Chord Electronics 2go/2yu Review (£1,445)
IntroductionThis review has again emphasised to me the subtle borrows and hazards that can affect what you hear from your digital audio. The effects of the hosting, software and grounding can all have a big influence on your musical experience. In the review of the Chord 2go/2yu I was to realise how I had hampered my digital audio music.
Having worked my way through a few Chord Electronics DACs I was keen to try the new(ish) Chord Streamer that is formed by joining the Chord 2go and Chord 2yu.
These are two small 2 x 4” units in the usual Chord solid aluminium billet, with the translucent Chord signature balls housed in the 2yu.
The units are solidly joined by screwing in two wee metal stumps into the 2yu and tightening a couple of grub screws using an allen key in the 2go; the result is reassuringly solid.
The ‘complete’ streamer is a nice solid 4” x 4” x 1” box. The 2go was designed to fit a Hugo 2 giving it an RJ45 input and wireless connectivity. The 2yu adds some control buttons and additional outputs: BNC; Coax; Optical; and, USB. Not to mention the two SD-RAM sockets housed in the 2go; these can each house a two-terabyte SD-Ram card.
The 2yu outputs can be set to USB or optical/RCA/BNC.
The first port of call for this device was my Near Field System. I opened up the Chord app on my phone, I am familiar with this as I use it with my Chord Poly. I searched in vain for a way to assign a static IP Address. This was a shame as I had hoped to do some experiments and see how wide I could push its use. In the event I had to settle for the automatic IP assignment via DHCP, which it did easily. The instruction manual is perfunctory.
Another use case I had hoped to test was dual spdif out from the Chord 2go/2yu into the M-Scaler dual BNC input. Chord has not instituted this functionality. According to Chord, the M-Scaler dual BNC input is there ‘for future developments’, which may cover everything from, ‘It doesn’t make any difference’, to, ‘A higher quality streamer is under development’.
Before I dive into the meat and potatoes of the review, I would like to examine WHY would I bother to review a streamer? After all its impact on the sound of a system will be minimal, won’t it?
To my mind a streamer is a form of a DDC, that is a digital data converter. There is a frequently used canard that digital data is somehow pure and inviolate, after all, we don’t see any variability in the quality of a printed document. Any data moved around a network uses a protocol and a format. These are the rules which allow a device to take some data, slice it up and then reform it at the receiving endpoint. How does this work in an audio system?
I do not intend to give you a networking primer or a detailed look into the various audio networking protocols, Google is your friend. But, I do want to give a flavour of the complexities that our equipment is having to cope with.
Most of our audio systems will rely on the Ethernet protocol using TCP/IP. These are not the only game in town, but they have proved to be the winner in the network format wars; yes, these format wars exist everywhere where companies try and leverage an advantage and gain licensing fees; or in the case of TCP/IP Darpa’s need to guarantee that when a button was pressed a nuke would fly. In essence, this is a scheme for taking data of various sizes, cutting it up into bite (sic) size chunks, moving it to another location, checking it has all arrived in the right order, and sticking it back together again. All this work takes programming, uses energy and can generate noise.
In the case of Qobuz, for instance, the music is sent to us as FLAC. This is a lossless compressed form of the underlying data. The size of this data will depend on the format of the source file and its resolution, for instance, a 192/24 wav file will be much larger than one at CD quality, 44.1/16; bear in mind that this is a logarithmic scale, a 17-bit file is twice the size of the 16-bit version. In addition to the checks and handling that TCP/IP, for instance, will carry out the device manufacturer will include their own ways of handling the data, such as deciding how to handle the files by including memory to hold a quantity of the data, a cache, and perhaps use a first in first out (FIFO) buffer mechanism; these can exist in multiple places for different reasons.
It should be noted that although the data being transmitted is digital it is being moved in an ANALOGUE process. This means that the ways in which this data can be corrupted are many and varied. This may mean a lot of work on the part of the receiver to ensure all is correct and consistent, these processes in themselves may introduce further noise.
Over and above all of this any device that takes part in this process is powered. My direct experience is that POWER affects the end sound quality. I don’t intend to re-open the linear vs switched debate here, and I have heard examples of both sounding very good and rather less than optimal. Just to point out that individual companies have a great latitude in which to screw things up.
