Chord Choral Blu CD transport & Choral DAC64 digital audio converter Page 3
I think I need a cigarette.
Tierney Sutton's "Sometimes I'm Happy," from her On the Other Side (SACD, Telarc 63650), is far more closely miked than either of the other discs, but engineer Robert Friedrich still captures tons of room detail under Sutton's sexily slurred vocals and Trey Henry's power bass. It's Ray Brinker's crisply moving drums that really grabbed me, however. Such speed, such palpability, such U-R-there-itude! Once again, it wasn't so much about sound, but about sound's body.
But now you never show it to me, do you?
In the May Stereophile I reviewed the Nagra CDP ($15,000), which impressed me as one of the best pure "Red Book" CD players I have ever heard. In both price and intent, it seemed the perfect, um, analog to the Chord Blu-DAC64. Both offer impeccable fit'n'finish; both aspire to the state of the art.
I connected the Nagra and the Chord Choral combo to both my Ayre K-1xe preamplifier and the HeadRoom Max Balanced headphone amp with Shunyata Altair Helix balanced cables. I use AKG's K 701 headphones in balanced mode for headphone comparison. Once again, I praise the Nagra's flexibility: Being able to choose its high-gain option for use with the Ayre and its lower-gain output for the HeadRoom Max Balanced made meaningful comparisons easier.
On Tierney Sutton's "Sometimes I'm Happy," the Nagra CDP revealed a bit more snap in Ray Brinker's brushwork. There was a bit more rat-a-tat-tat and sparkle, although the Chord gave more heft to Trey Henry's loping bass lines. Each player captured one or two things better than the other, but I wouldn't say either convinced me that the other got much wrong.
On "Ojos Negros," however, I felt the Chords better delineated the line between being and nothingness. The sounds of Saluzzi's and Lechner's instruments emerged from the room acoustic more fully formed, more rounded, more three-dimensional.
My listening notes refer consistently to "breath." It was only while attempting to reconcile the idea of "breath" with my impression of sonic palpability that I realized that breath may be only air, but it implies that there's a body somewhere doing the breathing. Holograms don't breathe; bodies do. So did the Chords.
That sense of bulk, heft, presence, or palpability captivated me with the Attention Screen disc as well. The Nagra left nothing out, but the Chord combo simply put more muscle on the skeleton—without sacrificing any suppleness.
The more I listened to the Blu and DAC64, the more they reminded me of something. While pondering On the Other Side and Live at Merkin Hall, I realized what it was: the sound of high-resolution digital, such as the Sutton SACD or the Attention Screen 24-bit/96kHz raw DVD mixes JA had burned for me. So I listened to those discs on my Ayre C-5xe. It might not be a completely fair comparison, but I did wonder how the higher-rez stuff would compare to the full Chord press.
It was impressively close. Through the Ayre, the Sutton disc might have had a shade more liquidity, fewer sharp edges—or maybe not. The SACD and CD were more alike than different. The Ayre pulled a few more dB of subjective dynamic range out of the Attention Screen DVD than the Chord extracted from the production CD. Maybe it was just 0.5dB—the swings seemed wider, but just a bit.
Does this mean that the Chord combo's upsampling, oversampling, reconstructive filtering, buffering, and gate-arraying turned "Red Book" into something better? I can't say—it's possible that the "Red Book" spec really is as close to theoretically perfect as, all those years ago, it was pitched to us as being. If that's the case, I haven't heard anyone get as close to that potential as Chord has in the Choral Blu and DAC64.
Or perhaps with all that shaping, shifting, and prodding, Chord has happened on precisely the right combination of euphonic colorations to compensate for my perceptual deviations from perfect. It strikes me as unlikely—but then it would, wouldn't it? No one thinks of himself as a bad listener any more than anyone thinks of himself as a bad lover.
But it does suggest that the Chords might constitute the universal player so many audiophiles have been waiting for. No, the Choral duo doesn't do SACD or high-sample-rate DVD, but let's face it, not all that many such discs are available to us, whereas we have a quarter century's worth of "Red Book" discs that the Chord components can make sound awfully darned good.
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah!
At $15,400 ($17,500 with stand), the Chord Choral Blu transport and Choral DAC64 digital processor don't comprise the most expensive digital rig I've reviewed, but the price does make me gulp a bit. The fact that I can't afford the Blu-DAC64, however, doesn't make me think them unreasonably expensive. To see these components—and to discuss with John Franks the details of their construction—is to immediately understand that they are handmade to an exactingly high standard.
You know if you're one of those who can afford to buy the Chorals. The question is, should you? Only if you've been looking for a CD player that can justify the last two decades of recording technology. To my mind, the Choral Blu and DAC64 are, together, the CD player we music lovers have long prayed for.