Chord Company Sarum Digital
The Chord Company Sarum is a truly magnificent digital interconnect cable that costs £1500 for a one-metre example. That sounds a pretty stratospheric price for a short length of wire with a plug on either end… until you hear it perform, that is.
That digital interconnects can influence the portrayal of music is a contentious subject, with some folk believing that the simplistic concept of digital – the signal being just 1s and 0s – precludes anything but faultless transmission. This notion ignores the fact that in many situations digital really is nothing more than a concept: when being transmitted down a wire digital signals are no more than very high frequency square waves, and as such are just as susceptible to cable-related influence as any other analogue data.
My Naim HDX hard disk player used to connect to my Naim DAC through a Chord Company Indigo Plus coaxial digital cable (BNC – BNC). This was a relatively dear – £425 – three conductor confection that offered the most coherent, and most analogue-sounding performance I had ever heard from a digital cable. When I compared it to a very respectable and highly respected cable from another manufacturer, I was absolutely floored by the unquestionable musical superiority of the Indigo Plus. It was, quite frankly, in a completely different league to other digital leads I had heard. Although impractical from a reviewer’s point of view – its sheer bulk and inflexibility making dressing it consistently a pain when it was constantly being removed and refitted – it looked funky and appropriately expensive. Then I happened across the rather more conventional looking Sarum and it had me revisiting that same experience of downright incredulity.
The Sarum is not an especially flash looking cable. It appears, in truth, rather discreet and mundane. Underneath its white outer sheath, which is rather more reserved than the purple outer covering of the Indigo Plus, there lies a complex array of shielding. Chord describes its corporate pursuit of advanced shielding as an obsession, and says that the shielding of Sarum Digital is the most effective – and expensive to produce – that it has used to date. The whole purpose of the Sarum development process was for the company to take its existing sophisticated construction methodologies and materials – including shielding, Teflon, and silver-plated conductors – and see how far it could stretch each of them.
Accordingly, Sarum Digital uses conductors that are polished before being silver-plated, and then insulated with gas-foamed Teflon. The conductors in the digital cable are subsequently wrapped in a spiral shield made from heavy gauge, silver-plated copper, unlike the analogue cables which use a high-density, braided shield and an extremely heavy gauge foil shield. This process, alone, adds considerably to the cost of making the digital cable but Chord decided that the enhanced performance fairly justified the price.
The Indigo Plus coped with silence far better than other cables: when a note ended you heard nothing; no smeary overhang or noise, just silence. Sarum demonstrates that this was not truly the case because its silences appear far more acutely defined. What this does to music’s timing has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Rhythms are better defined and more decisive: there is no suggestion of any ambiguity about the musicians’ playing; they are firmly in – or out of – the pocket; playing with precision or plodding; grooving or grasping.
This enhancement, albeit outwardly marginal, brings an immediately recognisable added rightness to music and, to use a meaningless cliché, makes music make better sense: for example, you can readily understand why a guitar player chose a particular chord progression or riff because of the feeling it imparts to the performance. Their logic becomes instantly apparent, and it becomes far easier for the music to stir your emotions.
The improvements come regardless of the bit-rate to which you are listening although I feel that higher resolutions certainly tend to magnify them. The most marked performance leap came when I played Aurelio Martinez’ Laru Beya and Ineweyu from his 24-bit/44.1kHz album Garifuna Afro-Combo: his bass player and percussionist’s instruments, especially, exhibited razor-sharp leading and trailing edge definition, which punched the music along relentlessly while Martinez’ guitar was just as brilliantly and accurately defined and etched as it played above them.
Another 24-bit/44.1kHz recording, Dead Against Smoking from Admiral Fallow’s album Boots met my Face demonstrated the ability of the cable to polish the cosmetic elements of a performance as well as render it with greater musical integrity. In fact, the acute instrumental and vocal detailing presented the music such that you felt truly drawn into the proceedings and compelled to examine, savour and enjoy every strand scrupulously. I am not suggesting here that the cable majors exclusively on the intellectual aspects of a performance because Sarum Digital most definitely both pleases the brain and satisfies the soul.
On both of these recordings the dynamic presentation was near perfectly measured. The contrast on such as a briskly twhacked snare or a rim-shot seemed heightened by the silence from which the sound emerged: the Sarum certainly possesses a remarkable startle factor.
This ability to reveal even the slightest dynamic or pitch variation worked to fine effect on aged 16-bit recordings as well as the more modern. The cable seems to reveal more about such recordings than its competition. Angus Young’s guitar playing on AC/DC’s Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution, which is not exactly a densely layered mix and ought not obscure nuances, was particularly well revealed, with subtle, fraction of a tone, string bends during the intro being overtly highlighted. It was almost as though he had had a pneumatic whammy bar fitted to his Gibson SG for that track, such was the precision and deftness of the modulation he was applying.
All in, the Chord Sarum strikes me as a truly special cable to use in a revealing system that you want to turn into a hyper-revealing system. In an appropriate setting it provides immense levels of clarity without a hint of clinical sterility. It is far too accomplished to waste in a mediocre system: only the best will suffice if you want to enjoy the myriad delights it has to offer.