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How much does cable quality matter?

2 minute read

The Chord Company / RedShark SoundShawline interconnect by The Chord Company

While some manufacturer claims may fall short of reality, the Shawline interconnect from The Chord Company delivers where it matters most. By Erik Vlietinck.

There's nothing as subjective as the experience of music. There's the composition, an artist and, with classical music, also a conductor, soloists, a symphonic orchestra and the performance hall. Analogue or digital recording and playback technologies add another layer: analogue and digital equipment, like amplifiers, DAC, headphones and speakers, all change the sound. Some believe that cables are an integral part of this mix. The Chord Company, a UK-based outfit, makes cables that are said to enhance your audio experience.

I had the opportunity to try out The Chord Company's Shawline interconnect. I tried out this pair of bright red RCA cables with my Apogee Duet iPad/Mac and two Munro Sonic Egg 150 active studio monitors. The Shawline range of cables uses the company's flagship ARAY technology. What ARAY is exactly remains a mystery, even after reading through the paragraph dedicated to it in the company's brochure. I wasn't any less curious about the impact on my audio, though.

Believer or sceptic

The question if audio cables can make a difference at all in the overall listening experience can give rise to heated discussion. I was a firm believer in the past myself. I own a pair of Van Den Hul Hybrid, Supra EFF-I and QED Reference interconnects. But since I've read the explanations by people like Rod Elliott and Daniel Overgaard Nielsen who describe in detail why cables can't do what manufacturers claim, I'm not so sure anymore.

Still, cables that are badly terminated and literally open to interference and oxidation may pose a problem. Cable length may also have an averse effect on audio output quality. In the past, I imagined I could hear a difference between my own cables. I decided to test my cables using a blindfold and someone who spent an hour switching between the three cables and one priced at £3 I specifically purchased for this purpose. I played the same Bach Partita over and over again because I know this piece inside out (BWV 768 on the Decca CD "The Organ Works" performed by Peter Hurford).

At the end of this test, it turned out I never once guessed the cable right, except for the dirt-cheap one. That one definitely added something to the sound and it wasn't nice. Since that day, I know a well-made interconnect makes a difference, but I, for one, wouldn't be able to pinpoint exactly how they differ.

Build and termination

It's much more accurate and less susceptible to discussion to check for quality features like build and termination. That's where the Shawline cables shine. They are well-shielded and the connectors are beautifully terminated. These interconnects are made with much care for finish, build and looks. The listening test was more of a problem, because I knew from my double-blind test that any difference in clarity or stereo image I experienced with other cables was probably going to be due to my imagination –  I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Nevertheless and even with that in mind, I could hear subtle improvements over my own interconnects. Across all the good and bad recordings I own, the Chord Company's Shawline interconnects seemed to give the sound somewhat more clarity; a bit as if you'd wipe clean a pair of foggy reading glasses.

An obvious reason could be the exceptional quality of build. My Supra EFF-I interconnects are well-made, but not with as much care as the Shawline interconnects. For example, when I purchased the EFF-I, one plug had the cable slightly moving inside.

Although an improvement or difference with other good-quality cables you hear may be imagined, buying a pair of Shawline interconnects would be a logical thing to do, simply because of that better quality of build. A one metre Shawline RCA-RCA cable costs around £200, while a one metre Supra EFF-I costs about £88.

Tags: Audio