The phono cable is the most critical piece of wire in your audio system. I make this statement with certainty. In North America, power cords carry an alternating current at 120V. Speaker cables may need to carry a few dozen volts. Line-level interconnects throw up to about 2V. But the phono cable? A low-output moving coil squeaks out somewhere around 0.5mV. Spin that number up to a value in volts and you get 0.0005V.

That’s a tiny signal—a fragile butterfly wing—and so, so easy to screw up. Phono interconnects are usually about a meter in length, and that piece of wire tends to dangle down behind your equipment rack, all mixed up with the power cords and interconnects in an RF-heavy matrix.

Crystal Cable

Maybe you have a gooseneck LED light shining down on your ’table? Well, I hope you’ve routed the wire and transformer well away from the tonearm cable because that’s a potent source of even more radio-frequency interference.

I’ve had phono cables—expensive ones—in my system that acted as antennas, pulling in foreign-language radio stations from other continents. 70dB of gain amplifies the strangest things.

So, while I’m happy to try new phono cables, I always accept them with a bit of trepidation; a sense of unease about what they’ll reveal to me by way of interference. Alien invasion plans? The presence of a CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) spy truck ’round the corner, eavesdropping on my house? Maybe those examples are a bit extreme, but from my viewpoint, the most important job for a phono cable is to keep the outside world at bay.

I recently received a phono cable from Crystal Cable’s Diamond Series 2 Reference2 line for review. As I turned it over in my hands I found myself feeling a touch skeptical. Did this cable’s thin, wispy conductors have what it takes to prevent the rich RF soup that is my basement from leaking in?

Crystal Cable’s Diamond Series 2 is comprised of four separate lines—Piccolo2, Micro2, Reference2, and Ultra2. The Reference2 cable I received retails for $2100 for a 1m (3.3′) pair (all prices in USD). There’s no dedicated phono cable in the Piccolo2 line. A 1m Micro2 phono cable retails for $1170 and a 1m Ultra2 cable for $3850. The four Diamond Series 2 lines are differentiated by the gauge of the conductors, with each higher-priced line using thicker wires.

Crystal Cable

This is a sexy little cable. Each channel consists of a twisted pair of Crystal Cable’s proprietary SG2 conductors, made from a silver-gold alloy. The main conductor itself is silver, with gold atoms injected into the fluid metal structure, filling any microscopic cracks on the surface. The result, according to Crystal Cable, is a homogenous crystal structure. “Our research showed that when gold is mixed with the silver conductor, the conductor transmits the signal better, is more flexible, and stronger,” the company says on its website. “The atoms in the conductor fall into the right place in the lattice, which causes the conductor to get even better as time passes. Many materials lose their distinctive properties and unique qualities over time.”

This solid-core cable is encapsulated first with Teflon, which wraps the conductor itself. The next layer is DuPont Kapton, followed by a shield made from silver-plated copper. The outer jacket is clear Teflon. The RCA connectors on both ends are made by ETI Research to Crystal Cable’s specifications. These connectors feel solid and well made.

The left and right channels merge into a single twisted quad cable about 6.5ʺ down from the connectors, bonded together at that point by a diamond-shaped clamp. There was sufficient slack to allow me to spread apart the two conductors for the DS Audio DS-W3 phono stage, whose inputs are on opposite sides of the rear panel. The conductors themselves are extremely flexible, making installation on my VPI Prime Signature easy.

The Reference2 cable offers a flexible grounding structure. A grounding whisker protrudes from the rear of each channel’s RCA plug. When I first hooked the cable up to my system, I used those two ground wires, each of which is terminated with a small spade connector. I doubled up the spades on the ground screw of the DS-W3 preamp, which was a bit fiddly, but manageable.

Crystal Cable

When I booted up the system, I was greeted by a very small amount of 60Hz hum. Fortunately, Crystal Cable includes a dedicated, separate ground wire with a braided silver conductor in the box. So I unhooked the two vestigial ground wires, connected the separate ground, and re-energized the rack. Hum gone.

There are several grounding options for tonearms (I’m looking at you, Rega). While my VPI seems to work best with a dedicated ground from the tonearm’s screw right into the back of whatever phono stage I’m using, I’ll tip my hat to Crystal Cable for offering different methods.

For the majority of my time with the Reference2, I fed it from my DS Audio DS-W3 cartridge by way of my VPI JMW-10 3D tonearm. The business end of the cable terminated at the DS-W3 phono preamp.

