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Preamplifier + monaural power amplifiers

CPA-5000 REFERENCE + SPM 1400 MkII/x 2

Manufacturer: CHORD ELECTRONICS Ltd.
Price (in Poland): 197 470 PLN/whole set
55 490 PLN + 2 x 70 990 PLN

Contact: The Pumphouse | Farleigh Bridge
Farleigh Lane | East Farleigh
Kent | ME16 9NB | UK


Provided for test by: VOICE

t seems to me that the demand for full-blooded audio systems is coming back. On one hand, we get signals from the mass market in a form of product placement - including turntables - in almost every new movie and many commercials. And not so long ago, the perfectionist audio system, most often associated with the audiophile community, was a gadget for a weirdo, a recluse and even a perverse - see the American version of the Millenium movie, where the main BAD character in a basement, where he kills his victims, has also a tube amplifier and plays music from a reel-to-reel tape recorder (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher, 2011).

The impression in question is also based on the fact that electronics companies have once again turned to separate amplifiers - see Dan D'Agostino and Audionet. Same can be said about the British Chord that offers an amplifier consisting of the CPA-5000 Reference preamplifier and two monaural power amplifiers, SPM 1400 MkII.

And it is with this last system that a cool anecdote Colin Pratt told me and Bartek during last Audio Video Show is related to. Well, it was his first real amplifier which started his adventure with the Chord. In this job he managed to climb to the top - just before the exhibition he'd learned about the promotion - from November on he is the sales director of Chord Electronics - congratulations!

COLIN PRATT | Sales manager

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: Who designed these devices?
COLIN PRATT: The CPA5000 is a pure John Franks (the owner of Chord, ed.) design from ground up, it uses his designed "ultra-high switch mode ps" power supply unit. It has been around in its original form for some years but the pre amps evolve, we do some modifications for better sound etc...

The SPM1400 mk2 mono amplifiers started off originally as SPM1400e, based on our very popular studio amplifiers, this incorporates John Franks "4kw ultra-high switch mode ps".

In Warsaw, you said about this system…
…that the SPM1400e and the early CPA5000 first generation was the first big Chord Electronics system I heard when I was a retailer, it was the system that basically said to me, I had to own this and also I had to be a dealer!

I had never heard a system so natural that could present all the drama and emotion of music at quiet volumes across any genre but also you could take it up to really high volume levels and no harshness or brittle sound would be introduced! I was stunned, and I still love this system and in its latest generation to this day.

| CPA-5000

"Eight Input Reference Preamplifier" – as it is defined in the company literature, is a linestage that belongs to the Reference series. It features eight pairs of stereo line inputs, four of which use XLR sockets with a symmetrical signal, and four use RCA sockets with an asymmetrical signal. In addition, it features a fully symmetrical "bypass" system, allowing the preamplifier to be incorporated into a home cinema system, as well as two tape loops, that allow selecting recording inputs regardless of the inputs used at the moment to listen to the music.

“The CPA 5000 is one of two models of ultra-high-performance in our Reference series and represents the best in our engineering" - this is another definition of this preamplifier prepared by Chord. And it's not an exaggeration or empty claim. It is a large device with a much larger casing than those used in the Standard series, which makes it look much like a large integrated amplifier from outside. It uses ultra-quiet switch mode power supply with high switching frequency and an electronic circuit that allows achieving noise at a fantastically low level of 130 dB. Add to this low distortion and you can see that we are dealing with a modern device. Let's add – a semiconductor-based one.

As you can see, the preamplifier is a classic device, without a digital section, i.e. no streamer, files player or a digital-to-analogue converter. The latter function is the domain of the DAVE DAC. There is also no phonostage. This function was ceded to an external Symphony preamplifier. But there is one nice additions - a headphone amplifier with two outputs.

