The Astintrew Concord USB falls into the category of ‘powered USB cables’ utilising a separate power supply for the 5v portions of the cables inner conductors. Somewhat different to other USB leads of this nature the Astintrew has a patent which covers the power supply, which is quite intriguing and leaves one wondering about the exact technology utilised within the boundaries of the patents broader description.
The cosmetics of the power supply itself are very appealing indeed, a fantastically well constructed design with quite beautiful lines. In the blurb from Astintrew it’s stated that the power supply will sit neatly at the rear of the rack or on the floor, I quite proudly had it sat next to the Mac so it was clearly visible on a shelf as it looked great.
The cable which comes with the Concord is user selectable on purchase. There is an option to have what I would deem ‘the standard’ cable – which is a USB split into the two potions (data and power) with data connecting the music source direct to the DAC and the power having a DIN plug which firmly connects to the power supply.
The other option available means you can use a USB cable of your choice. This consists of a short tail with a USB B type female socket to accommodate the existing cable, which serves data duties accompanied by the same power sectioned portion as previously for the power from the supply.
Each of the cables are thin and lightweight and are constructed from solid core copper, have a 1.5m length and are very well made and terminated ensuring ease of routing and placement of the power supply which has an IEC inlet for choice of power cable and length required.
First up I plugged the Astintrew Concord into my Mac using the ‘standard’ cable, fed into the Totaldac D1 Tube – I used a standard power cable.
Creating a usual run of the mill playlist in Amarra 2.5 I sat back and began to have a quick listen not expecting much due to the unit being new and not burned-in yet.
Tones were nice and relaxed and unforced, there was an ease to the sound, a silky flow to the music and, most importantly, the nasty upper bass hump that the Mac has was smoothed out beautifully giving a far better balance to the sound overall. There was possibly a little more openness to come from the sound and I felt and a bit more width and depth could be a plus point, so I left the Mac switched on with Amarra on repeat for four days in order to put about 100 hours on the unit before listening again.
So, four days later and time to listen again, I turned on the amp and walked away concerning myself with other “to do’s” and allowed the amp to warm up for a little over an hour at a moderate to low volume.
Walking back into the room during Chris Jones’ ‘Angel From Montgomery’ which is one of my favourites from the Moonstruck album, I was extremely pleased with the sound that presented itself.
Instruments sounded more developed than previously and were more finely textured than in the days before burn-in. A definite opening of the soundstage was apparent allowing for a better perception of depth and width. The overall tonal character remained the same – balanced, gentle and silky and best of all the bass hump was still nowhere to be heard.
Listening through more acoustic and vocal work from other artists was also a treat, with that midrange silkiness, good interaction between instruments and their recording surroundings and with an overall neutral and very open character. I was very much enjoying the Concord.
Gutsier vocals had a cleaner lower-mid to them with the Concord sounding more natural and truer. There was also a better range of perceivable detail. Bass notes also had more detail and conveyed a more substantial layering effect after cleaning up of this dirtier area of the Macs presentation.
With the nature of its presentation becoming very apparent and even though not my first choice of music, I could imagine that the Astintrew would be excellent with classical music. I have the odd album and compilation along with the option of Spotify, so I played some classical tracks and was correct in my assumption. Instruments once again had a natural timbre and reverb, soundstage placement was correct and dynamic transients were wonderful. The ease of approach the Concord has and it’s openness really (and to my surprise) allowed dynamic shifts to slam, leaving smaller details to flow in open space with the timing being very much on point – no muddiness or confusion of layering in busier passages was audible and I felt if anything that the dirty power supply of the Mac itself would be only contributing a smallish percentage to what could be an even more engaging performance.
Using the Enhanced Digital Output software on the Squeezebox Touch (SBT) connected to the Totaldac I connected the Astintrew Concord. I thought that this would be an interesting test as the SBT already uses a very high quality Paul Hynes power supply.
The midrange especially had an added openness and vocal depth was greater, the top end had a little more air and was actually a little bit smoother and refined but did seem a little sparklier with a cleaning up of grain. I didn’t feel that the Concord had the same effect to the lower-mids and upper-bass as with the Mac, which was a blessing because it’s already balanced and so thinning out of this area would have destroyed the whole balance of the sound for me.
The Option Cable
There is a full review of the Tellurium Q Black Diamond USB published on Hifi Pig and being of a similar price this is a good comparison to the Astintrew Concord. They do have a different presentation, the Tellurium is more energetic, faster, punchier and upfront, but retains a great balance across its presentation, whereas the Concord although fantastically balanced also has an ease of character that washes over you and gives a more intimate appeal.
So what would these two flavours be like once combined?
Into play come the ‘option’ cable from Astintrew, the one which I mentioned before which can utilise a listeners own USB cable for the data side of things.
Very interesting indeed, the combination of the two to my ears extracts more prominence in the smaller details of upper frequencies and a more robust and upfront midrange, with a stronger vocal. The bass hump of the Mac is still smoothed out nicely but there is a tiny bit more grunt to the lower end of male vocals. Bass detail and layering was still very similar to the Concord on its own and the intimacy was still there but had a little added spice.
During the course of the review I also tried a few aftermarket power cables I had on hand with the Concord and whilst these aren’t the focus of this review all had an effect on the sound and I’d suggest that positive results can be had.
Personally I could live with any of the presentations mentioned in this review as they are all superior to many mid to high priced cables I have heard and all have a highly accomplished detailed presentation with slight characterisation differences… and in the world of hifi, like motor racing, small differences matter!
The Concord as standard is simply beautiful in its presentation and is a perfect match for most music types except the most fierce of dance or rock. If you want a clean vocal and a strong rendition of instruments it’s a fantastic cable. If you have a great USB cable already and want to enhance its detail and flow by taking away the dirt and hash of your computers power supply and motherboard noise then their is the option to suit. Even with my modded SBT and its power supply I found an improvement and so would expect this to be true with the likes of a MacBook or laptop running on battery.
The Astintrew Concord has an almost intelligent way of adding a subtlety of tone and ease of breath to other cables as well as to the sound as a whole in its own right. It can render instruments very well, smooth off a digital edge marvellously and convey a wonderfully intimate listen from a digital source. With a good looking power supply to show off in the rack, plenty of cable length and the ability to customise its presentation with a USB cable of choice I can see the Concord really becoming something of a standard in high end systems.
Author – Danny Worth