Saturday, October 12, 2013

Clarus Crimson Speaker Wire Review

Claris Sound of Orlando, FL, is the high-end daughter company of Tributaries® Cable. The Clarus line of cables is assembled in the USA using ultra-quality foreign and domestic parts.  In Part 2 of the Clarus Cable reviews, I will review the 4-meter Clarus Crimson Bi-wire Speaker cable – spade lug version, Part Number CCA-010D (MSRP of about $6,400 for a pair). This cable was allowed to “burn in” to the manufacturer’s suggested play time of at least 120 hours before final evaluation.

The audio evaluation system consists of an OPPO BDP-105 Bluray player (firmware version 58-0719) directly connected to a highly-modified McIntosh MC2100 power amplifier via this Clarus Crimson 1-meter cable.  Both devices are connected directly to a modified PowerVar ABC1200-11 Line Conditioner (ground loops removed, all terminal lugs soldered). The speakers are a pair of highly modified Bozak B-302A speakers bi-wired to the McIntosh amp via my own hand-made 3-meter Litz speaker wires.

All evaluations were done in the evening after the sun had set for at least one hour, all window shades drawn, and all furniture in exactly the same position.  Everything that could have influenced change from external and environmental sources was eliminated so that “apples were consistently compared to apples.”


The Clarus Crimson speaker cables (designed by Jay Victor) are very attractively bundled in a flat ribbon-like configuration, although the contents of the cable are anything but flat. Each conductor contains a variety of wire sizes, shapes, and orientations; each conductor insulated from any other; and each wire strand is sized specifically to better handle a given frequency range much like a passive crossover network does for a loudspeaker. The custom-designed wire is produced in China and the cables are assembled in Orlando, Florida USA.  Below is a view inside of what makes up one of these cables.

Clarus Crimson Speaker Cable Internals

I must begin with a note about wire. Many speaker wire manufacturers offer PCOCC stranded copper wire in 12AWG values, others may offer flat wire, and still others silver-plated individually-insulated configurations, but this manufacturer takes the art of designing speaker cable to entirely new level. All other loudspeaker wire manufacturers employ off-the-shelf wiring configurations to create their own cables, that is, they use whatever strand configuration is available from a wire manufacturer and change up that single strand design to their specifications. But no other manufacturer has currently created a loudspeaker wire from scratch using multiple strand configurations to their unique specifications. Let me say that again since it is highly worthy of note: NO ONE ELSE IN THE BUSINESS MAKES THEIR WIRE LIKE THIS. It is truly unique in the classic definition of this word, something welcomed to the high-end wire manufacturing industry.

This wire is so different from any other it is difficult to fathom how something so innocuous could impact the ability of an amplifier to accurately transfer its signals to the speakers. Despite the numerous double-blind tests that unequivocally prove under the conditions of that test no difference can be reliably detected between #18AWG zip cord and other exotic wire claims. Skeptics in this regard are 100% correct: wire is wire when tested in this manner.

However, audiophiles continually insist that these double-blind tests are somehow flawed and that exotic wire does make an audible difference. Such believers are relegated by skeptics to the same category as snake oil and flying pigs. But then skeptics rarely own high-end systems and until one becomes familiar with the sonic signature of that system can one’s ear be trained to discern those subtle but audible differences. Such training takes time and once this level of familiarity is achieved, audiophiles prefer this wire over that wire because they are able to hear these differences.

And so the battle ensues. I recently held a listening party at my home for the Suncoast Audiophile Society whose members included wire skeptics and supports, of which one skeptic came from the well-known Boston Audio Society. This person had participated in such listening tests before as did other skeptical members and although the evaluation was not performed scientifically, every single person at this party easily heard differences in wires although these differences were reported differently by these members. For example, one person may have heard an emphasis in the treble region while another heard an increased size of the sound stage. Regardless of what these individuals heard, they all left with a new respect for the assertion of wire-difference believers, something that was unexpected.

Personally, I have heard many differences in wires and the Clarus Crimson cables are definitely in that category. These wires are about as different sounding to #18AWG zip cord as tubes are to transistors. So let’s see what the hubbub is all about.


First, let me say that the Clarus Crimson speaker cables take a VERY, VERY long time to burn in. Recommended burn in by the manufacturer is 120 hours and I believe that to be a low-ball figure. I found that after 200 hours, things settled down and the minor changes in their sound finally stabilized. Be patient; be patient; be patient!

Initially these cables sound fine but nothing about them significantly improved the sound over my reference hand-made speaker cables. For example, initially the lower-bass (not the deep bass) was a bit thin and the mid-bass a bit thick. Instruments that should have a full-bodied sound were less full than my reference speaker cables. This minor deficiency drew attention to the middle-to-upper bass region and created a heightened sense of midrange presence. Also during this break-in period, the front-to-back depth, while considerably better than most speaker cables, was not as good as my reference cables. However the sound stage was still deep, tall, and wide with adequate time they finally removed this shortcoming.

