Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo Diamond loudspeaker

I have been an advocate of small speakers since I began using BBC LS3/5a's in the late 1970s, continuing through Celestion SL6es in 1981, Celestion SL600s and SL700s in the late '80s, and B&W Silver Signatures in the mid-'90s. Yes, I do like accurate and extended bass reproduction—but you need a big speaker to be able to provide that, and, as the late Spencer Hughes, founder of Spendor, once remarked, "big speakers have big problems." I don't see the point of extending a speaker's low-frequency performance if the result is compromised soundstaging and midrange reproduction. And there is also the intellectual elegance of a speaker that is no bigger than it need be.

I've known the Dutch engineer Edwin Rijnveld since the 1980s, when he founded the Siltech cable company. I was impressed by the expertise evident in both the Siltech SAGA two-chassis amplifier, reviewed by Michael Fremer in our October 2014 issue, and in the expensive, glass-enclosure Arabesque speakers Edwin designed to be produced under the brand name Crystal Cable, run by his wife, Gabi. I was talking to the Rijnvelds at a dinner they organized last January, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, to honor musician Graham Nash, who was attending the show on Stereophile's behalf. When they suggested I review the newest Crystal Cable speaker, the stand-mounted Arabesque Minissimo Diamond ($19,995/pair with stands), I didn't have to be asked twice.

The Arabesque Minissimo Diamond
The Diamond uses the same enclosure as the original Arabesque Minissimo: a small two-way speaker, introduced in 2014, that uses a unique thin-wall enclosure featuring, other than a flat front section for the drive-units, continuously curved side and rear walls. Viewed from above, the Minissimo's cabinet resembles a serifed font's comma lying on its side. The monocoque enclosure is milled from a single piece of aluminum-loaded polymer, with both the curvature and thickness of the walls optimized using Sweden's sophisticated COMSOL Multiphysics app. As there are no parallel surfaces other than the top and bottom panels, the cabinet shape minimizes the production of internal resonances; just as important, the absence of any sharply defined acoustic discontinuities around the drive-units eliminates disturbances and reflections of the radiated wavefronts.

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The tweeter is made by SEAS. As its name implies, the Diamond edition replaces the original speaker's beryllium-dome tweeter with a 1" diamond-diaphragm dome developed in conjunction with Crystal Cable and using a silver voice-coil. The fragile dome is protected by a laser-cut, acoustically transparent grille. The 6" woofer, made by ScanSpeak to Crystal's specification, remains unchanged, with a tri-lobed emblem pressed into the 4"-diameter, laminated-paper cone, though Crystal Cable now matches each pair's drive-units to within 0.3dB. The woofer is reflex-loaded by a downward-firing, 1"-diameter port in the speaker's base.

There are also significant improvements inside the Diamond Edition: monocrystal silver internal wiring, WBT NextGen silver biwire terminals, and a different crossover topology called Natural Science, claimed to maintain true in-phase output from the drivers. The crossover filters use non-inductive silver-in-oil capacitors, 5" carbon resistors, and "multistranded, perfect-lay, hexagonal winding, air-core, vacuum-impregnated" inductors.

The speaker's enclosure is finished in automotive gloss paint and the two speakers of each pair are mirror-imaged. The speaker is permanently fixed to its stand, this comprising three damped, chromed tubes and a heavy base embossed with the enclosure's "comma" profile. Carpet-piercing spikes are provided; I used them.

Listening
The Arabesque Minissimo Diamond's manual suggests that placing the mirror-imaged speakers so that the larger curved sides—the commas' tails—face outward gives the deepest soundstaging, so that's how I set them up. Reversing these positions is said to work better in wide rooms. The manual recommends a listening distance of 1 to 1.5 times the distance between the speakers; in my room, the tweeters were 78" distant from one another and 101" from my ears, with the speakers toed in to the listening position. The left and right speakers were 38" and 50" from their respective sidewalls, this asymmetry due to the right-hand side of my room having a raised section behind the speaker with two stairs leading up to the vestibule, which gives the right and left speakers different acoustic environments.

