Chord Electronics launch ULTIMA flagship amplifier and preamplifier


It’s all about how we use our words. Take, for example, the phrase "How low can you go?”

It’s an allusion from Chubby Checker's “Limbo Rock” which hit the airwaves and turntable platters in 1962. It’s a reference to the dance known as the Limbo. If you’re familiar with any type of body gyrations you know this dance: you must stay on your feet while leaning back to get under a bar that drops progressively lower, hence “how low can you you go?”

What if we flipped this allusion on its head though, and looked at raising the bar instead?

Making it not about how low one can go, but how high one could reach?

ULTIMATE mono bloc.

It seems that’s what Chord Electronics has done with the introduction over the weekend of their new ULTIMA mono bloc power amplifier and preamplifier which the company describes as their “… new dual-feed-forward error-correction amplifier technology … state-of-the-art flagship amplifier featuring John Franks’ (Chord owner and chief designer) latest circuit topology, the first all-new design in three decades. ULTIMA is the ultimate expression of the finest high-performance, ultra-fast, ultra-high-power amplifier technology available today.”

At roughly $40,000 USD (based on current exchange rates), for each bespoke, 190-pound ULTIMA mono bloc and the matching reference preamplifier, this system will set you back $120,000 USD.

The new ULTIMA power amps feature 64 Chord TO3-style dual die lateral-matched MOSFET power-output devices in its circuit topology that delivers 780 watts into eight Ohms, 1,400 watts into four Ohms and 2,500 watts into two Ohms with a peak output exceeding 500 amps.

ULTIMA Preamplifier.

The ULTIMA preamplifier has a listed noise-floor spec of -135dB, comes equipped with three pairs each of both balanced outputs and RCA, along with four RCA inputs and four balanced XLR inputs with six-step gain adjustment. All internal circuitry is heavily shielded from RF interference thanks to a compartmentalized solid milled aluminium chassis with a listed THD of 0.0008 per cent from 20Hz~20kHz.

All units are shipping now.

Press release highlights below

November 11th, 2018, Kent, UK: With its 30th-anniversary year fast approaching, Chord Electronics has launched ULTIMA, a new state-of-the-art flagship amplifier featuring John Franks’ latest circuit topology, the first all-new design in three decades. ULTIMA is the ultimate expression of the finest high-performance, ultra-fast, ultra-high-power amplifier technology available today.

Comprising a reference-quality preamp and two mono power amplifiers (all £30,000 each), ULTIMA is Chord Electronics’ most accomplished amplifier in its 30-year history and one that draws on the company’s three decades of research, design and engineering in Great Britain.

The ULTIMA mono power amplifiers have been designed and engineered for the very finest hi-fi systems, those which by their very nature, have the most demanding and difficult-to-drive speakers.

ULTIMA’s technology is based on a technical paper by Dr Malcolm J. Hawksford (emeritus professor at Essex University) which was taken up and refined by Bob Cordell of Bell Labs. Chord Electronics’ owner and Chief Designer, John Franks, then took the theory and developed it to a much higher level; a progression of Cordell’s advanced dual-feed-forward error-correction topology incorporating Franks’ own advanced concepts in ultra-high-frequency power supplies, which have been a cornerstone of the company’s proprietary-technology amplifiers since its inception in 1989.

Each 86kg mono amplifier is painstakingly hand-built at the riverside Kent factory, The Pumphouse, over a period of several days, with each build overseen by a dedicated engineer. Chord Electronics’ renowned aircraft-grade solid aluminium casework offers a reassuringly high-end and entirely non-resonant enclosure for the electronics. The casework is neatly complemented by the unique Integra Leg system which offers both striking visuals and the ability to stack with various other full-size Chord Electronics products as well as the Choral units, such as the DAVE DAC/preamp and BLU MKII CD/digital transport, when using the dedicated Choral Ensemble stand.

About the ULTIMA preamp

Designed to be entirely uncompromising, the ULTIMA preamp is a world-class solution with cutting-edge proprietary technology. It benefits from true dual-mono construction with separate ultra-high-frequency power supplies for each channel, giving the best possible separation. With the addition of Chord Electronics’ low-noise circuitry, noise floor performance is exceptional, at beyond -135dB.

The ULTIMA preamp includes three pairs of fully balanced outputs and three unbalanced outputs; inputs include four unbalanced and four balanced with six-step gain adjustment; selection is made via remote control or from the front panel, which uniquely features separate frequency EQ adjust controls for the left and right channels.

Internally, each of the power supplies and the sensitive volume, balance and EQ controls, are surrounded by solid milled aluminium shielding to prevent RF interference. Fully balanced A/V bypass circuitry allows direct connection to A/V processors. Further features include defeatable front panel VU meters with BBC ballistics, two low-distortion, low-noise front-panel headphone output jacks and 12V remote triggering outputs.

About the ULTIMA mono power amp

Chord Electronics’ proprietary amplifier technology has seen numerous refinements and updates over the past 30 years, however, ULTIMA receives John Franks’ all-new circuit topology, the first completely new design since the company supplied its first customer, The BBC, in 1989. Chord Electronics looked at Bob Cordell’s aforementioned work from the 1980s before developing an initial design that incorporated both his topology as well as John Franks’ award-winning, time-proven amplifier tech; the nested feed-forward and global feedback allowed for Chord Electronics’ custom-designed dual silicon die MOSFET output transistors to perform uniquely well.

