George 47

Chord Signature XL Speaker Cables

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Chord has made cables for over 30 years. They started making cables for Naim Audio using Din connectors at one end and XLR/ phonos on the other. Naim firmly believes that Din connectors sound better and supply their amplifiers with those connectors. The problem is few other companies use these unusual connectors which used to make Naim amplifiers difficult to use with other people’s equipment. Chord came to the rescue and made cables that could be used with Naim and other companies’ equipment. Naim now adds phono connections to their equipment.

Chord quickly expanded into a whole range of cables and I remember buying a pair of bi-wired Odyssey 4 speaker cables. These cables had silver plated oxygen free copper conductors in a PTFE sheath with both speaker cables enclosed in a polyethene outer sheath.  I thought the sound quality was good but it did have a bit of sheen in the mid-range, which I put down to the silver-plated copper.

Since then Chord has examined every aspect of their cables including the conductors, the insulation, the shielding and the geometry as well as developing new plugs/spades. In 2004 Chord introduced their new Signature speaker cables.  

The original Signature speaker cable was quietly introduced but started to get a bit of a following as a no-nonsense cable that worked well. In the intervening 13 years, this cable has been upgraded on a few occasions and I had the latest version in for review.  

In the original XL cables, the conductors were oxygen free copper, the insulation was gas foamed Polyethylene, and shielding was a three-layer braid and foil combination, effective to high frequencies and the outer jacket a flexible polyethene. The cable was however stiff to use. Chord then upgraded the shielding and PTFE insulation to help produce a more neutral tonal character.  The Signature Reference speaker cables were born.

 

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The new cables come in a zip bag. Nice and not too blingy. The new Signature XLs use Chord’s Ohmic 4mm plugs or spades making connection easy. The new Ohmic plugs changed the coating material from gold to silver. Gold is not as conductive as silver and therefore, in Chord’s eyes, not as good. Of course, the plugs will tarnish due to reaction with sulphur in the air and form black silver sulphide. This may not look attractive but Chord says it is not that much of a problem as it can be easily cleaned by just removing the plugs and re-inserting them. Of course, a nice polish and clean is better but Chord says that overall the silver coated connector is better. The new Signature Reference XLs also use an insulation material known as XLPE (Cross-linked Polyethylene) which Chord say is better than the PTFE used in the original Signature Reference.

My pair was single wired, 2m long and costs £1,200, which is a considerable sum for speaker cables. They are not aimed at budget systems for which Chord have alternatives.

I used the Signatures in my main system of an Audionote CD4T, AN 4.1x DAC, Pass XP12 and XA30.8, Allnic T2000 Anniversary KT150 based amplifier and a pair of Audionote E Silver Signature speakers with occasional use of a pair of visiting Klipsch Forte IIIs in for review. I compared the Chords to my Transparent Audio Supers and a pair of Cut Loose Silver ribbon cables and a few other speaker cables.

These cables were incredibly neutral. I was nervous they would have that ‘chrome plated’ sound I heard with my old Odyssey. Nope, none of that here. The Signature XLs are in a different class to those older cables which clearly shows that all Chord’s development over the years has not gone to waste. I played the Signatures for a week before serious listening started.

I normally use my playlist of test favourites which are, for me, good music but not necessarily well-recorded audio. The tonal neutrality of the Signatures was easy to hear on these tracks along with a big 3D soundstage, particularly on well recorded classical music. I, therefore, decided to really get things going by trying some more challenging material.

I recently met and talked to Mike Valentine (write-up soon) and now use his well-recorded music as test material. His latest Audiophile Recordings benefited from the tonal neutrality of the Signatures and overall gave a very relaxed, large 3D soundstage. The tonal accuracy of the cello and piano was very lifelike without the artifice that accompanies some cables. Playing the Syd Lawrence tracks really tried out the dynamic range capabilities of this cable. They certainly captured the dynamics especially when all the brass comes in and let’s go. A real powerhouse of a recording that was easy to hear. And for the drums and the lollipop Bach’s Toccata Fugue in D Minor the bass was really powerful and did not suffer the bloat some copper cables have. This cable was impressing.

I then just left the cable in the circuit and enjoyed it as it is a high-quality cable.

I tried this cable against a range of other cables I had at home. The Signature was more natural and even in response than a set of good £500 copper cables. Against my more expensive cables (Transparent Audio and Cut Loose) the Signatures did have a slightly excessive bass and more importantly did not quite match their superb dynamics. Of course, both of these cables are more expensive so I tried a few copper cables nearer to the Signatures’ price. The Signatures were better than most of them and are therefore one of the best at the price.  I do not want to give the wrong impression as these differences are subtle and require repeated listenings.

So, in summary, this new Chord cable is a great performer and I like its neutrality and 3D soundstage. It has good dynamics and a well-controlled bass. So, if you are looking for a jump up from £600 speaker cables, with some of the latest developments in speaker technology, then you should borrow a set for home audition. They may be just what you need.  

 

Technical Specifications

Conductor

Silver-plated, high purity OFC

Insulation

XLPE

Configuration

Twisted pair

Shielding

Individually shielded positive and minus conductors. High-density foil and 95% coverage metal braid. Translucent PVC outer jacket

AWG

10

mm2

5.26

Diameter

2 x 8.5mm

 https://www.chord.co.uk/

Edited by George 47
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