916crystal.250.jpgCrystal recommends a distance of at least 12" from the wall behind the speakers, with 24" being optimal. Unfortunately, this wasn't possible in my room, as my equipment racks stand against that wall. I experimented with various placements and ended with the woofer dustcaps 80" from the wall behind the speakers, which is close to where KEF's LS50s performed best in my room. Despite this, the low-frequency, 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) were still reproduced in good measure down to the 63Hz band, with the 50Hz and 40Hz tones shelved down and the 25 and 20Hz tones inaudible.

But the definition of bass instruments was excellent. The low-pitched drums and bass marimba notes in "I Say," from Happy Rhodes's HR>5 (16/44.1 ALAC, Aural Gratification), had sufficient weight and were well differentiated, despite occupying the same pitch space. Charlie Haden's double bass in his solo in "Turnaround," from Jim Hall/Charlie Haden (CD, Impulse! B002176502), had an excellent combination of body tone and attack, though it sounded perhaps a bit too rich in the upper bass. And Pino Palladino's Fender bass in the slow blues "Out of My Mind," from the John Mayer Trio's Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles (16/48 ALAC file ripped from DVD-V, Sony 8697-722727-9), sounded both impressively even and in full measure.

Bass guitar and double bass don't produce any energy below the midbass, so to test how much low bass was missing, I played a recording I'd made of Jonas Nordwall performing the Toccata of Widor's Organ Symphony 5, which has high levels of energy below 40Hz (24/88.2, AIFF file). The lowest notes were indeed missing in action, even though the woofers' excursions looked to be around 0.5" peak–peak. (The maximum linear excursion) is 0.75".) More significant, the Minissimo Diamonds opened a deep, well-defined, transparent window on the acoustic of the First United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon.

The Crystal speaker's excellent imaging and clarity were a consistent factor throughout my auditioning. The half-step–spaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice spoke very cleanly, with no discontinuity between the ranges handled by the woofer and tweeter. Though the woodwind countermelodies in Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, with Iván Fisher conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra (DSD64 file, Channel Classics), were set well back in the soundstage, they were readily audible without any feeling that they were being spotlit. When I listened to the dual-mono pink-noise track from Editor's Choice, the Crystals reproduced a narrow central image with no splashing to the sides, and the image of my Fender bass in this CD's "Channel Phasing" track was locked firmly in space.

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When it came to tonal quality, getting a handle on the Minissimo Diamonds was less straightforward. Pink noise revealed a slightly midrange-forward balance, though the treble was smooth and free from coloration. This was with my ears level with the tweeters, which are 36" from the floor. The balance didn't change significantly as I raised my head a few inches, but a hollow quality became evident when I stood up. Both the John Mayer track and Rachmaninoff's Vocalise sounded a tad mellow, particularly with the sweet-sounding First Watt J2 amplifier, reviewed by Herb Reichert elsewhere in this issue. By contrast, the top octaves of the cymbals in "A Cockeyed Optimist," from the Fred Hersch Trio's Sunday Night at the Vanguard (CD, Palmetto PM2183), didn't sound rolled off, whereas the midrange of the piano was a little too prominent.

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The midrange of Robert Silverman's Steinway in his performance of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations (16/44.1 ALAC file, Stereophile STPH017-2) was also a little forward, but this recording sounded surprisingly dynamic. In the fugue of Variation 32, when Silverman pounds out the theme with his left hand, the Minissimo Diamonds sounded larger than they are. This was with the Pass Labs monoblocks; but with the First Watt J2's low 20dB gain and the Crystals' low sensitivity, I could get only just enough loudness, the peaks measuring around 93dB (Studio Six SPL meter app set to C-weighting and Fast). The speakers ran out of steam with the First Watt with the John Mayer track and with September's "Recording of the Month," Van Morrison's . . It's Too Late to Stop Now . . . Volumes II, III, IV & DVD (CD, Exile/Columbia/Legacy 8887513474). If these speakers are to sing, they need more than 25Wpc.

Summing Up
At a hair less than $20,000/pair, Crystal Cable's Arabesque Minissimo Diamond is very expensive for a small two-way loudspeaker. However, it looks drop-dead gorgeous, sounds superb when matched with an appropriate amplifier, and though the low bass is absent, it has a more convincing low-frequency balance than you'd expect. If your pockets are sufficiently deep, give it a listen.

