Chord & Major is a new name in the in-ear ‘space’; a Taiwanese brand with a range of similarly priced earphones designed with subtle variations in finish and voice to suit the tastes of different listeners. The company calls this the ‘Tonal Earphone’ concept and this results in five basic ‘flavours’ – Rock, Classical, Jazz, Ballad, and World Music. We had three separate sets in for review – Rock, Classical, and Jazz.
There’s something of a paradox in audio; a lot of the best audio is aimed at the luxury goods market, but somehow audio equipment makers can’t own up to being providers of luxury goods the way a Swiss watch-maker can. I guess it comes down to the idea of ‘the way a product looks is less important than how it sounds’. However, I’ll see that and raise you Jadis, Sonus faber, Michell...
A product built to ‘luxury’ standards doesn’t mean it’s a triumph of nice finish over performance – typically luxury goods have high performance as standard, and build upon that with ‘the trimmings’. Yes, buying something bespoke and professionally finished is probably going to cost more than something that looks as if a guy knocked it together in a shed with some shears and a rivet gun, but I suspect what Apple’s stunning success demonstrates is people are not quite as ‘sackcloth and ashes’ about their products as they used to be.
The Chord & Major project is unashamedly ‘gifty’ – which is why this review is happened in a Christmas issue and goes online in time for Valentine's Day. To some, the packaging is just a box in which the product arrives. Others have a more ‘Tiffany’ approach. If you have ever given or received one of those unique light robin egg blue boxes, you’ll know the impact of that packaging is deeply significant.
The different Chord & Major products are easy to differentiate in store and in ear. The Major 8’13 Rock Tonal Earphone is a black earphone in a black presentation case with black accessories (this fits well with the ‘none more black’ Spinal Tap meme). The Major 9’13 Classical Tonal Earphone is supplied in a red wood case and the earphones are in matching wood and gold, while the Major 7’13 Jazz is in a mid-ash presentation case and the earphones are finished in ash and a kind of light gun-metal finish. The packaging also highlights the instrument central to that musical genre – electric guitar for rock, sax for jazz, violin for classical, and so on. In the box is a little cleaning device, a set of small and large silicon tips (the mediums are fitted as standard), a velveteen pouch, and a cable winder card. Empty the case and you have something that looks like a bento box for a hobbit (realistically, it makes a nice small jewellery case after its days as a presentation box are over). The metal colour of the ear buds themselves is echoed in the Y-connector, while the sleeve of the headphone jack socket matches the wood finish. There is no inline microphone on any of these earphones.
A clever little ergonomic touch is the strain-relief connector on the rear of the earphone, which extends beyond the earphone itself. This not only keeps the cable in place, and is a useful place for a fairly obvious Left and Right indicator, but it is also a natural place for your thumb when inserting or removing the earphone. Additionally, it helps positioning the cable for the earphone if you want to use them in over-ear ‘sport’ mode. The cable itself is a 1.2m long ‘no-tangle’ rubber finish, although in the long-held tradition of all things ‘no tangle’, I immediately created some kind of Gordian Knot out of the cables. The little plastic card and the pouch do help.