Replacing his standard, default headphone cables, Paul Rigby reviews Chord’s ShawCan replacements
In Hi-Fi, if you can detach a cable from any individual component then you should look at upgrading it. Why? Because, if you’re building an amp or CD player or whatever it might be, then your build budget tends to be focused on the thing itself. Any cable that flails off the back is going to be an after-thought. Less, even. This is a prime spot for you to enhance the sound quality.
Yet, even those who might look to upgrade such cables, whether they be interconnects, mains, digital or whatever, may very well forget all about headphones. Partly because cable upgrades for headphones are often not on a typical audiophile’s radar, many headphone cables are integrated into the chassis of the headphones themselves and are non-detachable but also because, until recently, there often has not been an upgrade option available. This situation is gradually being rectified with many headphone manufacturers and third party outfits addressing the issue. Chord is one of those companies on the case.
Chord sent over a replacement cable for a pair of Sennheiser HD650s and HD800s, with silver-plated conductors, PTFE dielectric and a carbon composite shield design.
The conductors are enclosed in a black outer jacket designed to assist acoustic damping. Hand-built to order, ShawCan cables can be supplied with a wide variety of connectors at the other, to suit most headphones. Just ask your Chord Company retailer regarding availability for your headphones. Chances are that they’ll have a match for your headphones. A balanced headphone output is another option too.
During the sound quality tests, I tested the Chord cables with both the Sennheiser default cables but also with high-end replacement cables to test the Chord’s value for money and relative performance.
I began with the HD650s and a 3.5mm termination and played Barclay James Harvest and Child of the Universe from Everyone is Everybody Else (Polydor). How good was the ShawCan cable? Well I did the naughty thing and connected it to my Icon Audio headphone amplifier using a dreaded 3.5mm-6.35mm convertor and even with the hated convertor in place the sound was vastly improved over the default Sennheiser cable with a rich piano introduction that oozed tonal balance, a low noise presentation and a confidant and solid bass. More than than that, the accompanying analogue synth was meaty, portentous with threat and enough weight to sink a ship. Treble was not exactly feather light but it did provide useful detail and did benefit from enhanced instrumental separation.
When used in its pure form, in a 3.5mm connector, this time into an Astell&Kern AK120 and the 24bit/96kHz version of Jamming from Bob Marley, I was impressed. More than that, the cable enhanced the bass performance from the headphones, setting a firm and commanding suite of lower frequencies across the soundstage while Marley’s vocal presentation offered a valve-like warmth. Upper mids still supplied plenty of detail, though, with secondary percussion providing a balance to the reggae bass line.
That warming midrange could be heard in all its glory on Bone Machine from The Pixies via the DSD version of Surfer Rosa. At times, the ShawCan could provide more emphasis on bass with an accompanying reduction in upper midrange space. That didn’t prevent the dual vocal performances offering plenty of emotion and nuance but the percussion was certainly a highlight on this track.
Similarly, on Broken Face, the bass section of the lead guitar and percussion were turned up a notch but there was still plenty of midrange detail on offer with the rather emotional vocalisations coming through loud and clear.
I then connected a HD800 version of the ShawCan cable, replete with a large Neutrik termination to those headphones and directly plugged them into my Icon Audio headphone amplifier, playing Barclay James Harvest on vinyl. The sonic response from this cable was open and spacious with a very lively midrange that was a touch emphasised during crescendos. It offered a satisfying dynamic reach from the piano plus plenty of subtle detail flourishes from the same. Vocals were both emotive and sensitive while the subtle tambourine effect that hung around the rear of the mix could be easily heard. Percussion, meanwhile was lean and yet strong in tone. A significant impact was noticed from drum strikes while the growling analogue synth accompaniment was imposing.
I then turned to Nina Simone with And Piano! and the track Who Am I. Her piano was lively, fleet of foot, focused and precise with enough chaotic potential to say that this was a Simone piano rendition. Her vocal was full of texture and emotive fabric, little vocal tweaks, tiny breathes, nasal qualities and other detail notes that made the performance a satisfying one.
The HD650 variant leaned toward bass emphasis while the HD800 example was more neutral with, if anything a slight spotlight shining upon the upper mids. The common ground afforded to both designs was that both of these cables, featuring different sets of terminations, were notable for raising the general sonic standard across the board. Both cables moved the sound quality dramatically upwards from the default cabling supplied by the manufacturer and both should be on your demo list.
SHAWCAN HEADPHONE CABLE
Price: 1.5m from £275 to £350 depending on plug types. Custom lengths available at £80 per extra metre.
Tel: 01980 625700
Good: low frequency strength, bass impact, build quality, instrumental separation,
Bad: bass emphasis
GOOD: spacious mids, focus, precision, detail extraction, build quality
Bad: slight midrange emphasis
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