Just over a year ago Chord Co, cable mongers to the pace, rhythm and timing cognoscenti, introduced Tuned ARAY to its Sarum range of top ranking interconnects. I got fabulous results with this cable, it’s the first Chord Co cable that has really made an impression, and I have subsequently used Sarum Tuned ARAY analogue and digital interconnects in my reference system. They have superior timing to most cables but avoid the forwardness that often accompanies pace and deliver an unusual degree of musical coherence.
This year Chord Co introduced Sarum Super ARAY which is an evolution of its predecessor that doesn’t differ a great deal in appearance but has some changes that makes it an even more convincing cable. The apparent change is to the RCA phono plugs, these no longer have polycarbonate covers but white PTFE instead. This is the material that is used as a dielectric on the silver plated copper conductors in the cable and which has long been considered the best insulation material for audio connections, it’s also quite good for non-stick pans where it’s called Teflon. The only drawback is that you can’t print on it so Chord Co has used rubber ‘O’ rings to denote channels (and if you’re a reviewer even these won’t stick!).
Under the insulation the main difference between Tuned and Super is that while the former was created to address earthing issues, which, it’s gradually becoming clear, seem to be at the root of all audio evil, Super ARAY counters problems that subsequently became apparent on the signal side. By minimising noise with Tuned ARAY Chord Co’s Nigel ‘Golden Ears’ Finn was able to hear previously masked problems on the signal side and, after some heavy R&D involving much late night listening, came up with a solution.
Sarum Super ARAY is available with DIN and XLR as well as RCA connectors
I went up to Chord Co to hear some comparisons between Tuned and Super ARAY in a system fronted by Spendor D7 speakers with a Sony XA5400ES CD player acting as a transport alongside a Naim DAC and Bonnec amplifiers. We started off listening to some of the new power cables for which the company has commissioned carbon free, silver plated 13A plugs on the more ambitious models. Running from a freebie cable up through the C-Power, Power Chord and Signature ARAY models provided clear step ups with each change (the cables were powering the Sony source). The gains were mainly in timing and openness but the latter indicates reductions in noise, which reveals more of everything including reverb which makes ‘air’.
Listening to Sarum Tuned ARAY analogue interconnect and then switching to Super ARAY resulted in the soundstage opening up to a massive degree, and it did this without losing focus on the voice and instruments in the mix. Too often big means diffuse and vague, but here the superb standard of timing and musical coherence remained and was augmented with a deeper, higher and broader image. That would have been enough for me but Nigel couldn’t restrain himself from playing the as yet unreleased Music interconnect whilst I was there. This uses a type of insulation hitherto unknown to the audio industry that Chord Co has dubbed Taylon because it doesn’t have a commercial brand name. The only difference between Super ARAY and Music is this insulation material that apparently costs a fortune (so you can bet the cables will too), but the difference it makes is staggering. We were playing ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ (Yes, The Yes Album, Atlantic) which had sounded pretty stonking on the Super ARAY, far better than you would expect of the CD. But this took it into another league, seemingly putting you in the control room back in 1971 thanks to extraordinary realism, dynamics and power. It really is a much better recording than I had realised and I will have to get the disc in order to try and get the same experience at home.
The better the hardware gets the more apparent it becomes that cables are the weakest link in the audio system, a state of affairs that Music illustrates with remarkable clarity. Either that or we have a long way to go with dielectric development for audio frequency signals. But suffice to say, cable is far more important than we appreciate and rather more fundamental than the latest high resolution format.
Since that visit I have been using the Sarum Super ARAY analogue interconnect, digital but not coaxial cable and, apparently most controversial, Digital Stream (which looks like Ethernet and works like Ethernet but is not technically a genuine Ethernet cable) in my systems. All three have a similar overall effect which is to make the music more engaging and immediate, whether it’s the analogue connection between pre and power amp, the digital between streamer and DAC or the data flowing from NAS drive to switch the result is that it’s easier to hear what the musicians are playing and the interaction between them whilst they’re at it. You get the cohesiveness of the way that each person’s contribution fits into the composition and this makes listening to familiar material more engaging and accessing new albums that much easier.
These cables achieve this by revealing detail down to a very low level and getting it from A to B in an evenhanded and precise manner. There are richer sounding cables out there to be sure but I would not call Super ARAY lean, its just devoid of overhang. Most cables mask one frequency with another or blur their arrival times so that you get a certain flavour, but this flavour is imposed on everything you play which effectively makes it a barrier to fidelity. Flavours can of course be nice with a lot of stuff, many cables make audiophile recordings sound super dandy, they encourage you to revel in a polished and pristine presentation. But put on something more challenging and the coloration in the cable can get in the way, its carefully finessed balance undermines the timing and that stops the music from making sense, stops it communicating.
Chord Co appears to understand this better than most, all of its upgrades result in your favourite records sounding better and this is doubly so with Sarum Super ARAY (Tuned ARAY cables can be upgraded to Super status BTW. It is expensive but if you are serious about getting to hear all of what’s on the disc, file or tape in a coherent manner then cables are just as important as hardware. Inconveniently this is true of all cables, the Super ARAY Digital Stream brings very similar results to the analogue interconnect and Digital RCA cables, it would be nice if certain cables were less important but it seems that wherever the signal travels it’s open to corruption. One point that repeatedly became clear with the Digital Stream is that counter to expectations the run between hard drive and switch is more important than the subsequent connection to the streamer. Source first applies even when it comes to packet data it seems.
It struck me that Sarum Super ARAY cables are a bit like Rega’s better products, they both turn sound into music. You can have a hugely detailed, three dimensional sound that fails to get to the parts that only music can, putting these cables into virtually any system will do that trick, I heartily recommend you give it a try.
Sarum Super ARAY RCA
Type: Analogue interconnect with RCA phono terminations
Length: 1m pair
Conductor: silver plated copper
Super ARAY Digital RCA
Type: Digital interconnect with RCA phono terminations
Conductor: silver plated copper
Sarum Super ARAY Digital Stream
Type: Ethernet interconnect with RJ45 terminations
Conductor: silver plated copper
The Chord Company
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