Amplifiers or a Maserati?
There are extremes in every hobby or interest. Some of these are easier than others for the man in the street to relate to, or even quantify. As a Maserati eases away at the lights you just know that it's highly capable of stunning performance, and that the build construction or luxury fitment is never in question.
Can the same be said for high-end audio products? Time trials don't lie: a car is fast, or it's not. You pay for that performance, along with the research, development, and a certain amount of prestige.
When it comes to the reproduction of recorded music, however, it often becomes a little harder to see past the price tag, at least for a large part of the population any way. Not everyone knows what they are listening to, or listening for.
I liken it to 3D images that were a craze in the '90s. Anyone could look at them, but not everyone learned to squint and witness the resulting three-dimensional picture that emerged. As a result, high-end audio is often misunderstood.
So what is "high end" when it comes to hi-fi products? Does it relate solely to price and ultra-expensive gear? No, even the term "high end" itself is subjective.
To a musician, an audio engineer or an audiophile with a trained ear, it is fairly easy to recognise true sound quality and faithful reproduction. For them, high end might be just spending a little more on products than usual, dictated by what they can afford. For others, spending $1000 on a portable audio dock might give it high-end status, because for them it sounds amazing.
Of course, as we move up the scale, build quality generally improves and we start to see the introduction of exotic materials and design features as manufacturers begin to push the envelope.
So what happens when British manufacturer Chord Electronics, nestled on the banks of the River Medway in Kent, sets out to create a no-compromise pre-amplifier and matching mono amplifiers?
Let's start with the pre-amplifier – CPA 8000 – at an investment of $56,700. Its role is relatively simple in theory: control volume and switch input devices, but to do so without colouring the sound or interfering with the source component's signal.
It uses two separate ultra-high-frequency power supplies for the best possible channel separation. Critical circuitry responsible for volume, balance and EQ controls are surrounded by solid milled aluminium shielding, all in the name of preventing noise and interference.
Modern in styling with an almost retro feel, this pre-amp features all the inputs and outputs you could ever need, built to the tightest tolerances. It is a statement piece of which Chord can be truly proud. .
You'll still need amplifiers to go with it, though, and Chord's pair of matching mono amps – SPM 14000MkII –- were designed from scratch to be simply the finest the manufacturer could produce.
At $54,400 each – yes, you'll need two – the design has been refined over the years in consultation with many famous musicians and those working within the music production field. Each amplifier uses three very advanced high-frequency power supplies that were designed specifically by Chord for use in audio applications. Each power supply can deliver 4kW of pulsed energy for a total of 12kW of stored power when needed.
This enormous power foundation allows for ultra-precise control of loudspeakers, with an output power of 700w RMS per channel.
Weighing in at an impressive 75kg each, there's no doubting the solid engineering, entirely produced and hard anodised in Britain.
With no change from $165,000 you'll still need speakers, cables and a CD player or other source unit. Of course, Chord also has options there, too, if you're game.
Chord Electronics is distributed in Australia by Radiance Audio Visual.
Originally published in The Age Green Guide (November 4th, 2015). Republished with permission.
StereoNET's Founder & Publisher and still buried deep in the review room auditioning everything from docks to soundbars, amplifiers to headphones. Marc also founded Melbourne's International HiFi Show.
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