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We Love to Listen

19th March 2015 -

Chord launch new Sarum Super Aray cables

- Author:

Sarum Super ARAY analogue interconnects

“How often can you say that the most interesting product you heard at a hi-fi show was a cable, or even a range of cables? The “it all sounds the same” cable nay-sayers out there are going to hate this, but then they wouldn’t bother to listen anyway — because they know that cables can’t make a difference. Except that The Chord Company, longtime suppliers of sensibly priced cables to the audiophile masses, were demonstrating that actually they do.”

Roy Gregory – The Audio Beat (*Read the full article below)

Sarum Super ARAY analogue interconnects are available in the following terminations:

RCA to RCA (with new PTFE plug surrounds) XLR to XLR (any existing XLR Sarum cables sent back for upgrade will be fitted with the latest custom XLR plug) DIN to DIN DIN to XLR If you can’t see the termination you need, then please contact us and we’ll see if we can help.

Sarum Super ARAY Digital cables are available in the following terminations:

RCA to RCA (fitted with the new Chord PTFE plug surround) RCA to BNC BNC to RCA BNC to BNC AES/EBU (fitted with the latest version of our custom XLR plug) Streaming cable (fitted with new black, high speed Ethernet plug) Chord expect to launch a Super ARAY USB cable as soon as the design is finalised.

Sarum Super ARAY power cable is available as:

UK mains to IEC UK mains to 16 amp IEC (the 16 amp plug will be the Furutech version that we currently use) Euro mains to IEC (Sarum Super ARAY Euro power cable will continue to use the current Furutech mains plug. The IEC will be our new silver-plated IEC plug) Euro mains to 16 amp IEC (Sarum Super ARAY power cable will continue to use the current Furutech mains plug. The 16 amp IEC will be the Furutech version that we currently use)

Right now Chord can supply and upgrade all Sarum interconnects and power cables with the exception of any cable requiring RCA terminations. Sarum Super ARAY RCA cables will be available from the start of April 2015.