COMPANY INFO
Crystal Cable
US distributor: Audio Plus Services,
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
(800) 663-9352
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

I like paradoxes, and understand liking "small speakers." And I agree that "big speakers have big problems."

However, later in the review, you tell us that they "sounded larger than they are."

Was that a compliment or a complaint? Good thing, or bad thing?

It also seems the vertical dispersion makes for a narrow vertical sweet spot, "a hollow quality became evident when I stood up."

How do you think you would feel with them as your long term reference? Would that erode your enthusiasm or be a neutral thing? I think that would wear on me, personally.

Anyway, those are beautiful speakers and thank you for the over-all great review!

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
. . . later in the review, you tell us that they "sounded larger than they are."

Was that a compliment or a complaint? Good thing, or bad thing?

A compliment, as the lack of low and mid bass was, to some extent, compensated by the generous upper bass - the old "LS3/5a trick."

Anton wrote:
How do you think you would feel with them as your long term reference? Would that erode your enthusiasm or be a neutral thing?

If I weren't a reviewer, I could happily live with these speakers. But that "tailored" high end - which was a deliberate design choice, according to the "Manufacturer's Comment" in the November issue - means I couldn't use these speakers for reviewing electronics and amplification.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Geez, I love those small monitors, especially the ProAc Tablette ( Richard Gerber r.i.p. ).

But $20K for $2K's worth of performance, hmm.

They are darn sharp look'n, even stunningly beautiful.

I suppose it's ok to have em fixed to the sharp looking stands but I'd still like to have stands to match, my wife's decorator would insist on veto power for stand design and color.

I'm in the Auto Industry and can say that Auto paint can scratch and is a bitch to repair & color match. Auto paint is a deal killer.

Still, the darn things might sound better than the ProAc, I rather doubt it though.

So, on balance, it seems like a $20,000 solution to a $2,000 problem, with the negative bonus of being about $1,000 in ergonometric & design flexibility value.

They might be the perfect thing for those Modern Art Gallery types, found in places like NY,NY ( folks that spend gobs of dinero for down right ugliness )

One more thing; how do they hide the ugly speaker cables?, these things need to be Wi-fi, like Jason's DynAudio ! ( I'd have to insist on that ). And probably run on Li-ion 36v like modern power tools.

Thanks for showing us these things, nice to see how the 1% spend our money!

Tony in Michigan

ps. I can just see some distracted person resting a burning cigarette on the top of these things, thinking they're made of some indestructible material type. ( like an Ikea Quartz counter top which can take burns quite well )

Anton's picture

The same company makes the world's most beautiful cable. If I could afford it, I would buy their cabling based on looks alone! Really perfect fit and finish.

Les's picture

I never complain or am shocked by HiFi prices. But this I find rather galling. I have no issue with the concept of spending such an amount on a pair of speakers. (I would, if I could.) I'm just flummoxed at the thought that these mini monitors (which I have not heard) are imbued with a certain special quality not available elsewhere, particularly when the budget is so generous. Is this the best one could do for $20k, I would wonder... But then again, audio is about a certain special love affair. And this would have to be a very special love affair, indeed.

Anton's picture

A shootout with the KEF LS50's would be interesting.

Xyriut's picture

Agreed since both are rather midrange-forward.

hb72's picture

yes, and no.

impedance of the 2 speakers is VERY different, on very high end with this speakers, and on very low end wiht LS50, necessetating quite different power amps. so that comparision would include mated power amps (and speaker cables for the matter).

low2midhifi's picture

$19,995/$6,000 = 3.3325 pairs of B&W 805 D3s (and a big mark up from $5,000 D2s to be sure). 2.499 is the ratio for the new Kef Reference 1. 9.22 is the ratio for a kit--having nominally the same components--and adding $1,000 and elbow grease for making your own (albeit non-curved) enclosure.

And, we should note, that on a major used equipment site, the same outlay might get you a used pair, on a good day, of some Wilson Sashas or 2-3 pairs of B&W 802s.

I don't want to make this a feeding frenzy but I, like others, have to question what one can get for $19,995, or a whole lot less.

Staxguy's picture

Low2MidHiFi,

[9:1] If you are into kits, are you into PBN Audio? Pennywise.

