The Synergistic Research Atmosphere
AudioStream 12/2014 - Steven Plaskin
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The Synergistic Research Atmosphere is a room acoustic enhancement device that allows one to modify and improve the perceived soundstage as well as the quality of the sound from top to bottom of one’s system; all of this totally controlled by an iPad/iPhone app. What is even more remarkable is that this task is accomplished without a direct connection of any kind into one’s system components. At this point, I’m sure most of you will want to know what Atmosphere is actually doing to achieve this control of the sound of our systems.
The Why and How of Atmosphere
Ted Denney III, Lead Designer at Synergistic Research, observed that systems often sound better in the evening and different from day to day. Ted theorized that the RF (Radio Frequency) environment had a profound effect on the sound of our systems. RF refers to the rate of oscillation in the range of 3kHz to 300 GHz. Ted felt that the higher frequency ambient RF, more prevalent in the daytime, was creating the negative effect on the sound of our systems.
From Ted Denney III:“We were looking for a powerful way to overcome the higher frequency RF environment of day with the soothing low frequency environment we experience at night. While working to recreate the perfect RF environment, we built a single Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) generator. Like so many others have found, the frequency of the Schumann Resonance (7.83 Hz) was a powerful talisman against higher frequencies generated by cell phones, Wi-Fi, radio, and natural solar activity. We also found the Schumann Resonance to have significant limitations. Generate 7.83 Hz one way and the sound was not only improved but also ‘darker’, like switching from an open sounding cable to a darker sounding cable that warms the system as it steals resolution in equal measure. Generate 7.83Hz another way and the sound opens up, but at the expense of low frequency extension and control.
In other words, broadcast the same frequency in two different ways and get two different results, neither being exactly right. The observed differences created by a single ULF generator eventually led to broadcasting over multiple separately tuned ULF generators. By working with multiple frequencies and variables, we effectively sidestepped the inherent tradeoff of single frequency conditioning as is commonly found in most Schumann devices. With multiple tuned ULF/ LF Generators we created the perfect RF environment without tradeoffs by manipulating multiple variables instead of relying on a single frequency or transmitter. What we never expected as we experimented with controlling multiple ULF generators was the realization that we were affecting all aspects of sound.”
“As we continued to alter the output parameters of our multi wave generators, we found that we could control soundstage width, depth and height. We also found we could shift the frequency balance making sound warmer or more open at will. Likewise, we could control low frequencies making them either fuller or tighter sounding. Mid-range was also within our control and we went so far as to match the perceived mid-range to better match a recording. By manipulating literally millions of potential settings for Atmosphere we can either place a live performer in-between a set of speakers or when a recording calls for something massive like a full orchestra, we can ensure that the room and system are capable of projecting a massively layered soundscape. It was not long before we had catalogued dozens of what we were now calling scenes to match different types of recordings and systems.”
What is Atmosphere?
Atmosphere is a 40 inch high device that is a dual channel Ultra Low Frequency / Low Frequency RF generator with theoretically millions of adjustments to its output, that when properly applied to a system/room, can complement different types of music. 3 spiked metal feet interface with the metal base platform of Atmosphere and the floor.
Atmosphere has 2 connections; a USB cable / AC adapter for power and a Ground connection that is best plugged into an AC line directly as opposed to a power conditioner. Atmosphere is a BlueWave (Bluetooth) device that is able to communicate directly with an iPad app for selection of different Scenes or settings that control the RF output of Atmosphere.
There are 3 Scenes or sonic settings in the Atmosphere iPad app that are enabled by a slide control at the top of the Scene:
1) Intimate Acoustic
The Intimate Acoustic Scene is perfect for small scale recordings such as jazz, classical, and vocal quartets, duets, and solo performers. The selection of this Scene results in a precise sound stage that places the performance in your listening room.
I thought I would evaluate this Scene with Amy Duncan’s Cycle of Life (24/88.2). This small scale acoustic folk-style recording seemed perfect for the Intimate Acoustic setting. Enabling the setting resulted in a greater focus to Amy’s voice with superior clarity to the guitars. The bass had better definition and control. Turning off this scene resulted in a congealing of the voice and instruments with less definition and focus.
