ULTIMA: Chord Electronics’ blue moon shot

  • Audioquest: Analog or Digital

At Munich High-End in May, John Franks introduced the Étude, Chord Electronics’ first new amplifier topology since the company’s 1989 inception. Franks had gone back to the 1980s to the “feed-forward correction” work of one Bob Cordell who has since been retained by the UK hi-fi company as a consultant. Catch up here:

Six months later, as Chord Electronics edge ever closer to their 30th Anniversary, a further progression of the Franks/Cordell amplifier topology lands in the form of two 86kg ULTIMA monoblocks that additionally incorporate the ultra high-frequency power supplies upon which Chord have built a formidable amplifier reputation. Each amplifier is hand-made, takes almost a week to build and sells for a cool £30,000.

From the press release: “The new dual-feed-forward error-correction amplifier technology was first implemented on a medium scale in the Etude power amp.”

“The ULTIMA mono amplifier unit has an incredible 64 proprietary MOSFET power devices that demand the most advanced and refined drive circuitry, suitably devoid of sound-degrading components. The drive circuitry features an ultra-low-distortion, high-voltage amplifier operating at a very high speed: 300 volts per microsecond technologies with advanced feed-forward and feedback compensation techniques. It also benefits from Chord Electronics’ TO3-style dual die lateral matched MOSFETs, which are continuously monitored with output stage error-correction circuitry and feature fully balanced input circuitry with DC-tracking servos and full temperature compensation.”

“ULTIMA is incredibly powerful and offers 780 watts into 8 ohms, 1,400 watts into 4 ohms and 2,500 watts into 2 ohms. ULTIMA’s peak output current exceeds 500 amps, an extremely high current differentiated by the speed at which the dynamic peaks can be delivered, bringing astonishing dynamics, fidelity and unrivalled musicality. ULTIMA is truly an unprecedented amplifier design with exceptional performance and is one of the most advanced hi-fi amplifiers in the world.”

ULTIMA’s aluminium casework is designed to be non-resonant but its Pompidou Centre aesthetic (Franks’ words), complete with blue-glowing internals, continues John Franks’ desire for his hi-fi gear to be radically different. Some people will love it, others less so.

The amplifier’s in-built Integra Leg system allows partnering gear, like the Dave DAC and/or Blu MKII CD/digital transport housed in their Choral Ensemble stand, to be stacked on top…

Then there’s the matching ULTIMA pre-amplifier – also £30,000 – that promises dual-mono construction with separate ultra-high-frequency power supplies for each channel and a noise floor “beyond -135dB”.

Analogue outputs number three balanced and unbalanced. On inputs, we count four of each with the balanced inputs offering 6-step gain adjustment. Use the remote control or the front panel to change inputs or specify EQ adjustments on a per channel basis.

More press release pull: “Internally, each of the power supplies and the sensitive volume, balance and EQ controls, are surrounded by solid milled aluminium shielding to prevent RF interference. Fully balanced A/V bypass circuitry allows direct connection to A/V processors. Further features include defeatable front panel VU meters with BBC ballistics, two low-distortion, low-noise front-panel headphone output jacks and 12V remote triggering outputs.”

That the complete ULTIMA system only requires the addition of Chord’s statement


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