Sugg. Retail: (CAN) $13,700, $15,000 w/Integra Legs
Distributor: Bluebird Music Limited,
620 Wilson Ave., Toronto, Ontario M3K 1Z3
(416) 638-8207 FAX 638-8115
(Reprinted from the Spring 2001 Audio Ideas Guide)
The new Chord CPM 3300 integrated amplifier from Britain is one of the most expensive in our experience, even dearer (to use the English phrase) than the Rowland Concentra (Almanac 2000) with full MC phono section. It’s a beautiful component in its silver machined aluminum case, the top having a sculpted circle with crescent curouts on either side through which you can see a full circle of blue LEDs glowing under the circuitry and a metal protective screen. All this is very distinctive, and very elegant.
The CPM 3300 has 6 inputs, all unbalanced, with two of them paralleled by balanced XLRs, all line level. Fully remote controlled, the 3300 allows gain trimming of each input. Two tape loops are provided as well, and pre outs and amp ins are also offered. All connectors are premium WBT connectors, including the speaker output terminals, the exception being the Neutrik balanced XLR inputs.
Two things distinguish this integrated amplifier from most others. First, the power: 220 watts rms per channel (the (CAN) $8700 CPM 2600 offers 120 wpc), and, second, the power supply. Here’s what a company white paper has to say about that:
“Most of the highest quality audio power amplifiers in the world today use very large and heavy 50/60Hz mains transformers. These along with rectifiers and reservoir capacitors go to make up the usual type of power supply generally in use today. This standard type of PSU has been designed to absorb and store energy or charge at a rate of 120 times per second. This means that sometimes they are not good at delivering their energy at audio frequencies, and the type of energy storage capacitors normally used work inefficiently at a relatively low voltage.”
“The normal use of linear voltage regulators associated with this type of power supply makes the situation worse still. Requiring the amplifier to dissipate much more power in the form of heat - the more power the amp has to dissipate as heat, the larger the heat sinks, the larger the design, the less compact the audio signal…it really is a bit of a vicious circle.”
“Thus, a `conventional’ amplifier is bulky, heavy, sometimes slow to respond, generally inefficient, causes high mains power distortion, can cause electrical and acoustic noise and requires a relatively long and exposed audio path.”
“The power amplifier based on Chord’s tried and tested technology of ultra high frequency low ESR power supply has the ability to store a great deal more energy, and far more efficiently than conventional designs. This gives the amp tremendous reserves of instantly delivered, precisely controlled power which is more than capable of controlling even the most demanding of loudspeakers.” The output devices of the CPM 3300 are said to be “high voltage, lateral structure MOSFETS”.
In other words, the CPM 3300 is more Stealth than Dreadnaught, running coolly, drawing relatively little current, but able to swing large voltages into the speakers.
It apparently took Chord founder and chief designer John Franks a decade to overcome the problems of early switching power supplies before developing one suitable for high end components.
According to the Chord web site, “A sophisticated mains input filter ensures that not only is the power supply shielded exceptionally well from disturbed mains input, but also, and more significantly, the mains itself is completely untouched by emissions from the amplifier. The amplifiers comfortably exceed European Electromagnetic emission standards, which are acknowledged to be the toughest in the world.”
“In a high frequency power supply the incoming mains is filtered and then rectified to generate a very high voltage DC Supply…around 300 to 350 Volts DC…stored in a bank of high voltage capacitors. It is then chopped using high voltage MOSFETS running at 80kHz. The resultant waveform then passes through a very special ceramic cored high frequency transformer, which is wound with individual multi strand litz wire to avoid copper losses associated with the `skin effect’ at these frequencies. The size of a transformer reduces as operating frequencies increase, so a transformer operating at 80,000Hz is far smaller than one operating at mains frequency of 50 or 60Hz. The output from the transformer is then rectified once more and passed on to a truly innovative `Dynamic Coupling’ system before final storage in a further massive bank of high voltage capacitors.”
“`Dynamic Coupling’ is a unique system whereby the positive and negative rails are mutually coupled tightly together by a strong magnetic flux. The result is that if a high demand is put on one rail, the required energy will actually be drawn equally from both rails. The rails will therefore stay completely and perfectly balanced at all times with the mid ground point and each rail in turn. Simply put, this system keeps the amplifier in balance dynamically and the reference point perfectly clean.”
I include this detailed description of this high-frequency switching and tracking power supply because it sounds extraordinarily close in concept and execution to what Bob Carver has done in all his Sunfire and previous Carver designs. The web site white paper also describes the output configuration as “a class AB sliding bias design” that operates most of the time in class A.