If you are into ratios, do you like Polymer Audio Research? Polymer Logic [$24,970]

The later had a good advertisement illustrating driver cost (retail) vs speaker cost (retail) and ratio vs. Marten Design Coletrane Supreme ($250K) - diamond mid.

Just saying.

Staxguy's picture

Well my thoughts / opinion on the matter is slightly different. I don't like the diamond-like image tweeter cover, but assume it is for protecting the tweeter.

I think that they spent to develop a diamond tweeter, and included silver wiring (like Kondo / AudioNote Ongaku...) and were able to develop it and price it for $20,000 / unit.

I don't like the colour as well, but oh well, I loved the look of the previous version - maybe I'm in a bad mood? :)

It's probably that tweeter - cover - which looks good, on it's own.

In terms of price, I was thinking after having already read the previous article, why I didn't buy the Ayre MX-R @ $10,000.00 / pair and if I would get the Bel Canto REF 600M - which uses the wonderfully cheap / great? - nCore - 300W modules @ $5,000.00 / pair.

300 watts is a lot of power, for most (wattage) folk, 200W being "American" average muscle amp @ 8 ohm, so 300 might (note the look of the 600M - back) be good for cheap speakers. At least what I have here.

Reading the review, I was interested in reading a description of how this version of the speaker compared to the previous.

It's amazing that the previous included a Berylium tweeter - love the Grande Focal Utopia III EM and baby Scala Utopia III - also can only stand the sound of Focal Twin 6 be as a minimum standard in near-field recording monitors you'll hear a pro-music store room.

Didn't like the sound of the B&W 802 Diamond trebble (though it was incredibly detailed and fantastic, in terms of its delivery to the brain) - so that if the new diamond tweeter here is better than the berylium one, previously, it's interesting to me.

I also like small nice, speakers. I guess because it's a whimsy - a not needed purchase, so price is not an egregious issue.

Reading the review, I was thinking why the reviewer did not include how you get two nice speakers for the price of a gambler's ring. ;)

Well, really, to get like a little micro-pave ring today by Cartier for a lady, it's about $40,000, tax-in.

Actually, as a major interest, was reading how the reviewer liked good music and musicians - Fred Hirsch and Robert Silverman.

If you've heard these guys live, it would be majorly interesting to see if you liked the price of the Crystal Cable Arabesque MD.

It's amazing how little piano you can get for $20,000. A poor stand-up, maybe. A good wind instrument, mind you. A pair of Selmer Clarinets. Reeds will set you back, further. ;)

Now given the name, I have ballet on my mind, so perhaps this is why I have such a positive impression as to the musical taste of the reviewer.

My I wanted to hear more on the sound and the technology.

The one commend that I didn't get was the tailored upper-end response - I liked that it went to 50 KHz and was - like a pro-monitor - spec'd to - 3 dB (+/- 1.5 dB), and only so deficient in the lower bass range.

I tried to understand the reviewers psychology at this point, wonder if he was trying to justify not purchasing a pair.

The Silver Signature - a reviewer's favourite - was $8,000.00 a pair - the same price as a Selmer Bass Clarinet - great sound - today.

$8000.00 in 1995 at 5% interest for 21 years (to today) is $22,287.20 USD.

So perhaps this is relatively relevant / poignant.

The Silver Signature was an essentially beautiful loudspeaker with a response of 100Hz-15kHz ±1.5dB and an efficiency of 88 dB.

Sorry for jumping.

YukonCornelius's picture

This may be inappropriate bias, but I cannot wrap my mind around a 20k loudspeaker with a laminated paper cone. I know a bunch of people like them and I probably couldn't tell the difference if blinded, but couldn't they use something like carbon fiber? Fake it for us a little.

low2midhifi's picture

Paper cones are finding their way back into many expensive speakers.

I have noticed that even Wilson Audio has discreetly changed its drivers from metallic materials back towards paper.

Scan Speak, of which this speaker sports a mid-range/woofer, has many drivers, for kits and OEM applications, made of paper. Indeed one of Scan Speak's paper-based mid-woofers is reputed to be among the best in class.

My question is: what is the long-term durability of all speaker cone materials? We have not seen a lot of discussion devoted to this topic in this (or other) publications.

How long does a speaker driver last? Perhaps it's all subject to the butyl-rubber surround which, fortunately, has replaced the disintegrating foam of yesteryear.

