My friend Rich visits often. He’s got a smoking system at home, loves music and gear, and is always looking for ways to improve the sound in his listening room. Just recently he came over for a listen with his brother-in-law, who’s far more grounded, down to earth, and money conscious than Rich, me, or likely anyone else who’s reading this review.
I’m reviewing a pair of speaker cables right now—the Crystal Cable Art Series Monet. Let’s get this out of the way right up front. These speaker cables retail for $19,500 for a 2.5m pair (all prices in USD). Rich’s BIL wasn’t sure if I was serious when I told him the price. We all three sat and listened for a while, but as I looked sideways over at him, I could see the gears turning.
Eventually he couldn’t take it any longer and the questions started. “Wouldn’t it be better to spend that $20,000 on better speakers? Wouldn’t that be better value for money?” I’d been thinking the same thing recently. I’m not wealthy, by any stretch, so the concept of the Monets as an honest-to-god product really deserves some consideration.
I had my answer ready. “What if you already own the speakers you want? What if the speakers you own are at the absolute top of the game? What if your equipment is superb, your room is properly treated, and you sold all your Amazon stock right in the middle of the pandemic? You’ve got more money than you could ever need, and you’re looking to truly optimize your stereo system with some top-notch, physically beautiful cables. What then?”
I sort of know the answer to that question. He’d likely head on over to Home Depot and buy 12-gauge wire off a spool. But he’s not the target audience for this review. We are, right? So let’s continue.
I know I’m supposed to be the nonplussed professional SoundStage! Ultra reviewer who gets all kinds of heroically priced equipment drop-shipped to his house on a regular basis. And as such I’m supposed to be, if not jaded, well, at least inured to the outrageous prices of some of this audio gear.
Well, sort of. The Monet speaker cables are, by quite a significant margin, the most expensive cables I’ve ever reviewed. But let’s back up a few weeks—it took me a while to get this thing going. When Doug Schneider dropped them off, I didn’t even open the box for the first few days. I kept looking askance at it, thinking that’s a new motorcycle in there.
This wasn’t my first experience with Crystal Cable, the Dutch company that burst on to the hi-fi scene back in 2004 and suggested—no, demanded—that audiophiles examine how a cable should be constructed, and practically forced the industry to take a good, long look at the trend of ever-thicker, girthier, uglier cables. From the very start, Crystal Cable interconnects and speaker cables have been thin, elegant, and unobtrusive.
What a brilliant move! Crystal Cable founder Gabi Rynveld has long championed the idea that hi-fi doesn’t need to look ugly. Just look at the company’s first speaker, the all-glass Crystal Cable Arabesque, which I reviewed back in 2009. The Arabesque was a stunning, crystalline sculpture that commanded you to look at it even as it floated there, utterly transparent and ethereal. And the Arabesques sounded great in my room.
Of course, the Arabesque was connected internally with Crystal Cable’s own wire, and since the Arabesque was totally transparent, the internal wiring had nowhere to hide. I saw that wire elegantly draped inside the Arabesque, and it’s remained at the back of my mind ever since.
Crystal Cable is part of International Audio Holding, an umbrella company that also owns Siltech. Gabi is married to Edwin Rynveld, a cofounder of Siltech, which makes these two a power couple in the world of high-end audio. Edwin is an engineer with a background in metallurgy, and Gabi is an accomplished concert pianist, so these two have both ends of the equation covered—science and art logically rolled into one thin, elegant cable.
The Monets are beautifully turned out. The thin, almost wispy wire feels sexy in the hand, but when you actually start handling them, you’ll discover they’re not fragile. While they’re extremely flexible and easy to dress, there’s a close-up toughness, a resilience, to the insulation. And they are really easy to dress. I swapped cables back and forth a couple of times near the beginning of this review, and it was a pleasure to slide the Monets back and forth behind my equipment rack.
