THIS IS A REVIEW OF CHORD'S SPM 14000 MKII MONO AMPLIFIER AND CPA 8000 PREAMPLIFIER, WHICH APPEARED IN THE JANUARY 2012 ISSUE OF WHAT HI-FI? SOUND AND VISION MAGAZINE.
Chord is no stranger to making glamorous-looking kit, but even by its extrovert standards this combination is stunning. In a darkened room it just sits there brooding, emitting an otherworldly glow. That LED glow can be blue or green depending on how the products are specified.
For the most part, build quality is up to the standards we’d hope for. Both the preamp and monoblocs feel immensely solid, and capable of lasting a lifetime’s use. By conventional standards these are extremely well made and finished, but by the no-compromise standards their price tag demands, there’s still room for improvement.
Some of the machining on the cylindrical legs and preamp front panel isn’t totally immaculate. There are also minor issues with dial alignment on one of the four tone controls (the CPA 8000 has bass and treble controls for each channel) and the amount of free play felt on both the balance and volume controls.
Let’s be clear, all these things are relatively minor, easy to sort out and may not even be noticed by many owners. That said, it’s equally true that this price level demands nothing less than perfection, and these Chords don’t quite achieve it.
Chord CPA 8000/SPM 14000 Mk II review: Build quality
Stacked, as it’s designed to be, this trio takes up about as much space as a washing machine. If you use a dedicated rack it had better be mighty strong. We’d expect most people to leave the 75kg SPM 14000 Mk II monoblocs on the floor with the preamp on a dedicated rack, where it sounds best anyway.
These Chords give off a fair amount of heat, unsurprisingly, so make sure there’s plenty of ventilation, otherwise you’ll end up with tropical temperatures in your listening room.
Most high-end preamps tend to be stripped-down affairs. The CPA 8000 isn’t. Aside from extensive balanced and single-ended connectivity it has dedicated bass and treble controls per channel, twin headphone outputs and VU meters (fluorescent lights that track the signal level). Yes, VU meters, though these can be turned off if you find them distracting. If you can, stick to the balanced connections, they sound best.
We’re not fans of the supplied remote control handset. It’s an ergonomic mess, and little more than a conventional plastic handset wrapped in a metal case. It really is a poor effort.
Chord CPA 8000/SPM 14000 Mk II review: Sound quality
Move on to sound quality and this combination is on far surer ground. Once properly run-in these Chords deliver an astonishingly informative sound. We ran through our usual array of test tracks and these amplifiers never sounded anything less than massively insightful and formidably composed.
The wide dynamic swings and seismic low frequencies of the Inception soundtrack usually have amplifiers cowering. Not here: the CPA 8000/SPM 14000 MkII combo keeps an iron grip on even the least significant instrumental strand and renders each and every note with breathtaking clarity. And, reassuringly, we found ourselves giving up at high volumes well before these Chords showed any signs of stress.
This is one case where the power output figures tell most of the story. The SPM 14000 MkII power amplifier is truly mighty. These monoblocs deliver a stupendous 700W into an 8 ohm load but, even more impressively, manage to drive almost 2.3kW into a 2 ohm load – just the thing to fill a mansion with party-level music.
Surprisingly, despite all that muscle, these amplifiers are brilliantly subtle when required. They have the delicacy to convey David Sylvian’s vocals on Let The Happiness In with real conviction. Equally, Beethoven’s beautiful Moonlight Sonata is delivered with a lovely combination of finesse, power and precision. The final result is as satisfying as we’ve heard.
Fans of stereo imaging are in for a treat. When it comes to scale, stability and image placement this Chord combination is as good as it gets.
Chord CPA 8000/SPM 14000 Mk II review: Verdict
But if you’re thinking that amplifier’s price tag means it should represent audio perfection, you’re in for a disappointment. In our experience, no product manages that.
By absolute standards, these Chords don’t convey rhythmic drive particularly well. We find most high-power amps suffer in a similar way: it’s as if all that muscularity prevents timing precision. The Chords define each note beautifully, but don’t always convey the music’s momentum as skilfully as we’d like.
Oddly, despite their monumental power output we think these amplifiers could also do with more punch and sonic authority too. While able to deliver huge volume levels, they never quite convey solidity and outright punch quite as well as we’d like.
The idea of a stereo amplifier that costs £75,000 takes some getting used to. Even after spending weeks with these products we’re still uneasy about this aspect.
But get past the price and you’ll find a magnificently dramatic looking pre/power combination that offers cutting edge insight and composure even at room shaking levels. Even with our misgivings we can’t help but admire Chord’s overall achievement.