portal leading to the adjacent family room. Plus, there are large paintings and bookshelves full of LPs where most of the HFTs want to go. It seemed to make a lot more sense to decorate the speaker with these six little jewels.

I'll admit I had some apprehension about sticking the HFTs on the piano gloss black finish of my expensive speakers, but after applying the white tack to the bottoms I realized there was less reason for concern. I had originally thought they were designed to suck vibrations out of the cabinet and disperse them into the room, but no. The white tack effectively isolates them from the cabinet. The HFTs work their magic on sound emitted by the speaker and probably the reflections bouncing around in the room. (I gave up on physics back in college and aligned myself with the British Empiricists in philosophy, a move that has brought me around to reviewing audio gear later in life.) I'll let Ted Denney keep his secret to himself and confine myself to what I heard... but also inform you that there are three different color tints on the curved surfaces of each set of seven.

A seventh HFT has been added recently that is to be placed on the ceiling, directly above the tweeter. With the vaulted ceiling, I was instructed to use a larger glob of white tack so I could align the HFT straight down. Since I was going to be popping these on and off the speaker for the review, I drew a chart and labeled which color went where on the speaker. Silver went on the ceiling, below the woofer and below the port on the rear. Black went on each side and the Gold tinted ones went on the top and between the tweeter and midrange. The latter two drivers on my speakers were very close together so I placed the Gold HTF on the broad flange of the tweeter. Common sense. I also used a glossy postcard to anchor the HFTs in proper order when I took them off the speaker. The colors are hard to differentiate and I didn't want to mix up the two sets. Such attention to detail facilitated their application and removal and sped up the process.

Effectively, the HFTs kicked in right away, taking only a short time to recognize the improved focus and the greater sense of space they created. Again, this aligns with the ‘house sound' of so many of their products. It wasn't a radical shift in tonal balance or anything. They still sounded like my Kharma speakers, only better. The music was more engaging and was more attention-grabbing in that it seemed to come out into the room more, particularly on dynamic notes. Once I got a good handle on what was going on, acoustically, I could recognize the effect within a few seconds of attaching or removing the HFTs. But I can also appreciate someone missing the results in one of Ted's demos at a show. Applying a tweak like the HFTs requires a bit of exposure to recognize it. Having familiar music in my familiar system at home made it pretty easy. It's one of those educational experiences we all make on our audiophile journey.

I became sufficiently familiar with the HFTs on the speaker before I brought out the 8' ladder and attached the seventh one to the ceiling. I can't say I noticed a difference with that one...possibly because of the slope of the ceiling or the 6' or 7' altitude above the speaker. Not wanting to drag the ladder up close to my speakers time and again, I let it go at that without further comparison. I figure Ted wouldn't have added it to the Speaker Kit if it wasn't meaningful in a lot of situations.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

Putting myself in the listening shoes of my readers, I asked what the difference might be between the HFT Speaker Kit and their new Tranquility Pod which is only a hundred dollars more. And would the benefit be cumulative if you were to buy both? Here again, it took a little while to come up with differences between the two. Operationally they are different. The HFTs work on sound waves that have emerged from the speakers. The Tranquility Pod generates an electronic field within the source components (in my case) and possibly within the preamp and power amp if you go with multiple Pods. Both the Pod and the HFT speaker kit tightened the resolution and enhanced the sense of space in the recording venue to about the same degree. (I tested them separately, without the MiG SX footers.) But there was a noticeable difference.

The HFT Speaker Kits made the music jump out at me more, commanding my attention. The result is a sound that is more dynamic, and more like I'm at a live performance. And when you're at a live performance you burn more energy listening to the event. Because the music was more focused and there was an enhanced soundstage, it was easy to comprehend lyrics and follow the interactions of the musicians. It required more attention from the listener because it felt more like the musicians were right there and you'd better not fall asleep or read while they were performing! The Speaker Kit made me feel like I was attending a performance, largely because the music felt more dynamic.

The Tranquility Pod, at the front end of the system, was more relaxing and the music felt a little more refined than with the HFTs. It is aptly named. It didn't jump out and grab me with a loud rim shot like the HFTs would do. It provided better focus and enhanced soundstage like the HFTs, but it didn't take as much energy to listen to the music. I could listen to music endlessly and multi-task with a magazine if I wished. At the end of a hard day at work, this might be the way you want to listen to music. Friday or Saturday night, maybe you'll want to go to a concert or a club with the HFTs on your speakers.

