Huei is not the first phono stage from Chord Electronics, but it does have a number of ‘firsts’ in its own right. Specifically, this was something of a labour of love by Chord Electronics designer Matthew Bartlett, and something he was extremely passionate about when it was first discussed at Munich 2019. Between Munich and the actual launch of the Huei, Matthew Bartlett replaced Chord Electronics founder John Franks as Managing Director of the company (Franks moving over to the role of Chairman). Any way you slice it, that’s a bumper year for Bartlett.
The Huei comes at an important time for the brand. Chord Electronics initially made its name as a maker of high-performance audio amplifiers, especially power amplifiers using switch-mode power supplies. This was back in 1989, when precisely no-one in audio had ever considered using switch-mode power supplies in high-performance audio amplification and the trend at the time was amplifiers with gargantuan transformers and enough reservoir capacitance to jump-start an aircraft carrier. Although it made more than just power amplifiers, the brand became known for its power amps. Then... Hugo happened. The personal audio digital powerhouse was quickly followed by desktop and traditional audio digital products, with such a commanding reputation within the audio world, that people almost forgot that Chord Electronics made amplifiers. New amps using Chord’s latest feedforward/feedback circuit design (such as the Étude (reviewed in issue 168) and the new Ultima models help reacquaint an ever-changing group of Chord Electronics buyers with the company’s core product line, but many of these models are in the distinctly aspirational part of audio. By way of contrast the Huei MM/MC phono stage costs £990. That puts it firmly on the map for those wishing to buy a phono stage in the ‘high-performance yet attainably priced’ stakes.
The Huei is built to the same basic form factor as the company’s Qutest DAC. It’s a small rectangular box with the distinctive scalloped insets with combination controls and indicators that Chord has been using since the Hugo. The box itself is too small for a power supply, so is fed by a plug-top unit.
An extremely clever part of the Huei’s design is that it is microprocessor controlled. This means that all those functions regarding switching between MM and MC, and impedance and gain, are all controlled by pushbutton instead of futzing around with DIP switches. The load itself is divided into individual gain and impedance settings, which are identified by colour codes on the polychromatic round ‘buttons’ on the front panel. Huei includes twelve settings for impedance matching, including 47k ohm for MM and 30 ohm to 47k ohm for MC, and there are eight settings for gain (MM from 25dB to 35dB and MC from 48dB to 70dB). There’s also a subsonic ‘rumble’ filter at -24dB per octave below 50Hz, using a Rausch Slope profile. The use of polychromatic controls does make set-up easy and fast compared to peering inside or underneath a product and adjusting tiny switches with a toothpick.