The new dual-feed-forward error-correction amplifier technology was first implemented on a medium scale in the Etude power amp (from the Choral range, unveiled at High End, Munich in 2018). Realising its significant benefits, Chord Electronics started work on a replacement circuit for its range of uncompromising full-size mono amplifiers, ULTIMA being the largest, most advanced and most powerful in the portfolio.

The ULTIMA mono amplifier unit has an incredible 64 proprietary MOSFET power devices that demand the most advanced and refined drive circuitry, suitably devoid of sound-degrading components. The drive circuitry features an ultra-low-distortion, high-voltage amplifier operating at very high speed: 300 volts per microsecond technologies with advanced feed-forward and feedback compensation techniques. It also benefits from Chord Electronics’ TO3-style dual die lateral matched MOSFETs, which are continuously monitored with output stage error-correction circuitry and feature fully balanced input circuitry with DC-tracking servos and full temperature compensation.

ULTIMA is incredibly powerful and offers 780 watts into 8 ohms, 1,400 watts into 4 ohms and 2,500 watts into 2 ohms. ULTIMA’s peak output current exceeds 500 amps, an extremely high current differentiated by the speed at which the dynamic peaks can be delivered, bringing astonishing dynamics, fidelity and unrivalled musicality. ULTIMA is truly an unprecedented amplifier design with exceptional performance and is one of the most advanced hi-fi amplifiers in the world.

Technical specifications

ULTIMA preamp

  • Frequency Range: 2.5Hz – 200kHz +/- 3dB
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.0008% 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Intermodulation Distortion: -125dB on all inputs
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: -125dB on all inputs
  • Channel Balance: 0.01dB
  • Input Max Voltage: 17V RMS Balanced – 8.5V RMS Unbalanced
  • Output Max Voltage: 17V RMS Balanced – 8.5V RMS Unbalanced
  • Output Offset: 0mV (Both Channels)
  • Potentiometer Performance: 0dB 0.5dB, -20dB 0.2dB, -60dB 0.24dB (13 seconds Full Travel)
  • Nominal Gain: All inputs subject to six levels of switchable gain (x0.5, x1, x1.5, x2, x2.5, x3)
  • Input Impedance: 100kΩ balanced – 50 kΩ unbalanced
  • Output Impedance: 100Ω (Short Circuit Protected)
  • Operating Voltage: 85V – 270V AC (50Hz – 60Hz) Auto Switching
  • Power Consumption: 15W
  • Channel separation: 98dBV
  • Dimensions Without Integra Legs: 420mm (w) x 355mm (d) x 310mm (h)
  • Dimensions With Included Integra Legs: 480mm (w) x 355mm (d) x 350mm (h)
  • Weight: 30kg

ULTIMA mono power amp

  • Output Power: 780W RMS per channel @0.05% distortion into 8Ω, 1,400 RMS per channel into 4Ω; waveform continuous at 5Hz to 20kHz 
Total harmonic distortion 0.0005 per cent (at 1V) 10Hz to 20kHz (8- or 4-ohm loaded)
  • Phase intermodulation distortion: 0.0005 per cent
  • Interface intermodulation distortion at 75 percent rated power into 8 ohms resistive load was 0.0002 percent at 1kHz
  • Peak output current: exceeds 500 amperes
  • Frequency Response: 0.1dBV from 5Hz to 100kHz any loading between 4 and 8 ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: Better than -103dB
  • Input Impedance: 100kΩ Unbalanced/Balanced
  • Output Impedance: <0.01Ω
  • Gain: 30dB
  • Dimensions Without Integra Legs: 420mm (w) x 670mm (d) x 310mm (h)
  • Dimensions With Included Integra Legs: 480mm (w) x 670 (d) x 350mm (h)
  • Weight: 86kg

Chord Electronics Ltd.
The Pumphouse, Farleigh Ln, East Farleigh, Maidstone ME16 9NB, UK
+44 (0)1622 721444

Everclear's picture

So, who is gonna review the Chord pre-amp and the mono-bloc power amps? ............. AudioStream or Stereophile? :-) .............

Rafe Arnott's picture
Stereophile I imagine :)
Anton's picture

If the amp is reviewed in a column instead of an official review, Chord can dodge that pesky measurement thing that caught the SPM 1400 falling short of its claimed performance.

Everclear's picture

Come-on baby, let's do "The Twist" ................ Chubby Checker :-) ..............

Ed L's picture

I’ve been listening to the new Chord Etude amplifier which uses the same topology as the Ultima for the past 2 weeks. Even though this smaller amplifier only puts out 150W into 4 ohms, I have to admit the transparency and musicality are stunning. If you like neutral amplifiers and want to hear what your sources can do, I think this new series of Chord amplifiers will be worth a listen.

jeffhenning's picture

Wow, that is a very poor S/N rating for an amp this expensive. I'd be expecting -133dB. It is pretty, though.