As a companion piece to my review of the Chord Company’s Powerhaus S6 mains block, I was asked to write about my experiences comparing the various cables that Chord sent to me to help get the best from it. Those who have read my piece on the Powerhaus will know I was initially concerned I may have had a long article to write up about subtle differences between it and my reference block. I had similar concerns about this review, although perhaps slightly less so after my positive experiences with the Powerhaus. Thankfully I found that the opposite was true and the whole experience extremely enlightening for me, I hope people who read this review will find the same. Each cable arrived in its own rather swanky bag. Some may find this overly flashy or pretentious, but for me, it was a nice touch, displaying how seriously Chord take their cables.
Firstly, let’s talk about the Shawline Power Chord. The latest version has been reworked to include an improved, thicker stranded conductor, and a redesigned, higher gauge braid wire shield. The IEC plug looks identical to that of my own cables, which I initially chose because bigger connectors would not fit the sockets of the Densen components I used to use. Many high end cables feature plugs with bigger bodies at the component end, which can restrict their use with certain brands of electronics who, like Densen, put fuse holders very close to the mains inlet. My sample of the Shawline was a metre long and fitted with a standard looking 13a plug with copper pins. The Shawline Power Chord retails for £250 in 1m form, and Chord sent two of these for this review.
Chord Co Shawline
Moving up to the Signature X Power cable. Simply handling this cable gave the impression that much thought had gone into both design and build. The 13 amp mains plug has a larger body than that of a standard MK style plug, which appears to be designed with vibration control in mind. Rather than the traditional brass contacts, both the internal and external contacts are silver-plated. Signature X has from XLPE (Cross Linked Polyethylene) insulation and ARAY geometry. It includes a foil and high-density braid screen which are said to reduce the effect of radio frequency noise produced by wi-fi, Bluetooth etc. I was sent a 1.5m length of the Signature X cable, which retails for £1,250, a 1m length is £1,000.
Lastly, we have the Sarum T power cable. Like other cable brands Chord Company do not like to divulge their secrets freely. My research suggests that the big difference between the Sarum, the Signature and the original Sarum power cable is the change from the PTFE to Taylon dielectric. Indeed I had to dig back to Jason Kennedy’s review of the Sarum T signal cables to find more information about Taylon which it seems was originally developed for military purposes. This cable appears to have the same 13a plug and IEC socket as the Signature X power cable. As was the case with the Signature X, I was sent a 1.5m sample of Sarum T, which retails for £2,500, with a 1m length at £2,000. Lucky owners of the original Sarum power chord can have it upgraded to the latest ‘T’ spec, thanks to the hand-built nature of its construction.
Initially I used the entire loom of the four cables supplied by The Chord Company in my main system, consisting of mainly Sim Audio Moon components and Totem Speakers. In order to isolate the performance of each of Chord cables, I swapped out all cables for those of another brand, all of which cost roughly the same as the Shawline Power Chord tested here. I then swapped the mains cable feeding my Moon 600i amplifier with each of the Chord cables and listened to the same three tracks via each of the cables, starting with the lowest priced Shawline.
Chord Co Signature X
Starting with the track Pee Wee, from Miles Davis’s Sorcerer album (24/192 FLAC), I noted the Shawline offered a similar overall level of performance to my reference, substituting a sense of weight for a slightly improved sense of acoustic and spaciousness. Listening to the track Golden Arrow, from Darkside’s Psychic album (16/44 FLAC) I noted a slight loss of bass precision and weight, compared to the reference cable. Eric Clapton’s Let It Grow, from the DSD release of 461 Boulevard sounded a little warmer via the Shawline, I noted a little more clarity and openness than via the reference cable, but perhaps a little less sense of ‘groove’. We are talking about pretty subtle differences, but this was the result in my system.
Moving up to the Signature X power chord, produced an immediate improvement. Sticking with 461 Boulevard, the timing improved, and the bass weight was now at a level where it considerably exceeded that of the reference cable. I have never been a big fan of this period of Clapton, but Lay Down Sally was now very enjoyable. I noted that the slide guitar appeared to sit in its own acoustic space, his voice was presented more clearly and was easier to follow, yet it sounded natural and unforced. There was now a sense of depth to the soundstage that was not apparent with the previous cables. The Darkside track sounded bigger, more detailed and dynamic, guitar lines jumped out of the speakers, and the track was propelled along with a clear sense of drive. Pee Wee now sounded much more enjoyable. The bass was fuller, I felt there was more of a sense of it being ‘plucked’, rather than just ‘appearing’. The double bass and piano now had a sense of flow that was not previously apparent and cymbals sounded more natural and detailed.
Finally, I swapped to the Sarum T cable. Listening to Pee Wee again, the bass seemed to jump forward and further to the left of the soundstage, well beyond the speaker cabinet. The bass sounded both more natural and expressive. The brushed drums were also more natural and easier to follow. Miles’ trumpet phrasing was clearer and given more space to breathe. I also felt I could hear a greater sense of interplay between the drummer and the bassist. The Darkside track immediately sounded louder and more expansive, despite me carefully matching the volume between listening sessions. The soundstage was more open and expansive. I could hear small changes in the volume level of the various sample effects within the track, suggesting an improvement in low level dynamics due to a lower noise floor. I had the impression of hearing the sounds develop rather than simply appearing. The bass was now huge, yet seemed to start and stop better. The drums are probably sampled, yet somehow sounded more realistic and detailed. There was a greater sense of definition to the string sample too and vocals sounded more dynamic, the guitar effects were also given more of their own space. Lay Down Sally was now really grooving, the drums sounding alive, the piano had jumped forward in the soundstage and was easier to follow and Clapton’s guitar solo sprung to life. I also enjoyed a greater sense of the rhythm guitar parts synching with the rest of the band.
Chord Co Sarum T
Having thought I had finished writing this review, I felt compelled to add this paragraph. I still have the entire Chord mains cable loom and Powerhaus block feeding my system. This weekend I was able to listen to music purely for pleasure, away from the task of reviewing. I was struck by how natural the system sounded. Indeed it was so easy to sit back and enjoy the music. Yesterday was the Jennifer Warnes’ audiophile showpiece, Famous Blue Raincoat, today it was Nick Cave’s A Boatman Calls. The former always sounds good, the latter needs a system that can bring out the detail, or it can be uninvolving. I dislike any sense of harshness or edginess, so I have tuned my system to avoid such characteristics. The resultant balance can occasionally lean towards being a little too laid back. Powered by the Chord cables reviewed here, the balance of my system is now more brightly lit, yet there is seemingly no penalty to pay for an additional sense of insight. These products from The Chord Company are proving addictive.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I found comparisons between the Chord Company’s power cables enlightening. Hearing the progression as I moved up the range made my job very easy. From what I have experienced using these products it’s safe to say that their value is comparable to spending equal amounts elsewhere in my system, good value in fact. My advice is to dip in and listen to this range of mains cables with an open mind, and like me, you may be pleasantly surprised. Since adding them to my system, I have never enjoyed listening to music at home more.