I have always considered the words “neutral” and “uncolored” too puritanical to characterize the sound of those surprisingly few components that let the sound of instruments come across to us with absolute, uncoated, unenriched directness, which trust the information they receive absolutely. Their sound is simply too satisfying for joyless adjectives.
Audio Note audio cable, while not entirely innocent, enables Audio Note components to deliver the refined and beautiful Audio Note signature sound that many love and admire. I have learned that it’s something most folks don’t want to mess with. Even otherwise first rate line conditioners can screw it up. But for Blue Circle and Reynaud, I have found a cable that reveals different virtues. I say a cable, not a line of cable because there is only one “model” and the speaker cable and interconnects come off the same reel: they are identical except for termination. I find that encouraging.
Crimson cable, made in the UK by Crimson (http://www.crimsonelectronics.com), alters my BC/JMR systems’ personality: I have the sense that I am hearing the quality of instruments more clearly. Apparently that’s the kind of thing people who are new to Crimson say about it, whatever gear they’re using it on and whatever cable they come to it from. The tactile quality of the sound, an almost visible sense of timbre, flies out of my Reynauds. Clarity is too modest a term to describe what we hear. Initially I thought it was a tad light-weight, that the Crimson might be trading off weight for clarity — another thing newcomers to Crimson say about it, for a little while. And then we realize, as we’ve learned before, that the clearer bass gets, the lighter it initially seems. A double bass is plucked, a bass drum thwacked, and suddenly it’s all there. It’s just not there when it’s not there. The air around the instruments is clear rather than thick; it’s clear and charged with energy as it is in a great listening venue.
This is cable that seems to understand better where BC and JMR in particular want to go; and it lets them go there as I’ve never heard before. John Geisen of Wellington Audio, my JMR dealer in Florida, who introduced me to Crimson and who also sells Audio Note (and Quad, Naim, and some other lines), tells me it has the same effect on all of his other non Audio Note gear as well. He too is reluctant to mess with his Audio Note system.
I would say, now that I’ve been living with Crimson in my BC/JMR systems for a while (including use as a digital interconnect) and comparing it with Audio Note Pallas, Lexus, Sootto and Sogon, that where Audio Note cables tend to be more fulsome and weighty (Lexus), more refined and liquid (Pallas, Sogon, Sootto), and harmonically richer (all four), Crimson is clear, fast, immediate, tactile, trim, direct, “naturally warm,’ and airy. As I’ve said somewhere else, Audio Note cable sometimes gives us the sense we are coming to music from the inside; Crimson comes from the outside, capturing the color, details, and textures that live on the surface of instrumental sound, enabling us to recognize them. Crimson is also wonderfully dynamic. I could not have characterized Audio Note cable as especially rich and refined had I not heard Crimson. Audio can be like that. Through contrast, differences can reveal character, though, alas, it is always relative character! The difference between Audio Note and Crimson is something you really have to hear and you really should hear. As I often say about differences of this kind, which you prefer will tell you more about who you are than what “the truth” is. My ears tell me Audio Note cable is the appropriate cable in an AN system if you prefer the traditional sound of that marque and don’t want to risk changing it. But I urge you to at least consider trying some Crimson there, if only to discover what else Audio Note gear can do. I no longer recommend Audio Note cable for Blue Circle and JMR gear. Crimson seems to understand it better at a far more attractive price.
Almost needless to say, Crimson cable also enables Tocaro loudspeakers to be what they are. Tocaros and Crimson seem to have come from the same quality of imagination. It would be unthinkable now to put any other cable on my Tocaros. Almost needless to say, Crimson cable also enables Tocaro loudspeakers to be what they are.
“Crimson cables are excellent. The presentation is so natural and so right. That cable allows all the emotion through without sounding the least bit romantic. In a way, it was a bit like the time I moved from 300b amplification to 45s. The tone is right on – no smearing, no blending, no overhang; perfect. I was worried that ‘clear’ was going to sound analytical, or hi-fi, or tipped-up, or anaemic, or aggressive, but none of that is the case.
Among the astonishing moments last night was listening to the solo in “Dazed and Confused”: I didn’t hear a guitar, or even a guy playing a guitar, I heard Jimmy Page playing a guitar – right there in front of me. This happened many times – for the first time I heard/saw the musician and not just the instrument.
Crimsons also have the ability to get ‘space’ correct. I’m assuming that they do this because they get timing right. I’m also assuming that thick cables and multi-strand cables can ‘get in their own way’ and when they do, one of the things that happens is images and the music projecting from them get sort of stuck at the line of scrimmage along the speaker plane. I was listening to Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ album and I swear there was music wrapping around behind my head. The Crimsons give music freedom in space – and not at the expense of making the music sound ethereal and otherworldly.” DH, Toronto. Customer
Single-Ended Stereo Interconnect Cables with E.T.I./Eichmann Bullet Plugs:
(prices are for a pair of cables and include termination)
0.5 meter:$ 320.00
1.0 meter:$ 360.00
1.5 meter:$ 400.00
2.0 meter:$ 440.00
2.5 meter:$ 480.00
3.0 meter:$ 520.00
Balanced Stereo Interconnect Cables with Neutrik XLR connectors:
(prices are for a pair of cables and include termination)
0.5 meter: $ 457.00
1.0 meter: $ 537.00
1.5 meter: $ 617.00
2.0 meter: $ 697.00
3.0 meter: $ 857.00
4.0 meter: $ 1017.00
5.0 meter: $ 1177.00
Stereo Loudspeaker Cables with M.C. banana connectors or E.T.I./Eichmann spade connectors.