This is a balanced device and the company strongly recommends combining it with the source and amplifiers using balanced cables. Its operation is simple and reliable - the volume is changed using a large knob placed on the left side, and therefore unusually, and a large display allows user to read information on the selected input and, alternately, the volume level. The latter is also visualized on the LED VU-meter, which can be turned off. We can also change the balance between channels. Let me add, that the input sensitivity can be adjusted in six steps: x0,5, x1, x1,5, x2, x2,5 and x3. The control is smoothly executed using a large size remote control.

The device is large, solidly constructed of aluminum profiles and plates and can stand on normal legs – in this case the sides are covered with elements of blackened acrylic. But this is an option, because the classic look of Chord's devices are large feet supporting the device through thick aluminum pipes.

| SPM 1400 MkII

The shape of the SPM 1400 MkII monaural power amplifiers is as characteristic for this brand as the above mentioned legs. Although the front wall is simply an aluminum plate - in black or silver - it features a chrome plate with the company's name and a characteristic, convex and backlit power button, well known from such products as Hugo TT and now Mojo.

The housing is also very Chord-like, with notches on the top wall with perforated mesh and with radiators at the back, not on the sides. The latter really makes sense, because in this way the loudspeaker connectors, double here, are placed very close to the output transistors - MOSFETs - they are screwed onto the same surface.

The device offers a high nominal power of 480 W at 8 Ω load and as much as 800 W at 4 Ω, as well as low distortion level. The signal is run symmetrically and the power supply is provided by an efficient SMPS - another distinguishing feature of this company. The latter works with the second level of the power supply, consisting of a series of capacitors - I saw a similar solution in the new Soulution amplifiers - with a capacity of 94,000 μF able to produce up to 381 Joules of energy.


The Chord system was compared as a whole set to the reference system consisting of the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier and the Soulution 710 power amplifier, Signal was delivered from Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player and Chord drove my Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers. The preamplifier was placed on the Acoustic Revive RAF-48H pneumatic platform, which in turn was placed on the center shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack. The power amplifiers, in turn, were placed on Acoustic Revive RST-38H platforms that sat directly on the floor.

Chord points out that their devices are fully balanced and work best in fully balanced systems. So, I connected the preamplifier and power amplifiers with balanced Acoustic Revive XLR-1.5 Triple-C FM interconnects. But the signal from the player was run using an unbalanced interconnect - Ayon works best with the RCA output. For my defense I can say that I used the Siltech Triple Crown IC and that in the same way I sent signal to my reference preamplifier. The preamplifier was powered by the Acoustic Revive Power Reference Triple-C cable, but the power amps with Chord's cables - unfortunately I do not have any power cables with 20-amp IEC plugs ...

For assessment of the headphone output I decided to use HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 cans.

  • AWARD: STATEMENT AWARD 2017 | Chord Blu Mk II + DAVE
  • REVIEW: Chord Blu Mk II + DAVE – CD Transport + DAC
  • REVIEW: Chord DAVE - D/A converter
  • REVIEW | „First Step Audio” series of articles: Chord MOJO - D/A Converter / headphone amplifier
  • AWARD: BEST SOUND 2015 | Chord HUGO TT - D/A converter / headphone amplifier
  • REVIEW: Chord RED REFERENCE MKIII HDSD - Compact Disc player
  • REVIEW: Chord HUGO TT - D/A converter / headphone amplifier
  • REVIEW: Chord CPA 3000 | SPM 1200 MkII - preamplifier + power amplifier (Polish)

  • Recordings used for the test (a selec- tion)

    • The TBM Sounds!, Lasting Impression Music LIM UHD 048LE, „Limited Edition”, CD (2010)
    • Bill Evans Trio, Portrait in Jazz, Riverside/Fantasy RISA-1162-6, SACD/CD (1959/2003)
    • Bill Evans Trio, Portrait in Jazz, Riverside/Victor Entertainment VICJ-61322, K2HD CD (1959/2005)
    • Dominic Miller, Fourth Wall, Q-rious Music, QRM 108-2, CD (2006);
    • Ed Sheeran, Divide, Asylum 5859002, „DeLuxe Edition”, CD (2017)
    • Kraftwerk, 3-D The Catalogue, KlingKlang | Parlophone 95873424, 7 x CD (2017)
    • Patricia Barber, Companion, Premonition/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2023, SACD/CD (1999/2003)

