I hear a lot of talk about synergy. Most agree that it is an important piece of the puzzle. I would think the greatest synergy would come from using all the same brand as they were most certainly designed for each other. If this is the case, why is it that 99% of the systems here on Audiogon are not entirely one brand(excluding speakers in most cases)?
Impedance and gain compatibility are engineering reasons for the basis of synergy, however, for most audiophiles I'm of the opinion that synergy is an explanation for personal sonic preferences. Why use tone controls when you can mix and match components. Using a single brand of components would take away much of the fun of this hobby.

Only slightly more seriously, only a small number of companies are equally proficient at making source components, amplifiers and loudspeakers. McIntosh, Meridien, Sony, Krell, Harmon Group, Linn and Yamaha are some of the exceptions to the rule.
While I don't agree with the underlying assumption you make, lets assume you are right. Someone who is just starting out will have to buy at a minimum a source, an amp AND speakers all made by the same company. Since few if any big companies make great speakers, you would have to search to find speakers that worked with your chosen electronics, or electronics to match you speakers. If you did the latter, each time you would have to buy a new source, new amp. etc, an improbable event I think. For many that might be where the concept of synergy starts to play.

As as pratical matter few folks ever buy an andiophile level system all at one time. Things are purchased incrementally as our budgets and needs (as we develope listening skills and start forming strong preferences) change.

Effecting 'synergy' is nothing more that learning how to combine components to obtain the 'sound' you want, not necessarily what someone else has either created (as in manufacture, sold or assembled) or recommended. No one, especially a manufacturer, can know what you want to hear just as a beginner doesn't know either.

As the beginner becomes acclimated to a sound system, learns from reading and hearing other systems, as well as attending live performances he will develope a greater understand what is (and what is NOT) possible.

So my question to you is, what universal one manufacturer system would YOU start with, and once YOU determined that its sound could be improved on, what would your next one manufacturer system be?
when buying equipment rules your life, one system built of the same brand is many cases better, but boring.
Develyn50 as one who has experimented for 5 years with varying brands of components I can say that it has not made this hobby fun for me. If the expense was not what it is and I could have returned all the gear that did not work out without taking financial hits, I wouldn't have this point of view. Actually for me "hobby" is a misnomer. If I enjoyed buying and selling gear, mixing and matching, inserting a particular piece etc, then I could call it a "hobby." For me this has been a quest for the love of the music to realize the goal of a system that could reproduce said music beautifully. It's all been about the music for me, not a hobby. I would love to have a system by the same maker (except speakers) if it would lead to satisfyingly reproduced music. Then I could end this buying and selling and get lost in the music.
Hi Dev,

Some good points have been made by the others, but I'll add the following thoughts.

Let's first recognize, as you do, that high quality speakers and electronics will usually come from different companies, for obvious reasons beginning with the fact that the technologies are very different.

Then add to that the fact that manufacturers of high quality amplifiers and preamplifiers tend, in general, to either not produce source components as well, or to produce a limited selection of them, constrained to be within a certain price range and feature set (which may not be what the buyer wants).

So for the most part the question narrows down to synergy between preamp and power amp. But then consider that the most important synergistic interaction between the power amp and other components is likely to be with the speakers. While the most important synergistic interaction between the preamp and other components could very well be with one or more of the source components, especially where a phono cartridge is a source.

So as I see it the possible benefit in synergy between preamp and power amp, that might result from having both components manufactured by the same company, will tend to be overshadowed by the different synergies that are required between power amp and speakers (not to mention the room as well), and between preamp and source components. Those being among the reasons that we often see solid state preamps being mixed with tube power amps, and vice versa.

Also, I'll add to the comment that was made about technical specifications that I would draw a distinction between the terms "synergy" and "compatibility." I would use the term "compatibility" to encompass avoidance of gain mismatches, impedance mismatches, mismatch of amplifier power and speaker efficiency, etc., things that can be determined based on technical specifications. Essentially, the ability of the components to function together. "Synergy," on the other hand, to me (and I think to you and to most of us) means that the sonic performance of the components is complementary, such that they reinforce each other's strengths and/or mitigate each other's weaknesses.

-- Al
I'm glad there were some responses to the question as it has made it much more clear to me.

Thank you!
To me synergy is about getting stuff that works together well working well in the venue (listening room) it must function in.

Synegy with the room itself is perhaps the first thing to take into consideration to get things sounding best.
Onhwy61 said it all in his first sentence. It's a matter of compatibility, not synergy. Synergy goes far beyond merely working well together. The word is misused. Oh but, it sounds really cool.
Compatibility does not cover it.

