Looking for a set of audiophile quality speaker cables that won’t break the bank? Paul Rigby checks out the latest contestant from QED, the XT25
Let’s say that you’ve saved hard for a new pair of speakers. Let’s say that you’ve just spent £200 on them. They turn up in the post. You’re all excited, as you have every right to be. You can’t wait to unpack them and plug them into the matrix that is your hi-fi system. A place were new musical realities are born? Oh yes.
And then? Damn it. Damn it. Damn it! Cables, cables, cables. How are you going to plug them in then, eh? You haven’t got any cables. You were so darned pumped up about the new oak finish, you forgot all about them. No problem, there’s an electrical shop down the road. So off you pop. And come back, a tad breathless, with some cable that may have cost you, what, let’s say £1.99 per metre? In the UK, Maplins is a good place to buy this stuff. I’m sure there’s a similar place where you live. Easy, eh?
So you connect the new speakers again – oh the wait! the frustration! the tension! – and you switch the hi-fi and you play a favourite LP and you wait in expectation as the needle drops and you hear the first 30 seconds of music and you walk into the corner and you cry and you cry a lot more. Because it sounds crap.
Why? Because the cable transfers lots of beautiful musical information. That’s ok, yes? Yes. Yes it is. Trouble is, cables like this just do a job. They can’t tell static from Santana. They don’t know noise (i.e cruddy masking horribleness that masks all of the fine detail and completely ruins your musical experience) and noise (Lou Reed, Sonic Youth and Merzbow). They transfer the musical signal but they also transfer anything that’s in the area and wants to hitch a lift. Noise again.
Well designed hi-fi cable exists to differentiate the good stuff from the bad stuff. That’s what I wanted to investigate here by reviewing the new QED speaker cables, the XT25.
You may have seen my recent news piece but, for those who missed it , the XT25 cable features a hollow LDPE filler covered by a host of OFC copper of 99.999% purity. That lot is covered by aluminium Mylar and the entire casing is protected by a clear LDPE outer jacket.
I began the sound tests with Fight The Power from the Isley Brothers album, The Heat In On a fierce, high tempo piece of funk with a rich and full soundstage that is full of layered instruments.
This track is packed with excellent vocal performances. There’s real drive and emotion behind them. The musicianship is superb too. For this level of speaker cable though, what really gets me are the hand claps. I know, not exactly exotic but the hand claps are the cause of real issues for me and I would gladly spend serious money on speaker cables just to control the things. The problem is that hand claps on this track can highlight excessive noise within the cable. The problem with many budget cables on the market is that they have absolutely no idea how to translate the hand clap into, oddly enough, a hand clap. What you get is a sharp, head-ache inducing snappy punch. Over and over it goes and out comes the Paracetamol. What the hand claps are doing is hitting exactly the right spot in the upper midrange that emphasises a noise-induced edge of clinical emphasis.
This troublesome area is – praise the Lord – handled superbly by the XT25 cables. The cables produce, for the price, an incredible hand clap. You may laugh but the midrange delivery of this sound is indicative of the rest of the sonic performance of this cable. The hand claps here are tonally realistic with a balance between the striking of the hands but also the detail that sounds produces.
The other issue is the treble. Most budget cables offer a cymbal hit that sounds hard and unforgiving.
Imagine a perfect cymbal crash. Then take that cymbal crash in your hands, leave it out all night in the back yard during winter and then hear it the next morning packed in frost. That’s how a cymbal sounds via a poor budget cable. It sounds totally manufactured and brittle.
The XT25s soften the treble while retaining detail. Hence, for the price point, treble sounds exquisite, providing a soft sheen, packed with information and a nice reverb decay. All of these positives are helped by the low noise performance.
Remember this is funk and this particular track stems from 1975. Do you know how an electric guitar, especially from this period, sounds when you plug it into a meaty guitar amp? There’s the rich crackling sound where the contact is made, mixing a heavy electrical feedback with power and a slight hum. Playing that guitar, you can hear this weight and grunt. It’s this personality that the XT25s access and most budget cables ignore. Hence, you get a much more interesting ‘groove thang’ going on. The vibe is rich with portent.
Bass too is much more characterful than the norm with an organic response that provides a more emotive realism and less of the horrible synthetic effects that some cables provide.
So much for energy and dynamism. I turned to Nina Simone and a simple arrangement. Just the gal and her piano singing Seems I Never Tire of Loving You. I’ve said this before, but the piano is a tough nut to crack for any hi-fi. It’s packed with potentially chaotic frequencies that hi-fi component sometimes fail to control. Hence, you often hear midrange smearing and, in the lower registers, bass booming. In the worst cases, pianos can sound positively unlistenable. The XT25s were remarkably disciplined here, mostly because the low noise aided clarity and midrange insight while the transparent nature of the upper frequencies helped the dynamic reach of the instrument.
It was a similar case with the highly emotive nature of the Simone voice. My goodness, she could belt out a song when she felt like but her vocal was complex with range and vibrato that complicated a song and personalised it. The XT25 traced the flow of the vocal well so there was no midrange confusion.
Offering a sense of clarity in terms of midrange performance, with a low noise expression that aided both transparency but also tonal accuracy, the XT25 cables bring a sense of hi-fi luxury at a low price. A very low price, in audiophile terms. If you find yourself with a pair of bell wire speaker cables you owe it to upgrade immediately. Dive into your car, hail a taxi, hi-jack your nearest 747 or jump on the back of the nearest jogger and direct him to (not Cuba but) the nearest QED dealer. The change will be a big relief to your ears. Although the local chemist might suffer in Paracetamol sales.
QED XT25 SPEAKER CABLE
Price: £6 per metre unterminated. Cold-welded termination with QED’s Airloc 4mm plugs or spades over a span of 3m, costs £70
Tel: 01279 501111
GOOD: low noise, midrange clarity, organic bass, treble fragility, spacious soundstage
BAD: you kidding me?
Rega RP1 turntable
Rega Brio-R amplifier
Spendor S3/5R speakers
Tellurium Q cabling