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Enter the Powercell 10
Once installed and broken in for about 100 hours, the Powercell reclaimed virtually all of the straight-from-the-wall vitality, body and dynamic potency that had been missing from the music with the Furman. The sound was exceptionally clear with an altogether new level of transparency. This new presentation was super fast, agile and bold. I liken the change to refitting a carburetor-fed car engine with a fuel-injected one. There is whip-crack responsiveness while maintaining balance and smoothness. It was as if all the components in the system had undergone a major tune-up. All of this was presented with a deeper, wider, blacker background that had none of the synthetic airless silence I associate with certain filtering conditioners. The Powercell 10's EM cell is active but its sound would suggest that it functions similarly to some passive conditioners in that the differential EM fields affect the current from outside the AC conductors.

Noteworthy sonic changes:
Deeper and more controlled bass:
This was initially the most impressive improvement. The bass was noticeably quicker, weightier and reached deeper. On the pristinely recorded Hombre by French jazz man Jean-Pierre Mas the curiously titled "Poule D'Eau" (water hen?) opens with an austere sequence of piano notes punctuated by big concert bass drumbeats. With the Powercell in place, the once subdued drumbeats become startling. The formerly spongy edges of the bass drumbeats become so taut that one can easily sense the drum's broad skin and wood frame. The lowest octave takes on authoritative weight and the entire envelope of each bass drumbeat is now defined with clear pitch and all the accompanying lower harmonics trailing out further and decaying more gradually. Each drumbeat describes the space of the recording venue.

Increased dynamic range, liveliness and 'flow': On first audition it's nearly impossible to escape the liveliness and flow facilitated by the Powercell. The musical presentation is one of effortless power and agility, which is accentuated further by great harmonic fullness. Dynamic passages from the track "Mungo' on the album Falling with Grace by the avant funk jazz quartet Plunge swing more assertively and with new visceral impact. Trombones, tuba, drums and bass drive a deeper Latin groove that once again startled me with the way it suddenly pressurized the room like a live event. The Powercell brought more realistic 'live' dynamics but subtle inner details and micro dynamics are also better illuminated. Even at the lowest volume levels, music is more engaging and communicative.

Transients, Harmonics and Tone: Transients are more precisely articulated without adding any steeliness, coolness or falsely highlighted edges. One of the Powercell's most beguiling effects is that with the increase in transient speed also comes marked increase in harmonic richness and texturing throughout the recording's bandwidth. Initially I perceived this as an increase in tonal warmth but with more extended listening I realized that while there may be an additional breath of warmth, it's the cleaner revelation of complex harmonics, overtones and textures that has transformed the sound. On a recent favorite CD, Les Deux Love Orchestra's Ecstasy, the track "Les Modernes' begins with a cabaret-style accordion melody accompanied by vibraphone and piano. Without the Powercell, the leading edges of the mallets striking the vibraphone's bars were too vague to clearly decipher. The Powercell imparted the attacks with a convincing balance of firm and soft followed by sustained harmonics that became truly luxuriant. The composition acquired a new realism and ethereal beauty.

The song "Once I Loved" on Shirley Horn's album Close Enough for Love served a musical illustration of how the Powercell allowed a broadening of tone colors and shadings. This hushed interpretation begins with a bell tree leaving a cascade of shimmering highs followed by piano, bass and brushed cymbals that lay down a samba-esque rhythm for Shirley Horn's delicious voice to ride upon. Each instrument from the shimmering bell tree to Shirley's sultry voice becomes more uniquely differentiated in tone and timbre. The piano with its difficult-to-reproduce harmonics, dynamics and attacks is thoroughly convincing as a real piano, cymbal as cymbal etc. Each is made more unique in timbre and tone yet more integral to an organic musical whole.

Soundstage layering and image focus: The improved dynamic range, resolution, transient speed, harmonic richness and textures are seductive enough but the one-two-punch is how these come into play within the holographic soundstage enabled by the Powercell. Tired notions of listening through sonic windows go right, er, out the window. Now the illusion of soundstage scale including the width, height and depth defy the physical boundaries of the speakers and room. Now the soundstage also envelops the listener while remaining wonderfully layered. Instruments and voices are focused unwaveringly in their virtual locations with uncanny substance. One can easily sense the space around an individual instrument or voice, making for an extraordinarily 3-dimensional listening experience that invites the listener to visualize the musical event without effort.

Locating individual instruments and voices within dense or complex musical textures is far easier yet the music remains whole and coherent. On Ariel Ramirez' Misa Criolla featuring José Carreras, the track "Kyrie" (vidala-babuala) features Carreras in front of the Grupo Huancara choir. Because of the apparently cavernous recording venue and the distant perspective of the recording, the voices and instruments had previously sounded a bit homogenized. This had the effect of obscuring or flattening the perspective. With the Powercell, the voices and instruments remain a touch distant as recorded but now within their distant location they are clearly delineated and layered, with Carreras' voice taking appropriate prominence and space in front of the chorus. The church recording venue and Ramirez' composition are revealed with the majesty they deserve. This revelation of scale and space is a hallmark trait of the Powercell. However, unless it is engineered into a recording ,you will not encounter the surreal such as intimate recordings of singer-songwriters playing gargantuan guitars or 8-foot tall singers with colossal mouths.