The actual conductors here are pure silver—what Crystal Cable calls Infinite Crystal Silver. According to Crystal Cable, the surface of the Infinite Crystal Silver conductor is totally smooth, free of microcracks or fissures. According to Crystal Cable, fissures on the surface of silver conductors are hiding places for oxidation. The company maintains that oxidation causes “tiny shifts in electrical behavior and signal transmission that disturb the sound coming out of your hi-fi system.” The concept of conductor smoothness is at the heart of Crystal Cable’s design philosophy.
Crystal Cable has two solutions to the microcrack problem. In the Diamond line, the company fills in these fissures with gold at the time of forging. In the top-end Art series, the Infinite Crystal Silver conductor is drawn without microcracks, using a proprietary process.
The first layer of insulation, the part that’s actually in contact with the silver conductor, is DuPont Kapton. Over that is a layer of PTFE, which is in turn covered by a braided shield, also made from Infinite Crystal Silver. This braid is what you can see through the outer layer of clear Teflon. There are two conductors in the Monet series, and they’re tightly wound around each other. The next level up in the Art Series, the Van Gogh, sees the comparable speaker cable armed with four of the same conductors, and the top model, da Vinci, has six conductors.
My review pair had banana plugs at the amplifier end and spades at the speaker end. These connectors, 0610Ag bananas and 0611Ag spades, are made by WBT from platinum-plated silver, and that makes sense. They’re WBT’s top-grade connectors from the company’s Signature line—true audiophile jewelry. Adding to the elegance of this package are the two rectangular metal plates at each end that serve to anchor the division of the two connectors. These anodized aluminum plates are engraved with the model and serial number of the cable. A really nice touch is the soft, protective cloth sack over each plate that’s secured by two drawstrings. The entire package is delivered in a solid cardboard box, which is cool and all, but given the price of these cables, I’d expect perhaps a nicer box, or maybe some party favors inside like—oh, I don’t know—a pen or something.
A pair of Van Goghs in the exact same configuration as my Monet review pair would retail for $34,000. Ascend to a pair of da Vinci cables, and you’re up to a stratospheric $53,500.
Is there gonna be trouble?
At first, I thought there was gonna be trouble. I hooked up the Monets between the Hegel H30A amp and the Estelon XB Mk II speakers, sat back, and anticipated that I’d have to listen for a bit to get the feel of these things. After about an hour, I’d had enough. There was an extremely unpleasant top-end harshness—a sizzle on female voices and a nasty chewing-on-tinfoil harmonic buzz on cymbals.
“This isn’t right,” I told myself, and proceeded to ensure that I had the phase correct and that I hadn’t screwed up anything else in my system. Nope. Everything was where I’d left it. I shut the system down and gave up for the day. Another listen the next day yielded the same results, so I felt it best to engage my cable burn-in service.
“Hey Ron—you wanna try some $20K cables?” I asked my audiophile neighbor, with my best I’m-doing-it-for-you smile. Ron was keen, and he took them next door and hooked them up in his system. I got an email later that night. “I don’t like them,” it read. “Tizzy top end. Fatiguing.”
Two days later I received an update. “I’m liking them more . . . detail and transparency, imaging, etc. Really good.” I suggested Ron listen for a while longer. After about a week, I asked for them back and re-inserted them into my system.
There we go—thanks, Ron! My initial, admittedly short pre-break-in listen had definitely shown promise. Brightness aside, there had been a clean, open feeling to the way the Monets laid out instruments across the soundstage, and I was pleased to note that the cables had retained this trait.
The brightness that had bothered me so much? Gone. So on with the listening.
A thought: While it was obvious that the speaker cable was the only interface between speaker and amplifier, it made me consider the importance of what was at each end of that connection. The amplifier needed to be taken out of the equation here, so the amp itself needed to be utterly beyond reproach. I had recently received a really neat tube amplifier, which is coming up next for review—the Fezz Audio Lybra—a single-ended 300B design. While I was expecting the Lybra to be an absolute hill of fun, I didn’t believe it would be appropriate to use in a speaker cable review. I just needed to look at the Lybra for one minute to realize that it was going to produce really, really weird measurements. And that meant my impressions of the Crystal Cable Monet speaker cables might not be valid for other folks, unless they were using this exact same amp.