We would like to know what the comparative durability, long-term integrity of speaker driver materials may be. Aluminum, Kevlar, fiberglass, paper, carbon fiber, plastics, other composites: how long do these materials last?

Audio equipment is expensive. Some speakers have essentially the same driver materials in the most and least expensive versions of a speaker line for a manufacturer. It would be valuable to know how long a speaker will last before its driver material begins to fail.

It would seem to me that paper, from a lay person's experience with this material, might be more susceptible to longer-term failure due to changes in home humidity than, perhaps, would a material like aluminum. Another question is how long woven-fiber drivers last until the weave starts to unravel.

It is great that so many materials have found application in sound reproduction. Some comparative assessment on long-term (over 10 year) durability would be welcome.

YukonCornelius's picture

I like some of your points. While I'm not an engineer I think we can assume a composite paper cone is, even if soaked in pitch, likely to be less durable than a properly woven cf cone in the long run. So, it is my humble opinion that this paper cone thing is a shift towards saving money and perhaps absolutely not at the expense of sound.

My personal opinion is that for 20k those drivers better be able to be passed to my kids. :)

dumbo's picture

Come on JA, your killing me here :)

Why does there seem to be increasingly selective use of the plastic tape accelerometer measurements for speaker cabinet performance? You show them on some (in the same issue nonetheless) but not on others?

I was gravely disappointed to see this measurement left out of the new B&W802 D3 review also.

What gives?

John Atkinson's picture
dumbo wrote:
Why does there seem to be increasingly selective use of the plastic tape accelerometer measurements for speaker cabinet performance? You show them on some (in the same issue nonetheless) but not on others?

When I started doing the cabinet vibration tests a quarter century ago, I designed and built a preamplifier with a very high input impedance to amplify the output of the accelerometer. That preamp has become increasingly unreliable and sometimes stops working just as I need it. I have been trying to repair it but the real solution is to build a new one.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dumbo's picture

Thanks for the reply JA. No harm intended. For some reason I've become fascinated with seeing how serious these various manufacturers are when it comes to such things.

Marc210's picture

I wonder who's gonna buy that. But there are beautiful WBT Next Gen silver binding posts at the rear.

funambulistic's picture

And these speakers certainly are. Now for the price (from my humble perspective): $20K is play money for some people (I do not begrudge anyone that can afford them one bit) but, from my decidedly middle class perspective, is way over the top, from what they can do (according to the nice review and measurements). If they are truly performing the "LS3/5a trick" then good for them - I can mention many manufacturers that employ this (our favorite KEF model, for example) for a lot less.

The most I have ever paid (not really - I won them from a competitor's website) was $7,500 for a pair of Wilson CUB 2's back in '98. These things were monsters for stand mounted speakers, both figuratively and literally and, at the time, were Wilson's least expensive offering (supplanted now by the +/- $20K Duette). I loved their build, quality, heft, MTM arrangement, but there was always something off. I did countless set-ups, measurements, triangulations, etc. but they never satisfied. I prematurely came to the conclusion it was my sub-par equipment (Rega Planet CD player, McCormack TLC-1 preamp, Parasound amp - all favorably reviewed by this magazine). In actuality, the CUB was too (add bold or italics) accurate and, though quite dynamic when called upon, were just too sterile for my tastes. I eventually sold them for a fraction of their selling price (which was no loss to me as they were free to begin with, but there was a price to pay as the publisher of the other online mag sold out our email addresses and I am still getting spam to this day - first world problems).

TL/DR: I would rather have a speaker with some "musicality" (as someone mentioned, ProAc [which my current speakers, though not ProAc do superbly]) than an ultra-precise, warts-and-all monitor (leave those for the studios and reviewers). At the same time, I would expect $20K monitors to give one EXACTLY what was intended by the musician/engineer, etc. (though what that is is anyone's guess, unless one is involved with the process, which Mr. Atkinson has been, more than the 1% we talk about).

TL really DR: If I had the funds for a $20K speaker, they would run the entire audible spectrum (thundering bass, rich midrange, extended - but not clinical - treble). Wait, that is exactly what have now, for fraction of the price, with my two monitors and a well placed sub. As always, a great review John, and I await the next one!