At one point during this break-in period, there was a sharp lower treble peak so irritating and unwieldy that it made me suspect there was something wrong with my gear. After checking things out, nothing was awry and back into the mode of patience and perseverance I lapsed. As time progressed, all of these shortcomings fell by the wayside one by one and the true sound of these cables began to shine through. After 200 hours there is still a residual minor emphasis in high sibilance region where the harmonics of “S” sounds are slightly exaggerated.

The attack and decay of these cables are very good to excellent above the midrange but a little slower than my reference cables in the bottom octaves. For example, the 1996 Cirque du Soliel performance of Taiko by Asano (Mistere – Live at Las Vegas, track 12, Catalog #20009), there is a punch in these drums that should reveal the timbre of the drum sticks striking the skins. With the Clarus, the drums sound small and sterile and with my reference cables they sound fuller and hollow with a sharp rap appearing just prior to the full note. The skin resonances are also slightly muted with the Clarus and not with my reference cables.

Another COMP is that these are some really big hunks of wire. Ribbon-like in appearance, they do lay flat on the floor and do not attract too much attention. But for those dealing with the Wife-Approval-Factor (or Spouse-Approval-Factor as the case may be), these cables may be a hard sell despite their audio appeal. Hopefully acceptance by both parties will overlook this minor inconvenience. The photograph below shows how large these cables are along with the home-made cable elevators fashioned from foam rubber pipe elevators.

Clarus Crimson Speaker Cables with DIY Elevators

The last COMP I can make is not really a compromise about this cable but rather a comment on the effects of climbing higher on the high-end audio ladder. As you climb higher up this ladder, you get achieve a playback system that is very revealing and brutally divulges which recordings are good and which are – well let’s say that with less-refined equipment your critical-listening music collection is larger. With these cables, your critical-listening music collection will probably shrink and while a PRO to some, it is a COMP to others. For example, poor studio recordings will sound worse than ever while a well-known quality recording will sound better than ever before. Since there are so many bad recordings out there, you will most likely be less tolerant of them since any graininess or edginess will come through loud and clear, and then quickly demoted to the so-so recording category.


Deep bass is very strong and very clear making explosions in movies, large organs, and bass drums sound much cleaner than with my reference speaker wires. This give the overall effect of the wires being “louder” and I presume that this effect is contributed not only by strand design but also by a larger effective wire size than my reference wires (12AWG for the Clarus vs. 14AWG for my reference wires). The 4-ohm woofers in my system benefited greatly from the lower insertion losses encountered with my old reference speaker wires and the sound was far crisper with the Crimson cables. Whatever the reason, this effect will literally hit you over the head and is the biggest change you should initially notice when swapping to these wires. But there is more, much more.

The midrange attack and decay of these cables is excellent and this is what these cables do best.  Rise and fall times of plucked-stringed instruments is uncanny revealing inner details to the point where you can almost see the guitar player’s thumb sliding on the spiral wrap an instant before the note sounds.  This is the first time I have ever heard such midrange clarity and another significant asset for these cables.  Vocals are also silky and very tube-like in content convincingly conveying whispers and subtle hushes in breathing in between measures.

Background and low-level details are also convincingly above the noise floor so well-recorded 44KHz/16-bit digital recordings sound fuller than you probably have ever heard. Images are rock solid in three-dimensional space and the character of the performance is greatly revealed. For example, the brush-whisks in the Crimson in Turtle Records’ SACD recording of the band Jungle Boldie. Track 1 “Dancing the Waves” is reproduced with excellent inner detailing and physical character of the brass cymbal. While yielding a superb luster and sheen, they fall just a bit short in that subtle top-octave sparkle to adequately reveal the inner detailing of the metal-on-metal swishing brushes. This may be a flaw in my speakers rather than a COMP in the cables; of this characteristic I am uncertain.

The energetic Jungle Boldie performance of the bass clarinet, double bass, and drums are all nicely balanced in this recording providing enough quiet time between bars to appreciate the resonances of these masterfully played instruments. The Clarus cables reveal these nuances in the echoes as the sounds decay magnifying what many other cables overlook. Putting it another way, reverberations are longer and subtleties in echoes are just silkily revealed.

In the 44/16 Buedi Siebert recording of “Pyramid Call” (Real Music Catalog #4060), in track 3 Feather of Truth about a minute into the performance Beudi sharply breathes into the flute creating an eerie echo that reverberates for several seconds. With the Clarus cables, you are able to hear the throaty lower-frequency sound of the flute die off along with the higher frequency content without getting lost or masked by these other sounds. During this echo, you should be able to hear the full size of your system’s sound stage; the Clarus cables delineate this characteristic very well on my system.

