Chord Huei Phono Stage

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Chord Huei Phono Stage (£995) – Side 2​

Review by Mr Underhill

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Introduction​

In Side 1 I compared the Chord Huei MM to the Naim 3 series MM cards, which the Chord Huei won, although after an interesting twist. If that has raised your curiosity you can read that review here (hopefully, the site is under active update!):

Chord Huei Side 1



In Side 2 I will be comparing the Huei MC stage to the Naim 3 series ‘k’ cards, a bespoke solution for the Karma and well suited to my newly Goldring refurbished Troika that is now fitted to my Linn LP12, Naim Aro arm and Naim Armageddon turntable. The turntable has been modded with a Mober SSP12 inner platter, which I found to be a fine VFM upgrade on my Cirkus platter.



The Chord Huei specifications can be found HERE.



The Naim ‘K’ cards have been owned by me, largely unused, for 35 years. I used them in the early ‘80s for my Linn Karma. I loaded them into an Avondale box powered by one of their PSUs, having had them checked by Henry at Surrey HiFi Repairs; first rate chap if you are looking to have some work done on your gear.



To save you diving down into the review I will reveal that the Chord Huei was the clear winner, although there are some interesting wrinkles and that is what I will be writing about in the nitty gritty below.





Test Tracks: The Good, The Bad and the Bright​

Including:
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And:

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In picking music for a review I choose that which I know is superbly recorded, showing great musicality in the bass or some other musical facet. Equally I will pick music that is superb while being less well recorded. Finally I have a selection of music that is problematic due to the recording or the mastering.



It may be that you want some equipment that is startlingly honest, that plays you everything warts and all. Alternatively it may be that you want a system that lets you get the best from what you play, allowing you to access the good whilst ameliorating the bad.



Whatever your personal preferences and priorities recorded music is inconsistent in quality, recording practices, mastering and presentation; hence my varied choice of music.



On the whole I find that poor or badly recorded music on vinyl is less problematic than digital. The issues with digital are well conjectured and include: Poor recording, more especially in the early days of the format; Poor mastering, again great strides have been made but today mastering is aimed at non-HiFi reproduction, which can cause us HiFi hobbyists problems; and, a plethora of issues in the replay chain. With Vinyl there are as many issues and complexities, however there is a potential baked in advantage, there is a limit to what the cutting head can achieve which means that the zero DB curse visited upon us in digital audio a much reduced possiblity. The danger here is the K-Tel issue of squeezing too many tracks on a side and reducing the album’s dynamic range. There is no free lunch.



So what are among my problem LPs?

  • John Denver, Rhymes & Reasons
    I was brought up with JD and love a lot of his music, but many of the albums are very bright.

  • Genesis, Abacab
    I find nothing redeeming about this record. Bright, lacks instrumental weight & I can’t say I like the music particularly.

  • Hollies Greatest
    Great music. Early days of stereo with ‘interesting’ use of left and right channels. Can tend to brightness.


Overall there is something about vinyl that just allows me to relax into the music. That is not to imply that all the advantages lie on the side of the older technology. Like all of us I could easily set up a demo to prove the supremacy of either format.



Huei Settings​

One area in which I find that I am particularly prone to identify issues is the 7-8kHz range. This might be described in some recordings as sibilance, certainly in the human voice it sometimes presents as hard Ss and Cs. Interestingly when used in MC mode Chord allow you to not only select the impedance but include a setting with an additional 2.2 micro farad load. In the manual they state, ‘Selecting an impedance with a 2.2uF load when using a Moving Coil (MC) cartridge dampens the ringing of lower-impedance cartridges, reducing distortion’.



My understanding is that this reduces output at about 7kHz.



Having selected your desired impedance you can then apply your desired gain, of which there is a wide range, and decide whether you wish to engage the rumble filter.



For the past three months I have been using the Naim ‘k’ cards with the rejuvenated Linn Troika. They have an inbuilt advantage over the Chord Huei being a bespoke solution running at the stipulated impedance, 560 ohms. This is a value not offered by the Chord Huei, I therefore selected 470 ohms and then 470 ohms with the additional 2.2 micro farads, it was the latter setting that I remained with for the review. I ran with the gain set to 64db with my Icon 4 passive pre-amp.





