Crystal Cable Bridge Add-On
is a fascinating country, and in many ways may be the prototype for the future of
humanity. The Dutch are well educated, and probably the most fluent nonnative English
speakers anywhere. Theyre an innovative people, too. From the Red Barons
Fokker DR1 Triplane (designed by Anthony Fokker) to the Compact Disc (codeveloped by
Philips and Sony), the Netherlands has a long tradition of being at the technological
Surely one of the most innovative companies in the
Netherlands today is Crystal Cable. This sister company of renowned cable maker Siltech
has become quite a presence among audio companies in the past few years, taking both
reviewers and consumers by storm. What makes Crystal Cable different is obvious to anyone
whos seen their cables: theyre very thin. Compared to some of the unbendable
fire hoses now available, Crystals speaker and power cables are positively
Lilliputian. But unlike the ropes that failed to restrain Gulliver, Crystal Cables
wires are engineered to be more than capable of handling any signal thrown at them.
Note the verb in that last sentence. Engineered is
not a word universally applicable to audio cables, but its appropriate here. When
Doug Schneider visited Crystal Cable and Siltech in Holland last spring, he was shown an
arsenal of expensive laboratory-grade equipment used by both companies in the design of
their cables. Thats what youd expect in a shop run by someone like Edwin van
der Kley, whose training is in electrical engineering, and whose well-trained, obviously
creative mind conceived the Crystal Cable Bridge ($780 USD per 1m pair).
What it is and what it does
Describing the Bridge isnt easy. Its a sort of
interconnect. Its a cable tweak. Its a filter. Link two audio components with
a Bridge and youll get the sweet sound of silence -- its not a standalone
cable. Instead, the Bridge is designed to enhance ordinary interconnects by
. . . well, Im not exactly sure what it does, though I have a theory. But
before I expose the depths of my electrical ignorance, I can at least describe what the
Bridge looks like.
Like Crystal Cables other products, the Bridge looks
like a piece of audio jewelry. Also like its brethren, the Bridge features tightly braided
strands of Crystals thin cabling -- in this case, two clear-sheathed,
silver-shielded cables link the negative-pole sections of the unusual hermaphroditic
connectors that terminate each end of a Bridge. What the heck is a hermaphroditic
connector? Why, its a connector thats both male and female. Of course.
The Bridges unique connectors should really be
thought of as input (female) and output (male) terminals, as on a preamp -- but even this
description requires some modification, because here, too, the Bridge is incomparable. As
far as the positive half of the signal is concerned, the Bridge is simply a pass-through
device. When inserted into the Bridge, the central prong of an interconnect cables
connector is linked directly to the same part on the Bridge. Its on the negative (or
return) half of the audio signal that the Bridge goes to work.
Now for some physics and my little hypothesis. First, the
physics: Why does an electrical current make a toasters elements red-hot, but seems
to have no thermal effect on that same toasters power cord? The answer is
resistance. Toaster elements are made of an alloy, typically of nickel and chromium, that
is a very poor conductor of electricity -- the elements provide so much resistance that
its very difficult for an electrical current to flow through them. As we learned in
high school, energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only changed into another form.
In this case, the elements resistance turns electrical energy into heat, and we get
toast. But the toasters power cord is made of copper, which is an excellent,
low-resistance conductor. Some of the electrical energy in the cord will still be
converted to heat (zero electrical resistance isnt yet possible at room
temperature), but probably not enough to be noticeable.
What does a toaster have to do with Crystals Bridge?
Quite a lot. The DIY cable community has long held that having more wire on the return
side (e.g., one strand on the signal, two on the return) makes for a lower-noise
cable. The theory goes that any extraneous electrical energy (noise) picked up by a cable
can be more easily drained away to ground along the path of least resistance. In the
Bridge, that path is ultra-high-purity silver-gold wire, whose resistance is so low as to
be almost unmeasurable. Could it also be that doubling up the return path also prevents a
bottleneck in which the signal jumps to the return leg? Think about it: If noise is added
to the signal inside a component, that signal, when it enters a single-stranded return
leg, might face a situation not unlike two people trying to go through a door at the same
time. But when two or more return strands are present, theres plenty of room for
everyone. Im talking out of my assumptions here, but when official data arent
available, a guys got to at least try to explain things.
The doubled return wire isnt the only trick up the
Bridges sleeve. Buried inside its connectors is what Crystal Cable calls an HPSR
silver-gold filter of 99.9999% purity. Crystal doesnt elaborate on what exactly the
filter is (a capacitor/inductor/wooden shoe/cheese?), but they do say that it operates in
the greater-than-20GHz range. Again, as Ive given myself free rein to speculate,
Ill point out that the HPSR filter might be a very small capacitor, perhaps like the
high-purity silver-gold capacitors made by Germanys Mundorf. Now, if the Bridge did
nothing for the sound -- or [gasp] made a cable sound bad -- it
wouldnt matter if its connectors contained freeze-dried cells from Einsteins
brain. How fortunate that, in the listening, the Crystal Cable Bridge proved to be pure
audio genius in physical form.
