I have been trying to write this review for a couple of months now. “Why has it taken you so long?” I hear you ask over the ether.
Well, it was the ‘angle’ (I believe real journalists call it) that I was approaching this at. The thing is, I realise how contentious the subject of cables can be.
Post anything regarding cables over a certain price on any forum and stand well back. This is a consistent occurrence and a prime way of getting things started if a thread go quiet. But, why is this?
I think most people will agree that there are such things as poor, better, and good cables. Yes, they will all pretty much do the same job but to varying degrees. Just as I can buy cheap sticky tape (Sellotape being a brand), an affordable alternative or one that will actually stick things together and not peel itself back off again.
As a wise man once said “Anything we have between two Hi-Fi components can never add to the quality, but subtract.” So, cables are all about damage limitation, right?
The thing that triggers cablegeddon seems to be when the prices go beyond a certain level. But, this stands for most things where we can’t actually ‘see’ where the money is going.
In an expensive Swiss watch there is the ‘craftsmanship’ and hundreds of years of tradition. You’ve the passion poured in to Italian and British sports cars.
According to some of the responses to my Facebook post above the words used to describe the properties of some cables leaves people cold. Yes there might be hyperbole and overly flowery language used and some might even use scientific/pseudo scientific terminology – but so does many industries. Everything from shampoo to yogurt, from video to motoring, will have a marketing campaign based on this.
If a more expensive shampoo makes you feel more confident because you’re convinced your hair looks fab – great. Do you need to know the true science behind it? If your hair looks better to you, and even get some compliments from others, then you’ll be satisfied.
We work, we get by and then die. That is, if we don’t have something to be passionate about. My problem is, I have many interests that generally need feeding with coin. Why should I spend it on cables then?
My main stipulation for going above my usual price threshold is quality. Well, that’s a rather blanket term isn’t it? Unfortunately, the word has been bandied about so much it has pretty much lost all meaning. Then there’s ‘perceived quality’ and ‘actual quality’. This is getting off-topic and more convoluted than I had planned – and that takes some doing.
All I was intending to outline, before getting in to reviewing these cables, was that even though our goals may be similar, our routes may take us on different journeys.
Chord Company C-series review
This may shock some, disappoint others or be of absolutely no interest to everyone. So, I’ll just come out and say it.
There has been no blind testing. Yeah, I know!
My other half, as long as there is sound coming out of the speakers, really could not care less about what connects the Hi-Fi together; or what the components are. She has even less interest in how everything is connected.
One of the things I have been pacing up and down about is what kind of review this should be.
You know what? If you are looking for a break down of the benefits of each cable there are places to go. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being mean here. I love you all. But, there are sites that can give scientific readings regarding phase, resistance, noise floor and so on. For each and every site that will instill the virtues of a certain cable, you can guarantee there’ll be another ‘debunking’ those very claims.
I am not an ‘audiophile’. However, for the past 29 years I have been writing, performing and recording in many bands of different genres at different levels. I have a decent ear, two even, and that’s all I am going by. After all, that’s also how I buy my kit. If it sounds better than what’s being replaced to me. Then I will buy it.
So, instead of following the Hi-Fi review standard protocol, I am going to do this wholesale. If you want more insight in to the individual aspects of the cables mentioned, Hifi Pig could well be an ideal start.
I have some nice stuff, some average stuff and some basic stuff in my Hi-Fi. This is not me intentionally over- or under-selling what I have. I am pleased with what I have been able to put together thus far. My plans this year is to pick up some new (to me) speakers in the not too distant future.
What I have plugged the Chord Company interconnects and speaker cables in to is as follows:
- Musical Fidelity M6si amp
- Musical Fidelity V90 HPA headphone amp
- Musical Fidelity V90 Blu Bluetooth receiver
- Arcam irDAC
- TEAC V-395CHX cassette player
- Oppo BDP-93EU disc player
- Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro laptop streaming audio from a QNAP TS-251 NAS loaded with 8TB of WD Red
- Tannoy Mercury V1i speakers
What the C-line, C-lite, and C-USB are replacing is truly a variety of legacy cables and upgrades spanning a number of years.