Side benefits: With newfound levels of resolution and an ultra-low noise floor allowing details and microdynamic nuances to become audible, distinguishing subtle differences in recording quality, microphone and recording techniques and venue characteristics is a breeze. It also becomes much easier to hear and locate equipment problems within the system, pinpointing how each component or adjustment affects the sound. For instance, the crossovers for my Altec 604 coaxial drivers have adjustable L-pads for contouring the EQ of the horn's mid and treble frequencies to suit listener tastes or room acoustics. I had previously reduced the horn's treble output by too many resistance ohms in an attempt to tame unwanted sibilance. With the Powercell installed, the mistake quickly became evident. It was then a simple task to readjust the treble output to the precise level needed in order to achieve a flatter frequency response, which subsequently added air and sparkle.

With and without Tesla actively shielded cables:
Because my reference system is connected with Synergistic Research actively shielded power cords and interconnects, I wanted to determine if the Powercell's benefits would be as pronounced with other power cords lacking active shields. The first experiment was to install the device in my second system at home. This system has a similar level of resolution but with more limited bass that extends only to 45Hz vs. 25Hz.This system also uses the Furman Elite conditioner but with Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC power cords and Skywire 1400 interconnects and speaker cables, California Audio Lab CD player and a passive pre driving Melody's 2A3 monos into single-driver horns. Here the improvements yielded with the Powercell were also unquestionable and dramatic. Similar improvements in bass control, transparency, transient speed, harmonics and soundstaging were all there albeit without deep bass.

Moving back to system #1, I replaced the Synergistic cables with the cables from system #2. Yes, there was a reduction of resolution in absolute terms but considering that Synergistic's cables are some of the most resolving on the planet and many times more expensive, the gestalt of the Powercell improvements compared to my previous reference conditioner was still extremely impressive. The combination of all actively shielded cables powered by the actively shielded Powercell does indeed add additional synergy in the form of more transparency, resolution and dynamic freedom. This is a situation where more is better. However, the cable and system switching exercises clearly demonstrated to me that the Powercell 10 works its magic well in systems that do not employ any other Synergistic Research products.

A simple but eye-opening test demonstrates just how dramatic and comprehensive the Powercell effects are. Begin by listening for a few minutes with the active EM cell unplugged. While listening, have someone else connect the active cell power supply. A brief lag will follow before the cell kicks in and the sound suddenly fills out with great clarity.

The Powercell 10 liberates the music from dynamic restrictions and makes possible effortless flow, vitality and speed with extraordinary control. It certainly eliminates any dynamic hindrances or spatial flattening that I could ever associate with power conditioners. The conditioner removes any hint of AC-related grunge, haze or blurring and unmasks the full harmonic complexity and richness of the music. It can facilitate a soundstage that affords the listener a 3-dimensional, musical immersion that is riveting. The Powercell seems to raise the performance level of every active component in the system, which in turn delivers an even longer list of sonic improvements. At $4000 the Powercell 10* represents a serious investment by any standard but considering its transformative sonic capabilities and the musical experience provided, the price tag seems very fair. Hats off to Synergistic Research for what may be their most impressive product to date.

* The Powercell 10 is the mid-level model of the three available in the Powercell line. The Powercell 6 is $3000 (120 volt US version- 220 volt EU version is higher). It is identical to the 10 except it has three isolated circuits for a total of 6 outlets. The top of the line Powercell 10SE (special edition) is $5000 (120 volt US version- 220 volt EU version is higher) and features 5 isolated circuits, a higher performance active EM filter, a 32-amp Powercon connector and comes standard with Synergistic Research's highest performing power cord for line conditioners, the Tesla Precision AC.
Quality of packing: Sturdy and well considered right down to the white cotton gloves that are included for handling the high gloss acrylic chassis.
Reusability of packing: Multiple times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Quality of owner's manual: No manual supplied for this review because the Powercell was delivered and explained by Synergistic Research's technician. Manuals are included with purchased units.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Active cell power supply and power supply cable, cotton gloves. Manual omitted.
Website comments: Excellent photographs and easy to navigate. In-depth technical information on the Powercell page is minimal. More in-depth information or specs would be valuable.
Human interactions: Prompt, professional and helpful.
Pricing: Very fair for this level of performance.
Final comments & suggestions: The Powercell with its Active EM cell technology will change many listeners' notions on what is possible from a power conditioner. More detailed technical information on the website would be appreciated.
Synergistic Research website