PRE/POWER AMPLIFIER Tech

Chord Ultima Pre/Power Review

RIGHT: The preamp’s proprietary switch mode PSUs are (just) revealed by the brand’s now-familiar blue LED lighting. A flagship ALPS volume control is fitted and all left/right circuits are individually screened

Chord Ultima Pre/Power

Pre & mono energy amplifiers. Rated at 780W/8ohm Made by: Chord Electronics Ltd, Kent Provided by: Chord Electronics Ltd Phone: 02890 279839 Net: www.chordelectronics.co.uk

Becoming a member of the ‘horsepower club’. Chord Electronics rolls out its flagship pre and large (and hefty) monoblock energy amps. Does the sound reside as much as the imposing fashion? Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller

On the danger of tempting destiny, I ponder whether there’s an influence output arms race happening between producers. The arrival of the brand new Ultima energy amplifiers from Chord Electronics – at apiece in both silver or black, together with the matching (and similarly-priced) Ultima preamp – suggests so. In any case, their rated energy of 780W/8ohm load is simply north of the 768W claimed by Naim’s ‘Statement’ NAP-S1 monoblocks [HFN Jun ’ 15] – a goal vaunted as ‘one horsepower’. In follow, Naim’s NAP-S 1 achieved 795W/8ohm in PM’s lab exams on the time, however it appears that evidently within the present ultra-high-end amp scene, there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches – or one thing like that.

RIGHT: The preamp’s proprietary switch mode PSUs are (just) revealed by the brand’s now-familiar blue LED lighting. A flagship ALPS volume control is fitted and all left/right circuits are individually screenedRIGHT: The preamp’s proprietary switch mode PSUs are (just) revealed by the brand’s now-familiar blue LED lighting. A flagship ALPS volume control is fitted and all left/right circuits are individually screened

RIGHT: The preamp’s proprietary change mode PSUs are (simply) revealed by the model’s now-familiar blue LED lighting. A flagship ALPS quantity management is fitted and all left/proper circuits are individually screened

In fact, anybody of the ‘dab of opposite lock’ persuasion, even when solely of their goals, is aware of that energy isn’t every part. Rather more necessary is the best way that energy is put right down to the street or, in hi-fi parlance, despatched right down to the audio system. In amplifiers in addition to automobiles, it’s all about energy and grip.

KILOWATT CLOUT

That’s definitely what Chord is claiming for its new energy amps. You see, not content material with that spectacular 8ohm output, it claims they ship 1400W into 4ohm and 2500W into 2ohm – the kind of energy that doesn’t a lot drive even recalcitrant audio system somewhat properly as truly bludgeons them into submission. Or, as Chord places it, the amplifiers ‘have been conceived for the very finest high- end audio systems, those which by their very nature, tend to have the most demanding and most difficult-to-drive large loudspeakers. They deliver unsurpassed power and are capable of effortlessly driving any speaker’ [see PM’s boxout, p32, and Lab Report, p37].

If all these recommendations of weapons- grade clout weren’t sufficient, the Ultima energy amps have the appears to again up the menace. That is Chord’s distinctive industrial design rendered on the grand scale, full with sculptural cut-outs within the strong slab-like panels, LED illumination and the corporate’s Integra leg system. Should you’re feeling actually courageous or notably robust – the amps are hefty, in addition to giant – you possibly can truly purchase additional legs and stack a pair of them. Or certainly stack a pair for every speaker, do you have to actually want.

All that energy is made potential by an array of 64 proprietary MOSFET output units in every amplifier, whereas the drive circuitry makes use of a high-speed high-voltage amplifier with superior feed-forward and suggestions compensation. Extra of the design considering and the legend behind it in PM’s interview with Chord MD, Franks [p35]. In any other case, the truth right here is

‘The preamp has all Chord’s styling cues cranked as much as 11′

of a pair of large energy amps, full with some uncommon options.

