That is, until you change something. Then you realise that on top of that layer of wonderful, effortless music, there’s something extraordinarily insightful playing. We stepped up the pace by adding the little Scala ‘hat’ to the Minissimos. This added greater width to the soundstage and made the mid and upper end frequency range seem considerably more engaging – on a system that was already extremely engaging in and of itself. I could have gone back to playing Jim Reeves over and over again, but moved over to ‘Chan Chan’ by the Buena Vista Social Club, from the album of the same name [World Circuit]. This had an additional sense of effortlessness compared to its Scala-free playing. Those old Cuban musicians really chugged along with an infectious rhythm, but what the Scala did was help you listen into the sound of EGREM Studios in Havana at the end of the 1990s so rich and atmospheric was the sound.
Having improved the treble, it was the turn of the bass, with the addition of a single Submissimo between the speakers. This made it a perfect plinth for the CCI amp. We played ‘Father Lucifer’ by Tori Amos from her Boys for Pelealbum [East West]. Not the best known track on the album, but its combination of her slightly thin sounding piano, breathy vocal, and very percussive playing style, with that distant horn playing in the second verse makes it a very subtle track to use with a sub. If the sub integrates well, it will sound like Tori Amos at her piano. If it doesn’t it will sound like Jerry Lee Lewis covering a Tori Amos track. No filler, and no killer here! The Submissimo integrated perfectly. Other, more typical tracks in my arsenal of listening tests (King Curtis for example) showed the Submissimo has substance as well as lightness of touch. The best praise I can heap on any subwoofer applies here; it made a good speaker sound bigger and better.
Now it was time for a cable change, and we upgraded the full set of Special Cables for Micro Diamond. Regardless of cable type, Micro Diamond uses annealed gold/silver alloy conductors, helically wrapped in a dual layer of ultra-thin Kapton foil as a shield. The different use cases in audio demand more or less conductors, but the basic properties of the cable remain the same.
We’re cooking on gas now. Out came tracks that never see the light of day normally, like ‘Stella by Starlight’ from Joe Pass’ Virtuosoalbum [Pablo]. This album lives up to its name and Pass’ chord voicing and solo technique leaves jazz guitarists speechless. It’s not a good recording to play because the jazz ennui that strikes any guitarist (no matter how good or how long it’s been since they picked up a guitar), but also because on a less than perfectly poised system, it can be mistaken for jazz noodling (it goes on a bit) usually because some element in the system is a bit too enthusiastic (or too unenthusiastic) with its legato, and it either sounds too ‘choppy’ or ‘blurred’. Here, his impossibly perfect playing is presented in all its glory. Damn him.
Around this time, I jotted down a couple of badly repetitive lines that encapsulate the whole listening process with Crystal Cable’s system: “musically speaking, this is one of the most musically musical systems to play music through. It’s musical integrity is only bettered by its ability to resolve the musical intent of the music playing.” You get the drift!
The last part of the system update was to move to the Minissimo Diamond speaker. At this point we are really cookin’. This system moved into a new level. It retained all the good points (yes, that includes sounding ‘musical’... but that was so-o-o last page), but now started to demonstrate the sort of sophistication, elegance, and high-end ‘sheen’ (in a positive way) that separates the good from the great. Curiously, the biggest change in improving the tweeter was a clearer and more defined bass, and more natural midrange. I played with moving the Scala ‘hat’ on and off at this point, and felt under the circumstances it was wholly appropriate to listen to some Maria Callas, although this time singing Mozart. I’d played this track several times during the listening test and it was clear Callas was outside her comfort zone. Her voice was forced and pinched. It was still her, but not the best of her. But on the Diamonds (with the Scala in place, naturally), it was Callas again. What sounded child-like and screechy became soaring and powerful. So it was with every track played on the Minissimo Diamonds.
We didn’t get to the end-point… not even remotely. The cables increase the performance of the system as we move from silver-gold to monocrystal and improve the lot of the whole shebang as the number of monocrystal conductors increase. We are also using just the one subwoofer, where two (one acting as a stand for each speaker) would be even better. The reason why these next steps remain untrammelled is part pragmatism (there was no second subwoofer available to test) and part practical (swapping out the already quite spendy Ultra Diamond cable for Absolute or Ultimate Dream could easily quadruple the cost of the whole system, which no-one in the real world is ever going to do). As it is, the refinement of the diamond tweeter, the subwoofer, and the cable change all take a substantial toll on the wallet of the owner, adding considerably more to the overall cost of the system.