At first glance, the Lone Star Audio rig at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest looked fairly conventional. There was a handsome wood rack filled with Constellation Audio electronics, flanked by floor-standing Magico speakers. But what was that tall, black post doing in front of the gear?
The beam was rectangular, about 4.5 feet tall and a few inches wide on each side. It was fixed to a triangular base. On top of the post was a small, circular feature with perforations. Overall, the pillar looked like something you might attach a velvet theater rope to at a movie theater.
I stared at it for a moment before I recognized it. The pole was Synergistic Research’s Atmosphere XL ($3,495 USD), an RF generator that seeks to improve room acoustics. Hang on, Snoopy, you probably are thinking at this point. Isn’t RF supposed to be bad? Don’t we already spend a lot of money on products that block RF?
The unique device’s development can be traced back to Synergistic’s lead designer, Ted Denney, who had been wondering for some time why audio systems often sound better at night. He studied ambient RF and found that oscillation occurs from about 3kHz to 300 GHz, with higher frequencies more common in the daytime. Common sources of RF are cell phones, radio transmissions, Wi-Fi and even solar flares.
Denney got the idea of trying to counterbalance the high-frequency RF with a multi-wave, ultra-low-frequency generator. As Denney experimented, he found he not only could offset the “bad” RF, which improved resolution and expanded the soundstage, but he also could create different tunings that altered the midrange presentation or made the sound warmer.
The final product was the Atmosphere, which operates on its own in a listener’s system. Its only connections are via a USB cable/AC adaptor for power and a ground wire. Users communicate with it via Bluetooth using an iPad app that allows for many different settings.
Based on a long audition at another show and the recent RMAF demo, I would say that the Atmosphere effect seemed noticeable, especially in widening and deepening the soundstage. I’d rather conduct a home test in a more familiar environment, though, before forming a definite opinion. Like any tweak, the value often is less in the perceived plausibility of the science involved than in what your ears tell you. Those interested in the Atmosphere probably should ask their dealer for a loan to do some personal trials.
I’m not sure how much RF taming had to do with it, but Lone Star was getting a good sound in its room in Denver. The rest of the system certainly was top-flight. Electronics included the Constellation Inspiration 1.0 preamp ($9,900 USD), Inspiration 1.0 stereo amp ($11,000 USD) and Aurender A10 server/streamer/DAC ($5,500 USD). Speakers were the Magico S1 Mk. 2 in cast bronze ($16,500 USD).
Also in use was a Torus Power AVR20 isolated toroidal transformer ($4,999 USD) and a Synergistic PowerCell 12 UEF SE ($6,495 USD). In addition, there were various Synergistic acoustic room-treatment products, cable and power cords from Music Interface Technologies and a rack by Critical Mass Systems.
Lone Star Audio’s Jim Hench started playing London Grammar’s “Hey Now” from the group’s 2013 LP If You Wait. Hannah Reid’s powerful vocals and the enhanced drum accents both had reverb trails that drifted far back in the soundstage. The rhythm of the indie-pop song, although mid-tempo, also had an appealing snap.
The next track was Ben Harper’s “When It’s Good” from Diamonds on the Inside. Harper’s voice was focused, showing more grittiness when he slid down to normal register from falsetto. The acoustic bottleneck guitar practically jumped out of the speakers, and the blues/gospel background vocals were nicely layered.
I found this Magico-Constellation-Synergistic combination to be one that prized resolution over warmth or bass slam, producing a fast, lively, highly detailed presentation. Instrumental edges were sharp, vocals were clear and there was an absence of smearing. And, in a hotel packed at midday with 100 other operating stereos, thousands of cell phones and who knows what else — an RF nightmare — there was little extraneous hash. Whether that was due to the black pole in front of the rack is difficult to say, but it certainly made an interesting addition to an already-fine setup.