For this review of the Monets, I exclusively used the Hegel H30A, an amp I reviewed in April on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. This amp is beyond reproach. I’ve listened to it for several months, and essentially, I can’t hear it. The Hegel is utterly neutral and linear. It’s so powerful I will likely never push it past its rated power, yet when loafing at late-night volumes, it retains a supple sense of dynamic contrast. And combined with the Estelon XB Mk II speakers, which were still here after the completion of my recent review, I had a full-range, high-resolution signal chain that would no doubt help me determine what the Monets were doing, while also presenting them in their best light.
What are they doing?
Sweet blue Jesus, are they doing something. It was immediately noticeable from the first album I spun, post-break-in. It was The Tragically Hip’s Live at the Roxy (LP, Universal Music Canada 4517763), a hard-rocking album that’s unbelievably well recorded. It sounded like the band was right fucking there in the middle of my listening room. With the Monets in the signal chain, Gord Downie’s voice became a tangible force, a presence between the Estelons.
Live at the Roxy encapsulates The Hip’s golden age, the period between Road Apples and Fully Completely, a period that’s full of crisp, intelligent energy and a hungry intellectualism that seemed to fade a few short years later. “Fight” is one of my favorite Hip songs and it’s an absolute barnburner on this album. Compared to the Audience Au24 SX speaker cables I reviewed three years back, which I regularly use depending on the speakers I’m playing, the Monets had a bit more sparkle up top, which helped showcase the upper registers and overtones on Downie’s voice. Likewise the crisp guitars, both rhythm and lead working in tandem—the snap and wiry electricity gained more body. Not just body, but a feeling of dimensionality,
I’ve written about Giant Sand’s music in, I’d say, almost half of my reviews, and right now, as I write this, I’m sitting here completely spellbound by “Red Right Hand” from Cover Magazine (LP, Thrill Jockey THRILL 104LP). Just last week I re-received the Meitner Audio DS-EQ2 phono stage I wrote about on SoundStage Hi-Fi in July. Seems that Ed Meitner had come up with some modifications to the circuit and wanted the unit back so he could update it and send it back for me to evaluate. I’d been listening to the Monets for several weeks at this point, so I had a handle on their sound. What I wasn’t ready for was how clearly the Monets let me hear the improvements Ed made by laying hands on this component. The Monets worked tightly in concert with the upstream components, letting me clearly hear how the revised DS-EQ2 pushed back the recording envelope of pretty much everything I played by a half a mile, adding layer upon layer of depth to the mix.
Oh yeah—about that Giant Sand track. Prior to the DS-EQ2’s return, I listened to the entire Cover Magazine album a few times, as it’s one of my top 20 albums, and it always sits up front in my frequent-listen pile. The Monets accentuated the delineation of instruments, providing razor-sharp imaging. There are lots of weird sound effects going on in “Red Right Hand,” a whole bunch of what sound like found objects being clanged around. They’re right down low near the noise floor, and some are so faint I’d never really noticed them before, buried below the clanging piano, buzz saw guitar, and flailing drums. Via the Monets, I found myself focusing on those little details, yet still able to swap my focus back and forth. With the addition of the Meitner Audio DS-EQ2, I got an additional layer of depth, the impression that the main instruments and those crazy little effects were even further separated.
What’s important here is that it really was the clarity of the Monets that gave me the inside scoop, the insight to help me evaluate what the DS-EQ2 brought to the party. I don’t usually consider cables as components in their own right; they’re more like seasoning added to food. But at this point, as I was working hard to review and re-evaluate a number of components I’d experienced over the past couple of months, I felt the Crystal Cables Monet wires were contributing more than I’d come to expect.
Side note: These are seriously expensive cables, so I think, in the context of this review, it’s fair to treat them as honest-to-god components. I’m holding them to a high standard here, and I think that’s reasonable. Now onwards.