The optical cartridge outputs a much higher voltage than a moving coil. We’re talking 70mV here, as opposed to that anorexic 0.5mV from a moving coil. But 70mV is still very low compared to a DAC’s average of two full volts. What I’ve experienced in my system matches up with my expectations. In an optical system, the differences between phono cables aren’t quite as obvious as they are with a magnetic pickup, where they’re right in your face. I’ve found, though, that it’s still dead easy to differentiate the sound of a phono cable with my current setup.

And the Reference2 clearly has its own sound. Compared to my Nordost Tyr 2 cable—which I’ve used happily for years—the Reference2 floated images more convincingly, positioned clearly in their own space. “Gravity’s Angel,” from Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak (Warner Bros. 25077-1), is my go-to track for phono-cable swaps. It’s got everything—delicate, extended highs; deep, juicy, defined bass; and depth turned in on itself like layers in a fresh croissant.

Swapping in the Reference2 made those images just pop. Especially the Tibetan prayer bells at the start of the track, which gained a crisp feeling of the leading edge of the initial strike of the bell, along with a round mouth-feel on the traveler wave representing the body, the resonance, which trailed off only to be re-energized by the next strike.

Crystal Cable

Likewise with Bill Laswell’s ripe bass. Laswell’s got the most distinctive tone on his bass. On first listen it doesn’t really impress, simply sounding like a well-recorded Fender P-bass. But listen into this track, heck, to the entire Mister Heartbreak album, and you’ll note a huge amount of definition within the catch-and-release sound of Laswell’s fingers on the strings.

Well, I noticed it more via the Reference2 phono cable, which accentuated the actual roundness of the strings, the deep, resonant growl, the bite of the harmonics. Come to think of it, this was the same sort of bonus that the Reference2 conjured up in the highs—it highlighted the leading edges of dynamics and helped sort them out into coherent, differentiated entities.

I just realized it’s been almost a year since I’ve listened to Real Gone (Anti- 87548-1) by Tom Waits (the remixed and remastered one, because why not?). Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and a fresh listen to this abrasive but lovable, huggable record found me just thrilled with how the Reference2 cable added a crisp dimensionality to Marc Ribot’s guitar on “Sins of My Father.” There’s already plenty of crackling energy on his guitar, despite the fact that it sounds like it was recorded in a tiled bathroom down the hall from the rest of the musicians. It opened up though, did Ribot’s guitar, via the Crystal Cable phono cable. I heard a bigger, more stable image, despite the fact that it’s mostly panned way over to the left. Placing instruments and voices perfectly in space was a trick that the Reference2 repeatedly performed for me.

“Like a preacher waving a gun around,” complains Waits on the ludicrous, all-over-the-place “Shake It.” The Reference2 firmed up the outlines of his voice, which can sound somewhat amorphous on this record. Oh, Waits has an in-your-face voice, and it’s larger than life, but the Reference2 cable reined in the outlines, presenting a clearer picture of it.

All of these gains—the tighter focus, the clarity of harmonics, the increased image resolution—were very welcome additions to the arsenal that is my analog front end. However, along with those gains, I received a tiny bit less solidity to the actual framework of the music. With images this tight, the whole musical message was encapsulated into chunks, rather than an organic performance.

Now, the value of this back-and-forth imaging versus soundstage solidity will vary depending on your speakers. Via my own Estelon YBs, the added image crispness was most welcome. With the YG Acoustics Ascents, which are already razor-sharp in their image delineation, I found that the Crystal Cable phono cable went just a hair too far in the same direction, drawing my attention more to each disparate part of the music rather than letting me relax into it.

Crystal Cable

Not to say that the Reference2 combined with the Ascents was anything other than wonderful. No, it’s more that the cable fits best with the Estelons, and like any other piece of gear that you mix and match—even within the same company’s products—you have to season according to your taste.

Despite my microanalysis, I can’t really see how you could be dissatisfied with this cable. It’s well made, competently engineered, and easy to work with—and it sounds great. If you’re interested in adding some imaging snap to your analog front end, you should really take a good long look at—and hopefully a listen to—the Crystal Cable Diamond Series 2 Reference2 phono cable.

. . . Jason Thorpe

Crystal Cable Diamond Series 2 Reference2 Phono Cable
Price: $2100 for 1m pair; $570 for each additional 0.5m.
Warranty: Lifetime.

Crystal Cable
Edisonweg 8
6662 NW Elst
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 481 374 783