What else do you get for your big bucks (convert it into pound sterling and at least the numbers get smaller) with the Chord? Well, the remote control is pretty impressive. Like much of the amplifier chassis, it’s machined from a block of aluminum and weighs exactly a pound (though not a pound sterling). I’ve made comments in the past warning that you not drop a given remote control on your foot, for example, that for the Bryston B60, but this one could easily become a weapon in the hands of a prime minister fearing intruders, much more dangerous than any Inuit sculpture.
Not only does it control the amplifier completely, selecting inputs, setting up record outs, adjusting the individual inputs’ basic levels, and setting overall level and balance, but there’s more: this remote also provides full control of Chord CD players and transports, digital converters, preamplifiers, A/V processors, and so on, up to 6 different possible systems. The 32 buttons are 3-colour coded to assume 3 functions for most of them. Needless to say, Chord makes only this single remote control. My theory is that the company believes that longterm exposure to the remote will create desire to purchase other Chord components, thereby making the owner of the initial component, whichever it might be, compelled to spend all his life savings building a complete Chord system. In for a penny, in for a pound…a pound of remote control that weighs on your mind!
Ah, but conspiracy theory aside, how does it sound? Well, we tried the CPM 3300 with three different (but very good) loudspeakers: the B&W Nautilus 805, and Energy Veritas v1.8 and v2.2 (Alm 01). The notes on the Nautilus pair read, “great imaging, some midrange emphasis, lacks deep bass below 35 Hz.” I heard lots of depth and great clarity on choral voices, but a certain hollowness could be heard in the lower midrange. However, the Chord did seem to control the bass better on these speakers than did the Bryston 3B ST, which is no mean feat.
The Energy Veritas v2.2 is a substantially better speaker than the 805, with a more linear midrange, more articulate and deeper bass, and a greater overall transparency. Though the 805s offered more soundstage outside the speakers, the v2.2s had greater depth of image, and more of a sense of listening into the soundstage. In both cases, the transparency of the CPM 3300 was evident, the higher resolution of the Energy speakers making for a better match. The long-throw woofers of these speakers provided clean bass to 25 Hz with considerable power, and 220 available watts doesn’t hurt in this area of performance.
The amplifier itself can be described as effortless and fast, making music sound very alive, especially with 96 kHz program material, both audio DVDs and CDs upsampled through our Assemblage D2D-1. There were were textures and nuances other amplfiers miss in the sound of the Chord, though I’m impressed at how well the Bryston held up in comparisons. The most stringent test for my ears was with the resident reference v1.8s, because I know them so well with the Bryston. Closer to 4 ohms in nominal impedance, these Veritas take advantage of the 3B ST’s ability to deliver twice the power at this lower impedance, while a look at the Chord’s specs shows its 4-ohm rating to be pretty much equal at 300 wpc (and, looking again at the impedance measurements I did of the 2.2, the same could be said, especially in the bass and midrange, where impedance hovers around 4 ohms right up to just over 1 kHz; no wonder there’s a lot of bass kick and potent dynamics with either amp!).
I doubt that a casual listener would hear much difference, so close in character were these two exceptional amplifiers. I’ve never been able to make the clipping lights go on on the 3B (the combination of low impedance and 90 dB sensitivity making the most of the power), and the 3300 was equally effortless, maybe a hair faster in response, but even that was hard to quantify. Both were fed by balanced Ultralink Ultima interconnects, and I also got excellent results with Audioquest Python, in both cases the cables of 7.5 metre length.
I did hear textures and nuances from the Chord that seemed a little more revealing of the music’s inner voices than what was heard from the 3B ST, but such impressions are subtle and fleeting, so close were they sonically. The Chord CPM 3300 is a very good amplifier, among that few best I’ve heard, and it’s an equally superb preamplifier, with plenty of inputs, the ability to operate in a biamp configuration, and, most important, a fully transparent signal path. I like the ability to match levels from input to input, the complete remote control capability (though learning of other brands’ codes might be nice), and the pair of tape loops. However, in a component of this price, I’d like to see balanced pre outs and ins, and perhaps more balanced inputs for those of us with pro DAT and other digital gear.
There’s no question that when paying for this amplifier you’re investing in craftsmanship as well as technology, and that is evident in the machining, fit and finish. There are a few other integrated amplifiers that come fairly close in price, an example being the aforementioned Concentra, and probably there are less worthy separates from other high end names that are costlier. In these contexts, the Chord CPM 3300 stands proud in its performance, and is one beautiful electronic component.