Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Dreamline
Interconnects and CrystalSpeak Dreamline Speaker Cables
by Marc Mickelson
||"They are basically
neutral and transparent, acting as direct conduits between components, but they also have a
personality, with some small tendencies that are always pleasing but do stray from the idea of
contributing the least to the sound." "The first of these is a relaxed way of
portraying musical detail, with no leading-edge crispness or sense of excess decay."
"There is [also] ample midrange color, a sweetness that gives vocals additional roundness
"Crystal Cable developed conductors with more refined metallurgy: a 'distortion-free,
high-purity alloy' that's 'a breakthrough in our high-tech silver-gold metallurgy
formulation.'" "To fill the gaps between the microscopic crystals that make up the
conductors and thereby address a deficiency -- small distortions that occur when current flows
through -- in pure-silver and pure-copper conductors, Crystal Cable adds 24K gold to
high-purity silver to improve micro-conductivity. With Dreamline, the company makes a few
additions, adding 24K-gold wires to the cable's silver braid. A new multilayer insulation of
Kapton, PEEK Teflon and air and is layered around the conductors."
||"When I reviewed
the Crystal Cable Ultra cables, I found them to sound very good right from the start. In
contrast, the Dreamline cables needed plenty of play time to sound their best, and they are
still improving after a few months of playing.... Over the course of a couple of dozen hours,
their incisiveness increased and so did their solidity, the entire presentation firming up to
a welcome degree. Keep this in mind as you audition these cables -- and be sure to be
||"Perhaps because of
all the time I spent with the Ultra interconnects and speaker cables, relying on their
neutrality to help me suss out what review products are doing, I think I actually prefer them
to the Dreamline cables. That they cost quite a bit less money is worth considering as
It takes most new audio companies a considerable
amount of time to reach the point where their products constitute a recognizable brand, so
it is especially curious that Crystal Cable has gone from unknown to well known in a scant
few years. Crystal Cable even has a few things working against it in this regard. First,
it's a company that makes cables, a segment of the audio industry that has grown like a
swarm of gnats in summer. Second, it's headquartered in Holland, which puts it out of the
purview of the North American consumer base. Third, its name is direct but unevocative.
There is no mystery as to what Crystal Cable makes and sells, and this brings us back to
the disadvantage of making cables to begin with.
But Crystal Cable has a few things working for it
as well, including a close relationship with Siltech, one of the audio world's premiere
makers of interconnects, speaker cables, power cords and now even speakers. Crystal
Cable's indefatigable CEO, Gabi van der Kley, is also a definite asset. She seems
omnipresent at trade shows, and she's friendly to a fault. Crystal Cable appears to have a
hefty advertising budget, which allows it to place regular ads in print and online
publications, including a couple of SoundStage! Network sites. Finally, there is the look
of the cables themselves. The company's name shows its influence in the shimmering
appearance of the insulation used, and the cables' lack of bulky thickness makes them
flexible and easy to route around electronics.
We've published a few reviews of Crystal Cable
products, including a pair by yours truly. These covered Crystal Cable's Ultra
interconnects, speaker cables and power cords, the company's previous best of the best.
All that changed early this year, when Crystal Cable introduced Dreamline, the company's
cost-no-object cable line and the subject of this review. When I saw the Dreamline cables
at CES, I immediately noticed how much they looked like the Ultra cables I wrote about and
had been using since. The connectors were different, but the cable itself looked very
Ultra comprises two twisted runs of the wire that
Crystal Cable uses for its Reference line, which is one step down. This doubling of the
Ultra conductors couldn't happen with Dreamline, so Crystal Cable developed conductors
with more refined metallurgy: a "distortion-free, high-purity alloy" that's
"a breakthrough in our high-tech silver-gold metallurgy formulation." To fill
the gaps between the microscopic crystals that make up the conductors and thereby address
a deficiency -- small distortions that occur when current flows through -- in pure-silver
and pure-copper conductors, Crystal Cable adds 24K gold to high-purity silver to improve
micro-conductivity. With Dreamline, the company makes a few additions, adding 24K-gold
wires to the cable's silver braid. A new multilayer insulation of Kapton, PEEK Teflon and
air is layered around the conductors.
Connectors are WBT NextGen RCAs custom made for
Dreamline, Neutrik XLRs, and proprietary rhodium-plated copper-silver banana plugs and
spades. A frosted-acrylic ornament on each length of cable gives the company and product
name along with the product's serial number. I imagine it could also provide some damping
to the cable itself.
