Synthesis Pride CD Player
Sugg. Retail: $1899 (CAN)
Synthesis Ensemble Integrated Amplifier
Sugg. Retail: $2199 (CAN)
Distributor: Tri-Cell Enterprises,
176 Monsheen Drive, Woodbridge Ontario
Canada, L4L 2E9
(905) 265-7870 or (800) 263-8151
(Reprinted from the Fall 02 Audio Ideas Guide)
Synthesis is an Italian company that, like many firms in that country, makes beautiful things. Theirs do not happen to be cars, or fashions, but high fidelity components. And there seems to be a certain sense of style in their product names, too. Here we have the Pride and Ensemble, but there are also amplifiers called Shine and Seamus, with preamps sporting Harmony, Brio and Ecstasy.
The first thing you notice about the Synthesis components is their beautiful glossily finished cases in “beech red lacquer”, according to the brochure (which has an interesting sense of language in its English version, as in, “My home is furnished in wood and I use the window curtains. I listen to music drinking Pernod.” or, “I like soft music, oranges, and jumping on my red sofa.” Make of this what you will). This glossy reddish finish extends right around the components, the cases carved from a block of wood, much as companies like Linn and Jeff Rowland machine their cases from blocks of aluminum.
The second thing is that they are quite compact, just over a foot wide, and a hair more than 8 inches deep. The Ensemble stacks nicely on the Pride, and its tubes dissipate their heat upward through the black louvered cover.
The Pride (and, speaking of language again, one does wonder if Synthesis’s Italian cunning linguist was aware of the fairly recent turn on that word over here, now that it’s attached to a Canadian TV channel) has basic operational controls on the front, and comes with a more elaborately buttoned remote control that adds numeric, Scan, Prog(ram), Time, Shuf(fle), A/B, and Rep(eat) functions, this array suggesting that it’s based around a Philips transport. The drawer can be opened by pressing the disc button on the remote, a nice feature that should be on every CD player.
At rear it has a single pair of gold-plated RCA analog outputs and just one similar coaxial digital out. There is also a master power switch, while a further button on the remote marked Standby turns the mechanism and display on and off. There is also a rocker switch that disables the digital output, and for listening I left in that mode.
The Ensemble has three knobs on the front, left and right stepped volume controls flanking a rotary selector knob. Inputs are provided for CD, Video, Tuner, Aux 1, and Aux 2. The rear panel provides a rocker On/Off switch, all of the requisite inputs in the same gold-plated RCAs as on the CD unit, and a addition single Tape Out pair. However, they are organized oddly, though it does make sense when you note that this is actually a dual mono design; each channel for each stereo input is at the opposite side of the panel, so fully separate mono cables must be used. But the individual inputs and output are well marked in their horizontal pairings on the black-painted aluminum chassis just above the rear panel. The speaker output binding posts accept either spades or banana connectors, and appear to be gold- plated brass or steel, and they flank the input RCA grouping directly behind their respective output transformers. They did not come with those nasty little plastic plugs in the banana sockets.
The tube complement in this pentode push-pull amplifier design is 4 12UA7/6189 gain stage tubes, and 8 6BQS/EL84 output devices. Rated power is 30 watts per channel at an unspecified distortion level into a 6 ohm load.
Testing of the system, connected to a pair of PMC DB1 minimonitors, started with the Pride and our standard tracking test discs. On the Verany disc, the single dropouts were played cleanly through track 32 (1.25mm), with loud ticking that turned into, first, muting, and then skipping forward also typical of Philips error correction behaviour. One oddity, however, was some ticking on track 30 (.75mm). The narrow gauge dropouts were not all that well handled, with loud ticking right from the beginning, track 40 (1mm), while the double dropout tones were well reproduced through 46 (2 x .5mm), and track 47 (2 x 1mm) was handled after some initial blurp sounds.
Next came the Canadian CD CHECK disc, with its more complex test tones (for more information on this easy-to-use CD, call 903-429- 1154 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). Here we also had some blips in the 2nd tone (.375mm of error), but 3 (.75mm), and 4 (1.125mm) were played cleanly, as was 5 (1.5mm), though the latter had some chirpy sounds periodically.
Our multiple error disc did not skip at all until 2:11, but then locked completely, then skipping ahead after a few seconds uncontrollably. The partially transparent Carmina Burana disc we use for testing ability to deal with such manufacturing errors, was full of clicks on tracks 1 and 2, but completely clean on 3 and 4.
These tests tell us that this player will very seldom have trouble with a disc, but it has a gap in its error correction, probably at the level of error where it switches from simple correction to data interpolation, which is necessary for larger errors above .5mm in size. This characteristic can be seen in both CD CHECK and Verany tests, and is suggested by the behaviour with the other discs. The Pride should ignore most small disc faults and scratches, and may play quite badly damaged ones that other players cannot.
It’s a very good sounding player, clean and dynamic, with a smooth and natural quality that suggests some quite recent technology. The only specification to support this is the note that digital conversion is at “24 bits”. Matched with the amplifier, with its limited gain and power, it may occur that some CDs recorded at lower levels may be quite volume limited with the Pride/Ensemble system. This, of course is also dependent on speaker sensitivity, and I found this the case with the 87-dB/watt DB1 (by far the least sensitive PMC model). I think you would want to use 90-db/watt+ sensitivity speakers with these electronics, say, one of the smaller Klipsch Reference series models.
But with the PMCs levels were acceptable with most CDs, and I found I normally had gain around 2 or 3 o’clock. The system had excellent bass, with good extension to below 50 Hz, and I seldom felt the need for a subwoofer, which was good, because the Ensemble has no volume-controlled line outs to allow hooking one up.
I liked this little system a lot, and enjoyed its exceptional imaging and soundstage focus with instruments and voices, the stage extending beyond and behind the speakers. At high levels things could become a little congested, but then, my room is probably at least twice as big as that for which such an amplifier as the Ensemble is intended.
In sum, I would say the Synthesis can take Pride in this very musical and sweet (and very pretty) two-piece Ensemble. Even if you don’t like jumping on your red sofa, drinking Pernod, you’ll probably like these components if you favour tube sound.