Throughout my time with HF&MS over the last 10 years, I have come round firmly to the view many share which is that each piece of HiFi equipment is best focusing on just one job. For example, a CD player just being a transport only, a DAC being just a DAC, a preamplifier just organising and preparing the analogue signal, and so on. It is my view that a power amplifier just being the main engine in a system is the perfect way to drive speakers, so much so I bought a Naim NAP 250 a few years back and I have never looked back. If I had seen a Chord Choral Étude a few years back, I may have made a different choice.
The Chord Étude is part of Chord’s Choral range and is designed to complement the streaming pre-amplifier DAVE DAC and it is a similarly diminutive size. The Chord Étude can be stacked using Chord’s bespoke Ensemble stand to present a formidable digital based system. Here, in this review, I am just using the Chord Choral Étude with a separate preamplifier to drive a pair of speakers. The Chord Choral Étude benefits from the technology and research involved in the Ultima range that is the passion project of Chord designer John Franks. His innovation in high voltage switching and dual-feed-forward circuits enables Chord to deliver greater amplifier efficiency. Therefore, the Étude offers ‘affordable’ access to this Ultima technology.
The Class A/B Chord Choral Étude delivers a claimed 150W into 4 Ohms. It has a low distortion figure claimed by Chord at 0.05% (4 Ohms). The frequency range is a very acceptable 5Hz – 100kHz +/- 0.5dB.
The inputs are balanced XLR for each side (L/R) and/or an unbalanced RCA input. Output is to gold plated speaker binding terminals to the rear that screws onto a 4mm plug or a 6mm spade if needed. The Chord Choral Étude Stereo Power Amplifier is retailing at £3,900 in the UK.
The Étude chassis is machined from a single block of aluminium and the website says the internals are fan cooled, this can strike terror into some, but I have heard no sign of a fan and the weather is thankfully seasonably warm at this time. The chassis top plate itself is screwed in place with recessed flat-topped Allen screws that really fit the aesthetic.
The Étude itself is a smaller size compared to more standard HiFi equipment and is 6.7cm x 33.5 x 17.5 (HxWxD). It is 3.45kg. Overall, with the substantial on/off switch at the back, I have a feeling of heft and quality and the decidedly understated look is very pleasing.
I have mostly been driving a pair of excellent and very revealing Kudos Cardea C10 standmount speakers (nominal 8 Ohms impedance) with this Chord Choral Étude. The Kudos speakers feel particularly suited to the Étude due to their accuracy and positive midrange presentation. I must admit to supporting the Kudos C10s with a Focal P600 subwoofer.
I have been using a Leema Pulse IV as a preamplifier as it is an excellent bit of kit, and it is extremely flexible on input sources and output options (two RCA pre outs for example which is where the Focal subwoofer idea came from at the last minute). The Pulse IV is rapidly turning into my favourite bits of equipment at this time, the review will follow here on HF&MS.
I have also been running an Oppo CD Player with the latest Tellurium Black II XLR connections directly into the Chord Choral Étude which has been a total joy. A review of the new Black II XLR cables will also follow shortly.
I am finding the Chord Choral Étude runs warm which is not unsurprising in this current hot weather, but I have had no issues as the chassis is heavy and is acting as the heat sink, clearly very effectively. There is no hint in my experience with the fan cooling system.
I have an old fashioned iron weight on the top of the Chord Choral Étude because the QED Supremus cable speaker plugs are larger and more cumbersome than most and they are pulling the shallow depth Étude over at an angle.
To the rear of the Étude by the binding posts, there are phase switches on each side, left/right, which I did not notice until I read the manual (online). I have left these untouched in the suggested down position.
Clunking the large on/off switch at the rear to the ‘on’ position there is a marked delay as delicate noises fire the Étude up like a soft bootup procedure! After the documented 12 seconds the Étude is ready to go, there is a subtle internal blue glow to show you it is ‘in gear’. The same delicate process occurs on power down as the Étude puts itself to bed.
I feel I have a greater degree of width and therefore space in my soundstage
The first thing to say about these Kudos Cardea C10 standmounted speakers is they have found a perfect partner since my previous review. Where I preferred the Naim NAP (80W/ch, 8 Ohms) to the analytic T+A PA 2000 R electronics (100W/ch, 8 Ohms), this clean Étude seems to offer a degree of additional grip to the presentation that is immediately noticeable in the C10s. I feel I have a greater degree of width and therefore space in my soundstage which is always a decent start.
I am pleased to hear I have easily retained the dominant classy soundstage with the C10s in partnership with this Chord Étude. I am finding my cymbals are cascading maybe slower in the tracks where I am listening for that decay, such as in Miles Davis’ So What and, by deliberate contrast, Radiohead’s You and Whose Army? (1’47” in). In fact, You and Whose Army? becomes an altogether more captivating track as the energy from the Étude builds to a conclusion. This same sense of scale and rhythm builds in the anthemic track The Numbers, still one of my favourite Radiohead moments. I find generally if there is a lot of Radiohead, I tend to favour the product on review!
Whilst the Étude has the power to spare it can be astoundingly delicate and there is no better example than Lana Del Ray’s, White Dress which has the fragility of the lyric weeping out of the speakers. Del Ray’s current single Text Book is similarly doleful.
In an effort to cheer myself up I thought I would look for a crispy brushed snare in Lullaby of Birdland, Sarah Vaughn’s perfect jazz classic. There is a clarity of delivery by this Chord Choral Étude that is exceptional and so a brief trawl through the best produced tracks I can recall swiftly ensues. Necessarily, this involves Alt-J’s dynamic Breezeblocks and, of course, the magnificent detail in the ethereal 3WW.
I’ve had a play with some classical pieces of music, such as Nigel Kennedy’s Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Tidal, MQA). Appropriately, in the fast paced section in Summer: III Presto the Étude has the pace to cope with the dancing violin of Kennedy and indeed this dynamism is reflected further in Winter: I Allegro non Molto. In the finale of The Four Seasons, Winter: III Allegro, the pace and execution after 2’40” reveal what a magnificent piece of equipment this is in this all British combination with the Kudos Cardea C10s
Finally, and in the light of a recent Steve Lamacq Album Club podcast, I turn to Blondie’s Heart of Glass for a reminder of how clean and refreshing a pop record can be if it is well produced.
With these basic elements… this is it, what we are after; the perfect balance of power and reproduction that makes you simply smile.
I have had a few occasions when I have got a HiFi system absolutely singing and my time with this Chord Choral Étude is one of them. There is without question a clarity of delivery here that demands some decent speakers and cable to match to handle the quality on offer here. With these basic elements, and a good source, this is it, what we are after; the perfect balance of power and reproduction that makes you simply smile.
Understated power delivery
Price, but you get what you pay for
Full details are on the company’s site here.