Looking for speaker cable on a budget? Paul Rigby reviews the QED XT40
If you are on a budget and possibly purchasing your first hi-fi, it’s all rather exciting. All that hardware and so much potential, never mind getting to grips with the music itself. The thought of actually connecting it up with cables can often be the last thing on your mind. In fact, there is an instinctive rush to hook it up with any old bell wire, just because you want to hurry up and hear the thing make some sort of noise.
Even many hi-fi enthusiasts who have collected together a worthy system for not much money via low cost new buys, second hand purchases or hardware received from family or friends can get caught up in the fervour. Again, cables often get ignored.
If you happen to find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath, pause and consider your actions before you make a big mistake. The cabling on any system is crucial for many reasons, not the least the basic sound quality of the hi-fi itself. OK, cables are not sexy. They don’t have toggle switches and don’t arrive with flashing lights or even VU meters but they do carry that all important sound signal.
For any budget system, it comes down to basics which are these: good cables can enhance the sound quality of your hi-fi while bad cables can cock it up.
It’s imperative, therefore, to get the best cables that you can afford. For a budget system, that probably means ‘not a lot’. No problem, though. There are plenty of cables out there that fit within that particular price point. Some are down right poor, others get by while one or two are brilliant in terms of value for money and sound quality.
I wondered just where the QEDs, flaunting its rather mysterious X-Tube technology, would fit in the grand scheme of things.
As these cables are so low in price it seems pretty reasonable that they will be considered for purchase by anyone who has either found a set of basic bell-wire cables in the bottom of a box to use with their speakers or who has been handed a set of said bell-wires by a cruel or, possibly, sadistic hi-fi dealer.
I tested the QED XT40s with this basic of all cable types and played David Bowie’s Sound & Vision on vinyl. The song comes from the album, Low, which was apt because this song reached a new low in terms of sound quality with the bell-wires. Bass had more bloom that the average garden, less control than a prison riot, more screechy upper mids than a sack full of parrots on Speed, a disorganised soundstage that had Bowie bumping into synths and falling over drums and as for Bowie himself? His vocal performance sounded like a drunk that had just fallen out of a taxi…backwards. I was less than impressed.
The QEDs, in comparison, added clarity and focus to the soundstage and a sense of form and stability in all areas of the sonic spectrum. Bass now offered control and punch and no longer dominated the entire song by leeching into the midrange and treble whilst the treble offered nicely formed reverb tails and midrange performance provided far more insight and detail. Oh and Bowie sounded like Bowie instead of sounding like his grandmother.
The real challenge is when you place another value for money cable against the QEDs and that’s what I did by sourcing a set of low cost speaker cables from Tellurium Q (£13.75/m). The Tellurium Q Blue represent an ideal start in the life of a budget hi-fi. They have always been my own preference when looking at true budget speaker cables and I’ve tested a fair few. Hence, the QEDs had quite an uphill task in this particular sound test.
This time, I turned to Genesis, on vinyl, and their prog instrumental, Los Endos.
This is a highly complex track with plenty to confuse and befuddle a budget pair of speaker cables. Yet, the QED seemed to enjoy the experience. In fact, one of the main aspects of the play was the space and air that it brought immediately to the upper mids that were the focus of the early pastoral noises from this track. There was a distinct delicacy to the synth washes that was then backed up by a series of quick fire bongo drum percussions patterns. The QED gave the bongos a characterful presentation.
On into the bulk of the track and the bass and drums flew into action. The Blues are noted for their strong bass presence and the QEDs were just a touch recessed by comparison. Only a touch though and don’t see this as a criticism. It did, in fact, contribute to the QEDs excellent tonal balance which allowed much of the upper mid detail to be easily heard, giving a sense of clarity to the entire track. That balance allowed the soundstage to sound even and relaxed in tone while the treble, via the cymbals, was elegant and delicate in form.
Moving to spoken word and Michael Parkinson’s interview with Peter Sellers from a BBC LP, the speech sounded focused on the QED. This balanced presentational aspect meant that the voices offered a natural reverb and emotive delivery.
Moving to CD and balladic jazz from Blossom Dearie singing a wistful version of Tea For Two: a voice, piano and double bass. The QEDs could never be accused of being overly warm. Again, there was a sense of neutrality in their presentation that provided a distinct focus on the Dearie vocal delivery that was both clear and clean and, ultimately, very satisfying. Here piano – a notoriously difficult instrument to tame by any suite of cables – did a good job of tackling this most dynamic of instruments while lower frequencies, via that double bass, was still present. Bass, in fact, never disappeared, it provided a tight response.
Well, I’m shocked and that’s no mistake. To hear such an evenly presented sound from such a low priced set of speaker cables is pretty darned impressive. When you get cables in this price bracket you normally hear something missing or, on the other side of the coin, too much of one part of the sonic spectrum that overly dominates. Not here. The QEDs have to be the most neutral and balanced cables in their price bracket. They let the music do the talking.
QED XT40 SPEAKER CABLE
Price: £10 per metre
Tel: 01279 501111
GOOD: balanced presentation, value for money, tight lower frequencies, spacious upper mids.
BAD: nothing at the price