The Holographic Scene is ideal for performances recorded in a live hall or mastered with reverb. Hologram provides a larger sounding stage than Intimate Acoustic with a greater sense of the hall. You can select the Hologram scene as a default for everything from Pop to Rock and Classical because of its focus and clarity is presented in a layered and holographic sound field. Holographic can project images in front of the speakers and is more layered front to back than either Intimate Acoustic or Grand Canyon.
Listening to the recording Espana played by the Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau 24/192 (Acousence Records) with the Holographic Scene resulted in an expansion of the already large soundstage of this recording. The orchestra became more three-dimensional with a movement slightly forward of the front plane of the speakers. Clarity and focus of the orchestra were enhanced within this larger soundstage presentation.
3) Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon Scene provides a vast soundstage behind the speakers with all images clearly defined in a massive acoustic space. This Scene is perfect for large scale classical and amplified performances or anytime you want a massive soundstage with minimal envelopment that exceeds the width and depth of your listening room. Holographic presents a more layered performance that is capable of projecting images onto a room and around your seated position. Synergistic Research feels that many listeners will select Grand Canyon as their default setting as its sound is neutral as well as being expansive sounding.
I decided to evaluate the Grand Canyon Scene with Simon & Garfunkel, The Concert in Central Park (Live) 24/192. The Grand Canyon Scene did wonders for this recording. The soundstage expanded behind the front plane of the speakers with no loss of focus or definition of the voices. The effect of Atmosphere made this live recording seem more real or natural in its presentation.
The title Cantatrix Contrasts 24/192 loved the Grand Canyon setting. This chamber choir was recorded in a large acoustic space. The Grand Canyon Scene opened up the soundstage in a very impressive way with no loss of focus or definition of the singers. The Atmosphere’s effect was easily heard and very much appreciated.
A Few Comments on Atmosphere’s Function
When one enables Atmosphere with the iPad, it takes about 4-5 seconds for the room effect to be heard. And likewise, turning off Atmosphere takes several seconds for its effect to dissipate. There is a blue LED on the back of the unit that indicates when the Atmosphere is powered on. I noticed that the light will often flicker when changing settings. Atmosphere seems to benefit from several hours of “warm-up” after being first powered on. I would allow the unit to have this initial powered time before auditioning. I placed the Atmosphere between and behind the front plane of my speakers.
The Atmosphere Tuning Module (ATM)
The ATM module increases the number of Scenes available to the Atmosphere. The Red ATM used in this review not only adds 4 more Scenes, but each Scene has Advanced Settings allowing one to easily fine tune the sound of his system. Synergistic Research told me that they will be coming out with more ATMs that improve specific aspects of the sound of system/room interfaces.
“Currently in development are ATM’s that improve liquidity and musicality or focus and precise image placement just to name a few. We even have an ATM designed to dramatically improve system performance when speakers are placed in listening rooms full of glass and hard surfaces.”
On the bottom of each cylindrical ATM, is a QR code that is scanned into the Atmosphere iPad program to unlock the Scenes of the RED ATM. The ATM is also a high power HFT (High Frequency Transducer) with vents and an inverted cone in the top of the unit. The ATM is placed in the recessed area on the top of Atmosphere.
The Red ATM Scenes:
1) In My Listening Room
This Scene places the performers in your room with settings optimized for close miked string instruments like guitar or when you wish to hear enhanced focus and clarity. In the default setting, low frequency control, natural midrange texture, and clear image focus are characteristic of In My Listening Room. In addition to the default setting, one can move the slider at the bottom of the image and access the Advanced Settings. One can select a Liquid sound or Sharp sound, Studio or Live sound that opens up the soundstage. The Final settings are Amplitude with a Default, a Late PM, or a Mid-Day selection. The Amplitude settings are found in each of the RED ATM Scenes. Selecting the Mid-Day setting increases the amplitude of the Atmosphere output; selecting Late PM decreases the level compared to the Default setting. The idea behind this setting is that the ambient RF environment is more prevalent and complex during the day and of a lower frequency and somewhat less complex late at night.
I particularly like this Scene for its enhancement of the clarity and focus of voices and instruments. One can easily expand the soundstage with the Live selection or enhance detail with the Sharp setting.
