“Gregory using cables from someone other than Nordost!” I can see the shock in certain quarters already. But settle down at the back there. This isn’t as big a reach as it might appear, because despite some very obvious physical differences, Crystal Cables and Nordost share a number of critical conceptual similarities. On the surface these are very different products, but the thinking behind them, the way they do their job, is extremely similar. Having said that, it’s not the same job that they do…
However, more of that later: first, I think a little background is in order. Whilst Crystal might be a new name in the great scheme of cable things, launching their first product a little over four years ago, they sprang from well-established roots. The giveaway is in the metallurgy; Crystal use a silver/gold alloy for their conductors – the same alloy employed by Siltech. In fact, the two companies might not be joined at the hip, but they are, quite literally married to one another – at least the management is. Siltech is owned and run by Edwin van der Kleij; Crystal belongs to his wife, Gabi. The two companies share a common technological base and production facilities, but there the connection ends. With its own, independent company structure and a totally separate design team – not to mention a fiercely independent CEO – what Crystal does with that technology is very distinct from the Siltech solution. The Ultra cables reviewed here represent Crystal’s flagship product, top of a five-tier range, all of which share coaxial construction and silver/ gold alloy conductors. Incorporating small amounts of gold into the highpurity silver effectively fills the holes which would otherwise be left in the metal’s crystal structure, enhancing conductivity as well as banishing space for contaminating impurities and creating a more consistent matrix. The result should be a more stable conductor, with much greater longevity. Now, whilst such metallurgical claims are impressive, I’m not qualified to discuss their accuracy. Of more interest to me is what they say about the lengths Crystal are prepared to go to in order to achieve their ends. Given a product range that starts at just a little over £100 a pair, using such exotic and expensive technology (and it’s certainly both of those things) suggests a heavy commitment to both quality and value – concerns that more than occasionally seem to have passed cable companies by. The flagship Ultras approach Valhalla price levels, but that seems almost reasonable given the cost of some competing products.
But this is where the wider conceptual approach takes over, bringing cost savings of its own. The basic cable geometry is extremely simple throughout the range, a solid core silver/gold central conductor being wrapped with a Kapton film to space it from a pure silver, woven outer, which is in turn sheathed in a thin layer of Teflon. It doesn’t get much simpler, or thinner, than this. As you move up the range, the central conductor gains weight, but even the Reference leads are incredibly spindly compared to the competition. It’s not until you get to the Ultra range that the conductors are twisted. But taking things a stage further, identical conductors are used throughout each range, paired up as required to produce everything from tonearm leads to power cords at each price level, meaning that a single base conductor is used to create an entire product tier. Far from being a cheap shot, this is one of Crystal’s greatest virtues, the utter consistency across all the cables in a system offering very real musical benefits. Yet the less-is-more simplicity extends further still, with lightweight terminations continuing the low-mass/low-bulk philosophy, and even the elegant packaging making the competition look heavy, bulky and over done.
By now, those conceptual similarities with the Nordost cables should be There’s the consistency of the materials used throughout. There’s the minimalist construction and attention paid to low dielectric effect. There’s the geometrical accuracy of each conductor and the low-mass terminations. There’s the provision of a complete, coherent range of cables to meet every system need, from the wall socket onwards.
Not that these things are exclusive to Nordost. But they are things that every really successful cable brand (and there are fewer than you’d think) has in common. In the case of Crystal, the geometrical and materials consistency across the tiers in the product range means that the cables can also be mixed and matched more successfully across less critical applications, without any loss in overall musical coherence, while their slim dimensions, low mass and flexibility make installation itself extremely easy. Unusually, the speaker cables have exchangeable terminations, lodged in the case of the Ultras, inside the oval housings at each end of the run. Want to swap from spade to bi-wired 4mm plugs? No problem. Just order up the necessary terminations and swap them over, using the high-quality multi-pin connectors installed for the job. Purists, aghast at the introduction of any sort of break in their cables can order continuous runs, but for reviewers and equipment fetishists everywhere the flexibility on offer is a Godsend.