I also listened with the Tranquility Pod and the HFT Speaker Kit together and the effect was not cumulative. The Tranquility Pod dominated and the Speaker Kit didn't seem to add anything to the effect of the Tranquility Pod. This makes sense in that the music emanating from the drivers is a smoother, more relaxed sound before it even gets to the HFTs. The result is good news. With both tweaks in your rig, you will get the relaxing vibe of the Tranquility Pod without having to remove the HFTs. When it's party time or you want to listen to that new LP or the Pittsburg Symphony on NPR, just switch the Pod off and you're at the concert hall. If you feel constrained to choose between them, read what I've said here carefully, and examine your preferred mindset when listening to music. If you find you've made a disappointing choice, you have the 30-day return privilege to fall back on.

I don't want to give you the impression that these are huge shifts in acoustic perception. This is tweaking at a high level, but small changes can shift the direction in which a system leans. If I hadn't compared them directly, I might not have come up with the differences I've reported here. If I had reviewed them in different years I would have said they each increase the focus and improve the soundstage and left it at that. But since both products coexist in the Synergistic lineup, it should be helpful to point out these differences.

Given what I learned above, it made sense to revisit the MiG SX footers which were recently introduced at a thousand dollars for a set of three. This is strictly a mechanical device and they enhance resolution to a degree I didn't think possible. It is also tunable for greater focus or greater spaciousness by altering the number of footers pointing up or down. (You get a little diagram to help you remember.) The MiG SX, when used with or without the Tranquility Pod or the HFT Speaker Kit, affects primarily the focus, though in doing so it will also affect the size of the sound stage as well as the attack and decay of notes. It didn't cause the music to reach out and grab me like the HFTs did, or relax the music as the Tranquility Pod did. If you're just looking for tighter bass, better shimmer in the cymbals, and lyrics that are easier to decipher, these are the guys you want — primarily under your front end for starters where the change will be most notable.

Since the original review of these was published, I've had another month of listening to Hearts of Space with the MiG SX footers under my tuner (in addition to the Tranquility Pod above it). At first, the SX seemed like a lot of money to spend on the improvement it made over the MiG 2.0 I had been using, but I became endeared to the quality. In my retail furniture business, people never came back and complained about the higher quality brands I encouraged them to buy. I found myself falling victim to my philosophy with the MiG SX.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

Synergistic Research XOT Carbon Transducers
Over the years I've seen external mods bridging the binding posts of speakers and wondered what benefit they might provide. Bybee Technologies has built a reputation on such mods but today they are limited to internal use requiring soldering skills and access that is often difficult. The Synergistic XOT Carbon Transducers ($449/pair) came out in January 2014, with a much easier application — simply attach them to the binding posts with either spade or banana lead wires. The carbon fiber cylinder contains UEF (unified electric field) particles that balance out the EM field to provide a more phase correct signal with a lower noise floor. It is essentially a high-frequency filter that should result in more air, better resolution, and a more holographic soundstage.

I had high hopes for the XOT given all the other Synergistic Research products I've reviewed that resulted in very positive, if not rave reviews. The XOT left me with mixed experiences after running it through various combinations with other Synergistic products. All of these various tests included their PowerCell8 SE power conditioner, a bevy of their fine power cords, a complete loom of their new Foundation Series cables, Orange Fuses, Orange Duplex outlet with Carbon Fiber cover and at the least, a set of MiG 2.0 footers under the DAC. So my rig was heavily endowed with the Synergistic house sound of high resolution, holographic sound stage, vivid transparency, and liquid musicality. Plus the recent addition of AGD Audion monoblocks has added speed, dynamics, and further extension and resolution of the bass and treble.

It would seem that the deck was stacked against the XOT from the start. The Tranquility Pod, MiG SX footers, and Orange Duplex proved to be excellent performers, with the Duplex Cover, Ground Block, and the HFT Speaker Kit coming in just a step behind in performance. The XOT seemed to take the transparency down a half notch and the dynamics seemed a bit compressed. The focus was improved a bit. In light of my high expectations, the XOT was a bit of a letdown.

I re-read the description on the website to see if I was doing something wrong. The best excuse I could come up with was the abundance of other SR gear in the rig that was all doing much the same thing that the XOT purports to provide. I'm not particularly sensitive to phase, either, so that might have something to do with my experience of this particular product, yet I've had excellent results with their other gear. I called up my good audio buddy, Tom Lathrop, to see if he could give them a spin in his rig. He also has some Synergistic cabling and a PowerCell8 SE. And his room is close in sonic signature to mine, though we have no components in common. He said he had wanted to try them for years and would be glad to oblige.

