The power and the glory!
Review By Phil Gold
here to e-mail reviewer.
you love it when a component is drop-dead gorgeous. I'm talking VAC Phi,
Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage, and the Oracle Turntable. But whoever heard of a cable that could turn heads. A sexy cable?
Until now! Yes one company makes sexy looking cables.
What's that about? And why should you care?
Actually you should care, because sexy here means slim
and flexible, a rare achievement in the realm of high-end wire.
Flexibility brings two huge advantages. First, you can put your equipment
where you want it, without having to worry about clearance for those stiff
cables that bend with the greatest reluctance. It also means mechanical
isolation — you won't be getting vibration running down the cable or
impeding the floating action of your equipment you have so carefully
What's The Technology Here?
Normally flexibility like this comes with sonic
compromises. Either the conductance of the cable or the effectiveness of
the shielding is impaired, or even both. In this case, the manufacturer
claims to have avoided such drawbacks. The flexibility is the direct
result of a new combination of materials. If I have the story straight,
the initial breakthrough occurred years ago at Siltech Cables in Holland,
where Edwin van der Kley discovered a new way to inject gold into silver
conductors under ideal conditions so as to fill the gaps between the
silver crystals. Siltech has used this revolutionary metallurgy for many
years and the latest improvements have made it possible to achieve a
surprisingly thin diameter with the same mechanical properties.
Conductivity improves remarkably, enabling a thin wire to have the
capacity of a much thicker wire made of pure silver or copper. This new
alloy also shows much improved malleability, greatly reducing the
micro-fractures to which traditional silver or copper cables are so prone
to under bending. Since there is much less need to protect the wire
against sharp bending, the cable wrap can be much thinner, allowing a slim
This was such a breakthrough that Edwin's wife Gabi set
up a new company to develop this technical concept which provided the
opportunity to introduce high end cables with a new surprising look and a
flexibility never achieved before. This company, Crystal Cable, now runs
its research and development independently, although production facilities
are still shared with Siltech cables. Edwin still runs Siltech, and Gabi
now runs Crystal Cable.
All Crystal Cables are based on thin coaxial threads. A
new technique is used to perfectly align the metal crystals along the
length of the conductor. The ultra thin solid core conductor (0.3mm to
1.2mm) is the straight, stress-free gold infused silver alloy, surrounded
by a dual layer helically wound film of flexible Kapton insulator covered
by a pure silver shield and a transparent Teflon jacket. Crystal Cable
claim remarkable freedom from distortion and airborne noise for this
technology, combined with a flat, frequency independent impedance.
All Crystal Power cables, from Piccolo to Reference, use
a special geometry — a truly balanced system. Two coaxial cables are
twisted to achieve the needed amount of conducting wires: the two
conductors provide positive and negative, and the two shields together are
connected to the ground. The Ultra Power cable is different: there are 4
conductors, connected in pairs, and the ground has a lot of shield.
Similarly the Ultra Balanced interconnects offer a fully balanced
construction designed to eliminate external noise.
A natural complement to the slim wire is the exquisite
transparent acrylic cable covering and eye catching plugs and connectors,
all presented in jewelry bags and boxes. The Ultra Power Cord uses
Rhodium-plated Furutech 15A FI-25 High End Performance Power Connectors at
either end, while the cheaper cables sport Marinco 15A K783 Female and
81290 Male connectors. For added distinction, the Ultras are serial
numbered. The Ultra Balanced Interconnects, also numbered, use the
excellent Neutrix MC-MX and NC-FX connectors.
All this would be irrelevant if performance didn't match
the looks, but as with the Oracle, the VAC, and the Sonus Faber, beauty runs far more than skin deep here. In fact Crystal Cable's
top of the line offerings set out to challenge the similarly priced
Nordost Valhallas and other exotic wires. Even their entry-level
cables are a force to be reckoned with.
The Review System
This review concentrates on power cords, and I selected
from the bottom (Piccolo), middle (Standard) and top (Ultra) of the range,
in duplicate so I could wire up both the EMM Labs CDSA Player and the
Perreaux Radiance R200i Integrated amp. The full range of Power cables in
ascending order of price is Piccolo, Micro, Standard, Reference and Ultra.
I also added top of the line Crystal Cable Ultra Balanced interconnects
into the mix.
My reference speaker cables (Nordost Valhalla Triwire)
feed Wilson Benesch Act 1 Speakers. A Nordost Thor Power Distribution
System completes the system. The idea is to compare the 3 sets of power
cables to each other, and to some other power cables on hand, and then to
compare the Crystal Ultra interconnects to Valhallas. But just to
complicate things, I tried switching the power cables out individually as
well as in pairs, and the number of combinations drove me close to
despair. Big spiral notepads to the rescue!
