Cables

QED Reference Audio 40: Reveal the Sound That’s Already There

Considering upgrading your interconnect cables but worried about value for your money? Paul Rigby might just have the answer for you a he reviews the QED Reference Audio 40s

If you have been using a low cost set of interconnect cables for a while – possibly since you bought your hi-fi – upgrading them might be last on your list. I would encourage you to think again, though, and before you upgrade anything else too. Partly because bad or mediocre cables can do more to hamper the sound quality of your current set-up that just about anything else.

The job of a good set of cables is not to, as it where, ‘improve sound quality’ they’re really there to get out of the way. To allow you to hear what is already there in your hi-fi system. To fully hear what you bought in the first place. Cheap cables allow masking ‘noise’ to enter the hi-fi chain which means that all of those subtle parts of music like extended reverb tails, the metallic essence of a guitar string and the cloud effect of a struck cymbal are dulled and trodden on, turning them into something lifeless and faintly boring.

That was the aim of this review, to see if the QEDs could do that job.

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The cables utilise two conductors of different diameters to carry the same audio signal. The reason, according to the company, is to, “…provide an alternative path for high frequency audio components which might otherwise become time smeared in a single audio pathway.” The cable has been created with silver-plated 99.999% Oxygen Free Copper (SPOFC) conductors with LDPE dielectric plus an OFC shield and a Zn/Mn ferrite jacket plus gold plated QED ‘Analoc’ RCA plugs.

SOUND QUALITY

I began the sound test with Dexter Gordon’s Three Little Words which has Gordon out of the right channel with the bass, piano and drums on the left. Firstly, in terms of Gordon’s own performance, the QED’s offered an immediate sonic personality. It’s a tough one to describe in a word or two. Let’s say, it had a sort of ‘freshness’. Put another way, the cables opened up the soundstage. Put a third way, there seemed to be lots of air and space in and around his solo stints that allowed the notes lots of room to manoeuvre, giving Gordon a sort of free and easy delivery. He could really stick out his elbows on this one and roam the stage with impunity. The upper midrange frequencies not only added extra latitude but their dynamic reach seemed to be extended.

On the left channel, this air and space, which I can only ally to a lowering of inherent noise, expanded the soundstage and was most obvious in terms of the percussion. Treble was now expansive, with cymbal work covering more of the left area of the soundstage, bass was almost flighty in its aspect while the piano was focused. The piano on this track can be a killer. Via poor quality cables, the piano can sound cold and foreboding. It can also sound constricted and almost irritable. Not here, there was both flow and a sense of circulation in how the piano was played.

I then moved to a more energetic track and played David Gray’s Babylon. I was most impressed by Gray’s own delivery. It had a sense of clarity that allowed his voice to move forward in the mix, adding a bit of 3D depth. The transparency in and around his vocal only adding to and enhancing his diction. The low noise aspect of the sound also encouraged the subtleties of his performance, including times where he pushed his voice slightly here and there, in terms of effort, to be easily heard.

Bass provided a meaty yet tight and compact presentation. There was no sense of bloom to smother other areas of the music spectrum. The low noise performance allowed the bass to remain succinct and to the point. That cleaner presentation from the soundstage also provided space for the background synths. In fact, the entire instrumental separation from the soundstage was most impressive.

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On David Gahan’s lead vocal performance from Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence, I noticed how focused his singing was. Sitting bang in the centre of the stereo image, the Gahan delivery was precise yet, because of the lack of distortive interferences, clear and recognisable. That lowering of  noise affected the rear of the mix too, where the busy synth runs and effects lay. The QED allowed more of the subtle and often quite shy synth additions to reach the ear adding to the richness of the soundstage and a sense of layering in terms of the entire arrangement.

CONCLUSION

Offering incredible value for money, the QED Reference Audio 40 interconnects remove with one hand while giving with the other. That is, they take away the rubbish that might normally hang around your cable, veiling and submerging subtle detail. In return, the provide a nicely darkened background that encourages more detail to emerge forth, giving you detail, giving you clarity and giving you…hell, let’s just admit it…a pleasant listening experience. If you are living with bell wire or those basic cables that your dealer foisted upon you when you bought your system, seriously consider these interconnects. They’ll open a few sonic doors.


QED REFERENCE AUDIO 40

Price: £109.95

Website: www.qed.co.uk

Tel: 01279 501111


GOOD: price, low noise, instrumental separation, detail, midrange balance

BAD: nothing

RATING: 9

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REFERENCE SYSTEM

Rega RP3 turntable

Trichord Dino phonostage

Leema Elements CD Player

Benchmark DAC2 HGC

Rega Brio-R amplifier

Spendor S3/5R speakers

Audiomica Vandini Gold 75 Ohm digital cable

 

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    John Norris
    27th April 2017 at 10:52 am

    I bought these recently and can vouch for their excellent quality in both sound and make. They certainly added a rich tone from a basic, one box hifi when hooked up to my Marantz HD Amp. I play DAB radio through it and mostly classical music. Voices and instruments have noticeably become richer and I recommend giving them an audition. It’s an obvious upgrade and I am sure these would give cables worth double the price a run for their money. Outstanding value.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      27th April 2017 at 10:53 am

      Thanks for your user report, John. Appreciate it.

  • Reply
    John Norris
    27th April 2017 at 11:02 am

    No problem, Paul. I just need to find a good match in digital coaxial cable now. I had an Atlas Ultra Ascent (the one you reviewed) and also a more basic QED reference cable (not the 40 version you reviewed) and I didn’t find much between them. I don’t think either have given me the richness this cable did but that maybe just down to the CD “harshness” that I read about. I am not a hifi expert by any means but I know what my ears hear. I have a Cambridge CXC transport plugged into the Marantz HD Amp. I have considered ditching that and getting the matching Marantz CD for £370 instead of forking out £200 on a cable. I dunno.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      27th April 2017 at 3:39 pm

      The Cambridge is excellent but, if you want to plug that into a DAC, there’s better options than the Marantz. For £370…well, less, actually, I would plump for this Schiit DAC: https://schiit.eu.com/dacs/modi-multibit

      • Reply
        John Norris
        28th April 2017 at 1:48 pm

        Thanks for that, Paul. I have never heard of that brand or the product. Initial research online suggests it could be just the thing to give the digital sound a boost and more analogue feel, if I am correct in my terminology. And if you recommend it even more so… have you any personal listening experience of this product or others by Schiit?

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          28th April 2017 at 1:54 pm

          Check out this news item, John: http://theaudiophileman.com/schiit-modi-multibit/
          Here’s a review of one of their DACs, completed a while back but it might give you a flavour of the company style…http://theaudiophileman.com/gungnir-ho-schiit-gungnir-dac/

          • John Norris
            29th April 2017 at 9:18 am

            I am really taken by that Modi Multibit and just because it is from a lesser known brand doesn’t diminish it in my eyes, it is the sound that ultimately counts. I see that the Arcam irDAC-II is down to £295 now with some retailers and has the same connections as the Multibit plus Bluetooth built in which would be a boon to me. It’s hard to demo these things though.

          • Paul Rigby
            29th April 2017 at 9:26 am

            Both are recommended but I’d still plump for the Schiit.

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