But before I took them to Tom, I gave them one more run through my compilation CD. Surprisingly, I started to hear some of the improvements they were supposed to make. I stared out the window as I listened, wondering what could be different this time when suddenly I realized what was different: I was staring out the window! And the cellular pleated blinds were up, providing a hard reflective glass surface on the wall behind the speakers. Normally, for critical listening, I leave them down. So what I was hearing this time was likely just an alteration of the room treatment.

I took the XOT over to Tom after dinner and by midnight; he emailed back his findings which were virtually identical with my own. I had tried the XOT in combination with the HFT Speaker Kit, with the Tranquility Pod and with the MiG SX footers under the DAC. Each of those products dominated the XOT when used in combination with it, and each sounded better without the XOT—more transparency and more dynamics being the biggest improvements. This is not to say the XOT will not benefit your particular rig; you have the 30-day return privilege, but I expect you will achieve better results with some of the other outstanding products they offer.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

Bybee Technologies Quantum Clarifiers
The introduction of the Bybee Quantum Clarifiers was what originally got my butt out of the listening chair for this article. I later learned they had previously been called the iQSE II and the iQse Clarifiers. They were originally black, but with the new name came an attractive brown walnut finish. They were the first tweak to arrive but wisdom told me to hold back on reviewing them because they were not readily removable for listening individually to the other tweaks. The little block of wood attaches to the back end of dynamic midrange drivers and woofers with a thin magnet attached to one side. Easy enough. But first, you have to pull the drivers away from the front baffle of the cabinet. You don't want to do that more often than necessary for fear of pulling out crumbs of fiberboard and enlarging the screw holes. There is also the risk of dropping a driver when pulling it off the baffle. They can be heavier than you might think and while the wiring might keep it from hitting your foot, you don't want to be asking your significant other for her gloss black nail polish.

Finally, there is the obvious disaster of putting a finger through the cone of the driver. I don't want to dissuade anyone from trying the Clarifiers, but if holding a screwdriver near your speaker, no matter how precious, raises your anxiety beyond a tolerable level, seek out a competent friend or dealer to do this for you. It is not necessary to de-solder or unclip the wires to the driver. You just need to pull it away from the baffle far enough to slap the Clarifier on the back end, paying a little attention to visually center it. You do only one driver at a time.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

I took a spin through my compilation CD once again to familiarize myself with the current state of the rig. I left the Soundeck footers under the spikes and the MiG 2.0 footers under the DAC, but did not use the Tranquility Pod, UEF Speaker Kit or the XOT Carbon Transducers. I expected it would take 20 to 30 minutes to install the Clarifiers on the two woofers. Bybee recommends that if you are only going to use two Clarifiers they should be placed on the woofers in a three-way speaker. So, that's where I started.

Then I hit stumbling block Number 1. What looked like black Philips head screws were Torx head screws. A small size Torx head screw. This brings me to one of my favorite maxims: Never throw away your father's tools. My father was good at making things. He never taught me about using tools, but he modeled that behavior throughout his life. I had to learn by doing on my own. So I descended into the basement, prepared to rummage through multiple drawers in his grey metal tool cabinets. To my surprise, my wife had self-isolated earlier in the coronavirus pandemic and sorted out all the tools we had inherited. Within minutes I found the T-15 screwdriver I needed. I owe her a lobster.

Tool in hand, Quantum Clarifier close by, I was good to go. But let me suggest that if you don't have a carpeted floor, throw down a towel so the screws don't bounce away if you drop one. Also, shine a floor lamp at the driver you are working on. That's the way surgeons work — for good reason. Pay attention to the amount of torque you have to apply to back out the screws. I'm reminded of watching Bobby Palkovic carefully torque down the screws on his Merlin speakers as we chatted years ago. Remember, everything matters.

