Compact Disc Player
Manufacturer: CHORD ELECTRONICS Ltd.
he question that first might come to mind when one is presented today with a CD Player, especially a very expensive one is: „who needs a CD Player in the second decade of 21st century?!” Such a question might be based on a believe that not only the future but already the present belongs to devices playing music from files, whether these take form of specialized computers (so called music players) or just regular computers. And not just any files but hi-res ones, of course. It might seem that a Red Book CD offering 16 bit/44 kHz material can not compete with DSD128 or DXD files. Especially in the eyes of young people but it also might be true for self-respecting audiophiles and music lovers and for them CD might seem as as obsolete medium as, for example, wax cylinders.
RED REFERENCE MKIII HDSD
So finally we've arrived to the subject of this test, the Chord Red Reference MkIII Compact Disc Player. It is their top model, quite expensive one, that sports some unique solutions. The Philips CD Pro 2LF transport is not placed horizontally like it usually is when used in other top-loaders (regular Players – see HERE), but at 45° angle. That's why Red's looks is unique – one can't mistake it with any other product.
The DAC section also differs from any other. Signal read from CD is re-clocked by a precise oscillator and then sent to an upsampler and later to digital filters. These are Chord's proprietary WTA filters - Watts (after designer's, Robert Watts's, name) Transient Aligned. They minimize transient and timing errors and reconstruct digital signal using user-selectable sampling frequency: 44,1, 88,2 or 176,4 kHz. These filters are implemented in Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) with and might be updated in future by a simple update to EPROM memory chip.
This data is fed to the rear XLR and optical output connectors and also via a dual data bus to the digital to analogue conversion electronics. Based on the QBD 76 DAC the digital signal is converted from 176.4KHz to analogue audio. The DAC also features RAM buffer technology that sequentially takes in all the data, re-times, it then sends it out giving jitter free operation. Player features also an USB input that can be fed signal from a computer or music server.
As I already mentioned disc has to be placed in the transport at an angle which is not particularly comfortable. Knowing that manufacturer together with Player delivers also a CD-Lift by Tommy Larsen from Denmark that helps with the issue. Transport chamber is protected with a heavy, aluminum cover that is opened and closed using a small motor. This mechanism is not perfectly quiet compared to dCs or Accuphase products and it reminded me a solution used in Loit Passeri Player. It is quite impressive.
Red Reference MkIII is a CD Player. It's creators do not advertise it as a DAC, which is probably a good idea since it's digital inputs accept only a PCM signal up to 24 bit/192kHz resolution. That proves once more how fast is the progress in D/A conversion over last few years. This model premiered only three years ago! I tested it using mostly CDs – that's how it sounded best. I did a short test of USB input too, and it sounded OK. If you're a CD fan who occasionally list
I compared this device with my Ancient Audio Lektor AIR V-edition CD Player and with dCS Rossini CD Player using an external Rossini Clock. Red was placed on Finite Elemente Pagode Edition and powered via Crystal Cable The Absolute Dream. I used Siltech Triple Crown analogue interconnect to deliver signal to Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier. As always I used my Soulution 710 power amplifier and Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers. There was an additional element I used for some time – FP10 speakers with a tweeter working in a horn by Polish company Horns.
I conducted an A/B/A comparison using 2 min. long samples as well as full albums. To complete albums I listened mostly at night using Bakoon International HPA-21 headphone amp and HiFiMAN HE-6 cans (with Forza AudioWorks cable).
Albums used for testing (a selection)
FREQ | BUF
My sound preferences are related to me listening mostly to CDs which most likely won't change any time soon. Especially because high end CD Players offer such a refined sound that listening to vinyl records and than going back to CDs isn't a problem anymore. It rather involves change of the perception of the original (music) and not change of sound quality. Some time ago designers finally arrived at the moment when previous limitations of a Red Book CD format didn't matter anymore and its full potential could be utilized.
So it didn't come as a surprise that Chord delivered resolving, rich performance that lacked any digital artifacts. Instruments were presented with “real” body, sounded very vibrant. Presentation was truly deep and refined. I mean it was rich, saturated both in micro scale, within each and every instrument, and in macro scale which involves acoustics, reverberations, relations between instruments and so on. There was no sign of this dry, “light” (meaning lacking richness) sound of CD Players made years ago.
Timbre of each instrument seemed very natural, too. Tonal balance was slightly shifted towards upper and lower parts of the range which resulted in, already mentioned, rich midrange. Two-box systems like CEC TL0 3.0 + DAC Reimyo DAP-999EX Limited, or Accuphase 900/901 (test in „Audio”), also Ancient Audio CD Players – Grand SE and AIR – and most of all four-box dCs Vivaldi sounded differently, emphasizing midrange a little bit more.