A Simaudio Moon i3.3 integrated amplifier also served as a
USB D/A converter. When the i3.3 wasnt DACing, I used Simaudios matching Moon
CD3.3 disc player. The speakers were Focus Audio FS8s connected to the amp with Supra
Cable Ply 3.4/S cables. AC cords were Synergistic Researchs T3 (Moon i3.3) and T2
(Moon CD3.3), with Synergistics Tesla Tricon USB cable linking my audio PC and the
Moon i3.3s USB input. The interconnects I used are discussed below.
How it worked
I said above that the Bridge is incomparable, but
thats not really true. When I compared the Bridge to no Bridge there was a very
noticeable difference in sound, and that formed the basis for my observations: Bridge on
vs. Bridge off.
I wrote a separate paragraph for each of the five pairs of
interconnects I used with the Bridge, but then I noticed that those paragraphs all read
the same. Whether it was DH Labs White Lightning and Pro Studio, Synergistic
Researchs Alpha Quad Active, Furutechs FA-13S, or TARA Labs RSC Prime,
the results were almost identical. What was fascinating was that the differences in sound
werent on a sliding scale, with the cheapest cable making the greatest change and
the priciest wire the least. Instead, when the Bridge was in place, all seemed to enjoy
the same benefits to the same degree. Therefore, to reduce redundancy, I discuss here only
the general results, which are applicable to all of the interconnects listed. But note: I
am not saying that the inexpensive White Lightning sounded as good with the Bridge
as did the RSC Prime, only that the improvements I heard in each cable were of equal
proportion to the improvements I heard in the rest.
It seemed that the best way to hear what the Bridge could
do was to have it in place, listen, remove the Bridge, then listen again to the same
recording. This way, I would hear what, if anything, was missing or different when the
cables stood on their own two connectors. I mostly used two recordings: David Berger &
the Sultans of Swings Hindustan (CD, Such Sweet Thunder SWTT 1004), and Dave
Brubecks So Whats New? (CD, Telarc CD-83434). But again, the results
for these albums can be extrapolated across the musical spectrum -- the improvements I
heard with these recordings were also apparent in others.
Whoops -- did I say "improvements"? I guess the
cats out of the bag.
What I heard from the Bridged cables was nothing short of
remarkable. With the Bridge out, the double bass and kick drum on the Berger CD blended
together so that when the bass went low, the drum was indistinguishable from the plucked
note. Bridged, the bass and drums separated like oil and water, and sounded tight and
punchy, not ill-defined and mushy. Trumpet and saxophone had nice tonality, but their true
metallic timbres werent fully realized unless Bridged. Neither was a tambourine
struck by the drummer: without the Bridge, I hadnt even noticed it was there.
Bobby Militellos alto saxophone on Brubecks So
Whats New? was also very revealing. With the Bridge out of the loop, the sax
held tight to the right speaker, which was very easy to localize. Bridged, not only did
the sax float freely, just to the left of center stage, but the speakers nearly
"disappeared" and the soundstage widened considerably, giving the recording a
nice, spacious feel. This sax and trumpet, too, had wonderful bite, so much so that they
may have left teeth marks -- the kind of metallic bite that has texture, the kind you can
almost see come streaming out of the instruments. Awesome.
Something else the Bridge provided in spades was focus. I
heard this especially with cymbals, where attacks went from a fuzzy shhh to a
distinct tink before the rest of the metal began to vibrate. This effect was
notable with the China Boy cymbal on "Keep On Runnin," from Y&Ts
Ultimate Collection (CD, Hip-O 490889), which normally sounds like a furious
librarian hissing an imperative "SHHHHH!" to someone a long distance
away; with the Bridge attached, it was so much more. Again, the stroke of the drumstick
was clearly audible in the milliseconds before the entire China Boy began to resonate, and
the cymbals bloom was so apparent it was practically a visual effect. What was more
remarkable was that the bloom -- and here Im talking about the sense of the sound
not merely increasing in volume, but growing in space -- was clearly evident on
even the three quick strokes that occur in this songs chorus. Here, with the cymbal
producing a SHHHHH! SHHHHH! SHHHHH! series in less than one second, anyone might
reasonably expect that the resulting clouds of treble would blend together like so much
high-pitched mush. Amazingly, they did not: the Bridge focused the music to such a degree
that, despite the short interval between each pair of strokes, the first two strokes
resulted in a bloom of cymbal sound that was as clearly discernible as it was brief.
Where were left
Were faced with the $780 question: Does it make sense
to spend that kind of money on a cable tweak, or are you better off with a new set of
interconnects? The Crystal Cable Bridge is technologically innovative, and I have no doubt
that it will help most cables sound their best. Nor does it hurt that its
beautifully made, and represents the least expensive route into Crystal Cables line
of accomplished products. But does the Bridge (plus your existing cable) represent the
best value for your cable budget? Unfortunately, theres just no saying with any kind
The Bridge will very likely get you more from your existing
cables, and will also likely serve as an excellent supercharger for those who already own
Crystal Cable interconnects. The only way to be sure that the Bridge is right for you is
to audition it at home -- something I heartily recommend to anyone looking to take his or
her system up a notch. Its hard to classify and harder to understand, but the
Crystal Cable Bridge is highly innovative and sounds
great . . . whatever it is. I dont know what to call it, but I
know I like it. I like it a lot.
. . . Colin Smith
|Crystal Cable Bridge Add-On Interconnects
Price: $780 USD per 1m pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
6662 NW Elst
Phone: +31 481-483-880
Fax: +31 26-353-9048