I had to use the tip of the Torx screwdriver to pull the flange of the driver out of the baffle by inserting it in the screw hole slightly and getting an edge on the backside of the flange. It was a tight fit, but by working my way around the flange from one hole to the next, it came away from the baffle without problems. I slapped the Quantum Clarifier on the back and snapped a few photos, noticing the cross-bracing below the woofer and the top of the chamber that isolated the midrange and tweeter in their separate chamber. I took care to line up the holes in the flange with the screw holes in the fiberboard and it all went back together smoothly.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

The second speaker was one to separate the men from the boys. The screws backed out fine, but the flange did not pull away from the baffle easily. I stopped using the Torx screwdriver for fear of rounding off the edges of its six-pointed star. I thought about bending over the point of a nail to hook the backside of the flange, but figured I would have to pull on the nail with pliers, which seemed like it could be a formula for disaster. Instead, I used an ice pick that allowed me to get the point behind the flange enough to exert a pull on it. Only one of the eight screw holes allowed me to separate the flange from the baffle—just the slightest amount. Was this sucker glued down?

I thought about calling Bybee to ask for suggestions. Then I asked myself What would my dad have done? I kept working on the one hole that would pull away. Careful, calm persistence prevailed as the sweat of stress beaded up on my forehead and dampened my armpits. Eventually, I could work my way to the next hole in the flange, and then the next. There's probably some tool at Harbor Freight that would have made this simple, but in this age of physical distancing, I haven't set foot in a store of any kind in over two months.

Adding to my ordeal, it took me three tries to line up the holes to reinsert the screws. You want to get the screws started with your fingers to be sure it goes into the hole smoothly and doesn't chew up the fiberboard immediately adjacent to the hole. When tightening the screws down near the end with the screwdriver, be sure to let up when you hit bottom. Don't give them that extra twist "just to be sure". In a quality speaker, they were likely set to a specific amount of torque to optimize the sound and not strip the hole in the fiberboard.

I deserved a beer but settled for fruit juice on the rocks. Time was running short before I had to shut down so my wife could take her online course in COVID-tracking without the distraction of music. I started where I left off, listening to Howells "Master Tallis's Testament" from John Mark's compilation of organ music, Pipes Rhode Island. Immediately, I was struck by how much more "in the church" I felt than ever before. The music sounded cleaner. The ambient "room tone" was portrayed, revealing the noise of the organ's pump in finer resolution. The piece starts slowly but the big guns come out near the end when the deep notes — lower than the Kharma are meant to play — resonated with a clarity that had previously only been heard as mud. It didn't rock the house; it's only an 8" woofer in a 6000 cubic foot room, after all. But it sounded like music this time. Maybe I should hold off on getting a subwoofer?

From there I went on to my compilation CD where the effect of adding the Quantum Clarifier to the woofer carried upward not only to the midrange but also into the treble. As the organ piece suggested, the bass of all genres became a lot more tuneful — less thud, more distinct notes. I had always felt the bass was the weakest point of the Kharma though the massive 18 Wpc tube monoblocks did a good job of masquerading the bass as music. I had tried a powerful Class D amplifier, thinking that might alter that equation, but it didn't. Then came the new AGD Audion monoblocks with the new GaNfet transistors in Class D.

While only 85 Wpc, it's the first watt that makes the most difference and I bought the review samples. At last, I had a tuneful bass, if still not the most powerful. I've only had the AGD monoblocks for six months at this point and the music was sounding so good I was skeptical about extracting a lot more quality out of my speakers. Adding the Quantum Clarifiers to the bass drivers proved my worry was unfounded. Deeper and more tuneful and prominent bass, more articulate midrange, and a more refined treble all emerged. What's not to like? I knew right off that I would not be removing them from the speakers.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

The big question the next day was "How much better could the Kharma get by adding the Clarifiers to the midrange drivers?" Removal of the ceramic midrange drivers was easy in comparison to the difficult woofer the previous day. They are covered with a protective metal mesh grille so that lowered my anxiety to a very tolerable level. The square flange, mounted flush to the baffle worried me a little at first. I hooked the ice pick under the flange and it didn't want to budge at all until I figured out to align the pick along the vertical side of the flange while pulling outward at the hole in the top corner. I'm not so much the mechanical engineer; I learn by doing. There was a lot of resistance once the top edge broke free of the baffle because a rubber gasket had kind of bonded to the flange over the years, but no damage was done. I carefully positioned the Clarifier in the center of the backside with the magnet holding it firmly in place. The flange, being square, aligned perfectly with the screw holes when I positioned the driver back in the baffle. It took a half-hour to modify both midrange drivers in comparison with the two hours the night before. Of course, there were only half as many screws involved and I already had the tools at hand. Plus, success breeds confidence.