Sarum Super ARAY – and how Chord did it

It was last summer – and like a lot of ideas it came quite suddenly. We’d been working on the new Signature ARAY power cable. This was a brand new design and heavily influenced by the Sarum Tuned ARAY power cable. Part of the reason for this was that we had a very good CD player in the demo room at the time and like some other hi-fi components it had a two pin IEC connector. That, combined with some clear thought, made us realise that maybe we could configure the ARAY conductor to be more effective. In short, we could (and did) and subsequent listening tests showed we had a clearly better cable. Signature ARAY Power Cable That meant that we had to revisit the Sarum Tuned ARAY power cable, looking at exactly how we employed the Tuned ARAY conductors and a lot of experimentation, but at the end of that process, the Super ARAY was born. I don’t doubt that mains cables are anything other than a crucial part of any hi-fi system, but never in my many years in the industry have I heard such a profound improvement from a power cable. It has to be said that our demo room system is hardly poorly wired. At the time it was sitting with a full Sarum Tuned ARAY loom in place and frankly it was pretty fabulous. Good enough to make concentrating on the more mundane aspects of my job slightly difficult – the temptation being to slip off into the demo room and check a few tracks out. Sarum Super ARAY power cable Connecting the new version of the Sarum power cable to the source component, a layer of noise I never knew was there just disappeared. Quite extraordinary. So we put another one into the DAC and the same thing happened again. We put another one into the pre-amp and the same thing happened again. Finally, we made one for the power amp – and yes, pretty much the same effect. There’s a thing with power cables – generally the first one you put in seems the most impressive. With the new Sarum (not yet named Super ARAY) power cable though, every one we used resulted in the same sort of step forward. That lack of noise really has to be experienced. There’s that classic musician’s quote – “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the space you leave between them that matters”. I had never heard that space so clearly, which I guess is saying I’ve never heard nothing sound so much like nothing. I’m trying hard to avoid the term “inky blackness”, but the sense of silence was quite profound. More important though, was just how much that silence added to the music we were listening to. The space between notes really is important if a piece of music is going to work as it’s intended to – and it wasn’t just the space, it was the way that lack of noise let you hear so much further into the way musicians were playing. There was a particular Kate Bush track from the album “Aerial” where the piano notes are allowed to die, allowed to decay completely before another note is struck. It’s a sound I know. Back when I began work at The Chord Company I visited all the musicians I knew so I could hear them play and I remember one night sitting next to a beautiful piano while its owner struck notes and let them fade into silence. There are some really beautiful timbres and harmonics as a piano note dies away completely and here they were on our demo system. Just in case you are thinking 192 high resolution, that’s not what we were playing – we were listening to CDs at the time. It’s a strange thing. I spent years waiting for higher sample rate recordings to come along and just as they did, we discover how profoundly musical CD quality music can sound. What a revelation! So the first Super ARAY cable we made was the Sarum power cable and as the cable design was finalised, our MD, Alan Gibb, started a conversation with a possible new mains plug supplier. We took one of their existing designs, modified various elements and ended up with the best UK mains plug we’d heard. This, along with a modified IEC plug from the same company is what you’ll find at each end of a Sarum Super ARAY power cable. Super ARAY – the story continues Sarum Super ARAY DIN The development Sarum Super ARAY power cable showed that we needed to think very hard about the construction of our Tuned ARAY interconnects. That was an interesting place to start as we understood with Sarum Tuned ARAY we’d certainly produced our most musically transparent cable (and maybe one of the most musically transparent interconnects we’d heard). One of our customers described it most beautifully as “the cable that does everything and nothing at the same time“. From our point of view, it lets you hear just how good your components are and in turn, how good the music you listen to really is. For us, this had been a revelation. Music I’d been listening to for most of my life took such a big step forward. Things I thought I knew intimately revealed details and subtleties that I simply hadn’t come across before. Even more though, it was the way these details and subtleties added to the sense of involvement and immersion in pretty much everything I listened to. It was akin to hearing the music rather than the hi-fi and even with badly recorded and overly compressed discs, somehow what came through was the music rather than the bad recording. It would be wrong to say that you were unaware that the disc was compressed or badly done, but it was a lot easier to just enjoy the music. How to transfer what we’d done with the power cable to the interconnects turned out to be more challenging than at first we thought but when we finally got it right: WOW! Everything we’ve said and our customers have said about Sarum Tuned ARAY, that level of coherence and that sense of music that it brings to decent systems – that’s still there – but like the power cables there is a genuinely surprising amount of extra musical information on every disc we’ve listened to. What has really surprised us, and for that matter everyone who has heard the Sarum Super ARAY cables, is just how much more musical information there is – and we haven’t touched on high resolution music yet! What musical information means ultimately is detail but it’s the way that detail is presented. It’s the coherence, the sense of a natural musical flow that makes it so special. All the detail in the world doesn’t count for much if it’s not presented coherently and it’s the coherence that makes it so right and so musically compelling. There was something else that happened around the same time. We had some sample RCA plug surrounds machined from PTFE (existing Sarum cables use a rather beautiful acrylic plug surround, which in truth we have always been happy with). The PTFE RCA plug surround though made pretty much global improvements to every aspect of performance and important enough improvements to mean that in future, we’ll be using the PTFE plug surround in place of the acrylic. It was the same experience with the digital cables. The new Super ARAY configuration brings another whole layer of detail and music. Perhaps one of the most profound experiences during this development process was working on the Sarum streaming cable. It was the understanding and experience that we’d gained that allowed us to re-design and re-work the Sarum streaming cable. The result is remarkable. Apart from the Super ARAY conductor configuration we’ve also fitted a new Ethernet plug. A higher specification version of the one we had been using. Like the other Super ARAY cables, it’s the way that you end up with a sound that ticks every box. Undeniably, the musical experience is just a lot better and from a high fidelity point of view, the extra detail, sense of dynamics and overall resolution are equally impressive. This means that we have a new range of Sarum cables: Sarum Super ARAY. Even better, anyone with an existing Sarum interconnect can return their cables via their retailer or distributor and have them upgraded to Super ARAY specification. Nigel Finn Chord