Many of you are probably thinking that Atmosphere has far too many settings and is too complicated and time consuming to use. This is simply not the case. As you become familiar with the sound of the settings in your system, selections are made quickly. There is a bit of a learning curve to Atmosphere that took me several days, but once you are acclimated to this program, selecting the right Scene and settings for your system and taste will be effortless.
This Scene is also a particular favorite of mine for my system. Expansive presents larger acoustic recordings with an accurate sense of scale, natural layering, and envelopment. The soundstage is wider and more layered than that with In My Listening Room. Advanced Settings allow one to select a Far or Near perspective as well as a Layered or Expansive sound. The Near setting offers a sharper image or focus compared to the Far setting.
Classical and live recordings sounded excellent with the Expansive setting. Listening to the Weavers Reunion at Carnegie Hall 1963 24/96, the wonderful soundstage of this recording was significantly enhanced. A more richly layered soundstage appeared with the Expansive setting with enhanced inner detail and resolution using the Near setting. I also experienced an increase in the height of the soundstage.
This Scene is designed to maintain the energy of amplified music with leading edges and power dynamics. Rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and modern amplified jazz sound particularly good with this setting. Advanced Settings have a Smooth or Crunchie selection. Crunchie adds more bite to instruments like guitars and horns. Club or Stadium settings are self-explanatory with Stadium opening up the soundstage for larger recorded venues.
I found Santana’s Supernatural 24/96 to be an excellent example of a recording that benefited from the Amplified setting. The Crunchie setting definitely added bite to the guitar with a very tight, impactful low end and an immediate, highly focused mid-range. Turning off Atmosphere seemed to lessen the dynamic impact and rhythmic drive of the recording.
The Ethereal Scene presents the maximum scale possible for electronica, orchestral, and new age recordings. Advanced Settings of Warmth or Air; Grounded or Stratosphere are available. Air opens up the high frequencies to help portray a maximum sense of hall and decay. Stratosphere is the ultimate setting for width and depth layering and acoustic air.
I played Carl Cleves & Parissa Bouas, Halos ‘Round the Moon (DSD) with the Ethereal Scene and was impressed at the enhancement of the large soundstage found on this recording. Adding the Advanced Setting of Air resulted in a richly layered soundstage with outstanding inner detail and resolution. Turning off Atmosphere compressed the recording and its wonderful sense of bloom.
Using Atmosphere and the ATM
Synergistic Research recommends that one have at least 2 sets of HFT (High Frequency Transducers) installed in your room before purchasing Atmosphere. The HFTs bring out the best of Atmosphere and these products do work together to achieve the maximum sonic effect. I was also told by Peter Hansen of Synergistic Research that if one is unable to place the Atmosphere between the speakers, it could be placed off to one side with the ATM placed behind and in the middle of the speakers. A fireplace mantel placement of the ATM would be an example and one that I successfully utilized.
DACs used in this review were the Analog DAC with Analog Power Base and the new Wavelength Audio Crimson with Quotient Q1 DAC module. I am presently working on the Wavelength Audio review of the Quotient Q1 board. The Crimson / Quotient Q1 can put out an enormous soundstage, but even this DAC benefited from the use of the Atmosphere in my system.
My Sonic Preferences
I try to remain faithful to the original recording with my use of Atmosphere. The Scenes and settings I use enhance the music without distorting the original intent of the recording engineer/producer. Sometimes, the results are subtle, but if you listen for an extended period of time to a particular musical selection, turning off Atmosphere often results in a sonic change that is not so subtle. Atmosphere not only improves rendering of the soundstage, but improves focus, definition from lows to highs, and perception of micro dynamic changes. Atmosphere is not inexpensive, but the use of this device in one’s system is the equivalent of upgrading speakers or electronics; certainly not an inexpensive proposition.
An Engaging Musical Experience
I found the Atmosphere to be a remarkable product that contributed significantly to the enhancement of the sound of my system. Unlike other system enhancement products that are inserted into the signal line, Atmosphere in no way directly degrades or distorts the audio signal in any way. Atmosphere works by changing the way we perceive our system with alteration of the RF in the room. Being able to select the desired sonic effects with an iPad is equally astounding. Adding the ATM elevates the performance of Atmosphere with Advanced Settings that are easy to implement. While I feel that Atmosphere is one of the most innovative and enjoyable new products to be offered to the audiophile market, its greatest attribute is that it allowed me to become more deeply engaged in the musical experience.