At the onset I mentioned that—pre-break-in—the Monets were overly bright and then calmed down substantially. After they’d fully settled in, which, post-Ron, didn’t take very long at all, the Monets exhibited a clear, silky, extended treble that, while a delight to listen to, was still a touch elevated compared to either of my reference cables.
Now, to dive into that, I needed the help of Canada’s Cowboy Junkies. Whites Off Earth Now!! (LP, Latent Recordings, Latex 4) is recorded quite hot. It’s a lovely album that I don’t listen to often enough, full of spacious, ethereal, almost hymnal music. But yeah, the highs, especially the cymbals, are recorded right up close—almost too close. Case in point is the track “I’ll Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” with its almost overbearing ride cymbal. The Monets made me very aware of how out of sorts this part of the mix sounded, but they didn’t slap me in the face with the fact.
It’s important to understand that my system at this point is quite revealing. Admittedly, I’m using my tube-based Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp, which is a bit juicy sounding, but the rest, from the DS Audio optical cartridge front end through the Hegel amp and Estelon speakers, is insanely dynamic and revealing. Every listening session, I find myself looking up in astonishment at the level of information that’s being scraped off my records and thrust out of these speakers. I never really thought I’d need more detail, but here I am listening to the Monets top that game. And not in a forced, it’s-just-brighter way. Rather, it feels like the Monets are organizing the high-frequency information, processing it, and polishing it before releasing it in an atomized spray of musical refreshment.
Through the midrange the Monets continue with that organizing thing, delivering detailed, expansive images just redolent with insight. Since I bought them back in the early ’00s, I’ve gleaned untold amounts of listening pleasure from my Duke Ellington remasters from Classic Records. Piano in the Background (LP, Columbia/Classic Records CS 8346) transports me back to a cavernous, smoky recording studio. It’s essentially impossible for a punky little home stereo system to reproduce the sheer power of a real big band that’s firing on all cylinders. If you’ve ever seen a world-class big band in person, you’ll know what I mean—they can move a metric fuckton of air.
That said, PITB is a fantastic recording, and my system did one heck of a good job with the Monets holding up their end of the deal. Via the Crystal Cable Monets, I got more of the giant blat that comes right off the end of the trombone section on “Happy Go Lucky Local,” a more prominent attack at the leading edge of the notes. While they’re tight as all get-out, it’s important to remember that there are—count ’em—four separate trombones blasting away. It’s hard to hear them as separate instruments, so well are they synchronized, but with the Monets untangling it all, I could just sorta-kinda make out the defining edges of the discrete instruments. This was an unequivocal improvement in musical satisfaction.
Down low, the Monets sounded great. Good, tight, tuneful bass. That said, both my Audience and Nordost cables excel in the bottom octaves, and the Monets were more alike than different in this regard. This is still high praise, as I’ve been digging some of the best bass of my experience with both of these cables, and having the Monets keep up is a triumph.
More alike than different. That doesn’t mean identical. I just listened right through to the 1995 reissue of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme remastered by Michael Cuscuna (LP, Impulse! GR-155), and despite years of familiarity with this recording, it’s still as fresh to me as ever—triumphant and soaring, crisp and snappy. As with most olde-tyme jazz recordings, the bass suffers most, but there’s still that thick, twangy intro to “Acknowledgement,” which feels like it’s coming out of a deep hole in the ground. It’s an easily hummable anchor that carries through the piece, and the Monets kept all of the weight (any loss of grounding here would be fatal to the integrity of this track) while adding just a small amount of detail to the sense of Jimmy Garrison’s fingers on the strings themselves.
Same goes for the grumbling intro to “Resolution.” Garrison’s bass here is more introspective, less powerful, and again I got just the tiniest hint of additional overtones on the release of the strings. Mark you, I had to actively listen here for this gain in detail, and it’s important to realize that the benefit was really in the lower midrange rather than the actual bass itself, but hey—the bass benefited, right? So let’s call it a day here.
