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Jitter take down: Empirical Audio’s improved Synchro-Mesh

  • Seven years and 6moons ago, I reviewed the Synchro-Mesh from Empirical Audio. It was one of this reviewer’s first tastes of how a Logitech SqueezeBox Touch’s S/PDIF output (into an outboard DAC) could be made to sound better by lowering the datastream’s jitter i.e. an improvement to the arrival timing of the ones and zeroes at the decoder chip. Back in 2012, the Synchro-Mesh would play catch on the SqueezeBox Touch’s S/PDIF output, re-clock the incoming data stream and then send it out to the downstream DAC via a second S/PDIF cable to lend music greater avidity and ease. DAC manufacturer marketing spiel that claimed their own converters would take care of jitter reduction at input proved to be somewhat premature/optimistic when I wrote: “Without Empirical reclocking we get a sound that’s comparatively dead behind the eyes. It walks like a zombie … It’s not just a nice-to-have addendum but a near must for serious furrowed-brow Squeezebox and Sonos owners.” 

    The proof, as ever for these pages, was in the listening.

    And its designer, Steve Nugent, said at the time, “The Synchro-Mesh is a resampler/reclocker with digital inputs and digital outputs. It typically inserts between a digital source device such as a CD transport or Sonos and drives a DAC, SS receiver or digital processor. It has coaxial BNC, coaxial RCA and Toslink optical inputs and outputs. It accepts incoming sample rates from 44.1 to 192kHz and resamples to either 44.1 or 96kHz depending on the configuration ordered. For typical sources like Sonos, Apple TV or a CD transport, the Synchro-Mesh improves the jitter in the audio stream and results in better imaging, detail rendering and dynamics. The Synchro-Mesh has 16/24 bit-depth settings which are chosen on power-up. Generally, we recommend 24 bits if the DAC will accept this. The Synchro-Mesh provides a significant step-up in sound quality for most digital sources. The Sonos, for instance, becomes very pleasant to listen to all day long without fatigue.”

    Now Nugent is back with a new, improved version of the Synchro-Mesh. He says, “The [new] SM physically looks the same, except that there is no RCA output, only BNC. For RCA, I include a 75 ohm BCN to RCA adapter. The changes include circuit changes, power delivery changes and newest Crystek oscillator as well as eliminating the RCA output connector.”

    For the new model, the proof might not only reside in the listening. Nugent has supplied measurements to show (and not only tell) how the new version’s BNC output improves on the jitter levels of old: dow from 130psec to 7psec for a reduction factor of 18.



    Scale is 87psec/division.

    Measured proof that not all digital sources are built the same; that bits most certainly are not “just bits”.

    Doubling down, Nugent adds, “I truly do not believe that there is ANY digital source available that drives a 1m coax cable and beats the Synchro-Mesh.  Even my own USB and Ethernet converters have 10-12psec of jitter.”

    If my 2012 experience is anything to go by, this black box will improve the sound of ANY high-jitter source device outputting via coaxial or TOSLINK. Add the Synchro-Mesh to a Logitech Squeezebox, a Google Chromecast, a Sonos Connect or vintage CD player.

    The new, lower jitter Synchro-Mesh sells for US$699. An extra US$100 gets you S/PDIF output transformer removal. A linear power supply might also net favourable audible returns over the supplied 9V switch-mode brick. Here Nugent offers a “Dynamo fast LPS” (using technology from Paul Hynes)” for US$799.

    Further information: Empirical Audio

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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