The Chord Company has finally brought their outstanding ARAY technology to the budget audiophile with the release of their new C-Line range. Our tests have proven that the C-Line RCA is easily worthy of its modest price tag, and its sonic performance comes highly recommended.
With twenty-five years under their belt and a huge award cupboard brimming with bling, The Chord Company is one of the most experienced, successful, and forward thinking boutique audiophile interconnect brands around. Chord, as their commonly known, enjoy a fifteen strong workforce of veteran industry experts and hardworking precision engineers who all share the same ideal; to let the music speak for itself.
Having briefly visited Chord in Wiltshire, England, it was plain for me to see and feel that this is an honest brand that, despite the costs involved with research/development and materials, would never rest upon their laurels, but I have to say that nothing struck me quite as hard as the announcement of a new entry level range which has been christened [the] ‘C-Line’. Interestingly these ultra affordable products adopt certain design principles from Chord’s most popular, and lucrative, ARAY interconnects, but vetoes the most expensive materials from the design, refines the production method, lowers material tolerances, and entirely outsources the production to China, in order to bring a 1m RCA cable to £45 inc. VAT. A total bargain.
Variations and Pricing:
Please note that the C-Line is currently only available in 1m and 0.5m lengths. I have been advised that custom lengths can be accepted by Chord, but their delivery is longer and come at a higher price. The 0.5m cable is perfect for small distances and it is advised that you purchase only the length that you require as the longer the cable, the more room their is for signal loss. The 0.5m cable currently comes in at £35.00 inc. VAT and, as previously mentioned, the 1m cable weighs in at just £45.00 inc. VAT, which is a very good, and competitive, price for both.
Unboxing, Features, and Build Quality:
Just like the Crimson, Cobra, and Chameleon interconnects, the C-Line RCA arrives in the same simple plastic square retail packaging, and is finished with a simple cleanly branded information card. The packaging design effortlessly allows the user the ability to check the cable for suitability, length, and quality before purchase without the user forfeiting their possibility of a refund by breaking a seal. Once inside, the solitary cable is appropriately twist coiled in order to not damage the complex inner structure of this RCA.
Compared to other RCA cables of the same retail value, the C-Line construction appears to be superior although its simple washed out baby-blue white aesthetics are somewhat lacking. This really isn’t an issue at all until your encounter an end user with a system upon an open plinth, in this setting the ugly C-Line absolutely clashes with the most common HiFi colour finishes but, for the majority of purchasers, the cable will be seldom seen and won’t create a problem at all. At the point of purchase I can see some users being detracted by the C-Line design because, as we know, a user will buy with their eyes despite a catalogue of reviews. Perhaps if this cable had a grey finish then the C-Line would be aesthetically superior and could gain some ground with the flashy competitors - not naming any names.
Paying some attention to the RCA connector and jacket now, the C-Line RCA appears to have exactly the same tight six-way clamping construction as the higher priced Crimson, Cobra, and Chameleon designs in order to guarantee the best possible connection. However, the main difference here is that the metal plug clamp is totally exposed, whereas the aforementioned designs are concealed under a rubberised composite jacket. Chord have still payed special attention to the coating of the metal plug clamp and have opted to used a 24t gold plating in order to obtain a high quality connection, but with the entire metal plug being exposed to the elements resonances can build up around termination and it is possible that radio frequencies can enter the connector and core conductor, which ultimately affecting the purity of the analogue signal. Still, Chord have tried to reduce the severity potential of this by over-sizing the direct injection moulded plug jacket with a unique plastic/rubber acoustic dampening composite between the cable and the metal plug. I have identified that with the plug jacket being injection moulded directly onto the cable, and without a proper cable restraint, that mechanical noise could potentially be a problem with certain high energy setups, although if you compare this to competitors with [conductive] metal jackets this point of view is much better for mechanical and RF rejection purposes. I do have to note that many of these comments are purely observational, and the C-Line still has an excellent construction.
As with all Chord cables, they are supposed to be directional and, as a result, there are two arrows printed onto the outer jacket to indicate the directionality. During all of our tests we could not detect any audible difference, but I am sure that Chord have their reasons for this although, at this entry level system pairing, it will be difficult to identify such a marginal edge. In terms of the physical cable construction Chord have opted for a pseudo-balanced 99.95% pure Oxygen free copper (OFC) conductor with the crucial ARAY geometry applied and have encapsulated this component with high density PPE foam in order to reduce resonance. Immediately after the layer of PPE foam is a double wrapped layer of high density braided foil in order to inhibit radio frequencies from entering through the PPE foam and into the core conductor, which would otherwise have an adverse effect on the purity of the signal. Atop of the foil shielding is a flawless layer of smooth PPE material to, again, guard against resonance and mechanical noise.
Chord have high expectations for all of the products, regardless of class, and actively check each cable with a trained eye and an electronic continuity and verification machine. If any issue is flagged, no matter how small, the cable is rejected. Because of this multi-stage quality control procedure it is highly unlikely that your cable will fail and Chord proudly support this with an outrageously generous ten year repair or replace warranty for the materials used and workmanship.
Uses and Installation:
Please note that the C-Line RCA is not suitable as an interconnect between any traditional vinyl cartridges and phono stages, likewise the C-Line RCA should not be used as an interconnect on RCA turntables. The C-Line, however, is perfect for use between home theatre systems, CD players, DVD players, Blu-Ray players, tuner separates, headphone amplifiers, streaming devices, DACs, and ADCs.
Before any installation please make sure that your equipment is completely off on the device and, as a double measure, at the wall itself. Any connections or disconnections made whilst an audio unit is powered on has the potential to severely damage your audio equipment and aural health. It may seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but transducers are very sensitive components and a split second is all it takes to render them useless or damage them in such a way that they are unable to perform as well.
Nowadays I find myself saying this progressively more, but the C-Line RCA is an excellent ‘audiophile on a budget’ RCA. I usually disapprove of drawing comparisons, however in this aggressive end of the market I have chosen to go against the grain and when compared to other current popular solutions, the C-Line appears to oust them in terms of transparency and has very acceptable mechanical rejection.
The cable itself does not appear to be clinical in its presentation and instead has an agreeable naturalesque signature whilst carrying a very moderate dark presentation in comparison to Chord’s higher value entry interconnects, yet the C-Line feels clean and expansive across the soundstage. If you’re familiar with Chord’s range then the C-Line certainly feels much more Crimson than Chameleon, but, in terms of dynamic range, the C-Line trumps other competitors with much higher contrast [transient response], and successfully presents finer nuances with clear definition and a soft decay without fragmenting the synergy of the track at all. With this said, there is a good fluid feeling amalgamation holding the melodic elements together from the mid-midrange up to the mid-treble which allows for vocal elements to come across clear, free of distortion, and concise. In the higher frequencies all supporting definition is much more fluid than other offerings and actually feels much less fuzzy [less distortion effect] which, I suspect, is down to the shielding that Chord has implemented within this cable. Within the sub-bass, the C-Line carries the weight of rhythmic instruments to satisfaction with a slight rounded edge feel and I feel that the timing is clearly carried.
Coming on to imaging now, the vertical and horizontal spatial placements have much more definition agains the competition and their is a higher element of air that helps the macro elements to be carried alongside micro-nuances and still be heard to some moderate degree.
The new C-Line announcement may come as a shock to some Chord Company purists. Whilst the aesthetics of the C-Line RCA leave a lot to be desired, the build quality is still very good, and the sonic performance is excellent. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards The Chord Company C-Line RCA with a four lovely stars.