(Prices are for stereo pairs, double price for biwired)
6 feet: $ 486.40
8 feet $ 535.20
10 feet: $ 584.00
12 feet: $ 632.80
15 feet: $ 706.00
20 feet: $ 828.00
25 feet: $ 950.00
30 feet: $ 1072.00
It is a good thing that there have always been a few brave souls among audio designers who cling to the belief that solid state electronics done absolutely right can reproduce the most accurate and most truly beautiful sound. Even some of those who are known for their tube gear have been known to harbor secret dreams of a perfect amp made of sand.
Enter, Peter More and Brian Powell of Crimson electronics in the UK. To date, I have auditioned their CS 710 premier preamp and 175 watt CSD 640E monoblock amplifier pictured above and been deeply impressed. The principal qualities of this gear are the clarity & definition, speed, and the overall natural sound we recognize from Crimson cable. The latter is not something we generally associate with solid state, so it’s worth repeating: the sound of this gear is both clear and natural. As a whole sonic package, this Crimson gear makes the dramatically compelling case for solid state I have heard.
First impressions can be — may well be — misleading. If, like me, you come to Crimson gear from superb single ended triode electronics or state of the art hybrids, which provide, in their different ways and degrees, fullness and an overall sense of weight and harmonic richness, your first impression of Crimson may be that something’s missing. That is essentially what I heard from Crimson, at first. But once the gear had time to settle in and make its case, I was brought to consider the following:
Does live music sound harmonically rich and blended? Is an orchestra a wall of sound or an army of instruments? Who should blend them, our systems or our ears/brains? When a solo bassoon enters, does it glide in or break the air with a startling newness? Are ease and speed compatible? How about beauty and speed? Do violins always beguile us with ribbons of sound or sometimes come at us with an acute mixture of brilliant beauty and unrefined rawness? And if the latter, is that the sound we want in our living rooms? Do cellos go for the chest or both the chest and the skull? Do low brasses rumble or snarl? Can they do both? In real life, are whispers generally clear and articulate or mainly rustling air. You see how this is going. When the priority is the sound of live music and reality rather than domestic tranquility, these are the kinds of questions that come up. And the answers you give will steer you toward or away from Crimson electronics. For some, Crimson will not provide sufficient comfort; for others, it is likely to be a revelation. It can quite literally modify the sound of other gear you are accustomed to considering your reference. As T.S. Eliot warned us, the creation of something truly new can change the ideal pre-existing order our ears and minds have created.
Crimson electronics do not enrich, fill out, round off, blend. They achieve beauty but are not solicitous: they do not sweeten, add ‘a touch of soul,’ a calorie or two of warmth, or a touch more body. They are exciting: they have that elusive quality often called drive or jump, the former in rock and the latter in Bach cantatas. They are wonderfully clear — they can search through and sort out recordings, finding all kinds of interesting things in them. They are unaffectedly beautiful, and perfectly balanced, from bottom to top, especially if you have the good sense to plug them directly into your AC outlets with stock Volex AC cords, bypassing even very good line conditioners and after-market power cords. They capture the leading, defining edges of instruments before securing the body: they are tactile. They are not at all bright, nor are they dark. They are neither noticeably warm nor cool. They seem to give us everything on the recording but they do not exaggerate anything — they are a window not a magnifying glass. They make us feel we are looking directly at the musicians and their instruments — there is nothing between them and us, not even the bloom of air many have long believed essential. They seem to snap things into focus, making many other presentations seem…well unfocused.
On a good recording, they will dazzle you with clarity and grip. They make some of my best recordings sound startlingly clear. On weak ones, while Crimson will not compensate or airbrush, it remarkably, seems to see around the compromises, finding the good stuff that’s there under the junk. Some older recordings seem to take on new life, especially LP’s coming through the CS710‘s really good phono stage. All in all, I’ll have to say that whatever indulgences Crimson electronics may lack, the cumulative effect of their virtues can be nearly overwhelming. They have the power to change ideas about what definitive is.
So where does Crimson fit into the Amherst Audio picture? Crimson electronics offer a clear alternative to Blue Circle and Audio Note, sounding as different from both as the other two sound different from each other. All three lines deliver what I consider superb overall balance and exemplary clarity, but each has its priorities and creates different ’sound worlds.’ You can adapt to any one of them but switching between them can be destabilizing! They take three distinct and effective approaches with very little overlap. For those who especially prize clarity and excitement, would like to not deal with tubes, need a considerable amount of power, and have limited space for components, Crimson may be the choice.
The CS 710 preamp has five inputs, including, as I say, a superb phono stage that comes with moving coil setting as standard (!), which can be reset to moving magnet. The remote selects inputs, controls both volume and balance, and mutes with no audible degradation of sound quality, a feat in itself. Both preamp and mono-block amps are very small, together barely taking up as much space as a conventional preamp. All three parts are smaller than shoe boxes unless you have very small feet. All three units measure 4.25” x 3.75” x 14.”
CS710 preamp, $6995. CSDS640E, $6000.