    Japanese issues available at

    The Chord amplifier immediately sets a kind of its own "perimeter" it moves within and has us move within. This is mainly due to its character - smooth, delicate, devoid of any sharpness, though with a powerful foundation. Tonal balanced is set slightly higher than with the reference system, also higher than with Grandinote Shinai, and the closest - in terms of sound shaping - it would be to the Hegel P30+H30, system, that received from us the Audio Video Show 2017 Best Sound Award. Chord goes even deeper and stronger in all this. The listener's attention is focused on the middle of the band, this is where the most things happen.

    For example with the Radioactivity by Kraftwerk from the 3 – D box. This smooth by itself recording has been further smoothed out, bound up into a seamless whole. The volume pumped up by at least 3 dB proved how clear and pure this performance was. Usually I the opposite happens, i.e., when I turn the volume up it means leaving the "comfort zone" and then and shortcomings of the amplifier come to light. The Chord system behaves differently - you can go up and up the volume level with it, and the performance will still be equally musical, equally smooth.

    As I mentioned, one perceives this performance in such a way as if the key element was the midrange. But the device delivers nicely extended bass, there is still a pulse somewhere underneath, there is density. However, this is not the same kind of sound as from equally smooth, slightly warm Dan D'Agostino's system, i.e. the preamplifier and power amplifier from the Momentum series (see HERE and HERE).

    The American amp emphasized the mid bass and lower midrange, making the sound seemingly more dynamic and stronger. And this is not the case, Chord - compared with the same reference system as the D'Agostino before – delivered more dynamic, lower set performance.

    And it is able to go down really deep with a low, meaty bass! Listen to the London Paris Cardiff from Dominic Miller's album Fourth Wall, and you'll hear the sounds coming, exactly - as I assume – as they were supposed to, as a foundation for the guitar, for the trumpet. It is a perfectly controlled bass. Although it seems a bit soft and slightly warm, it does have a lot of energy in this softness and warmth, and is short, fast. It's an unusual combination - softness and control, it is rarely found.

    But this is how the tested Chord plays, which can also be recognized, and perhaps most of all - in the middle and top of the band. The point is that the Miller guitar's strings were even more nylon, that Kraftwerk electronics simulating analog synthesizers was even more "analogue". This is not a “race-type” performance, in the sense that it does not try to show everything, it does not want to deliver all the smallest nuances at all costs. I would even say that the selectivity is not a primary quality, some other as tone, smoothness and coherence come first.

    This, of course, works both ways, because we will not say that this is a neutral presentation, it's rather about a general impression from which details emerge rather than abundance of details, from which the listener creates a sound. It's like listening to DSD files. I know this type of performance from latest Soulution amplifiers, top monoblocks by Mark Blevins, and historically looking from Anagram's "pyramids". What connects all these devices is a SMPS. Contrary to what I hear sometimes, this type of power supply does make sound lean but rather smoother. They offer something, that Chord presents at a very high level, special – an amazingly calm, relaxed presentation.

    This is not particularly vivid presentation achieved by powerful attack and active treble. Yes, tonal balance is set bit higher than in my reference system, but the sound is not as open as with, for example, Mark Levinson No.52 preamplifier. On the other hand sound is not as warm as with tube system by Insemination, or even solid-state one, as the above mentioned by Dan D’Agostino. It's a totally different mix. There is extremely high dynamics, but built with the development of sound on the disc. Suffice it to say that the Black Magic Woman from SACD version of Mobile Fidelity Patricia Barber's Companion album was dazzling - beautiful cymbals, strong, intense sound of B-3 Hammonds, really good vocals.