Main System​

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In Side 1 I thoroughly enjoyed the Chord Huei. In comparison to Naim cards the Chord was not so rich in the mid-range, but it resolved more information allowing you to hear further into the recordings. The Chord Huei extended further into the frequency extremes than the Naim cards. Although the Naim cards work with the LP12 to give the famous upper bass hump, this is far less evident through the Chord Huei.



In Side 1 I had found that powering the Chord Huei with a Krisdonia battery set to 12volts often tightened the bass and cleaned the higher frequencies, please note that Chord will invalidate your warranty if you use anything other than their supplied PSU.



In Side 2 I powered the Chord Huei SOLELY with the supplied PSU as I found a better way to clean up these areas and the effect of the Krisdonia became inconsequential, this was with the Headquarter Audio QStab Record Stabilizer.



The Huei needs a good twenty to thirty minutes to come fully on song so the supplied PSU was also more convenient allowing me to leave it on 24/7.



As I was somewhat concerned that in Side 1 of the review I had used a high output MC cartridge I went to see our esteemed editor, who uses an Audio Note Io II/2 MC Cartridge with an ANS S2 transformer. I won’t detail what we played but state that the experiment repeated what I had found. The MM setting was less than stellar, but using it with maximum impedance and minimum gain repeated the favourable impressions and less than traditional presentation of the Chord Huei.



Whilst listening George mentioned that he had been sent an experimental LP stabiliser for review but hadn’t had time to listen to its effect. With my strong encouragement we tried the very simple device on the LP we were playing. The track was Sting’s, ‘Moon Over Bourbon Street’. The effect was immediately obvious with better focused bass. The device was a Headquarter Audio QStab Record Stabilizer (QRS).



Having wrestled the QRS from George’s fingers I tried the device on my LP12, the effect was consistent. It allowed the resolution of instruments and their position within the soundfield. Also, a high frequency sibilance that I had attributed to the phono stage was cleaned up, rendering the effect of the Krisdonia battery moot. For instance in playing Hollies Greatest the main vocals were thrown further left and the high frequencies were cleaned and so resolved in a way that improved vocal rendition and intelligibility, the music was more enjoyable.



I used the QRS throughout this review.



Both the Naim cards and the Chord Huei phono stage were thoroughly enjoyable. But, as with Side 1, the presentation of Chord Huei was more in keeping with that of a digital source, having a flatter perceived frequency response and more extended into the bass and treble. The Naim, being less extended and having a greater mid-band emphasis, was kinder with brighter recordings but lacked the resolution of the Chord Huei.



Time for some listening notes.



For the warmup I started with Tom Jones’s LP, ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ (Mono). The opening track is ‘Ghost Riders’. This track is sung in G minor, the refrain includes Yip-Eeee-Aye-Aaaaa followed by Yip-Eeee-Aye-Oooh, Tom hits a top f followed by a top g. Superb, but the Chord Huei being somewhat less warm initially was slightly less than comfortable …..UNTIL I added the QRS. Showing any issues I was hearing in the upper registers was down to my turntable. Yes, the Chord Huei is not as warm as the Naim cards, BUT you have greater resolution, greater dynamics and greater detail in the midrange. Later on Side 1 Tom sings Two Brothers. This opens with Tom singing acapella before being backed by a guitar. Playing this via the Chord Huei & QRS was superb. Not just Tom’s superb vocal performance but the detail of the way the guitar was being played, wonderful detailing and insight.



Next up was Phil Collins, ‘Serious Hits Live’. This album is somewhat bright, which was ameliorated by the Naim cards. The QRS and Chord Huei was resolved and although still somewhat towards the brighter end was just as enjoyable. ‘Something Happened on the Way to Heaven’ is a barnstorming opening number. The Chord Huei’s greater resolution allows you to easily hear the backing vocalists and supporting instrumentalists. This works brilliantly as the urgency of the music is built with highlighting being provided by an acoustic followed by an electric guitar.



Time to play some classical music. First I decided to play the Nigel Kennedy, ‘The Four Seasons’. This is an earlyish digital recording and one I have always found to be on the brighter side of comfortable. From the proceeding prose I am sure you will understand that I had initially preferred the Naim ‘k’ cards. With the QRS in place I was able to simply appreciate Kennedy’s playing and the superbly empathetic backing, as the different parts vary between pianissimo and forte. When the music moved into more relaxed passages the acoustic space is hauntingly realised.



Last week I had cleaned an old box set I have of Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s ninth. The opening starts quietly and builds, throughout the urgent bowing of the violins assists in the tension, before the release of the main theme. This is a superb Decca recording of a great conductor at the height of his powers with a first rate orchestra. The Chord Huei transmits the power of this performance whilst allowing you to hear the detail and micro-dynamics of the contributing instruments, all set in a well realised sound field. One area I listen for is the percussive support of the drums at moments of heightened drama, when an orchestra is at its most bombastic and thrilling. Those supporting beats were present and correct, not over-ridden by the rest of the orchestra. The decay of the beats were not cut short or simply missing.



Next up was Courtney Pine’s début album, ‘Journey to the Urge Within’. This is not an album that I love, but there is something happening here that leads me back to it periodically. My relationship with jazz is complicated. Much jazz I feel is akin to much modern art, that the artist has been more interested in getting themselves off than in communicating something to me. The technique may be flawless and the group wonderfully tight, but it says nothing to me. Equally much traditional jazz doesn’t light me up either. That said put Satchmo together with Bing and I am in. Play Miles Davis’s Tutu and I am captured. This album is similarly more towards the Jazz Funk end of business. Listening to this album through the Chord Huei allowed me to enjoy it more than I have hitherto-fore, this I feel is always a good recommendation.



As you can tell from my photos above I played a lot more music using the Chord Huei than I have referenced.

Conclusion​

In Side 1 my conclusion included, ‘As you can tell I was quite taken with this phono stage. It is a definite step up on the Avondale box, PSU and Naim cards, as familiar as that sound is. If you are using this phono stage in MM mode have a listen via MC, I think you may be pleasantly surprised, do make sure you lower the volume first!



I was pleased to see this conclusion was re-enforced when I played the stepped up Audio Note cartridge, rather than my high output MC Dynavector.



The Chord Huei has a wide range of settings when used in MC mode, with the added ability to add some loading which I found effective and useful.



I was further taken by what the Chord entry level phono stage has to offer. I had some reservations initially which were removed through the use of the Headquarter Audio QStab Record Stabilizer. What sounded like a slightly dirty stylus was resolved into better sound-staging, allowing me to truly hear what the Chord Huei can deliver.



The old Naim ‘k’ cards played via the Avondale Audio PSU and box are very capable, and produce a sound with which I am very familiar, delivering a somewhat richer mid-range and a slight upper bass emphasis. The Chord Huei has a wider and flatter frequency response. Putting this in terms of some music:

  • When playing Simon & Garfunkle’s ‘Concert in Central Park’ the lighter vocal support given by Mr G. was delightfully rendered by the Chord Huei. While the Naim cards gave an enjoyable performance the supporting vocals were somewhat reduced. In fact on all albums the mid-range detailing was just more resolved via the Chord Huei. This may be in part due to the removal of the slightly emphasised upper bass. This meant that backing vocalists became that bit more real, present and performing.
  • Whilst the upper bass might be more in proportion please do not take this to mean that bass is in any way reduced by the Chord Huei. When playing the album of Phantom of the Opera deep bass notes sang and the fleetness of the Chord Huei gave an electrified performance (sic).




I had the opportunity to put the Chord Huei up against a well considered phono stage at over twice the price and it was not embarrassed.



I have lived with the Chord Huei over the past four months and have come to appreciate its strengths more and more over that period. It has a different presentation than that of other phono stages I have had in my system. If you find it is to your taste than you may well join me in thinking that this is a small box that punches above its price point; worth including on your audition list.
 
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