None of the Crystal Cable interconnects or
speaker cables is thick and unwieldy -- thin and supple is more like it. The Dreamline
cables are the company's most unyielding, but they are still easier to run from input to
output than essentially any cables I've used -- other than those from Crystal Cable. They
are also attractive, displaying a pearlescent shimmer. Even with their thinness, they look
And they are expensive: $6250 USD per
meter pair of interconnects and $3900 for each additional meter, $13,000 per two-meter
pair of speaker cables with $4650 for each additional meter. There are also power cords,
which seem downright reasonable at $3875, until you realize that this is for a one-meter
cord, half the standard length, and you'll have to shell out $2325 for each additional
meter. High-priced cables draw the ire of a certain group of audiophiles, but I'll remind
these people that value in this realm is in the ears of the beholder, not a priori
theories of right and wrong.
The Dreamline interconnects and speaker cables
were used along with my stable of reference products and a few additions that you'll be
reading about soon. Speakers were Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 Series 2s and MAXX 2s, with
Raidho Ayra 3.0s filling in most recently. Amps were Lamm ML3 Signature and M1.2 Reference
monoblocks, Zanden 9600 monoblocks, and an Audio Research Reference 110 stereo amp.
Preamps were an Audio Research Reference 3, a Zanden Model 3000, a CAT SL1 Legend and an
Aurum Acoustics CDP, which doubles as a CD player. Electronics rested on products from
Harmonic Resolution Systems -- a pair of M3 platforms -- or Silent Running Audio -- a Craz
4 Reference isoRack, a pair of Virginia-Class platforms for the Lamm ML3 Signature amps,
and a pair of Ohio Class XL Plus2 platforms for the Lamm M1.2 amps.
Digital sources were a Zanden Model 2000P/Model
5000S transport/DAC combination, an Ayre C-5xe universal player, and the Aurum CDP. LPs
spun on a TW-Acustic Raven AC turntable with Graham Phantom B-44 and Tri-Planar Mk VII UII
tonearms, on which were mounted Dynavector XV-1s stereo and mono cartridges. Phono stages
were an Audio Research PH7, a Lamm LP2 Deluxe and the Aurum CDP's internal number. Phono
cables were an AudioQuest LeoPard and the one that is hard wired to the Tri-Planar
Power was handled by a Shunyata Research Hydra
V-Ray and a passel of Shunyata Anaconda and Python power cords -- both Alpha and Vx
versions -- or an Essential Sound Products Essence Reference power distributor and a
number of Essence Reference power cords. Interconnects and speaker cables for comparison
were AudioQuest William E. Low Signature along with Crystal Cable Ultra.
When I reviewed the Crystal Cable Ultra cables, I
found them to sound very good right from the start. In contrast, the Dreamline cables
needed plenty of play time to sound their best, and they are still improving after a few
months of playing. Right out of their presentation-quality boxes, they sound soft and
unfocused -- in other words, completely different from other cables that need some
breaking in, which sound bright, hard and overly crisp. Over the course of a couple of
dozen hours, their incisiveness increased and so did their solidity, the entire
presentation firming up to a welcome degree. Keep this in mind as you audition these
cables -- and be sure to be patient!
We all have our ideas regarding what
interconnects and speaker cables should contribute to an audio system in sonic terms,
though most believe that the best audio cables are those that contribute the least. Of
course, what "contribute the least" means is completely subjective, with one
person's idea of "least" differing from another's. "Least" can mean an
overly lean sound to some sets of ears, and great density to another, the difference
coming down to what different people consider to be the essence of music, its collection
of fundamentals that can help make reproduced music sound like the real thing to some
With all this in mind, I think there are things
about the Dreamline interconnects' and speaker cables' performance that will make many
people believe that they capture the essence of music. They are basically neutral and
transparent, acting as conduits between components, but they also have a personality, with
some small tendencies that are always pleasing but do stray from the idea of contributing
the least to the sound.
The directness with which the Dreamline cables
transfer the musical signal is obvious, giving instruments of all kinds a sense of
unfettered purity that's compelling. Like many listeners, I am sure, I go through phases
during which I am obsessed with one type of music or even one musician's work. For the
past few months it has been classic Blue Note jazz, this spurred on by the abundant Music
Matters and Classic Records reissues of great Blue Note albums. Get these while you can!
Both can sell out quickly, and while Classic Records does reissue certain titles, Music
Matters does not, so once those LPs are gone, you'll have to fight for them with your
checkbook on eBay.
I knew that pianist Duke Pearson was one of Blue
Note's best producers, but I was unfamiliar with his musical output. Then I received Tender
Feelin's (Blue Note/Classic Records 4035) in mono and was hipped to Pearson's gentle
style. He reminds me of Vince Guaraldi, who is somehow sunny and introspective all at
once. Tender Feelin's comes alive with the Dreamline cables, the trio of musicians
being distinct in space but unified in musical output, the fine detail of Pearson's light
touch unconditionally resolved. Switching to a Blue Note CD, like Freddie Redd's Shades
of Redd (Blue Note 50999 5 14375 2 7), brought on a fundamental change in tonality and
physicality, everything sounding lighter, brighter and leaner. The Dreamline cables made
this all plain, the LP not merely edging out the CD sonically but annihilating it.
