Some of the best things in life come in pairs that complement each other perfectly – fish and chips, for example, or wine and cheese.
You can add to that list the Chord Mojo and Chord Poly, a DAC and network streaming solution we could describe as a match made in hi-fi heaven.
If you already own the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Chord Mojo DAC (£400), adding the dedicated Poly streaming module will bring to your Mojo the likes of DLNA, AirPlay, Bluetooth and microSD card playback.
The Poly is designed to work exclusively with the Mojo, and cannot be used with any other DAC, but with this pairing, you have a network streaming solution that’s a force to be reckoned with.
When it arrived in 2017, we declared the Chord Poly a brilliant piece of hi-fi kit. Fast-forward two years and it is now even better thanks to the arrival of a dedicated configuration app, as well as a smattering of feature improvements brought by its latest 2.0 firmware.
Disconnected from the Mojo, the Poly is about the size of a typical vintage cigarette lighter. When the two are attached, their combined size is closer to that of a small hipflask.
So considering music streamers like the Cambridge CXN (£700) have full-width chassis, text displays and the like, you may initially feel short-changed by the Poly in your palm.
It’s certainly portable – which, of course, is one of the Poly's main selling points, and it integrates nicely into the Mojo’s design, slotting into its counterpart’s digital connections.
Those familiar with the Mojo will probably be quite fond of its colourful buttons, which denote power and the sampling rate of the playback file. That still applies when the Poly is connected – so if you stream a 44k.1kHz song from your NAS drive over wi-fi, for example, the buttons will glow red. If it’s a 192kHz file, they turn blue.
The Poly has a couple of more low-key and functional lights of its own, which denote Mojo pairing, battery life and set-up status.
At the Mojo’s output end, the twin 3.5mm jacks are ideal for most headphones. To connect to a system, you’ll need a 3.5mm-to-RCA cable.
If you’re doing the latter, the Poly takes up the Mojo’s digital inputs – so you’ll have to unplug any connected sources while you stream. And you’ll also be a slave to the Poly’s claimed nine-hour battery life. The Chord Mojo’s is ten hours.
Streaming over AirPlay and Bluetooth is as simple as it should be. And thankfully, setting the Poly up for DLNA is no longer akin to assembling flatpack furniture. The arrival of Chord’s GoFigure configuration app (iOS and Android) in 2018 means users can now set-up wi-fi networks and manage settings from their smartphone.
The app is also a gateway to facilitating Bluetooth set-up and playback, enabling Roon operation when using Poly as an endpoint, configuring Hotspot Mode and country-specific wi-fi networks, and viewing the status of Hotspot, wi-fi signal, Bluetooth, charging and battery life.
It doesn’t take on music streaming duties, though, so users will still have to rely on a third-party DLNA server app. Chord gives Plex and 8 Player as examples, but they both cost extra for full access. A perfectly usable free app for both Android & iOS devices is MyAudioStream Lite, but on this occasion we opt for the Android-friendly BubbleUPnP app on a Google Pixel 3a XL phone.
As a streaming app is the basic usability experience of most music streamers – the place from which you can access them and perform playback controls – Chord’s omission here is a shame.
The latest 2.0 firmware, which for existing Poly owners can be obtained here, offers some integration of Tidal and Qobuz – enter your log-in credentials for the services in the GoFigure app, and within your chosen DLNA streaming app the services’ content will now be discoverable as folders when Poly is selected as a server.
There is also an unlimited-capacity microSD card slot for DLNA and local playback, and you can also play music via Roon software on a PC or Mac, enabling MQA file streaming and an alternative means of Tidal access.
Also brought by the update is full Roon Ready certification, meaning owners can benefit from Roon support and assistance, as well as the convenience of easily switching between Bluetooth and Roon Ready mode. Chord now uses a new, more advanced wi-fi driver that it says is faster over 2.4GHz networks. Bluetooth protocol has also been improved for its better co-existence with wi-fi.
The Poly doesn’t alter the Mojo's vast file support, as it’s also capable of handling PCM files (up to a staggering 768kHz) as well as DSD256.
While set-up has undeniably improved, usability is still more laborious than it could be with one does-it-all app. Still, that niggle seems much less significant once the pairing is let loose with your music library.
In terms of musical matrimony, the Poly and Mojo could be gearing up for their Silver anniversary. Sonically, this is a match made in hi-fi heaven.
We connect the pair to our reference Gamut amplifier’s RCA input, and compared to the Cambridge CXN (our Award-winning music streamer/DAC at this price), the Chord combo is clearly more articulate and rhythmically adept.
Playing Bon Iver’s 666ʇ, they deliver the opening two-chime notes and glitchy guitar attacks with greater clarity and texture, pursuing the harmonics of the distorted instruments with greater resolve.
The stepping-stone pattern, which rides underneath as Bon Iver stacks his dense synth-washed canvas layer-by-layer, has a closer-knit correlation with everything else.
And when it’s time for his warped, auto-tuned chop to come in, it’s placed centre-stage with a level of articulacy and dynamic discernment the Cambridge can’t quite match. That insight extends to the low end, with heft anchoring the tuneful bassline.
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That’s reiterated when we play Biffy Clyro’s Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave. The Mojo and Poly don’t duck out of the meaty riffs, and the guitar thrusts and tripping drum (which can easily sound idle through lesser electronics) have the desired impact.
The Poly/Mojo pairing may not offer quite the expanse of the bigger-sounding CXN, nor perhaps the space upon its stage, but it hardly lacks scope either. Thelonious Monk’s Locomotive is a mass of jazz, and the Chords capture the arrangement’s density without sounding claustrophobic.
There’s life, and dynamic lift, to the clarinet, and the tight liaison between the piano player and cymbal-tapping drummer is never in question.
While streaming over AirPlay and Bluetooth (from a combination of Apple’s iPad, Apple MacBook Air and the LG G6 smartphone) isn’t quite as precise, open or transparent, expectations are well met.
To test the Chords’ portability, we plug our B&W P5 headphones into the Mojo and play Slowdive’s Sugar For The Pill from Tidal over Bluetooth.
Take them out of the equation by plugging headphones directly into the smartphone and the performance isn’t anywhere near as clear, solid or detailed.
But the bottom line is the Chord Mojo is a five-star product, and adding £500 to the set-up for streaming privileges doesn’t change that. Doing what most Chord digital products do best, the Poly/Mojo duo sounds fantastic.
Sometimes we come across a brilliant product that isn’t quite the finished article and, in 2017, this was one of them. Chord has since improved the Poly’s functional appeal by introducing a configuration set-up app and advancing connections and content support.
However, there is still room for improvement – the Poly is still lacking its own streaming app, as well as a mains-powered option and accessibility to physical inputs to increase its practicality within a hi-fi system. Because of these omissions, Chord’s Poly and Mojo won’t be for everyone.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5
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Read our Chord Mojo review