What’s in a wire?
By Roy Gregory
Having been – I think it’s fair to say – completely bowled over by the Chord PowerARAY Pro (as well as the smaller, more affordable, standard PowerARAY) I promised to investigate the various cable options on offer, especially as regards their contribution to the overall value of the product. Given that the PowerARAY Pro is far from cheap – £7K for a compact enclosure and captive power cord in its flagship version – the idea of saving some coin is obviously appealing. That flagship model employs the top-of-the-Chord-line Music power cable. But you could save yourself £1000 by opting for a Sarum T power cord, a further £500 if you chose the Signature X option. It’s an attractive proposition – as long as it doesn’t compromise performance…
Well, as promised, a recent trip to the UK for the Bristol Hi-Fi Show afforded the opportunity to drop in on The Chord Co. and investigate further. The Scots have a long history of tormenting the English, so it was no surprise to see the demonic grin plastered across the face of Chord MD Alan Gibb, as he triumphantly flourished (or perhaps that should read “threatened me with”) an early prototype PowerARAY Pro fitted with an IEC input rather than a captive cable. The rest as they say, is history…
We started by listening to the PowerARAY, comparing it to the PowerARAY Pro with a stock IEC cable. Even allowing for the fact that this was a protype unit with mechanically sub-standard casework and a socket in place of a hard-wired AC connection, and as good as the standard PowerARAY is, the Pro was still clearly superior, offering a more natural, expressive, dimensional and musically articulate performance. Vocals were substantially improved, with a far greater sense of character and individual accent/diction. Even slumming it with a kettle lead, the Pro is still a class act.
It’s class that only increases as you move up the power cord ladder, first to Signature X, then Sarum T and finally, Music. In each case, the improvement is a natural progression (with the emphasis on “natural”) with greater dimensionality, colour, texture, rhythmic and vocal subtlety, but above all, presence and immediacy. What I wasn’t expecting was that the steps got bigger as we ascended the ladder, the biggest improvement coming with the final switch from Sarum T to Music. With the flagship cable restored to the Pro, the improvement wasn’t just in terms of natural detail or perspective, tonality or harmonics, scale or dimensionality. The real step up was in the relationship between the players and their instrumental lines, a degree of musical connection that brought a captivating sense of communication and intimacy to the recorded event, conjuring not just the performers but the chemistry of their performance in the space between and around the speakers. The return trip, back to the base set up was sobering indeed!
If one acid test of audio performance is a system’s ability to put you in the same space as the players, the Music equipped PowerARAY Pro is definitely 24 carat gold! So much so that the more affordable options represent false economy. If you hear what the Pro does, you are going to want it all – and that means going all the way to the model equipped with the Music lead. I kind of get why Chord offers the three different versions, but in reality the top model is so superior that it renders the more modest ones irrelevant. I like a bargain as much as the next audiophile and in this case, I’d love to say it ain’t so… Sadly, the evidence of my ears is all too clear. Skimp on the PowerARAY Pro’s cable and you’ll only live to regret it. That gnawing, subconscious awareness that there really is more available will wear you down. So do the sensible thing and try/buy the big one straight off. Once you hear the results, you’ll quickly appreciate just how much sense that makes.