But it is not as simple as it would be if I discussed differences between inexpensive devices where differences would come from choices made by their designers, dictated by budget limitations. In this case the differences come from the way sound is built – timbre is in fact a side effect of that process.
Transparency translates into more information – that should be obvious. So I could better hear breathing of Dave Gahan in acoustic version of Personal Jesus than it was conveyed by my Lektor AIR, or Accuphase Players. Spacing on Nimbus Records release was better, and percussion cymbals were more metallic on John Coltrane's and Art Pepper's albums. And all that without any sign of artificial brightness. There were no more sibilants in George Michael's voice on Patience, and the new Bokka album did not get more incisive. Transparency offered here reminded me of the one I knew from reel-to-reel master tapes rather than from vinyl records. Those of you who had a chance to familiarize with both analogue medium know that they are quite different.
What Chord offers is a genuinely better selectivity and transparency, and not emphasizing the attack phase of the sound. It is still a highly refined, soft sound but with priorities set differently than in other digital players that I mentioned before. Maybe with the exception of dCS Vivaldi and Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE that could offer equally crispy cymbals, equally exceptional ability to differentiate even smallest changes of dynamics, intensity and so on. All other Players that I know hide these information bit deeper. And even if one could find these information somewhere one would have to look much harder. Chord offers it right up integrated with the very fabric of music.
Transparency is very important but what makes Chord so special is a combination of transparency with richness. Richness is usually associated with natural sound, which is something that vinyl fans appreciate so much, that people who re-activate “antique” techniques like horns and 16-bit non-oversampling DACs. Chord Players delivers very coherent, organic sound with unparalleled immediacy. Clarity of the midrange is not as superb as treble's and bass', which reminded me of how 16-bit Philips chips built sound, but without their limited resolution and selectivity.
I mentioned how spacious this presentation was in terms of transparency and selectivity. But using only these two features would not be enough for the Player of such, highest quality. Few minutes with Red is enough to describe soundstage it delivers as dense, rich, full. All elements are palpable and seem to be natural in size.
But the phantom images are rendered closely to listener. The ones situated in the back of the soundstage are moved closer to the front, and those in front stay where they belong. As listener I had an impression of a very rich soundstage with many events happening on it. Even more so as Red perfectly reproduces the scale of each instrument in a way it was recorded (not the real scale but a recorded one). That's why sound has a big scale.
One has to realize that the further away from the front of the stage phantom images are the worse is the differentiation of their scale – all seem rather large and sport sort of a “halo” around their body. The already mentioned Depeche Mode vocalist is placed clearly in the back of the stage, but with Chord he was moved closer to the front, more or less to the same layer as the guitar. Same happened with Carol Sloane vocal on Hush-a-bye. In orchestral recordings, like in Bach Rewrite, the electrical instrument in the front (Wurlitzer and Rhodes) seemed placed quite close to the acoustic ones behind them – cellos and violas. All instruments played in perfect harmony, music was presented with great clarity and nicely differentiated. But instruments seemed placed closer to each other than usually.
There are no perfect CD Players (nor other audio devices) so some sound modifications are unavoidable. The ones I pointed out in Red most likely are the results of choices its designers made, and limitations of technology itself. They also make sense, I mean discussing them makes sense but only when top quality devices are discussed and differences between them and we have to keep in mind that by discussing these differences we talk about individual preferences rather that some universal principles. Red Reference MkIII presents a wonderful, musical world with all of its elements being equally important, making sense, and being highly likable.
This device sheds a lot of light into each recording without making them sound bright. Bass is nicely extended and perfectly controlled. Midrange is rich although not as resolving and as silky as both range extremes. It delivers large scale phantom images. The back of the soundstage seems to be brought closer to the listener because images of the instruments playing there are large. Red is a great all-rounder that will last in your systems for many years because of its sound and build quality.
Chord devices might be used as model mechanical designs other could learn from. It includes the Red Reference MkIII Player with its chassis suspended on four metal rods, mounted on four, solid feet. Chassis is made of thick aluminum plates – that constitutes a very stiff structure. There are two finishes available – black, or natural aluminum; in both cases feet are made of a silver, polished steel.
Front and top panel
It's not a real top loader although it does not sport a classic drawer either. It is more similar to the former though, as z CD is placed over the axis of the motor. The difference being the axis that is not vertical but placed at 45° angle. The mechanism sports a large, aluminum lid moved by a small motor. This motor is a bit noisy and the movement of the cover is not as smooth as the movement of a drawer in dCS or Accuphase Players. It reminded me a solution I'd known from Loit Passeri Player, manufactured in Singapore.
