Synergistic Research Element C.T.S. Digital AC Cord

Device Type: AC Cable
Price: $3,000.00/5 ft.
Availability: Authorized Dealers

Equipment Used in Evaluation: MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base, Early 2011 MacBook Pro 2.3 GHz Quad Core i7, 16 GB RAM, Samsung 840 Pro SSD, Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt Drive 8TB, GRAID 8TB Thunderbolt Drives. Audirvana Plus/OSX Mtn Lion, JRiver, JPlay/Windows 8 Pro 64. Interconnect cables: Synergistic Research Tesla Apex LE, and Tesla Precision Reference LE. Speaker cables: Synergistic Research Tesla Apex LE. Power cables: Synergistic Research Element C.T.S. Digital, Tesla Hologram D, T3, and Precision AC cables. 2 Synergistic Research Tranquility Bases, USB Active SE cable and Thunderbolt Active SE cables. Other DACs on hand and used in this evaluation were the Wavelength Crimson Silver with Denominator module, and the Calyx Audio Femto DAC.

The Synergistic Research Element cable series represents Synergistic Research’s most current thinking on the art and science of cable design. The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord resulted from the research and development that created the more expensive Galileo series of cables. The Element series provides many of the Galileo features at a more affordable price.

Synergistic Research was one of the first companies to offer aftermarket high end AC cables. In 1994, the AC Master Coupler AC cord created quite a stir with audiophiles who tried the cable and spread the word of what was possible in component sonic performance with replacement of the stock AC cord. Over 10,000 AC Master Coupler AC cords have been sold. More recently, Synergistic Research now offers an updated 20th Anniversary model of the AC Master Coupler.

My first experience with aftermarket AC cords was with the PS Audio Lab Cable in 2000. This large AC cable consisted of 6 gauge, 1057 strand copper for each conductor and triple shielding. At the time, I was quite impressed with the improvement in sound when I replaced the stock AC cord for my components. Since 2000, I have tried numerous AC cords but finally settled on the Synergistic Research Tesla Hologram D for my digital components. The Hologram D was and is an impressive sounding AC cord with its double Active Shielding and 8 x Silver Matrix Alloy / 4 x Silver Matrix Weave conductors. I have used this cable since 2008 and was very curious to see how its replacement, the Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord, sounded in comparison.

The Element C.T.S. Digital Construction
The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord utilizes Synergistic Research’s new Quantum Tunneled G07 wall plug and IEC connector that has 100% gold signal and ground conductors from signal contact blades to termination blocks. The Element series became the first cables to utilize pure tungsten as a signal conductor. The abbreviation C.T.S. stands for copper, tungsten, and silver conductors that make up this AC cable. The copper, tungsten and silver “Air Strings” are suspended in an Actively Shielded air dielectric. The construction of the Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord is comprised of the following:

10 Geometries running in parallel:

  • (1) Handmade Actively Shielded Pure Copper Air String
  • (1) Handmade Actively Shielded Pure Tungsten Air String
  • (1) Handmade Actively Shielded Pure Silver Air String
  • (1) Actively Shielded Mid-Range Geometry
  • (2) DC Return Cables for twin circuit Active Shielding
  • (4) Silver Matrix Geometries voiced for digital components
The use of the different conductor metals results in the unique “voicing” of the cable. The Element C.T.S. also has two circuits of Active Shielding. A total of 6 Enigma Tuning Circuit Bullets are provided for fine tuning of the sound. Black provides the warmest sound; silver sounding open and airy; and grey, a hybrid of black and silver. One can arrive at the best mixture of warmth and high end air for your component with the use of the 6 Enigma Tuning Circuit Bullets. Synergistic Research claims that these complex cables take 11 hours to build.

The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord comes with an MPC (Mini Power Coupler) to power the active shields. The sound of the cable can be improved with the Galileo MPC or better yet, the Transporter Ultra SE power supply I recently reviewed (see review).

The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord is specially voiced for digital components like DACs or CD/SACD players. My evaluations will first compare the C.T.S. Digital to the stock cable provided with the MSB Technology Analog DAC / Analog Power Base and then with the previous model Tesla Hologram D AC cord.

A Comparison with the MSB Technology Stock AC cord
I spent several days listening to only the stock AC cable provided with the Analog DAC / Analog Power Base. I must credit MSB Technology for providing a very nice sounding AC cord. The qualities that I previously described in my review of The Analog DAC were easily heard with this cable. Replacing the stock cable with the Element C.T.S. Digital cord resulted in a sound change that elevated the performance of this fine DAC to a higher level. The stock AC cord sounded dark and congested compared to the Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord. The C.T.S. Digital was far more open sounding with excellent detail and air. The soundstage was extremely large in both width and depth compared to the stock AC cable. Bass reproduction with the C.T.S. Digital was detailed and impactful. The stock cable lacked the definition of the Element C.T.S. Digital and was somewhat bloated sounding.

