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Best audio cables 2021

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Best audio cables Buying Guide: welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best audio cables you can buy in 2021.

The analogue information coursing between your source and amplifier is complicated – and there's an awful lot of it. So connect them wisely, because, like every component in your audio chain, your audio cables can make a significant difference to the sound your system ultimately delivers.

We've rounded up the best audio cables currently out there, catering for all budgets. So whether you're watching the pennies or splashing the cash, these RCA interconnects can make the most of your hi-fi's potential.

Best audio cables 2021: Chord Company C-line

1. Chord Company C-line

Few audio cables at this price can compare to this talented Chord pairing.

Specifications
Type: Analogue interconnect
Terminated: Yes
Length: 1m
Reasons to buy
+Helps tie instruments together+Aids dynamics and musicality
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

This is Chord displaying once again an understanding of what makes hi-fi great, with the best RCA cable we've heard at the budget end. It never loses sight of what matters; the musicality of your system and also helps enhance your system's detail levels, making for an entertaining and informative listen.

Read the full Chord Company C-Line review

Best audio cables 2021: QED Profile

2. QED Profile

A cheap yet extremely cheerful pair of RCA audio cables.

Specifications
Type: Analogue interconnect
Terminated: Yes
Length: 1m
Reasons to buy
+Tight sound+Good detail+Impressive dynamics
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing of note

Despite its über-budget price tag, the Profile punches above its weight, helping to deliver a tight sound that’s uncluttered and airy. Detail levels are surprisingly good for the money too, and the well-made Profile also shows ability with its handling of dynamics.

Read the full QED Profile review

Best audio cables 2021: Chord Company Clearway Analogue RCA

(Image credit: Future)

3. Chord Company Clearway Analogue RCA

These audio cables help your system deliver the dynamism it's capable of.

Specifications
Type: Analogue interconnect
Terminated: Yes
Length: 1m
Reasons to buy
+Helps with detail and timing+Aids openness and dynamics+Work well with wide range of systems
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing

Having spent time using the Clearway, we found it 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, the Clearway is brilliantly capable of letting you hear where your money has gone.

Read the full Chord Company Clearway Analogue RCA review

Best audio cables 2021: QED Performance Audio 40

4. QED Performance Audio 40

A pair of interconnects that help deliver detail and agility.

Specifications
Type: Analogue interconnect
Terminated: Yes
Length: 1m
Reasons to buy
+Spacious, clean soundstage+Bags of detail
Reasons to avoid
-Tough competition

These QED audio cables promote a wide-open soundstage, both vertically and horizontally. They help vocals sound full-bodied and weighty, but with lots of breathing space above them, too. Put simply, if you covet space and detail with sure but nimble footwork and heaps of insight, consider your search for an RCA audio cable complete.

Read the full QED Performance Audio 40 review

Best audio cables 2021: Atlas Element Integra

(Image credit: Future)

5. Atlas Element Integra

Ideal audio interconnects for a first upgrade.

Specifications
Type: Analogue interconnect
Terminated: Yes
Length: 1m
Reasons to buy
+Transparent midrange+Supple bass
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing

There really isn't anything to dislike here: the Element Integra is one of the best audio cables for a first upgrade. The soundstage is pleasingly wide and precise and music displays excellent dynamics. Bass is supple and midrange is transparent, and the best part about this cable is it's also unfussy about the kit you use.

Read the full Atlas Element Integra review

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Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.

  • Squall Leonhart
    I would recommend Atlas Element Superior. I have been using it for almost a year and I havent had the urge to upgrade.
    Reply
  • MetAlbertR
    Some of the reasons to buy are hilarious:

    "Helps tie instruments together", "Helps with detail and timing" and "Spacious, clean soundstage".

    I notice you seem to no longer review digital cables. Why is that?
    Reply
  • abacus
    Before purchase always do a blind AB test between basic cable and any exotic cable, as I have yet to come across any of these special cables that make any difference to the sound. (A good quality cable should neither add or take anything away, so be wary of anybody that says their cable alters the sound)
    If you are really worried, get your cable from a Pro Music Store, (They will be a fraction of the price of these so called super cables) as then you will have the same quality as used in professional film & music production studios, whose equipment makes even Hi-End Hi-Fi sound mundane.

    Bill
    Reply
  • iMark
    They still write the same audio waffle.

    MetAlbertR's remark about digital cables is interesting. Have they finally worked out that there is no difference in digital cables?
    Reply
  • F8lee
    I get the sense that "exotic cables" are analogous to "UV filters to protect your front lens element" that camera stores often try to sell to unsuspecting customers.

    Basically, it's about the profit margins. Having worked in the photo retail industry years ago, I know that in order to keep competitive with the mail-order houses the profit we would make on a high end camera might amount to being $40. However, if we sold the customer on the idea that "you need a UV filter to protect that precious front element!" we would garner $20 profit out of the $40 sale of the filter.