So, onto the show.
Use CasesIn this review I tried to use the Chord 2go/2yu in the following contexts:
- Nearfield System
- Minimserver/Linn Kazoo
- Bubbleupnp with files on 2go/2yu SD-Ram slots
- Main System
- Minimserver/Linn Kazoo
- Bubbleupnp with files on 2go/2yu SD-Ram slots
- Dual SPDIF out to Dual BNC input on M-Scaler
No facility on Chord 2go/2yu
- Mobile System
Roon (Laptop) > Chord 2go/2yu > Chord Mojo 2 > Quad ERA-1
I was unable to try this as the Chord app doesn’t allow the user to set a static IP address.
I could have tried this with both the laptop and the Chord 2go/2yu DHCPing IP addresses. However, my experience is that the WiFi hits contention issues where I intended to try this.
Test Tracks: The Good, The Bad and the BrightThe tracks were selected to allow:
- Comparison of local and Qobuz-sourced versions of the same tracks;
- Comparison of standard and remastered versions of the same track;
- Comparison of older and modern tracks, with their different mastering priorities;
- How problem tracks were presented.
Nearfield System Listening
The source was Roon, primarily Qobuz, with:
- headroom enabled;
- Sample rate NOT enabled;
- Parametric EQ NOT Enabled.
In my nearfield system the Chord streamer replaced my usual Meridian 210. At this point I was listening via my Sound Artist LS3/5a, these are modestly priced faux LS3/5a that have a rather sharper top end together with a warmer and larger bass that removes some of the mid-detail that you get from, for instance, the Falcon LS3/5a. This meant that much of the detail that add energy and interest was blunted. Swapping in the Chord Streamer immediately lifted the system, bringing it closer to what I had heard with the Falcons, although not to the same standard. Was this a simple tonal shift, such that I was concentrating on the higher frequency ranges whilst the bass had been shelved down?
I decided to listen to some more bass-heavy tracks. But before I did this a question occurred, was this streamer’s synergistic improvement of the warmer Sound Artists liable to compromise what was heard with the Falcons? As it happened they were sat boxed behind me to go back to Guildford Audio and so I phoned Trevor; after I had put them back into the system I confess. Trevor was a gentleman and so I had them for a few more weeks.
I had a suspicion that the ‘extra’ detail being provided by the Chord 2go/2yu might in some way unbalance the great results I had been hearing with the Falcons, no such problem. The Chord in combination with the Falcons made for some compelling listening sessions. I don’t want to over-egg the differences comparing the Chord to the Meridian via the Falcons, which were more subtle than with the less transparent Sound Artist LS3/5a.
The following notes were made via the Sound Artist LS3/5a:
Rakim, Dead Can Dance, In Concert (Live)
I had included this track primarily for its underpinning bass, which was well represented within the limits of the speakers. However, I was more aware of the double-speed tambourine and the size of the acoustic.
St James Infirmary, Let Them Talk, Hugh Laurie
This is a superbly engineered track full of great musicianship. The Chord 2yu/2go allowed the high frequency detail to shine through. In fact the detail shows off the players to great effect was simply more available and present, such as the drumming with stick on skin.
Regardless of the LS3/5a the advantage of the Chord 2go/2yu was readily apparent. How would it fare against the dCS Network Bridge?
Main System Listening
The source was Roon, primarily Qobuz, with:
- headroom enabled;
- Sample rate NOT enabled;
- Parametric EQ Enabled, deals with some minor bass issues.
My normal main system streamer is a dCS Network Bridge (NB), so having placed the Chord 2go/2yu in a ranking with the Meridian 210 I had some pretty solid expectations. A couple of years ago I had done the Meridian 210 vs dCS NB dance and the dCS stayed, although the gap was not as great as some might suppose.
Recently I realised that Chord had instituted the dCS dual spdif protocol on the M-Scaler INPUT; as well as the output. In order to make use of this I had to buy a couple of AES to BNC adapters. Once in place I tested the system against my ‘problem’ files and found they were much less problematic, so it stayed in place whilst I spent increasing time listening to my turntable front end, and in effect forgotten.