POLE STARS

A look on the rear panel, with its pairs of balanced and single-ended inputs, plus two units of speaker terminals, may lead you to assume this can be a stereo design. In reality, the pair of inputs supply inverted and non-inverted polarity – another amps do that with a change – with Chord suggesting the non-inverted inputs may supply the most effective sound. The dual units of speaker terminals are simply there to facilitate bi-wiring, and the one different connection is a 12V set off enter, permitting the amps to be fired-up remotely from a preamp – of which extra in a bit.

The only management to the entrance of the facility amp serves the twin perform of energy change and a dimmer for the considerably spectacular illumination offered, which has grow to be one thing of a Chord signature. The facility button within the centre of the management glows purple when in standby, turning to inexperienced when pushed to energy the amp up, then blue – or teal, as Chord would have it – when the amp is settled and able to play, following a spot of relay clicking.

SET CONTROLS TO STUN

In all probability the Ultimas will probably be bought as a trio with the partnering preamp, which takes all of the Chord Electronics styling cues and cranks them as much as 11. In easy phrases, this can be a preamp with 4 balanced and 4 unbalanced line inputs, plus an AV bypass enter, and three units of outputs, once more on each RCAs and XLRs. However you realize it’s not going to be so simple as that as quickly as you take a look at the dimensions of the factor, and its array of controls. Not solely is there a really giant quantity management and a smaller knob for stability, however 4 extra adjusters for tone management, with separate low- and high-frequency choice for every channel.

I used to be reminded of the tab controls inside a WWII fighter or these adjusting the heater in a post-war sports activities automotive…

In some methods this is sensible, provided that the preamp is a twin mono design; in others, it does give the Ultima Pre a quite fussy look, emphasising that we’re a way from the straightforward concept of an enter change and quantity management. And so the preamp proves for there’s adjustable achieve for every enter, and a barely complicated ‘Bus A’ and ‘Bus B’ choice, which in essence controls which enter is routed to which output, in order that one might be listened to whereas one other is recorded, this blast from the previous presumably delivered to you by the nascent revival within the fortunes of the reel-to-reel tape recorder. Fairly why ‘Bus A’ and ‘Bus B’ couldn’t be labelled ‘Listen’ and ‘Record’ escapes me – I assume that simply isn’t the ‘technical’ Chord approach of doing issues.

Thankfully extra typical is the distant IR handset, which is a well-known wanting design with a cursor part at its coronary heart, ‘Chorded-up’ by cladding its black  plastic in an aluminium sleeve. Nevertheless, this off-the-shelf provenance  does imply that some buttons on the distant are labelled for features the preamp doesn’t truly supply, whereas others require the operation of buttons marked for solely totally different functions, which means some familiarisation will probably be required. For instance, the button labelled for switching outputs 1 and a couple of collectively is definitely the tone management bypass.

CHORD’S ULTIMATE

Spending time with the Ultimas in editor PM’s listening room allowed me to find two issues: one is that the amplifiers sound really uninspiring when used ‘cold’, however that they pretty quickly heat as much as ship

POWER PLAY

Attaining excessive energy outputs into average eight or 4ohm masses is as a lot about delivering a excessive voltage throughout the load as supplying the present to help it, which is why most designers go for a bridged-mode output configuration, doubling the amplifier’s voltage capability with out complicating the PSU. Current examples embrace D’Agostino’s Development Mono [HFN Jun ’17] and Emotiva’s XPA-DR2 [HFN Oct ’18], attaining 640W and 650W/8ohm, respectively, on check.

