I received a call a few mornings ago from Ken Davis from Brooks Berdan in Monrovia, California. He said he had a surprise for me: A Chord Blu Mk. 2. As far as I’m aware, Brooks Berdan is the first dealer to have a Blu MKII in their listening rooms. This highly anticipated device caused quite a stir as many of those who pre-ordered didn’t receive theirs for months due to a shortage and delays in the shipping of parts and chips. Some even canceled their orders. I personally side with the Chord on this one. If you believe in the products and the people behind them, you’re likely to be rewarded for your patience. Also, don’t kid yourself, you’re going to buy it anyway.
I told Ken, “I’m leaving now.” Naturally, I didn’t bother brushing my teeth and left for the listening room in my PJs. I ended up listening to the Blu2 (and BluDAVE) for a few more days, experimenting with different cables and tracks.
The hype around the Blu2 revolves around the Watts Transient Aligned (WTA) filter M-Scaler technology, which is applied to both external digital sources and media played with the Philips CD Pro 2 mech. Along with pre/post-ring reduction, there is also transient accuracy, and phase alignment improvements with the use of these WTA filters. Rob Watts, the brain behind most of Chord’s highly revered DACs, mentioned during the release of the DAVE that a million “taps” would enable digital streams to sound indiscernible from the original analog waveform.
At the time, it seemed like a long-term goal with perhaps a few iterations to ramp up to a million taps. Instead, in less than 2 years after the DAVE’s release, we’re now at a million taps. Having heard the DAVE nearly every day since its inception, I couldn’t fathom things sounding appreciably better. Everything already sounded great and I was running out of itches to scratch.
Let’s take a look at Chord’s chronological tap improvements:
- DAC 64 – 1,024 taps
- QBD76 – 18,000 taps
- Hugo / Chord Hugo TT / 2Qute / Mojo – 26,000 taps
- Hugo 2 – 49,152 taps
- DAVE – 164,000 taps
- Blu Mk.2 – 1,015,808 taps
I’ve heard all of the components on this list and I could say there was a substantial improvement commensurate to tap-length. Better air, separation, transparency, and resolution.
How do these taps translate to better sound? I think the best analogy I could come up with is the “soap opera effect” that plagues so many TVs. When watching movies with the option turned on, a 24 frames-per-second movie is interpolated into a 60 frames-per-second video. It’s difficult for our brain to notice these artificially created frames and although everything looks more lifelike and smooth, I think it takes away from the enjoyment and fantasy of watching films. Audio, on the other hand, embraces this realism and audiophiles would love to perfectly recreate the missing pieces. Having a million of these registers/taps between two sample points on a 44kHz/16 bit source is supposedly close enough to “infinity” in the digital realm. Upscaling audio isn’t anything new but most implementations are rudimentary and sound contrived. The Chord Blu MKII presumably applies a holistic waveform algorithm to determine how those data points are generated (not just based upon a couple of sample points at a time) and with this, we should get the most analog digital sound EVER. Although the data points are technically artificially recreated, hopefully, what we hear is what we should’ve been hearing from our recordings.
Build & Features
- Beautiful, precision machined Choral aluminum casing (Designed by John Franks). Very similar to the construction and finish of DAVE.
- Upsampling could be turned off
- The Chord Blu Mk. 2 (10 amps @ 1V)
- Xilinix XC7A200T FPGA with 740 DSP cores, 215,360 logical gates, and 16 MB of memory
- If you’re thinking about combining both Blu2 and DAVE, Chord has a sleek stand for purchase (starts at $2,500).
- Digital signals could be sent via USB or S/PDIF
- Using a single BNC cable affrods you:
- 88.2 kHz
- 176 kHz
- 352.8 kHz
- Using two BNC digital cables:
- 176 kHz
- 352.8 kHz
- 705.6 kHz
- 768 kHz
- Dither works by introducing a small amount of noise to the original audio signal resulting in a perceived performance increase. If you hear a hissing sound when audio is not being played back, please try disengaging the dither switch. It also only works with 16-bit sources.
- If you’re going BluDAVE, you may prefer to use the Chord DAVE remote to control both.