*

Roy Gregory – The Audio Beat Finally, how often can you say that the most interesting product you heard at the show was a cable, or even a range of cables? The "it all sounds the same" cable nay-sayers out there are going to hate this, but then they wouldn’t bother to listen anyway -- because they know that cables can’t make a difference. Except that The Chord Company, longtime suppliers of sensibly priced cables to the audiophile masses, were demonstrating that actually they do. Indeed, they were demonstrating that, contrary to all received wisdom (at least in certain quarters), not only do cables make a difference, but that the differences they make are so audible and so musically important that you’d have to be deaf or in denial not to hear them. Of course, that’s not exactly news and other cable companies like Nordost have been doing just that for years. But what made the Chord presentation so interesting were not just the sonic and musical differences between the cables they were playing, but the physical differences that produced them. Their first area of exploration was network cabling -- otherwise known as Ethernet cables (although Chord were keen to stress that their cables don’t actually adhere to the strict Ethernet standard, hence their chosen terminology) -- a core component of any server-or network-based replay system. Using a system built around a Melco NAS drive, Linn Klimax streamer and Bonnec amplification driving KEF Reference 1 loudspeakers, all fed from a Bonnec AC distribution unit and wired throughout with their flagship Sarum Tuned ARAY cables, they started by comparing a standard Ethernet cable between the Melco and the Klimax to their own C-Stream (£45), a cable that offers enhanced shielding and tighter-fitting plugs. The difference was far from subtle, with more apparent bandwidth, air and color, as well as greater separation, space and far clearer rhythmic patterns and phrasing. You can ignore this if you want -- or deny that it’s important or even that it happens -- but if you do and you run Ethernet in your system, you are throwing away serious musical benefits, benefits that only get bigger as you move further up the range. Next contender was the Anthem network cable. Significantly more expensive at £450 for the first terminated meter length, part of its USP is that subsequent meters only cost £50, making it a cost-effective option for longer runs. The cable itself uses carefully chosen insulation materials to create a hard/soft/hard sandwich skin that Chord have found to offer superior mechanical properties, in combination with the best available connectors, hand-terminated by Chord themselves. The difference here was really significant, with improved resolution, texture, tonal shadings and a natural expressive range that brought vocals and handclaps to life. Musical communication was much more convincing and direct, with the cable bringing body, dimensionality and subtle dynamic shifts to the mix. At this point we diverted to hear just what happens when you replace the standard Power Chord AC cable (£175) with the new Signature version (£500) featuring silver-plated conductors, a basic implementation of the company’s ARAY mechanical tuning and their own UK 13A plug design. The answer is increased dynamic range, a more positively planted sense of pace and timing, greater fluidity and a much more emphatic presentation. That was followed by the current Sarum Tuned ARAY power cord (£1250), which although it brought a nicely relaxed and expressive quality to the presentation, actually lacked the temporal authority of the Signature. Which brought us to the point of this little diversion -- the new Super ARAY AC cable (£1700). This combines the new 13A plug of the Signature with the basic design of the Sarum Tuned ARAY conductors, but with a different and far more effective approach to the mechanical tuning. Predictably, the step up in musical quality was far from subtle, with a richer tonal palette, greater depth and space but most significantly, a far more grasp of rhythmic sophistication, contrast and ensemble playing. The band just sounded tighter, like better players on a real roll. But, of course, power cords can’t make a difference. Any scientist will tell you that! Which brings us back to network cable and two more offerings, the Signature (£750) and Sarum Super ARAY (£1900), both of which include the Super ARAY mechanical tuning -- and both of which extend performance way beyond the already impressive Anthem. Interestingly, whilst the more expensive cable offered seriously worthwhile musical benefits over the Signature, both of these cables were cut from the same sonic stock. They were characterized by their natural tonality, sense of weight, body and musical flow, the coherence with which they presented the phenomenal detail they passed, the naturally articulate and expressive quality they brought to the performance as a whole. If a better system sounds more like people, then both these cables moved this system significantly closer to reality. Having been totally convinced of the virtues of the new Super ARAY tuning, the best news is that it’s retrofittable, with any Sarum Tuned ARAY interconnect or speaker cable upgradeable