I had reviewed all the usual music selections before installing the Clarifiers and I returned to "Master Tallis's Testament" to check out the deep organ music. Oh my! The feeling of being present in the church went up another dramatic step and the deep notes emerged with much more power than with just a single Clarifier on the bass driver. Just as the addition of the first Clarifier to the bass driver trickled upward through the midrange to the treble, adding the second Clarifier to the midrange fostered improvements to both the bass and treble. While I was very pleased with the improvement to the bass with just one Clarifier, adding the second made me completely satisfied.

The tonal balance brought the bass up to the point where I no longer felt the Kharma was underperforming in such a large room. Across the board, resolution improved seamlessly. Players were locked down in position and the music had a fullness with greater tonal color than I've ever experienced. While I've claimed recent additions of the Synergistic Research Foundation cables and the AGD monoblocks have pushed my rig to sound like it cost north of $100,000, it now felt like close to twice that. Adding the second Clarifier more than doubled the gains of just the first one. It was sounding so good I began to wonder why Bybee doesn't recommend a third one on the tweeter. It also made me wonder if Bybee markets his Clarifiers as OEM parts to speaker manufacturers under a non-disclosure agreement. It turned out he does... and states so on his website.

As Jim Croce reminded us back in 1972, "You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger" yet I couldn't help but wonder what was inside the Quantum Clarifier which appears to be just a smaller version of the iQSE that is intended to be placed inside electrical components. At two inches square and maybe 3/8" thick, it is made from a solid piece of wood with a compartment routed out that I suspect contains some special crystals. (Don't ask me how I know.) This is then sealed over with a layer of magnetic material that serves to attach the Clarifier to the driver. After installing both sets inside my speakers I realized I missed the opportunity to try them inside my tuner. I'll have to request a review sample. I also noticed what looked like ERS paper sandwiched between the wood and the magnetic backing, but from my experience with ERS, such a small piece is not likely to have such a large effect as the Clarifiers had on my speakers.

 

Loudspeaker Mega-Tweakfest

 

Bringing It All Back Home
Bybee Technologies does not market their products directly to consumers but their website refers you to a small number of retailers, some of whom sell for less than the retail list price. Like Synergistic Research, Bybee offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. I can very highly recommend the Quantum Clarifiers and suggest that in the very unlikely case you are dissatisfied with them in your speakers, try them inside some of your electronic components before thinking about returning them. There is little to damage or go wrong with them. It's a safe buy. But that said, the story does not end here.

It remained to be heard how the Clarifiers sounded in combination with other tweaks I sampled here. The Soundeck footers are pretty much a given for me as they offer a sonic improvement that far outstrips their price and they keep the flakeboard beneath my carpet from being chewed up. The Synergistic cable risers don't work for me because of the room layout and complicated cable pathways, but they could be especially beneficial if your speaker cables traverse open floor space and you also own their current Atmosphere towers or FEQ X4 with which they interact.

The Synergistic XOT transducers may work better for your speakers than they did for mine, so review my comments above. The Synergistic MiG SX is very highly recommended if the price does not scare you. The benefit they provide to applicable source components will carry on down through your system, possibly eliminating any thoughts of upgrading a major component. And if the price of the SX does scare you, consider their MiG 2.0 which is very effective at a much lower cost. The MiG 2.0 will remain a staple in my footer arsenal while the SX will be used to extract the maximum potential out of components in future reviews.

This leaves me with the Synergistic Tranquility Pod and HFT Speaker Kit to try in combination with the Bybee Quantum Clarifiers. Both are easily recommended but at their respective prices, they aren't for the faint of heart. The question to be asked is whether they will help you achieve the sound signature you're looking for with the equipment you own and the room you're playing it in. I've set up my system to enable the Tranquility Pod to easily shift from one source to another. It works best when you want to kick back and relax with your music or possibly to tame an overly aggressive system. The HFT Speaker Kit works at the other end of your equipment chain and it gives you a more attention-grabbing sound that puts you in the venue but may be tiring after a few hours of fully engaged listening. With the Quantum Clarifier added to the equation, the relaxing posture of the Tranquility Pod was retained but the level detail, tonal color, spatial relationships, dynamics, and ease of recognizing new lyrics was taken to a much higher level.