A favorite recording of mine is Alison Krause + Union Station Live. This true DSD recording was a real treat to listen to after being ripped to .dsf files for native DSD playback with JRiver 18/JPlay 5.1. The Element C.T.S. Digital captured the acoustic space and the location of the performers on the stage. The sound not only had excellent detail, but also a richness that was lacking with the stock AC cable. Alison Krause’s voice lacked hardness or strain with the C.T.S. while the stock cable’s presentation seemed to compact and darken the presentation.

The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord was absolutely stunning in the way it handled bass dynamics and definition compared to the stock AC cord. The 24/96 album Fourplay / Fouplay is an excellent sonic example of what the Element C.T.S. could do for the low end. Not only was the bass tighter and better defined than with the stock AC cord, but the dynamic impact had “punch” that could be felt. The stock cord sounded bloated and rhythmically slow with a significant loss of definition.

The soundstage opened up with the Element C.T.S allowing voices to be heard more clearly. An excellent example of what I am referring to is Crosby Stills Nash Daylight Again 24/192. The vocalists sounded dark and congested with the stock cable Going to the Element C.T.S. Digital allowed Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s voices to be heard more clearly without the mild opacity that clouded the vocals with the stock cable. The voices were brought forward in a larger soundstage relative to the stock cable.

The Enigma Tuning Circuit Bullets
As I previously mentioned, the Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord comes with two sets of 3 tuning devices that plug into the cable. The grey, black and silver tuning devices allow fine tuning of the overall presentation of the AC cable. The more I live and work with this feature of the Tesla SE and Element cables, the more I realize just how great an impact these tuning devices can have on the overall sound quality. I first thought that finding the right combination of Enigma Tuning Bullets would be a daunting and unachievable task—how wrong I was! It takes very little time to achieve the “best sound” for your particular setup with Enigma Bullets. The “correct” sound seems to snap into focus. I would start with the grey Bullets and proceed from there. If the sound is bright, try the Black Enigma. If the sound would benefit from more detail and a sense of high end openness, try the Silver Enigma. What is really great fun with this cable is that one can combine different Enigma Tuning Circuit Bullets together for the best of both worlds. I ended up preferring 2 Silver Enigma Bullets for my system.

The Tesla Hologram D
The predecessor of the Element C.T.S. Digital was the Tesla Hologram D; an AC cord that has been my reference since 2008. As good as the Element C.T.S Digital sounded; I wanted to know if there was a significant improvement to warrant the expenditure for a new cable.

It quickly became apparent to me that the Hologram D and the C.T.S. Digital were cut from the same sonic cloth. Both of these cables were optimized for combination with digital components, and both had dual Active Shielding. But it not take me very long to appreciate the sonic improvements that Synergistic Research had achieved with their new Element series.

The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord had better high end reproduction with superior definition compared to the Tesla Hologram D. The improvement in focus and definition was not only heard in the high end, but the midrange and low end as well. Everything was just clearer and more focused with the Element C.T.S. Digital. While the soundstage width and depth were very good with the Tesla Hologram D, the Element C.T.S. Digital was even better. With the Enigma Tuning Circuit Bullets I was able to get a sense of air and openness that eluded the Tesla Hologram D. The resolution of instruments within the soundstage was superior with the Element C.T.S. Digital.

The most striking difference between the two AC cables was that the Element C.T.S. was richer and fuller sounding than the Tesla Hologram D. Usually, when a cable adds definition to the sound, there is often a loss of warmth or richness. Not in the case of the Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord-it seems to have provided an improvement to both the definition and richness of the music it reproduced.

A Superior AC Cord
The Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord is a worthy successor to the Tesla Hologram D AC cord. Not only did it easily surpass the performance of stock AC cables, but it is a significant improvement over the sonic performance of the Telsa Hologram D. While the Element C.T.S. Digital AC cord is expensive at $3,000, I feel that the increase in performance it provides for high end DACs is substantial.

Associated Equipment

Jmilton7043's picture

Why would hi-end audio companies use cheap stock cords? Wouldn't they want their products to have the sonic advantage this power cord provides? Why release a well designed product only to have it sound poorly due to stock cords?

Steven Plaskin's picture

It's not that the stock cable sounds bad, its just that  some aftermarket AC cords sound much better.

A cable like the Element C.T.S. Digital is expensive to produce given the hand labor involved. I have auditioned a number of aftermarket AC cables that didn't sound much better than the stock cable. Audition is the key word here.

But to answer your question, manufacturers generally build to a given price point.