Cambridge Audio (bought when I had to buy a new system when I split from my ex), Fisual Pro Install (I needed some quickly and because Amazon Prime), Audioquest Evergreen (to replace some bundled RCAs I was using).
Yes, they all still function. But most of these did replace the kind of nondescript RCAs that come free with some gear. Surely a company wouldn’t throw in any old rubbish with the component you’ve bought? If that is the case, is everyone reading this still using their freebies? If you are, and you’re happy with them. That’s cool.
If you’re not and you’ve replaced them with something else, well that’s cool too.
Chord Company cables
As well as the C- cables there is also a Shawline RCA pair and a Power Chord power line cable in there. Joining my kit to the speakers are some Epic Speaker Cables.
I have reviewed the C-line before when I just replaced one set of RCAs with the Chord Company cable.
I am a very busy guy so it is rare that I can enjoy more than a couple of hours at a time listening to music. I might manage an album or two whilst cooking and perhaps grab time before bed.
So, over a month or two I reckon these cables are all nicely burned/bedded in. I have also set aside some quality listening time.
So, all the cables are ‘used’ now. I have some quiet time alone with no distractions and I can also pull the Hi-Fi rack out and generally make the living-room a mess without being berated for it.
I start off with a quick blast of ‘The Grudge’ by Tool with the cables I have been using for the past couple of years. Everything sounded good to me, I will freely admit. The intro comes through with purpose. The breakdown, with the guitar drone whilst the bass and drums push through, is tense. Then, building through the initial vocals and crescendo before the solo bass takes over. Personally this album opening track still gives me tingles.
With that locked in to my brain I swiftly replaced the interconnects between my disc spinner, DAC and amp, as well as the speaker cables, for the Chord Company ones. That means the optical cable to the DAC is now the C-lite, from the DAC to the amp is the C-line and the speaker cables are the Epics.
The opening sound of the lift (elevator, if you prefer) is slightly more pronounced now. The rhythm also seems to come in more cleanly. More distinct. I go back to the ‘legacy’ cables but leaving the Epics in. I’m not certain now but I also don’t want to force myself to have an opinion.
I try ‘Frosti’ by Bjork. Again, all seems well with my trusty old cables. After the twinkly little instrumental has finished it’s all change again. Once more the Chord cables appear to be sharper and more defined.
Keeping them in I try another Bjork track. This time ‘Pagan Poetry’ glides through my speakers. The sound is wide and clear even though the track is quite sparse.
Switching back to the older set of cables, the backing vocals seem to be further back. Also the beats aren’t quite as angular.
In order to test out the C-USB (I can sense the anticipation from the “does it make your zeros rounder and ones straighter?” snark brigade), I move to my NAS.
The C-USB is a good looking and quality feeling cable. One end is plugged in to my Yoga 2 Pro and the other in to the Arcam irDAC.
The opening chords of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (FLAC) by Bowie fill the room. It sounds, well, it sounds like Bowie’s Ziggy. It’s clear and defined and just as I remember it. I swap out the Chord Company USB for my usual one and press play again.
Through my kit (I went back and forth a couple of times) I really couldn’t discern a noticeable and consistent difference. Again, I am not wanting to force or will a difference either way. Pair the cable with the amazing Prism Callia and some other speakers, you might hear a difference between cables. Not here though.
Yes, I still have tapes and a cassette player. I never got rid of my LPs and Singles, I still have Mini Discs and I still have tapes. I am not a hipster, I’m more of a hoarder!
The C-line is going from my TEAC and in to the M6si. Thomas Dolby’s ‘The Golden Age of Wireless’ is the first tape to go in. As ‘She Blinded me with Science’ (quite apt) starts it takes me right back. The sound is warmer than the CD version I have on a compilation but still good.
