Please be patient as I step you through some backstory. I reviewed the Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 UEF power conditioner back in October 2014. It made a tremendous impact on the overall sound of my system—all for the good! Other than a change in speakers, maybe more of an impact than any other single component at that point in time. Yes, it was that impressive. It has remained in my system ever since despite dozens of other changes.
Last year, Synergistic Research (SR) approached me to do a follow-up review on the new PowerCell 12 UEF SE. It made sense since I had such a long history with the PowerCell 10 UEF and its interaction and compatibility with so may other components over the two years.
Well, I resisted. I had an extensive waiting list of other products that were ready for review. Even beyond that, I was in the middle of evaluating three different digital sources for my own system that had my head spinning. Why make things more complicated? How much better could the newer model be than the highly regarded Powercell 10 UEF anyway?
Boy, was that short-sighted! I was clearly ignoring the potential of something that could impact all of the components in my entire system. I'm guessing that most of the readers are smarter than me, but sometimes I get caught up into improving some specific component or function and kinda ignoring the big picture.
I was walking in the dark for quite some time, until I received a call from a very energized local audio buddy. Not typically one to get excited over anything, he implored me to come over and hear his system (primarily Aurender and Ayre components with Wilson Audio Alexia speakers). He had just purchased the PowerCell 12 UEF SE and he needed someone to verify what he was hearing.
I was very familiar with his setup and I was intrigued, so I joined him the very next day. I was amazed how the sound of his system was transformed. After kicking myself big time, I immediately contacted Synergistic Research and requested a unit for a product review. Needless to say, I fell in love once again and my system took another step closer to the real thing.
- Sonus Faber Stradivari Loudspeakers
- REL No. 25 Reference Subwoofers
- Devialet 1000 Pro Integrated Amplifier
- VPI Avenger Plus Turntable
- VPI JMW 12-3DR Tonearm with Nordost Reference Wire
- Ortofon Cadenza Bronze Phono Cartridge
- Esoteric K-01X SACD/CD Player
- Aurender N10 Music Server
- Synergistic Research Element CTS Cable throughout
- Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 UEF Power Conditioner
- Synergistic Research FEQ PowerCell Equalizer
- Rix Rax Hoodoo Component Rack
- Magico QPod Footers
System synergy and personal taste are critical when evaluating high-end audio products. This review is based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, my specific system, and my specific listening room. This combination is only one data point of many that exist out there for these components. Please consider my comments and analysis appropriately.
There are three PowerCell 12 UEF models. Though there is a common baseline, different combinations of conductors, power cords, outlets and other materials are utilized for each. Please see the SR website for more detailed information. The top of the line PowerCell 12 UEF SE that is reviewed here retails for $6495.00.
For the PowerCell 12 UEF SE model, Synergistic Research continues to push the envelope with several creative circuit design and material choices. Schuko outlets, graphene conductors, carbon fiber shielding, 10-guage silver matrix point to point wiring, high carbon steel/aluminum ground planes, star grounding, ultra low frequency field generators, and high performance transformers and capacitors are only some of the highlights.
The PowerCell 12 UEF SE provides a total of twelve outlets via six duplexes and all through six active EM Cells. Per the SR literature, "these EM Cells are designed to clean your electric power by re-clocking the A/C with a rich, low-frequency harmonic that overrides the noise and hash found in most common 50-60 cycle A/C."
SR also claims the following: "EM Cells act like a "super capacitor" to increase peak current on demand. This allows components to draw more current than when connected directly to the wall for added dynamic headroom". This statement seems to be verified in my listening tests. Please see my comments on sound below.
Each individual outlet is isolated on the SE model. On all models, the left three duplex outlets and the right three are also isolated from each other which can provide for additional separation between digital and analog if desired. I have a fairly extensive configuration of components and I found no need to buy a second unit for either capacity or further isolation. This was not the case in my experience with many other power conditioners.
