Replace whatever loudspeakers you’ve been using with a pair of Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimos and people will notice—before they’ve heard a note of music. The whimsical apostrophe shape, the vibrant color, the assured smallness of the things stop folks in their tracks and make them smile. A fair percentage will need to touch the smooth, curved surfaces. Thanks to their unobtrusive elegance, Minissimos will work, visually, in a traditionally decorated room; in a modern space dominated by glass and metal, the speaker will register as a bold contemporary design element. But you wouldn’t spend $12,995 on a pair of loudspeakers just because of the way they look, would you? Good. I thought not.
Crystal Cable—perhaps not the best name for a company that’s been selling ambitious speakers for six years in addition to highly regarded wires—manufactures its products in Holland; Gabi Rijnveld is the founder and president. Rijnveld’s background is atypical for someone running a small high-end company in that she’s not an engineer by training. Rather, for a decade-and-a-half, she was a busy concertizing musician, a pianist trained at the Liszt Ferenc Academy in Budapest. For matters of technical execution, she has the benefit of the considerable talents and experience of her husband, Edwin Rijnveld, owner of Siltech since 1992. Crystal Cable and Siltech share offices in Arnhem and a production facility in Elst, but the endeavors of the two commercial entities proceed independently. Both produce cables, which look and sound very different from one another. Additionally, Siltech makes electronics and Crystal its Arabesque line of loudspeakers.
Crystal’s research, involving the extensive use of advanced modeling software, has resulted in a series of products that utilize unconventional materials to create transducers with unusual form factors. The top three representatives of the Crystal Cable line—the Absolute Arabesque, Arabesque, and Arabesque Model 3—are constructed from facetted glass panels and range in price from $55,000 to $110,000 per pair. Next comes the Mini, fabricated from aluminum panels, at $25,000. The materials to build these four speakers are quite expensive and their construction is very time-consuming. The Minissimo represents an effort to lower the cost of manufacturing a speaker that still delivers on the parameters that R&D has found to be critical to CC’s sonic ideals.
The Minissimo’s enclosure is milled from a solid block of a resin/metal matrix material, instead of being laboriously assembled from plates of glass or aluminum. The shape of the Minissimo cabinet, optimized to reduce resonances and internal standing waves, is realized in a beguiling, smoothly curved shape. Cabinet wall thickness can be carefully controlled (and varied) with this approach and, as with other Arabesque designs, no damping materials are utilized within the enclosure. Three striking standard paint finishes are available—Pearl White, Solar Orange, and the Aquamarine Blue of my review pair. The cabinet is sealed with a plate recessed into the bottom of the speaker; that plate is also where the downward-firing port is located. The orientation of the port precludes setting the Minissimo on a shelf, and the speaker comes with its integral stand attached—there’s no assembly required, which is heartily appreciated. The stand consists of three hollow, chrome-finished pillars of different diameters attached to a substantial, grey, gloss-finished base. A single pair of five-way binding posts is found on the rear of each speaker.
The two drivers in the Minissimo are a 150mm laminated paper cone woofer and a 25mm beryllium dome tweeter, both made to Crystal Cable’s specifications by Scan-Speak. The “Natural Science” crossover design is common to all CC speakers. Gabi Rijnveld explained in an e-mail, “The crossover filter shows a low phase and timing difference in the crossover region of both drivers. So more overlap is allowed and a faster roll-off achieved one octave away from the crossover point. Large, seven-wire air-core inductors prevent any compression or saturation—transients are basically transferred without delay or distortion.” Rijnveld maintains, as well, that her crossover’s filter design contributes to the Minissimo’s low THD of 0.2 percent or less from 200Hz up. Internal wiring is implemented with Crystal Cable’s proprietary 100-percent monocrystal material. No grilles are provided—one less thing for a user to agonize over.
Although the eight-page owner’s manual states confidently that the Minissimos will “perform well” in a big space, I suspect that most purchasers will deploy them in smaller rooms, or for nearfield listening in a portion of a larger one. In my 15' x 15' room, I left the prime listening seat where it works best for multichannel listening and ended up with the Minissimos 6' 4" apart (as measured from acoustic center-to-acoustic center) and at a distance of 28" from the rear surface of the speakers to the wall behind them. It was 8' 8" from the front baffle of each Minissimo to the listening sweet spot. Each speaker faced pretty much exactly straight ahead, though CC advises that, at listening distances of 7 to 14 feet, “a small amount of toe-in can be tried.” Adjustments to the position of the speakers of under an inch mattered a good deal, as did carefully leveling the speakers so that both fired forward in precisely the same plane. (Four supplied threaded spikes per side serve the latter purpose and should be considered mandatory to achieve the best bass performance and spatiality.) Mostly, I drove the Minissimos with Pass XA60.8 monoblocks, but also tried a Parasound HCA 2200 II stereo amplifier. John Bevier of Audio Plus Services, Crystal Cable’s U.S. distributor and sales manager, sent along an eight-foot pair of Crystal 3M Reference speaker cables ($6800) that I used for the bulk of my time with the speakers; I also listened to the Minissimos with my own Transparent Ultra cables. As is my usual practice when evaluating new audio gear, especially loudspeakers, I implemented DSP room correction with my Anthem D2v’s ARC software, performing eight-position measurements for each speaker/amplifier combination (including a fresh set of measurements when a subwoofer was in the system, as below). The data was stored on a laptop and could be quickly uploaded to the Anthem processor when I changed the setup for comparison purposes.
The ability of the Arabesque Minissimos to convincingly reproduce instrumental and vocal sonorities with all their complexity and moment-to-moment variation is as good as it gets. This virtue was apparent with both speaker cables employed, even though the Crystal wires had a leaner tonal balance than the Transparents. From my experience over many weeks listening to a wide range of musical genres, a single tiny example will serve to illustrate what I mean. Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44, is a favorite chamber music work of mine. An Audite SACD featuring the Mandelring Quartet with Clair-Marie Le Guay on keyboard is a particularly well played and well recorded performance. The unforgettable second subject of the opening movement is a melodic phrase in two parts. When first introduced, the cello plays the first half and the viola the second. At the moment the two instruments hand off the melody one to the other, a single note is doubled. Most accomplished musicians will do their best to make the transition seamless—and these players do it as well as anyone. But experienced live, a cello playing a G in its middle range and a viola producing the same pitch in its lower reaches generate sounds that are subtly different in texture and overtone structure—and it’s always possible to tell that two instruments are playing together for that brief duration. The Minissimos have the capacity to make that fact of human auditory perception apparent; it’s the sort of thing that can make one forget he or she is listening to canned music.
Similarly, the Minissimo’s knack for effortlessly resolving detail contributes substantially to long-term listenability. On The Bird and the Bee’s Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, the exceptional duo of vocalist Inara George and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin create versions of nine hits by the Top Forty legends that faithfully capture the essence of those beloved pop songs yet also manage to amplify their spirit. Every electronic blip and bleep, every layer of overdubbed background vocals in these intricate arrangements, is transparently revealed to reanimate these oh-so-familiar tunes.