Chord Electronics Chordette Index Review

Ed Selley looks at the latest addition to the Chordette range that offers media streaming in an ultra compact chassis

by Ed Selley
Home AV Review

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Recommended
Chord Electronics Chordette Index Review
SRP: £990.00

Introduction

The Index is the latest arrival in the Chordette range from Chord Electronics. This is the “entry level” series in the overall Chord Electronics range although this is of course a relative term. The rest of the range includes DAC’s that function over USB, coaxial and Bluetooth, headphone amplifiers, various amplification options and even a tiny media PC.

The Index is designed to allow for the streaming of files over network from a NAS or server. It is compatible with the usual remit of compressed formats and will additionally stream WAV and FLAC files. The Index isn’t capable of handling high resolution material but given that it is currently hard enough to buy a CD quality downloads let alone high resolution ones, this may not be too much of a problem. Additionally, file playback over USB is supported as are internet radio services.

Design

The Index, like the rest of the Chordette range, is tiny. The Chassis is a one piece aluminium block, sixteen centimetres wide, four high and seven deep. The top plate contains the controls and a 128x64 line dot matrix display. The back panel has a pair of stereo RCA outputs, a coaxial digital output (on a BNC socket), Ethernet connection and socket for the supplied wireless aerial. There is also a socket for the power supply which, as you might expect from something this small, is an external wall wart type. The output has a 99 step variable level to allow for connection directly to a power amp or pair of active speakers. Leaving the output at 99 produces an output in keeping with redbook CD if you are connecting to a normal amplifier with volume control.

Chord Electronics Chordette Index

The remote is an off the shelf unit that has been given the Chord Electronics treatment and encased in another milled piece of aluminium. The effect isn’t wholly convincing - not least because the battery holder still pokes out the bottom- but credit to Chord to trying something a bit different.

The fit and finish is extremely good. The chassis is hugely solid and has some lovely detailing- the milled “Chordette” logo in the casework is a poke in the eye to the usual process of screen printing used by most manufacturers at the price point.
The Index doesn’t have conventional feet- it is a little small for that. Instead, six ductile rubber domes allow it to grip on a surface and avoid scratching a unit it is placed on. The four-way arrow key control with central enter button is usefully responsive and has a pleasant enough feel.

Internally the Index makes use of a “highly accurate discrete crystal clock generator” to regulate the DAC chip. Chord is generally quite tight lipped about the exact components that they make use of for decoding as this has been something of a speciality area for them since the arrival of products like the DAC64 nearly ten years ago. The legwork generally seems to go into the filters and output stage rather than exotic silicon but, as ever, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

The more observant among you will have spotted a curious aspect of the Index’s design that may or may not be a problem. The black and white display is easy enough to read but as it sits on the top of the unit, being able to see it might be an issue. If you go all in for the Chordette Gem range, you can specify the dedicated rack which mounts the Index at an angle. If you don’t go for this, placing the Index
on its feet on a dedicated stand will mean the display is very hard to read.

Chord Electronics Chordette Index

With any other category of product this would be an unforgivable oversight. With a streamer it is rather less of a problem as the Index is really intended for tablet or smartphone control. There is no dedicated app but Chord recommends the extremely impressive Songbook UPnP remote app as a good choice for controlling the Index. If you don’t want to spend any money, the free iMedia Control app is less ritzy but does the same things. If you are using these to control the Index, you don’t need to see the unit, let alone read the display.

Set up

Like most streamers setting up the Chord is easy enough. One operating quirk of the design is that the Index must find a connection to a router to function and cannot simply be attached to a local server The Ethernet connection is for attaching the Index to a complete wired network that needs to have both the servers and a connection to the outside world on it. For me, this is something of an irritant. For simplicity it is sometimes useful to be able to connect a streamer directly to a server for a quick test.

Inputting passwords and (if you are minded to use them) static IP’s is easily done via the four way control on the front and the Index remembers passwords even after interrupting the power, which is handy. It had no difficulty finding a Windows XP and Windows 7 laptop running Twonky and a Windows 7 laptop using no additional server software but simply set up to be discovered.

I couldn’t get the Index to automatically combine multiple libraries. This isn’t a problem for me as the last thing I really want are the recordings of my wife’s singing pupils mingling with my actual content but for those of you that need a streamer that collates from multiple locations, this is something to take into account.

The search function for artist and albums is easy enough to navigate but the Index seemed to get a little confused with large libraries. If you open a library and scroll “up” (i.e. head for albums beginning with Z rather than A) it can become confused and show the libraries as empty. Once again, this is not an issue if you are using a tablet or smartphone as this browses the library independently. You can then summon a track and “send” it to the Chord to play. This is not unique to the Chord, most streamers I have used over the last year are vastly superior controlled this way rather than via the supplied remote.

Listening

Before I go any further, it is necessary to deal with an elephant in the room. You can buy five Squeezebox Touch‘s for the price of the Index. The Touch has a truly amazing interface, can handle high res files and has a display visible from a seated position. It also features some clever plugins for Spotify and the like. Why then am I making an argument for a product that does less and does so with some operating quirks at five times the price? Simply put, because this is seriously good digital.