The SE model also includes a glass top that allows you to see all the internal circuitry light up during use (very impressive and very cool). A high current SR Atmosphere Level 3 active power cord ($2995) and SR Black UEF duplex outlet ($249) are also included in the offer at no extra cost. A high current SR Galileo UEF power cord is available as an upgrade. Overall dimensions are 5.5″ High x 17.5″ Wide x 13.5″ Deep. Weight is specified at 19lbs.
The bottom line here is that all of above translates to superb isolation and impressive dynamic performance—all in support of non-current limiting power! The objective is that anything and everything can be plugged into the unit without constraints, including your mightiest high power monoblock amplifiers. To my ears, the proper execution of "non-current limiting power" is critical when it comes to the success or failure of power conditioners.
Let's kick off this discussion of sound right where I left off in my final words on design. Over the years, I've had several opportunities to audition various types of power conditioners. Without exception, all of them provided some change in performance and sound. I have used these terms before, but the best way to describe the sound was that it was different rather than better.
This was not a matter of compatibility. Almost immediately, I recognized that these power conditioners limited the overall dynamics and what many call the PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing) of the music. It was almost as if some type of filter or choke cut out the very soul and excitement of the sound. As always, please keep in mind that I have not heard everything, but these results kept me away from power conditioners for a very long time.
The exceptions have been the PowerCell 10 UEF and the PowerCell 12 UEF SE. Can the non-current limiting designs of both models be the key to their success? I will leave that to the engineers, but my ears tell me that something right is going on here.
Rather than spending too much time comparing the two, let's just say that the upgrade to the PowerCell 12 UEF SE is like a PowerCell 10 UEF on steroids. I am now just getting more of everything good and a few additional perks too!
The noise floor is virtually jet black. In my recent review of the SR Galileo UEF AES/EBU digital cable, I noticed something similar happening. Now I can almost hear a pin drop in the room when I have my ears next to the drivers of my Sonus Faber Stradivari speakers (with the volume up and source music off of course). Yes, that's an exaggeration, but I wanted to make it clear that the end result is highly significant and very audible.
This not only allows for instruments and vocalists to be better defined and virtually crystallize as never before, it also allows me to listen at much lower listening levels and still enjoy all the PRAT of the recorded music. If like me, once you reach a certain age its important to protect those ears and leave the high volume sessions for special occasions only! Yet, I still want to hear everything that the music can offer and without sacrifice at the lower volumes.
There is now a density or three dimensionality to the sound that is quite striking. The sound stage was far from two dimensional in the past, but now it has not only expanded in all directions but on some of my favorite recordings the speakers have virtually disappeared. Individual instruments and vocalists are more clearly delineated with pin point imaging and layers and layers of detail. Dare I use the word "holographic".
Prior to this change, I often observed something like this on my very best recordings but not always for most of my collection. Now it is more the norm than not. I can compare this experience to what I typically hear on small well designed monitors, but rarely on large full range speaker designs like my Strads.
I am also hearing less stridency and whiteness to the sound—especially on digital. There is still plenty of articulation and presence, but there's just more of a natural if not organic feel to the music. Again, I heard something like this happening with the Galileo UEF AES/EBU digital cable, but now it was more of a comprehensive feeling as if the entire system was demonstrating this improvement (in retrospect, I realized that it actually was—via the PowerCell 12 UEF SE).
Lastly, micro and macro dynamics have never been better. There is an improved and more compelling level of attack and immediacy to the sound that even the casual listener will quickly notice. My wife has excellent ears and she pointed out the difference on her first listen.
This was another one of those rare occasions that happens once a year if I am lucky. Without a forewarning about any changes to the system, and after a couple of hours of listening to music and reading the papers one Sunday morning (a Sunday tradition), she stood up, looked me in the eye and proclaimed the following. "What have you changed? If we can afford it, we should buy it. What ever "it" is, let's make it happen. I love what I am hearing!" No wonder I married her!
