One performance trait that is definitely dipole-esque is the nature of the images themselves. While the Arabesque throws a wonderfully transparent acoustic space, with plenty of that space evident between and around individual images, those images themselves are positively voluminous, with a real sense of three-dimensionality. The fact that the speaker doesn’t plumb the depths when it comes to low-frequency extension robs the acoustic space of the firmest boundaries and the images themselves of a little solidity or body, but that’s only when compared to (much) larger speaker systems. More importantly, these images are refreshingly life sized, which may come as a shock and certainly a contrast to those more accustomed to the pinpoint precision and point-source imaging of the ultra-definition school of speaker design. Which is correct is a much bigger and more arcane issue than I’ve space for here; I’m merely pointing out the effect so that listeners can look out for it and reach their own conclusions.
The Arabesque allows the music to breathe – even more so when used in conjunction with the matching Dreamline cables. The rhythmic fluidity and expressive musical timing of the Crystal speaker, products of its low frequency agility and lack of overhang, allow music to set its own pace, the musicians deciding the tempo rather than the way the cabinet handles low-frequency energy. Changes in pace, rhythmic hesitations as a player holds a note or sustains one are key contributors to the human quality in a performance, its expressive and emotional impact. Just listening to a familiar track like ‘Hard Headed Woman’ it’s remarkable how vivid and vibrant the presentation is on the Crystal speakers. From the opening, heavily reverbed vocal to the way the attack on the strummed guitar accents and shapes the song’s progress and line. The vocal is stable and full of the subtle inflections that betray just how hard the singer is working his instrument. The wide dynamic range of the recording plays to the track’s sudden contrasts, giving it real impact and drama, while the detail and immediacy allow natural decay to cymbals and a host of tiny, incidental sounds to emerge. Indeed, the air and space that these speakers reveal in recordings is another highlight, adding to the sense of musical freedom and naturalness on both acoustic recordings and even the most heavily of Protooled mixes.
That lively, responsive midrange and the way it joins so seamlessly with the frequency extremes sets the Arabesque apart. It’s pristine in its delivery and full of purpose, making its musical points with a directness that’s both impressive and effective. But that deft touch and lack of sloth bespeaks an absence of padding in the nether regions which whilst I’m glad to be rid of, others might not agree. After all, we are used to having that extra weight there, adding ballast and the impression of low frequency power. In comparison, the Arabesque might be found lightweight, in the same way that some listeners describe the Avalons. But just like those facetted speakers, testing the low frequencies clearly demonstrates that the notes are there when they should be – and not when they shouldn’t. The Blanton is a case in point, with no loss of weight or body as the melodic lines dip down. Orchestral bass is fulsome, with both weight and texture, but there’s no escaping the fact that if you are used to hearing the Gladiator soundtrack via a couple of 12” drivers with a singalong cabinet then the Arabesque will come up short. It will play loud – and it will do it cleanly if the amp is up to the job – but if you want to blow out the windows then there are other speakers that will do a better(?) job at far lower prices.
It’s easy to get this speaker wrong. It’s looks remarkable and it sounds remarkable, but it’s really all about music – whatever that music is. So the sardonic humour of Ian Dury is served as well as the bombast of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, the fragile angst of Janis Ian as well as the snarling defiance of The Clash. All have passed through the Arabesque without fear or favour, stress or strain. But what is most remarkable is that a company with no speaker building experience can create a design as accomplished as this from such a challenging material.
Perhaps the answer to their success lies in embracing that material and truly incorporating it into the design as a whole. For make no mistake, the conception and execution of this speaker are just as holistic as the sound it produces. With so many manufacturers making progressively more and more exaggerated claims for their products, it’s refreshing to meet a speaker that lets the music do the talking.