Chord Company Sarum T Analogue XLR Cables Review
Mark Gusew reviews a high-end balanced interconnect that boasts unique dielectric construction…
Sarum T Analogue XLR Cables
USD $4,500 (1 meter)
What's the most important material in an interconnect cable? Many would say it's the conductors, others the connectors and some argue that none of it makes any difference whatsoever. In truth, every constituent part of an interconnect cable plays a role and shapes the quality of sound played through it. But have you considered the role of the dielectric, or insulating material, within a cable? The Chord Company certainly has, and can demonstrate that it makes a considerable difference to overall performance…
Polyethylene (PE) and Teflon (or PTFE) are two of the many insulating materials used by Chord to manufacture its cables. They are widely regarded as being good materials for the job. However, in the company's two most expensive models, these are replaced with Taylon, a material that is rare and exotic, having its start in military applications. All cables in the Sarum T and the flagship ChordMusic range use Taylon, with the differences being down to the amount used. The Sarum T XLR – or balanced interconnect – is what we're reviewing here, which sells in North America for $4,500 USD for a 1-metre pair.
Chord highly regards Taylon, arguing that it is “the most phase-stable and neutral conductor insulation available, and the biggest step forward in performance since the introduction of PTFE”. Customers who already own earlier versions of Sarum cables with PTFE can be upgraded to the Sarum T specification and enjoy the sonic benefits of Taylon insulation.
Sarum T's conductors are made of high-purity copper that's carefully micro-polished and then silver-plated. They are arranged in what Chord calls 'Super ARAY' geometry, which is not specifically revealed but optimised for the cable's purpose. Being a balanced connection, there are two signal wires, the positive/hot and the negative/cold. Yet rather than just using the outer shielding for the ground connection, Chord uses a third wire of identical quality for the earth/ground connection, taking the shield out of the circuit to reduce interference.
Each wire is shielded and has mechanical noise reduction layers, including a final high-density foil and silver-plated braid combination shield. The cables are terminated with silver-plated pins in high-quality Neutrik XLR shells. A hard, white outer braided cover completes the cable, which is both attractive and functional. All cables are hand-built at the Chord Company's factory in the UK.
Using a loom of Sarum T cables in two separate high-resolution hi-fi systems, I experienced repeatable sonic differences when swapping cables around – confirming that the differences are clearly audible. The Chord Sarum T is an extremely clean and neutral-sounding cable, with little of its own character imposed on the music, to the point that I cannot detect any tonal impurity. Plugging the cable in but allowing it to touch the wall or have a twisting tension will make the upper bass appear slightly murkier, but otherwise, it's as tonally pure as anything I've heard.
As a result of this neutrality, vocals – particularly male voices – have a smoothness and ease that's quite special. Mark Lanagan's voice on One Hundred Days stayed uniform throughout his vocal range and had exceptional separation from the second voice in the chorus. Bass notes went very deep but didn't sound exaggerated in tone, speed or impact. The guitar strums at the start were holographic and had the sort of space and air, plus excellent decay trails, that is only heard in top-notch cables such as these.
Comparing this premium Chord XLR against some other cables that I had to hand, I found the Nordost Heimdall 2 had a similarly fast and neutral delivery. However, the Chord's ultimate resolution of fine detail was superior, as was the sense of space and image depth and scale. Indeed, the latter was dramatically better in this respect, as you might expect, given the price differential. It was the same story for Tara Labs' The 2, which displayed inferior focus, clarity and definition to the Chord – and image depth and overall musical ease were no match either. Without a highly revealing system, you won't hear the differences clearly, but they are certainly there, all the same.
The latest Chord Company Sarum T is extremely expensive by normal hi-fi cable standards, but it's the best-sounding interconnect I've yet heard in my system. As such, if you're fortunate enough to consider investing in really top-notch cables for your system, this is an essential audition.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.
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