In the time I have had the Index at home I have been in possession of the Naim ND5 XS streamer with attendant XP5 XS power supply and an Arcam D33 DAC. Both of these products are twice the price of the Index and both of them are some of the best bits of digital I’ve used in some time. The Index is able to hold its own with these two products that cost twice as much and that is no mean feat.
I used the Index mainly in my two channel system of a Naim Supernait and Neat Momentum 4i speakers but also tried it with my Electrocompaniet ECI3 and in my multichannel system connected to a Yamaha RX-V3900. I found that it exhibited the same sonic behaviour across all systems so the following comments apply equally across them.

The overriding impression that the Index conveys is that it is totally ‘unfatiguing’. The last few years have seen some considerable gains in the performance of digital products and, in turn, the prices that they are available for. It is still too easy, however, to find products that are initially impressive but become less appealing after an hour or two. The exact reasons for this could fill several threads and probably degenerate into a veritable field of graphs but I suspect that the implementation of the components and software around decoding chips has more effect on long term listening satisfaction than the chips themselves. The Index is incredibly easy to listen to for long periods and this is almost certainly down to the effort that has gone into the details.

This should not be confused with a lack of excitement or detail however. Missing you from Oli Brown’s Open Road album is an attention grabber of the best kind. Brown’s voice is rich, full and fabulously detailed. It sounds entirely and unambiguously real and is complimented but never overwhelmed by his epic guitar work. What is most impressive is that several hours later, when you have proceeded through several more albums, the Index remains equally compelling to listen to.

There is a wonderful sense of air and space around instruments that allows you to take stock of the performance as a whole. Give it a really sizeable recording like Cinematic Orchestra’s Live at the Albert Hall and the Index responds to the demands of the recording and captures the vast space perfectly. The layout of the musicians and their relationship to the audience is self-explanatory. There is nothing analytical about this detail, neither does it seem forced. All it does is help create the sense of realism that great hi-fi depends on.

Another impressive area is the bass response. Low notes have a pleasant combination of impact and detail which applies equally to big slabs of electronic bass like Younger Brother’s Elephant Machine or the analogue kickdrum in Fink’s Perfect Darkness. This combination of impact and detail is where really good digital opens a gap from more ordinary offerings. There is no bloat or overhang, just a solid thump in the chest and the same finesse and feedback that the upper registers have.

Being picky, the Chord is not quite as lively as the Naim ND5 XS is with the same material. The Naim will find the rhythm of the piece and follow it with an effortless sense of timing that really helps up tempo material along. The Chord’s performance is arguably more neutral than the Naim but it is more matter of fact and less engaging. Timing is the most deeply subjective area of hi-fi performance and it may not be overly important or even preferable to you to have electronics that don’t “force” performances.

Compressed music is handled with much the same qualities as lossless material and creating albums of random formats and bitrates doesn’t seem to faze the Index. If you listen to very low bitrate material, the Index can sound a little thin and hard but if you are going to listen to very low bitrate files, you probably don’t need to consider a £990 music streamer.

Internet radio works well and I didn’t find any dead links (or at least no links that were only having an off day on the Chord) or incorrect addresses. The Index found stations quickly and after a short buffering period it would begin playing and rarely, if ever, cut out again. Stations with a very low bitrate sounded a little thin and hollow but stations that broadcast in high bitrate MP3 or, better still, AAC were very listenable. The performance is certainly good enough to replace a DAB unit in a system with the added benefit of a vast choice of stations, many of which are superior to their UK counterparts.

Playback via USB is equally effective although I wouldn’t encourage using the Index solely via this method. The sonic performance is exactly the same as over Ethernet, but to access files on a USB stick requires you to use the remote and be able to see the display. Once a USB stick is inserted, the Index will take a few seconds to start accessing the material on it but does so effectively and seems untroubled by different folder structures. I didn’t try a very large drive but 2 and 4gb memory sticks worked OK.

Chord Electronics Chordette Index

The Index can be stacked directly onto other Chordette products as seen here with the £1,680 Prime preamplifier and £990 Scamp power amplifier.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality with lossless material
  • Superb build quality
  • Relatively straightforward setup

Cons

  • No high-resolution support
  • Limited connectivity
  • Requires smartphone app to function at its best

Chord Electronics Chordette Index Review

I cannot unconditionally recommend the Index. Some aspects of the setup and facilities are less sophisticated than rival products that cost considerably less. It also offers no real scope to play high resolution files that may or may not be the “next big thing” in audio (although they seem to be taking their time about it if they are). To get the best out of it will also require a smartphone or tablet and a router that is up to the job.

If, however, you are looking for a taste of British high end hifi at a relatively sensible price, the Index has to be considered. It is beautifully finished and so compact it shouldn’t be a problem to accommodate, even if space is very tight. It also manages to feel special which is an important part of a purchase decision with any relatively expensive piece of equipment.

Above all, it is the way that the Index sounds that means it has to be taken seriously. It is capable of a truly musical and engrossing performance that is very hard not to like. If you choose equipment on the strength of the on paper functionality, the Index is never going to do enough to warrant consideration but if you sit down and listen to it, this is an excellent sonic performer.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
.
7

Features

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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