Chord Electronics Unveils Ultima 2 and Ultima 3 Mono Power

Three decades in development, John Franks’ next-generation Ultima amplifier technology filters down into two new mono power amplifiers, the Ultima 2 and Ultima 3, part of Chord Electronics’ ongoing 30th-anniversary celebrations. First unveiled in October 2018, the new Ultima amplifier topology, to date exclusive to the range-topping £30,000 Ultima power amp, is now more affordable than ever, with the two new mono power amps sharing the same Chord Electronics DNA.

The new 750-watt Ultima 2 (£18,360 each) is a direct replacement for the SPM 6000 MKII and forms part of the British company’s flagship Reference range; the smaller 480-watt Ultima 3 (£11,000 each) replaces the SPM 1400 MKII and sits in the Full Size range.

Fresh Design Aesthetic

Both new Ultima amplifiers have been given a remodeled fascia featuring John Franks’ latest design. The precision CNC-machined fascia is made from aircraft-grade aluminium and features a reassuringly solid 28-mm thick front panel, enhanced by a recessed spherical polycarbonate power button that illuminates for standby and operation modes; a discreet and hidden front panel switch neatly located in the vertical split line enables the lighting to be dimmed.

Like all of Chord Electronics’ full-size and Reference range amplifiers, the new Ultima 2 and Ultima 3 are available in a choice of Jett Black or Argent Silver finishes. The amplifiers can also be specified with either the famous stackable Integra Leg system (above) in Jett Black, Argent Silver or Nickel finishes or the highly polished black acrylic side block option (below). The amplifiers’ rear panel contains both balanced and unbalanced connections, high-quality loudspeaker terminals, a 12V trigger, and a C-19-type IEC. 

The two new Ultima mono amplifiers where unveilled at the High End 2019 show in Munich, Germany.

Ultima Topology

The Ultima topology is a state-of-the-art amplifier design featuring John Franks’ latest circuit creation, Chord Electronics’ most accomplished amplifier design 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 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 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 (or side blocks) 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. 

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 Ultima 2 and 3 mono amplifiers have an incredible 32 proprietary MOSFET power devices which 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.

The Ultima topology is incredibly powerful with an extraordinarily high peak output current (the speed at which the dynamic peaks can be delivered), bringing astonishing dynamics, fidelity and unrivaled musicality. Ultima is a truly unprecedented amplifier topology with exceptional performance and is one of the most advanced amplifier technologies in the world.

The amplifier section is a class AB sliding bias design which operates in class A during most normal use, with class B operation introduced only in the most demanding situations. The output stages are designed around custom metal on silicon MOSFET devices developed exclusively for Chord Electronics. These devices have been designed for our audio applications and to exhibit absolute clarity.

The Ultima 2 mono power amp is specified for 750W RMS per channel output power @ 0.05% distortion into 8Ω, or 1305W into 4Ω. The extended frequency response (-1dB @ 0.2Hz to 46kHz) is matched with a signal to noise ratio better than -89dB. The Ultima 3 mono power amp is rated at 480W RMS per channel @ 0.05% distortion into 8Ω with a signal to noise ratio better than -84dB. Both models are available now.

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