Jason grudgingly admits
It’s a bit of a tough sell, a pair of $20k speaker cables, but my time with the Crystal Cable Monets was a pleasure. I have to admit that a large chunk of the enjoyment I received from the Monets resulted from their clean, sparkling appearance, and the way they coiled up behind the speakers, glistening against my medium-gray tiled floor. Over the course of my review, I shuffled around a couple of amps, including the Fezz Audio Lybra 300B amplifier, and I always smiled to myself as I engaged the tiny thumbscrews on the connectors.
In short, the Monets increased the pleasure I got from my (admittedly frequent) interaction with my system. And consider further the benefits you may receive from these cables if your system is installed in a shared common room, where guests and significant others may take offense at typical audiophile cables. The Monets—heck, any of Crystal Cable’s products—are undoubtedly interior decorator approved.
And sound quality is excellent too, which is our primary objective, right? I could clearly hear improvements in recorded detail and air around instruments. The gains in definition of recording space alone verged on breathtaking. Midrange clarity and coherence, which I referred to collectively above as organization, were much improved. High-frequency detail, the ability to see structure in guitars and cymbals, was superb.
At the tail end of the review period, I trotted the Monets down to my neighbor, Rob’s place. Rob, as I explained in my September editorial, is currently storing some of my overflow gear—my Aurelia speakers and my older Hegel Audio Systems H90 amplifier driven by one of my spare Chromecast Audios. I took some photos of how this setup looked at Rob’s place, and they came out extremely well. Rob’s living room has a super-high cathedral ceiling, and light just pours in. It’s almost as if the room were built for highlighting audio gear.
I draped the cables just so over the raised fireplace, dressing them so that each side was symmetrically arrayed. As in my listening room, hooking up the connectors was a pleasure, and the silky jackets didn’t fight my efforts to arrange them. I stood back and admired how they shimmered in the afternoon light.
Rob and I sat down for a listen. Admittedly, this system retails for somewhere around 60% of the price of the Monets, so the combination doesn’t make much real-world sense, but it was clear to us both that the Crystal Cable Monets meshed incredibly well with the Norwegian amp and Finnish loudspeakers.
Circling back to Rich’s BIL, in this system the twenty large would definitely be better spent on speakers, amp, or source, but the reviewing lifestyle makes for strange bedfellows. That said, my basement is a dark dungeon compared to Rob’s living room, so it took until now, the last minute, to really get the full effect of just how elegant these cables are.
I guess at this point it goes without saying that there’s value here in the admittedly intimidating retail price of these cables, but it’s not just in sound quality. If you were to purchase the Monets for use in your system, you’d also be buying elegance and exclusivity. These cables aren’t for everyone, but man, oh man, do they stand out in a crowd.
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog source: VPI Prime Signature turntable; EAT Jo N°8, DS Audio DS 003 cartridges.
- Digital source: Logitech Squeezebox Touch.
- Phono preamplifiers: Aqvox Phono 2 CI, iFi Audio iPhono 3 Black Label, Hegel Music Systems V10, EMM Labs DS-EQ1, Meitner DS-EQ2.
- Preamplifiers: Sonic Frontiers SFL-2, Hegel Music Systems P30A.
- Power amplifiers: Bryston 4B3, Hegel Music Systems H30A.
- Integrated amplifiers: Hegel Music Systems H120, Fezz Audio Lybra 300B, Eico HF-81.
- Speakers: Estelon XB Mk II, Focus Audio FP60 BE, Estelon YB, Aurelia Cerica XL.
- Speaker cables: Audience Au24 SX, Nordost Tyr 2.
- Interconnects: Audience Au24 SX, Furutech Ag-16, Nordost Tyr 2.
- Power cords: Audience FrontRow, Nordost Vishnu.
- Power conditioner: Quantum QBase QB8 Mk.II.
- Accessories: Little Fwend tonearm lift, VPI Cyclone record-cleaning machine, Furutech Destat III.
Crystal Cable Art Series Monet Speaker Cables
Price: $17,000 for 2m pair; $2500 for each additional 0.5m; $19,500 as tested (2.5m pair).
6662 NW Elst
Phone: +31 481 374 783