What Hi-Fi? Review|Chord Company ClearwayX ARAY Analogue RCA



Date: 2023-11-15


It may not seem like audio cables can make a big impact on your hi-fi system, but they are still a crucial part of your set-up. While the cables themselves can’t actively improve your system’s sound, they do the important job of carrying the audio signal between each component, and can potentially degrade the performance of your set-up.

If you’ve taken as much care with individual components, you’ll want to ensure that you are using the best possible cable within your system so that the audio signal is pure throughout.

Chord Company has been evolving its Clearway line of analogue interconnects with every generation. Last year’s version, the Chord Company Clearway RCA Analogue (2022) delivered incremental but clear improvements with only some minor physical upgrades, and took home the prize for the Best Analogue Interconnect over £100 at the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 for its efforts.

The latest version hopes to do just that yet again, but it won’t be an easy task. That’s because the new Chord Company ClearwayX ARAY Analogue RCA builds upon an already excellent cable with one main upgrade. The X in the ClearwayX’s name denotes the addition of the XLPE dielectric material.

Build & Compatibility
The material used for the dialectic has a significant impact on the cable’s overall ability, and Chord has been using its version of XLPE (cross-linked polyethylene) technology to insulate the conductor in its more premium cables in recent years. This ClearwayX model at £130 per metre is the first time it’s been available on a more – relatively – affordable interconnect.

Other elements of the cable remain the same, carried over from last year’s model, including the high-quality oxygen-free copper conductor and the latest versions of Chord’s Tuned ARAY conductor geometry technology and dual layer shielding systems. Our review sample measures one metre and is terminated at both ends with RCA plugs that are coated in Chord’s ChorAlloy multi-metal plating – this was also introduced last year and aims to offer better conductivity and is claimed to tarnish less over time (compared with silver or gold-plated plugs).

The cable itself is well made and feels reassuringly durable; if you are going to splash out and buy this cable, it certainly feels as though it will last many years with minimal wear or tear. We also appreciate the direction indicator icons to guide you on which end to plug into your source and which goes into the amplifier.

While the cables can be used with any system, your hi-fi set-up does need to be of a certain calibre and level of transparency to really hear the benefits that a decent cable upgrade can make to your system’s overall performance. You won’t need to splash out such money for a budget system, but much like when we reviewed the premium Atacama Elite Eco 24 Reference rack, we would recommend upgrading to this level of cable only when each individual product in your system costs around £1000. At that price level, the performance upgrade is more apparent.

We connect the Chord ClearwayX cable into our reference system of Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition music streamer, PMC Cor amplifier and Epos ES14N speakers. We also have the previous Clearway RCA Analogue (2022) model at hand to make clear comparisons.

We’re not expecting a gulf of differences in the overall system’s sound here. The Chord ClearwayX RCA interconnect shares the same characteristics as its predecessors, with our system retaining high levels of clarity, crisp leading edges, rhythmic cohesion and even-handed tonal balance. But there are clear differences heard with the newer model.

Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor is propelled forward with a greater sense of drive and attack when the ClearwayX cable is used between the streamer and amp. There’s more momentum and purpose to the song, which now flourishes in a bigger soundstage. There’s clearer intention and snap to each staccato drum beat, while the tautly pulled deep bassline has more textures unearthed. It demands your attention.

Switch to Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and her voice is lavished with greater undertones and richer textures – it’s a more detailed and expressive performance. There’s greater weight and dynamic subtlety to the instruments too, while the quiet moments in between notes are more pronounced and more profound. Background noise is lowered, while there’s more depth and dimension to the space too.

We swap back to the older Clearway RCA and our system still zings with a clear, nimble and surefooted performance packed with detail. To be clear, that is still a perfectly capable cable that doesn’t diminish enjoyment from our system’s performance. But the newer ClearwayX manages to eke out a greater degree of control, punch and musical expression from our system.

Chord’s existing Clearway cable was at a good standard, but this new, upgraded Chord ClearwayX ARAY Analogue RCA interconnect pushes the performance even further. It’s a notable step up from last year’s Award-winner, and a worthwhile investment if you want to upgrade your system’s overall sound quality.

● Performance 5
● Compatibility 5
● Build 5