Chord Electronics has proven to have quite some talent in finding new market niches. It established the sector for premium portable DACs with the introduction of the excellent original Hugo and underlined that dominance with the more affordable and almost as talented Mojo. The company took things further by adding streaming modules dedicated to these DACs, thus turning them into full-blown music streamers that compete hard with similarly priced, full-sized domestic units while boasting portability.
Chord was also early among hi-fi specialists to take Bluetooth seriously and has long championed ultra-compact hi-fi electronics for those who want premium performance but are unable or unwilling to give up much space for it. The diminutive Anni desktop integrated amplifier is a perfect example of that.
Make no mistake, this really is a proper Chord amplifier in miniature, using as it does the Ultima dual feed-forward circuitry seen in the latest generation of the brand’s high-end power amplification. However, this little box is only the size of the Chord Qutest digital-to-analogue converter – for the uninitiated, think smaller than a pair of coasters laid end-on – and it’s intended to be an ideal partner for that DAC and the company’s Huei phono stage. The important thing to note is that it’s designed for desktop use with either headphones or suitable speakers.
Yes, it will drive big speakers and can work in a conventional stereo system, but that’s not the aim here. A power output of just 10 watts per channel will only go so far in such a situation, while the limited array of inputs – just two single-ended stereo RCAs – and lack of remote control also limits things somewhat. We’re not so concerned about the absence of remote operation, because the Anni will always be within reach in its intended desktop context.
Power output 10 watts per channel
Inputs RCA x 2
Outputs 3.5mm, 6.3mm and stereo speaker
Dimensions (hwd) 43 x 160 x 97mm
Power supply 15v DC external unit
The control layout is simple. Pressing the volume control toggles between the two inputs, while the gain button keeps the volume control’s useful working range wide enough when used with speakers of differing sensitivities. We wish the gain switch worked with the headphone outputs too, as when using the likes of the Focal Stellia and the Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Gen), the range of volume dial travel is a little too small to make subtle level adjustments easily.
There are two headphone outputs, 6.3mm and 3.5mm, and both can be used simultaneously if desired. The Anni’s ergonomics aren’t great, mind you, as both headphone outputs are positioned too close to the volume control, leaving little space for fingers holding the dial if either socket is in use. This proves a touch annoying over time.
The rear panel is a fairly tightly packed affair. Aside from the two stereo RCA inputs and 4mm speaker sockets, you’ll also find a power port that connects to a small cable-mounted 15V power supply module, an earth post if hum becomes an issue, and a 12V DC output to feed the Huei phono stage and Qutest DAC. With the Anni being so light at just 625g, you’ll have to be careful that heavy cables don’t drag it off its support. Despite the modest power output, a multitude of ventilation holes in the casework and a built-in fan, this integrated runs pretty hot, so make sure it has plenty of space around it to avoid overheating.
The Anni is mostly built to Chord's usual high standards, bar a volume control that feels a little wobbly but not so much that it suggests fragility. This amp may be small but it still looks and feels special thanks to the solid CNC-milled, black-anodised aluminium casework. Chord’s products have long had a distinctive look and this amplifier is no different. The cutesy name, multicoloured control buttons and elaborate machining on the casework have become something of a company trademark.
We listen to the Anni in a range of systems from an Apple MacBook connected to Chord’s Qutest DAC and the aforementioned headphones from Beyerdynamic and Focal, to our reference stereo set-up with Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer and a pair of KEF LS50 Meta speakers listened to in the nearfield. We also hook it up to our reference ATC SCM50 speakers for fun.
The Anni is a surprising product when used with speakers. It delivers a scale and solidity of sound that belies its tiny stature. This Chord delivers a fuller, more robust presentation than we’ve come to expect from the brand, but it still renders enough in the way of detail and transparency to satisfy.
While that 10 watts per channel may sound feeble, the Anni never comes across that way. It plays comfortably and cleanly at our usual listening levels even when driving the relatively low-sensitivity (85dB/W/m) ATC speakers. There’s a hard limit though, with the amplifier sounding uncomfortable pretty quickly when pushed close to its limits.
This Anni/ATC combination belies expectations by delivering reasonably expressive dynamics even with demanding music such as Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator OST. A conventionally sized, similarly priced amplifier such as the Cambridge CXA81 has comfortably more in the way of muscle and authority, but the Anni is in no way embarrassed by the comparison, which is impressive.
Things get even better when connected to the KEF LS50 Meta in a nearfield context. Here, the Chord feels right in its element, sounding bold and expansive. It digs up a lot of information and presents it in an organised and controlled way. We listen to the Gladiator track The Battle and there’s no shortage of impact in the crescendos, nor does the Anni hold back when it comes to communicating the energy and drive in the music.
We’re impressed by the solidity and authority of the lows, but also thankful that agility hasn’t been sacrificed in the process. Stereo imaging is stable and precise, too, and there’s a decent sense of scale to the presentation.
Moving to headphones makes things even better. This is one of the most capable headphone amplifiers we’ve heard. It sounds clean, clear and articulate yet captures the manic energy of Nick Cave & The Bad Seed's Babe, I’m On Fire superbly.
Looking at the combination of Qutest DAC and Anni on our desk, we wonder how much better it is than the Chord Hugo 2 (£1895/$2495/AU$3800) portable DAC, bearing in mind that the DAC sections are very similar. It turns out that the Qutest/Anni pairing fully justify their price premium thanks to a more composed and insightful presentation that offers notably more when it comes to low-end authority, dynamic punch and tonal richness.
There’s no doubt that the Chord Anni is a niche product. While it’s tempting to think of it as a conventional high-end Chord amplifier on the cheap, it isn’t that unless you have a very small room or unusually sensitive speakers. Use it as a desktop amplifier as intended and it shines. Sure, there are operational quirks – something that’s proving to be a Chord trait – but when the Anni sounds this good we can forgive a lot.
- Sound 5
- Build 4
- Features 2
Read our review of the Chord Hugo 2
Want more Chord options? Try the Chord Hugo TT2
Alternatively, take a look at our Rega Brio review