    It is also a presentation that does not impose itself with a strong foreground, does not excite by instruments "popping-up" in front of others. This is a legato presentation, with the foreground slightly behind the line connecting the speakers, built behind them, in the window that opens between them, not around us. Only the recordings prepared in this particular way, such as those from the Kraftwerk box, leave the space between speakers. Still, the most important part of the stage is ahead of us and also behind what is ahead of us.

    Perhaps that is why it may seem that it is not a resolving sound. But it definitely is. This feature though, manifests itself differently than with devices playing "forward", reminding me in its articulation what I know from vintage devices minus warmed-up sound. And that's how I would read this system. Because nothing was covered, omitted when I played the SACD version of the Bill Evans Trio Portrait in Jazz. This is the version I have not listened to for a long time, choosing usually a much more expressive Japanese version from 2005, i.e. K2HD with the gold obi. I'm sure that the material used to prepare it was the same hi-res file that was used for SACD edition, and yet the result are two different sounding versions. And only the Ayon CD-35 HF Edition player showed how much music there is on the former, how - despite the warmth and rounding - it is able to build a reliable presentation. Chord does something similar.


    Although the CPA-5000's primary function is a linestage, the headphone output has been treated very seriously by the manufacturer, and it features a dedicated amplifier. I know how these types of outputs sound like in the Hugo TT and DAVE digital-to-analogue converters by Chord – they do deliver a high-quality sound. The headphone output of the preamplifier under review is even better. Which makes sense - the input section of each headphone amplifier is part of a preamplifier - we are talking about the device from the reference series - and equally important is the power supply - in CPA-5000 it's almost monstrous.

    It's a very natural, very dynamic and accurate sound. There is also a slightly rounded top end and microdynamics, but it affects how we perceive the sound to a much smaller extent than when we listen to the entire system with speakers. With HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 cans, it offers a wonderful treble and exceptional speed. The bass is strong, nice, but it is not the same as delivered by DJ headphones, it is not the "type". There is also differentiation and fluency. An insight into recordings might be “ultimate” and tube headphone amplifiers such as the Ayon Audio HE-3 and the headphone output of the Thöress Dual Function Preamplifier show more musical tissue, which connects individual sounds. But these are expensive devices. The Chord doesn't fall far behind and you actually get such a classy headphone output for free, as a bonus to the main function of this device. You should get one for yourself!


    This sound can not be confused with anything else. It is both fluid and musical as well as resolving, it is not warm, and yet it does not allow for sharpening and brightening, the attention is focused on the middle of the band, but its extremes are active and strong. As it seems, the attack is rounded, so that energy and microdynamics are not primary qualities. The sound offers a lot of details but they are also not the most important element. It can be said that it sounds a bit similar to what tube amps show - it's about tone - vintage devices, DSD files, and even - keeping the proportions - turntable. It is a system rather for relaxed listening and not for a highly analytical one. If that's what you're looking for, then this Chord will be the perfect choice.

    | CPA-5000

    We have already covered most of the design information, so let's just add a few details. The volume level is changed in one of three speeds, depending on at what level we currently operate - the closer to 0 dB, that is the full opening of the attenuator, the less precise the changes, the closer to the mute, the more accurate (0.5 dB steps) control gets. The inputs are selected using buttons, not a knob, which is not always convenient. Also to turn off the speaker outputs and listen only using headphones - or vice versa - you have to enter the menu. VU meters are made of blue and green LEDs, they indicate the strength of the INPUT signal. In fact, they are more of a decorative elements than useful ones as they do not feature any scale.

    All the connectors are screwed to the back panel, They are well-made, gold-plated. You can clearly see the division into two channels - as it turns out, each of them has received its own PCB. There are five pairs of unbalanced RCA inputs and five XLR symmetric pairs, and two tape out/in, also unbalanced ones. There is also 1 stereo output, either via balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA and 1 stereo balanced XLR AV Bypass input. Plus there is a grounding post.

