The Chord Company Cream instrument cable review
The Chord Company have made their name by producing some very impressive, not to mention expensive, audiophile grade Hi-Fi cables. It was with some interest that I noticed that they also make cables for instruments. Could they actually make a difference?
The Cream Cable (guess what colour it is) is typical of how The Chord Company operates.
If you’ve played an electric instrument, chances are you’ve had a lead that makes a noise when you move it. That’s not going to fly with this bunch. Also they wanted to produce a cable you could rely on, one that wouldn’t die after a few gigs.
As you would guess, producing a cable with great sound quality for this company should be fairly straightforward; Chord could adapt the principles they used to develop their audio interconnects.
Mechanical noise, the crackling you might get when moving your lead, could be sorted too by Chord as part of their remit with their audio cables is to minimise or eliminate mechanical noise.
The Cream Cable difference
The vast majority of instrument leads are built from coaxial cables. A coaxial cable has a central set of conductors surrounded by an insulation material, which in turn is surrounded by a shield of some sort. To get some idea of how this design would look, think about an aerial cable. The central conductors carry the signal and the shield carries the return path that completes the circuit.
This style of cable design is relatively cheap and easy to produce, and is pretty much the way the majority of available instrument cables are built. If you go to the cheaper end of cables then you can be sure that the conductor material and the insulation will be of poor quality – the same goes for, if not more so, the quality of shielding.
Most shields are woven around the insulation surrounding the central conductor. The tightness of the weave will affect the cable’s ability to reject interference. A loose weave will not function particularly well in terms of interference rejection and it is also more likely to be subject to mechanical noise.
The Chord Cream Cable uses a different configuration best described as pseudo-balanced, like the interconnects I reviewed not so long ago. You may recall that this doesn’t mean that the lead is a balanced cable. Instead, it refers to conductor configuration. Instead of a single central conductor, there are two sets of identical, separately insulated conductors, twisted around each other.
One set of conductors carries the signal from the instrument and the other set of conductors are used to complete the circuit and provide a return path. This conductor configuration is far more typical of high-performance interconnects and is therefor said to be more capable of accurately carrying tone and dynamics.
The type of material chosen to insulate the conductors will affect the characteristics of the cable too. Chord use low-density polyethylene insulation. Through the use of this material in their interconnect range, Chord know that this offers a good performance.
In order to minimise mechanically induced noise, these conductors are surrounded with multiple strand cotton spacers and around these is a high-density woven shield, which minimises external interference. The shield is connected at the end of the cable that is plugged in to the amplifier and is not part of the circuit.
All of this is wrapped in a soft PVC jacket, which in turn is surrounded by a hard PVC gloss finish outer jacket. This also adds to reduce mechanical interferance as well as increasing reliability. I am not sure if cream was the best colour for a gigging cable but, so far, the Chord Cream Cable appears to be resistant to scuffing and dirt. That said, I have yet to take it to a typical pub gig 😉
The Chord Cream Cable terminates in the latest version of the Neutrik slimline ¼ inch jack and you have the choice of either straight or right-angled versions.
The Chord Cream Cable review
I have been gigging in bands for longer than I haven’t and, through the years, have used many different cables. Curly and straight, day-glow neon, whatever the shop had, studio cast-offs and, more recently, have ventured around the £30 bracket.
The two leads that live in my gig bag permanently these days are a Proel Pro lead which, like the Chord, is fitted with Neutrik jacks, and a Spectraflex Original series braided number.
The Spectraflex I have had for around 5 years now so reliability is unquestionable. I believe I paid around £25ish for it although, looking at Amazon, they seem to be going for around £50!
The Proel Pro I bought from the Bass Gallery in Camden when I took a bass in to be serviced. I purchased the 4m lead for just over £30 about 3 years ago. Again, it has never let me down and those chunky Neutriks look bullet proof. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they are.
The Chord Cream cable retails for £50 in its 3m flavour and packs all that Hi-Fi know-how but does it all stack up?
I have used the Cream Cable at rehearsal and there appeared to be an increase in volume, and harmonics seemed to cut through better with the Chord errr… chord.
The thing is, as most musicians will know, rehearsal rooms can vary and even when you’re using the same one week in, week out, the position of your cab, or the drums, or the angle of the PA can all attribute to different room characteristics. Not to mention that I tend to use whichever cab is available – just like that blue and tweed beast above.
So, what I have done is locked myself in a room with my TC Electronics RH450 head and RS210 cab, also with some NAD VISO headphones, and swapped between all three leads from my trusty original series Yamaha Attitude Limited that I’ve lived with since June ’92.
As the Attitude is/can be a stereo bass I had it locked off so that the one lead was coming from just the Precision-style DiMarzio pickup.
For you gear junkies, my Attitude is freshly strung with Elixir Nanoweb mediums 😉
After spending some time swapping and playing (no point in a blind test as the Cream lead sent to me has a right-angled jack at the instrument end so I’d be able to tell it by the angle it came from the jack) I could detect some slight characteristics in each of the leads.
The Spectraflex Original really cuts through. It seems to love the higher range – great for guitar and for bassists that like to roll the bass end off, not so good for the rest of us in my opinion. True, I could compensate with my amp, and probably would, but in this test that’s how it stands.
The Proel Pro is also bitey – and I like that, especially if I’m just using the P pickup. The whole point is to get that growly, cutty tone. The Proel also delivers good mids and I could funk around all day with that. The bass end is there, and slightly more defined than the Spectraflex.
The Chord Cream instrument cable losses a little bit of that treble bite, some might say harshness, but harmonics still come through bell clear. What is most noticeable is that the bass is more level with the rest of the tones. Again, I know I can adjust stuff on the amp and I realise that finger placement, etc can alter timbre too.
I do believe that the Cream cable does offer a more balanced response across the board.
What I did find with the Cream cable is that it didn’t really move easily with me, exactly the opposite to the Spectraflex. Where the Spectraflex, with the emphasis on flex, moves around like a lithe braided slithery thing, the Cream cable is almost rigid – no doubt thanks to the two jackets it’s wearing.
Everything about it, the look, the feel, all scream quality.
I also have no doubt that it will last a long time on the road – would it keep its lovely creamy hue? Only time will tell.
I suppose there’s some important questions to ask:
Would I buy a Cream instrument cable from The Chord Company? The answer would be yes. Yes I would.
Would I use that cable for live shows? Probably not. I don’t think that the difference between the Cream cable and the Proel Pro, for instance, would be discernible to anyone in that situation and, as I said, any slight shortfall that the other two leads in this little test would have, could be rectified using the amp or fingers.
I have never been to a gig where I’ve turned to my friend to say “great guitar solo, shame they’re only using a mid-range lead”.
Would I use it in the studio? Bet your sweet G string I would! I do think that this is where the Cream Cable will make the most difference. Anything that makes your performance sound better when paying £XX per hour all makes life a lot easier, and less expensive in the long run.
Do I like the colour? Actually, yes. Better still if it stays like that after a few gigs in sweaty, beer-stained rock venues.
I am sure that there will be screams of “snake oil” and “Emperors new clothes” and the like, not to mention gasps of disbelief regarding the premium pricing. The thing is, as a bassist, I pay £30+ for four strings so why not spend that, or a little more, on a lead? Also, I’ve tested it with my ears. Go and try one and if you can’t hear a difference between that and one twenty quid cheaper – make your own choice.
Yes, The Chord Company Cream instrument cable is a great cable, I do think it is worth the money but, to make it perfect, it does need to move more naturally with musicians who don’t stay put.