Chord Company Sarum T

Hardware Review

Chord Company Sarum T
Thursday, November 30, 2017
digital, analogue & speaker cable
Jason Kennedy

The stuff that goes around cables has a clear effect on the way they sound, it’s as important as the conductor itself in many respects. The Japanese have long favoured the sound of cotton but the majority of high end cables have PTFE insulation or dielectric to separate conductors from one another. The Chord Company used it in their Sarum cables, which were once the range toppers but that place has now been taken by ChordMusic which has a different type of dielectric that the company calls Taylon. The exact nature of this material is not something that Chord want to divulge, all they will say is that it was developed for military applications and that they had to make all sorts of promises not to build missiles out of it before the US supplier would work with them. Comparisons between Sarum Super ARAY and ChordMusic, which are pretty much identical except for the dielectric (PTFE vs Taylon), make a very good case for it the transformative powers that it has on the sound of a cable.

There is however a problem and it’s the usual one. ChordMusic is properly eye wateringly expensive, so in an attempt to bring the wonders of Taylon to a (slightly) wider audience Chord have created Sarum T. This range combines the Super ARAY topology of original Sarum with silver plated copper conductors in a Taylon dielectric. Apparently it has the same type and quantity of conductors as ChordMusic but less than a third as much shielding, two as opposed to seven layers. RF noise has clearly been identified as the enemy down at Chord Co, and I suspect that they are right.

 

 

The Sarum T RCA interconnects, dubbed Analogue, are terminated with PTFE plugs, an upgrade devised for original Sarum because of the sound quality gains it produced. The plastic forms a housing around silver plated connectors and provides a rigid yet resonance killing chassis. Analogue can be supplied with DIN and XLR connectors with more conventional construction but I reviewed the RCAs. I also used Sarum T Digital in both USB and Stream (with RJ45 plugs) forms, both employ Super ARAY techniques. All the interconnects have a damping layer and two layers of shielding, as do the speaker cables which are a twisted pair using silver plated oxygen free copper conductors with a Taylon dielectric and separately shielded positive and negative conductors. They are extremely stiff, presumably in attempt to keep vibration to a minimum, but this means you may need a longer length than would be the case with a more flexible cable.

Sound quality
Installing a complete Sarum T cable loom in my less analytical more musical and largely Rega based system resulted in a fresher and more vibrant sound with even more compulsive rhythmic drive. It also delivered considerably more of the minutiae, the fine detail that forms the quietest sounds. It unveils recording acoustic, nuances of singing and playing and brand of guitar pick. OK, I’m kidding, it will not tell you that unless you are obsessed with guitar picks, in which case you’re probably a musician. But the small details are the most important really, almost any cable can let you hear the fundamentals of a recording but in order to hear into the mix and pick out effects, reverb character and ultimately the soul of the performers you need something more revealing. Sarum T gives you mixing desk analytics combined with genuine musical flow, which is the most important part of the equation, but without transparency to the character of the notes it’s only half the story.

 

 

It had me wondering how Chris Squire got such a chunky, mechanical sound on his Rickenbacker bass on ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ (The Yes Album) and appreciating just how good Steve Howe’s guitar playing was on the same disc. A more contemporary vinyl release is Gillian Welch’s Harrow & The Harvest, which came out on vinyl for the first time this year, and promptly became overpriced. But it sounded so radiant via the Sarum T that even the current price might be worth paying if you love her stuff. It did something else, it showed that the Rega system was producing a more beautiful sound with vinyl than the generally more revealing system I use for equipment reviews, which costs several times as much. Sarum T had a lot to do with that.

Dropping the loom into the bigger system resulted in a leaner tonal balance but more engaging music, it became that much harder to move onto another track before the current one finished. This is not good for productivity (cables are presumably at the root of the UK’s problems in this respect) but great for enjoying the music, and that is the point of the exercise after all. Sarum T achieves this by dint of high resolution and excellent timing, the latter gets your pulse moving and the former entertains the mind, both help you get closer to the musical message. You get a big, taut and vibrant sound with strong vocal presence and a slight emphasis on hi-hat and snare, this at least was the case with Doug MacLeod’s ‘Too Many Misses’, which didn’t sound quite as sumptuous as it can. Electric guitar is particularly good on Macy Gray’s ‘Annabelle’ (Stripped, Chesky) which displayed lovely reverb and very distinct vocal character, the whole piece set off by the counterpoint of warm bass and sharp guitar.

Bass is not as fulsome as some cables, there’s no exaggeration of low frequencies and no overhang either, it’s as fast and tuneful as the rest of the range. It does go deep however, but only when the material really calls for it such as on Lorde’s ‘Royals’ or Kraftwerk’s ‘Elektro Kardiogramm’, then you’ll know all about it, if your speakers are up to the job. This even handed approach suits wide band loudspeakers a little better than their smaller counterparts because there’s no emphasis in the 50Hz zone that most can manage. If the notes are powerful at frequencies the speaker can produce cleanly you will hear and feel it, but not if its below that point. This is also a usefully quiet cable, it lets the smallest sounds through thanks to presumably to the wonders of Taylon. I’ve not heard the rustling of clothing on Mop Mop’s lovely ‘Alfa’ before but here it was obvious. Amandine Beyer’s solo violin (JS Bach Sonatas & Partitas BWV 1001 - 1006) gives up an incredible amount of gutty character, a big natural room acoustic and, first and foremost, highly spirited playing. There is no option but to play the piece all the way through.

 

 

With bands you get a sense of cohesion between the musicians that is unusually strong, this is because you can hear what each one is contributing and how that syncs in with the whole sound. Imaging is very good too, not the best I’ve heard but plenty spacious and 3D, personally I want a system that encourages me to keep on listening and while qualities like imaging are nice they aren’t as important in this respect as timing and communication. Billy Gibbons’ voice on ‘Enjoy and Get it On’ (ZZ Top, Tejas) does the trick especially when it sounds so pithy and his solo is so righteous. Esperanza Spalding’s voice is also rather good on ‘Judas’ which has a tactile sense to it that’s created by lots of reverb and a lot of instrumentation that remains clean and clear despite its density.

If you wanted to start with just one cable from the Sarum T range I would make it the Analogue interconnect, doing a bit of swapping around I found that this gave the most benefit on its own. But there’s no getting away from the advantages accrued from having this cable throughout the system, it gives you the mother load of musical thrill power and will have you pinned to the listening seat for hours. They say ‘so much music, so little time’ but with cables that are this capable you will find the time, no doubt about it.

Specifications: 

Sarum T Analogue
Type: Analogue interconnect with RCA phono terminals
Topology: Super ARAY
Conductor: High purity, silver-plated, polished OFC
Dielectric: Taylon

Sarum T Digital
Type: Digital interconnect with USB terminals
Topology: Super ARAY
Conductor: High purity, silver-plated, polished OFC
Dielectric: Taylon

Sarum T Stream
Type: Digital streaming interconnect with RJ45 terminals
Topology: Super ARAY
Conductor: High purity, silver-plated, polished OFC
Dielectric: Taylon

Sarum T Speaker
Type: twisted pair with individually shielded positive/negative and 4mm terminals
Topology: Super ARAY
Conductor: High purity, silver-plated, polished OFC
Dielectric: Taylon

Existing Sarum interconnects can be upgraded to Sarum T spec

Price: 
Analogue £2,100/1 metre pair
Stream £2,100/1 metre
Digital USB £2,100/1 metre
Speaker £1,800 1.5m pair (£600 per extra mono metre)
Manufacturer Details: 

The Chord Company
T +44 (0)1980 625700
www.chord.co.uk