Cable Research Lab may not be as immediately familiar as certain monster-scale wire companies but its designs harken back to the creations of Paul Weitzel and Winston Ma in the late 1990s, when they were known as FIM cables, since they were initially marketed by First Impression Music, Inc (FIM). Since that time the company has transitioned through ownership changes, settling on the CRL name in 2002. In 2006 CRL released a new generation of cables with the design and manufacturing side helmed by Art Almstead, president of Twisted Pair Designs. His team has sought to combine the high-energy-conductivity design of the original FIM cables with its own R&D improvements.
The CRL Silver is the company’s mid-line offering. Appropriately serpentine but otherwise reserved in conservative black jacketing, CRL Silver speaker cable uses six solid-core oxygen-free copper (OFC) conductors per leg (plus and minus). Each is isolated with pure polypropylene dielectrics and PVC outer tubing and abrasion-resistant mesh covering. Interconnects are similarly outfitted with OFC conductors but shielded with braided OFC to reduce RFI/EMI. Top-quality Bocchino Audio terminations are used—in this case, heavy compression spades for the speaker cable. CRL Silver is hand-assembled, terminations are compression-crimped (no solder is used), and the connectors are copper material with no nickel underplating.
In character, CRL Silver is honest, detailed, and dynamically responsive—a straight-shooter in every sonic category. While some cables pepper performance with spectral additives that quickly outwear their welcome, CRL Silver doesn’t overreach, and by so doing successfully rubs up against the best in this category. With its warmer and rounder balance, the Silver is not a cable that stabs at you; there are no sharp edges, trippy tonal balances, or treble spikes. Its personality has a complimentary way of smoothing the rougher edges from aggressive tweeters without sacrificing resolution. Transient behavior is relaxed and natural, with a sibilance range that renders vocalists articulate but not clinical.
The CRL Silver is big on midrange output. They are tube-like in this way, sending a shudder through my reference system in the mid and upper bass as they laid into the groove from the Police’s “Tea in the Sahara” [A&M]. Low bass reproduction through a robust loudspeaker like the Sonus Faber Cremona M proved to be one of the CRL Silver’s inarguable strengths. The bass drum impacts and cannon fusillades during the 1812 Overture [Telarc] were as terrifying as they were exciting. As good as the bass response is, it still leaves a bit of control on the table by softly blurring the double pluck of a bass guitar during “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” [Island]. It also lacks the ability of the very best (the Tara Labs Omega, for one) to layer images in space with a holographic dimensionality that makes eyebrows rise. It doesn’t quite capture the tightness and pummeling of the opening kick drum during Steely Dan’s “Time Out Of Mind” [MCA].
Treble focus and harmonics are where wire differences are most vividly expressed to me. At times, the Silver exhibits a leaner, closed-in character that lessens the sense of immediacy and realism. And versus an über-cable like Tara Labs, the Silver’s treble extremes didn’t exhibit the radiant and otherworldly openness that can be heard during from solo piano or during Jennifer Warnes’ rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Song For Bernadette” [Shout].
It’s not unreasonable to expect a level of resolution and transparency commensurate with cabling from the usual suspects—Nordost, Tara, Crystal, Synergistic—and CRL Silver measures up. In fact, it gives away little in terms of resolution and dynamic subtlety to cabling even further up the price scale. In comparison, the Synergistic Tesla Precision is a bit more tightly controlled, less forward, but also faster on transients and offers a shade more treble air and dimension. The Crystal Cable Piccolo is fast and ultra-clean but also has, like the Silver, a lighter overall balance and a bit of treble tightness. Finally, the Tara Labs RSC2 Air offers a darker, almost ominous tonality with a similarly enriched midrange and relaxed treble. Alongside much more expensive mega-wires like the Tara Labs Omega or Synergistic Tesla Apex, the CRL Silver’s low-level resolution and micro-dynamics within the massive chorus of the 1812 Overture aren’t as specific and don’t fully express the rippling auras of resonance in the space around the singers. It should be noted, however, that in most cases these differences are relatively subtle, and you’ll need to factor in your own system as you digest my conclusions. Thank goodness cables are easy to audition, as I heartily recommend you do.
The CRL Silver exemplifies the kind of balance of audio credentials that one would expect in this price range. It’s tonally honest, very well-built, and a worthy heir to the work Weitzel and Ma began nearly two decades ago. It doesn’t necessarily break new ground in this range but it honorably joins some much-better-known competitors in helping to complete any audiophile’s journey toward the high end.