With the HFT Speaker Kit in combination with the Quantum Clarifiers, the dynamics became more explosive with the music leaping forward into the room in front of the speakers when the music demands it. The resolution reaches higher yet. The tonal colors are multiplied into the millions like an OLED TV. Low-level instruments at the periphery of the mix became significant players making the instrumental tapestry more intricate and enjoyable. The soundscape, even with the solid-state AGD amps, extended beyond the frontiers established by my 300B tube monoblocks. Moreover, the presentation became more liquid and therefore less physically tiring. Yet at the same time, there was so much more music presented listening became addictive, even on CDs that I've listened to for decades. Wilson Philips' cover of Elton John's "Daniel" has been a "Wall of Sound" recording that blends the three-part harmony into a single voice, replete with strings and horns. Now, the women were far more distinct, individually, and stood out in front of the wall; the instruments are precisely positioned in the soundscape rather than smearing together. This was a difficult feat for this recording.

For my last listening session, I indulged myself in Hearts of Space, program 1213R "Progessive Ambient". With the MiG SX footers and the Tranquility Pod beneath the tuner, and the UEF Speaker Kit on the Kharma, the Quantum Clarifiers on the drivers, the ambient music hung in the air with delicacy, tonal color and resolution that far exceeded any of their programs I've heard since I started listening around program 400. How could this be happening? It's mid-May in the middle of a pandemic. Why does it feel like Christmas?

Whether you're looking to squeeze more quality from an affordable rig or trying to find more magic in a mega-buck system, there is a lot of fun to be had with the tweaks I've explored in this review and the Synergistic Research Tweakfest before it. You may find different results with your gear in your room and you may even want different results. God and a few people in a mixing booth might know what the artist intended, but like BB King used to sing, you're "payin' the cost to be the boss". For the price of a few tweaks, you could be taking your rig that cost tens of thousands and turning it into one that sounds like it cost hundreds of thousands. Magic or sorcery, take your pick.

Stay safe, be well, enjoy your music.

 

 

Company Information And Product Pricing
Bybee Technologies
E-mail: bybeetech@gmail.com 
Website: www.BybeeTech.com

Quantum Clarifiers, MSRP $100 each, discounts available

 

 

Soundeck
Arconia House
B3 Narvik Way
Tyne Tunnel Trading Estate
North Shields, UK
NE29 7XJ

Voice: (+44) 191 259 0700
Website: www.SoundDampedSteel.com

Sound Damping Isolation Feet set of four 80mm is $65

 

 

Synergistic Research, Inc.
1736 E. Borchard Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Voice: (949) 476-0000
Website: Website: www.SynergisticResearch.com

XOT Carbon Transducers: $449 per pair
HFT Speaker Kit: $399 for a pack of seven (for one speaker)
Tranquility Pod: $749
MiG SX Footers: $995 for a set of three
UEF Performance Elevators (Cable Risers): $399 for a set of four

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

Quick Links


Audiophile Review Magazine
High-End Audio Equipment Reviews

 

Equipment Review Archives
Turntables, Cartridges, Etc
Digital Source
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Preamplifiers
Amplifiers
Cables, Wires, Etc
Loudspeakers/ Monitors
Headphones, IEMs, Tweaks, Etc
Ultra High-End Audio Reviews

 

Videos
Enjoy the Music.TV

 

Columns
Editorials By Tom Lyle
Viewpoint By Roger Skoff
Viewpoint By Steven R. Rochlin
Various Think Pieces
Manufacturer Articles


Show Reports
The HiFi Summit Q2 2020
AXPONA 2020 Show Report
Bristol Hi-Fi Show Report 2020
Florida Audio Expo 2020 Show Report
New York Audio Show 2019 Report
Capital Audiofest 2019 Show Report
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) 2019
High End Munich 2019 Show Report
AXPONA 2019 Show Report
Zagreb AV Show Report 2019
CanJam Singapore 2019 Show Report
Salon Audio Montreal Audio Fest 2019
Click here for previous shows.

 

Other
Audiophile Contests
Cool Free Stuff For You
Tweaks For Your System
Vinyl Logos For LP Lovers
Lust Pages Visual Beauty

 

Resources & Information
Music Definitions
Hi-Fi Definitions

 


Daily Industry News

High-End Audio News & Information

 

Partner Print Magazines
audioXpress
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
hi-fi+ Magazine
HIFICRITIC
HiFi Media
Hi-Fi World
Sound Practices
VALVE Magazine

 

For The Press & Industry
About Us
Press Releases
Official Site Graphics

 

Contests & Our Mailing List

Our free newsletter for monthly updates & enter our contests!

 

 

    

Home   |   Industry News   |   Equipment Reviews   |   Press Releases   |   About Us   |   Contact Us

 

All contents copyright©  1995 - 2020  HighEndAudio.com and Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.