I have been fortunate enough to be sent a sample of Chord’s new C-Line interconnect cable. Even though it’s slotted in to their entry level range, the asking price might still put some people off. But, is the cost worth it?
I realise that the subject of expensive cables in Hi-Fis can divide a room pretty swiftly. There are those audiophiles who will swear that cables can make or break the sound of their systems, whilst others will dismiss the idea and happily use sub-tenner interconnects. I agree with the potential difference in quality between anaolgue cables being noticeable in top-flight systems but not so much with HDMI and optical cables as these are just sending zeros and ones down a tube.
The cable debate
These debates have raged for years, but the only true way to solve it, as with anything to do with Hi-Fi, is to use your own ears and go with what works for you. If you have a small to moderate budget I would generally advise that you put your pennies in to getting the best components you can but not spend more than you have to on the interconnects. This is what I’ve always done in order to get the best system I can for my coin. Also I would very much doubt that putting a £500 cable in between a pair of components that cost less than that together would make more of a difference than replacing one of them for something better using that same budget.
Now, I’m not in a position to spend a three-figure sum on connecting my components with some flashy cables, and probably never will be. Spinning my system around you’ll see some Cambridge Audio cable but most of it is from Fisual’s Install series which retails at around £5.50 for 1 metre on Amazon.co.uk for the RCA phonos. I have also used the same series for my optical cables.
All that being said, I am not totally ignorant when it comes to the difference in budget and pro cables. I have been a gigging musician for longer than I haven’t and when you have to rely on everything working first time after dragging it around the country you soon realise that it is always the weakest link which will let you down first. To this end, I will (almost) happily spend £30 on a decent quality lead – so why not on my Hi-Fi?
I guess the fact that once a Hi-Fi lead is plugged in, then it’s in. It doesn’t have to survive being unfurled and then spooled back up regularly, be dragged through spilt beer, trodden on, wrapped around a singer and all those other fun things that can happen on a stage. So is it just the hardiness I am paying extra for in my guitar lead? Of course not, it’s also the strength and quality of signal from my bass to my amp, and then from my amp to the speaker cab.
Again then, why am I settling for a five quid interconnect joining a £500 DAC to a £2,500 amp? Well, in short, it works and the system’s components are revealing more-and-more as they are upgraded – even when these upgrades are only temporary as they steadily get returned after they’ve been reviewed.
On opening the packaging I was presented with two rather handsome white cables which terminated in blue ends and gold connectors. I am a sucker for the blue and white colour scheme – this has even been brought across in the PC I built this year!
Where all my other interconnects have been stereo, in that they are two cables joined, the Chord cables come as individual leads marked with red and black just under the blue section.
The other, perhaps more important, markings are the arrows printed on the cable sheath. Yes, the C-Line cables are directional. This is down to them being pseudo-balanced and these type of interconnects are always directional i.e. the screen and return path must be connected at the ‘source’ end for them to work best.
The Chord Company has definitely produced some seemingly well-built and good-looking cables here. For that alone, I might consider increasing my budget to £20 per cable. May be.
Could the C-Line interconnect make £40’s worth of difference to my ears?
Before going in to this test I didn’t think that my system would reveal any difference between the Fisual and the Chord cables. Yes, the Arcam irDAC and Musical Fidelity M6si are excellent components, and the Tannoy Mercury V1i are capable speakers, but is this line-up sensitive enough for a fairly slight cable upgrade to be audible?
Fisual Install Vs Chord C-Line
I tested the interconnects by playing a range of CDs on my Oppo BDP-93EU which is hooked up to the irDAC using one of Fisual’s optical cables and then, from the irDAC’s output I ran the Fisual and Chord cables to the M6si in turn.
- 1,2 to the Bass – Stanley Clarke
- Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
- Sun – Lamb
- Cosmic Love – Florence and the Machine
Ideally I would have liked to have performed a ‘blind test’ where the cables were swapped without me knowing which ones I was listening to but my glamorous assistant was busy working so I had to perform the switching myself.
I was not hoping for either cable to come out on top. In fact, my predicted outcome was that there would not be any discernible difference in performance between either set.
Again, the results are according to my ears, in my living room using components that I have currently set up – but I could actually hear a difference. Yeah, that surprised me too.
I am not talking about an earth-shattering difference nor one that has had me ordering the C-Line to replace all my other interconnects – although I may do, bit-by-bit.
I noticed that with the Chord Company C-Line in the chain everything seemed more balanced, and a few degrees warmer than the Fisual. Being a bassist it was the Stanley Clarke track where I first noticed the difference. The vocals and bass line seemed livelier, more live, and the drum track sharper.
When Dusty’s rich soulful vocals took me through Son of a Preacher Man the C-Lines brought her even closer to almost being in the room with me.
Each time I switched back to the Fisuals I wanted, and really tried, to negate what my brain was telling me about the Chord cables. But there was a slightly dead and clinical feel now with the Fisuals. Something I had never noticed before and, if I had to put them back in, I would be able to live with it but, given the option, I would opt for the C-Lines every time.
If you have a modest system, investing in expensive cables may not be the best or most intelligent way to spend your money. Cables, certainly in the case of Fisual Install Vs The Chord Company C-Line, can make a difference, but it will always be a smaller difference than upgrading speakers, electronics, or your turntable.
If you already have a decent system that you are really happy with then I would say that cables would be the next logical upgrade step and, for a relatively small outlay, I would definitely recommend checking out the C-Line interconnects. Who knows, I might even take a look at their guitar cable – well, I might just add that or some C-Lines to my Christmas list.