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The Chord Room

Chord SPM140004 mono block amplifiers

Click an image to enlarge.

With the advent of solid state media, i.e. MP3, ipod, broadband mobile phone technology and server-based systems, the hi-fi industry seems to have shifted towards multi-media products, rather than concentrating on audio purity.

Whilst the 2006 Hi-Fi Show at Heathrow accurately reflects this shift, it begs the question; instead of quality, are we now merely looking in the direction of convenience?

Entering the room designated to Chord Audio, a name that has been highly respected in the hi-fi industry for many years - I was immediately faced with a multi-media server. A SERVER, I thought this was a hi-fi-show, not some computer expo.

Chord Company Server

Granted, the thing cost a five-figure sum and wouldn’t look out of place on the space shuttle, but it is one example of how music delivered to us in this day and age has changed.

On to the Ypsilon room - As I enter and turn right, I am now looking at a quarter of a million pounds worth of audio, yes you read that right, £250’000. (It makes the eyes water).
Huge, hulking amps that look like the property of the National Grid, an obelisk of a Rockport turntable, and cabling the thickness of a giant squid’s tentacles, ready to pull the whole lot off their respective shelves.

Ypsilon remote control unit

Even the brick like remote control unit would require the owner to purchase a re-enforced coffee table to rest it on. An impressive sight indeed, but was this wallet-busting set-up equally impressive to the ear?

Sadly not! The words flat, soul-less and non-communicative immediately spring to mind. I engaged my favourite Victor Wooten CD for this listening session (A Show Of Hands). Wooten’s bass playing is phenomenal on this album promising truly seismic bass frequencies within. Unfortunately this mortgage-inducing equipment did not come close to reproducing the dynamics and tonal shift this great man is capable of. In fact, it was the total antithesis – messy, un-involving, cold and clinical, with absolutely no deep bass to speak of – not what I anticipated from amps the size of 1960’s classroom radiators and speakers the size of a magician’s trick cabinet. “It’s vinyl time”, we thought, but unfortunately Joe Sample’s “Seven Years Of Good Luck”, from the album “Spellbound” clamped firmly to the Rockport turntable did not fair much better.

Wilson Audio Watt Puppy  Version 7 Loudspeakers

By now, my faith needed restoration. Thank God for Absolute Sounds – this Wimbledon-based, high-end hi-fi importer was my salvation. The demonstration of a combination of Audio Research amps and Wilson Audio watt puppy speakers was a revelation. An insight into what REAL hi-fi sounds like. Powerful, yet unforced, tactile and delicate - The true ‘musicians in the room’ experience.

 

 

ECS' Reuben Klein

As per previous years, many small, independent companies were touting their wares. Totem’s small floor-standing speakers proved that size is definitely not everything. ECS surprised and left us eager to hear more from precisely constructed but un-complicated components - Front man, Reuben Klein rightfully demonstrating confidence in his equipment by just letting it speak for itself!

The biggest surprise (which I hinted at the beginning of this report) was the number of MP3, MA and AAC devices, which were allowed to be plugged into such esoteria. Even suggesting such an act a few years ago would have been met with looks of pain, disgust and even horror from many hi-fi manufacturers. Such add on devices would not have been seen as ‘true hi-fi’. Jeez, they would not even entertain the compact cassette 15 years ago – Now, manufacturers allow us to plug Walkman phones into thousands of pounds worth of hi-fi gear. What is the world coming to?

It seems as if the two-channel, ‘real hi-fi’ world is going into extinction and is therefore trying to lure potential buyers in by sacrificing themselves at the altar of solid-state media to keep their heads above water.

Me personally? I believe, with all of these music formats available, we are only HEARING and have stopped LISTENING. Well, that’s one man’s opinion anyway.

Albums used on demo included:

Victor Wooten – Show Of Hands (CD)
Chris Botti – Night Sessions (CD)
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio - Midnight Sugar (CD)
Joe Sample – Spellbound (vinyl)

Report by Andrew Griffith
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.
September 2006

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Rockport turntable

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