Setup & Equipment
- Removal of the CDs themselves isn’t the easiest but a notch is provided at the bottom side of the player. So unless you have jumbo fingers, should be a breeze. The guys at Brooks Berdan used a fancy CD lifter/suction device.
- When shifting around digital cables, make sure DAVE is at the correct input. It takes 10-ish seconds for it to recognize the combined resolution of both cables.
- The USB input is active at all times, even while on standby. This is unless a CD is being played. The only way to turn it off completely is via the rear panel switch.
- Digital cables had a much larger impact on the sound quality vs USB. If you’re ballin’ on a budget, I would shift more funds to the digital cable.
- When swapping out digital cables, you may want to mute your preamp. We had a few minor pops and clicks otherwise.
- It’s recommended to use digital cables 1 meter or less. Using two cables to unlock the higher upscaling capabilities offers substantial improvements in sound quality.
- I also surmise the streamer used matters less with the Blu2. The difference between the Auralic Aries and the SOtM trifecta were enormous, but regardless of how great the SOtM stack sounds, the Blu2 is far more impactful.
- Dither Switch: This switch should be off unless you’re using a non-Chord DAC. When switched on, it’ll only use half the taps. One can use it as a built-in switch to help with the delay when playing video. With it on, there is less audio processing so audio delays with video are not as pronounced.
- DSD/SACD: It converts native DSD (64 to 512) or handles DoP (64 to 256) and converts it to PCM with a 200 dB plus filter that eliminates all out of band distortion and noise from DSD. This supposedly sounds better than the DSD+ mode with DAVE. Filtering at this level is vital for a number of different reasons.
- Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB ($900)
- Very high resolution, articulate, and leaner.
- Purist Audio Design USB ($1,500)
- Tonally dense, super fluid, smooth, and harmonious sound.
- Danacable TruStream ($895)
- Tone and timbre king. Rich and natural.
- Audience AU24 SX RCA interconnects ($2,000)
- Probably the best RCA ICs I’ve heard till date. Ultimate transparency, articulation, and soundstage.
Digital cables (will update as I test more cables)
- Generic cables ($10)
- Harsh and flat. Sharp and fatiguing.
- Nordost Valhalla 2 Reference ($3,299/meter)
- Very fluid and airy. Fills the entire room.
- Timbre and tone are superbly accurate
- Larger image and much more atmospheric
- Pristine and clear. You’ll get the ultimate level of resolution with this cable.
- There’s a tightness on the brass and delineation
- A natural sounding quiet background
- More depth and layering.
- Much more height and overhead dynamics.
- Nordost LYR 2 ($1,499/meter)
- Warmer and richer than the Vahalla 2
- Not as transparent or detailed as the Vahalla 2 but very euphoric
- Smooth and dense
Speakers – Magico S3 Mk II newly released – Cast Finish $28,000 – Coat Finish $32,000
- The S3 Mk II nestles in between the S1 Mk II and S5 Mk II and features all of the advanced design elements of the S-Series Mk II models, including a new 9-inch bass driver, 1-inch Magico diamond-coated beryllium-diaphragm tweeter, a proprietary 6-inch driver using Multi-Wall carbon fiber and a layer of XG Nanographene. Made in California
Pre-amplifier – Jadis JP80MC Tube, – $19,900
- This Flagship pre-amplifier features an oversized outboard power supply, one MM, one MC and four line inputs, and the ability to accommodate cartridges with very low impedance. Tube complement includes: 2 x ECC88, 6 x ECC83, 1 x EF86, 1 x EL84. Gain 20dB line level, 57 dB on MM phono and 84dB on MC phono. Bandwidth 20Hz – 50kHz. Weight 66 lbs. Made in France
Power Amplifiers – Jadis JA120 Tube Power Amplifiers, – $23,900
- A push-pull mono-block pair which effortlessly cranks out 100 watts of pure class A power. The JA120 uses the newer, more powerful KT120 output tubes and an additional front end tube which adds more gain to the driver circuit. 100 watts.Tube complement for each amp is: 6 KT120, 2 12AU7, 1 12AX7, weight 99Lbs. Made in France
Digital DAC – Chord DAVE DAC – $11,288
Blu MkII CD Transport CHORD – $10,588
Chord DAVE/BLU Stand – $1895
Auralic Aries Streamer – $1,600