There’s nothing as subjective as the experience of music. Throw in the composition, an artist, and with classical music also a conductor, soloists, a symphonic orchestra and the hall where they play the music. Analogue or digital recording and playback technologies add another layer: analogue and digital equipment like amplifiers, DAC, headphones and speakers, etc. Some believe cables to be an integral part of this mix. British The Chord Company 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 that is exactly remains a mystery even after reading through the paragraph “What is ARAY, Tuned ARAY and Super ARAY?” 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 in the overall listening experience boils down to whether you believe cable manufacturers’ marketing hyperbole. I’ve been buying a few brand cables in the past myself: a Van Den Hul Hybrid, Supra EFF-I and one I forgot the type of by QED. And yet I’m down-to-earth enough to agree with people like Rod Elliott and Daniel Overgaard Nielsen who explain in detail why cables can’t do what manufacturers claim.
Sound engineer Dave Samwell agrees, but adds that connectors on cheap cables may be flawed and interference and oxidation may pose a problem. Cable length may also have an averse effect on audio output quality. All these people agree upon three things, though:
- Even a €2000 interconnect doesn’t have the power to add or subtract from the sound as it was recorded
- Digital cables, such as USB and optical cables, cannot alter the sound at all
- Power cables that cost an arm and a leg won’t do you any good as you can’t so anything about what is behind the wall.
Yet, when I purchased my three interconnects I too imagined I could hear a difference between them. So I decided to test it using a blindfold and an assistant who spent an hour with me. She switched between the three cables and one priced at €5 I specifically purchased for this test. 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 my 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 couldn’t tell exactly how the cables that I own differ. Logic and realism therefore compels me to conclude you can’t describe the difference between cables of about the same quality.
The Chord Company’s Shawline interconnect
And quality of build is what struck me when I opened the Shawline box. These cables are well shielded, the connectors are beautifully terminated. It’s perhaps strange to say, but I could see these interconnects were made with much care for finish, build and looks. I listened to different pieces of music, including the Bach Partita. I knew from my earlier tests that any difference in clarity or stereo image I experienced with the Shawlines was entirely due to my imagination.
So, that’s it then. No comments from me on the voice of Cecilia Bartoli sounding a tad less harsh than with my QED interconnects or Pårt’s Alina sounding even more depressing than with my Supra EFF-I. Overall, across al the good and bad recordings I own, the Chord Company’s Shawline interconnects seemed to make them sound cleaner, as if there used to be a fog between the music and myself with the other cables.
How disappointing then that I am fully aware it was only my imagination that made me have a different feel. And yet, here I am, writing favourably about a pair of simple cables. The reason being the exceptional quality of build and consequently the durability of the Shawline cables. My Supra EFF-I interconnects are well made, but not as good as the Shawline interconnects. For example, one plug has the cable slightly moving inside. I solved that potential damage point by enveloping the plug and cable end with heat-shrink tubing, but I shouldn’t have to. And the QED had a similar problem, which made me end up feeling like a drop-out electrical engineer as well.
So although it doesn’t sound better or different than other cables in the real world — as opposed to the imaginary one where I for one did experience a difference — you could feel inclined to buy a pair of Shawline interconnects simply because of that better quality of build. The improvements you’ll imagine there to be come free with the package.
A 1m Shawline RCA-RCA cable costs around €300 on the continent, while — by way of comparison — a 1m Supra EFF-I costs about €170. That’s almost double, but at the very least you won’t have to put on your electrical engineer hat.