Chord Electronics Huei

Hardware Review

Chord Electronics Huei
Friday, May 22, 2020
MM/MC phono stage
Chris Kelly

Kent based Chord Electronics has been around for long enough now to have built a very strong following around the world, its British designed and manufactured products clearly striking a, er, chord with hi-fi lovers. In recent years it has won over a lot of new fans with its diminutive range of DACs like the Hugo, Mojo and Qutest.

Ten years ago when I was in hi-fi retail I first heard Chord amplifiers while working at Audio T in Reading, they impressed me sonically but visually I thought that were a bit extravagant, compared with the rather more puritanical style of other well-known British brands. John Franks, the founder, owner and chief designer of Chord Electronics has never felt compelled to follow the herd, and I have come to really appreciate the flair in his design ethos. 

Huei_Top.jpg

The Huei phono stage, it’s pronounced Hewey by the way, arrived here a few weeks ago is another visually striking design, and matches the look of the Qutest DAC. It is physically small, measuring just over 4cm high but it weighs a chunky 657g. On the front are four coloured buttons, with their function written below each of them, while on the top is a window that allows you to see and admire the very tidy engineering within. Tiny surface mounted components are densely spread across the printed circuit board and all operations are controlled by a digital microprocessor. The small back panel manages to host a pair of RCA inputs, an earthing post and both RCA and XLR outputs. It also hosts the input for the 12v external power lead and a small on/off rocker switch. A word too for the quality of the packaging and the exemplary instruction pamphlet. It is good to see a manufacturer presenting even their entry level products in this way. This is classy stuff.

Operation of all functions is done via the coloured buttons that are set into curved recesses on the top of the unit. The left hand one switches between moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC), the next is a rumble filter and on the right the user can, when in MC mode, select gain and impedance settings to suit their selected cartridge. With the exception of the rumble filter, the buttons change colour to show what setting is selected. Personally I think it is incredibly ingenious, although you’ll need the manual to hand to know what each colour means. I certainly preferred this arrangement to using dip-switches, which are the choice of some other manufacturers. There are two levels of brightness selectable but turning the lights off is not an option. I posted pictures of my system with the Huei installed on some Facebook groups and a few people commented negatively on the ‘lightshow’. I can tell you that sitting in my listening chair with the system at the other end of the room the lights were not an issue for me, especially with the less bright setting selected.

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I set the little Huei in splendid isolation on the shelf below my turntable, plugged in some good quality RCA cables and cycled through the coloured lights on the right until I had selected what I thought would be appropriate setting for my Gold Note Machiavelli low output MC cartridge. Colour differences between settings are sometimes quite subtle but I found the combination I thought would be best. I left the rumble filter off initially, but will return to that later.

The Listening Experience
The first good news was that the Huei was absolutely silent through the loudspeakers – with absolutely no hint of hiss. The first album I chose was Meddle, Pink Floyd’s precursor to the ubiquitous Dark Side of the Moon. The first track on side one is of course ‘One Of These Days’, with Roger Waters’ excellent bass riff at its heart. The Huei conveyed a wonderful soundstage with every instrument given the right weight and space, and a propulsive beat. Since then I have played dozens of records of all genres of music, and have thoroughly enjoyed the sound on all of them. The Huei is a consummate music maker and I have yet to find any of my records to which it has done anything other than great service. 

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Having hit upon the correct settings for my cartridge at the outset, I have only had the rumble filter to play with during the Huei’s time with me. If I understand correctly, its purpose is to eliminate unwanted bass reaction as the stylus follows the grooves of a record which can cause bass drivers to pump in and out. Its effect is subtle to say the least but I have certainly noticed that the initial contact of stylus with vinyl when cuing at the start of play is much quieter with the filter engaged. For that reason alone I have conducted most of my listening with the rumble filter switched on, and I have not been able to detect any negative impact on the quality of musical replay. John Illsley’s bass on the Mobile Fidelity 45 rpm pressing of the first four Dire Straits albums has sounded clear, fast and tuneful, while integrating completely with the rest of the band.

Summary
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Chord Huei. Whether the aesthetics appeal to you is of course entirely down to taste, but I have come to really like the look of this little guy on my system rack. It has been designed to work with a wide variety of cartridges and certainly with my Gold Note Machiavelli it gave me everything I love about the sound, with nothing added and nothing taken away. The warmth, the pace, rhythm and timing are all present and correct.

There is no shortage of competition in the sub £1,000 phono stage market, and indeed I think those of us who still favour vinyl have probably never been so spoilt for choice. If you are thinking about upgrading to a device at this price point I would earnestly suggest that you include the Chord Huei in your shortlist for audition. It is going to reward you with excellent sound and a build quality which belies its price. 

Specifications: 

Type: Solid-state, MM/MC phono stage
Phono inputs: 2x RCA sockets
Analogue outputs: single ended RCA, XLR
Input sensitivity: MM 21 – 42db in 8 steps, MC 49 – 70dB in 8 steps
Input impedance: 13 values from 100 Ohms to 47K Ohms
Input capacitance: not specified
Output impedance: 520 Ohms (resistive)
Output level: 20V RMS max
Signal to Noise Ratio: not specified 
Dimensions (HxWxD): 41 x 160 x 72mm
Weight: 657g
Warranty: 3 years

Price: 
£990
Manufacturer Details: 

Chord Electronics 
T 01622 721444
www.chordelectronics.co.uk