Chord Electronics Ltd.
SPM 600 Power Amplifier, CPA-2200 Preamplifier
Elegant Simplicity from Denmark
Clement Perry
5 November 1999

The Chord ComboSpecifications

SPM 600 Power Amplifier

OUTPUT POWER: 130W rms. per channel @ 0.05% distortion into 8W, 170W rms. Per channel into 4W, 200W rms into 2W. Thermal limitation only, 1 channel driven.

DYNAMIC HEADROOM: 200W rms per channel into 8W, 360W rms per channel into 4W. - 1 kHz, 20 cycles on, 480 cycles off. Peak pulses 8 milliseconds burst 75V peak (the equivalent of 400W per
channel peak into 2W)
FREQUENCY RESPONSE (8 OHMS) -1dB, 0.2Hz to 46KHz -3dB, 0.1Hz to 77KHz
FREQUENCY RESPONSE (4 OHMS)-1dB, 0.2Hz to 39KHz -3dB, 0.1Hz to 75KHz
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO better than -103dB, 'A' weighted two thirds power.
CHANNEL SEPARATION better than 95dB.
CONNECTION2 ◊ gold-plated, fully balanced XLR sockets. 2 x gold-plated custom phono
sockets, unbalanced.
INPUT IMPEDANCE:100kW. Unbalanced/Balanced.
INPUT CAPACITANCE: <30pf.
OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: 0.02W
OUTPUT INDUCTANCE: 2.6mH
OUTPUT CONNECTIONS: 8 x 4mm rhodium binding posts (2 pairs Black, 2 pairs Red)
SLEW RATE: 70V per mS, 1KHz 20V square wave
DIMENSIONS (Standard) 420mm (w) ◊ 355mm (d) ◊ 88mm (h)
WEIGHT: 9Kg
Price: $3,895.00 USA

CPA-2200 Preamplifier

HARMONIC DISTORTION
10Hz -90dB 10kHz -89dB
1kHz -91dB 20kHz -87dB
INTERMODULATION DISTORTION:-100dB all inputs
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO: -93dB all inputs except Video (-83dB)
CHANNEL SEPARATION: 10Hz 93dB 10kHz 91dB
1kHz 95dB 20kHz 89dB
CHANNEL BALANCE: 0.01dB
POTENTIOMETER PERFORMANCE: 0dB -20dB -60dB
0.5dB 0.2dB 0.24dB
11 secs. Ī3 secs. for full travel of 300o
UNBALANCED INPUTS
Disc 1, Disc 2, Video, Radio, Tape 1 and Tape 2.
OUTPUTS
RCA phono style, gold-plated with Teflon dielectric insulation.
2 pairs balanced outputs (3-pin XLR) O/P 1 & 2.
1 unbalanced RCA phono style.
2 Tape outputs, unbalanced RCA phono style.
FREQUENCY RANGE: 2.5Hz - 200kHz (-3dB)
INPUT MAX: Disc 1 3.6V rms Radio 3.6V rms
Disc 2 3.6V rms Tape 1 3.6V Video 3.6V rms Tape 2 3.6V rms
NOMINAL GAIN: 1V AC In gives 2V AC Out
INPUT IMPEDANCE: 47kW
OUTPUT MAX: 15.6V rms balanced, 7.8V rms unbalanced
OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: 680W (short circuit protected)
DIMENSIONS IN MM: 420 ◊ 88 ◊ 355 (Width ◊ Height ◊ Depth)
Price:$4,995.00 USA
Distributor: Cool Audio Ltd.
Website: www.coolaudio.com

"In one anotherís affecting embrace, thereís an unmistakable synergism. Iím 99.9% certain that using these devices separately with other, possibly less-synergistic electronics would compromise their paired performance."

Chord Electronics Limited, a Danish high-end conglomerate, has a been quietly designing highly acclaimed pro-audio wares since 1982. Well reputed in professional ranks, the company more recently taken aim at the American high-end consumer. In employing some of the world's most prestigious recording studios -- the BBC's, E.M.I's Abbey Road, and Trident II Studios -- as a podium, theyíve readied themselves for a U.S. invasion by incorporating a newly formed Internet company, CoolAudio.com, as their exclusive distributor.

As an entirely personal thing (I'm fond of eccentricity), I welcome the opportunity to comment on these peculiar looking products. When the occasion arose to review both the new Chord SPM 600 stereo amplifier paired to its CPA 2200 line level preamplifier I welcomed it, thinking perhaps this will provide a better insight into this companyís stated goals: "Chord electronics provide an uncompromised sound quality that will rival any regardless of price."

We shall see.

One thing seems certain after a few of days listening: this review would not have been nearly as positive without having both units doing duty as one. In one anotherís affecting embrace, thereís an unmistakable synergism. Iím 99.9% certain that using these devices separately with other, possibly less-synergistic electronics would compromise their paired performance.

The first thing that catches the eye is the Chord "look." These products possess an unusual elegance and European feel. Attractions include a lightly brushed aluminum faceplate, smoothly beveled sides, and flanking these, big outrigger feet. The feet are in fact vertical towers that act as external supports, in turn connected by two adjoining bars that extend from each unitís faceplate to its rear. Three triangular rubber stoppers beneath the feet, serve for a sure and solid footing. Additionally, tripod like indentations are located on the tops of each foot tower allowing for the perfect fit from the tripod stoppers in the event vertical stacking becomes necessary. Those little rubber thingies under the feet do provide added insurance against slippage. However, with all the tweaks available today, along with the widely accepted notion that power supplies ought to be separated as far as possible in order to minimize EMI/RFI, I cannot see the advantage to this stacking-friendly design.

Technical Description

"The volume knob -- a sophisticated four-gang, finely machined and motorized potentiometer customized and assembled with a control knob and shaft -- and balance controls remind me of oversize Hershey Kisses with Almonds."

John Franks, company president and chief designer/engineer, asserts that to keep the musical signal pure, Chord Electronics (ŗ la Ed Meitnerís latest Bidat), developed a digital switching power supply via a micro-controller capable of supplying copious amounts of clean power without delay. John's original ambition was to develop an ultra-high-tech power supply that was totally reliable, robust, safe, and able to meet the requirements of all international approval bodies for safety and electromagnetic interference. The micro-controller (or switching power supply) acts only to control DC lines that select control relays, thereby keeping the stereo signals free from ultra high frequency (UHF) data signal corruption. Each stereo channel has its own independent power supply regulation circuit with DC regulators for each amplification stage. In addition, each stereo channel input selector has is own separate printed circuit board. The design of the digital and analogue circuitry was implemented with great care in de-coupling and extensive star earthing (one universal ground).

Special custom made dual MOSFET output transistors were employed in the output stages. Designed around metal on silicon "MOSFET" devices developed exclusively for Chord Electronics by a UK semiconductor fabrication house formerly involved heavily in the aerospace sector. Chord Electronics approached them to produce a 200 Volt / 300 Watt device, which has been fulfilled by use of a novel packaging technique which places two silicon chips in parallel in the same TO3 style case. This technique has the significant advantage of ensuring perfect thermal matching of the devices, eliminating the need for temperature balancing resistors in the output stage, thereby substantially improving both efficiency and the overall stability of the amplifier.

The Preamp

"Chord provides a 20-button remote for all procedures, albeit plastic and thus cheesy-looking by comparison with the hardware it commands, it worked flawlessly throughout this evaluation."

The Chord CPA 2200's front panel is a model of understated elegance and simplicity. Below the gold-plated Chord logo is a pair of gold-plated controls, volume and balance. To the right, under blue electro-luminescent characters we see A, B, Set, and Signal buttons. The display further defines events as Source, Output Select, Volume, and Balance. The volume knob --a sophisticated four-gang, finely machined and motorized potentiometer customized and assembled with a control knob and shaft-- and balance controls remind me of oversize Hershey Kisses with Almonds. In addition, the volume control displays digital figures (employing unity gain) from 00 to 98. The balance control also has a digital indication for the direction of travel. This is displayed for two seconds after releasing the button on the remote. Did I forget to mention the remote?

Chord provides a 20-button remote for all procedures, albeit plastic and thus cheesy-looking by comparison with the hardware it commands, it worked flawlessly throughout this evaluation. It's also is the only means to mute the preamp. The rear displays six RCA gold inputs: Disc 1, Disc 2, Video, and Radio, Tape 1, Tape 2. A definite bennie is the XLR connectors for those who use long runs of interconnects or simply prefer balanced wires. Taping is possible from any source to either the tape recorder outputs (each tape output can also be monitored). A non-captive IEC receptacle will satisfy the needs of power cord mavens.

The Amp

The SPM 600 amplifier measures in size, shape, style and simplicity the twin to the CPA 2200. Of course, it's heavier and produces more heat and therefore, in tandem, belongs under the preamp. The preamp's attention to detail and design go ditto for the amp. The SPM 600 amplifier's front panel is an 8.5mm-thick aluminum slab. Its Spartan grille sports an engraved black and gold logo, power-on button and indicating LEDís, plus two A/B speaker button selectors. Centered between rear mounted heat sinks are two pair of Tiffany gold-plated speaker terminals. Balanced XLR as well as RCA inputs are standard. A detachable IEC receptacle is, thoughtfully, employed here as well. This is a compact, beautifully constructed, well-finished and thought-out product.

