ASK AN EXPERT: Synergy

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Hi Neil. I've heard the word; quite often in fact. I think I know what it means but I'm not entirely sure. This proved embarrassing when I was asked this recently by my wife. I found I couldn’t really explain it. I couldn’t properly articulate it. It started me thinking. If I can’t explain it then clearly I don’t understand it. But that’s not entirely right is it? I'm confused. What’s the prevailing view in your office, in the industry? Thanks. Russ.

Hi Russ. Taking your last point first, in many walks of life I've encountered the ‘as you can’t explain it then you clearly don’t understand it’ argument. Particularly in school and university and usually re maths and physics. Back then I thought they had a point and in that context I still do. It becomes far harder with emotions though. Take emotional love for example. From my limited knowledge of literature it seems that the finest poets and authors have got close – so I'm told – but not quite captured the essence in words.

Anyway, we had a chat in the office about your question. We were in general agreement about what it means but ….. like you, we didn’t feel we entirely captured what it means.

So we can’t directly answer your question. That said, the text below from PS Audio’s Paul McGowan seems to articulate it in a way better than we can. We hope you’ll find his words helpful.

Thanks

Neil McCauley / editor in chief

Paul McGowan (PS Audio) on audiophile synergy …..

The dictionary defines synergy as the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. That pretty well describes what happens when we combine two or more pieces of gear within a given system. An effect, for better or for worse, that is greater than the sum of their separate efforts.

This added benefit (or degradation) is the result of interactions: how two pieces affect each other. A cable interacts with a product in good and bad ways. A phono cartridge interacts with a phono preamplifier in beneficial as well as detrimental ways. Speakers and amps, turntables and arms, computers and DACs. Each has its own set of positives and negatives when interfacing with each other.

How does one get the most benefit, and the least degradation from these interactions?

This used to be the exclusive purview of the dealer. Dealers assembled systems with synergy and sold them as packages to customers. Some of the finest setups I have heard were expertly curated assemblages of products, each synergistic with the other.

Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer audio-specific dealers these days, and of the successful ones, many have turned to custom installation and home theater systems to stay in business.

But the need to mix and match for best synergy has never gone away, and it’s healthy to remind ourselves that often the goal of assembling a proper system is minimizing negative interactions while maximizing positive ones. That’s what we’re actually doing when we pick this speaker with that amplifier, that DAC with that cable.

It’s also what we’re doing when we insert a preamplifier in the mix. Reducing negative interactions.

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