Players features Philips CD Pro-2LF transport mechanism that sits on springs. The whole transport mechanism is separated from both, power supply section and digital inputs, as well as from DSP and DAC section. Manufacturer decided to replace the element where user puts a disc on with a metal one to use a magnetic clamp. The clamp works together with the lid so it had to be rather small. The lid features a small 'window' that allows user to see a spinning disc – it reminded me of the first CD Players in history like: Philips CD100 and Sony Goront.
On top panel one finds sort of magnifying glass that allow to have a look at digital filter circuits. Front panel holds two rows of push-buttons including those to change the buffer value and sampling frequency. In 2012 in his review for „Hi-Fi World” Rafael Todes described a bug in Player's software – one could change sampling frequency only when one of the digital inputs were chosen When CD was used this function was inactive. Obviously nothing changed in this matter as the unit under review behaved in exactly the same way.
Rear panel sports an abundance of connectors including analogue outputs (XLR and RCA), digital inputs – AES/EBU, TOSLink and USB (HD), and digital outputs – TOSLink, RCA (S/PDIF) and double AES/EBU. Sampling frequency of the digital output signal is user selectable. One finds there also BNC sockets that can be used to connect device with external word-clock, or to connect external device with Red's internal clock. In theory these were added to help integration within digital recording/mastering studio but I wonder if one could use it also with one of the audiophile class word-clocks available on the market.
Inside is divided into two parts with a horizontal aluminum plate. In the upper section there is a DAC with filters, USB input and DSP. DAC is a discrete design – its a arrangement of resistors, transistors and capacitors soldered on a PCB. There is also a separate digital filter – it's a large DSP with implemented upsampler and buffer. Usually most of this functions are implemented in a single, integrated DAC chip.
As we already know this is almost the same D/A Converter circuit as used in Chords DAC QBD76, with only some small changes. It sports Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) designed by Rob Watts. By a simple operation of replacing EPROM memory it can be re-programmed and improved (to achieve better sound quality) – one doesn't have to replace the whole DAC!
Inside signal is converted and sent via filter of a 76 bits and 176,4 kHz precision. Next there is a 7. order „noise shaping” filter of a 64 bits precision with 2048 oversampling. Do you remember CD Players advertised as offering “8x Oversampling”? – I wonder what would their creators say for „2048 x Oversampling” :) DAC features RAM used to store incoming signal and re-clock it, which is a way to significantly reduce jitter.
Below the space is occupied by a SMPS, with double power filters and also the section with digital outputs with separate precise oscillators.
This remote control is a 'hybrid' design – the main body is made of plastic but it sports sort of aluminum “armor'. It might mot look particularly well, but it should provide durability. This remote might be used to control any Chord device which is a reason why it sports many buttons. I wish manufacturer offered a separate, small remote dedicated to the CD Player, maybe including volume control for preamplifier – that would make operating Red much simpler.
Specifications (according to manufacturer)
THD: < -107 dB (1 kHz, 24 bits/44,1 kHz)
BOKKA is quite a particular phenomenon in Polish music. Just like once nobody knew identities of Daft Punk members, today we don't know who any of five musicians in masks, members of BOKKA are. Music from their first album was described by journalist as a mix of synthpop, dreampop, shoegaze and electronic psychedelia, sometimes placed between The Knife, Lykke Li, and Brian Eno. According to Robert Amirian, chief of NEXTPOP, the Don’t Kiss And Tell album can not be classified within one particular musical style. It would be easy to call it just an alternative pop using with a lot of electronic instruments, a damn good rhythmic section, overdriven guitars and a characteristic voice of a charismatic vocalist known as Y.
Two versions of the album were released – a basic one and a special one with two additional tracks and with a special plastic cover with black stripes.
It is difficult to assess such a highly processes sound that has no equivalent in a real world so the only reference one might use is sound of other recordings representing the same music current. The second Bokka album offers some help because musicians use some elements known from other albums – like guitars in Unspoken that reminded me The Cure from Disintegration, like synthesizers in Let It referring to works of New Order, or a keyboard opening It’s There, that many might know from Dead Can Dance albums.
Sound on this album is rich and well based on bass. The latter might not be particularly well defined, but it is not boomy either. There is enough bass to keep upper treble in line so that it does not get 'screamy' even though vocals are overblown and presented in a lo-fi style. Album features also a nice, wide, three-dimensional soundstage.
Sound is not particularly clear, nor selective, nor resolving. But these are not features one would expect from an album with this type of music. I'd say that for this type of music it is a well balanced recording. There are many small details, nuances that become important when one listens to this album using high quality system. And of course music itself is really good, better than from debut album. Recommendation!
Sound quality: 6-7/10
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One