Electro-Voice 'Cristal' Speakers
House trained studio speakers?
Gary Cooper discovers a House-Trained Monitor...
Trying to find suitable speakers for the dual role that musicians impose on them, both as home recording monitors and revealing Hi-Fi speakers, is growing increasingly confusing. A currently strong trend among manufacturers and retailers alike is the promotion of tiny 'near-field' monitors for this role, the usual claim being that they'll serve both purposes. But are these near-field types really capable of delivering what the musician requires? Some of them might be, but I'd argue that the typical near-field speaker is almost always the wrong tool for this job.
The use of near-field mini-speakers grew from the adoption of Auratones, which began to swamp studios back in the 1970s. The idea behind their use is that they enable the producer/engineer to duplicate the sort of sound that the average radio or cheap Hi-Fi user will hear when he plays your record or tape on his relatively low quality domestic equipment. This is all well and good, but of course not all listeners have rubbish Hi-Fi or £5 transistor radios; and, perhaps more to the point, you'd always do your major studio monitoring on conventionally critical monitors first, using near-field types for a final check later on. As you can see, relying on deliberately domestic sounding speakers as your sole source of information could be a dodgy proposition. So where do you go from there? Back to ordinary Hi-Fi speakers? Are they good enough?
What musicians need are speakers of a quality to enable them to isolate individual instruments from record or tape so that they can accurately hear what is being played (a blurry bass is no use to players trying to learn a bass part). Moreover, when home recording, we need to be able to hear exactly what is going down on tape. This means an accurate speaker, yet one which doesn't make music sound lifeless and flat — any of that latter tendency, and listening fatigue soon sets in. Hunting round for a suitable speaker for this job, we recently came across Electro-Voice's Cristals. We could (and probably will at some later date) have chosen their renowned Sentry 100As to review, but as they are a fair bit more costly we thought we'd examine one of E-V's theoretically domestic speakers, the Cristals, instead.
Electro-Voice's Cristal speakers are what most Hi-Fi buffs would call 'shelf' types. They measure approx. 10.2" x 19.2" x 9.2" and weigh a mere 17-18 lbs. Well finished, the E-Vs come in a choice of either 'walnut vinyl' with a detachable brown grille, or in 'black oak' vinyl, in which eventuality they have black grilles.
A two-way design (in other words, two speakers with a frequency dividing crossover), the Cristals are fitted with one 8" bass/mid polypropylene diaphragm driver plus a high-frequency tweeter measuring 1" in diameter. As ever with E-V speakers, the enclosure design has been calculated along the seminal Thiele/Small parameters and affords a 28 litre volume, having a top mounted reflex porting to optimise the cabinet's performance. The Cristals will take an amazing amount of power. E-V recommend a maximum input of an astonishing 250 watts (for 10ms. admittedly!). More to the point, they suggest using these speakers with amps ranging from 3.6 to 250 watts output. We reckon that any good-quality power amp (say a Quad 405 or 303, a Harrison HIT 300, an HH or similar, not to mention any decent Japanese Hi-Fi amp of a minimum of, say, 45 watts per side) would suit ideally. For the record (ho ho!) we tested our sample Cristals with a Hafler preamp, a Sunn SPL6800 (250w per side) power amp, a Yamaha MT1X cassette multitracker, a Clarion XD-5500 ditto, a Technics direct drive deck with an SME arm and Ortofon cartridge and, of course, a fair quantity of 'live' instruments.
Whatever else you expect, don't anticipate that traditional, middly-bottomy, British Hi-Fi sound that so many domestic Hi-Fi speakers deliver. Forget, too, the typical harsh and unnatural Japanese sound — these E-Vs are something altogether different, and different in a way that will delight most musicians, I suspect. To start with they're great Rock speakers — both bass and the lower synthesiser notes are reproduced with a clarity and detail that is rare among Hi-Fi speakers with few exceptions (maybe KEFs and some Missions, for example). They're loud, too, appearing to have exceptional efficiency; which means, of course, that you can save money on amplifier power if volume is what you're after.
In terms of being able to hear every instrument from either records or commercial tapes, the Cristals are superb. Even some of the ancient and rather dodgy recorded material with which we tested the E-Vs (in particular hideously recorded 'live' Joe Walsh and Neil Young albums) were sufficiently clearly reproduced to enable us to make out drum and bass parts, buried in the mixes as they were, for learning purposes. Likewise when we subjected the Cristals to the results of multitracked cassette work recorded Chez IT Cat, every nuance of the recordings was faithfully reproduced. The superb clarity of these E-Vs enabled us to ensure that no unwanted noise levels or mistakes had got down either on tape or in the mix.
It's all well and good using mini speakers and saying, in effect, 'if we can't hear faults on these, neither will our eventual listeners', but this approach can lead to awfully embarrassing experiences in A&R offices, when your prized demo tape, monitored on tiny speakers, is replayed through a whacking great set of studio monitors which reveal faults you've never even guessed at! This is where using speakers like these Cristals scores every time. The Cristals are amazingly neutral for the price, far more accurate than most purely Hi-Fi types, and they sound more like good studio monitors than you'd normally associate with what, after all, the manufacturer calls a domestic product Even on fast and punchy transients (for example, a beautifully recorded Bill Bruford drum track we tried them with) they stay distortion-free with a clarity and reproduction of the dynamics that's exceptional.
For the musician who wants a small-ish speaker for Hi-Fi and/or home recording purposes, I can't recommend these E-V Cristals too highly. Our only worry is that they may not be too easily available; certainly not in your average High St. Hi-Fi shop (they're too busy flogging duff Japanese 'high-rise' mini stereo systems to the tone deaf!). Neither are you likely to find these Cristals yet in many home recording specialist shops, although London's Turnkey, we're glad to report, does stock them.
If you're after a new set of speakers, give these E-V Cristals a try. I think you'll appreciate them!
RRP £342.70 (per pair) inc. VAT
More details on all Electro-Voice products from Shuttlesound, (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!