Rickie Lee Jones, Rickie Lee Jones (45 RPM Vinyl)
I just saw Rickie Lee at a small venue in Milwaukee and it was a whole buncha fun. She still has the chops and her voice is as strong as ever—maybe slightly deeper and less edgy with age. This made the overall experience so much more interesting and no less entertaining if you know her music well.
This 45 RPM vinyl reissue from Mobile Fidelity is the bomb. Absolutely kills the original vinyl released on the Warner label in 1978, the subsequent Mobile Fidelity 33 RPM reissue and even the Japanese SHM CD reissue. Throw in the PowerCell 12 UEF SE and Rickie Lee will be sitting in your living room with a big smile.
This is a multi-track recording but now you get so much more intimacy that you could swear that the recording was made in one room and with one mic on many of the songs. The amount of weight and air projected around each instrument and vocal is absolutely thrilling. Definitely a younger version of my fav than what I heard in Milwaukee, but still just as vivid and amazingly lifelike. Thank you PowerCell!
Various Artists, The Best Of Mountain Stage Live: Volume 3 (CD)
Not sure if this is a well known thing, but the Mountain Stage Live series of recordings on the Blue Plate Music label include some of the most captivating performances and incredible sound ever for live recordings. An impressive variety of artists are presented along with simple but top flight production values. Highly recommended!
Volume 3 is especially engaging with such artists as Alex Chilton, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Bruce Cockburn, The Cowboy Junkies and Warren Zevon among many more. Track 3, "Superman's Song" by the Crash Test Dummies is quite charming if not insightful. Listen closely to the lyrics as you will soon be howling with laughter.
Lead singer Brad Roberts and his deep gravely bass-baritone voice has never sounded so distinctive and colorful. Through the PowerCell, the background vocals and simple piano and violin instrumentation seem to just pop out of a deep black background and soundstage. Lush and seductively fleshed out, this CD has absolutely no grain or harshness as heard through other components. Brad makes the recent Superman vs. Batman movie almost more understandable. Great song! Great sound!
Bill Evans Trio, Moon Beams (Acoustic Sounds Download – DSD)
I continue to marvel at all things Bill Evans. The older I get, the more I appreciate the simplicity and elegance of his style and recordings. I can't wait for the upcoming Analogue Productions Complete Riverside Recordings Vinyl Box Set and also the Mobile Fidelity Sunday at the Village Vanguard Ultra Disc reissues—both on 45 RPM vinyl. For me, this latest generation of 45 RPM reissues has consistently provided the definitive versions of several of my favorite classics, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Until this happens, I can happily survive if not celebrate with my current Bill Evans collection on vinyl, CD and downloads. One recent acquisition that has really caught my attention is the DSD download reissue from Acoustic Sounds of Moon Beams. This recording was initially released in 1962 on the Riverside label. Sidemen included Chuck Israels on bass and Paul Motian on drums.
At that time, Evans was depressed over the recent death of his long time bassist Scott Lafaro. The PowerCell takes the sound quality up another notch. The mood and sadness of the recording comes through loud and clear. Piano is difficult to get right, but all the proper timbre, bloom and weight of Bill's acoustic grand are clearly recreated and with a very tangible three dimensional image and soundstage. Paul Motain's brush work is also quite distinctive and almost eerily real. You get both the emotional connection and the locked in spatial cues of each musician and the recording venue without compromise. Digital done right!
Synergistic Research has another winner with the PowerCell 12 UEF SE. I was pleasantly surprised if not astonished at the improvement in sound quality over my past benchmark—the excellent PowerCell 10 UEF. Unlike other power conditioners that I have auditioned, the PowerCell 12 UEF SE never feels like it throttles or diminishes the music. Yes, we have superior levels of isolation which results in an impressive reduction in the noise floor, but all the excitement and dynamic contrast of the recording as originally intended is still laid out for all to hear. This one will not be leaving my listening room.
PowerCell 12 UEF SE
Retail: $6495.00 (MSRP)
17401 Armstrong Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614