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Upgrade USB Cables : Chord Co. C-USB / Shawline USB

Digital USB audio interconnects 

These cables from the well known Chord Company stable are in a lineage to one another. C-USB is Prince Harry and Shawline is Prince William as the ‘next one up the range’. They occupy the bottom of the Chord company range in USB audio cables, but in audio terms are they still high society Kensington Palace or a rather blingey distasteful ‘Trump tower’ and nothing special? 

They are both sold as USB type A to B digital cables and are intended for use between a digital transport or computer and DAC, or similar installation, with the type A flat connector at source and square type B connector at the DAC end. This means you couldn’t get mixed up with directionality but you can spec difference connectors for same prices. Helpfully text of logos on the cables always follows the signal path direction, similarly adopted by other cable manufacturers.

Without boring you with technical specifications, as these can be found in the summary in any case, the Shawline adopts Chords ‘Tuned Aray’ design that warrants the cable being at least a metre long or in multiples of the same. This is standard for other Tuned Aray cables across the Chord range. The Shawline is three to four times more expensive than the C-USB for equivalent lengths. You can’t really say one is more luxuriously made than the other as cables are cables although the Shawline perhaps looks nicer with its gold plugs, red cable and black shrouds.

Just bits of wire?

I tried a 0.75m C-USB cable against a 1.0m Shawline cable from an Innuos Zenith Mark 2 with new Chord Qutest DAC into my Cyrus DAC XP Signature used as an analogue pre amp, with Cyrus PSX-R power supply and my Cyrus Signature power amps and PMC Twenty5 23 speakers. Both cables were well oiled so far as being burnt in extensively.

First though I started off with the nastiest piece of PC USB A to B cable that could probably be bought on eBay for 50p. You know the type, that nasty grey looking or clear plastic cable that you use to connect your printer up.

I played a very good recording of Dire Straits Brothers in Arms album in DSD as a test track- yes I know it’s been hacked out to death but it’s a reference recording and the sound is good so it will have to do, plus loads know it! I only mention to dispel too that we HiFi lovers all live in 1985. We don’t! 

On the face of it this ‘cheapey’ cable is doing all it should but it did cause a few drop outs a few times with no music coming from the Zenith despite the app playing. It’s still taking part in a good system and I’m getting bass and detail and good overall musicality.

I then swapped to the C-USB and keeping the volume the same and level matched you immediately get a hugely more impressive stereo image and soundstage and depth into the music with no flatness and greatly improved dynamics. Edges to notes and detail are obvious too, but the image and openness are what is mainly obvious. This is not a small thing, enough for someone who has heard lots of systems and kit to say that the system is flat and lacking with the ‘cheapey’. But you wouldn’t be running a great system with a PC cable, not if you know anything about very good quality audio. So point made here. But considering the price of this Chord company cable it’s very worth it and great value for money, considering what it does to a system with many £1000’s of kit on tap. 

Whilst I’m getting a bit bored of Money For Nothing, for this cable is not incidentally, and I’m loving the bass lines and dramatic way the music is presented, I decide to swap to the Shawline. The most obvious thing you hear is a bit more mid range detail and naturalness in the mids  against the C-USB, and again equally obvious is there is more an expansive almost airy soundstage. It’s not hugely more detailed over the C-USB but bass response and depth seems equally as good. Maybe a touch better in favour of the Shawline, but you also notice slightly more sibilance to vocals as a downside but this is not a deal breaker. Some of these aspects will clearly depend on the system and its balance but if anything it’s just better tuned and these are changes I’ve heard differences going up between cables in the Chord range before, such as with their speaker cables and RCA or XLR interconnects. So on balance it’s a better cable but is it value as a better cable?

The change from the cheapey to the C-USB is an absolute no brainier and a change in the relative performance terms of these cables is probably in the order of a 70% improvement. The difference of the Shawline over the C-USB however is maybe only 10-20% at the very most being generous. That said, this improvement for the price might be good if the system is of high quality and the Shawline would be a small upgrade in relative terms to other components, so in the sense I’d consider it value for money as an upgrade.  

Such differences of USB cables, once you’ve found good ones, is at the lower end compared to interconnects and speaker cables, for obvious reasons. The Shawline offers a good improvement in a comparison, albeit with the law of diminishing returns, but a good upgrade nonetheless. However no case at all could be made for the cheapey over these two cables. This test makes that blindingly obvious, amongst many other user tests besides, I’m sure.

I would advocate making your own mind up in comparative tests on your own gear at home before purchasing, for Chord do loan no obligation loan pairs out via dealers. This is really a judgement only a customer can make at home though, given system dependency of HiFi. There is no doubt that C-USB is tremendous value in the right system. I’d buy the Shawline, as an extra £150 for what it does in my system, it is worth it. 

In conclusion, I’d say both are recommended for trialling and they are very good products at what they do above standard PC USB cables. They are both definitely ‘high society’ therefore. 

Specifications

C-USB

  • USB type A to B
  • Heavy gauge, oxygen free, silver plated conductors
  • Low loss, gas foamed polyethylene insulation
  • Heavy gauge, oxygen free, silver plated conductors
  • Low loss, gas foamed polyethylene insulation
  • Twisted pair data conductor configuration
  • Dual layer, high frequency effective shielding
  • Gold plated plug and signal pins

Shawline

  • USB type A to B
  • High performance Tuned Aray Digital interconnect
  • Tuned Aray conductor geometry for high speed digital transmission 
  • Silver plated conductors with PTFE insulation and high frequency carbon composite shield
  • Custom gold plated USB connectors

Price

  • C-USB
  • £50  – 0.75m minimum length , available additional lengths ; 1.5m (£60), 3.0m (£70), 5.0m (£80)
  • Shawline
  • £200 – 1m minimum length (£40 per extra metre available lengths)

Manufacturer Details

The Chord Company Ltd
Chord Company House
Millsway Centre
Amesbury
Wiltshire
SP4 7RX, UK
Tel : 01980 625700
[email protected]

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an AUDIO-LOVER who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE way. I am primarily interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews are not overly technical and I don't use pretentious language, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and is to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

Smooth & Rounded with the AVM Evolution PA 5.2 tube Pre-amp

Wide boy : Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler