Tendon Audio and Video Cables
TendonUSA Inc. is a relatively new supplier based in Wakefield, MA offering pre-terminated cabling for audio, video and computer applications. Like many American companies these days, Tendon is partnering with a Chinese manufacturer, which allows them to offer highly competitive prices.
Tendon claims to produce a high-quality product using superior materials and robust connectors that will take more abuse than their competitors’. They also claim that each and every cable they produce is tested at each stage of the manufacturing and packaging process. Tendon is confident enough in their products to back them up with an unconditional lifetime warranty. The company also offers free shipping on all orders, another plus. Another bonus I’ve noticed perusing their site is that cables twice as long usually only sell for only a dollar or so more. Pretty amazing.
Tendon recently contacted HTS asking us to evaluate some of their products; fellow Moderator Ron Carlton and I volunteered. (You can see Ron's reviews here and here.) I requested cables that I would normally use in my system – RF coaxial, optical digital, S-video, and a set of RCA audio interconnects. I also stipulated that I would be dissecting the cables to evaluate their build quality, so they shouldn’t expect to get them back – at least not in one piece. Tendon wasn’t the least bit intimidated and delivered to me anyway.
As I recall, the cables were a bit slow in arriving and Ron’s and my orders got mixed up. Not exactly confidence-inspiring. Ron has noted in his reviews that he was impressed enough with his test cables to order more and does not report further delivery problems, so hopefully our little mix-up was a fluke.
Since I have seldom found audible differences from one cable to another, and since I have extensive experience making custom cabling and can recognize a good cable when I see one, my review is primarily focused on analyzing Tendon’s build quality.
Overview / Initial Impressions
As the picture above indicates, Tendon cables are shipped in the adult-proof blister packs that are so common these days; fortunately, our heavy-duty Cutco scissors were up to the task of destroying the package in order to excise the prize.
Tendon’s audio and video cables are an attractive light gray color that will make them easy to see and trace in dark home theater environments. They feature molded plastic connectors that I frankly found to be visually unappealing and a bit cheap looking. However, the connectors have a unique oval shape that feels very nice when handling, and the cable itself has a supple and quality feel, although it isn’t as pliable as the Canare or Mogami cable stock I typically make my cables from.
A nice touch is that every Tendon cable comes with a Velcro tie-wrap to help keep them neatly bundled, which should help minimize back-of-rack clutter. It has an exceptional grip and is difficult to remove once wrapped; fortunately, this won’t often be necessary.
Stereo RCA Cables
Stripping back the outer jacket of the stereo RCA cables showed that they have a decent braided shield...
...under which is a wrapped foil shield. Many cable experts feel such dual-shielding construction offers the best all-around performance for both interference rejection and minimal capacitance properties.
Under the foil shield is a nylon dielectric, similar to what you find in RG-6 or –59 coaxial cabling, housing a stranded center conductor. Dielectrics tend to be a bit stiff, which explains why the Tendons aren’t quite as pliable as audio cabling from Canare, Belden, etc.
The connectors have a nice feel when plugging them in – firm, but not the “grip of death” I’ve seen with some RCAs. They certainly feel more substantial than the Dayton RCA cables I bought from Parts Express a year or so ago. Those were a big disappointment – a fairly loose fit when plugged in. The Daytons cost $15 for a 6-ft pair – 50% more than Tendon’s 6.6 ft. pair (which doesn’t even take into account Tendon’s free shipping). The Daytons have good-looking metal-barreled connectors and overall look way cooler than the Tendons, but at the end of the day function wins over form.
However, we run into trouble with the Tendon RCAs when plugging them into a component. The problem is the oval connectors are so large they jam into each other.
Obviously you can’t force them into position because this will put undue stress on the connection, which will cause the RCA jacks in the component to eventually fail. They’re the weak link in the chain, being soldered to a circuit board.
Naturally, you can avoid this problem by turning the connectors sideways, but depending on your other connections even this might not solve the problem. At the receiver, for instance, the RCA jacks usually have the same spacing both vertically and horizontally, as the picture below shows. So turning the Tendon connector sideways means they will jam up anything you might have connected below or above them, especially if it’s another set of Tendons. The best fix is to turn the Tendon connectors to 45°. This will relieve the physical interference/stress problem, but if you have other Tendon cables connected (or possibly other brands as well) it’s going to be hard to grasp some of them without first unplugging others.
Dissecting Tendon’s RG-6 coaxial cable showed that its internal construction is consistent with RG-6 standards, so I didn’t bother to take any pictures. The cable is exceptionally pliable for RG-6 (despite having the usual solid center conductor) making it more rack friendly than most RG-6 I’ve used over the years - a big plus IMO.
I was pleased to see that both the braided shield and center conductor are copper, a feature that can be hard to find in an RG-6 coaxial (most come with a steel, nickel or aluminum braided shield, and a copper-clad center conductor). That doesn’t matter with RF signals, but it’s a good thing if you intend to use it for audio or video signaling. Most likely will make no discernable difference, but I prefer my signal-level connections to be all copper.
I don’t have much experience with S-video cables , but I was really impressed with the internals of this one. Stripping back the outer jacket shows a braided copper shield, like the RCA cables have.
Peeling back the braided shield shows that it is substantially heavier and thicker than what the stereo RCA cables have. Underneath the braid is a foil shield.
Under the foil we see the dual video leads, which are independently shielded. That’s right, folks, we have triple shielding here. You can’t help but be impressed with that.
And finally, we get to the center conductor.
Since I don’t have much experience with S-video cables, I asked my son Sean what he thought. He’s a professional installer of commercial audio/visual systems and regularly custom terminates S-video cabling, so he’s seen plenty of it. His reaction to the dissected Tendon I presented was one of amazement. He said it was the most impressive S-video cable he had ever seen.
Once again, with the oval connectors you’ll have to be wary of multiple Tendon S-video cables physically interfering with each other, since receivers stack S-video connections cheek-to-cheek like they do RCAs.
Tendon’s optical digital cable replaced a dead Monster cable I had. It’s the only Tendon cable currently in use in my system, as I destroyed the others over the course of this evaluation.
I’ve had trouble in my system with optical cables failing and have been told that this is not unusual for the type. Time will tell how well Tendon’s offering will hold up, but at the prices they sell for - $9 for a 3-ft. and $10 for a 6.6-ft. - you can’t go wrong. I paid something like $30 for the first optical cable I bought about 10 years ago, so it was really aggravating when the thing bit the dust a few years later. When I tried to replace it with something cheap in the $10 range from an e-Bay vendor, it was such a goose-loose fit in the socket that I was afraid to use it; it went straight to the trashcan. If nothing else, vendors like Tendon have raised the bar on budget optical cables by making them both affordable and functional.
In conclusion, it’s hard to find something bad to say about Tendon cables, except that you’ll have to be careful with adjacent connections when you use them. Tendon may appear to cut corners in the aesthetics department, since their molded plastic barrels don’t look nearly as impressive as the metal ones many competitors use, but they don’t cut corners where it counts: build quality. They are well made both inside and out; I don’t expect Tendon will be sending out many warranty replacements.
You can certainly walk into your local Best Buy or Radio Shack and pay the same money for a cable that isn’t nearly as good. For instance, anyone think their S video cable is triple-shielded? Yeah, right.
Folks, it’s a no-brainer.