The sound in my system has taken another leap forward
lately with the introduction of the EMM Labs SACD player to the mix, just
in time for this demanding review. Only the finest SACD recordings were used in the making
of this review. No animals were harmed.
Valhalla Or Ultra?
The all-Valhalla system is my everyday reference, and
basically it just gets out of the way and lets the music through, which is
about all you can ask of a cable.
Some of you will be wondering how the Ultra compares to
the much thicker but similarly priced Valhalla. The news on that score is
that they are both sensationally good. Both reach way down low and way up
high with ease. More to the point, both project an image that is deep,
stable and realistic. I had to work very hard to tell which was playing if
I didn't look behind the rack.
The similarities far outweigh the differences. I don't
think I've ever found two sets of cables so close to each other in sound.
This may mean that both are approaching the ultimate goal of perfect
But there are some subtle differences, which I detected
with prolonged listening. Valhalla is a touch dark next to the Ultra,
whose top end seems rather more open. In terms of detail, the Ultra just
has the edge, while the Valhalla tips the scales in presence. Neither
shows any sign of compression, distortion or loss of color. Neither cable
favors any particular kind of music. Both maintain massive dynamic range
when the recording allows, realistic instrumental tone on piano, bass,
drums, wind and strings, and render a better account of the human voice
than any other cables I've tried.
On some tracks I found the Valhalla to be slightly less
involving than the Ultra, maybe due to the deep bass which is more
prominent on the Valhalla but not quite as quick. The Ultra's sense of
swing is most impressive. On other tracks, particularly involving guitar
music, the Valhallas pulled ahead because the accidentals were somewhat
reduced in level. There was also a better integration of the audio
spectrum with the Valhallas where the Ultras sometimes seem to spotlight
So these are both superb achievements, as you should
demand at this price. I'd have to give my vote to the Crystal Ultra
because it is so much more flexible, an important characteristic in the
close confines of my custom equipment rack.
Wait a minute! This is for 3 Ultras against 3 Valhallas
(2 power + 1 pair of interconnects). What if I just switch the
interconnects? Well, I hear the same differences as before, while
switching the power cords has almost no effect. So I conclude that
interconnects make a bigger difference than power cords when switching
between Valhalla and Ultra. I can also confirm that when comparing between
cables of this caliber, speaker cables have a much greater impact on the
sound than either interconnects or power cables.
Ultra Or Standard?
Now let's see what happens as I move down from the Ultra
power cords to the Standard power cords. This time the difference is not
so subtle. The music is not quite as relaxed, the background less
black, the treble brighter and more forward. Presence has dropped down a
notch, bass is a little looser and less detailed while the treble is a
little tizzy at times. But I've saved an absolute fortune. The Ultras are
more than 4 times the price of the Standards, but I haven't given up that
much in performance. It still makes for wonderful listening, tone color is
true and images remain holographic.
Standard Or Piccolo?
When I switch to the Piccolos at half the price again,
well, I'm in shock. Sure, the sound is less full, the image has retreated
a small distance towards the speakers, and the level of detail is not
quite so high. Some of the excitement is missing as presence takes another
hit. But I'm still enjoying the music enormously, the bass weight and
extension are all there, tone color is still rich and the performance is
distortion free. Here is a true glimpse of the high end at a relatively
modest price and with a wire so thin you'd think it's fragile (it's not).
This was not what I was expecting. I was sure I would
lose bass extension and instrumental color as I dropped through the range,
and I didn't. In a way I felt I was just further away from the performers,
and the ambiance and three dimensionality of the recording was somewhat
reduced. Both of these factors may be due to the loss of that wonderful
black background the Ultra and Valhalla offer, which makes the music stand
out so clearly.
Step By Step
Now instead of changing the power cords in tandem, let's
go one at a time. I'll start with the integrated amp. The Perreaux is a
very powerful transistor amp, feeding a lot of current into the demanding
Wilson Benesch speakers. The EMM Labs SACD Player seems to have added
another half octave to the bass extension of these speakers, doing wonders
for the grand piano in particular, not to mention Paul Chambers' bass. For
this test, the SACD Player is hooked up to the Ultra Power Cord, and the
interconnects are also Ultras.
I'm guessing that most of the differences in sound I
have just heard will be due to the power cord feeding the Perreaux, since
the SACD Player has much lower fuel consumption and should be less fussy
about the cross section of the conductors. I'm assuming also the main
difference between the various Crystal Power Cords is in quantity, not
quality of wire. My listening tests confirm these guesses. The power cord
to the amp makes a big difference, and the cord to the SACD player much
less. But remember, I'm only switching between Crystal Cables here.