The Chord combo spent its time exclusively in my reference rig, where it was complemented by all the usual cast of characters: the now orphaned Von Schweikert VR6 loudspeakers, Cliffhanger Audio's CHS-2 monitors atop their optional W-2 woofer section. Digital is by way of the legendary Bidat D-to-A processor and transport. Both the Bidat and DSS transport products are sandwiched between the Z-Systems RDP-1 Digital preamplifier. All digital cabling is by way of Jack Bybee's Quantum (single ended) Interconnect filters out to transport to Z-System [balanced out of Z-System into the Bidat D-to-A]. I also used Enlightened Audio Designís Ultradisc 2000 CD player in this evaluation. I've also installed the Tact 2.2 Digital Room Corrector. Cabling, Harmonic Technology Pro Nine speaker cables and Pro Silway Mk II Interconnects. Add to this mix, two Symphony Line Conditioners from Quantum Life products, along with PS Audioís Power Plant 300 Line Re-Conditioner.

Sounds Like

"Never once did the sound creep beyond the perimeter of the speakersí horizontal plane. Relaxed, confident and self-assured in character, it impressed big time."

The Chord CPA 2200/SPM 600 preamp/amp combo wowed me by its gorgeous looks, but the news gets even better. It sounds very good! Iíve evaluated this combo over the last five months. It operated flawlessly, never overheated, shut down, spit up, or threw a temper tantrum.

The CPA2200/SPM 600 combo proved extremely revealing of the differences between standard CDís. In "Streets of Philadelphia" title from the movie soundtrack (Epic Soundtrax EK 57624), Springsteenís voice appeared more vividly expressive, separated from the instruments behind, especially the synthesizers racing back and forth ever so subtly. Never once did the sound creep beyond the perimeter of the speakersí horizontal plane. Relaxed, confident and self-assured in character, it impressed big time. Never did I get the impression the CPA 2200/SPM 600 held back or blunted events. The CPA/SPM duo equally relishes reproducing the softer details and is sensitive to the subtle microdynamics that are such a great part of the live listening event. Occasionally, music sounded so startlingly convincing I became instantly confidant that this dynamic duo was releasing 100% of what was on the disc. As for resolution of detail, there's plenty o'dat in dees here hills! The Chord duo poured forth sparkle on a delicately highlighted top end devoid of grain while maintaining a natural hold on the lower audio spectrum (walking that spectral tightrope), deftly avoiding the all too often, bright top/flubby bottom shift in contrasts. Not an easy feat.

Bass performance is dependent on the choice of disc. However, even under the best of circumstances, deep bass extension failed to match that of the Sim Audio W10 Mono's, both in pitch definition and absolute rein in the lowest octaves (who says power doesnít corrupt?).

So where does the Chordís magic live? In my humble opinion, in its neutrality, its ability to impart nary a suspicious character to all those CDís Iíve become accustomed with. Perhaps it's the switching power supply thatís doing it. Perhaps it's the avoidance of capacitors in the signal path. One thing's for sure, it's is a very transparent set of devices. Whether using the VR6's or the impressive Cliffhangers, the sound is superlative and pin-point focused. Case in point, the latest and fabulously recorded Rimsky-Korsakov (Reference Recording), "Scheherazade Russian Easter Overture." Listening through this entire disc proved very relaxing and a learning experience all at once. (Listening to an entire disc is something of a rarity for an audiophile with thousands of CDs in his collection.) I became all the more aware of this duo's inherent ease, sense of dynamics, spatial resolution and overall sonic excellence.

Good Night

"I donít like thinking about equipment while listening to music. The Chord duo allowed me that luxury."

Iím mightily impressed with Chordís CPA 2200 preamplifier and accompanying SPA 600 power amplifier. It is rare indeed to find a product that will nudge you closer to musical truth at this price point. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to hear them. Their sound in my listening room proved exquisite. They are an articulate and dynamic solid-state set conspicuously un-solid-state-like. While the two units are certainly not inexpensive, one has only to consider the competition to understand we've got a bargain here, good buddy. I donít like thinking about equipment while listening to music. The Chord duo allowed me that luxury. Need I say more? Youíll probably thank me for insisting that you audition these sweethearts.