Chord CPM 3300 integrated amplifier Page 2
Say you're listening to a CD and the phone rings. What do you do? Hit Mute, of course, and the sound mutes. When you're finished with the phone call and you want to hear music, hit Mute again, right?
Wrong. Nothing happens. You have to hit Volume Up to unmute. Then you'll get music again, right?
Wrong. For some reason, when switching from Mute, you have to select an output—not the bus, but the output. There are two outputs as well as two buses. Output 1 is the speaker output, Output 2 the line output. The procedure going from Mute is: Hit Volume Up or Down, then hit the Glas/DVD1/Op1 button (remember, it's a multi-use remote).
Another oddity: Among the many source buttons are some repeated ones: two each of Disc 1, Disc 2, Video, and Radio input. Turns out one set is for Bus A, one for Bus B. Red brackets on the remote are intended to delineate the two sets of buttons, but not until John Franks explained it to me did I understand what was going on, thanks to my learning disability or the instructions (or lack thereof). The button layout plus the less-than-forthcoming remote created a great deal of confusion and frustration in the Fremer household. Hopefully, the new remote and instructions will make using the CPM 3300 as pleasant as listening to it was.
In short: Setting up and using the CPM 3300 is quirky, but once you've got the hang of it, it's pretty simple. Chord just has to do a better job of helping people get that hang.
Before switching from the Hovland HP-100/Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 combo, I sat down and listened to my usual suspects. On LP: Davey Spillane's Atlantic Bridge, Janis Ian's Breaking Silence, Nat King Cole's Love is the Thing, Mel Tormé and Friends at Marty's, The Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie Hall, and various RCA Living Stereo recordings of Jascha Heifetz (original and Classic reissues). On CD: Olu Dara's In the World, various JVC XRCDs, Mobile Fidelitys, and DCC Compact Classics, etc. I also mixed in some open-reel tapes played back on a recently acquired Viking 88 tubed deck, including The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark, and Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic's early-'60s reading of Beethoven's Symphony 7.
I spent the better part of a day and that evening locking that combo's sound into my brain, then switched to the Chord CPM 3300, which remained in the system for more than a month of intense listening. (I used the Audio Research Reference phono section for vinyl playback.) The LP I played right before and after the switch was DCC Compact Classic's stupendous-sounding reissue of Nat Cole's Love is the Thing. This 1956 three-track stereo recording puts a gigantic, hovering image of Cole in the center of the stage, surrounded by a dryly recorded, somewhat boxy-sounding string section augmented by a harp, double bass, and just a hint of brushwork.
The Hovland/Nu-Vista combo delivered Cole's overwhelming voice in a sweeter, richer, more laid-back fashion compared to the Chord, which presented him in greater three-dimensional relief, and so far forward that I thought he was going to land in my lap. I'm exaggerating, but when Cole first entered on the opening of "When I Fall in Love," it was so startling that my head snapped back reflexively. The Chord's presentation was bigger, more vivid, and more exhilarating by far. If the Hovland/Nu-Vista sounded liquid and warm, the Chord sounded positively gelatinous (not a criticism) but also somewhat sandier, while offering up more body and solidity to images and greater transient snap.
The Chord sounded definitely faster, with an intense rhythmic drive and a lean, taut bass presentation that added excitement to a very familiar recording. Some will prefer that sound, and not be bothered by the increase in sibilant grit and the greater emphasis on Cole's vocal cords at the expense of the mellowing effect of his chest cavity. It would be foolish to describe one presentation as "right" and the other as "wrong." Clearly, this was a closely miked recording, with Cole popping consonants all over the place—some so intensely that your walls will shake if you have a subwoofer—so why wouldn't there be an emphasis on the vocal cords and gritty sibilants? (If you listen carefully, you can hear Cole changing s and t to f in an attempt to limit the recorded damage.)
The Musical Fidelity M3's presentation of Love is the Thing couldn't have been more different. Sibilants were smooth and pristine, and Cole's voice was warm and rich, with more emphasis on the chest and less on the vocal cords. The string sound had more body and less bow-scrape, and the overall picture was more finely drawn: delicate, relaxed, and pure. But, as I noted in the review, the picture was somewhat lacking in body, solidity, and weight. The Hovland/Nu-Vista combo occupied the middle ground between the M3 and the Chord. "Right" and "wrong" didn't enter into this comparison: each of the three presented a coherent, appealing aural picture. Your preference will depend on your musical taste and associated equipment.
The musical excitement I'd experienced in the Chord/Wilson-Benesch rooms at audio shows was brought home by pairing the CPM 3300 with the Sonus Faber Amati Homage speakers. On such pristine live recordings as The Weavers' Carnegie Hall Reunion, the sense of experiencing the live event was heightened by the Chord's taut, up-front presentation. The extended, well-controlled bottom end decisively delivered the hall sound, as well as the onstage foot-tapping and the resulting sensation of the vibrations traveling along the floorboards. Voices and guitars had a deliberate yet natural focus, well-delineated from the rear boundary of the backstage wall, and cleanly recorded sibilants were delivered flawlessly.
Playing symphonic music and the Heifetz recordings, the Chord produced silky-smooth string sound while preserving the natural grit of the bow. Massed strings never glazed-over or hardened, though the emphasis was more on the strings than on the body.
Black backgrounds; fast, sparkling transients; taut, rhythmically adept bass; dynamic ease and superb resolution of low-level detail—the CPM 3300 reproduced it all without sounding mechanical, bright, harmonically bleached, or antiseptic. It produced organized musical excitement and a big, airy, dramatic sonic picture without phony spotlighting or amusical etching. Did it deliver the warmth and harmonic fullness of a good tube amp? No. Do most tube amps deliver the Chord's transient speed, dynamic drive, and taut, well-damped bass? No.
While I had the Chord in the system, there were times I felt as if I would prefer the greater warmth, liquidity, and suppleness of the Hovland/Nu-Vista combo. When the Chord was gone and I had the Hovland/Nu-Vista back in the system, with some LPs and CDs I wished I could re-experience the Chord's tight, energetic grip on the music. Welcome to the spectacularly imperfect world of electrically reproduced music.
While the Chord CPM 3300's operating system is complex and can be quirky to operate, once it's set up and you've gotten a handle on its idiosyncrasies, it's actually easy and convenient to use. It offers a great deal of flexibility and packs high power in a dramatic-looking, fairly compact, and surprisingly lightweight chassis. Build quality appears to be extremely high and very high-tech. Some of the features—such as dual independent taping and monitoring and line- and speaker-level outputs—will be of limited use to many audiophiles, but for some will be welcome options. As for the sound...
If you like your musical presentation big, dramatic, dynamic, fast, and exciting, the Chord will give it to you without adding the usual negatives associated with that sort of sound. If you prefer relaxing into a warm, laid-back musical picture, the CPM 3300 is not for you. It's reassuring to know not only that there's room in this marketplace for 2W single-ended tube amps and high-tech engineering marvels like Chord's CPM 3300, but also that open minds can find the musical truth in both.