Just like Ultra, Piccolo presents a complete, holistic musical picture, balanced and natural in every aspect. But the really impressive thing is the way it’s dialed that performance back without disturbing the inherent structure and sense of the music. So, Piccolo can’t match the weight, transparency and acoustic scope of the Ultra, its range of colours and textures – but it matches it for musical integrity, and gets much closer in those other regards than you might expect.
The key here is the natural sense of scale and overall balance. Although the Piccolo does diminish and smooth musical dynamics and accents, certainly compared to the like of the Vacuum State cables or its big brother, the Ultra, it does so without disturbing the music’s shape or proportion. Timing and structure are kept clear and intact, and are remarkably coherent and involving. So, while the impromptu comments on the TvZ track lose a little of their twang, they lose none of their conversational timing or playful interaction. Likewise, the slight clumsiness that penetrates a few of the chord shifts is smoothed over and less obvious – adding to the feeling of musical flow at the expense of intimacy and also absolute insight. But all these negatives need to be viewed in an absolute sense, relative to what’s possible irrespective of price. At the relatively modest cost involved in a complete Piccolo loom, this sort of musically complete and engaging performance is frankly unheard of. Switch to the Art Pepper and the sure-footed insistence of the smoochy groove is compulsive, the steady repetition of the piano part and bass underpinning the meandering horn lines, keeping them anchored and purposeful.
What you get with Piccolo is the Crystal trademark, a cable that really lets your music breathe. Lively and agile with excellent dynamic scaling and contrasts, transparency and clarity (especially at the price), these things you might well expect from its simple coaxial construction and solid-core central conductors. But what will take you by surprise is its easy, unforced sense of instrumental weight and musical power, studied poise when required, headlong momentum on demand. It’s so holistically coherent that you simply don’t question what isn’t there. Instead you simply revel in its ability to let you ignore the system and enjoy your music. What it actually sounds like is a cable that’s really enjoying its job! Weird I know, but it’s the only way I can explain its ability to cherish and caress one minute and drive things on the next – and the way that puts a smile on your face when you hear it: although, in point of fact, what you hear is the music – and the expressive input of the players – finally let off the leash that too many systems impose.
Magnan Audio Cables
On the face of it, the contrast between the Crystal interconnects and their Magnan counterparts couldn’t be much greater, the diminutive Crystal conductors, light, flexible and unobtrusive, the Magnan Signatures each consisting of a 40mm diameter cylinder with bulky end-caps and short flying tails to the plugs. Fortunately, they’re not as heavy as they look, but there’s no escaping the fact that these are the most intrusive designs I’ve used since I said goodbye to the (marginally thinner) Cogan-Hall cables. Yet, under that extreme exterior, the Magnans offer a similar conceptual simplicity to the Crystals…
Designer David Magnan holds that many of the electrical qualities sought in traditional audio cable designs are largely irrelevant to the way they sound. Instead, he posits time-smear as a result of skineffect (and in the case of interconnects, dielectric absorption) as the critical factor. His response is radical to say the least. Instead of high-purity, lowresistance wires, his interconnects are constructed using extremely thin, highly-resistive signal conductors – in the case of the Signature interconnects, a thin coating of conductive plastic “paint” on a non-conductive substrate – specifically designed to reduce skineffect. In the single-ended designs, earth return is via a low resistance copper ribbon. He is unforthcoming on the subject of insulation, other than specifying that it uses “air-space Teflon” technology, from which, along with the sheer bulk of the cables, I’d deduce that the conductors run, largely unsupported in an air dielectric with an external Teflon tube to protect and insulate them. The end result might not be elegant, but it is certainly effective.
Like any such solution, in reality the Magnan interconnects face a number of trade-offs. Extremely thin, highresistance conductors might reduce skin effect, but they’ll also reduce system gain. In order to limit this effect, the Signature interconnects are all built to offer the same basic 30kOhm resistance as a standard four-foot pair: this is achieved by using broader ribbons or even doubling them up. In addition, the broad conductors and massive diameter also present issues when it comes to termination, requiring the aforementioned flying tails to interface with the plugs – at the risk one would have thought, of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
We also received a tone-arm cable and a set of single-ended interconnects constructed using the company’s Silver Bronze series conductors. A thin ribbon design, these are far more conventional in appearance, more flexible and easier to use and also considerably more affordable than the Signatures, weighing in at £690 a pair, as compared to £975. Along side these, we also had a set of power cords and a distribution block, similar in appearance to the Signature interconnects, but even bulkier and considerably heavier. The speaker cables, in stark contrast, require both high conductivity and low total resistance, in addition to minimizing skin-effect. For these, Magnan use a five-inch wide copper ribbon, individually insulated and terminated for each run, meaning that laid side by side (as recommended) the two conductors required to run a single-wired speaker will present a mat nearly a foot wide. Once again, the precise details of insulation are not revealed, the speaker cables being finished with a soft, openweave fabric and once again, short tails. An eight-foot pair will cost you £625, which in high-end cable terms is almost a giveaway price! Also included was a handy set of Signature jumpers for biwired speakers, always a nice touch and an often overlooked tweak.