Upon first hearing this system it was immediately clear that the listening room is very well balanced: it is quite damped but not overdamped. On the walls are strategically placed damping/diffusor panels. The room is perfectly symmetrical and that really pays of in the stability of the soundstage. Voices are very much pin-point in the middle while the stage is wide and separate from the speakers. This system is very dynamic and has excellent low level detailing.
I heard a bit of phaseyness but couldn't put my finger on it. It turned out to be the sub which was placed to the right of the system. With some music you could detect that there was something going on in the corner. But I am admittedly extremely sensitive to phase behaviour. With most music this wasn't a problem though, and it did provide a nice underpinning making music seem slightly bare and colorless without it. Probably some fine tuning of the extensive controls on the back of the Revel wouold result in an even more embedded result. Incidentally, the Voce Divina's are meant to be paired with subwoofers from the same make.
The Voce Divina speakers are extremely neutral. You hear no boxy colorations whatsoever, In fact, my beloved B&W Nautilus 804's color quite a bit more... The Voce Divina's tweeters however have a tendency to be a little rough or hard with cymbals and such. With very good audiophile cd's this was not a problem but with mainstream cd's it was ever present. The more we listened the more it became clear that this was the one area in which this sytem could be improved. So in came the Transparent Ultra XLR interlink and later we would also connect my Rowland Synergy 1 preamp.
Swapping interlinks between CD player and preamp
After swapping the MIT Oracle XLR's for the half as expensive Transparent Ultra's we all sighed in relief. Gone was the aggression in the highs and everything was now much more musically rewarding. The stage became wider while focus remained excellent, the bass became more lush and round but without losing speed, the mids became more human and lost a touch of hardness and the highs.... well, it seems I never stop praising Transparent's highs, but again the cables proved an excellent digital antidote and made for, in lack of a better word, more analog highs. Instead of short, hard, square noises, high hats now became gentle swirls that more resembled the real instrument. Ok, if you need the most drive and attack because that's what you like, or your system needs it, then the MIT's are hard to follow, but if you crave naturalness and a more gentle presentation, then Transparent is the better choice. Keep in mind though that the Voce Divina speakers are very lively and dynamic. In a more closed-in system the Transparents could sound too restrained. It's all about matching...
In came the Rowland Synergy
Initial Setup 6 - Review 1
This setup has changed considerably after the review took place, also see review 2
Wadia 861B cd player
Jeff Rowland Synergy 2
Voce Divina Tenore MK II speakers
Revel B 15 Subwooferi
Acoustic zen Materix reference
Transparent Ultra XLR
MIT Oracle V3.1
Audioquest Sub-1 subwoofer interlink
MIT Magnum M3 biwire LS cables
netkabels.nl Lapp powercable
netkabels.nl Belden powercable
Harmonix Enacom SP powercable
PS Audio Premier Power Plant
Finite Elemente Spider
Finite Elemente Ceraballs
CP-audio Ultimate Clarity extensionblock
Q’ fusor Acoustic Panels
We were a bit afraid to connect the Synergy to the Spectral poweramp. After all, you're warned that the amp can start oscillating if paired with any equipment other than Spectral. You're also obliged to use MIT cabling throughout. The reason is that Spectral equipment has a very wide frequency range. It extends in fact so high that it can start picking up all kinds of high frequency rubbish and if not properly restricted through the MIT cables, the amps could start amplifying the rubbish and thereby end up in a loop that supposedly produces nasty sounds that can damage the speakers. Whether this is true or not i don't know but we wanted to connect the Rowland preamp anyway. And luckily there were no nasties at all. If fact it sounded excellent!
At first we thought the Synergy sounded somewhat restrained and lacklustre compared to the Spectral DMC20 but we quikcly adjusted to the new sound and were compelled by the plus sides. Switching back to the Spectral indeed there was more slam to the sound and it was more lively but it was also a bit more rough. The Spectral is fast and tight, but so is the Rowland. (at least, Synergy 1 is, Synergy 2 is more relaxed) From the mid up, the frequency balance of the Spectral seems tilted up however, resulting in a forward sound. Especially the highs are a bit exaggerated and even harsh compared to the Rowland. Now that's not very surprising because this is what Rowland are known for to do very well. But what about the Rowland's dynamics?
We had originally simply put the Rowland on rubber Spider feet but now decided to put it on hard feet and use input 2 instead of 1. Input 2 is more lively but in my own setup I prefer input 1 because it's more refined. By the way, this isn't only true for my Rowland Synergy, but also for a friend's Synergy 2i. Don't ask... Anyway, with these changes made, switching back from the Spectral to the Rowland made for a surprise: Now it wasn't lacklustre anymore. It also wasn't restrained or less dynamic. In fact, even though the Spectral is still more forward and lively, the Rowland made for an altogether way more musical presentation. Now we had better layering in the soundstage, voices sounded a lot more natural and the high frequencies were ever so smooth and gentle. The only resulting area in which the Spectral was thought to be better was its bass. The bass was simply more powerful whereas the Rowland's bass is just good.
The surprising thing was that the Spectral DMA 100 poweramp was never suspect. It seemed more neutral than the preamp but of course I cannot say this for sure because it wasn't compared to another poweramp. But the fact that the addition of the Rowland Synergy made for such a big improvement at least proved that in this setup, the DMA 100 is very neutral and transparent. In this system the Wadia never sounded dark, which could indicate that the DMA 100 could also be a bit bright. But in this case that would be welcome in order t make for a good balance.
PS Audio PPP power plant
This is a power regenerator. In short it takes AC current from the wall outlet, converts it to DC and rebuilds a perfect AC waveform. We were sadly not able to do a A-B test because there's no bypass switch on the unit and re-plugging all cables was too much for this instance.
According to the owner the addition of the PPP resulted in much blacker blacks, better focus and placement of instruments in the soundstage and less hash. This would correlate with what I heard with the Jeff Rowland Coherence and model 6 BPS battery supplies. But in the case of the Rowlands there was always a slight tradeoff in perceived attack. In the case of the PPP, even though we were unable to test if there would be a difference, I can assure you that at least in this system there was absolutely no need for more attack or dynamics. And remember: all equipment was connected to it, even the big Revel subwoofer!
A very dynamic, well-balanced, neutral and very entertaining system that has only little room for improvement.
update april 2010:
The system has now changed considerably. The Synergy had left such an impression that the owner has now bought one too. In addition, because the Rowland sound was liked so much, he also attained a Model 2 and BPS 2 poweramp and battery power supply. In addition, the PS Audio PPP has been swapped for a CP-audio Ultimate Clarity extensionblock. Here's the new review.
The small Synergy fits easily on top of the tank-like built Wadia 861B
I forgot to bring the Ceraballs but the standard Spider rubber feet so sounded blurry we had to make use ofa make-shift solution: 3 clothes pins
Spectral DMC20 s2: it sure is a beauty. In real it looks even better than on the pictures.