It can be difficult sharing a name with someone else, not to mention confusing for others. Imagine the travails of trying to be taken seriously while going about your daily life as Alan Partridge or David Brent, for example.
The biggest problem facing the Chord Clearway Analogue RCA, in fact, is stepping out of the long shadow cast by the excellent speaker cable with which it shares its name.
It’s not that we think it will have too much trouble in doing so, rather that it, as a 2021 Award-winner, deserves its own share of the limelight.
Build and compatibility
The Clearway actually takes the basis of its design from another Chord product – the Award-winning C-Line stereo interconnect.
In this revised version (launched in 2018), the Clearway uses an improved version of its Tuned ARAY conductor geometry technology.
Originally developed for digital cables, it is preferred for its increased transparency and has previously only been included in products aimed at the more high-end hi-fi customer.
Each of the Clearway's material elements has been upgraded over the previous C-Line.
Insulation has been upgraded to FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene - upgraded from the C-Line), the shielding is a dual-layer counter-wound heavy gauge foil design, and the cable is fitted with Chord’s silver-plated VEE 3 RCA plugs.
For this version, the Clearway not only has a different shade of blue for its outer jacket, its conductors are now a bespoke tri-core design that has an additional high-frequency shield inside the main foil wrap. It claims to reduce noise interference.
That might mean little to those who aren’t savvy in hi-fi engineering, but rest assured any confusion over its technology is completely at odds with the Clearway’s influence on your system’s musical performance.
At roughly double the price of the C-Line, it would perhaps be sensible to assume the improvements would only be discernible after a relative upgrade to the rest of your components. But thankfully that isn’t the case.
We begin our test using the Marantz CD6006 UK Edition, the current version of the same affordable model we used when introduced to the C-Line over two years ago.
We play a 2009 remaster of Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine, and the improved transparency and precision of the sound coming from our system with the Clearway plugged in is significant.
The synthesizer pattern that opens the first track, The Robots (opens in new tab), stabs through the speakers, timing immaculately and opening the curtain wider to reveal space we may never have known was there otherwise.
The performance is richer in detail as well, revealing earthy textures to synth motifs and vocoder-treated vocal lines - even the difference better dry signals and those dosed with a modicum of reverb is more pronounced.
Balanced option yes
If Chord found it difficult to come up with an original title for its new stereo interconnect, it is easy to see why the company chose to reuse Clearway.
The C-Line’s true forte is the way it allows us to hear the real musicality in a piece, allowing the system to knit it all together. This new interconnect goes further: performance is truer when using the Clearway – it’s a little like everything has been cleaned.
The extra analytical insight you're after when you spend really significant money on a system is there, but also even more in terms of dynamics and organisation.
Take The Model, for example, the track on this album that probably sounds least like it was devised and performed by a group of automatons.
The way the Marantz emits Ralf Hütter’s vocal when it's pouring through the Clearway is still pristine, but tinged with the blithe nonchalance that elevates the performance from cold appreciation of said model to more understated aching.
If there is a choice to be made between transparency and expression further down the hi-fi food chain, Chord has shown that for this kind of money you are more than welcome to both.
Having spent time using the Clearway, it is really quite unsatisfying to listen to the same songs with anything else of a similar price.
The price tag might weigh heavy on many listeners’ wallets – and the cheaper C-Line remains a class leader we can still get behind.
But for those who can justify the outlay, and who have a system to justify it too, the Clearway is brilliantly capable of letting you hear where your money has gone.
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