Spent another night with the Syn. The first night was more about the inital set-up and exploration of its capabilities. Last night, I was able to focus on fine tuning the channel balance and shaping. And wow, after getting this thing dialed in, all my open questions from the first night have been answered. What an experience.
Its kind of hard to explain the process of getting the channels properly balanced. The best I can say is it reminds me of getting a subwoofer properly matched to a 2-channel system. You spend all this time tweaking the crossover by fractions of a Hz and barely moving the volume dial up and down until all of a sudden, it locks in, and you know you've got it right. Pretty similar experience geting all the channels from the Syn balanced, but even then, this analogy breaks down because you know what a properly tuned subwoofer is supposed to sound like. No peaks or gaps in the response, and when you get it right, you really can't hear it until you turn of the sub off, and then you realize how much it was adding to the music. With the Syn, there really isn't a playbook for how its supposed to sound. You just keep tweaking settings until it seems right. And then you try the next song, and it still seems right. And then another, and another. It still sounds good, and you don't even notice it anymore. Until, you turn off the surround channels and realize how much it is adding to the music. Its really, really cool.
And just to try to paint a better picture of what music sounds like through the Syn, it is NOT anything like "All Channel Stereo" like you might find on most AVRs. You're not getting the same sounds pounded into your ears from all directions like the garbage compactor in Star Wars. Instead, the soundstage and imaging from the main 2 channels still exists just like it would without the surround channels. The center image is locked in a bit more and the surround channels are more of an ambient enhancer to the soundstage rather than something you're actively trying to listen to. This results in something that creates a sense of expansiveness in some tracks to others where you are completly enveloped in the wall of sound. My favorite song so far has been Deftones Change (In the House of Flies). The song intro gives that airy sense of expanse and then when the chorus hits, you just get surrounded by walls of guitar all while the original soundstage still exists up front. I listened to music for probably 2 hours total, and I'd say 90% of the songs I played ranged from sounding incredible to really good. But there are some songs where it doesn't work and it sounds overly dark and muddy and generally unpleasant. Its hard to pinpoint exactly why this happens because I tried to pick songs that i thought would cause this problem and they didnt. And some songs I was suprised when I got that effect. (As an aside, might be time to get a Lokius.) But, overall, music is really cool, and I can absolutely see myself choosing to listen to surround instead of 2 channel for dedicated sessions. Not that this replaces 2 channel. Its just another option. Kind of like choosing between headphones or stereo. Now you get to choose between headphones, stereo, or surround.
Once I got everything balanced, I went back to try gaming again. And everything was solved. Any immersion-breaking or not being sure if what I was hearing matched what I was seeing, no longer existed with the channels balanced. And it makes sense. Similar to music, all the imaging from playing in 2 channel stereo still exists, but with the extra sense of ambience in the surroud channels. And there was one moment that stood out. A sniper from the other team missed me high and left from the front. And i heard that bullet track from the front left of my office to the back left. It was awesome.
Another long post from me, but I'll end with something I hope some of you can appreciate. At one point, I walked out of my office and I must have been smiling ear-to-ear and my wife asked me "What (are you grinning about)?" I told her "You know how I ripped out the surround from the office last month? Well this company I really like released this new thing... yada yada yada" And by the end of my explanation she could obviously sense my overwhelming satisfaction and gave me the most geniune "Well, I'm really happy for you, dear." that a wife could possibly give for something she absolutely couldn't care less about. So thank you, Jason, for bringing that kind of joy into my home.
I still have barely touched the headphone output, other than to verify that it works. Hope to dig into that this weekend.
Figured I'd finish my initial impressions/review of the Syn. Last week, I was able to get the channels balanced to my liking and everything fell into place. Music sounded terrific, and I got much more clarity in the location of sounds while gaming. This weekend, I threw as much home theater content at it as I could, and I couldn't be more impressed.
The short, TLDR version: the other members of your household would never even consider asking if the sound was a discrete 5.1/7.1 mix or not. The surround sound you get from the Syn is fully immersive, engaging, and leaves nothing to be desired.
The first scene i sat down with this weekend is my favorite home theater test... the scene in War of the Worlds when the first machine emerges from the ground. The Syn handles it great. You might not be getting the precise location from some of the cracks in the ground as you do in the discrete mix, but it still very directional. Sounds are coming at you from all around. And that bass still rumbles just as hard as the .1 mix. Most impressive is there is a shot of Tom Cruise's face and you can tell by the sound that the mayhem is happening behind him. Its simply as immersive as can be.
Probably the most impressive scene was the final epic battle in Avengers: Endgame. Its pure chaos the entire time, and the Syn processes it all easily. Same for a couple scenes I tried from Game of Thrones. There is so much happening on screen, but the Syn is able to take that stereo signal and create extremely convincing surround channels with distinct direction and clarity. And this is the case with everything I tried. With music, it was only about a 90% success rate. With the movie scenes I tried, it was 100%.
After some of these epic scenes, I wanted to try some car chase scenes. I went with the frist race scene in Ready Player One, the freeway scene in The Matrix Reloaded, and the mini cooper scene from The Bourne Identity. In all 3 cases, I was so impressed with not only the sound from left and right, but also front and back. As cars zoom by, they track from front to back or back to front. Its pretty crazy how the math must work on the matrix logic for that to happen. Most memorably, in the Matrix Reloaded, there is a point where Morpheus gets flipped over backwards while fighting an agent on top of a semi. Its a slow motion shot, and the Syn had the flipping whoosh start in the front channels and clearly finish in the rear channels. I guess my main point is that its not just extra ambience you get with these scenes. You get actual sound effects from the surround channels.
I also wanted to try some "regular" tv, and I was equally impressed. I put on an episode of Succession, and thought you could argue the Syn processed surround was better than a 5.1 mix. There was some ambient sound that im sure wouldn't even have been mixed into the surround channels. And also, when they do the previous episode recap, its pretty cool how the background theme music comes through in the surround channels. You definitely don't get that with the regular mix.
I did give the headphone output a go this weekend as well. But to be honest, I'm simply not much of a headphone guy, and I don't feel comfortable going to much in depth here. I can say my gaming headphones sounded great. Just as good as they did using my Emotiva A100 headphone output. And my other headphones are HIFIMAN HE400i. I didn't particularly care for how they sounded in the A100, and still didn't care for them with the Syn headphone output. That's not the Syn's fault. The width control had a real affect. Increasing the width pushed the sound out and back, and decreasing the width pushed the sound forward and in. But again, I'm not comfortable trying to talk through the utility of being able to do so. Im guessing different headphones have different soundstages, and this helps dial in the soundstage to where you want it. I was unable to test that.
I really couldn't love this thing more. And just one more reason why I feel like the Syn was designed specifically for me.... my gaming headphones are Audio Technica AD-700x and I have a Mod Mic permanently attached to it. I have a braided cable sleeve containing both cables with heat shrink wrap and everything. But, the microphone cable is about 6 inches shorter than the headphone cable. This has annoyed me for the last 8 years, until now. The design decision to put the microphone input where it is in relation to the headphone input couldn't be more perfect for me. My cable now hangs straight down from the mircophone input, and my headphone jack perfectly stretches across the front of the syn into its home. Just an amazing coincidence.