But this was not transparency for its own sake,
leading to a pale, thin representation of great music. The Dreamline cables didn't tip
into the clinical realm, mostly because of those "small tendencies" I mentioned.
The first of these is a relaxed way of portraying musical detail, with no leading-edge
crispness or sense of excess decay. These are absolutely not bright-sounding
cables, which can lead to the maladies I just mentioned. Instead, they have the sort of
neutrality I've attributed to the Lamm electronics I've used for years as a reference -- a
naturalness that doesn't obscure or emphasize.
Perhaps in conjunction with this, there is ample
midrange color, a sweetness that gives vocals additional roundness and presence. More
music from Blue Note, but this time a contemporary recording. I heard an interview with
singer-songwriter Amos Lee on NPR, during which he played a song live on the air. That
prompted me to buy his latest album, Last Days at the Lodge (Blue Note 50999 2
06289 1 8), which just happens to also be on Blue Note Records. Lee's music isn't jazz --
folk-inspired pop is more like it. "Street Corner Preacher" is the song Lee
played on NPR, and while I love that stripped-down version, what's on the LP sounds more
vivid and intimate, the Dreamline cables' midrange presence paying off with slightly
enhanced vocal solidity amidst that essential neutrality. In this way, the Dreamline
interconnects and speaker cables remind me of those from Siltech -- no surprise, I guess.
Both use ample amounts of gold, which, from my experience, can mellow out the sound some.
I like it, that golden sound. Contrary to popular
belief, I think it leads to greater realism. Life doesn't sound physically lean and
tonally threadbare, at least to my ears. The question with Dreamline is if there's too
much mellowness -- if it's too additive. I suspect that in isolation, most listeners won't
think it is, while in comparison to other cables, it might be.
Which leads me to Crystal Cable's Ultra
interconnects and speaker cables, the company's previous top of the line and some very
accomplished cables -- a Reviewers'
Choice, in fact. Looking very similar to the Dreamline cables but costing far less --
$3759 per meter pair of interconnects and $7250 per eight-foot pair of speaker cables --
the Ultras don't use the same gem-like connectors of the Dreamline, and the conductors
aren't wound quite so tightly, both of these disproving any claim that the two cables look
identical. They don't sound identical either. I have had quite a bit of experience with
the Ultra interconnects and speaker cables, having used them with various products I've
reviewed over the past two years. I called them "among the most immediately
correct-sounding cables I've ever heard," pointing to their "acute...balance
between harmonic resolution and tonal color." Furthermore, "The clarity through
the Ultras' treble and midrange has OTL-like directness.... Their character [is] one of
true neutrality, not a manufactured perception of such."
This reads rather like what I've written about
the Dreamline cables, and, as expected, there are striking similarities between these two
cable lines from the same manufacturer. But I called the sound of the Ultras "true
neutrality," while the sound of the Dreamline cables is "essentially
neutral." This is no mere semantic difference, the mellowness and presence of the
Dreamline interconnects and speaker cables giving them a recognizable sound, while the
Ultras' character is more like water -- flavorless. This actually changes the mien of the
music, the Dreamline cables sounding less incisive and more gentle, and the Ultra cables
faster and less colorful. With Tender Feelin's, this translated to a greater
in-the-room sensation with the Dreamline cables and a more inside-the-recording feel with
the Ultras. With the Amos Lee LP, his voice is slightly more full and weighty with the
Dreamline cables and leaner with the Ultras. And so it went with every recording with
which I compared these two cables -- the view of the music changing a bit but never so
much as to obscure any important details.
Perhaps because of all the time I spent with the
Ultra interconnects and speaker cables, relying on their neutrality to help me suss out
what review products were doing, I actually prefer them to the Dreamline cables. That they
cost quite a bit less is worth keeping in mind as well. Still, the Dreamline interconnects
and speaker cables really shone with vocal music especially, and this helped make the case
that their presentation was actually the superior one.
So many companies would love to be in Crystal
Cable's position: well known by audiophiles and reviewers, and having not one but two
high-performing series of interconnects and speaker cables. Dreamline, the company's top
of the pops, has an inherent presence and sweetness that are seductive because they don't
come at the price of degraded transparency and neutrality. The Dreamline cables pass the
signal naturally, allowing -- perhaps helping -- the music to inhabit the space of your
listening room. I can't quibble with their sound, though I can say that if you are
auditioning them, you should also borrow some cables from the Ultra line, as you may find
that they mesh better with your electronics, your speakers and your ears.
Either way, these are both high-level cable
lines, and that there are two of them seems consistent with Crystal Cable's meteoric rise
to prominence. Every audio company should be so fortunate.
|Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Dreamline
Interconnects and CrystalSpeak Dreamline Speaker Cables
Prices: Interconnects, $6250 USD per one-meter pair; speaker cables,
$13,000 per eight-foot pair.
6662 NW Elst
Phone: +31 481 483 880