Crystal Cables Standard Diamond Cables
Crystal exposes the notion that bigger is better when it comes to hi-fi cables. Most of Crystal Cables are routinely small, slim and elegant, silver designs that sound excellent right across the frequency spectrum, so that slice of folklore about bass weight being related to cable thickness is nonsense, too.
Standard Diamond is the latest Crystal Cable range. It’s replacing the Standard range, but retains the annealed silver/gold cable. This means ultra-thin solid core conductors, helically wound with Kapton insulators, a silver shield and finally wrapped in a Teflon sheath. The net result is a cable about as thick as a bass guitar string. It’s finished off with a quality phono plug in the interconnect but black plastic mains plugs and sockets (the more stratospheric cables have Furutech connectors). The CrystalSpeak speaker cables have a screw-in connector at each end of the cable, allowing the user to change their terminations, or even potentially add extra length to the wire should it need be. The interconnect and speaker cable are precisely the same size, while the power chords simply braid more cables into one bigger lead.
Crystal claims the thin layout and the silver-gold cable is effectively a zero distortion design, with no cross-talk or microphony issues, and very low induction. Crystal also suggests this is down to focusing on limiting current-domain distortion instead of the voltage-domain issues worked on by most cable manufacturers.
The net result of this is a cable system that does wonders. It sees to raise the game of good audio into the high-end stakes, while not holding back truly high-end equipment. The big thing of the Crystal system is a sense of order it bestows on music. The precision, detail and dynamics of your system are not impeded in any way, but the way these elements are tied together make a huge difference and this is where the Crystal Standard Diamond cables shine. It’s a very clean sound with a spring in its step in the upper registers and a lot of midrange charm, too; which perhaps is why it has become something of a darling with the valve amp fraternity.
It’s very much a cable system, though. You should consider the cables to be a complete front-to-back solution. There’s a sense of cool, calm that the cables bestow upon the system that doesn’t quite gel when used in tandem with other cables. It doesn’t sound bad when used as the one and only Crystal cable, but the focus you get when you Crystalise your whole system makes ultimately a lot more sense.
There’s one more element that isn’t covered here, the Bridge Diamond cable. This brings the low distortion sound of Crystal to any other cable, without undermining the sound of the cable you originally chose. But more on that in a later issue…
Finally, it’s worth noting that when you invest in cables, packaging is important too. If you bought an expensive watch, you’d feel a little hard done by if it turned up in a plastic bag, and similarly Crystal makes the whole buying decision seem that bit better justified thanks to some extraordinarily classy packaging. The cable sits in a velvet bag, inside a box inside another box, and authentication cards and documentation ‘case candy’ all adds to the cachet in no small amount. This Crystal then is an all round package that is highly recommended for those who want to make their system sing as one.
2x3m CrystalSpeak Standard Diamond £4,419
2x1.5m CrystalConnect Standard Diamond £1,278
1m CrystalConnect Standard Diamond power cord £871
Manufactured by: Crystal Cable
Distributed by: Absolute Sounds
Tel: +44(0)20 8971 3909
Audience AU24e Interconnects and Speaker Cables
Many of the best-loved wires can deliver revelatory changes to the system sound but this can also tend toward highly distinctive cables with a strong character that can influence the overall sound of the system. As a consequence, they are loved by some and hated by others. The flipside to this is cables that are designed to have almost no intrinsic character of their own. These don’t get as strong a set of reactions from listeners, and don’t get shouted about as much. The Audience AU24e interconnects and speaker cables are this second kind of cable, the neutral kind that gets under your skin over time.
The cables – both interconnect and speaker cable – are thin and flexible and worthy alternatives to the ‘thick as a baby’s arm’ type wires. They are constructed from high-purity OHNO copper monocrystal conductors with simple polypropylene insulation, a cross-linked polyethylene jacket and a braided outer sheath. The cables are supplied ready terminated and boxed… no off the reel cable layouts. There is a standard AU24 as well as the special ‘e’ edition, which adds about 20% to the basic AU24 price. Trouble is, not having tried the AU24 and Audience being tight-lipped about what goes on in the ‘e’ification process (the sheath and terminations are very different, apparently), I don’t know precisely whether that 20% premium gives 20% better sound. All I know is these AU24e cables are about as honest as cables get.
