Chord Electronics Choral Etude Review​

Chord Electronics Choral Etude

£4,500
150W into 4 ohms
33.3 (W) x 7.1 (H) x 15.4 (D) cm
230VAC
3.45kg
Black or Silver
Inputs: 2xXLR (balanced); 2xRCA (single ended)
Outputs: Pair WBT speaker terminals
Chord Electronics: https://chordelectronics.co.uk/

Introduction​

I have read a number of positive comments about the Chord Electronics Etude over the past year, as a result I was keen to get my hands on an example and hear whether the ground swell I had heard was true.

The amp arrived in a standard Chord Electronics box, packaged to the usual excellent standard and of diminutive size.

As always I found myself very taken by the Chord Electronics styling.

The amp was released in 2018, we at The Wam always aim to be at the bleeding edge of HiFi, proudly proclaimed as a whole new topology, the first for Chord Electronics since 1989; the product of the sweat and hard work of John Franks with a claimed wide bandwidth up to 30kHz, low noise and low distortion.

Technical Detail​

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The Etude is designed by John Franks. A Class AB amplifier it includes four proprietary Mosfets per channel using the feedback feedforward error correction proposed by Mark Hawksford in 1981. This is the same technique used in the much praised Benchmark AHB2, they provide an overview of their design of this here.

The Etude is powered by that bête-noire of high fidelity sound, a switch mode power supply. Of course there are power supplies and power supplies. Much as Tim de Paravacini could get the same sound signature from valves and solid state here John Franks has a long and distinguished track record. Like many old-saws of the HiFi fraternity context is crucial, quality always matters and this has been delivered in the Etude PSU; which is very well shielded from the audio signal.

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Being a part of the Choral range puts it in some fine company sitting alongside the Chord Electronics Dave, sharing its form factor and fitting into the sturdy metal frame with which you are probably familiar.

The bald specifications:

Chord Electronics Choral Etude

Rated at 150W into 4 ohms, so around 75W at 8 ohms. Of course all amplifier specs are ‘interesting’, but at no point did I find the amp to sound anything less than muscular, to say the least. The signal to noise ratio is 108 dbV.

The amplifier is equipped with both balanced and single ended inputs and includes toggle buttons to select which you wish to use, in addition to one that reverses the phase.

The amplifier is built to the standard we have all come to enjoy from this company, it no doubt comes with the Charles Atlas seal of approval!

Nearfield System Listening​

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Having recently reviewed the Hugo TT2 and greatly enjoyed its effect on the system I slotted in the Etude with mixed feelings. I certainly liked the compact and stylish styling. Turning the amp on using the rear rocker switch revealed the interior blue lights as the amp came onstream. Being new my plan was to listen to it in as semi-background for a week while it warmed up, that proved to be impossible.

The Etude took over from my normal Naim CB NAP140. I thoroughly enjoy my nearfield system and the 140’s compact size is ideal in this system, sitting within three feet of me yet providing the energy reserves to properly control the Sound Artist LS3/5a ….or so I thought. The amp itself provides 70W per channel into 8 ohms, and so is a good match for the Etude in terms of power. A dual mono design, after the transformer, the 140 is valued for its musical punch with the usual Naim attributes from the 1990’s, and it was recently serviced. In today’s money the 140 would cost in the region of £2k, so it is asking a lot to stack it up against the Etude, but it will be a known quantity to many readers and so I think it is a useful yardstick.

This amp may have been new but I was immediately impressed by its detail and extension. This amp took the Sound Artists by the scruff of the neck and told to stop bu*****ing about; behave yourselves and deliver your best. This was a step up in showing me what these little boxes can deliver, and I really enjoyed the result. There was NO downside from removing the 140: PRAT? Check; Resolution? Improved; Dynamics? Both macro and micro improved; Texture? Yep.

When I inserted the Etude into this system I was wary that the internal fan might be a distraction from the music. In the event it was whisper quiet, the laptop made more noise. At no point did the amp ‘noise’ intrude.

The control that the Etude had over the LS3/5a reveals that the 140 is a tad slow and smeared in comparison.

On to some listening notes:

Master & Commander – Christopher Gordon
Tognetti: The Far Side of the World

Opening with a number of drums these were clearly better resolved than I had previously heard, but the amp has the speakers under such control that other minor contributions are also more easily resolved, such as a lightly strummed electric guitar.

This is true for all the tracks, the parts and detail are resolved well.

Unplugged – Eric Clapton
Signe

This is a long used comparison piece for me due to the detail on tap. The clarity offered by the Etude is immediately apparent in the interaction between Clapton, Andy Fairweather Low & a third musician even before the music starts. The complexity was wonderfully presented.

Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
Organ Solo
Jonathan Scott

I love the organ as an instrument, just not a lot of the music played upon it. Here the Etude portrays the weight of the instrument, even via the diminutive LS3/5a. The clarity of the system through the Etude gives extra insight into how the piece is being played, both in terms of the hands and feet but also which stops and effects are being applied.

The system via the Etude was far more precise in terms of the sound field accuracy. For instance on the opening of Incantations the way Oldfield had placed various instruments to produce his effects was more obvious. This was all done within a musically coherent tableau, no musical autopsy here.

I tried to trip the system up using various tracks that I know can be problematical. On Neil Diamond’s Melody Road album the track ‘Seongah & Jimmy’ when played through an EAR534 into Focal 1008be was guaranteed to induce wince inducing S’s, which are quiet hard in the recording – nothing to ssssssee here folks, just move along please; at least via the SingXer F1, when played via the LG TV the S’s were more evident. Same with the other problem tracks including Son of Man (Phil Collins) and Mojo Pin.

The resolution adds to the musical enjoyment as does the wider frequency range. Listening to Hold On from Yes’s 90125 album added to the swagger of the track as Chris Squire swooped onto bass notes underpinning melodic structure. The reproduction of the cymbals and other percussion added to the enjoyment of the music.

This is not only a very competently designed amp but John Franks has delivered on his design brief providing a wide bandwidth, low noise and low distortion. He has not only produced an amp that is technically good but is also packed with PRAT and lets the music sing. This is one hell of an amp and I am looking forward to hearing how it stacks up in my main system ……is my Naim NAP300DR threatened, and at half the price?

Main System Listening​

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My SBLs use Avondale external passive cross-overs.

I first re-acclimatised myself to my 300DR and what a great sounding system it is. The increased bass depth was apparent, but so was the instrumental separation and texture. This will be a considerable challenge for the Etude, but then the 300DR is twice as expensive.

Having properly acclimatised myself to the playlist via the 300DR powered system it was time to plumb in the Etude.

The immediate impression was that the high frequencies were more present and that the music was more detailed. As I continued to listen, I realised that the mid-field was less prominent. This reduction was allowing me to concentrate more on other areas, but also allowed detail that they contained to be more evident, including the upper bass registers.

The sound was powerful and musical. The soundfield was rather flatter but wider through the SBLs than with the 300DR.

The TT2 and the Etude make a superb pairing, the TT2 has a richer midband than, for instance, the Qutest. The TT2 & Etude together form a neutral and well balanced musical duo being detailed, dynamic and expressive.

Listening to Clapton’s Signe I was aware that the triangle was significantly recessed, as it had been with the LS3/5a. I had thought this might be an issue with the smaller speakers, however my internal sound signature for this track had been formed when using the Focal 1008be and the beryllium tweeters had undoubtedly had an impact.

Playing Jonathan Scott’s transcription of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was an unexpected delight. The increased dynamics of the main system allied to extra textural information, as well as more detail in the players technique, was excellent and held me.

This is not to say that it is all one way, the nearfield system has always revealed more recording detail, but the main system allows the music to breath as it paints on a larger canvas.

This made me turn my mind to comparisons with the Naim NAP250DR and the diminishing law of returns. In that case the generated sound is very much like the 300DR but just somewhat less, excellent but that bit lacking in comparison. The Etude manfully goes toe to toe with the 300DR, but its sound signature is somewhat different. The 300DR has greater mid-presence and a more enveloping sound field, it loads my room more effectively, but I can imagine that some may well prefer what might be termed as the greater clarity of the Etude. I did wonder whether this might be an effect of the SBLs in partnership with the Naim amp and so I tried three other pairs of speakers I have with me, I found the effect to be consistent ….in my listening room.

System Building​

No piece of HiFi stands alone. It is part of a chain all of which influences what you finally hear, and how much you enjoy this depends upon your own preferences. The TT2 works exceedingly well with the Etude, but what if you had to pick just one? Historically those of a ‘Flat Earth’ bent would have insisted on source-first. Within the context of my nearfield system I would keep the Hugo TT and upgrade the NAP140 to the Etude, the musical clarity and enjoyment is greatly enhanced and I spent many happy hours captured by the result.

Conclusion​

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Chord Electronics Etude, it is a fine power amplifier and one to which I have truly warmed; I am packing it away with some regrets. If you are looking for a power amplifier over £4k then you should include this in your list of equipment to audition.

The Playlist​

https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/6724831

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