to the new Super ARAY standard. Form an orderly queue, please. Given the torrent of online abuse that AudioQuest has received for daring to launch an $11,000 network cable -- a cable that according to certain "experts" cannot possibly make any sonic difference -- the Chord Company presentation was both fascinating and timely. It was also utterly convincing. As I said, if you couldn’t hear the differences between these network cables you either weren’t listening or you are in denial. The rest of us will be only too happy to enjoy the considerable musical benefits. But we’re not quite done yet. The final card up Chord’s sleeve, a comparison between the new Sarum Super ARAY interconnect (£1900/meter pair) and a new flagship design, dubbed simply Chord Music and weighing in at £3000 -- an unheard of sum for a Chord product, yet comparatively modest in the world of high end cables. What made this particular comparison so interesting was that the cables were essentially identical, at least in terms of conductors, topology, contacts and mechanical tuning. The only difference is that the Chord Music interconnects used a new, proprietary dielectric dubbed Taylon by Chord (in the absence of any established brand name from the manufacturer) and had PTFE sleeves on the RCA plugs in place of the acrylic ones used on the Sarum. Beyond that, Alan Gibb and Nigel Finn, the Chord Company’s very own chuckle brothers, weren’t prepared to say a word, their lips sealed by confidentiality agreements and the threat of dire consequences if they should divulge militarily sensitive information. Reputedly, they also agreed not to employ the technology in the production of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. Lucky us! Yada, yada, yada -- we’ve all heard variations on that theme plenty of times before. The real question is, how much difference can a bit of insulation and some plug covers actually make? After all, they don’t even pass the signal! Oh, dear. As I said, all those "they all sound the same" merchants won’t be happy. As big and musically important as the differences between the various network cables had been, as dramatic as the increase in dynamic range and rhythmic authority were with the power cords, the difference between the Sarum Super ARAY and the Chord Music interconnects was by far the largest and fundamentally most important difference demonstrated. This wasn’t a change; it was a transformation. I could point to the added body, weight, color, separation and harmonic development. I could flag up the added sense of drive, pace, attack and overall musical impetus. I should mention the increase in articulation and how much more natural the vocal delivery suddenly seemed. But all of these individual attributes seemed trivial in comparison to their collective impact, their effect on the performance as a whole. You could hear deeper into the mix; suddenly you could tell not just what was being played but why, how it drove the track and how it all fitted together; rhythmic patterns and structure fell into place; there was a new clarity and purpose to the performance which brought it right into the room. The whole thing just made a lot more sense -- and in this case it was Led Zeppelin doing the playing! The ability of the cable to project the sheer power and energy of the band, as well as sort out the recording so that you could hear exactly who was doing what, was remarkable. What was more remarkable was that the Sarum Super ARAY is no slouch, the Tuned ARAY version regarded as both an excellent performer and excellent value. Yet the Chord Music left it well and truly in the weeds: more natural, greater clarity, better communication and far less aurally "visible," the new cable just sounded right. Given that the album being played was Houses of the Holy, that’s no mean feat! Even more interestingly, apparently that’s the way it sounds pretty much from new, which given the extended break-in times for PTFE-insulated cables is another plus. For anybody who has worked with or listened to a lot of different cables, a lot of this will come as no surprise. Mechanical behavior and connector characteristics have been the cable insiders’ hot topic for a while now. The importance of dielectric materials is hardly news; that’s why manufacturers go to such lengths to remove as much of it as possible from direct contact with the conductors in their designs, from foaming it to constructing complex cradle arrangements. In extreme cases (Cogan-Hall springs to mind) they attempt to remove it altogether. But what was surprising was just how large and clearly defined the differences were, particularly between the network cables, which reinforces the old adage about the increasing importance of each system element the closer it gets to the source. Likewise, both the network cables and the power cords really rammed home the importance of connectors and mechanical considerations when it comes to cable design. But the really big news is that PTFE, the dielectric of choice for the last two decades is finally starting to show its age. The king might not be dead yet, but long live Taylon! Now, all we have to do is find out exactly what on earth it is. Oh, and don’t tell the "scientists."