Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo

A Small Speaker That Plays Big

Equipment report
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Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo
Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo

After taking a set of measurements and calculating a correction, the ARC program generates a series of room response curves so the user can evaluate the environment both before and after correction is applied. Examining the Minissimo’s “before” curve, there’s a significant dip (10 to 11dB down from the target) centered at about 15kHz—a deeper trough in this frequency region than with any other speaker I’ve heard in my room. It’s responsible for a slight softening of the upper treble that is not necessarily a bad thing with many pop and rock recordings. The cymbals on Steely Dan’s “The Caves of Altamira” can sound splashy, even with the best remasterings of The Royal Scam. This splashiness is significantly lessened played through the Minissimos, to the recording’s advantage. On the other hand, the aggressively tactile, jangly sound of Joni Mitchell’s guitar throughout her 1971 album Blue is an indispensible part of that album’s enduring appeal—and something, it could be argued, is lost with the Minissimos. Well-made orchestral recordings certainly have loads of air and, in the final analysis, I find the Minissimo’s upper-frequency performance to be quite good.

With the design of the speaker’s enclosure and crossover likely responsible, the speed of these small wonders is another sonic parameter that’s decidedly in the “plus” column. This is best appreciated with music possessing strong initial transients, such as piano or tuned percussion material. Listening to keyboard super-virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin negotiate the blistering passagework of his own (not entirely serious) Etude No. 6: Essercizio per pianoforte (Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti) from the essential CD Kaleidoscope, one is as impressed with the Minissimo’s ability to keep up with the flurries of notes coming its way as with the soloist’s ability to produce them. Similarly, mallet strikes on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, and xylo-marimba in the “Claviers” movement from Pléïades, on a recent Linn Records all-Xenakis SACD from percussionist Kuniko Kato, are particularly ear-grabbing for the way in which the attack connects naturally to the sustained body of each note.

When it comes to imaging and soundstaging, the Minissimos disappear, as do most well-made and properly positioned small loudspeakers. Though I would not call the spatial reproduction “holographic,” neither is it the least bit vague or homogenized; the Minissimos create a broad, deep, and continuous soundstage when the information is there on the recording. Imaging is highly specific within the realm of a real concert hall experience, reflecting the engineer’s decisions regarding recorded perspective.

The lower end of the dynamic scale is rendered with exceptional finesse. There’s no better example than the solo clarinet movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (“Abîme des oiseaux”). The soloist begins as softly as possible, producing mysteriously sinuous lines and sustained tones that eventually rise to an anguished cry. On another Linn SACD showcasing the Hebrides Ensemble, clarinetist Maximiliano Martín demonstrates incredible breath control throughout the challenging movement and the Minissimos fully deliver his artistic mastery. When source material gets very loud, you will not be surprised that Minissimos begin to reveal their diminutive dimensions—that is, if you insist on approaching realistic SPLs. What is surprising is just how robustly these guys will play before beginning to lose their composure. These are small speakers that play big. The other expected limitation relates to deep bass reproduction: Needless to say, the center-of-the earth solidity of a physically much larger design isn’t there. But the heft of well-recorded bass guitar or even pipe organ pedals can be pretty satisfying at reasonable levels and, believe me, I pushed the little Minissimos hard with such ball-busters as the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (Eschenbach/Philadelphia Orchestra/Ondine SACD) and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memory (a 96/24 HDtracks download).

There are two ways to improve the situation with bass extension/impact and dynamic scaling, if your musical tastes and listening habits require it. The first is to use a more powerful amplifier. When I switched to the John Curl-designed Parasound HCA 2200 II stereo amp that’s rated at 250 watts per channel, there was better grip on the bass and more dynamic control in general. Snare drum possessed more visceral snap on “The Bug” from Dire Straits’ On Every Street and loud guitar solos on Toto IV maintained coherence more successfully. But there was a price to be paid: The sound of those instruments was just less interesting with the Parasound powering the Minissimos, compared to my usual Pass amps. Perhaps this should be no mystery as that Parasound model represents an older design (and cost around $1800 when new) while Nelson Pass’ monoblocks represent that brilliant engineer’s latest thoughts on single-ended solid-state circuitry (and run close to $13k per pair). You could spend tens of thousands on more powerful state-of-the-art amplification. A better and more cost-effective way to maximize the Minissimo’s performance is, of course, to add a subwoofer.

The goal of adding a sub is not just to extend low-frequency reproduction into the true deep-bass range but also—at least as important—to make life easier for the Minissimos. With a correctly implemented subwoofer, the Minissimo’s considerable strengths need not be compromised with either dynamically challenging or bass-heavy music. This necessitates a preamplifier or processor with bass-management capabilities, something the Anthem D2v does quite flexibly. I turned on the bridged Parasound A23 that drives my Wilson WATCH Dog passive subwoofer, which was permitted to operate up to 80Hz. The Minissimos were rolled off at 60Hz. Suddenly I had a world-class, full-range loudspeaker system on my hands. On Daft Punk’s ubiquitous “Get Lucky,” it became patently clear that the French electronic music duo had gotten their money’s worth when they hired master bassist Nathan East to lay down that selection’s electric bass track. “The Bug” took on an unstoppable drive that wasn’t there with the Minissimos alone—with either amplifier option—and the Maestoso finale of the Saint-Saëns symphony was truly grand and not just grandiose. I’m confident that a good JL Audio or REL (or one of the other subwoofer options detailed in Issue 252) would do the trick, without being as physically imposing (or pricey) as the WATCH Dog. Knowing placement of the sub would not undermine the aesthetic effect achieved by the gorgeous Minissimos; the unsuspecting will wonder where all that sound is coming from.

Have no illusions. Even using a good subwoofer with Minissimos, you can never expect to approach the musical scale achieved by a large Magico or Wilson speaker system. Two small drivers can only move so much air. But with an expenditure of $2000 to $4500 for a top-notch sub, the total cost of the speaker system will still come in at well below $20,000—no small amount of money, to be sure, but a number that has become a line of demarcation for our hobby between the merely expensive and the very expensive in the high-end loudspeaker universe.

When one of my kids was ten, she announced that she wanted a dog. Neither my wife nor I had any experience with dogs and were hesitant, but ten-year-old girls can be pretty persistent. We looked for an obstacle and came up with this one: “If you can find a small dog that doesn’t bark, we’ll do it.” The daughter did her research and a few months later, we had an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, which improved all our lives immeasurably for the next 11 years. He never got bigger than around 15 pounds and he rarely vocalized. I think of that animal when I hear audiophiles insist that there doesn’t exist a small speaker that will play big. The Crystal Cable Minissimo Arabesque does exactly that, with or without a subwoofer. They’re pretty adorable, as well.

SPECS & PRICING

Type: Two-way, ported stand-mount loudspeaker
Driver complement: 150mm Scan-Speak laminated paper woofer, 25mm Scan-Speak beryllium dome tweeter
Frequency response: 48Hz–38kHz (-3dB) near-wall position
Sensitivity: 86dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended minimum amplifier power: Transistor 50W, tube 30W, switching 80W
Dimensions: 11.5" x 10.5" x 10"
Weight: 60 lbs. (with stands)
Price: $12,995

CRYSTAL CABLE
Nieuwe Stationsstraat 10
6811 KS
Arnhem
The Netherlands
+31 26 353 9045
crystalcable.com

AUDIO PLUS SERVICES (U.S. Distributor)
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
(800) 663-9352
audioplusservices.com

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