I swap out the C-line for the general black RCAs I’ve had in the back of the deck previously. Rewind. Play. There is instantly a noticeable loss in the mid range. Going back to the white cables and everything is how it should be once more.
On goes Tesla’s ‘Mechanical Resonance’ – this tape got a lot of hammer as it was rarely out of my van. I have listened to the LP version recently and the tape didn’t sound as urgent. I tried the Chord cables and there was an improvement but still not as lively as my record. My tape player might need some servicing.
I have not upgraded the phonos from my turntable. Part of the reason is that I am toying with the idea of either buying a new (to me) deck or possibly updating what I have (platter, cartridge, etc).
So, the only difference in my record chain are the speaker cables.
Bowie again, this time ‘Blackstar’. I start with my original speaker cable (12 gauge twisted OFC – 294 Strands Tinned Oxygen Free Copper per conductor) and I am already lost in the album. Vocals are clear and the timing taught.
I replace the speaker cable with the Epic and, again, the album seems fuller. Moments of silence seem… more so. Yes, I can hear you saying that bell wire is perfectly good for speakers but this is what I am noticing. By myself. Listening.
My original speaker wire is 7 meters either side (that’s what I needed in the previous flat as I was limited where I could put the speakers). The Epic is 2 meters a side. Does 5 meters either side make an audible difference? I don’t know as my friend wants the long cables for his studio.
Why the heck not. In for a penny…
My final bit of testing has another item that will no doubt set the cat amongst the pigeons.
Before that though, I removed the C-line RCA from between my DAC and Amp and replaced it with another Chord Company cable – the Shawline.
I played a selection of CDs through both the Shawline and C-line cables (the C-lite stayed attached between disc player and DAC) and there was another incremental improvement with the Shawline. Not the kind that will have me standing on street corners preaching about it, but one that is noticable enough to me in my rig.
Needless to say, I have left it in and will do so until asked for it to be returned.
Power Chord cable
When I visited the Bristol Show a few weeks ago I was handed one of these to try out. I know physics (it was the only O Level I got) enough to understand what the nay-sayers are saying.
My Hi-Fi is plugged in to a ‘Mains Conditioner’ from a company that I have out of curiosity. I never reviewed it as, other than feeling like a quality item, it didn’t seem to bring anything else to the party. I admit, it was less than £40 and, as far as I know, no longer available.
To my surprise, my Hi-Fi sounded brighter. I actually exclaimed this on Facebook to which someone responded that a few people have said the high end does cut through more before they settle in. News to me.
I have had it plugged in since coming back from Bristol and I am happy with it. Is it bringing something mind-blowing to my system? Not to my ears. Is there an improvement over my standard ‘kettle plug’? I actually do believe so.
Chord Company cable review conclusion
I still maintain that components and speakers will bring you the best upgrades for your money. Offer me the Callia DAC or the equivalent in cables and there will be a new DAC in my system. £2k on cables or a voucher to spend at a speaker or turntable manufacturer of my choice… you get the idea.
That is not to say that I don’t believe that cables can make a difference. I have been to enough demonstrations (not always controlled by a member of staff from the cable company) where I have heard the difference between cables that I can’t deny it any longer. Some are minor improvements and some so noticeable I’ve actually questioned my own ears.
Compared to a lot of systems I know mine not be that fancy. To others it might be a step or two above. I am more than happy with what I have and do not take any of it for granted.
Do I think that the Chord Company cables have made an improvement to my system? I am sorry to say – yes. Yes, I do.
It’s not an earth-shattering, OMG moment but I can certainly hear a difference. I am really looking forward to picking up my next speakers to hear if the differences are any more pronounced.
If you have a system that you have taken to as far as you can, I recommend you at least try a cable upgrade in your own home. You might hear an improvement. Just don’t take my, or anyone else’s for that matter, word for it. At around £35 for the C-line, it’s not going to bankrupt you either.
Chord Company cable prices
- C-line RCA – from £35
- C-lite Optical – from £35
- C-USB USB – from £50
- Shawline RCA – from £180
- Power Chord mains cable – from £200