At the risk of stating the obvious, these are turbulent times. Little in life can be confidently relied upon. So, it is, perhaps, more gratifying than it really should be, to find the unflappable Chord Electronics forging serenely ahead on a path unsullied by U-turns, flip-flops or ‘alternative facts’.
Lately, of course, Chord Electronics has been making all sorts of disruptive waves with its digital products. Combining giddily high standards of performance with reliably ‘interesting’ product names, Chord Electronics’ range of DACs, streamers and upscalers has given the company plenty of exposure in the audio mainstream. But all this (very successful) activity on the New Digital Frontier has also provided a distinct impression that analogue amplification (Chord Electronics’ core business from the very first) was being somewhat neglected. After all, there seems precious little room for innovation in a sector where even the most recent technological legwork was done decades ago.
2018’s Étude stereo power amplifier (part of the company’s relatively compact ‘Choral’ range) indicated that Chord Electronics still fancied itself capable of advancing the art of analogue amplification, though. Building on three decades of research and engineering from Essex University, Bell Labs and some characteristically single-minded development from Chord Electronics’ founder, owner, CEO and chief designer John Franks, it features fearsomely complex and advanced topology. And no less perceptive a soul than Mr Editor Sircom himself noted during his review that “I suspect Étude will unlock several far bigger amps from the brand”.
Which brings us to this ULTIMA 5 stereo power amplifier. It is, without a doubt, a far bigger amp – and, as the successor to the storied SPM 1200 MkII power amp, has significant shoes to fill.
ULTIMA amplifier topology is geared towards power, speed and high peak output current. It’s also designed to drive even wilfully demanding loudspeakers, to deliver instantaneous power with low distortion, and to allow no degradation to signal fidelity. To this end, the ULTIMA 5 topology incorporates Chord Electronics’ dual-feed-forward error-correction circuitry and features a total of 64 proprietary lateral-structure dual-die MOSFETS (these transistors are continuously monitored using output-stage error-correction circuitry). The fully balanced input circuitry features temperature compensation and DC-tracking servos, while the drive circuitry amplifier operates at a more-than-decent 300 volts per microsecond.