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New Chord Company USB SilverPlus

Responding to demand from computer audiophiles requesting a Chord quality USB cable, the USB SilverPlus launches with no pretensions to technical supremacy through advanced materials or unique construction techniques. It does however benefit from twenty years’ experience in designing cables that make a real difference.

USB SilverPlus is based on the technical understanding and empirical experience that developing successful cables bring.

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New Chord CrimsonPlus

It has often been said that designing a budget hi-fi product is far harder than a cost no object state-of-the-art gargantuan product.

To design a budget cable that is genuinely a significant improvement over its predecessor is a tough task. To make it better in communication of music as well as traditional hi-fi requirements is doubly tough. Chord CrimsonPlus rises to the challenge, bows and takes the applause.

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New Chord HDMI Active

To follow the success of Chord’s award-winning HDMI Silver Plus, and the recently introduced, performance-on-a-budget HDMI SuperShield, was always going to be an interesting challenge.  Chord considers that they have ridden the bucking bronco of performance and have produced a refined thoroughbred that will enhance the viewing pleasure of the enthusiast – the new HDMI Active. Interestingly, the most significant improvements with the HDMI Active are the sound quality of the new cable.

HDMI Active

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SuperShield – Chord’s new budget HDMI cable available now

Chord’s new and extremely pretty SuperShield HDMI is available now.

It’s targeted at the entry-level end of the specialist market where the performance:price ratio is absolutely critical.

But entry-level at Chord is just an expression that means a greater challenge

The SuperShield is HDMI 1.3b certified.

It uses 26awg oxygen free copper conductors for high conductivity, and low density gas filled polyethylene insulation for its excellent dielectric properties.

Each of the pairs of conductors are protected by a dual-foil shield, and the overall cable is additionally shielded by a foil and a high density braid, effective to high frequencies in traditional Chord fashion.

Gold-plated connectors, soldered with Chord’s chosen lead-free solder, help to achieve the best performance and complete the package of an extremely cost effective HDMI cable for the new world economy.

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ASIO v K Mixer v Kernel Streaming

Computer audio seems to generate emotions when discussing what products to use that really are odd. Why do people get  so wound up?  I’d be interested in your comments. Ideally one would take a computer, connect a good DAC and play one’s favourite music using one’s favourite app.

If only it were that simple to get a great sound from CA.  The more I experiment the more I realise that CA is absolutely similar to analog audio or indeed any audio when taken seriously.  Every change is audible. Assuming one has a good enough system.

Of course, just because a change is audible doesn’t mean it matters.

The expression bandied about on forums about Computer Audio is bit transparent.  The theory is simple: it’s getting the bits from the Hard Drive out of the computer without them being manipulated/changed in any way.

I’ve tried many music playing apps and they all seem to sound subtly different.  Even different releases of iTunes are reported to sort different.  Life is far to short to bother to try different releases.  As they say, I tried it once and didn’t like it.

For convenience for quick playback I tend to use VLC www.videolan.org.  It seems to play almost everything audio and video and can even stream stuff over  my network.  It works well for Radio Paradise too.

If I want to get serious say when I’m comparing DACs I tend to use Foobar.  It’s not my favourite user experience but it is easily configurable. For use under Win XP it’s possible to use the ASIO add in to bypass the K Mixer (assuming you have a suitable sound card). I use the M-Audio Transit. For Vista the WASAPI add in also bypasses the Windows (Kernel Mixer aka K Mixer) mixer.  With volumes set at 100% one should be achieving bit transparency and the sound should be just that little bit cleaner, less splashy and the space between notes will be greater somehow.

CA still never gets truly close to good CD playback.  Not yet for me anyway.  And it’s not ’cause I haven’t tried hard.

It’s a bit simpler with a Mac (the classic Mac and a DAC route) assuming you remember to set the right bit depth and bit rate in the Midi settings but I can’t say it sounds any better.

