Offering an all-new Tuned ARAY digital audio cable, Paul Rigby reviews the new Chord Clearway Digital cable
Digital is ever popular nowadays in a wide array of formats and iterations: from DAC to DAPs with everything in between and audiophile cables are following in their wake.
This latest Chord sample features direct silver-plated VEE 3 RCA plugs as well as silver-plated BNC plugs. The Chord Company has also recognised the increasing importance of high-performance portable DACs and is offering Clearway Digital terminated with a 3.5mm mono jack.
Offering a design nod from the company’s flagship Sarum Super ARAY Digital, the Clearway Digital uses an oxygen-free copper conductor with gas-foamed polyethylene insulation and woven copper shield.
For my particular Clearway Digital, I requested a cable with a mini-jack on either end. In this way, I could test my Astell & Kern AK120 with the active speakers, the Roth OLi POWA-5 that features host of connective possibilities.
I brought in a few similar cables from the likes of AudioQuest but I also chose a basic black cable. The type you might find bundled free in a hardware package of some sort. The Clearway Digital is aimed directly at the user who might initially own a budget cable model, sure, but it also may attract those looking for a slightly higher grade design from the off.
To begin, I selected a WAV file from the indie rock band, Grand National and the track Drink To Move On. The basic black cable was painful to listen to, it has to be said. Treble was ear-piercingly harsh and bright. Bright enough to read by, in fact. Upper mids gave a false impression of excessive compression. So attacking, I had to keep a chair and a whip between myself and the cable. Bass, meanwhile, was wayward and had no real idea in which direction it was going. A bit like you might be after a right hook from Mohammad Ali in his prime. In short, the basic cable offered as much sonic control as a drunk man might show asked to juggle a Porcupine, a live hand grenade and a small boy with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Replacing the basic cable with the Chord hit me with one overweening feature, a much lowered noise floor. This meant that the performers didn’t sound so hurried and, in some cases with the black cable, suffering from blind panic. Not only did the group offer a more relaxed and easy going performance, with the Chord, I could actually hear all of the instruments that they were playing. Treble-infused cymbals featured greater tonal realism and bass was not only tight and punchy but it retained a control that infused confidence throughout the entire track. I even heard a guitar that was previously obliterated by the harsh basic cable. In short? I took a deep breath of sheer relief.
But would the cable keep giving with better quality files? I headed towards 24bit/96kHz territory and Bob Marley’s Jamming with the AudioQuest fitted as a reference. The Chord offered intriguing insights in and around the rhythm guitar. The one that provides that classic reggae ‘nChaka-nChaka’ bouncy vibe. The Chord performed well in terms of providing space, air and character in and around the guitar while the sense of timing was admirable. Bass was, at once, easy on the ear but also characterful while remaining bouncy and powerful. Marley’s vocal also offered a sense of ease and relaxation and he flowed over the entire song.
It’s easy to look at cables of any price and dismiss them out of hand. Even relatively lower priced models such as the Clearway Digital are not immune to public criticism. The difference between a basic freebie and this quality construction is so obvious, even after a brief demo, that you really must try one if you have doubts. Even compared to budget models, though, the Chord performs magnificiantly well, offering a low noise floor: sonic improvements flow from this one aspect.
CHORD CLEARWAY DIGITAL
Price: 1m RCA to RCA £100; 1m RCA to 3.5mm mini-jack £100; 1m RCA to BNC £105; 1m BNC to BNC £110. Custom lengths are available.
Tel: 01980 625700
Good: low noise floor, spacious soundstage, firm bass, detailed mids
Bad: nothing at the price