In fact, the only real omission here is other tone/EQ curves. It’s RIAA all the way for the Huei. Once again, how you relate to this depends largely on where you sit in the tone curves debate, and how many records you own that fall within the zone where an extra tone curve or two might prove handy!
I used the Huei with both balanced and single-ended outputs (not at the same time) into a Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier. The Huei was fed by a VPI HW-40 with an EAT Jo No 5 MC cartridge for the most part. Cables were primarily from Nordost.
Chord’s electronics have sometimes been damned with faint praise. They were considered clean, lean and very detailed, but not very musical or rhythmically integrated. That all began to change with the Étude power amplifier, and it’s a trend that’s set to continue with the Huei. This is not some soft and laid-back phono stage, but neither is it stark, etched, or musically bereft. It’s really excellent.
The Huei is all about the excitement, but without being either so brightly lit or so overly excitable and detailed that it leaves you cold. The excitement is key, though; that doesn’t just mean you reach for that collection of Technical Death Metal albums you don’t have. It’s more about the excitement underlying the music itself, whatever that music happens to be. Basically, unless your collection of music came out of an elevator, there is usually some creative force at work wanting to convey a theme or two they consider exciting, and the Huei is perfectly optimised to extract that energy from the groove. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Beck coming to terms with lost love on Sea Change [MoFi], Bill Evans digging where his next fix is coming from or Mahler just being, well, Mahler, the Huei is adept at finding that musical communications centre.
This musical insight comes from a position of great – yet not stark – clarity and terrific soundstage properties. Basically, if the LP has some imaging, Huei will resolve it as well as the player and cartridge will allow. More importantly, the amount of detail pulled off a record is remarkable; I had a great deal of respect for the Jo No 5 before this review and afterwards I heard that it was even better than I first thought. It’s ability to dig deep into a record is outstanding and the Huei lets it do that with such aplomb and forthright accuracy, it’s hard not to be captivated. If knowledge is power, the Chord Huei is a small, colourful information tank.
I even played the good/terrible and almost ubiquitous Vivaldi Four Seasons by Marriner and the ASMF [Argo]. This first venture into period instruments predates engineers knowing how to record period instruments without them sounding like audible paint-stripper, but the best products cut through the brightness and give you the detail and information that is being presented beneath that forward sound, and the Huei does that extremely well.
In short, like all the best in audio, the Huei gets out of the way of your music, letting you make the musical decisions rather than having to temper them even slightly to adapt to the nature of the electronics. It’s surprising just how hard this can get, especially in phono stages and especially in this category. Imaging in particular highlights just how far some fall from the musical truth. Many phono stages truncate the width, depth or height of a recording. Many high-end models somehow also tend toward flattening the ‘pan pot and delay’ staging made in most studio albums. The Huei does neither of these things, and instead just plays the soundstage on the record. It’s not rocket surgery, but many fall at this hurdle.
Let’s put this into some perspective. The Huei is perfect for resolving the performance of £1k cartridges on £5k turntables. If you are really ‘going for it’ with £50k’s worth of turntable and a Moving Coil that cost as much as a new car, there are even more resolving phono stages out there, including Chord’s own Symphonic. It’s all about context.