I had been somewhat disconcerted by my digital music for a while. The bass has been somewhat less than unreserved and the central imaging less than full. This was the case more with rock & pop where the imaging was far more left and right with reduced front and back. This was getting slapped in my face whenever I played an LP. As I use an LP12/Aro/Troika, Tron 7 GT into Naim SBLs I had started to assume this was, in part, due to the fact that the turntable and speakers were designed to work together.
I spoke to a couple of friends about what I was hearing. The first helpfully suggested I listened to the Chord Dave. The second even more solicitously told me that what I was hearing was the difference between analogue and digital, the solution was to ‘throw a bucketful of cash’ at the issue; he suggested the dCS Vivaldi APEX.
Having turned off the dCS and move the Audio Quest Diamond coax cable from the AES1 output I plugged it into the Chord 2go/2yu. This connected the streamer into my Chord M-Scaler and thence down to my Chord Qutest, using dual BNC.
I had to plug in the ‘obviously’ sub-standard SMPS into a plug socket and so I turned off my Naim 300DR power amp as I reached behind my rack and gave a nod of gratitude to Chord, as the power cable for the mini-USB power adapter is nice and long. I fired up Roon which quickly detected the Chord 2go/2yu and hit play. Nothing. Damn, I hadn’t turned the power amp on! Having done so I considered waiting for ten minutes and declined. Having resisted the temptation to be responsible and wait for the 300DR to warm up I played what was on the current playlist, which was “Into the Wild’s” “Into the Wild”. Great central image, imaging depth with precision; good grief, this was excellent, what was happening? Well, what was happening was music, and an expanding playlist. I was forced to sit up and take notice once again when playing ‘Locomotive Breath’ by ‘Jethro Tull’. This is a track I have been playing for DECADES, and yet here was something new. The bass player is holding back on the absolute timing at times. Further than this the bloom on instruments, as a note or drum builds and decays, was more evident.
Using the dual AES via adapter route had acted as a low pass filter. Yes, it had better controlled sibilance issues, which is something of a personal obsession, but in doing so stripped out some high-frequency information. This reduced imaging precision and dynamics.
Having tested this theory by restoring the dCS NB to spdif output I kicked myself. But, how did these two network bridges then match?
The dCS NB has a tad more bass slam with some tracks. For instance, on Hugh Laurie’s version of St James’ Infirmary, the engineer has buried the mic in the grand piano. As Laurie’s left hand goes dowwwnnnn you almost resonate with it. This wasn’t quite so evident via the Chord 2go/2yu; but, that also allowed other things happening in the music to be revealed, even things happening further down the register.
The precision of the Chord 2go/2yu bass was not altogether welcome. For instance, I love the Tori Amos track Reindeer King. Via my ERA-1 headphones, the left-hand excesses of Ms Amos are wonderfully present, not so much with the Chord stack in my main system where the recording engineer machinations were rather more exposed; the truth can hurt.
As I noted in my near field comments the Chord 2go/2yu has a slightly more upper frequency presence, cognisant of this I decided to play some tracks that I know can be somewhat sibilant. First up was ‘Son of Man’ from Tarzan, written and sung by Phil Collins. I was immediately bowled over by the drumming, and initially, I thought the vocals might just hold to the right side of the sharpness line, but no. Ss abounded.
So, that was that. Job done time to move on?
At this point I had to go away for a few days, but I left the Chord 2go/2yu powered up and ready to rock and roll. Boy, I was looking forward to my next listening session, well there is a time worn warning, beware what you look forward to with much anticipation. My next session was defined by sharp vocals, of the sort that I hate. Frustratingly this was wrapped in wonderfully detailed musicianship and excellent detailing and imaging. What the HELL was going on? Experience came to my rescue.
Grounding is a ring of hell for digital audiophilia; and one in which I had been trapped before.
