Thinking about upgrading your speaker and interconnect cables? The Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY prove that you don’t have to spend a fortune for great sound quality.
At the risk of repeating myself, I loathe expensive audiophile cables. That doesn’t sound like a positive start to a review of the latest Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY cable loom, but one needs some context if they wish to best understand my views on the segment.
You don’t need $5,000 power cords.
Or a single meter of loudspeaker cable that costs as much as a Naim NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier.
Ask yourself why any of that makes sense.
Why would anyone who portends to love listening to music so much spend $5,000 on a single cable versus buying 150 new records?
You know that it doesn’t make sense but you have allowed us in the media to con you for decades in regard to the necessity of overpriced cables that do not offer that much of an improvement over the more affordable cables from the same companies.
All cables do not sound the same.
Some cables do make your system sound more transparent, but that’s often at the expense of color in the midrange and some low end weight.
I’ve inserted cables into my systems that made them sound worse; far too much top end energy and detail at the expense of texture and midrange presence.
Even in the context of a $10,000 system, where it’s probably reasonable to spend $750 to $1,000 on speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords (assuming you have at least 2-3 sources), the benefits of spending any more than that is questionable.
Having taken the plunge over the past decade with QED and Analysis Plus, I feel confident telling you that products like the Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY will get you 90% of the way there and that you are better off investing in a better pair of loudspeakers or amplifier than mega-priced cables.
The ShawlineX are so good at what they do for a reasonable amount of money that they give me a modicum of hope that some manufacturers understand that there needs to be greater emphasis on more affordable products and that consumers who are new to high-end audio will turnaround and explore something else if the industry pushes the “audiophile” cables schtick on them.
Following the recent release of its EpicX Array interconnect cable line, the Chord Company has upgraded its more affordably priced Shawline analog interconnect with XLPE (Cross-linked Polythene) insulation.
The new ShawlineX ARAY are the latest in a line of handmade-in-the-UK cables from Chord Company to benefit from XLPE following in the footsteps of the SignatureX and EpicX ARAY interconnects which were introduced earlier in 2023.
In addition to the XLPE upgrade, the ShawlineX Aray cables also incorporate high-quality silver-plated conductors, several layers of shielding, and proprietary Chord Company ARAY geometry.
The ShawlineX ARAY cables also incorporate ChorAlloy-plated, DIN, VEE 3 RCA, or XLR connectors, plus additional material technologies.
The rest of the range is rather comprehensive; the new series includes a dedicated tonearm cable, mini-jack options, HDMI AOC (Active Optical Cables), power and speaker cables, plus a variety of digital connections.
Chord Company shipped me a set of the interconnects, DIN to RCA interconnects for the Naim NAIT 50 that will be arriving in August, and loudspeaker cables terminated with banana connectors.
The interconnects have already proven to be robust and easy to install behind a rather busy BDI media rack.
The banana pins are thick and these are not terminations that will come apart if you put too much stress on them.
Having already connected and disconnected them from a wide range of amplifiers and loudspeakers, the ShawlineX ARAY are proving to be very accommodating regardless of situation.
The ShawlineX ARAY spent a week with 3 different systems to determine its overall tonal balance and presentation.
My Magnepan LRS/Cambridge Audio Edge A system in the den is the most neutral sounding of the 3 and the easiest to hear any changes in timbre, detail, and clarity.
Substituting the ShawlineX ARAY for the QED Reference Audio 40 Interconnects and QED Reference XT40i Loudspeaker cables felt like a lateral move after the first few days of listening but then I started to notice that the ShawlineX ARAY dig out more inner detail and have slightly more mid bass weight and clarity.
Bass notes have slightly better attack and definition and that became consistent across the board.
The Reference XT40i are a more neutral sounding loudspeaker cable and that was apparent listening to Donald Byrd, Wayne Shorter, and Bill Frisell; the QED cable was slightly better at letting the warmer tonal balance of the Edge A integrated amplifier connected to the Cambridge Audio MXN10 Network Player shine through.
Horns and guitar notes had more energy and detail through the ShawlineX ARAY streaming TIDAL via the MXN10.
Switching out the ShawlineX ARAY loudspeaker cables for the entry-level Golden Anniversary XT speaker cables from QED was interesting because the tonal balance shifted a great deal.
Amy Winehouse and Natalie Merchant lost some transparency and detail in the process but there was certainly an enhanced sense of color in the midrange and lower treble with the QED.
The Golden Anniversary XT are rounded off at both extremes, whereas the ShawlineX ARAY are more open and transparent sounding with better speed as well.
The QED Reference Audio 40 and ShawlineX ARAY both worked really well with the Edge A/LRS combination and it really came down to how both cables interacted with my sources and tube phono preamps.
The ShawlineX ARAY is open, detailed, quick, and transparent sounding overall.
Swapping out the Magnepan LRS for the Bowers & Wilkins 703 S3 with the Cambridge Edge A highlighted the transparency of the ShawlineX ARAY but also its superior control and definition in the bass range.
The 703 S3 deliver very strong and defined bass response in my 16′ x 13′ x 9′ den and the Edge A has zero difficultly commanding its drivers; Metallica, Tool, Talking Heads, and Depeche Mode energized the space with very little effort.
The ShawlineX ARAY let the power and darker tonality of the Edge A come through and that wasn’t a bad thing with these highly resolving and revealing loudspeakers.
The 703 S3 have a weird dip in the lower treble and sudden rise that some might find inaccurate; the Edge A connected to the loudspeakers with the QED loudspeaker cables tames that slightly better than the ShawlineX ARAY but I rather liked the top end energy of the Chord Company/Bowers & Wilkins combination which was extremely detailed, airy, and more spacious sounding.
Having highlighted the thinner sounding tonal balance of the Q Acoustics 5040 in two previous reviews, I was very interested to see how the Cambridge Audio Evo 150/Evo CD player combination would perform with the QED and Chord Company cables.
The QED Golden Anniversary XT loudspeaker cables offer a darker and more rolled off presentation, whilst the ShawlineX ARAY presented music with greater clarity, detail, and top end extension.
The Evo 150 might be my favorite amplifier yet with the 5040 loudspeakers because it adds some necessary coloration in the midrange and upper bass — but does not sacrifice clarity and detail in the process.
The ShawlineX ARAY gets out of the way with this particular combination and when the synergy kicked in — it really had me scrolling through TIDAL and Qobuz for hours.
Vocals were clear and detailed and I could immediately hear how the Evo 150 was adding some much needed color to the 5040’s overall tonal balance and presentation.
Affordable high-end cables exist and it behoves the high-end audio press to focus more on the the cables that consumers can actually afford versus the ones that reviewers want to play with for endless months.
The Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY offer solid build quality, excellent sound quality with a wide array of components and loudspeakers, and deliver tremendous value in a category filled with overpriced products that don’t deliver enough of an uptick in performance to justify their prices.
Brands like QED and Chord Company clearly get it.
Solid engineering, high-end materials, durability, and performance don’t have to cost a fortune and there is no excuse to pay more for it when you don’t have to.