When some Naim Audio retailers visiting from the USA asked for a good quality DIN to RCA phono interconnect, the folks at Naim's Salisbury factory couldn't recommend one. This was back in 1984, so it was a little odd that Naim hadn't thought about this problem before – RCA was near-ubiquitous outside Europe, and most British manufacturers were moving away from the German DIN standard popularised by Philips in the early nineteen seventies.
To cut a long story short, Sally Gibb, then married to a Naim executive, suggested that she could make some – and thus was born The Chord Company, with the blessing of Naim. To this day, both companies are based around Salisbury, Wiltshire – just down the road from Stonehenge. Nearly four decades on, the Signature is one of the company's many cables and has multiple termination options – including the aforementioned DIN plugs for old-school Naim users. The Signature range was launched in 1998, the manufacturer describing it as “the first interconnect to use seriously effective shielding… the result of intensive research into high-frequency interference.”
What we now call RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) – or a cable's ability to reject it – is one of many reasons why well-designed cables sound better than poorly and/or cheaply designed ones. As well as carrying a low voltage, alternating current signal from the source to the amplifier, an interconnect must not pick up extraneous electrical noise along the way. To this end, the Signature uses the company's so-called Tuned ARAY conductor geometry – separately shielded conductors in PTFE insulation, dual-layer foil and high-density braid shielding effective to very high frequencies. In addition, Chord says that the outer jacket of each conductor is FEP, and these are held in the correct configuration with a black braided outer jacket.
Much has been done to shield RF noise out then, but the other important feature is the metallurgy. Silver-plated, oxygen-free copper conductors are used – a combination that, in my experience, works very well. Pure silver can sound a bit stark, even if it is super highly etched, whereas pure copper tends to sound duller, fuller and softer with less detail. I believe that silver-coated copper gives much of the best of both worlds at a price closer to copper.
Although expensive, many cables at this price still employ copper conductors – making the Signature RCA good value for money for this reason alone. It's also nicely terminated, with quality plugs and PTFE plug surrounds for lower mechanical noise. The latter is also an important factor in cable sound. Overall it's a well turned-out product that feels robust and made with quality materials – one should expect nothing less at this price.
The Signature RCA has come a long way from Chord Company's first Chrysalis cable all those years ago. Its clean yet smooth sound performs the clever trick of sounding detailed yet not analytical. It gives an explicit and intricate rendition yet doesn't machine-gun detail at the listener. In absolute terms, it's ever so slightly soft around the edges yet never sounds bland. It has a capacious soundstage and handles dynamics in an effortless way, even if it's not the most 'seat-of-the-pants' listen. Its grown-up yet animated character makes it ideal for upper mid-price systems; it shows them off without getting too stark and revealing of their failings.
Tonally the Signature RCA is very well balanced, being just on the smooth side of neutral. Given the systems it's likely to find itself in, this should work well; it added the faintest whiff of warmth to my Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 DAC, driving my Sony (Esprit) TA-N86B power amplifier and Yamaha NS-1000M loudspeakers. Nothing sounded hard or grating, yet this interconnect did not make things boring. Quite the reverse; with I Hear You Now from Jon & Vangelis, it really got into the swing of things. I loved the rich timbre of the backing synthesisers and the delicacy given to Anderson's famously fragile vocals.
This was even more the case with the eighties indie strains of Everything But the Girl's Never Could Have Been Worse. It's a pretty grungy low rent recording, but Tracey Thorn's dulcet vocal tones shone through – giving a highly atmospheric, almost haunting portrayal. The overlaid guitar parts chimed out really clearly, pushing far stage left and right. At the same time, the drum work cut through powerfully, playing off the close-miked bass guitar. It was an excellent performance for an interconnect at this price.
This is a serious contender for being my favourite all-round audio cable in this part of the market. I actually tried it with a range of systems, and it seemed to bring the good out in all of them, never drawing attention to itself and having a fine time of things. Well worth an audition then if you're after near high-end performance at a mid-market price.