Mabe we're cutting hairs, but for clarity sake, most components are "compatible" ie they utilize standard interfaces, like SPDIF for example to be able to function together, but different compatible components do not all necessarily sound good together. There is more to it than just that obviously.

Impedance matching is the technical key but even tossing that into the mix does not cover it all. Two different components with identical impedance specs will still sound different I believe. Seldom do two components sound identical in the same system otherwise. Specs alone do not cover all the necessary parameters. You have to hear the result to know if everything is working well together. Your room and your ears are part of the equation as well.

I always like the soup analogy. You might follow the same recipe and even use the same ingredients (or not) but each pot of soup will most likely still taste slightly different in the end, especially to two different partakers .

Obviously, the chef is the key to good soup. The chef knows what it takes to mak the soup taste good. Synergy is just a term that relates how well multiple factors are applied to deliver a good result.

Look up the definition of synergy. It really does describe what it takes to do most anything well in life, including audio.
The soup analogy is very misleading. Cooking is more akin to making music as an activity in that it has an element of creativity. The reproduction of music is of an order of magnitude less complex than those activities as it lacks the creative part. Putting together a system seems to be a very mechanical process. You gather information about what you think will work well and then you try it. If you like the results you say it works synergistically. If you don't like the sound you fiddle until you do like it or you move on to the next "upgrade". Trail and error ain't creative. It's a rote process.

Furthermore, the soup analogy is misleading because it gives too much freedom of expression to the audiophile. Unless a cook is working in a commercial environment, there is no compelling reason for tonight's soup to taste just like yesterday's version. Cooks are expected to experiment and modify. Audiophiles don't have that leeway because we are trying to reproduce something that is a known quantity. (We may not know exactly what the recording is supposed to sound like, but there is an artist/producer/engineer somewhere that does.) This limits what the audiophile can do and still call the result high fidelity sound.
We all know and have experienced it's all just magic and pixie dust. Sarcasm intended.
i to believe in the like brand synergy thing. there is something to it. i think mostly what happens , using myself
as an example. i had a matching pre, amp , and cd player. wanting to upgrade i believed the amp was my week link , bought an ayre, am thrilled to death with it and am now broke. so i now have a two brand system better than my one brand, and so it goes. good luck
OK... So, lets see...

From the above posts it sounds like we can summarize Synergy to represent the following:

1) "Electrical Engineering Synergy" or the compatibility of loads and impedances and so forth...

2) "Sonic Synergy" which complements the sonic signatures of mixing different components; this can either reenforce positive sonic attributes, or lessen negative attributes in a system.

3) I do believe that "Brand Synergy" can be very difficult to beat, especially if you're happy with the sonic signature of the brand in question. I do not believe that all of the equipment has to be from the same manufacturer in order to obtain some sort of "Brand Synergy" within a system. It can be as simple as having an AMP/Preamp from the same manufacturer as stated above.

4) The last one..., I'm going to refer as "Debt Synergy" which refers to; the mixing and matching, and buying and selling, of different components in order to better adjust your financial debt.

place 11 audiophiles in a room and you will get 12 opinions. synergy is somewhat ephemeral in that what is ysnergistic for one may not be for another.

the question is production or reproduction ? a hobbyist will make a choice as to pleasing him/herself or trying to minimize inaccuracy.

if one likes the sound of a stereo system than one says synergy is present. since there maybe subjective disagreement as to the presence or absence of synergy, it may be more useful to use preference in lieu of synergy.
Here's a definition:

"The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects."

That pretty much sums up what you are shooting for in a good sounding system to me.

Of course, with audio gear,the only thing objective are the specifications and any actual performance measurements you might have at your disposal. These provide the only metrics available for objectively determining synergy or no.

That's fine but we know that no set of measurements can tell the whole story behind what our ears are actually capable of hearing, right?
sme say that synergy has to deal with Impedance and gain compatibility.

how you do the Impedance matching
and how to do the Gain matching?

Mapman's definition of the term is the accurate one. Many use the term in a semantically incorrect way. There's really no way to predict or quantify if the sound/presentation of one's audio system will be, "greater" than the sum of it's parts/effects(other than the owner's subjective opinion). System or component, "compatibility" is what people actually seek. I suppose that, "synergy" sounds more upscale to some though. If one's collection of components achieves actual synergy(per it's definition); it's purely serendipitous.