The Audience cables are not designed to work with the kind of components that rely on cables to enhance the sound of the system. The equipment needs to be of the best quality and extremely well matched to benefit from the Audience effect. At this point, they just let the equipment do its job properly, unimpeded by the cable itself. It’s only when you hear this happening do you realise how genuinely rare such a scenario really is. There’s a sense of level-headedness to the sound, which demands level-headed system design, but delivers the unvarnished, unimpeded truth. This really isn’t easy to express without experiencing the effect directly, which is why the old ‘lifting a veil’ cliché existed. Perhaps the best way is to liken it to the way LS3/5a, Quad ESL-57s or DNM cable perform… you get that jaw-dropping midrange clarity that makes speech and instruments so much more intelligible, but sooner or later you start wishing for frequency extremes. The Audience cable ‘sound’ is that jaw-dropping midrange, but with the frequency extremes.
Well, almost – the construction of the AU24e cables can undermine the performance in our RF-polluted world. Living in the big city, where I can find at least 15 wi-fi networks and dozens of mobiles polling their nearest cell mast, the sound can be foreshortened, almost shut in (especially at higher listening levels) and not as nuanced during the busy evening hours. Granted, I discovered this by putting the cable through the worst-case scenario (powered up iPad resting on the cables, which were connected to the wireless Arcam rDAC), and in many systems all you’ll get is the natural sense of balance these cables bring. Better shielding would help, but possibly the cure is worse than the disease.
The AU24e cables more than stand their ground in a hugely contended market. In a system where balance is key, you could easily prefer these over any other cable out there, whatever the cost. If you want a cable system that strips away the artifice, Audience deserves an, er, audience.
3m pair AU24e loudspeaker cables £1,595
1m pair AU24e interconnect cables £772
Manufactured by: Audience
Distributed by: High End Cable
Tel: 01775 761880
Dynamique Audio Maya, Halo and Summit
Dynamique Audio is that rare thing in today’s audio world; a UK-based start-up company. Started just this year, the company designs and builds a broad range of sold-direct cables in all guises. We looked at three of them, in the middle-to-upper region of the portfolio; the Maya interconnect, the Halo speaker cable and Summit power cord.
There’s a real belt and braces approach by this new cable fabber. The conductors are PTFE insulated pure silver (silver-plated copper for the earth cable in Summit), with an air dielectric, no shielding (save for a non-metallic braid) and quality WBT Nextgen or – in the power cord – Furutech connectors. Instead of consistent cable geometry throughout the range, Dynamique has gone for ‘best case’ geometries for each application; a triple-balanced helical array in the signal cables (twisted in the Halo speaker cable) and helical inner core array in the power cords. The cables also have anti-resonance dampers; one per cable for interconnects and power cords, one per end on the speaker cables. Fit and finish on all the designs is slick and professional, although typographically speaking, the array of different fonts across all those dampers is a design no-no.
The way Dynamique sells these cables is equally ‘belt and braces’ in approach. They are sold direct and through a select range of online and bricks and mortar dealers, and even distributors. To be up and running this slick, this fast shows Dynamique lives up to the name!
Dynamique gives each cable a 24 to 48 hour burn-in before supply, but suggests the process finishes at home. It also states directionality occurs at this final stage, as the cable effectively ‘imprints’ itself to your system. Despite risking opening a rift in the space-time continuum, I recklessly swapped the cable direction mid-way through the review and everything sounded just as good as it did the other way up.
Forget the claims and the design; a product should be judged by its performance alone. There is a common sound to the Dynamique Audio range. Every cable brought out deep and powerful bass, with a broadly neutral midrange, a silken sheen to the upper mids and fine soundstaging. In general, this soundstaging is well placed, although the sense of scale does receive some magnification through the speaker cables; just the thing to increase soundstage size with small speakers, perhaps? It’s also very well extended, although not to the point of exaggeration and, as you might expect, a dynamic sound too. Despite the commonality of the sound, this isn’t the sort of cable that demands a complete front-to-back solution; so old-school cable upgrades are possible without having to sack one complete cable system for another. It is at its best with a full-Dynamique rig, but perfectly comfortable in the process of changeover.
Of the three cables, the loudspeaker cable made the greatest change to the sound, then interconnect and finally the power lead, but this was a close call. And some care should be taken in combining these cables in a system; too bright a system and that silken sheen will make the upper mids overlit, but not bright enough will leave the system sounding almost rolled off.
As a newcomer, this is a brilliant rollout of quality products from the get-go. There are brands that have been making cables for years that don’t have this kind of consistency and neutral midrange. Dynamique roques!
Halo speaker cables (2.5m terminated pair) £1,690
Maya analogue interconnects (1m RCA pair) £865
Summit power cord (1m, 13A-10A IEC) £895
Manufactured by: Dynamique Audio
Tel: +44 (0)7786 310910