Against this, the structure of Chord’s ±110V switchmode provides permits three of them to function in parallel, thereby making certain the Ultima is considered one of only a few single-ended amplifiers obtainable on this stratospheric energy vary. Moreover, as we’ll uncover [see Lab Report, p37], these provides are so tightly regulated that the Ultima’s output almost doubles into every halving of load impedance – proper right down to 1ohm the place it sings out to the tune of 5620W, or a clear 75A of present for brief time period musical peaks. Probably the most highly effective amps we’ve examined? The crown continues to be held by Musical Constancy’s Titan [HFN May ’10] and Tri-Vista kW [HFN Aug ’03] – bridged designs that delivered 1050W and 1996W into eight/4ohm masses, the previous attaining 5896W/1ohm (76.8A) whereas the Tri-Vista kW went on to drive 8820W into Zero.8ohm, supported by over 100A! PM

LEFT: We will’t assist considering the Ultima preamp is moderately bigger than it actually must be, however the industrial design is definitely distinctive! The ‘flip’ controls prime left present separate HF and LF tone controls for every channel, whereas the buttons beneath the show might do with clearer perform labellingLEFT: We will’t assist considering the Ultima preamp is moderately bigger than it actually must be, however the industrial design is definitely distinctive! The ‘flip’ controls prime left present separate HF and LF tone controls for every channel, whereas the buttons beneath the show might do with clearer perform labelling

LEFT: We will’t assist considering the Ultima preamp is relatively bigger than it actually must be, however the industrial design is definitely distinctive! The ‘flip’ controls prime left present separate HF and LF tone controls for every channel, whereas the buttons beneath the show might do with clearer perform labelling

ABOVE: If the Ultima power looks big and bold head-on, it’s even more so front-to-back! The single control in the centre combines on/standby and a dimmer for the usual striking Chord illumination [see picture below]: it glows red in standby, turns green during start-up, then blue in operationABOVE: If the Ultima power looks big and bold head-on, it’s even more so front-to-back! The single control in the centre combines on/standby and a dimmer for the usual striking Chord illumination [see picture below]: it glows red in standby, turns green during start-up, then blue in operation

ABOVE: If the Ultima energy appears huge and daring head-on, it’s much more so front-to-back! The only management within the centre combines on/standby and a dimmer for the standard putting Chord illumination [see picture below]: it glows purple in standby, turns inexperienced throughout start-up, then blue in operation

a richly detailed, copiously spacious and altogether very satisfying efficiency – as befits an amplifier system at this degree. Driving the B&W 800 D3 audio system [HFN Oct ’16], and fed from a dCS Vivaldi ONE/ Melco front-end [HFN Feb ’18], the brand new Chord flagships shortly received into their stride, filling the room with an enormous sound however with the sort of straightforward tranquility that instantly suggests an equally large, latent energy hovering with intent within the background.

It’s at this level that I’ll admit my previous expertise with Chord Electronics amplification has led me to really feel that the corporate’s ‘house sound’ is technically very completed however considerably missing in soul: the phrase ‘antiseptic’ is the one

‘There’s a latent energy hovering with intent within the background’

that springs to thoughts. I’ve by no means actually felt that the accomplishments of the Chord engineers on the subject of making fine-sounding digital merchandise – from the little Mojo pocket DAC [HFN Jan ’16] all the best way as much as the flagship DAVE [HFN Apr ’16] – ever fairly translated into equally spectacular analogue amplification.

Which was precisely what I feared on first acquaintance with the Ultima amps, till the second when, enjoying ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ from The Sure Album in DSD64 [from Atlantic WPCR 15903], my notes all of a sudden switched from feedback akin to ‘all a bit methodical’ and ‘rather technical’ to a easy ‘That’s extra prefer it!’. Now the Ultimas seemed like an enormous amp completely in

JOHN FRANKS

The intent behind these flagship amplifiers is obvious sufficient: ‘We wanted to evolve our state of the art,’ confirmed Chord Electronics’ MD and Chief Designer John Franks. ‘Our latest amplifier topology really began life in the compact Etude that we launched in early 2018. It uses a dual feed-forward error-correction amplifier technology originally conceived by Essex University Emeritus Professor Malcolm Hawksford and later refined by a young Bob Cordell from Bell labs.

Of course, it’s married up right here with our excessive frequency (switchmode) PSU design, which has itself advanced because the mid-1980s.’