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Another DacMagic power supply trial

Decided to use Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, but slightly more unusually, the DVD-A rip so the source is 24/96. Unlike quite a few DVD-As, this one appears to have some content above 22k. Amazing though, that given the total available dynamic range they still needed to ‘clip’ the recording.  Still sounds rather good though.
To start I compared the standard power supply with the Maplin L54BR.  Pleasant surprise, the Maplin delivers a subtlety of delivery that doesn’t emphasise any particular instruments. The original PS, in comparison, seems to make the bass line and the hi-hat a little more obvious in the mix of Dreams and decreases the importance of Stevie Nick’s voice.

Using track 7 , The Chain, showed the original as having a slightly ‘sharper’ delivery, more detail perhaps but certainly less music. The main difference was in the low end but this changed the overall presentation. The Maplin just delivered more music but in a controlled and balanced manner.

I then dug out the 500VA transformer I’d tried before – now in an aluminium box and with a ferrite on the output – in common with the original Dacmagic’s supply.  This PS delivered more power to the presentation, more extension apparently  but was slightly slower. It had better separation of instruments, but not really more music.

The more comparisons of power supplies I do with the Dacmagic the more impressed I am of the overall balance of the design.

I will carry on using the Maplin PS.  It is easier to hide away, as it isn’t a walwart, and more importantly it improves the performance making it just that little more balanced and even handed.

The music playback system was a HP2133 netbook running Foobar and ASIO drivers connected by USB2 to a M-Audio Transit sound card which was connected with a  Chord Optichord to the Cambridge.

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Ripping and Computer Audio

These two subjects seem to be the most contentious around in the world of audio now. Both centre around sound quality and both somehow seem to bring out the most passionate views, often different to mine.

Theory one, is that it’s possible to get good sound from a computer feeding a DAC.  The debate tends to be as much around whether a Mac is better than a PC as a source as which DAC is ideal.  The general feeling seems to be that a Mac Book with a DAC costing around a £1k is cable of delivering better sound that a serious or very serious CD Player.  I agree a Mac and a DAC is cable of delivering a very good sound – but not a great one.  The Mac/DAC to my ears delivers a polished performance with poor dynamics downwards and little soul.  A great CD player adds back the soul, and reaches down into the quiet to somehow increase the space between the notes.  I’m sure it is possible to get a great sound from a ‘puter but it am sure it’s going to take a bit more effort than just plugging a DAC on to the output of a Mac.

Theory two, is that if a rip is perfect it should sound the same as another perfect rip of the same CD.  Seems pretty logical to me but somehow it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Listening blind and sighted to different rips which are identical, according to CRC and EAC’s file compare, they seem to sound different.  Consistency of results leads me to believe I’m not fooling myself.  Now, don’t expect these differences to be huge and obvious.  And don’t expect these to hear differences unless you have a revealing system and time.  If you have both and are willing to try a few rips then relax and let the tracks play through and observe your reaction to each track from an emotional level.  You need to be relaxed and not trying too hard – tension and stress are great ways of hearing less. When last trying this blind Malcolm Steward and I found differences in the rhythm of the track.

My conclusions are the same as usual with serious hi-fi.  The more I understand the more I realise I don’t know.

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HDMI cable silences my listening room

Having a PC in my listening room was convenient as I have often been experimenting with different audio playback apps, sound cards, and all the various drivers like ASIO and Kernel Streaming.
The problem though was the noise of the PC. All that investment in a great hi-fi system and a signal to noise ratio destroyed by computer fans.
The solution came to me last week and it was simple.
OK, I have an advantage: a cable company as a client. Nigel at Chord was kind enough to send me a 5m HDMI Silver Plus cable and two DVI to HDMI adapters.
The experiment was to move the PC outside my listening room and then to use a 5m Chord HDMI and 5m USB cables to monitor and control the PC.
The worry was running a good monitor at 1920 by 1200 over a 5m HDMI cable. Would the image quality be reduced? The image was absolutely fine and so much so that I temporarily tried a 10 m cable which worked just as well.
Definitely a result. Noise removed from my listening room, the hi-fi sounds significantly better. The computer is no harder to use. I’ll use a USB DVD drive near the monitor for normal stuff but walk the few metres to use the Plextor Premium CD drive for serious ripping.