    THe cable thing seems much the same - perhaps retailers cannot get much margin on the big gear that is always comparison shopped by potential customers; but once they decide they like that amp or speaker setup then pushing the "special" cables for "better sound" sounds like much the same strategy.
    Reply
  • DELBOY14
    I see the doubters are on here with there " all cable's are the same". I think if you have a fairly good system you will be able to tell the difference, I did that by going to the HIFI show a couple of years back and Chord had a demonstration room set up where they would play a track with there cheapest RCA cables (C-LINE) then they swapped them out the Clearway, a clear step up in detail retrieval, then in went Shawline RCAs and again a clear step up in depth with a warmer tone, after that I had trouble hearing the difference or at least enough of a difference for the amount of money that these more expensive cable's cost.

    For me It was proof enough that spending £90 on RCA cables on a connection between a £600 CD and £500 AMP would pay dividend's and it proved so, I already had £40 C-LINE RCAs and when replacing with the £90 Clearway RCA cables I was very pleased with the gain in detail and midrange clarity, there where instruments not detected before that where now present.
    I have now upgraded the AMP to a MF M3i and run a M-DAC+ and have tried a couple of cables Digital Chord Clearway and Tellurium blue Q digital and the Tellurium is better although cost a fair bit more.

    Of course if you have mismatched amps, decks, CD players, Dacs, or there poor quality HiFi then your not going to here the difference are you.
    For all those doubters out there stop bleating about a multi million pound industry being a load of old cobblers, if it was then by now those that spend vast amounts of money would have just fitted bell wire because if they don't here an improvement then they would look else where, that's because they can afford to.

    Anyone out there in doubt go to a good dealers, ask for a demo of a £1000 amp, £1000 CD player and dealer chosen speakers to match that are all run in, tell them to put say Chord C-LINE RCA cables between amp and CD, then listen to a good CD that is not load head banging rock and roll but say Fleetwood Mac, Tusk, Brown Eyes. listen a few times and listen to that fabulous guitar work, then ask for the cables to be changed to Clearway RC's, you will hear a resounding difference in the detail and space around the instruments.

    Simple really a child could tell you the difference.
    Reply
  • MetAlbertR
    DELBOY14 said:
    I see the doubters are on here with there " all cable's are the same". I think if you have a fairly good system you will be able to tell the difference, I did that by going to the HIFI show a couple of years back and Chord had a demonstration room set up where they would play a track with there cheapest RCA cables (C-LINE) then they swapped them out the Clearway, a clear step up in detail retrieval, then in went Shawline RCAs and again a clear step up in depth with a warmer tone, after that I had trouble hearing the difference or at least enough of a difference for the amount of money that these more expensive cable's cost.

    For me It was proof enough that spending £90 on RCA cables on a connection between a £600 CD and £500 AMP would pay dividend's and it proved so, I already had £40 C-LINE RCAs and when replacing with the £90 Clearway RCA cables I was very pleased with the gain in detail and midrange clarity, there where instruments not detected before that where now present.
    I have now upgraded the AMP to a MF M3i and run a M-DAC+ and have tried a couple of cables Digital Chord Clearway and Tellurium blue Q digital and the Tellurium is better although cost a fair bit more.

    Of course if you have mismatched amps, decks, CD players, Dacs, or there poor quality HiFi then your not going to here the difference are you.
    For all those doubters out there stop bleating about a multi million pound industry being a load of old cobblers, if it was then by now those that spend vast amounts of money would have just fitted bell wire because if they don't here an improvement then they would look else where, that's because they can afford to.

    Anyone out there in doubt go to a good dealers, ask for a demo of a £1000 amp, £1000 CD player and dealer chosen speakers to match that are all run in, tell them to put say Chord C-LINE RCA cables between amp and CD, then listen to a good CD that is not load head banging rock and roll but say Fleetwood Mac, Tusk, Brown Eyes. listen a few times and listen to that fabulous guitar work, then ask for the cables to be changed to Clearway RC's, you will hear a resounding difference in the detail and space around the instruments.

    Simple really a child could tell you the difference.
    A child will also believe anything you tell them.
    Reply
  • DougK
    DELBOY14 said:
    I see the doubters are on here with there " all cable's are the same". I think if you have a fairly good system you will be able to tell the difference, I did that by going to the HIFI show a couple of years back and Chord had a demonstration room set up where they would play a track with there cheapest RCA cables (C-LINE) then they swapped them out the Clearway, a clear step up in detail retrieval, then in went Shawline RCAs and again a clear step up in depth with a warmer tone, after that I had trouble hearing the difference or at least enough of a difference for the amount of money that these more expensive cable's cost.