Nuances in other background details were also effortlessly extracted. For example, in the Analog Productions SACD recording of “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd (CAPP 33453 SA), Track 4 Wish you Were Here starts with an intentional cough in the background. With the Clarus cables, I found myself hoping that this mildly raspy cough effectively cleared the phlegm (I hallucinated from its sound that it could be that yellowish hacked glob as opposed to that nasty thick green junk), an unanticipated emotion after hearing this cough many, many times before. This reaction gave me pause: what does it take to reveal enough information about a simple cough to stir that emotion? The answer I speculated would be a convincing enough acoustic recreation to align my personal experiences with that one. Although a gross explanation, it is one to which we can all relate: we all have done this. The question remains: how well does your system stir your emotions into empathy for this cough? Enough said.

Low midrange and upper bass colorations are also minimal with these speaker cables and bass percussion is a good test of how to hear if speaker cables color or alter these sounds. For example, higher-resistance speaker cables (typically thin and tiny in physical size) will usually cause the bass to sound flabby and muddy while those with lower resistance (i.e., thicker and larger) will sound tighter and cleaner. If you start with #18 zip cord on your speakers and then move to #14 zip cord, you may notice that the bass becomes tighter and better defined. This is because the resistance of the wire goes down and the amount of power “stolen” by the speaker wires also goes down (meaning that less power is consumed by the wires and more goes to the speakers where it should). With the Clarus Crimson cables, more amplifier power is going to your speakers and resulting lower coloration reveals the quality of the Clarus design considerations.

For example, the deep round hollow resonant sounds created by large Tibetan Bells or large Crystal Bowls are a very nice test of this particular frequency range. In his album “Healing Bowls” (44/16 Xonic Music catalog number 51), artist Xumantra on track 3 Three Wise Women uses slow deliberate techniques to create low midrange and upper bass resonances between bells. Listening carefully to these resonances you can hear the character of the bell change as the notes wax and wane. The first bell has a fundamental frequency of 113Hz by softly rapping it with a padded stick. Rapping it with the bare stick creates a 657Hz note. Other fundamental notes played are 220Hz and 253Hz and harmonic content becomes multiples of these values (2x, 4x, etc.). A really good speaker cable should resolve the fundamental frequency and all of its harmonic content without smear or overemphasis. The Clarus easily reveals these details.


This is the part of my reviews I enjoy and one that I hope you do too. After listening to the virtues of the Clarus Crimson speaker cables, I was very interested in finding out what my RTA meter told me and – as usual – the differences were measureable but not as evident as what I heard. Below are the two measurements showing the Clarus Crimson cables in RED and my reference speaker cables in GREEN. Measurement points that are identical are shown in YELLOW.

 Again to explain the apparent bass loss measured in my system, my RTA has absolute inaccuracies in the frequencies below 125Hz, however, the relative differences are measurable and on these relative differences is what one should focus. One day this problem will be a distant memory.

There are about 17 places where the two measured absolutely identical and the big differences between these two cables begin to show up at frequencies above 150Hz and below 40Hz. The Clarus cables measure more deep bass energy under 40Hz and this effect was also observed as cleaner deep bass. Overall the Clarus cables also measured a little louder through the entire band, also noted in the subjective observations. And the top octave above 8KHz was a smidge softer again reported above as a de-emphasis in the metal-to-metal brush whisks. The Clarus cables measured more uniform than my old reference speaker wires in that high/low deviations were not as great also noted in the ambiance and inner detailing capabilities.

The only place the Clarus cables measured lower than my old reference wires was in the 250-350Hz band and may be what I heard as a minor loss of detailing in this region.


Swapping speaker cables is a simple way to improve the audio quality of your entire system. While some skeptics persist in believing that wire is wire, let those folks be happy with what they believe. For those of you who want more, definitely try changing your speaker cables. Moving up the audiophile ladder to the right cable for your system can yield countless hours of enjoyment for a reasonable investment.

The Clarus Crimson bi-wire speaker cables are real charmers and after adequate break-in will set you back on your heels. What low-level information they are capable of revealing is staggering and switching back to your old speaker wires after a month of listening to the Clarus will tell you more about how good these cables really are. It’s not that you old cables were probably THAT bad to begin with, it’s just that the Clarus cables are that much better.

After another month of listening to my old reference speaker wires, I find myself still comparing what I now hear to what I heard with the Clarus cables. This is a good indication to me that there is something missing with my old reference speaker wires that I found more pleasing with the Clarus Crimson cables. Your experiences may be much the same as mine. I admit that getting over the sticker shock and settling into their sound took quite a while and I was glad that I had these cables on loan for those wonderful 6 weeks. Without that amount of time to appreciate their strengths I could have dismissed them as another over-priced toy for those wishing to toss their money needlessly into the wind. But the Clarus Crimson cables are indeed worth the money.

Like anything you enjoy, what you spend on your audiophile hobby it is relative to what you earn. I would not expect these speaker cables to improve the sound of a low-budget or mediocre system. If your system is up there with the best of the thoroughbreds, give these cables a serious audition. What they do well is just about everything and what they compromise is easily overshadowed by their extreme virtues. You will probably hear things from your system that you never heard before, something that is rarely achieved in this industry prone to so much snake oil.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

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