I need to start this review with a strong disclaimer.
Having read a lot of different views and applied my own limited knowledge to the topic, I really didn’t expect an “upgraded” USB cable to have any impact on the sound output by a DAC. According to much of what I’d read, the USB data stream is checked at both ends so data can’t be lost or added. I don’t know if that’s accurate and I’m not about to get into the science of digital audio. The reason I’m sharing this is because people often read cable reviews and cry “placebo!” so it’s important that you understand my expectations going in – I expected nothing and, therefore, the placebo effect would produce nothing.
This all began when I was shown a group test conducted by Hi-Fi News (UK) in which they compared a bunch of USB cables of different values using a combination of blind testing and objective data. It’s in their July 2013 magazine, but I couldn’t find it online at all. The review included reviews of cables ranging from 18 – 139 pounds and found a wide range of performance that didn’t always reflect the price of the cable.
It just so happened that the top rated cable in the “reasonably priced” bracket was available at one of my local stores, The Noisy Motel. I decided that I would enjoy a nicer looking and feeling cable if nothing else so I spent $75 expecting a cosmetic upgrade and with an open mind to the chance of improved audio, but no expectations. The results surprised me!
Having bought the Chord SilverPlus mostly as an upgrade in look and feel, I really liked the design. It’s not flashy, but it looks and feels solid.
The insulation is a flexible white plastic material which is soft to touch and looks neat and clean. The plugs on the cable are finished in a slightly textured white plastic with aqua coloured inserts. Finally, the contacts are all gold plated with white plastic inserts.
All-in-all the cable looks and feels nice, but not crazy expensive or extravagant.
On the inside (according to the available information) is a series of heavily silver-plated copper conductors insulated in a high frequency shield and then insulated by gas foamed polyethelene. I’d explain what that means, but I have no idea myself! The part I do understand is the silver-plated copper so I can briefly discuss the fact that I generally shy away from plated cables in analogue interconnects because I find the plating actually interferes with the coherence of the sound so I was slightly worried that the SilverPlus was either going to do nothing for the sound or actually disappoint me rather than impress me.
Results – The Sound
I was completely amazed when I connected the SilverPlus to my Vaio laptop and then to my Audio-gd NFB-5.2. The sound completely changed for the better!
I completed a comparison test using the Beyerdynamic T1s connected directly to the headphone output of the NFB-5.2. There are 2 key features of the T1 sound that are key to this review:
- They are amazingly resolving of textures and fine detail in the recordings
- They can sound harsh with certain sources (and to me the NFB-5.2 has a slightly brash / harsh top-end)
It was a pretty simple comparison using a generic USB cable which was probably supplied with a printer and the Chord SilverPlus USB. Very simply, I played a track via the generic cable (Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” 24-bit / 192kHz) and then the same track via the SilverPlus with no change to volume and using the same USB socket.
With the generic cable the sound was good, but the NFB-5.2 did have a little harshness in the top-end. When I changed over to the SilverPlus I started to notice some really interesting things. My first impression was that the midrange was pulled back ever-so-slightly. What I noticed next was that details in the higher frequencies became more prominent and yet in now way “in-my-face”. It was like there was more detail, but it was also smoother at the same time.
I also felt like there was more “space” in the recording when played via the Chord USB. There seemed to be better definition of the placement of each instrument and a clearer boundary or space between each distinct sound.
I believe the sensation of reduced mid-range was actually that the Chord cable did a better job of delivering balanced energy across the whole frequency range. As the track continued, the vocals and mids were clear and present and there was plenty of texture and detail, but it was in perfect balance with the treble and bass.
Overall, the addition of the Chord SilverPlus made the sound from the NFB-5.2 / Beyerdynamic T1 combo smooth, balanced and yet incredibly detailed. It revealed extra sounds and details in the recording that I simply didn’t hear on with the generic cable. For $75 – $130 (depending on cable length) the Chord SilverPlus is actually a really worthwhile upgrade to a computer audio system. I’m surprised to be saying that, but it’s true!
The cable pictured here is the 75cm version. Be aware that 75cm is not as long as you might think. It’s worth going to the 1.5m cable if you want some flexibility in your setup. The 75cm version requires your computer to be pretty close to the DAC and won’t allow for a lot of play. If you’re like me and use a laptop (and rearrange your desk from time-to-time or move your laptop and DAC to other rooms for various reasons), the 1.5m cable provides plenty of flexibility while still being short enough to not have heaps of slack in a desktop setup.