    For me It was proof enough that spending £90 on RCA cables on a connection between a £600 CD and £500 AMP would pay dividend's and it proved so, I already had £40 C-LINE RCAs and when replacing with the £90 Clearway RCA cables I was very pleased with the gain in detail and midrange clarity, there where instruments not detected before that where now present.
    I have now upgraded the AMP to a MF M3i and run a M-DAC+ and have tried a couple of cables Digital Chord Clearway and Tellurium blue Q digital and the Tellurium is better although cost a fair bit more.

    Of course if you have mismatched amps, decks, CD players, Dacs, or there poor quality HiFi then your not going to here the difference are you.
    For all those doubters out there stop bleating about a multi million pound industry being a load of old cobblers, if it was then by now those that spend vast amounts of money would have just fitted bell wire because if they don't here an improvement then they would look else where, that's because they can afford to.

    Anyone out there in doubt go to a good dealers, ask for a demo of a £1000 amp, £1000 CD player and dealer chosen speakers to match that are all run in, tell them to put say Chord C-LINE RCA cables between amp and CD, then listen to a good CD that is not load head banging rock and roll but say Fleetwood Mac, Tusk, Brown Eyes. listen a few times and listen to that fabulous guitar work, then ask for the cables to be changed to Clearway RC's, you will hear a resounding difference in the detail and space around the instruments.

    Simple really a child could tell you the difference.
    As per my signature - £4K amp, £4K CD player, Van Damme Blue vs QED... no difference heard. I have my opinion and you have yours, I'm not a child so I'll leave it there. I would rather spend my money on more music.
    Reply
  • abacus
    DELBOY14 said:
    I see the doubters are on here with there " all cable's are the same". I think if you have a fairly good system you will be able to tell the difference, I did that by going to the HIFI show a couple of years back and Chord had a demonstration room set up where they would play a track with there cheapest RCA cables (C-LINE) then they swapped them out the Clearway, a clear step up in detail retrieval, then in went Shawline RCAs and again a clear step up in depth with a warmer tone, after that I had trouble hearing the difference or at least enough of a difference for the amount of money that these more expensive cable's cost.

    For me It was proof enough that spending £90 on RCA cables on a connection between a £600 CD and £500 AMP would pay dividend's and it proved so, I already had £40 C-LINE RCAs and when replacing with the £90 Clearway RCA cables I was very pleased with the gain in detail and midrange clarity, there where instruments not detected before that where now present.
    I have now upgraded the AMP to a MF M3i and run a M-DAC+ and have tried a couple of cables Digital Chord Clearway and Tellurium blue Q digital and the Tellurium is better although cost a fair bit more.

    Of course if you have mismatched amps, decks, CD players, Dacs, or there poor quality HiFi then your not going to here the difference are you.
    For all those doubters out there stop bleating about a multi million pound industry being a load of old cobblers, if it was then by now those that spend vast amounts of money would have just fitted bell wire because if they don't here an improvement then they would look else where, that's because they can afford to.

    Anyone out there in doubt go to a good dealers, ask for a demo of a £1000 amp, £1000 CD player and dealer chosen speakers to match that are all run in, tell them to put say Chord C-LINE RCA cables between amp and CD, then listen to a good CD that is not load head banging rock and roll but say Fleetwood Mac, Tusk, Brown Eyes. listen a few times and listen to that fabulous guitar work, then ask for the cables to be changed to Clearway RC's, you will hear a resounding difference in the detail and space around the instruments.

    Simple really a child could tell you the difference.

    Did you do a double blind test on the cables with everything level matched so as to rule out inconsistences and placebo effect, if not then your claims are just opinions and not facts, so your assertion that a child could hear a difference is totally nonsensical.

    I realise this post will not change your mind or belief (Just like a flat earthier will always ignore the truth and keep posting easily debunked claims) but hopefully it will help others to not fall into the same trap and have an open mind so that they realise that just because you believe you hear a difference doesn’t mean there actually is a difference. (Hence the level matched double blind test)

    In the final analysis always try before you buy and if you are happy with something (Whether it actually makes a difference of not) and you can afford it, then go for it, as happiness cannot be measured.

    Bill
    Reply
  • DELBOY14
    abacus said:
    Did you do a double blind test on the cables with everything level matched so as to rule out inconsistences and placebo effect, if not then your claims are just opinions and not facts, so your assertion that a child could hear a difference is totally nonsensical.

    I realise this post will not change your mind or belief (Just like a flat earthier will always ignore the truth and keep posting easily debunked claims) but hopefully it will help others to not fall into the same trap and have an open mind so that they realise that just because you believe you hear a difference doesn’t mean there actually is a difference. (Hence the level matched double blind test)

    In the final analysis always try before you buy and if you are happy with something (Whether it actually makes a difference of not) and you can afford it, then go for it, as happiness cannot be measured.

    Bill
    Actually I took 4 tables and smoked a tree so as to make sure I was self opinionated and knew everything and would be guided by some myth blind testing an inconsistent placebo effect, but thanks all the same I know what happiness is, as do all those millions that have walked the cable path. cheers mate. 🙏
    Reply