So what has enabled Chord to realize such excessive outputs within the Ultima? ‘Yes, the Ultima design is the largest and most powerful of our mono amplifiers,’ says Franks, ‘this particular unit has 64 power FETs that demand our most highly advanced and refined drive circuitry, operated here from boosted ±125V rails. These PSU rails are higher the the ± 110V feeding the power FETs themselves, though the latter are 2kW supplies [4kW burst] designed to deliver huge current swings.’

And the cool operating – how has this been achieved with out vital seen heatsinking? ‘By combining the Hawksford/Cordell error amplifier technology with our custom lateral MOSFETs, we’ve been capable of scale back the standing present proper right down to just some milliamperes in every pair of output units. Consequently our Ultima amplifiers are simply barely heat to the contact when idling.’

LEFT: The preamp [top] offers eight line ins (four on RCAs and four on XLRs), two tape ins (on RCAs), one AV bypass input/ output (on XLRs) and three sets of main outputs (on RCAs and XLRs). The power amp [below] has inverting and non-inverting single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs with two sets of speaker outputs on 4mm binding postsLEFT: The preamp [top] offers eight line ins (four on RCAs and four on XLRs), two tape ins (on RCAs), one AV bypass input/ output (on XLRs) and three sets of main outputs (on RCAs and XLRs). The power amp [below] has inverting and non-inverting single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs with two sets of speaker outputs on 4mm binding posts

LEFT: The preamp [top] presents eight line ins (4 on RCAs and 4 on XLRs), two tape ins (on RCAs), one AV bypass enter/ output (on XLRs) and three units of foremost outputs (on RCAs and XLRs). The facility amp [below] has inverting and non-inverting single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs with two units of speaker outputs on 4mm binding posts

command of what it was enjoying, with nice weight and growl within the bass, plus hovering organ and actual assault to the guitars.

Thoughts you, you don’t should crank these amps to critical ranges to listen to them at their greatest, nevertheless tempting that sense of unstoppable energy may be. Enjoying the fragile theme from ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ on Kyle Eastwood’s Time Items [Jazz Village JV 570034; 44.1 kHz/24-bit] the Ultima trio exhibits its mixture of finesse and precision, with an particularly spectacular resonance on Eastwood’s bass.

They usually pull off the identical trick with ‘Wild West End’ from the primary Dire Straits album [in DSD64 from Vertigo UIGY-9032]. Right here the laidback stability is served properly by the tight, clear rhythms, plus the guitars have fantastic snap with an actual sense of strings being struck.

BEFORE SINATRA

However there are occasions when the Chord mixture can nonetheless sound just a little too clear for its personal good, for instance with Rely Basie’s ‘Corner Pocket’ from the Stay At The Sands (Earlier than Frank) set [MFSL UDSACD 2113]. Right here the sound is tight and rhythmically targeted, however only a bit extra lushness in that massed brass wouldn’t go amiss. Equally Masaaki Suzuki’s studying of the Prelude and Fugue in C main, from his second quantity of Bach Organ Works [BIS-2241, SACD] has an outstanding sense of the recorded acoustic and the roles of the element elements of the instrument, even when the sense of ‘puff and pipe’ is downplayed a bit.

No amplifier is ideal, however Chord’s Ultima pre/energy is undoubtedly spectacular on so many ranges. Certainly, the best way these monoblocks received maintain of Bowers & Wilkins’ personal flagship audio system suggests the corporate’s claims of management could possibly be justified. In the meantime the killer mixture of all-out slam, velocity and subtlety means they are going to be well-suited to a really wide selection of musical types (and certainly quantity ranges).

They’re happiest when working exhausting, undoubtedly, however then with this quantity of energy on faucet, you’d need to be going some to even begin exploring their limits. (!)