The moral to this story is you are getting a much better
power cable as you move up the range of Crystal Cables, but that may not
necessarily translate into a significantly improved sound on each
individual box in your system. Try before you buy. Have I saved you a few
What Else Do I Have Lying Around?
For my next trick, I'll replace the cable to the SACD
Player with a regular computer cable. Immediately the image goes flat and
the treble rings, a most unpleasant experience. Bass is still there in
large quantities, but the focus and precision have dropped off the map.
Who says cables don't make a difference?
Let's try some other power cables. A Cardas Golden Power
Cable ($450) is a great improvement over the patch cord, but it has
neither the ultra-wide bandwidth nor the detail of the Piccolo. To be
fair, Cardas cables take quite some time to sound their best when you move
them around, and this was a luxury I didn't have in this instance. Next up
is the very flexible Soundstring Tricormaxial Power Supply Cord ($304 for
6'), and this proves warmer and richer than the Piccolo, very musical to
my ears, but not quite as detailed or powerful in the bass.
So far everything is working out more or less according
A Digital Power Cable
A big surprise is the amazing price/performance ratio of
the very inexpensive Soundstring Digital Power cable, a cable optimized
for digital sources only. You can buy this simple thin white cable with
molded plugs for the ridiculously low price of $34 for 6 feet.
The sound is even better than the regular $450
Soundstring Power Cable, edging it out in overall clarity, but only in
this one specialized application. If you're going to use it, you may want
to make sure none of your audiophile friends see you doing so, because
they're going to think you pulled the cable off the electric toaster. In
truth, it's not really such a big surprise to me, because I've had the
same experience several times before. Here's a case where the cheaper
cable walks all over its more expensive brother.
Benjamin Scarcelli, the Canadian distributor of Crystal
Cables, tells me that for a small upgrade fee, the factory will supply
Piccolo or Standard Power cables fitted with the same high-end Furutech
plugs that come standard with the Ultra.
Easy to dismiss at first glance, these Crystal Cables
offer the well-respected Nordost Valhallas some strong competition.
Here is what I learned:
least expensive Crystal Power Cable, the Piccolo, offers excellent
performance and carries a strong recommendation especially for lower
powered devices such as CD Players, Tuners, Preamps and DACs. The
highlights of this cable are purity, extreme bandwidth, lightening
responses and accurate tonal color.
Standard builds on this performance with increased resolution, dynamics
and presence, while widening and deepening the soundstage.
is a no holds barred attempt on the state of the art, fully competitive
with the Valhalla and much easier to work with. It offers the biggest
soundstage, the finest detail and the blackest backgrounds, and I doubt
you can reach this level of performance for less.
The law of
diminishing returns still applies big time.
more important than quantity for low current devices. Spend your money
where it will have the greatest effect.
systems, flexibility is an enormous advantage. This applies if (like me)
you are short of room behind the components or you are trying to decouple
your equipment from the equipment stand.
is as strong as its weakest link. Feeding it well (with good cables)
allows you to extract the best from your other carefully chosen
complete lack of distortion) is the signature feature of this range of
you have invested in high quality components, you don't want cables that
filter out the fine details or reduce the dimensions of the soundstage. I
don't believe in using cables as tone controls. If your system needs such
editorializing then I recommend you replace the offending component
instead. These Crystal Cables do nothing to warm up a clinical
presentation, or to smooth over a rough treble. They are honest to a
fault, preserving the color, dynamics and presence of the music with
vanishingly low distortion and noise. I am happy to recommend them to
anyone seeking the state of the art.
Cables are strange components. You cannot do without — they influence your complete system. Power cables are the most important — even if you would not think so. Power cables are the first component in your system, filtering distortion in the first place. We are very proud of this review, stating the quality and the influence of our power cables.
Gabi van der Kley
Type: Interconnect and power cables
Current Retail Prices:
Crystal Power Piccolo (2m) $590
Crystal Power Standard (2m) $1180
Crystal Power Ultra (2m) $3880
Crystal Ultra Balanced Interconnect (1.5m) $5275
Crystal Cable BV
World Trade Centre Arnhem-Nijmegen
Nieuwe Stationsstraat 10
6811 KS Arnhem
Voice: +31 26 353 9045
Fax: +31 26 353 9048
Review sample supplied by:
Audio Basics Inc.
3800 Steeles Avenue West
Voice: (905) 303-9232