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Chord Red Reference CD player
Sound Quality
Conclusion
Measured Performance
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SOUND QUALITY
I did most of my listening up-sampling to 176kHz: there appeared to be a minor glitch in the software when the up-sampling feature ceased to work after using the USB input. A brief phone call to Chord Electronics and going back to the optical input, altering the frequency of up-sampling soon fixed the problem.
    Listening to one of my trusted recordings of Solti conducting Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin” on Decca, the first quality that comes across in spades is the sheer smoothness of the player. The strings have a sonorous, mellow quality to them without any hint of treble harshness or glare. The sound is both woody and silky at the same time. There seems to be, rather like the question “where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?” a parallel hi-fi defining moment question – “where we’re you when you heard your first Chord Dac 64?” I have heard several people relate to me this moment in audio. It’s characteristics were a rolled-off top, with a sweet and powerful engaging sound. The Red Reference has the same DNA. And in this particular piece, which contains a ‘Sicilian’ rhythm, I’m aware of other decks being more lilting with the timing of this figure – the Red Reference seems a bit buttoned-up and missing some of the bounce and spring I’ve heard from lesser decks. It isn’t a DAC64 our measurements revealed, but it retains strong elements of its sound.


    This player scores well on orchestral weight, it does the textures of instruments beautifully, the flute is breathy and highly realistic, you can see the forces of the pizzicato strings in action. Sometimes players with less grasp of detail lose the scale of the forces involved in this recording – not so here. 
    Moving to Renée Fleming and the “Song to the Moon”, from Dvorak’s Rusulka, Fleming’s voice is particularly solid and powerful without being edgy, there is great clarity in the accompanying instruments sitting behind the singer, the player manages to separate the textures brilliantly tonally. Spatially, however, I have on occasions heard better using the Weiss DAC202. The player is “presenting” the performance to me, it’s not interpreting it or ramming down my throat. Perhaps this is some indication of the player’s  studio-natured personality?
    The DG Bernstein Mahler 5th Symphony is one of the most persuasive accounts of this symphony: a dying conductor, on his last legs in one of the most emotionally troubled of symphonies. Right from the very start, the trumpet fanfare and the orchestral answer to it, the huge orchestral forces are kept in rock solid order by this player. It really is a test of the  unit’s resolution, whether it can keep a 100- piece orchestra from imploding, and the Chord Red Reference III rules the orchestra’s players with an iron rod. When I hear grip and control coming from a Red Book CD, I sometimes wonder why we need high resolution!
    Moving to one of my own recordings of the Allegri Quartet made live from the Holywell Music Room in Oxford of Beethoven’s Quartet Op 18 number 6, using a couple of Neumann microphones, with absolutely no digital processing, no normalising, things started slotting into place for me. I can hear more into the details of this recording than nearly any other CD player I’ve encountered. The layers of details tonally are staggering. The energy of the first movement of this quartet, which is Beethoven’s only real attempt to produce a comic opera, without voices is like the opening of a bottle of champagne. The player is not varnishing the sound in any way that I could detect, it’s providing a stark no holds-barred version of the recording. This may not be to everyone’s taste, there are those who will enjoy more affected renditions, albeit less truthful!
    Playing the same recording through my computer (Toshiba plus Windows 7 running Fubar at 24 bit/96k) and using USB into the Red Reference III, adds a real sense of where we were sitting for the recording, the sense of the hall’s intrinsic acoustic and a significant slice of extra realism. The DAC part of this player and the USB to S/PDIF conversion seems to be really superb, thoroughly well thought out and shows what high-res. is capable of.



 

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