VERDICT

eight.7 Complete Rating

The look is unmistakably Chord -and thus a matter of style – however it’s exhausting to argue with the sheer energy and management on supply right here. The preamp is probably a bit fussier than we’d like, and the IR distant considerably obstructive till you study its foibles, however in the event you’re after no-compromise amplification capable of convey any speaker firmly to heel, the Ultima pre/energy mixture is worthy of very critical consideration.

Consumer Score: Be the primary one!

The place to purchase?

LAB REPORT

CHORD ULTIMA PRE/POWER

Chord’s Ultima preamp gives six ranges of general achieve: ‘0.5’, ‘1.0’… ‘2.5 and ‘3.0’ amounting to 0dB, +5.6dB, +10.2dB,

+ 12.3dB, +14.2dB and +15.6dB, balanced in/out, respectively. Most output degree is 10.6V no matter achieve, from a 96ohm supply impedance, whereas the S/N ratio is barely under common at 83dB (re. 0dBV), a function it shares with the Ultima energy amp(s) with their 79dB A-wtd S/N (re. 0dBW). By the way, each amplifiers have a ‘smooth’ noise flooring – many years of lab check knowledge indicating a correlation between amplifiers that present a finite degree of ‘white’ noise and people most popular on listening exams… The preamp’s response, in the meantime, is flat to inside ±Zero.1 dB from 1 Hz-100kHz with the EQ facility disabled, and ±5dB/10kHz and ±5dB/20Hz (all re. 0dB/1 kHz) with the HF/LF EQ controls enabled and rotated to most/minimal.

The partnering Ultima energy amp didn’t fairly make its steady 780W/1400W eight/4ohm energy score – 690W/1305W was nearer the mark at < 1% THD – however the Zero.2F of low-ESR reservoir capacitance and three ±110V PSUs working in parallel delivered a stupendous 825W, 1595W, 3041W and 5617W into eight, four, 2 and 1ohm masses beneath dynamic circumstances [see Graph 1, below]. Into 8ohm masses, distortion is properly managed at Zero.Zero01%/1 W, Zero.0012%/10W and Zero.0018%/100W as much as simply Zero.004%/600W (all at 1kHz). THD will increase by an element of ~10x at 20kHz, however stays decrease general than the preamp at 0dBV [see Graph 2]. Commensurate with an output impedance that will increase from a low Zero.Zero16ohm/1 kHz to Zero.08ohm/20kHz and Zero.9ohm/100kHz, the response rolls gently away at HF to -Zero.7dB/20kHz and -2.9dB/100kHz (10W/8ohm).

ABOVE: Dynamic energy output versus distortion into 8ohm (black hint), 4ohm (purple), 2ohm (blue) and 1ohm (inexperienced) speaker masses. Max. present is 74.9A

ABOVE: THD vs. extended freq for Ultima pre (1V out, black trace) vs. Ultima monoblock (10W/8ohm, red)ABOVE: THD vs. extended freq for Ultima pre (1V out, black trace) vs. Ultima monoblock (10W/8ohm, red)

ABOVE: THD vs. prolonged freq for Ultima pre (1V out, black hint) vs. Ultima monoblock (10W/8ohm, pink)

Specs

Steady energy (<1% THD, eight/4ohm) 687W / 1305W Dynamic energy (<1% THD, eight/four/2/1ohm) 825W / 1595W / 3041W / 5617W Output imp. (20Hz-20kHz. pre/energy) 96-99ohm / Zero.Zero16-Zero.090ohm Freq. resp. (20Hz-100kHz. pre/energy) +Zero.Zero to -Zero.15dB / +Zero.Zero to -2.9dB Enter sensitivity (for OdBV/OdBW) 1000mV (pre) / 96mV (energy) A-wtd S/N ratio (re. OdBV/OdBW) 83.3dB (pre) / 78.5dB (energy) Distortion (20Hz-20kHz. 1V/10W) Zero.0009-Zero.11%/Zero.0003-Zero.072% Energy consumption (preamp) 22W Dimensions (WHD. Pre/Power) 480x310x355/480x310x670mm