The Chord 2go/2yu is NOT wired into the mains, relying on a SMPS and therefore low DC it has a floating earth. My experience is that this can create merry hell with HiFi sound, and one that is hard to differentiate from a step forward in sound quality. Like adding a spice to food certain flavours get enhanced. Musically this adds up to increased dynamics and new musical insights as some frequencies get emPHasised. The downside is an increase in sibilance and other fricatives.
Having got a working theory I wired the Chord 2go/2yu into my earthing loop and waited for an hour. Sanity was restored. The vocal sharpness was calmed.
How did the Chord 2go/2yu now compare to my usual dCS Network Bridge? The differences were more subtle, but evident. The dCS is still somewhat less inclined to present vocals with an edge, something I truly value. However, I would say the Chord 2go/2yu is a tad more inclined to present top end detail, this results in some music having a bit more precise imaging and 3-D sound staging.
Hugh Laurie’s version of St James’s Infirmary is superb, and is a huge contrast to Satchmo’s equally brilliant take. Listening to the latter on the Chord 2go/2yu you are drawn to the leading edge of the cymbal strikes. With the dCS the cymbals are not so insistent and their holistic ringing is the sound.
The Chord 2go/2yu has another talent to display, the SD-RAM slots. This is a fine addition as it enables you to have up to four terabytes of digital music to immediate hand without relying on other network infrastructure. I was able to access these files via the Chord application, which was communicating with the Chord 2go/2yu via bluetooth. This is a pretty basic interface and sets up a number of playlists based on the SD-RAM card contents; it did NOT present all the music. When testing access via Linn Kazoo BubbleUPnP found the Chord 2go/2yu both as a streamer AND as a server. This meant that ALL the files were present in the Linn Kazoo interface and available to be used in playlists.
The music played via the SD-RAM was a tiny bit more detailed and dynamic.
SoftwareRoon has become my tool of choice. There is a slight but consistent lessening of top end tizz. Whether this is RAAT, Roon’s bespoke protocol, or the software itself I cannot tell, but firing up Linn Kazoo, BubbleUPnP & Minimserver 2.0 reminded me why I tend to stick to Roon. Further than this the simplicity with which Roon finds and makes available different endpoints is an example of presenting a great user experience.
ConclusionThis has been a fascinating review to conduct.
Why not simply get a Raspberry Pi and a good PSU, job done? This is certainly a reasonable approach and one I have used. My experience is that it caps what you can achieve. The more capable your system, the cleaner the window if you will, the more that limitation will be exposed. Not that it sounds bad, just that you will be drinking Sainsbury’s Bordeaux rather than something more rarefied, and something that you will appreciate.
The Chord 2go/2yu meets the usual high standard of Chord Electronics. Further than that, the unit worked in a bullet proof manner both with Roon and Minimserver/Linn Kazoo. As always the styling is somewhat idiosyncratic, personally I appreciate the path less trodden and have voted with my wallet on a number of occasions.
Having completed the near-field section things seemed to be going along an unsurprising path, the Chord 2go/2yu presented more upper mid and high frequency detail than the Meridian 210, that might be described as somewhat warmer. In combination with the Sound Artist LS3/5a, which is a warm speaker, the Chord 2go/2yu forms a better synergistic match, raising the game. With the Falcon LS3/5a, which is tonally more neutral, there is still a gap in favour of the Chord pairing, but somewhat more subtle.
In my main system, via the Naim SBLs, the journey was initially far more of a roller coaster. Once certain factors had been dealt with the differences between this excellent streamer and my usual dCS Network Bridge are subtle. The noted upper mid and treble information tilt with the Chord 2go/2yu results depends upon the recording. It is less kind to sharper recordings but allows a tad more precision and insight into the image, drawing your attention to the leading edge of notes.
Both the Chord 2go/2yu and the dCS Network Bridge are musically satisfying streamers, but their presentations are slightly different. Depending on your system, musical preferences and sources different streamers will make a difference, and so auditioning is worthwhile.
Why pay this much for a streamer? My experience is that streamers such as the Chord 2go/2yu offer a more consistent sound quality over a range of sources, so that Qobuz hosted files, for instance, are damned near as good as those hosted locally.
Considering its size, bullet proof construction and performance the Chord Electronics 2go/2yu is a streamer well worth including on your audition list.