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Red Reference


Chord Electronics have updated their top CD player, the Red Reference, to MkIII state. Rafael Todes listens to his violin and is impressed.

It is obvious when picking up the Chord Electronics Red Reference III CD player that its designer John Franks means business. At 14kg, and the solidity of a wrought-iron fire grate, the unit sports handles on each side to make it liftable. This is aesthetically more pleasing than the Audio Research front rack mounts, and does genuinely assist in picking the unit up.
    The second most striking feature of the player is how the CD transport is mounted at an angle of 45 degrees to the vertical. New to this version is a motorised door, which has mounted in it a magnetic puck, which cannot be mislaid. The door hinge is extremely robust: it has interleaved fingers and phosphorous bronze bearings – and Chord claim that the 14kg player can be supported by the hinge alone. Not a fact I’d like to verify! Finally, there is a Cyclops-like glass eye at the top of the player, which gives a view into the innards of the machine.
    Control is via the front panel, where twelve stainless steel ball buttons perform the standard operations. A red numerical display shows the frequency of the up-sampled output, which is set to 176.4 kHz. The mechanism of the transport is a Philips Pro 2 affair, isolated from the assembly carrier block mechanism with springs and dampers.
    On the digital side, Chord have opted not to use one of the usual-suspect chips, but instead a custom chip designed by Rob Watts, formerly of Deltec Precision Audio fame, who has over 30 years’ experience in the field.
    Each section of the critical pulse array has its own ground planes, separate power planes and power supplies. This helps to provide tolerances that are exemplary, even at this substantial price. The digital signal is filtered and re-clocked to four times the original sampling frequency 176.4 kHz, using a Watts Transient aligned filter algorithm, before conversion to analogue.
    Usefully, the player has a USB input, marked USB HD, which can asynchronously play High Definition music files up to 192 kHz from a computer. In this mode the player’s clock control's proceedings, not the computer clock. It means a computer feeding the player must work asynchronously though, and to get both PCs and Macs to do this Chord Electronics have their own software, supplied on a CD or downloadable from their website. It allows Macs to run at 192kHz sample rate, where 96kHz is standard at present. PCs cannot work asynchronously without driver software being loaded.
    In addition to the USB input, there are Optical, Coaxial and AES/EBU digital inputs, all S/PDIF standard, plus a word clock input for synchronisation to an external digital source, so music stays synchronised with video Chord explained to us. The inputs are selected by a front panel button, being switched through the DAC to provide an analogue output to the hi-fi.
    There are two digital AES/EBU S/PDIF outputs and both optical and electrical outputs from the transport, for an external DAC.
    Analogue outputs take the form of unbalanced phono sockets and balanced XLR outputs.
    A substantial metal-clad remote control, with accompanying booklet, is programmable to include the services of other remotes. This is a well thought out and appreciated touch, and helps alleviate the problem of multiple remote confusion.


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