Chord Anni Desktop Amplifier Page 2

Editor PM takes a deeper dive into that amplification technology in his Anni Amp sidebar, but on a practical level there's some sense of this being a lot of amplifier crammed into a small, high-quality housing: both the front and top panels are 'punched' for ventilation, and the Anni can run a little warm if you choose to work it hard.

sqnote Desktop Diva
In the absence of a Qutest with which to test the Anni, I substituted a long-serving iFi Audio NEO iDSD DAC/headphone amp [HFN Mar '21], fed from my desktop Mac mini computer via USB and with its analogue output set to fixed-level, while the little amp's outputs were run into my usual Neat Acoustics Iota speakers, sitting on foam studio monitor wedges to angle them up to my ears. Headphones included the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature [HFN Mar '17], the original – and highly revealing – Focal Spirit Pro [HFN Dec '15] and the long-discontinued but still excellent Oppo PM-1 planar magnetics [HFN Jul '14]. With an eye to Chord Electronics' claim for the little Anni's low-end capability, I also pressed into service a pair of H850 headphones from bass guitar amp manufacturer Phil Jones Bass, latterly of Acoustic Energy and now famed for his bass cabs that use multiple small drivers for 'air-shifting with speed'.

I admit I also tried using the Anni in a larger system, fed from my Naim ND555 network player [HFN Apr '19] and powering the larger Neat Iota Xplorer speakers [HFN Jul '18]. Now, while it gave a more than reasonable account of itself at levels best described as 'modest to sensible' with an open top-end, smooth midband and punchy, well-extended bass, it soon became clear that desktop sound with smaller enclosures is the Anni's true forte. In all likelihood it's helped in this role by that low-frequency hump PM discovered in the lab, along with its ability to drive a wide range of headphones with conviction.


Two RCA line inputs are joined by inset 4mm banana plug (speaker) sockets and an earth/grounding post. The 15V DC PSU input also feeds a 12V DC output to power the Huei phono stage [see picture, below]

I tried the iFi Audio DAC and Anni against the iFi Audio Pro iDSD Signature DAC/headphone amp [HFN Jan '22] and – to misquote the Duke of Wellington – it really was a damn close-run thing: impressive, given the price advantage of the combination I was using. The clean, smooth but dynamic sound the Anni develops through speakers, complete with its generous yet tightly controlled bass, is echoed in its headphone performance. Whether with large-scale orchestral/operatic music such as the exuberant LSO/Marin Alsop recording of Bernstein's Candide [LSO Live LSO0834; DSD128] or the rough-edged Neil Young/Crazy Horse Barn set [Reprise download; n/a], the Anni does not lose its grip.

Sweet And Smooth
There's a fine sense of insight and detail, especially with the many voices and clever lyrics and dialogue of the Bernstein but, above all, the impetus of the music-making is delivered intact, which is really what it's all about. Overall, the sound has a sweetness and smoothness about it that's extremely welcome, along with that warmth in the low bass, making everything sound generous and rich.

While this is true even through the highly-revealing Focal headphones, which are fairly unforgiving of brash or forward engineering, that doesn't mean the Anni is over-tempered. Play a high-quality recording of simple instruments, such as the recent Linn release of Margarita playing the first Saint-Saëns cello concerto [Linn Records CKD 662], and there's plenty of air in the sound, whether via headphones or the little Neat speakers. The solo instrument is treated to bags of timbral detail, with a real sense of the bite of the bow on the strings, and the precision and lyricism of the young cellist's performance.

Can-Do Attitude
Other headphone amps may throw even more information at you, but the Anni has an appealing mix of detail and ease of listening, and will flatter most headphones with which it's used, as I discovered when using a pair of budget in-ears of unknown provenance. I think they may have been an airport distress purchase at some stage, but they gained a useful dollop of substance when plugged into the Anni's 3.5mm output.


The Anni slots into Chord’s QSS (Qutest Stand System) along with the partnering Qutest USB DAC and, for vinyl fans, the Huei MM/MC phono preamp

Yes, this may be a headphone amp with benefits, but it does seem to form a fine working partnership with the little Neat speakers, and I could easily see myself using it, along with a suitable DAC, for my day-to-day working background music. The only problem might be that the sound could prove too much of a distraction!

It's wonderfully clear and intelligible with the spoken-word broadcasts I enjoy via Roon's Live Radio service, but there are times when it makes music just a bit too interesting for background purposes. For example, with the Rembrandt Trio's gorgeous-sounding A Wind Invisible Sweeps Us Through The World [Just Listen Records JL024], the Chord Anni just throws the attention squarely on the sound of the instruments and the sheer quality of the performances.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Is it a mini-amp with a fine headphone output, or a 'head-fi' design also capable of driving small speakers convincingly? However you look at it, Chord's Anni is a great choice for desktop audio with a sound tailored to flatter partnering equipment. It'll drive bigger, sensitive speakers at a push, but that's not its role – the Anni 'is what it is', to quote an overused cliché, and looks and sounds well-judged for its tasks.

Chord Electronics Ltd
Supplied by: Chord Electronics Ltd
01622 721444