Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo Diamond Edition with Subissimo Subwoofer

Grace under Sound Pressure

Equipment report
Crystal Cable Minissimo Arabesque Diamond Edition,
Crystal Cable Subissimo
Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo Diamond Edition with Subissimo Subwoofer

Setup and Sound
The Minissimos were quite easy to set up and readily maneuverable (even by li’l ol’ me) so long as you pay attention to their weight distribution on their connected stands. Just a tiny bit of toe-in adjustment did the trick to get the sound to my liking. Happily I didn’t need to shift the subwoofer much at all, as it’s a fairly heavy beast weighing roughly 160 pounds. Based on my listening room dimensions (approximately 18' wide by nearly 35' deep with over 12' ceilings), I kept the speakers in the “tail out” configuration (as opposed to the inverse placement mentioned above). The Subissimo was located between and equidistant from the Minissimos, at a distance of approximately five feet from each.

But let’s talk sound and listening experiences. As far as musical interests and tastes, I’m very much an omnivore across genres. Perhaps like many of you, what I choose to play depends upon my mood at the moment. It’s often been the case that during many a loudspeaker review (or electronics review, for that matter) I’ve come to the conclusion that some gear just seems to perform better when playing back certain types of music. (This depends on the source recording and other system factors too, naturally.) What struck me most with the Minissimos (with and without Subissimo, but especially with) was their amazing versatility—how hard they could rock out in addition to excelling with classical and acoustic fare. Although I had heard this Minissimo/Subissimo combo at a couple of shows, I realized I had listened to—and enjoyed tremendously—mainly classical and some chamber music along with jazz through those demo systems. So I wasn’t expecting to be hankering to listen as much to heavy-hitting pop and rock.

These are quite high-resolution transducers that (once set up and tweaked properly) pull off a marvelous disappearing act, sounding natural and steadfastly musical across genres. As the Minissimos are pretty efficient speakers I did the majority of my critical listening with a relatively low-powered Air Tight ATM-1S stereo tube amplifier driving them (it sounded far better than a solid-state amp I tried). For my phonostage and preamplifier, I shifted between a Soulution 520 phono/pre and an Audio Consulting Silver Rock phonostage in front of the 520. My analog source was an Acoustic Signature III turntable and TA-1000 tonearm fitted with an Air Tight PC-7 cartridge. As recommended in the owner’s manual, I initially set the Subissimo to cross over at 70Hz at 12dB, though I also shifted it to 65Hz later, which seemed to work better in my room, for critical listening.

I started off with an obscure LP recently given to me, a fantastic recording of the Shostakovich cello sonata on the Czech label Panton. The playback of the cello and piano was so crystal-clear, natural, and gorgeous, it literally stopped me in my tracks while I was taking care of a mundane household task before taking a seat. Such a true sense of life was conveyed through detail and dimensionality that I felt I could visualize cellist’s upper body shifting and moving in time as he played his heart out. Magnificent!

Speaking of standout strings, I gave a listen to an old favorite, Leonard Cohen’s Live in London LP set, where Bob Metzger’s gorgeous guitar intro on “Bird on a Wire” resonated throughout my room nearly as believably as if I were at the O2 Arena. Ditto the mandolin on “Dance Me to the End of Love.” And “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” boasted an impressive chucking bass line nicely differentiated from the kickdrum. In fact, all the instruments, also notably Hammond B3 and clarinet, were rendered with remarkable dimensionality and reasonably accurate placement in space, although the soundstage didn’t feel particularly deep. The detail on the individual vocalists’ separation and enunciation—from Cohen and backup singers Hattie and Charley Webb—was realistically portrayed, down to their imperfect unison. All aspects of this great recording were presented with palpable presence, lifelike energy, and effortless neutrality. The speakers and sub really allowed the music to shine.

To really get down with the sub and experiment with its filter I needed to bring some more bass into the mix, so (of course) I pulled out El Vy’s Return to the Moon LP. The only options for the subsonic filter are either “on” or “auto-filter” mode. There is no “off” per se. With the Subissimo’s subsonic filter on, the sound seemed clearer, more focused, and at times, even more detailed. When the filter was in auto mode, the sound was more homogenized but also more bloomy and expansive. As you might expect, some material (perhaps even the majority of my selections) was more ear-pleasing and tended to be more neutral with the filter on.

Returning to El Vy, the title track felt a bit thick and even slightly congested with the filter on auto mode. With it fully on, the funky bass line was well articulated and maintained solid presence without getting overblown. However, I was surprised that I preferred the ironic antics of “I’m the Man to Be” with the filter in auto mode, because it unleashed a greater sense of spaciousness and swagger. It also occurred to me once again that I didn’t expect such in-your-face muscle and raw power from these elegant little speakers (recall the skaters metaphor).

An LP that really blew me away—via the Minissimos and Subissimo with the filter on—was Buena Vista Social Club’s eponymous debut. This soundtrack features a cornucopia of instruments in deliciously complex arrangements—almost like a layer cake. All the ingredients were there, ordered and measured in artful (and delicious) balance. On “Chan Chan” various parts gently came to the foreground and then receded in turn—a laúd here, trumpet there, now fiddle, then mournful steel guitar. Yet there was a wonderful sense of urgency in the presentation, with rapid-fire transient response keeping everything exciting and realistic. More than ever before, I was keenly aware of Compay Segundo’s “second” vocals—his last name is said to reflect his trademark bass harmony second voice—just beneath Eliades Ochoa singing lead.

Not all systems have fully delivered this album’s infectious stream of energy. I was going to try just a few tracks, but couldn’t resist listening to the whole thing—and I insisted JV hear it too. You could really sense, almost feel, the effort of fingers plucking guitar strings, palms snapping on drum skins, all of which brought an engaging and authentic intimacy to the performance.

I also gave a listen to the Willie Dixon/Memphis Slim Willie’s Blues LP from Analogue Productions. In this stripped-down session, percussion and guitar were placed a bit forward in the mix, particularly cymbals, on “Nervous” and “That’s My Baby.” With the subsonic filter on auto, the piano registered just a hint of brightness and the bass was more subdued, with a backseat feel on “Good Understanding” too. The differences with and without the filter read more subtly here; with it on, instruments seemed more separated in space yet still part of a whole. Upright bass had more presence, energy, and definition—all good things.

No speaker or system is perfect, so I’d be remiss not to mention a couple of minor quibbles. In spite of experimenting with speaker placement, soundstaging wasn’t always the deepest around, yet instrumental placement seemed quite on-point, even if not always pin-point; spaciousness mattered more. However, the Minissimos’ big sound and wall-to-wall dispersion combined with incredible dimensionality and realism more than compensated for any such shortcomings. JV and I also discussed some possible suckout within the power range to achieve greater trasnparency, resolution, and speed, but throughout all of my time listening to these speakers and sub I can’t say I ever felt bereft—I enjoyed every minute.

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