    The electronic circuit was assembled on three PCBs - two with inputs and the preamplifier stage and one with a complex power supply section. The transformer is enclosed in housing with thick walls, same goes for primary and secondary attenuators, with circuit responsible for the proper balance between the channels. This allows to protect these elements from high frequency noise. The knobs have extended axes so that the attenuators can be placed close to the input PCBs.

    Each of the inputs has been treated seriously, because separate input buffers are used for each of them, and the switching takes place in small relays. At the outputs are further integrated circuits, allowing the use of long connection cables.

    | SPM 1400 MkII

    The monoblocks are equally solidly built as the preamplifier, i.e. rigid and durable. Underneath the upper wall there are plates with surface-mounted blue LEDs, so the whole thing is quite “shiny”. There is a main switch on the front panel, but the devices can also be switched on and off using triggers - there is a small jack on the back panel to connect them to preamplifier. There are also symmetrical XLR inputs and asymmetric RCA ones (two pairs) and a grounding terminal. The latter is often found in Japanese devices, and now it may be useful, for example, to connect an external ground filter such as Verictum or QAR).

    The electronic circuit is divided into two parts - the power supply and the amplifier screwed upside down. The power supply circuits can also be found in the latter, in the form of filtering capacitors - there are plenty of Nichicon capacitors everywhere - as well as voltage stabilizers. Now you can see that the double input sockets on the back are connected in parallel, and the unbalanced RCA inputs go to symmetrical inputs, without any symmetrizing system. Power, as I said, is supplied with a cable with a 20 A plug, and therefore a rectangular one.

    The output transistors are bolted to small aluminum angle brackets, and only the brackets to the radiator. I counted eight transistors per channel - these are rarely used TO-3 transistors, i.e. with aluminum caps. The electronics board is multi-layered, with gold-plated paths. You can see very nice elements on it, for example large ceramic power resistors, similar to those used by Dynaudio in its crossovers. The signal from transistors to loudspeaker outputs - a very solid ones by the British CHK brand - is sent via copper strands of large diameter.

    Both devices are built very solidly, well thought-through, but these are devices of the 21st century, with SMD assembly, SMPSs, solutions used in the aerospace, medical industries, etc. There is, however, a place for methods developed decades earlier, as for old amplifying transistors and volume control operated via dedicated attenuators, that look like a discrete system.

    Technical specifications (according to manufacturer)

    | CPA-5000
    Frequency range: 2,5 Hz – 200 kHz | +/- 3 dB
    Total harmonic distortion (THD): 0,002% | 20 Hz – 20 kHz
    Intermodulation distortion (ID): -120 dB | all inputs
    S/N: -130 dB | all inputs
    Chanel separation:
    20 Hz/100 dB | 1 kHz/95 dB | 10 kHz/90 dB | 20 kHz/85 dB
    Input max voltage:
    17 V RMS XLR | 8,5 V RMS RCA
    Output max voltage:
    17 V RMS XLR | 8,5 V RMS RCA
    Input impedance:: 100 kΩ XLR | 50 kΩ RCA
    Output impedance: 100 Ω
    Power consumption: 30 W
    Dimensions Without Integra Legs (W x H x D):
    420 x 355 x 133 mm
    Dimensions with Included Integra legs (W x H x D):
    480 x 355 x 173 mm
    Weight: 18 kg

    | SPM 1400 MkII
    480 W RMS/0,05% distortion into/8 Ω
    800 W RMS/4 Ω
    Frequency range:
    0,2 Hz – 46 kHz | -1dB
    0,1 Hz – 77 kHz | -3 dB
    S/N: > -103 dB
    Input impedance: 100 kΩ XLR/RCA
    Output impedance: 0,04 Ω
    Gain: 30 dB
    Dimensions Without Integral Legs (W x H x D):
    420 x 355 x 150 mm
    Dimensions with Included Integra legs (W x H x D):
    480 x 355 x 190 mm
    Weight: 24 kg



    - 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

    - 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
    System I
    - 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
    System II
    - Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

    System I
    - Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
    - Power Line: power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m); wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
    System II
    - 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